blackbirdonline journalFall 2015  Vol. 14 No. 2
an online journal of literature and the arts
 print preview
 download audio
back LARRY LEVIS  |  Levis Remembered

1996 Handley Library Reading
Last known recording of Larry Levis

In the spring of 1996, the Handley Library in Winchester, Virginia, invited Larry Levis to read as part of a series of evenings centered on contemporary poetry. The events were coordinated by Bruce Souder, a local poetry enthusiast, and also featured Charlottesville poets Charles Wright and Gregory Orr. This reading proved to be Levis’s last. Souder recorded the evening on cassette tape, and after Levis’s death, thoughtfully mailed a copy of the tape to New Virginia Review. NVR copied it again so that participants at Levis’s Richmond memorial service in November could have a memento of the occasion. The recording aired here was made from one of those copies, and its quality, therefore, presents some issues of bumpiness, uneven volume, and hissing. Though we have cut a particularly muddy (and short) question and answer section, Blackbird has chosen primarily to edit the piece very lightly so that it presents the rhythm of Levis’s voice in the reading of the poems and in his side comments as faithfully as possible.

The poems read are: “Some Grass along a Ditch Bank,” “Caravaggio: Swirl & Vortex,” “In 1967,” “Elegy with a Thimbleful of Water in the Cage,” “Winter Stars,” and “Poem Ending with a Hotel on Fire.”

Some readers admire the languorous music of a Larry Levis poem. Others get caught up in his stark, insightful rendering of landscape. But the deep chiaroscuro of his imagination and humor, and the surreal flicker of the truly magical that survives within them, astonish and delight most.

Levis, as the poems read here demonstrate, enjoins us to listen wholeheartedly to the stories history whispers to the wind, though they often involve cruelty and suffering. They just as often preserve as counterspell the small, deliberate gestures that, down the centuries, have buoyed the human spirit. They remind us to honor the nearly invisible presences that regard each moment along with us. Like the gray cat in the rural New Hampshire post office that “slept on the burnished mahogany / In the scooped-out beveled place on the counter below / The iron grillwork,” in such a way that “you had to pass your letter over him.”  end  

return to top