blackbirdonline journalFall 2022  Vol. 21  No. 2

Reading Loop Introduction and Table of Contents


Devon Walker-Figueroa
   from Philomath video icon
   The Blood’s Unwritable Psalm
   Gallowed Be
   Of Gut & Gold

   New Poems
   Horticulture or Eternity
   The Hunted
   Paradise Lust

Gregory Donovan
   A Haunted Poem in a Haunted City

Katy Scarlett
   Review | Philomath by Devon Walker-Figueroa

Larry Levis
   Elegy for Poe with the Music of a Carnival Inside It

David Freed
   Portraits of Larry Levis


Blackbird’s annual Levis Remembered reading loop features work connected to Larry Levis, as well as an introduction to the twenty-fifth Levis Reading Prize winner, Devon Walker-Figueroa. 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. Walker-Figueroa visited Richmond to read from Philomath, her winning collection, in an evening event on September 30th, 2022 at VCU’s Cabell Library.

The prize is structured so that graduate students in VCU’s MFA program in creative writing read the submitted books and select a group of finalists whose work is sent into the next round where the final decision is made by the VCU creative writing faculty. This method of selection is therefore a community process, and it would not be possible without the participation of the graduate students in the program.

This prize named for Larry Levis serves as a living memorial to his superb poetry and to his enduring influence on an ever-growing and broad range of American poets, Walker-Figueroa among them. Also, each fall Blackbird calls attention to some aspect of Levis’s work, and this year, in his annual appreciation of a Levis poem, Gregory Donovan examines “Elegy for Poe with the Music of a Carnival Inside It.” As he notes:

In his poem, Levis imagines an invisible, ghostly city that exists right alongside or within the one that is the present-day city described in its lines. . . . [so] please imagine that you are hearing this poem from Larry Levis who was haunted, as we are, by the ghostly presence of Poe, in a poem that seems entirely appropriate on an evening when we’re gathered to honor a young poet who writes so brilliantly and sympathetically about the ghostly presences that haunted the towns where she grew up.

Just as Levis’s Poe cannot seem to move either closer to or away from the Richmond/not Richmond of the poem, so Walker-Figueroa seems embedded in the eponymous town of Philomath. Rendering the town and its surroundings into poems; however, creates a space for Walker-Figureoa to preserve her town in an act of imagination and simultaneously to free herself from its weight by translating it onto art.

In “Gallowed Be” she tells us:

the world is wide, if the hymnal’s hold
true, & every beast has a mind to get loose
from a valley fallowing
toward foul.) My sister braids my waist-
length mane, says, “This
place is lame.” I try to tell her
no one is to blame, but the sky is
so hollow it swallows every name.

Walker-Figueroa is represented by four poems reprinted from the collection. Three new poems are also included, and the reprinted poems feature Walker-Figuroa reading her work.

A review of Philomath, written by Katy Scarlett, also appears here.

David Freed’s portraits of Levis and images created in collaboration with Levis complete the loop.

We invite your discovery of the work of Devon Walker-Figuroa 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.

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. The 2022–2023 Levis Prize coordinator is Katy Scarlett.  end

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