blackbirdonline journalSpring 2011  Vol. 10  No. 1

Bookmark and Share Share

Reading Loop Introduction and Table of Contents


Larry Levis
   Elegy with an Angel at its Gate
   Four Facsimile Drafts

Images of Levis
   Levis at Laurel and China II & Street Art
   Larry Levis in Hawaiian Shirt

Nick Lantz
   new poems
   Amputation Transcript, a Redaction
   Lions Are Fed Donkeys in Baghdad Zoo:
   Waiting with the Donkey

   poems from We Don't Know We Don't Know
   Harry Harlow in the Pit of Despair
   “Of Dogges”
   “Whether the World be finite, and but one”

14th Annual Levis Reading Prize
   A Reading by Nick Lantz
   A Conversation with Nick Lantz 

Gregory Kimbrell
   Review | We Don’t Know We Don’t Know, by
   Nick Lantz


Welcome to Blackbird’s tenth Levis Remembered, a visit with the poetry and voice of Larry Levis and an introduction to the fourteenth annual Levis Reading Prize winner, Nick Lantz. The prize is given by 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 Nick Lantz’s remarkable poems and in remembering Larry’s matchless witness to the last decades of the twentieth century

The Larry Levis piece highlighted this year is “Elegy with an Angel at Its Gate,” published originally in Western Humanities Review. Accompanying the text as it appeared in Elegy are four images selected from working drafts of the poem that are included in the collection of Levis papers housed at VCU’s James Branch Cabell Library. We publish these drafts to provide a glimpse into Larry’s mind at work as he was writing, in particular, the elegies that appear in his posthumous book. Philip Levine, with assistance from Peter Everwine and David St. John, chose and placed these poems with attention, consideration, and a perception rooted in long years as Larry’s friends and teachers.

Because this poem had been published in Larry’s lifetime, the process for choosing the text for inclusion in Elegy was fairly direct. However, when Larry’s student Amy Tudor and I were sorting through his papers and computer files as we tried to bring some order to the material we were preparing to send to Phil, we found a number of drafts of what could be “Elegy with and Angel at Its Gate” or could be parts of other individual poems altogether. What Larry’s editors decided, with the particular suggestion of Peter Everwine, was, as Phil notes in his introduction to the book, “that Larry was not cannibalizing certain passages from some poems in order to heighten and enlarge other more ambitious poems, but that in fact he was using these motifs or ‘riffs’ to unify the collection he had in mind.”

Thus, Larry introduces numerous encore appearances by grasses, horses, angels, ships, trees, 1967, et alia, that are in play through the entire collection. A reader can follow this process in a capsule form by looking at how the four sections of “Elegy With an Angel at Its Gate” take shape, as lines are moved from one section to another and as the poem is finally divided into its four parts.

Lines migrate between the text titled “Stevens” and the texts titled “The Angel in the Gate,” almost auditioning for their eventual placement. Bunny Mayo and the dime store rosary also acquire individual form and are eventually moved out of the longer single poem and expanded to form thematically independent sections of the completed elegy. Muir makes his appearance in the wilderness, siphoning off other images and lines, and the device of ending each of the sections with a single line makes its debut.

Examining Larry’s working process in these elegies is a good starting point for the conversation that plays out within the introductions to the poems in sequence featured in this issue of Blackbird. They afford a few more ideas to ponder about how poets go about expanding their work beyond the shorter lyric without necessarily embracing a linear narrative.

Included as well in Levis Remembered are two images from the ongoing street-art homage to Larry. We will continue to share these images as we come across them.
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.  end

return to top