blackbirdonline journalFall 2015  Vol. 14 No. 2

Reading Loop Introduction and Table of Contents


Larry Levis
   Elegy With a Thimbleful of Water in the Cage
1996 Handley Library Reading
   Last known recording of Larry Levis

Sandra Lim
   poems from The Wilderness
   Certainty [Edward Taylor . . . ]
   Certainty [Perhaps you can . . . ]  
   Garden Quarrel
   Human Interest Story

18th Annual Levis Reading Prize 
   with a reading by prize winner Sandra Lim;
   commentary by John Ulmschneider, Gregory
   Donovan, & David Wojahn

A Conversation with Sandra Lim 

Leia Darwish
   Review | The Wilderness, by Sandra Lim


Welcome to Blackbird’s fourteenth Levis Remembered, bringing you an encounter with the enduring poetry of Larry Levis as well as an introduction to the remarkable, alert writing of the 18th Annual Levis Reading Prize winner, Sandra Lim. This annual award is given by the Department of English at Virginia Commonwealth University to recognize the author of the most outstanding first or second book of poems published in the previous year and chosen by VCU’s panel of judges.

Each fall Blackbird draws your attention to some particular aspect of Levis’s work, and this year we encourage your further consideration of “Elegy with a Thimbleful of Water in the Cage,” a poem which comes from the posthumous collection Elegy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997), and here we present not only the text, but a 1996 recording that includes Levis reading it. The poem begins, “It’s a list of what I cannot touch,” and like so many of Levis’s deeply engaging later poems, its meditations and narrations include what may seem to be a prophetic awareness that he would himself soon move beyond the reach of all things, although an awareness of looming mortality is a characteristic of a great many of his poems, early and late. An additional posthumous collection, including previously uncollected work, The Darkening Trapeze: Last Poems, has been edited by David St. John—who also has previously contributed several essays to Blackbird related to this project—and that book is due out from Graywolf Press early in 2016, a volume we anticipate with the strongest interest.

Each year Gregory Donovan contributes a meditation on the life and work of his friend and colleague as part of the Levis Prize reading, and in his essay this year, “The Self and the Soul,” he traces how Levis makes use of two exemplary “ancestor poems” by W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot to navigate “between the merely personal and a cultural perspective that might stand outside of time”:

In his late great poem, “Elegy with a Thimbleful of Water in the Cage,” Larry Levis takes on the complex aesthetic task of balancing the personal and the mythic, of weaving them into a braided narrative that seeks out their entwined interdependence as he enacts a search for identity and connection while operating under the pressure of the ultimate erasure guaranteed by time.

In addition to the last known recording of Larry Levis reading his poetry, Levis Remembered also presents a selection of poems from The Wilderness, Sandra Lim’s award-winning collection, as well as a recorded conversation with her and audio and transcripts from the 18th Annual Levis Reading Prize celebratory event, which includes a welcome by John Ulmschneider, VCU’s university librarian, the essay by Donovan, an introduction by David Wojahn, and the reading by Sandra Lim.

We welcome you to enter Levis’s work here and in his books, and we especially thank his sister, Sheila Brady, and his son, Nick Levis, for this opportunity to remember him again. The Levis Reading Prize is sponsored by VCU Libraries, the VCU Department of English, the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, Barnes and Noble @ VCU, and the family of Larry Levis.  end

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