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About this poet

Larry Patrick Levis was born in Fresno, California, on September 30, 1946. His father was a grape grower, and in his youth Levis drove a tractor, pruned vines, and picked grapes in Selma, California. He earned a bachelor's degree from Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno) in 1968, a master's degree from Syracuse University in 1970, and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1974.

His first book of poems, Wrecking Crew (1972), won the United States Award from the International Poetry Forum. His second book, The Afterlife (1976), was the Lamont Poetry Selection of The American Academy of Poets. In 1981, The Dollmaker's Ghost was a winner of the Open Competition of the National Poetry Series.

About Levis's work, poet Robert Mezey said, "Larry Levis writes a poetry that is full of surprises. Not the predictable and boring surprises that can be created by formula, but the nourishing shock of fresh ideas that rise from the work of the true poet."

Among his honors were a YM-YWHA Discovery Award, three fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

"Levis is not interested in metaphorical equivalence," wrote poet Tony Hoagland, "in comparison as a device whose goal is logical coherence, or persuasion, or concentration; rather, his practice is to use image as a form of inquiry, as a kind of tentative, speculating finger poking into the unknown."

He taught English at the University of Missouri from 1974 to 1980, was an associate professor and directed the creative writing program at the University of Utah from 1980 to 1992, and from 1992 until his death was a professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Levis died of a heart attack on May 8, 1996, at the age of 49. His last collection, Elegy, edited by Philip Levine, was published posthumously in 1997.

A Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Wrecking Crew (1972)
The Afterlife (1977)
The Dollmaker's Ghost (1981)
Winter Stars (1985)
The Widening Spell of the Leaves (1991)
Elegy (1997)
The Selected Levis (2000)

Prose

The Gazer Within (2000)

Fiction

Black Freckles (1992)

The Clearing of the Land: An Epitaph

Larry Levis, 1946 - 1996
The trees went up the hill
And over it.
Then the dry grasses of the pasture were
Only a kind of blonde light
Settling everywhere 
And framing the randomly strewn
Outcropping of gray stone

That anchored them to soil.

Who were they?
One in the picture, & one not, & both
Scotch-Irish drifters,
With nothing in common but a perfect contempt
for a past;
Ancestors of stumps & fallen trees & . . . .
One sits on a sorrel mare,
Idly tossing small stones at the rump
of a steer
That goes on grazing at tough rosettes
of pasture grass & switching its tail
In what is not yet irritation.

What I like, what I

Have always liked, is the way he tosses each small
Stone without thinking, without
A thought for anything, not aiming at all,
The easy, arcing forearm nonchalance
Like someone fly casting,
For this is what
He wanted:
To be among the stones, the grasses,
Savoring a stony self
That reminded him of no one else,
And on land where that poacher, Law,
Had not yet stolen through his fences,
The horse beneath him tensing
Its withers lightly to keep

The summer flies away,

And the woman in the flower-print dress hemmed
With stains
A half mile off
Is the authoress of no more than smoke rising,
Her sole diary & only publication,
From a distant chimney.
They have perhaps a year or two
Left of this
Before history begins to edit them into
Something without smoke or flies, something
Beyond all recognition.

From The Widening Spell of the Leaves by Larry Levis, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 1991 by the estate of Larry Levis. Reproduced by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.

Widening Spell of the Leaves by Larry Levis. Price: $19.95 (cloth), $10.95 (paper). ISBN# 0-8229-3675-5 (cloth), 0-8229-5454-0 (paper).

From The Widening Spell of the Leaves by Larry Levis, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 1991 by the estate of Larry Levis. Reproduced by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.

Widening Spell of the Leaves by Larry Levis. Price: $19.95 (cloth), $10.95 (paper). ISBN# 0-8229-3675-5 (cloth), 0-8229-5454-0 (paper).

Larry Levis

Larry Levis

Larry Patrick Levis was born in Fresno, California, on September 30, 1946.

by this poet

poem
The Carpathian Frontier, October, 1968
          —for my brother

Once, in a foreign country, I was suddenly ill.
I was driving south toward a large city famous
For so little it had a replica, in concrete,
In two-thirds scale, of the Arc de Triomphe stuck
In the midst of traffic, &
poem

 

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poem
There are places where the eye can starve,
But not here. Here, for example, is
The Piazza Navona, & here is his narrow room
Overlooking the Steps & the crowds of sunbathing
Tourists. And here is the Protestant Cemetery
Where Keats & Joseph Severn join hands
Forever under a little shawl of grass
And