blackbird Spring 2008  Vol. 7  No. 1


spacer Larry Levis
   Photo by Jay Paul


Reading Loop Introduction

Welcome to Blackbird’s seventh Levis Remembered, a visit with the poetry and voice of Larry Levis and an introduction to the eleventh annual Levis Reading Prize winner, Matt Donovan. The prize is given by Larry’s family and the Department of English at Virginia Commonwealth University to the author of a first or second book of poems chosen by VCU’s panel of judges. Join us in discovering Matt Donovan’s remarkable poems and in remembering Larry’s matchless witness to the last decades of the twentieth century.

The two Levis pieces highlighted this year are “Elegy with a Bridle in Its Hand,” a poem from Elegy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997), and “Strange Days: Zbigniew Herbert in Los Angeles,” an essay reprinted from The Gazer Within (University of Michigan Poets on Poetry Series, 2001). The poem is reprinted under Larry’s name in Poetry and the essay appears in Nonfiction.

Both of these pieces are written in a wry voice of bemused affection, a stance that gives Larry the freedom to veer radically from personal memory to something much more complicated. Larry’s essays often served as exercises in the development of an aesthetic issue in poetry that later played out in the poems themselves. In the essay, he notes that Herbert had developed “a style so impermissive of the merely and suspiciously personal, a style so lean and scrupulous and classical, that the poem cast out the poet and what was said cast out the sayer.” While the language in Larry’s poems could never be called lean, the attitude that he takes as the poet making the poems is one of scrupulous care against the dishonesty of personal ego. In this sense, he works to cast himself out of, to disappear into, the poems. The good-for-nothing horses Misfit and Querido Flacco, patiently waiting out their declining years in a lower pasture, reflect this care and move us deeply as a result of its application.

Also included in Levis Remembered are a poem and a reading by Gerald Stern. The poem is reprinted from New Virginia Review, Volume 11, 2001 (a special issue devoted to Larry’s memory). From that same issue of New Virginia Review, we reprint Christopher Buckley’s essay “Larry Levis & His Prose.” This essay, which was written shortly after Larry’s death, considers how the prose and the poems share language and point of view.

We invite you to enter Larry’s work, both in Blackbird and in his books, and we thank his sister, Sheila Brady, and his son, Nick Levis, for the opportunity to recognize him here.

—Mary Flinn  end of text  

   Levis Remembered  audio icon

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