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Clean Slate: New and Selected Poems.

In one of her essays, "Poetry, Prophecy, Survival," Denise Levertov writes: "A passionate love of life must be quickened if we are to find the energy to stop the accelerating tumble (like a fallen man rolling over and over down a mountain) towards annihilation. To sing awe - to breathe out praise and celebration - is as fundamental an impulse as to lament."

To love in a time of war, to contemplate beauty while engaging in political action: These tensions are the rock upon which one of America's leading poets has built her vision. The essays here (which include discussions of T.S. Elliot, William Carlos Williams and mystical poetry) gather decades' worth of her most important statements; they ring even truer now as global chaos demands a whole new politics and the spiritual stamina to bring it about.

In "Paradox and Equilibrium," Levertov - a major voice of protest during the Vietnam War - speaks of art as a way to help us see in the dark.

"We humans cannot absorb the bitter truths of our own history ... the facts are rejected: perhaps not by the intellect, which accommodates them as statistics, but by the emotions - which hold the key to conscience and resolve" so that we might "muster the will" to transcend our destructive potential.

But to do so, she says, we must somehow picture peace, get a feel for it even as images of war bombard our psyches. Here, even poems about peace fall short, for they arise from personal epiphanies, poignant because peace is not shared by all. "We snatch our happiness from the teeth of violence, from the shadow of oppression," writes Levertov in "Poetry and Peace: Some Broader Dimensions."

The call to seek justice is Levertov's antidote to a peace that is merely private or only glimpsed. She speaks of a justice that would encompass not only people but Earth and her creatures as well.

"We become more aware of the inseparability of justice from peace, we perceive that hunger and homelessness and our failure to stop them are forms of warfare, and that no one is a civilian. And we perceive that our degradation of the biosphere is the most devastating war of all. ... Deforestation is a kind of protracted warfare."

In her poem, "Making Peace," Levertov goes even further, imagining peace as "an energy field more intense than war" that (if we "restructured the sentence our lives are making") might "pulse then/stanza by stanza into the world."

Meanwhile, from Nicaragua comes the poetry of Daisy Zamora, translated by poet-activist, Margaret Randall and her mother, Elinor, Poet as woman, revolutionary, mother, feminist: These are Zamora's themes, cut and polished in the heated years preceding and following the Sandinista revolution.

Zamora's work constitutes a major contribution to the growing body of Latin American women poets who are speaking prophetically about imperialism, race and gender. She speaks as incisively about underground war communiques as she does about losing a baby at birth. Like Levertov, Zamora's body of work includes her activism, her carrying the torch of the personal vision to the community - perhaps the only legitimate response by artists to the horrors of this century.

In "To Be a Woman," Zamora writes: "You must swim against all currents ... impelled only by your heart, sustained only by your mind/until you have liberated yourself/from the nothingness you will only conquer/with your woman's voice, you verb."
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Author:Martinez, Demetria
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 10, 1993
Words:568
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