blackbirdonline journalFall 2015  Vol. 16 No. 2

Reading Loop Introduction and Table of Contents


Ilya Kaminsky
   poems from Deaf Republic
   As Soldiers March, Alfonso Covers the
        Boy’s Face with a Newspaper
   Firing Squad
   For His Wife
   I, This Body
   The Townspeople Circle the Boy’s Body

23rd Annual Levis Reading Prize  
a reading by prize winner Ilya Kaminsky

Colin Bailes
   Review | Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky

Larry Levis
   Winter Stars
   My Parents and One Good Line I Wrote
      at Sixteen

   Manuscript Variations: “Winter Stars”


Blackbird’s annual Levis Remembered reading loop features work connected to Larry Levis as well as an introduction to the twenty-third Levis Reading Prize winner, Ilya Kaminsky. Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of English and its MFA program in creative writing, award the prize annually to the author of a first or second book of poems.

With the pandemic still swirling around us, the 2020 annual reading was held as a virtual event on September 28, at the VCU James Branch Cabell Library. Therefore, the event is presented as a single video capture that includes the introductions and thanks, the reading, and a question and answer session.

Each fall Blackbird also calls attention to some aspect of Levis’s work, and this year we have returned to the poem “Winter Stars.” In 2009 VCU’s Special Collections and Archives at the Cabell Library acquired the bulk of Larry Levis’s papers, archives, and personal library from his son, Nicholas Levis. Some additional material was donated by his sister, Sheila Brady, in 2011.

In August 2018 the library chose items related to the creation and publication of “Winter Stars” to serve as the online exhibition Believing in words: the Larry Levis papers. Selections from that exhibition reappear here. Images of drafts of the poem comprise the bulk of the library's arrangement, and they are accompanied by the special addition of images of Levis’s inscribed copy of Philip Levine’s collection of poems What Work Is.

Also included in the loop is an excerpt from an essay initially commissioned for the Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series that lays out in prose the specific incident of Levis's father confronting a laborer with a knife that serves as the central scene of the poem.

Five poems from Deaf Republic, Kaminsky’s winning book, and a review of the book by Colin Bailes are also included. As Bailes notes in his review:

[The book] is essentially a two-act play in verse that opens with the shooting of a young deaf boy, Petya, by a soldier in the occupied town of Vasenka, and the gunshot renders the entire town deaf.

In frank and austere, yet highly lyrical verse, Kaminsky chronicles the aftermath of the shooting and how members of the town come together and perform small yet courageous acts of protest against an oppressive regime while others refuse to participate, instead remaining silent to the atrocities that unfold, all of which are the result of the brutal murder of a child at the hands of, essentially, an officer of the law.

We invite your discovery of the work of Ilya Kaminsky and your exploration of the writing of Larry Levis, both in Blackbird and in his books. We thank his sister, Sheila Brady, and his son, Nick Levis, for the opportunity to recognize him here.  end

The Levis Reading Prize is sponsored by the VCU Department of English, VCU Libraries, Barnes & Noble @ VCU, the VCU Honors College, the VCU College of Humanities and Sciences, and the family of Larry Levis.

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