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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)

Those Graves in Rome

Larry Levis, 1946 - 1996
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 where Keats' name isn't even on
His gravestone, because it is on Severn's,
And Joseph Severn's infant son is buried
Two modest, grassy steps behind them both.
But you'd have to know the story--how bedridden
Keats wanted the inscription to be
Simple, & unbearable: "Here lies one
Whose name is writ in water." On a warm day,
I stood here with my two oldest friends.
I thought, then, that the three of us would be
Indissoluble at the end, & also that
We would all die, of course. And not die.
And maybe we should have joined hands at that
Moment. We didn't. All we did was follow
A lame man in a rumpled suit who climbed
A slight incline of graves blurring into
The passing marble of other graves to visit
The vacant home of whatever is not left
Of Shelley & Trelawney. That walk uphill must
Be hard if you can't walk. At the top, the man
Wheezed for breath; sweat beaded his face,
And his wife wore a look of concern so
Habitual it seemed more like the way
Our bodies, someday, will have to wear stone.
Later that night, the three of us strolled,
Our arms around each other, through the Via
Del Corso & toward the Piazza di Espagna
As each street grew quieter until
Finally we heard nothing at the end
Except the occasional scrape of our own steps,
And so we said good-bye. Among such friends,
Who never allowed anything, still alive,
To die, I'd almost forgotten that what
Most people leave behind them disappears.
Three days later, staying alone in a cheap 
Hotel in Naples, I noticed a child's smeared
Fingerprints on a bannister. It
Had been indifferently preserved beneath
A patina of varnish applied, I guessed, after
The last war. It seemed I could almost hear
His shout, years later, on that street. But this
Is speculation, & no doubt the simplest fact
Could shame me. Perhaps the child was from 
Calabria, & went back to it with
A mother who failed to find work, & perhaps
The child died there, twenty years ago,
Of malaria. It was so common then--
The children crying to the doctors for quinine.
It was so common you did not expect an aria,
And not much on a gravestone, either--although
His name is on it, & weathered stone still wears
His name--not the way a girl might wear
The too large, faded blue workshirt of
A lover as she walks thoughtfully through
The Via Fratelli to buy bread, shrimp,
And wine for the evening meal with candles &
The laughter of her friends, & later the sweet
Enkindling of desire; but something else, something
Cut simply in stone by hand & meant to last 
Because of the way a name, any name,
Is empty. And not empty. And almost enough.

From Winter Stars by Larry Levis, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 1985 by the estate of Larry Levis. Reproduced by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.

Winter Stars by Larry Levis. Price: $19.95 (cloth), $10.95 (paper). ISBN#: 0-8229-3511-2 (cloth), 0-8229-5368-4 (paper).

From Winter Stars by Larry Levis, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Copyright © 1985 by the estate of Larry Levis. Reproduced by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.

Winter Stars by Larry Levis. Price: $19.95 (cloth), $10.95 (paper). ISBN#: 0-8229-3511-2 (cloth), 0-8229-5368-4 (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
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

 

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