blackbirdonline journalFall 2009  Vol. 8  No. 2


Reading Loop Introduction

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


Larry Levis

The two Levis pieces highlighted this year are “Some Notes On The Gazer Within” an essay originally published in FIELD and collected in The Gazer Within (University of Michigan Press, 2001) and “Linnets,” a poem that appeared first in The Afterlife (University of Iowa Press, 1977) and that is collected in The Selected Levis (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2000). The poem is reprinted under Larry’s name in Poetry, and the essay appears in Nonfiction.

The relationship between Larry’s long, sectioned poem “Linnets” and his essay “The Gazer Within” is as direct as it is complex. It would be an oversimplification to state that the essay merely provides a reader with a fairly detailed chronicle of how the poem came to be written. Like the mythic rendering of the relationship of the two brothers at the core of “Linnets,” there is a similarly fraught and nuanced inquiry taking place within the discursive frame of “Gazer” about the very nature of the interconnectedness of a poet and his subject matter. Where the essay moves through realms of ethical theory and comparative poetics with Larry’s trademark hilarity and rue, the poem plunges headlong from fable to prophecy toward a vehemently composite vision of how the world (and the poet seen within it) often resist our attempts to reduce them to documentation.

Along the way we are made privy to one of contemporary poetry’s least scathing and perhaps most instructive indictments of modernist aesthetics and the coded impersonality enshrined there even as we are offered a wry cautionary tale regarding the dangers of pose and guise which beset the writer who dares dabble in the merely confessional. When the speaker in “Linnets” reveals that he has “taken on the terrible gaze of songbirds,” the transformation being intimated is one born equally of confrontation and capitulation. The meager currency of the poet’s broken silence must suffice to pay for both.

“Linnets” also marks a moment of change in Larry’s work, where he began to mine the rich landscape of the San Joaquin Valley of his childhood as the fuel for the engine of his poems.

Also included in Levis Remembered is a piece of what we are calling “Found Levis,” in this case an image of a refrigerator door inscribed with a poem. 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

   Levis Remembered