poem index


Larry Levis

1946-1996 , Fresno , CA , United States
Printer-friendly version
Larry Levis

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

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)

The Gazer Within (University of Michigan Press, 2001)

Black Freckles (Gibbs Smith, 1992)

by this poet


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.

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 
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