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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Larry Levis Poems
The Poem You Asked For
My poem would eat nothing. I tried giving it water but it said no,
As I Move On With You
Different days, Different hours, Many faces, bouqutes of flowers,
Those Graves In Rome
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
The Widening Spell Of The Leaves
--The Carpathian Frontier, October, 1968 --for my brother Once, in a foreign country, I was suddenly ill.
Anastasia & Sandman
The brow of a horse in that moment when The horse is drinking water so deeply from a trough It seems to inhale the water, is holy.
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
For Zbigniew Herbert, Summer, 1971, Los ...
No matter how hard I listen, the wind speaks One syllable, which has no comfort in it-- Only a rasping of air through the dead elm.
The Clearing Of The Land: An Epitaph
The trees went up the hill And over it. Then the dry grasses of the pasture were Only a kind of blonde light
The Poet At Seventeen
My youth? I hear it mostly in the long, volleying Echoes of billiards in the pool hall where I spent it all, extravagantly, believing
Readings In French
1. Looking into the eyes of Gerard de Nerval You notice the giant sea crabs rising.
Elegy With A Bridle In Its Hand
One was a bay cowhorse from Piedra & the other was a washed out palomino And both stood at the rail of the corral & both went on aging
The Oldest Living Thing In L.A.
At Wilshire & Santa Monica I saw an opossum Trying to cross the street. It was late, the street Was brightly lit, the opossum would take
Elegy For Whatever Had A Pattern In It
Now that the Summer of Love has become the moss of tunnels And the shadowy mouths of tunnels & all the tunnels lead into the city,
Sister once of weeds & a dark water that held still In ditches reflecting the odd, Abstaining clouds that passed, & kept
Readings In French
Looking into the eyes of Gerard de Nerval
You notice the giant sea crabs rising.
Which is what happens
When you look into the eyes of Gerard de Nerval,
Always the same thing: the giant sea crabs,
The claws in their vague red holsters
Moving around, a little doubtfully.