blackbirdonline journalFall 2015  Vol. 16 No. 2

Reading Loop Introduction and Table of Contents

spacer Leila Chatti
   from Deluge video icon
   The Blood
   Portrait of the Illness as Nightmare

   New Poems
   Echo Discusses Desire with the Trees
   Pearl Ghazal

Gregory Donovan
   Seeing Through the Wren as a Lens

Brandon Young
   Review | Deluge by Leila Chatti

Larry Levis
   To a Wren on Calvary
   Some Notes on the Gazer Within

Stephen Dunn
   Larry Levis in Syracuse


Blackbird’s annual Levis Remembered reading loop features work connected to Larry Levis as well as an introduction to the twenty-fourth Levis Reading Prize winner, Leila Chatti. Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of English and its MFA program in creative writing, award the prize annually to the author of a first or second book of poems. Chatti visited Richmond to read from her work in an evening event on September 23rd, 2021 at VCU’s Cabell Library.

The prize is structured so that graduate students in VCU’s MFA program in creative writing read the submitted books and select a group of finalists whose work is sent into the next round where the final decision is made by the VCU creative writing faculty. This method of selection is therefore a community process, and it would not be possible without the participation of the graduate students in the program.

This prize named for Larry Levis serves as a living memorial to his superb poetry and to his enduring influence on an ever-growing and broad range of American poets. Also, each fall Blackbird calls attention to some aspect of Levis’ work, and this year, in his annual appreciation of a Levis poem, Gregory Donovan examines “To a Wren on Calvary.” As he notes:

when the wren does appear in the poem, it is already dead and infested with lice, which have created within the wren’s body an “altar” whose congregation is so lively the narrator, presumably Levis himself, is forced to drop it from his hand. And yet he and his hand have been transformed by the experience, “changed for a moment / By a thing so common,” once again a discovery of the miraculous in the unremarkable . . .

Finding the miraculous in the ordinary also carries us into Levis’ poem “Linnets” and his essay “Some Notes on the Gazer Within,” which only serve to further underline this aspect of the poet’s work.

Also in this year’s loop, we have reposted Stephen Dunn’s meditation on his friendship with Levis during their days in Syracuse as students of Donald Justice. We do so to remember Dunn’s generous spirit and to note his passing earlier this year.

Leila Chatti’s Deluge is represented by four poems reprinted from the collection. Three new poems appear here as well. As Donovan stated in his introduction to her reading:

The book’s central drama is brought on by a health crisis which Leila Chatti unexpectedly faced in her twenty-second year, a sudden bursting forth like a dam or a thundercloud, which came on with the force of an annunciation that created a link between her life and the life of Mary and the lives of all women.

A review of the book by Brandon Young appears here as well.

We invite your discovery of the work of Leila Chatti and your exploration of the writing of Larry Levis, both in Blackbird and in his books. We thank his sister, Sheila Brady, and his son, Nick Levis, for the opportunity to recognize him here.  end

The Levis Reading Prize is sponsored by the VCU Department of English, VCU Libraries, Barnes & Noble @ VCU, the VCU Honors College, the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, and the family of Larry Levis. The 2021-2022 Levis Prize coordinator was Brandon Young.

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