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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)

In a Country

Larry Levis, 1946 - 1996
My love and I are inventing a country, which we 
can already see taking shape, as if wheels were 
passing through yellow mud. But there is a prob-
lem: if we put a river in the country, it will thaw 
and begin flooding. If we put the river on the bor-
der, there will be trouble. If we forget about the 
river, there will be no way out. There is already a 
sky over that country, waiting for clouds or smoke. 
Birds have flown into it, too. Each evening more 
trees fill with their eyes, and what they see we can 
never erase.

One day it was snowing heavily, and again we were 
lying in bed, watching our country: we could 
make out the wide river for the first time, blue and 
moving. We seemed to be getting closer; we saw 
our wheel tracks leading into it and curving out 
of sight behind us. It looked like the land we had 
left, some smoke in the distance, but I wasn't sure. 
There were birds calling. The creaking of our 
wheels. And as we entered that country, it felt as if 
someone was touching our bare shoulders, lightly, 
for the last time.

From The Afterlife by Larry Levis, published by University of Iowa Press. Copyright © 1977 by the estate of Larry Levis. Reprinted by permission of the estate of Larry Levis. All rights reserved.

From The Afterlife by Larry Levis, published by University of Iowa Press. Copyright © 1977 by the estate of Larry Levis. Reprinted by permission of the estate of Larry Levis. All rights reserved.

Larry Levis

Larry Levis

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

by this poet

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poem
1.

Looking into the eyes of Gerard de Nerval
You notice the giant sea crabs rising.
Which is what happens
When you look into the eyes of Gerard de Nerval,
Always the same thing: the giant sea crabs,
The claws in their vague red holsters
Moving around, a little doubtfully.

2.

But looking into the eyes of
poem
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