Image is a religious journal, but maybe not in the way you’d expect. Our executive editor, Mary Kenagy Mitchell, says that “we give voice to writers who are devout, or full of doubt. The grapplers, the joyful, the angry, the bereaved, the confused. The connecting thread is the effort to get language and art to bear transcendent mystery. We aren’t interested in ideal faith but in faith as it actually is. A faith balanced against doubt.”
This, Mitchell says, is why we named our annual award after Denise Levertov.
Levertov’s identity as a Christian believer—a pilgrim whose faith was inextricably entwined with doubt—was an important facet of her work.
Every year, we present this award, in partnership with Seattle Pacific University’s Department of English and MFA in creative writing, and with Seattle’s Hugo House, to an artist, musician or writer whose work exemplifies a serious and sustained engagement with faith. Poet Marilyn Nelson will receive the 2019 Levertov Award in November.
In 2018, Scott Cairns presented Carolyn Forché with the Levertov Award for her life’s work as a poet of witness, as an activist, and as a writer whose work reflects a long engagement with faith, justice and beauty.
Forché is a poet, editor, translator, and activist. Her books of poetry are Blue Hour, The Angel of History, The Country BetweenUs, and Gathering the Tribes. Many readers will also know Forché through the anthologies she edited, Against Forgetting and Poetry of Witness. Her memoir, What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance, was published in 2019.
Forché delivered the Levertov Award lecture at Hugo House, a center for Seattle writers offering readings, classes, and community events.
She began by recalling a life-changing event in Michigan State’s writing program in 1968, when Dr. Linda Wagner Martin, who taught her poetry workshop, played a recording of Denise Levertov reading poetry.
Both Forché and Levertov got into trouble with their poetry. Levertov wrote about the Vietnam War and Forché, in her 20s, wrote about El Salvador on the brink of civil war in The Country Between Us. Levertov, who was so influential on the younger Forché, became a colleague and a mentor. She expressed her admiration for Forché’s work, calling it lyrical and engaged, saying it was the kind of work she wanted to do.
In this episode, you’ll hear Carolyn Forché pay tribute to Levertov, read her own work, and answer questions about how writers can both bear witness and sustain each other in times of political and personal upheaval.
- The Levertov Award
- Hugo House
- “Making Peace” by Denise Levertov
- “At the Justice Department, November 15, 1969″ by Denise Levertov
- “The Boatman” by Carolyn Forché
- “The Colonel” by Carolyn Forché
- The Country Between Us by Carolyn Forché
- What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance by Carolyn Forché
- Vaclav Havel’s 1990 Speech to Congress
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.