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The Letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams

The Letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams

by Christopher MacGowan (Editor), William Carlos Williams, Denise Levertov

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Much of the warmth and literary force in this brief book is due to the remarkable poet Denise Levertov. So great was her energy and life force, even in her early 70s, that the writer's friends were shocked by her sudden death last year. Levertov and Williams began corresponding when Levertov was still in her 20s and Williams already a sixtyish veteran of the modernist scene, yet it was clear who was teaching whom: a woman of powerful certainties, Levertov soon had Williams altering lines in his published plays. In one 1960 letter, he writes after her visit, "Your criticism of my own shortcomings is noted. I'll pay attention to what you say." And he soon became a one-man cheering section for her accomplishments; after recommending her three times for Guggenheim Fellowships, he crowed when she finally won in 1962: "No one ever deserved a Gug more than you!" Their letters do not consist only of literary matters; the poets also discussed the basic enjoyment of life--as when Levertov advises the elder poet, "Did you ever see N.Y. from one of the really high buildings? It's worth doing." Also "worth doing" as a life-enhancing experience is reading this charming and affectionate correspondence. (Nov.)
Collects the correspondence of two American poets from 1951 to 1962, as well as the later correspondence between Levertov and the widow of Williams. An introduction explaining the genesis and nature of the relationship is included, as are annotations explaining references in the letters. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.

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Chapter One


1. TLS-1

[Oct./Nov. 1951]
8 via Cavour

Dear William Carlos Williams,

I stopped myself from writing to you for a long time because of a self-conscious idea that it might seem my motive was to draw attention to myself, collect your autograph, or something like that. But I've decided this is silly. If a man is a force in one's life, as you are in mine & my husband's, if his work has given not only great pleasure & excitement but is felt to enter the fabric of one's thinking & feeling & one's way of trying to work, he certainly ought to know it. So, thank you.

yours sincerely,
Denise Levertov Goodman.

I got the address from
Bob Creeley.

"This letter...was the 1st direct contact I had with W.C.W." Note by DL filed with this letter at S.

DL and MG (1924 - 1997) had lived in Paris and Florence after their December 2. 1947, marriage, then in New York for some of 1948. before returning to Europe to live in Aix-en-Provence. France, and Italy. They returned to New York in 1952.

Bob Creeley Robert Creeley (b. 1926) lead been at Harvard with MG, and at the suggestion of DL and MG had moved to Southern France in May 1951, remaining at Fontrousse when DL and MG moved to Sori in August. Creeley lead been corresponding with WCW since 1950, and sent WCW's address to DL, at her request, in a letter of October 5, 1951.

* * *

2. TLS-2

Nove. 13, 1951

My dear Denise Goodman:

A man should be able to react "big" to his admirers, it's due them, they do not throw their praise around carelessly. And so I always feel mean when I look into the back of my own head and see what a small figure I make to myself. I am not what they think. I am not the man I should be for THEIR sakes, they deserve something more. It is in fact the duty of the artist to assume greatness. I cannot. What a fool.

I can't believe even what I know to be the truth of my own worth. When an individual says he or she "lives" by what I exhibit I get a sudden fright. But at the same time if I myself live by certain deeds why should not others do the same? But we are so weak, what we do seems the worst futility. I am willing to go down to nothing but I don't want to feel that I am dragging anyone down with me.

Here I sit in my little hole like a toad. Thank you for your letter.

Faithfully yours,
W.C. Williams
9 Ridge Road
Rutherford N.J.

"Before I had met him (did not do so until '53) DL." DL's annotation on RPL photocopy.

Here I sit in my little hole Although WCW had achieved wide recognition by 1951 for his writing, his mood at this time was conditioned by the serious stroke he had suffered the previous March.

* * *

3. TLS-1


Dear Denise Levertov:

Saturday, November 14, about mid-afternoon we'd be glad to see you and your husband, rain or shine.

Your poems in ORIGIN are well made. I like the sense of the line which comes off well. Order, in our present disorder, without losing a certain freedom of choice in our selection of the words is very important to me. I like an understandable sequence to the words but not an enslavement to dead sequences. That's a beginning. After that it's just a matter of intensity of the mood, a choice of the diction that forces the pace, compels the words to obey until the reader is astonished by the words and the intensity of the words which show a mastery which come to mean what is put down even while they fight against it. Writing, good writing, is still a matter of compelling the words to obey. It is never easy. It must show a battle which has been difficultly won. I am interested in the sense you have of the new measures and the necessity that you feel for them. What remains to be done is simply to perfect yourself in them, without losing any of your freedom, and waiting. You can't manufacture a mood out of whole cloth but when it comes you have to be ready for it. Practice, practice, practice, is what makes the artist--and intelligence to perceive the opportunity when it arrives. Then, perfectly composed, we go to work.

We'll be glad to see you.

Sincerely yours

W. C. Williams
9 Ridge Road
Rutherford N.J.

"By the time this letter was written (Oct '53) I had met Williams more than once. The first time was with Bob Creeley & Cid Corman. I think (& with Milch Goodman)"--note by DL filed with this letter at S. However, the comparative formality of this letter compared to WCW's next one, and Cid Corman's letter of October 9 (see Introduction), suggest that it probably predates DL and WCW's first meeting.

October 24, 1953, was DL's thirtieth birthday.

your husband WCW had already met MG when he accompanied Cid Corman (b. 1924) on a visit to Rutherford some weeks earlier.

poems in ORIGIN DL had been publishing in Corman's journal Origin since 1951. The Summer 1953 issue printed her "The Hands" and "The Rights," and the previous Spring issue her "Poem from Manhattan." "Beyond the End" (all four in HN). "Continuing" (in OI), and "Kresch's Studio." All are collected in CEP.

4. TLS-1


Dear Denise:

It is extremely kind of you to interest yourself in the condition of my eyes, maybe it would be more exact to say in the condition of my reading. You have found out exactly what I want to know; the Reading Improvement Center on E.46 seems made to order and if after a few private instruction sessions I can go it under my own steam so much the better. You didn't send the name of the woman in charge but I understand that that will be forwarded later. That's wonderful!

Mrs. Williams enjoyed you and your husband as much as I did, let's make the pleasure last a long time. The next time you come out plan to bring the baby, speak to Florence about that so that the time for the visit may be advantageously arranged. Make it soon, sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

You write well but you know what an advantage the poets who follow academic patters [patterns?] possess, even such relatively acceptable poets as Richard Wilbur with their regularly arranged lines, their rhymes and stanzaic forms possess. Do not underestimate it. The world they represent is not your world but it is a world that occupys the drivers seat. I admire Wilbur at his best, in such a poem as, the Frog for instance and poems in that vein, study him whenever you have the chance. Often he is vapor and otherwise unsatisfactory but you will have to make up your mind about him and the sooner you begin the better. A certain regularity in the actual putting of the words on the page does wonders for the poem in making it acceptable to the eye and to the mind but if at the cost to the interior arrangement of the words themselves (as in Wilbur, frequently with his, perhaps, unconscious inversions of the phrase) it is fatal. Today it is the death of a living line no matter what it may have done for Villon or Dante or even the Elizabethan blank versists but the solution of the difficulties involved is full of knotty problems. Nevertheless once you have embarked on writing the sort of lines which, for better or worse, have engaged you there is no drawing back. God help you.

You have our love and affection. Greet your husband for me and tell him, as he knows, that he has a fine wife.

W. C. Williams

the condition of my eyes...my reading WCW's vision had been affected by a second stroke in 1952, and the difficulties that it caused left him hesitant to undertake public readings of his work.

the Reading Improvement Center on E.46...the woman in charge WCW attended the Yoder Reading Improvement Center, on 235 East 46th St. New York, run by Hilda W. Yoder (b. 1903), who was also at the time the Director of the Beading Clinic at the Institute of Ophthalmology, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.

the baby Nikolai Gregor (b. 1949)

Richard Wilbur...the Frog WCW is probably thinking of Wilbur's (b. 1921) "The Death of a Toad," in his Ceremony (1950).

* * *

5. ALS-2

Dec 5/53

Dear Denise--you have been most helpful in rooting about for the proper place for Bill to go--and he is now attending the Reading Improvement Center and feels encouraged--after only two sessions! Thanks to you.

Do plan to come out--some Wednesday or Saturday. Just now we are a bit taken up with the usual holiday madness--but with planning--we'd love to see you. How about the 16th or the 19th?

And, when you come please bring some of your poems to read to us--as well as your husband (and youngster if you care to).

We'll be looking forward to seeing you all again.

Florence Williams

DL recalled: "I got all the info for him & he did take a course with her which he found helpful. She taught him, if he made a mistake, to stop for a moment & then go on--not to try to go back & start over. And so the reading he did at the YMHA, he did just that a few times. Her method didn't, however, help with the later trouble he had when though he cd. see the words, optically, he could not translate them into meanings & sounds" (Notes 1997).

* * *

6. TLS-1

January 6, 1954

Dear Denise:

It's a beautiful poem, really beautiful, well deployed on the page at an even pace full of charm, as full of measure as a lovely woman walking. You write at your best so well that it makes me unhappy. What is to become of you? There is no place for you in the world I know. This poem is sad because it is like some creature that wants to tell her identity and

    (An hour has passed with a call from my cousin)

I want to return to the attack. Somehow this last poem seems to come from a hidden part of your unconscious that has a particular attraction for me. Do not change it in any way but keep it in mind as my peculiar possession-whatever you do otherwise with it. It is as if a presence has passed touching the miscellaneous objects and persons that make up your composition with nothing of which does it have anything to do. After all a poem is made up not of the things of which it speaks directly but of things which it cannot identity, and yet yearns to know. You have brushed the raiments of an unknown host in these lines.

The presence of poetry is an evasive thing. Don't speak again of what I have written here but forget it. But go on, as I don't need to urge you to do, writing of those things of which you have written in this poem.

If you happen to come across a new magazine just published by the english department of Washington University, St. Louis, Mo., get it, it is all about my writing. You may find it worth while. Some bookstore in the city may carry it.


a beautiful poem DL annotates on the RPL copy. "I think this was a poem called 15th St. which was in Origin but never reprinted." DL and MG lived on 15th Street in New York at this time, and again when they returned from Mexico in 1958. The poem appeared in the Summer 1954 issue of Origin (an issue that DL edited), but is not among the poems filed with the correspondence at B. In CEP.

my cousin Probably William Wellcome, son of Irving Wellcome, WCW's uncle. See Autobiography, p. 303.

a new magazine Perspective VI. 4 (Autumn-Winter 1953), published by Washington University, was a "William Carlos Williams Issue." but the journal had begun publication in 1947.

* * *

7. APC

Feb 15/54

Dear Denise--You should have come back to say hello to Bill after the reading. I was not watch dogging--just greeting people who didn't want to disturb Bill while he was autographing books. I did so want you to meet Mrs. Yoder--and looked all around for you.--We decided that you & Mitch had not been able to get away.--Now Bill is busy preparing a program for N.Y.U. either next week or the week after. Hope all's well with you--Thanks for writing

the reading WCW read at the 92nd St. Y Poetry Center. New York, on 27 January, a reading that was taped and is included in William Carlos Williams: The Collected Recordings, ed. Richard Swigg (1992). FW wrote to WCW's friend Fred Miller the next day that WCW had never read better, and had finally learned to read slowly (Mariani, 681). DL wrote to her parents the day after the reading. "It was a triumph--he was absolutely marvellous. I was so happy to think I had had something to do with this improvement in his reading" (S).

Mrs Yoder Hilda W. Yoder, who had helped WCW with the reading problems caused by his stroke. See letter 4 above.

a presentation for NYU WCW wrote to Cid Corman on February 9 that he was to meet with "a group of N.Y.U. professors at one of their faculty club dinners" (Mariani, 681).

* * *

8. TLS-2

August 23 1954

Dear Denise:

There is something wrong, but easily cured, with the beginning of your first poem. Omit the first line. That aside I am as much as ever impressed with you. There's something indescribably appealing to me in what you write and I think appealing to anyone who reads you with attention. I'd like to be able to indicate more clearly what it is but so far it has escaped collaring. That I suspect is exactly what you want. It is a problem that eludes me.

You need a book of your closely chosen work. I think, if you thought out and selected your choice very carefully, it would be one of the most worthwhile books of the generation. It would have to be a small book squeezed up to get the gists alone of what you have to say. Much would have to be omitted. You may not be old enough yet to know your own mind for it would have to be a thoughtful, an adult book of deep feeling that would reveal you in what may not want to be revealed. I am curious to know what you are thinking--you never say. But you reveal more by your poems than can be easily deciphered and that is what draws a reader on. Perhaps you will never be able to say what you want to say. In that case you make me feel that the loss will be great.

A small closely chosen book is what I want to see packed with with the power of your selfdenials, your repressions--which would be revealed in the beauty of whatever it is a lover and a poet discovers in his heart. Things that cannot from the necessary reticenses of a sensitive person cannot be expressed but in a poem. It is the tension within ourselves that drive us to confess what is wrung from us.

Sappho must have been a powerful wench to stand what would have torn a woman apart otherwise. The tensions she must have withstood without yielding have made have made her poems forever memorable. You can say it was her fine ear that did it but she would not have been as voluble as she appears to have been without the other. Hers must have been a sound constitution in the first place. She was probably worn thin with the intensity of her longings which she refused [to] have beaten.

The dread word has been spoken.

Cut and cut again whatever you write--while you leave by your art no trace of your cutting--and the final utterance will remain packed with what you have to say. The stream does not ripple or at best go wild save by the swiftness of its flow as well as by the obstruction it encounters. But in the end you must say whatever you have to say, without honesty completely outspoken you will not succeed in moving yourself or the world.

"And the Minotaur will devour.
it's life against death, and

                      death wins--

and will uproot the rocks, too, for pastime."

"Deformed life, rather:
the maskfaced buyers of bric-a-brac
are the detritus only--of a
ferocious energy--"

                      "A monster.

Greed, is it? Alive, yes--"

"Whose victims
multiply quicker than it eats
& stubbornly

                      flourish in the shadow of it."

Whoever wrote that, for it is only quoted, knew what he was doing. It can stand alone, without explanation and no matter what the connotation, and it will constitute a poem.

Pardon this screed, something set me off as it does whenever I have a letter from you. Chuck it away when you have done reading it. Regards to your husband. Love from Floss and myself.

[signed] Bill
William Carlos Williams
9 Ridge Road
Rutherford N. J.

poem...first line DL identifies the poem on the RPL photocopy. "In Obedience" (in OI and CEP). In the typescript that DL sent WCW, now with the B letters, the poem begins "Still I must tell you / the dread word has been spoken." As subsequent letters indicate. DL accepted WCW's suggestion. DL later described the poem as "an elegy for my father" (PW 70) --who had died the previous month, in July.

old enough yet At this time DL was almost 31.

"And the Minotaur...shadow of it" DL identifies on the RPL copy: "From 'Something' (in Overland to cite Islands). I've never been sure if he thought it really was quoted?--Of course the quotation marks were only to indicate the 2 speakers in the poem. DL." WCW quotes the final lines of the poem, which make up a third, separate page of the poem's typescript as he received it. WCW adds the capital letter in the first line, which ends in the typescript and the published version--"will devour them." (In CEP).

* * *

9. ALS-12

R.F.D. 1, Londonderry, Vt.
(Back to 249 W 15th St. N.Y. 11, Sept 1st. approx.)
August 25th [1954]

Dear Dr. Williams:

(Or, as you signed this letter 'Bill,' may I call you that? I hate to be presumptuous, but on the other hand I get bored by my own English-style formalities--they feel stuffy sometimes)--Your letters are unlike anyone else's--this one was a great rushing wind that blew me off the ground, sent my cap sailing into the trees--I had to hold tight onto the domestic details of the afternoon and try to get my breath again--Not because your praise makes me feel over-elated [in the margin: Tho' it does too--not over elated, but blessed & abashed.] but because I'm afraid--afraid to disappoint you and myself. You say one must know what one is doing and I feel that, while I do 'know' better than X, Y, & Z, I don't know, and can't work, as you'd have me know & work. I depend so much on feeling (instinct?), on my ear, almost on luck. And you expect an intelligence of me that I either don't have or else haven't learnt how to use. You say you wonder what I'm thinking and that I never say. If I don't say it is because I'm afraid of boring you. I don't have an interesting mind. I presume I have an interesting something or I wouldn't be able to write poems; and I know some of my poems are good--I don't want to run myself down for that would only look as if I were looking for a pat on the back, & god knows I've had that--besides, it wouldn't be true, I do know I can write well. But it's so much a matter of luck, that's what oppresses me--the insecurity.--Like those dreams people have of arriving at the office with no clothes on--I feel as if any day I might write a really bad, a ludicrous poem, and not even realize it. Only intelligence--the kind Bob Creeley has --can give security not only from a complete faux-pas like that but from--from failure to learn, to develop, to know what one is doing.

Mitch says I am not so stupid as I make out and why should I worry since in fact I have 'improved' (or developed) pretty consistently--but I go on feeling that I'm walking a tightrope.

Look--I hate to bother you but there is something I must ask you. You say I shd. cut the 1st line of one of those 2 poems--but you don't say which poem. Is it the 1st 2 lines of the poem called "In Obedience"? Or the other? I want to see how I can do it, before it gets printed--Cid has one for Origin & Bob the other for Black Mountain Review and as both are printed in Europe it takes a long time, so I'd like to get cracking on it.

Cid wants to do a book for me (in Paris)--I think he means to do a series, called Origin Editions, small, good-looking, & low-priced. If it comes off I'll try to prune, as you say. Even if I didn't it would be small though--I do so damn little. I let myself get bogged down by circumstances--i.e. by being a mother & housewife, which exasperates, defeats, & bores me most of the time. There again I guess it is a matter of intelligence--I don't organize my resources. But perhaps the answer is in your letter: "But in the end you must say whatever you have to say, without honesty completely outspoken you will not succeed in moving yourself or the world." That's the personal answer. Or part of it. And more generally there's a lot I can use in your statement and letter in Origin XII (which I've only just received).

God! I've only just--in writing this and re-reading what you wrote --only just realized how much of the answer for me lies in honesty. I've hidden (from myself) behind my intentions of honesty, my determination (since about 1946) not to be fanciful & rhetorical etc. etc.--and I have been honest in what I've written--but with what hypocrisy I have selected what I wrote! No-one knows but myself but you have discovered it. If I can only act on today's revelation (for it is really that) it will have been even much more of a red-letter day than I had thought. I've been saying for a long time, "I damn well won't write unless I have something to say, and months go by without my having anything to say because I don't have an interesting mind, I'm not intelligent, only erratically possessed," while in tact I didn't have anything I chose to say--perhaps for fear of revealing my boredom, bad-temper, and other things. So I stayed stuck in ditches of my own making. I take your word 'move' in that sense--'to move yourself or others.' To move myself out of the ditch. I thought I knew this or something like it, & could certainly have learnt it from your example--but it seems to take such fortuitous conjunction of different elements to reveal anything to one in such a way that it becomes true & actually hits one.

Forgive me for writing at such length--and thank you.

Love from Denise.

or the other "Something," see previous letter.

Cid has one The version of "In Obedience" that appeared in Origin included WCW's suggested revision.

a book for me...Origin Editions the project fell through, see DL's March 23, 1955, letter.

your statement and letter "On Measure--Statement For Cid Corman," in Origin 1, 12 (Spring 1954) 194-199, including a letter from WCW to Corman dated 10/3/53]. The statement and letter are reprinted in Something to Say: William Carlos Williams on Younger Poets (New York, 1985), pp. 202-208. In both the letter and statement WCW argues, as elsewhere at this time, for verse free from outdated rhythmic models, but nevertheless with a "measure consonant with our time....a relatively stable foot, not a rigid one."

1946 The date of DL's first book. The Double linage.

* * *

10. TLS-1

Aug. 30, 1954
Dear Denise:

I merely suggest for your approval that you begin the poem, In Obedience, at the second line:

    The dread word has been spoken.

It strengthens the whole attack. Omit the former first line entirely--or so it would seem best to me.

I understand your whole indifference to the poem as it may at times appear to you. At times there's nothing to do but finger exercises. Maybe that's the end. You do it merely to keep supple. For what dreadful encounter? Nothing may happen, I hope it never does--but if it does, your only chance of doing some arresting writing, something that the world is really waiting for with open arms, is to be ready.


the former first line DL annotates on RPL photocopy "I did so. Forget what original 1st line was. DL."

* * *

11. ALS-4

249 W. 15th St.
N.Y. 11, N.Y.
January 31, 55.

Dear Dr. & Mrs. Williams,

We got the 'Collected Essays' a couple of days ago--Mitch has had his nose in it ever since & won't relinquish it but I'll get my chance soon.

We're looking forward to hearing you (& I hope seeing you for a minute afterwards) at the Y on the 23d. By the way, do they make tape recordings of those readings? Because they certainly should, or someone shd. If no one else is going to, we know a girl whose tape-recorder we might be able to borrow for the occasion if we could have yr. permission and that of the Y. people. And perhaps the tape cd. be presented to some library in N.Y. so that we could go & play it sometimes (no use our keeping it as we don't have a machine--besides, it shouldn't be private property.) Could you please let me know, in time?

My mother is coming over in March from England to live with us. She's almost 70. She says she's so excited she could jump out of her skin. We're busy plastering up the holes in the walls, at least, getting them plastered to the accompaniment of operatic arias by a very tiny, toothless, unfortunate, courageous & cheerful elderly plasterer who's also the current janitor. He has an epileptic (I think) son & a wife with a giant-sized crutch, & the landlady (a Greek and, or rather but, a miser,) pays him peanuts (he's Puerto Rican) so we keep taking him cups of tea, coffee, broth etc., as he works and converses, and wishing they were $10 bills. When that's over we have to get the landlady over the shock of paying for a house-painter. She has a soft corner for Mitch, fortunately.

Cid Corman almost got swept away in the Paris floods--not literally, but being in Paris causes his letters to sound as if Baedecker had been rewritten by Rilke.

Mitch has been working very hard & is going to try to see if Little Brown will come across with a contract now (they did take an option before, when he had shown them only a small part of his novel).

I haven't been doing much myself but I don't feel nervously despondent, just fallow. At least I hope so.

With much love to you both from Denise.

I took Nik to Central Park after school today & we walked across the lake on the ice.

I hope you've both been well?

the Collected Essays WCW's Selected Essays were published by Random House on November 5, 1954.

at the Y...recordings WCW read at the 92nd. St. Y Poetry Center on February 23--his final reading at the Center. He had been the first poet to read there, on October 26, 1939, although of his nine appearances only the January 27, 1954, reading was recorded. At this time, the Y had begun to record more consistently the readings it staged, however in this case six days before the reading Caedmon Publishers wrote to FW asking that the performance not be recorded--in light of the company's contract with WCW for a commercial recording of his work to be issued by Caedmon later that spring. WCW accordingly wrote to the Poetry Center on February 19 that the reading should not be recorded.

my mother Beatrice Spooner-Jones Levertov (1883-1977). DL describes her mother's much-traveled life in "An American Poet with a Russian name tells about the life of her 100% Welsh mother." Poetry Wales (Winter 1978-79): 28-33, reprinted in Linda Wagner, ed. Denise Levertov: In Her Own Province (New York, 1979), and in LUC (titled "Beatrice Levertoff").

the Paris floods In late January 1955 heavy rains raised the Seine to its highest levels for fifty years. Factories closed, some of the population was evacuated, and officials at the Louvre took emergency measures--although the river finally receded without major damage to the city.

his novel MG's war novel, The End of It.

* * *

12. TPC

n.d. [postmark Feb. 4 1955]

Nice of you to interest yourself in the recordings, of possible recordings, but please forget it. Sit back and enjoy the readings if you can. It is an objective for me only to know that you are in the audience.

Happy to know your mother is coming over, you must plan to bring her out, it will be a pleasure for us to meet her. I hope only that she will not be too disappointed in us.

A very charming young english poet named Paul Roche called on me last week. Love W.C.W.

Paul Roche poet and translator (b. 1927) A later comment by WCW on Roche suggests a parallel he had in mind with DL. In an April 1957 Recommendation for Roche to the Bollingen Foundation, he asserted that Roche "has inverted the habitual routine...of running away from America to England with all it implies" (Library of Congress, Bollingen papers).

* * *

13. ALS-8

249 W 15th St. N.Y. 11
March 23 '55

Dear Dr. Williams.

Here are a couple of poems I thought you might like to read. The Merritt Parkway one has been printed, in Black Mountain Review, but the issue hasn't been sent out yet, indeed it seems still to be held up in the customs. The background or whatever to the one called Mrs. Cobweb is this: a lady well on in her 50's, in Detroit, whom I've never met, has through a mutual friend taken to sending me her poems to read. She has friends of the kind who go to writing courses, Breadloaf & what-not, & meet to discuss each others' work earnestly, etc.--and their work (these are also middle aged housewives, mostly, writing now that their children are grown) has a mediocre competence--pretty deadly. But this one--affectionately despised by her friends, I think--is different. Her work is completely incompetent, muddled, incoherent, crazy, but (or and) with flashes of something wonderful--a force or a radiance--the more I think of her the harder I find it to write 'advice' to her. She craves it--but what can one say. I try to show her the parts of her poems that have this quality so that she can learn to distinguish it for herself--and I suggest things she might read. I'm afraid of being clumsy with her. Anyway, the poem is about her.

It was good to see you that night at the Y. You looked well--I hope you've been feeling well. I wished Mrs. Williams had been there too. You read terrifically--but I felt mad at the audience--what a bunch of buttons. You perhaps remember that Robert Duncan came with me & Mitch. He spent quite a lot of time with us while he was in N.Y. for 2 weeks en route for Mallorca. I found his talk exciting--he's a great talker, with a loud voice that dominates any room (& he likes to be the center of attention: but not offensively, for he can listen with great attention also). He read us many unpublished poems and the talk would take off from them & come back to some image & off again--several long evenings--& I began to feel all sorts of possibilities for myself, things to do & ways to do them. I was sorry when he left. I hope he & Creeley get along. Duncan's friend, Jess Collins, a painter, was tall, thin, a little bent over, and had a way of being silent (smiling) most of the time without ever making one feel he was bored, or gloomy; a beautiful, gentle silence.

A friend of ours, Leland Bell, is having his first one-man show of paintings. It opened yesterday, in torrential rain. He's been painting seriously all his life (he's 32--Mitch remembers him as a boy, in Brooklyn, drawing in chalk on the sidewalk--later his family moved to Washington, but when he returned to NY at 17 or so he & Mitch met again) but has hardly ever shown even in group shows. For a long time he used to work & work on one painting--& at last destroy it in dissatisfaction. And even later he wouldn't try to have his work seen. But he has come to work with great strength & at last someone has noticed him & arranged a show. [in the margin: He has just failed to get a Fulbright.] The paintings are almost all nudes, sell-portraits, and portraits of his wife (who is Icelandic, & is also a very good, and neglected, painter--she's a flew years older, & was beginning to have a reputation in Iceland & Scandinavia, but here she's been lost--tho' she never stops painting). They are powerful things--nothing slick, chic, or fashionable about them; intensely personal without being subjective--never sentimental, honest almost beyond what one can bear. Oh words! I can't write about paintings. Some of them might remind one of Rouault somewhat--some perhaps of Soutine. Anyway they are really worth seeing--I know you don't go about too much, but if you should come to N.Y. do try to go. And perhaps you'll tell anyone you see who is interested in painting? It's at the

Until                 210 Central Park South
April 10th      (between B'way & 7th Avenue
Hours: 11-5.30 \\ Sunday: 1-5.30
Closed Mondays.

His name again is: Leland Bell.

I've been reading Cendrars' "Sutters' Gold"--what a story--I imagine you know it.

Mirth has sent off the finished 3/4 of his novel, & a synopsis of the unwritten part, to the publisher (Little, Brown) who took an option on it a year ago--he hopes now to get a contract, perhaps $1000, to live on while he finishes it. If not he'll take it somewhere else--the agent thinks someone will buy it if they don't.

My mother received her visa last week & will be leaving England around April 21st. The only thing that worries me about her coming to live with us is that I'm a poor housekeeper--I'm afraid of getting on her nerves. Still, we will have the apartment painted before she arrives, so it will be like starting from scratch, & maybe I'll do better.

Cid Corman asks me to send you both his best regards. He's in Paris still, hopes to go to Greece in June. He was going to do a small book for me, first of a series to be called Origin Editions, but it has fallen through for lack of funds. However, Bob Creeley wants to do one for me instead, and perhaps that will work out, tho' not for a year I suppose. Still, by then I'll have more poems I hope. At one time, encouraged by your having said I shd. have a book, I thought of trying some of the regular publishers, but it seems silly even to try. Another possibility was that Rexroth said in a recent letter that he thought he could get Laughlin to do a book when Perspectives U.S.A. folds & he returns to New Directions --but that all sounds so tar away; I guess Creeley is my best bet.

Nik is growing very tall--he'll be 6 in just over 2 months--has just learned to rollerskate (just about). On weekends he and I and some kids from downstairs go up to Central Park, the upper stretches where it's not crowded, & they scramble around on the rocks and play a vague exciting game called Sabretooth. I'm afraid his life will be stormy, he takes everything pretty hard. He remembers you both, and was upset when we went to hear you read because he couldn't go.

Forgive me for writing at such length.

With very much love to you and to Mrs. Williams--and from Mitch too--from Denise.

Merritt Parkway one...Mrs. Cobweb "Merritt Parkway." titled for the Connecticut thoroughfare north of New York City, appeared in the Summer 1955 issue (in OI and CEP). "Mrs. Cobweb" is in HN and CEP.

that night at the Y WCW's reading the previous month, on February 23.

Robert Duncan Duncan (1919-1988) by his own account had first read and admired DL's poetry in the fall of 1952, although this was their first meeting. DL describes her relationship to Duncan and the importance of his work to her--and the tensions that arose between the two poets in the early 1970s--in "Some Duncan Letters--A Memoir and a Critical Tribute" (in NS). Creeley returned from Mallorca to teach at Black Mountain College in July.

Jess Collins Duncan's companion, the painter and collage artist known professionally as Jess (b. 1923) provided the illustrations for DL's third book. 5 Poems (1958), as well as for a number of books by Duncan.

Leland Bell The exhibit. Portraits and Figure Studies, ran until April to, Bell (1922-1991) had moved from an earlier interest in abstraction to more figurative work. He had previously shown with the Jane Street Gallery cooperative (which included Larry Rivers, Nell Blaine, and Al Kresch) before this show, which was reviewed in Arts Digest 29 (April 1955) p. 19, and Art News 54 (April 1955) p. 46. Bell went on to teach at a number of universities, was a member of the original faculty of the New York Studio School founded in 1964, exhibited regularly at the Robert Schoelkopf Gallery, and was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Phillips Gallery, Washington D.C. in January 1987. For his later career see Nicholas Fox Weber, Leland Bell (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1986).

his wife Louisa Matthiasdottir (b. 1917), with whom Bell sometimes Pater exhibited his work, and who herself went on to exhibit regularly. They had married in 1944.

HANSA GALLERY founded as a cooperative in 1952 by sculptor and educator Richard Stankiewicz along with eleven other artists, later including George Segal and Jean Follett.

Rouault...Soutine Both Georges Rouault (1871-1958), and Chaim Soutine (1893- 1943) had been the subject of exhibitions at New York's Museum of Modern Art in the previous five years.

Sutters' Gold Blaise Cendrars's (1887-1961) novel, L'Or (1925) of a Swiss fugitive and trickster who comes to the U.S. was first published in translation in 1926. In his Autobiography (p. 171), WCW remembered having met Cendrars in New York.

Bob Creeley wants to do one Creeley's Divers Press did not publish a book by DL.

Rexroth Kenneth Rexroth (1905-82) was an early and ongoing supporter of DL's work, and included six of her poems in his The New British Poets: An Anthology (New York, 1949)

Laughlin...Perspectives U.S.A. James Laughlin (1914-1997), poet, and founder of New Directions. DL had been represented in New Directions in Prose and Poetry 16 (1957) as well as Rexroth's 1949 anthology, published by New Directions in the U.S. Perspectives USA had been funded by the Ford Foundation in 1952, and ran for four years, until its final issue, #16, in Summer 1956, with various guest editors--although Laughlin was centrally involved throughout in editorial and publishing roles. As weal as its U.S. edition. French, Italian, German and British volumes appeared, with the aim of putting "the culture of the United Stales in accurate perspective." Rexroth was on the Advisory Board.

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14. TLS-1

April 7, 1955 Dear Denise:

Before writing you in reply to your last letter which was extremely interesting to me I have waited until I could go in and see the pictures of which you spoke. Yesterday I took in the show so that now I am able to speak to you about it. It's a good show of which I'll talk to you in a moment. Leland Bell is an artist in transition to important work. I can't say that in this show he is uniformally successful but in what I take to be his later pieces he moved me to admiration with his bold use of the primary colors. Very impressive. The pictures he painted even five years ago are grey by comparison and not interesting to me.

They are, all the paintings, figure pieces crowding the edges of the canvas. Single figures, all of them, except one which I think of as Adam & Eve, which by the way is one of the best. The style is very moving, his use of color and design, color in the design, shows him to have a lively sense of the value of light in a picture. That is a primary feature of all good painting, as he is showing himself more and more in his work to appreciate. The light is being permitted more and more to penetrate his vision and that presages well for him. His use of pure color, when he permits himself that privilege shows him to be a man who is emerging himself into the light of self confidence. More power to him for he has both intelligence (otherwise he would have given up long since) and emotional power.

He has to go on painting, he is only beginning to emerge from the chrysalis of uncertainty and lack of self confidence. But with these paintings, the best of them, he is just coming into his proper field and promises to make important advances. He has to give himself more room on the canvas, he has to stand more back from it and take it more confidently, he has to dare to consider a wider field--as he does in the seated figure of a man with his elbows on his knees, which is one of his best. I think but who am I? that he should paint bigger canvases--not painted so close to the eye. I'd like to meet him and his wife sometime when we come back from the coast.

You never wrote me so long a letter, so full of the small details of your life. It is characteristic of you that it took an interest in a fellow creature, an artist, to bring the best out of you. But the luminous simplicity of your style comes over from your poetry into your letters and makes you very close to me.

The poems you include in your letter have the same singleness of perception that has moved me from the first. The MERRITT PARKWAY one is particularly moving but it shows me more than ever what you are up against because that sort of composition will never be popular--even among artists. You face a hell of a future but I know you'll never change your attack. I just fear that you will become discouraged from the lack of appreciation you get--until some day, when deeply moved, you'll burst out with something which it will be worth witnessing. I hope I'll still be around, because you may need friends. Meanwhile you'll write many good poems. Work on the rhythmical organization of the poems which is not always clear, or as clear as it could be.

Love from us both. Bill

the paintings...Adam & Eve Some of Bell's paintings from this period, including work from this exhibition, are reproduced in Arts News (April, 1955: 46, and Art News Annual (1956): 89. The latter publication reproduces his Study for Two Swedes (1955), which may be the painting WCW has in mind here.

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