Poet Cora Brooks has written, "Forgive these words, they are not birds." Academic philosophers have built careers upon speculations that what most of us call Literature is a falsehood, an intellectual sham or circus trick. Meanwhile, for altogether different reasons, imaginative writers continue to wrestle, as they have always done, with the difficulty of accurately catching in words the dizzying vivaciousness of being alive. A recent book by Denise Levertov celebrates both the effort and joy of reaching with language for a momentary grasp of the "realness" of the natural world - a realm we experience through a perpetually shifting range of sights, sounds, and feelings. Consider the one-line poem of Cora Brooks, one fluent gesture, one rapidly balanced and articulated sentence. The poet concedes the inability of words to embody the actual winged miracles that surround us, yet with equal verve demonstrates how suddenly poetry can penetrate an ordinarily distracted mind. The reader knowledgeable about craft would recognize the phrasing as perfect iambic tetrameter, with a strong and pivotal caesura or pause in the middle, but you don't need to know this to get a rush of sensations from the line. Literary-critical theorizing seems extraneous under the glancing blow of that poem. Denise Levertov, who died in December 1997, was the author of more than twenty books of poems. The longevity and breadth of her influence upon readers and writers since the 1950s has been underscored by poet Kenneth Rexroth, who praised her as "the most subtly skillful poet of her generation, the most profound, the most modest, the most moving." Levertov's longtime publisher has recently released two pocket-sized, clothbound anthologies drawing upon collections published in all phases of her writing life. [ital] The Life Around Us, which I'll describe here, is thematically organized around poems that meditate upon our relationships with nature. The book is handsomely composed, intended to be carried along like a book of common prayer. As ever in this poet's work, the music is richly detailed, awestruck as well as elegiac. Here is "The Willows of Massachusetts": [indented] Animal willows of November in pelt of gold enduring when all else has let go all ornament and stands naked in the cold. Cold shine of sun on swamp water, cold caress of slant beam on bough, gray light on brown bark. Willows - last to relinquish a leaf, curious, patient, lion-headed, tense with energy, watching the serene cold through a curtain of tarnished strands. Levertov works like a spider, drawing out from within her body lines as fine as gossamer filament, yet resilient and adhesive. Actual spider web is, relative to its breadth, one of the toughest materials on Earth - the same substance enlarged would be stronger than steel cable, capable of spanning bridge supports. Like spider web, by design Levertov's poems are as much a matter of gaps and openings as anchored fibers. And she's as industrious as the prolific orb spinner whose web-works are ripped to tatters and who simply re-commences, because that is her nature and need: [indented] Everything is threatened, but meanwhile everything presents itself: the trees, that day and night steadily stand there, amassing lifetimes and moss, the bushes eager with buds sharp as green pencil-points . . . Her poems can at times seem didactic or excessively emotive, to a degree that evades rather than engulfs the reader, but following the course of Levertov's books for years, one comes over and over to scores of indispensable poems as well as some of the most gorgeous and intricate essays ever written on the tactile craft of writing. These are all the more piercing for originating in an age when the survival of no species or habitat can be taken for granted. As the poet observes in her foreword to [ital] The Life Around Us, "In these last few decades of the twentieth century it has become ever clearer to all thinking people that although we humans are a part of nature ourselves, we have become, in multifarious ways, an increasingly destructive element within it, shaking and breaking the `great web.' So a poet, although often impelled . . . to write poems of pure celebration, is driven inevitably to lament, to anger, and to the expression of dread." An artist as consummately confident as Levertov tends not to despair at the distance between word and world, but instead uses every resource at hand so as to completely inhabit the interval itself.