Over the years I've lost a book and asked myself if it was important enough to buy it again. I had a hardback first edition of Chaim Potok, The Gift of Asher Lev, and when I went to look for it I couldn't find it. Did it get handed into a charity shop? Did someone borrow it and I've forgotten (check your bookshelves readers whom I know, please :) But it doesn't matter - I was in a charity shop in Crieff and found a mint paperback copy for £1.99 and I'm almost finished reading it again. What a writer Potok was!
However I remember more vividly coming off a train on the way back from somewhere and just as I surrendered my ticket to the exit barrier I remembered I'd left my book on the table. It was Conversations with Denise Levertov, and I had just finished reading it and had annotated it to find the good bits more easily. I resisted buying it again, for a few years, but today it arrived from Amazon because I want to hear her voice at the different stages of her life. It is a voice that talks in compassion and anger, but each in proper proportion; it is a voice that speaks of what is seen and heard, but only after what is seen is taken in, and what is heard is listened to for its truth; hers is a voice that articulates conscience while understanding the entanglements, ambiguities and ethical quandaries that grow across whatever paths we walk.
"Belief is believing there is a God; faith is believing that God believes in you". That's just one of her one liners. This was a poet who wrote poems on subjects for which there were no words, yet she was determined to give word to the wordless horror of rape as a military weapon, napalm as apocalypse reduced to local conflagration, and torture as an acceptable means to the end of national interest.
Denise Levertov's essays A Poet in the World is in effect a confession of faith in the poet's vocation, For her, political issues are so embedded in human flourishing and suffering that they require articulation in words and thoughts, that are not beholden to expediency, pragmatism and the calculus that guages how much human suffering is justified in the pursuit of "freedom", "democracy", and yes, power.