poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

occasions

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 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972), won the United States Award from the International Poetry Forum. His second book, The Afterlife (University of Iowa Press, 1976), was the Lamont Poetry Selection of The American Academy of Poets. In 1981, The Dollmaker's Ghost (Dutton) 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. A posthumous collection, Elegy (University of Pittsburgh Press), edited by Philip Levine, was published in 1997, and The Darkening Trapeze: Last Poems (Graywolf Press), edited by David St. John, was published in 2016.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
The Darkening Trapeze: Last Poems (Graywolf Press, 2016)
The Selected Levis (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000)
Elegy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997)
The Widening Spell of the Leaves (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991)
Winter Stars (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985)
The Dollmaker's Ghost (Dutton, 1981)
The Afterlife (University of Iowa Press, 1977)
Wrecking Crew (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972)

Prose
The Gazer Within (University of Michigan Press, 2001)

Fiction
Black Freckles (Gibbs Smith, 1992)

In a Country

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, born in California in 1946, was the author of several collections of poetry and received numerous honors and awards, including the Lamont Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

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 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
poem

Does exile begin at birth? I lived beside a wide river
For so long I stopped hearing it.

As when a glass shatters during an argument,
And we are secretly thrilled. . . . We wanted it to break.

Always something missing now in the cry of one bird,
Its wings flared against the wood.