Larry Levis (1946 - 1996 / California / United States)
Biography of Larry Levis
Larry Levis was born in Fresno, California, on September 30, 1946. The son of a grape grower, he grew up driving a tractor, picking grapes, and pruning vines of Selma, California, a small fruit-growing town in the San Joaquin Valley. He later wrote of the farm, the vineyards, and the Mexican migrant workers that he worked alongside. He also remembered hanging out in the local billiards parlor on Selma's East Front Street, across from the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks.
Levis earned a bachelor's degree from Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno) in 1968. He went on to earn a master's degree from Syracuse University in 1970 and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1974.
Levis taught English at the University of Missouri from 1974-1980. From 1980 to 1992, he directed the creative writing program at the University of Utah. From 1992 until his death from a heart attack in 1996 he was a professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University, which annually awards the Levis Reading Prize in his remembrance (articles about Levis and the prize are featured each year in Blackbird, an online journal of literature and the arts).
Levis won the United States Award from the International Poetry Forum for his first book of poems, Wrecking Crew (1972), which included publication by the University of Pittsburgh Press. The American Academy of Poets named his second book, The Afterlife (1976) as Lamont Poetry Selection. His book The Dollmaker's Ghost was a winner of the Open Competition of the National Poetry Series. Other awards included a YM-YWHA Discovery award, three fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. His poems are featured in American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets (2006) and in many other anthologies. Larry Levis died of a heart attack in Richmond, Virginia on May 8, 1996, at the age of 49.
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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