Blue plaque campaign set to honour Ilford’s most famous poet
- Credit: Elsa Dorfman (CC)
A campaign for a blue heritage plaque to mark the site of the former home of a famous international poet is to be launched by a historical society.
Born in Ilford in 1923 Denise Levertov rose to international fame and became known as one of America’s great poets when, With Eyes at the Back of our Heads, was published in 1959.
Chairman of the Ilford Historical Society, Jef Page said although Denise emigrated to the states with her new husband in 1948 she wrote fondly of the borough.
“It would be good for Ilford,” said Jef. “People can have positive thoughts about the area. Its not just doom and gloom.”
Denise’s love for Redbridge seeps through her poem A Map Of The Western Part Of The County Of Essex In England.
In it, the poet recounts how the “little streams of Valentines heard my resolves” and how “Roding held my head above water when I thought it was drowning me”.
Denise’s mother came from a small mining town in North Wales and her father, a Russian Hassidic Jew, emigrated to the UK to become an Anglican priest.
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He settled in Ilford within easy reach of Shoreditch as it was assumed he would want to preach in a Jewish neighbourhood.
Denise was educated entirely at home in Mansfield Road, Ilford, where her mother read to her the works of authors such as Dickens and Tolstoy.
Aged five she declared she would become a poet and determinedly aged just 12, sent some of her poems to the great T.S Eliot - widely regarded as one of the 20th century major poets.
He replied with a two-page letter of encouragement and Denise published her first poem in 1940 aged 17.
“There’s something exceptional here, someone writing to one of the greatest poets aged 12,” said Jef.
During the Second World War, the poet became a civilian nurse in London throughout the bombings.
She wrote: “In Ilford High Road I saw the multitudes passing pale under the light of flaring sundown,”
Denise taught at some of America’s most prestigious universities such as Stanford and MIT and was an anti-war advocate of the Vietnam War.
Many honours and awards were received by the poet including the Lenore Marshall Prize, Shelley Memorial Award and the Robert Frost Medal.
“Artists like Damien Hirst, David Hockney and Tracey Emin are good at winning prizes,” said Jef. “Denise has the prizes to prove how good she was.”