Larry Levis

Larry Patrick Levis, born September 30, 1946, worked as an Associate Professor of English at the University of Utah from 1980 to 1992, where he also directed the Creative Writing Program. Levis was the youngest of four children and son of a grape grower; he grew up helping his father on their family farm in Selma, California. Early on in high school he became interested in the poetry of T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Robert Frost, and by his junior year, he decided he would dedicate his life to poetry. Levis earned a bachelor’s degree from California State University (formerly Fresno State College) in 1968 where he studied under US Poet Laureate Philip Levine. He went on to earn a master’s degree from Syracuse University (1970), and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa (1974).

Levis’s studies under Levine produced many of the poems that appeared in his first book, Wrecking Crew (1972), which won the United States Award from the International Poetry Forum. His second book, The Afterlife (1977) was named by the Academy of American Poets as the Lamont Poetry Selection. The Dollmaker's Ghost (1981), his third poetry collection, won the Open Competition of the National Poetry Series. With his collections Winter Stars and The Widening Spell of the Leaves, Levis’ national reputation grew significantly. In 1992, Levis left Utah to join the English Department at Virginia Commonwealth University. One of America's most beloved lyric poets, Levis’ many awards included a YM-YWHA Discovery award, three fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a 1982 Guggenheim Fellowship.

Levis’s work was, according to many critics of the time, honest, lyric, refreshing, and “full of surprises,” as the critic Robert Mezey wrote of Levis. "Not the predictable and boring surprises that can be created by formula, but the nourishing shock of fresh ideas that rise from the work of the true poet." 

Throughout his life, Levis struggled with depression, alcohol and drug use. On May 8, 1996, Levis died of a heart attack at the age of 49 in Richmond, VA. A posthumous collection, Elegy, edited by Philip Levine, was published in 1997, and The Darkening Trapeze: Last Poems, edited by David St. John, was published in 2016. A documentary film, "A Late Style of Fire: Larry Levis, American Poet," was produced in 2016 by filmmaker Michele Poulos. 

Work

Bibliography

Poetry

  • Wrecking Crew, University of Pittsburg Press (Pittsburg, PA), 1972
  • The Afterlife, University of Iowa Press, (Iowa City, IA), 1977
  • The Dollmaker's Ghost, Dutton Adult (New York, NY), 1981
  • Winter Stars, University of Pittsburg Press (Pittsburg, PA), 1985
  • The Widening Spell of the Leaves, University of Pittsburg Press (Pittsburg, PA), 1991
  • Elegy, University of Pittsburg Press (Pittsburg, PA), 1997
  • The Selected Levis, University of Pittsburg Press (Pittsburg, PA)(2000)
  • The Darkening Trapeze: Last Poems, Graywolf Press (Minneapolis, MN), 2016

Prose

  • The Gazer Within, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI), 2000

Fiction

  • Black Freckles, Gibbs Smith (Layton, UT), 1992

Links

"Believing in Words": The Larry Levis Papers, VCU Libraries

Two Poems: A Reading by Larry Levis