Dana Greene


Elizabeth Jennings

'The Inward War'

Dana Greene

Elizabeth Jennings was one of the most popular, prolific, and widely anthologized lyric poets in the second half of the twentieth century. This first biography, based on extensive archival research and interviews with Jennings's contemporaries, integrates her life and work and explores the 'inward war' the poet experienced as a result of her gender, religion, and mental fragility. 

Originally associated with the Movement, Jennings was sui generis, believing poetry was 'communication' and 'communion.' She wrote of nature, friendship, childhood, religion, love, and art, endearing her to a wide audience. Yet lifelong depression, unbearable loneliness, unrelenting fears, poverty, and physical illness plagued her. These were exacerbated by her gender in a male-dominated literary world and an inherited Catholic worldview which initially inculcated guilt and shame. However, a tenacious drive to be a poet made her, 'the most unconditionally loved writer of her generation.' 

Although her claim was that the poem is not the poet, her life is tracked in her voluminous published and unpublished poetry and prose. The themes of mental illness, the importance of place, the problems associated with being an unmarried woman artist, her relationship with literary mentors and younger poets, her non-feminist feminism, and her marginality and sympathy for the outcast are all explored. It was poetry which saved her; it helped her push back darkness and discover order in the midst of chaos. Poetry was her raison d'etre. It was her life

“The world is a vale of soul-making.”  -  John Keats 

Denise Levertov:  A Poet's Life
Dana Greene, University of Illinois Press, 2012

Kenneth Rexroth called Denise Levertov (1923–1997) "the most subtly skillful poet of her generation, the most profound, . . . and the most moving." Author of twenty-four volumes of poetry, four books of essays, and several translations, Levertov became a lauded and honored poet. Born in England, she published her first book of poems at age twenty-three, but it was not until she married and came to the United States in 1948 that she found her poetic voice, helped by the likes of William Carlos Williams, Robert Duncan, and Robert Creeley. Shortly before her death in 1997, the woman who claimed no country as home was nominated to be America's poet laureate.

Levertov was the quintessential romantic. She wanted to live vividly, intensely, passionately, and on a grand scale. She wanted the persistence of Cézanne and the depth and generosity of Rilke. Once she acclimated herself to America, the dreamy lyric poetry of her early years gave way to the joy and wonder of ordinary life. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, her poems began to engage the issues of her times. Vehement and strident, her poetry of protest was both acclaimed and criticized. The end of both the Vietnam War and her marriage left her mentally fatigued and emotionally fragile, but gradually, over the span of a decade, she emerged with new energy. The crystalline and luminous poetry of her last years stands as final witness to a lifetime of searching for the mystery embedded in life itself. Through all the vagaries of life and art, her response was that of a "primary wonder."

In this illuminating biography, Dana Greene examines Levertov's interviews, essays, and self-revelatory poetry to discern the conflict and torment she both endured and created in her attempts to deal with her own psyche, her relationships with family, friends, lovers, colleagues, and the times in which she lived. Denise Levertov: A Poet's Life is the first complete biography of Levertov, a woman who claimed she did not want a biography, insisting that it was her work that she hoped would endure. And yet she confessed that her poetry in its various forms--lyric, political, natural, and religious--derived from her life experience. Although a substantial body of criticism has established Levertov as a major poet of the later twentieth century, this volume represents the first attempt to set her poetry within the framework of her often tumultuous life.

"This impressive study is the first complete biography of [Denise Levertov]."--Library Journal

"This compelling study deftly blends personal details with consideration of the poet's craft."--Kirkus Reviews

"Aptly titled A Poet's Life, this biography gives due attention to Levertov's work and the woman who wrote it."--Washington Times

"Greene's book is filled with 20th-century poets--and Catholic spiritual leaders who peopled the church before, during and after the Second Vatican Council. To be read and savored."--National Catholic Reporter

"Greene has done us all a service with this much awaited and essential portrait of a major figure in American Literature. . . . Greene does a brilliant job of identifying this lifelong spiritual quest of Levertov as a central movement of her life, and connects these deep personal ties to family to the poems, thus revealing the life through the work and the work through the life. . . . Greene creates exactly the kind of biography that Levertov would have wanted--and we so needed."--New York Journal of Books

"Greene succeeds in showing how Levertov's poetic development was a kind of spiritual quest. . . . a complete and balanced view of the life of this major literary figure."--Today's American Catholic

"Dana Greene's biography of Denise Levertov is fully informed and very readable. But what distinguishes this account is that Greene has assimilated the biographical facts and a reading of Levertov's poetry and prose into a full and rounded understanding of the course of Levertov's life and her poetic development as a pilgrimage and quest, religious in its origins. The result is an authoritative portrait of one of the central figures in American poetry of the last fifty years."--Albert Gelpi, coeditor of The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov

"Gracefully written and eminently readable, this book provides a much-needed biography of Denise Levertov. Offering an impressive and compelling account of the crucial events of Levertov's life, Dana Greene illuminates invaluable connections between the poet's interior life and her work."--Angela Alaimo O'Donnell, author of Saint Sinatra and Other Poems

"At the heart of Dana Greene's portrait of Denise Levertov is the poet's conviction that the essential human faculty is the imagination and that the artist's life is 'one of obedience to vocation.' Considering each stage of the poet's life, Greene writes with clarity and grace of Levertov's intertwined active outer life and her contemplative, imaginative, emotional inner life. A thoughtful, sensitive, sensible reading of Levertov's life and work."--Harry Marten, author of Understanding Denise Levertov                            

Evelyn Underhill:  Artist of the Infinite Life
Dana Greene, University of Notre Dame Press, 1998

Evelyn Underhill (1975-1941) was one of the greatest spiritual writers of the twentieth century. Living most of her life in England, Underhill used writing as a vehicle to express her passionate search for the infinite life. Her philosophy transcends generations and her legacy as a pivotal figure in Christian mysticism endures today. In this comprehensive biography, Dana Greene expertly captures Underhill’s true essence. She gives us a thorough account of Underhill’s development as a mystic and theologian and also explores beyond to the heart of who she was as a person. The connections Greene makes between Underhill’s personal life and work create an in-depth and accurate portrait of this extraordinary woman.


“Dana Greene’s fine biography of Underhill . . . is once again a joy to read.” — Review for Religious

“In an age when we are trying to retrieve voices of women from their near silence in the history of spirituality, Underhill has much to say to the contemporary reader. . . . Greene’s biography centers on Underhill’s intellectual development, especially as manifested in her writings. This proves no small task when one considers the corpus of Underhill’s over four hundred books, essays, articles, and reviews. Greene has integrated a careful content analysis of works written during each period of Underhill’s life with painstaking research of archival materials, personal correspondence, and personal interviews of those who knew Underhill. In the process she has painted a portrait of a real woman struggling with the critical faith questions of the twentieth century. . . . Greene proves herself to be a literary and historical artist as she combines first-class scholarship, deep insight into the life of her subject, and a flowing, on occasion almost poetic, writing style.” — Spirituality Today 

The Living of Maisie Ward  
Dana Greene, University of Notre Dame Press, 1997

In a time when Catholic women were expected to stay home and raise families, Maisie Ward decided she wanted to make a greater contribution to her faith. With her husband, Ward published original works by Catholic writers and translations of noted European Catholic theologians. Ward also wrote, lectured, travelled, and raised money for her causes. Greene’s biography of this remarkable woman provides inspiration for the current generation of American Catholics.


“This is a well-written, well-documented work, and it includes an extensive index and bibliography. Anyone interested in Catholic lay ministry and the lives of women who made a difference will find this a fascinating piece of writing.” -Spiritual Life

“This book is for those who followed Maisie Ward and the exciting decades of the 1920s to the 1950s in Catholic publishing. Sheed and Ward did much to advance Catholic writing and scholarship. This well-researched, readable and enjoyable biography of one-half of the partnership is a joy to have.” -Catholic Library Association

“In writing the life of this exceptional woman. . . Greene reconstructs the several worlds inhabited by her protagonist, worlds which need to be reinstated within the Catholic historical memory.” — The Catholic Historical Review 

Fragments from an Inner Life: The Notebooks of Evelyn Underhill

By Evelyn Underhill
Edited by Dana Greene, Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011

Evelyn Underhill kept notebooks during her crucial mid-life years, while she was a successful writer and scholar. These private documents comprise one soul's journey in the life of the Spirit, yet with a universal dimension. Underhill's reflections are the only known sustained records of her private life, her doubts and failings, obstacles to growth, and her gradual awakening to God's grace and presence. In his "Foreword" A. M. Allchin writes, "Evelyn Underhill's inner world, which was one of contrasts and conflicts, of darkness as well as light, can stand for the inner world of us all . . . these fragments from her inner story will continue to remind us of the price that was paid for the serenity and wisdom of her latter years."

These notes and journal entries have the immediacy of spiritual autobiography and the detail that give texture to her otherwise elusive life history. In order to be best understood, they need to be viewed within the context of her "public" writings. Her personal speculations and correspondence give depth and nuance to the mystic and theologian now commemorated in the church calendar and read by Christians of many communions.

"Dana Greene's theological astuteness coupled with her skill as a historian shapes the fragments of Underhill's notebooks into a coherent mosaic. . . . Even long time students of Underhill will find here fresh perspectives on her life and work. First time readers will long for more. The result is a preveleged intimacy with Underhill . . . an experience of being with one of the great spiritual lights of the twentieth century, an experience of truth, beauty, and surprising peace."

—Dolores R. Leckey, Executive Director, Secretariat for Family, Laity, Women and Youth, National Conference of Catholic Bishops

Evelyn Underhill:  Modern Guide to the Ancient Quest for the Holy

Dana Greene – Editor,   State University of New York Press, 1998

Evelyn Underhill was a pioneer in revitalizing interest in mysticism and in the spiritual life as lived by ordinary people. Here are some of her articles that demonstrate the variety and development of her thought over forty years. The themes of magic and mysticism, prayer and pacifism are all considered, with particular emphasis on Underhill's focus on personal religious experience, its nurturance in prayer, its protection by institutional religion, and its implications for all aspects of life. Together, the pieces illuminate the author's move from Platonism to the incarnational spirituality lived out during the years between the world wars.

Greene's interpretive introduction to the life and work of this contemporary mystic is most helpful for those previously unfamiliar with Underhill. The book contains the most complete bibliography available on works by and about this important woman.

"The selection of articles is balanced, thoughtful...cohesive and sound. Underhill's works are most difficult to access; Greene's sweep of scholarship and research is a gold mine for people interested in Underhill, religious experience, and mysticism." -- Doris Donnelly, Saint Mary's College, Notre Dame

"...an amazing collection of material both from Evelyn Underhill's own writings and from those referring to her. It may kindle study in this area that will be precious." -- Douglas V. Steere, T. Wistar Brown Professor (ret.) 

Suffrage and Religious Principle: Speeches and Writings of and Writings of Olympia Brown

Edited by Dana Greene,   the Scarecrow Press,  1986 

Lucretia Mott, Her Complete Speeches and Sermons (Studies in Women & Religion)

Edited by Dana Greene,  Edwin Mellen Press, 1980 

Presents, collected for the first time in one resource work, the stenographical texts of 49 speeches and sermons given by Lucretia Mott (1793-1880), a forerunner of the modern women's rights movement, noted abolitionist, influential social reformer, and peace activist who left no written corpus


". . . fills a substantial lacuna in the evolution of the records of feminist thought in America. . . . carefully prepared by a highly qualified scholar. . . . of primary interest to students of religious (Quaker) history, women's history, and the social history of the 19th century." - Choice

"Dana Greene, in her obviously careful and laborious compilation of the extant speeches of Mott, has done us a great service. . . . [N]ow Mott speaks for herself . . . ." - TSF Bulletin

"Greene provides a fine brief description of the religious beliefs and reformist philosophy of the famous 19th-century abolitionist and women's rights activist. She has also collected in one place and published for the first time in one place the sermons and speeches in which these principles are expressed. . . . For religious and women's studies collections." –Library Journal

"The work will be helpful to reform history in the United States and, one hopes, to historical theologians as  well." - Religious Studies Review "a valuable book" - The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

Website Builder