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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)

Readings in French

Larry Levis, 1946 - 1996
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 Pierre Reverdy
Is like throwing the editorial page
Out into the rain
And then riding alone on the subway.

Also, it is like avoiding your father.
You are hiding and he looks for you
Under each vine; he is coming nearer
And nearer. What can you do
But ignore him?

3.

In either case, soon you are riding alone on a subway.
Which is not important.
What is important is to avoid
Looking too closely into the eyes of your father,
That formal eclipse.

From The Selected Levis: Selected and with an Afterword by David St. John by Larry Levis. Copyright © 2000 by the estate of Larry Levis. Reproduced by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

The Selected Levis: Selected and with an Afterword by David St. John by Larry Levis. Price: $22.50 cloth. ISBN # 0-8229-4141-4 cloth. Order from University of Pittsburgh Press, c/o CUP Services, Box 6525, Ithaca, NY 14851. Phone: 800-666-2211, Fax: 607-277-6292.

From The Selected Levis: Selected and with an Afterword by David St. John by Larry Levis. Copyright © 2000 by the estate of Larry Levis. Reproduced by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press.

The Selected Levis: Selected and with an Afterword by David St. John by Larry Levis. Price: $22.50 cloth. ISBN # 0-8229-4141-4 cloth. Order from University of Pittsburgh Press, c/o CUP Services, Box 6525, Ithaca, NY 14851. Phone: 800-666-2211, Fax: 607-277-6292.

Larry Levis

Larry Levis

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

by this poet

poem
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,
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
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, &