A few years ago at the AWP Conference in Chicago, I picked up The Selected Levis, a collection of poems from all 6 of Larry Levis’ books. I waited until the last day to purchase the book from the University of Pittsburgh Press’ table, when all of the books were $5 or less. For a few years, I had heard about Larry Levis, and listened to my friends gush over his work. At the time, I rushed through the book, finishing the 200-plus pages in a few days, but his work didn’t click with me. I simply wasn’t into his expansive, meditative poetry. I really wanted to like the book, especially since Levis studied under one of my favorite poets, Philip Levine.
This summer, however, I returned to the same book. When I visited Levis’ work the first time, I rushed through it, taking little away. This time was different. On almost every page, I found nuggets of outstanding images and deep contemplations. Levis did an excellent job at what Pound called “poetic leaps of imagination,” striking rich, interesting metaphors and similes. For instance, in the poem “Fish,” dedicated to Levine, Levis compares being stopped by a cop to being held up like a fish. He writes, “He feels the huge bones/surrounding my eyes/and he runs a thumb under them/lifting my eyelids/as if they were/envelops filled with the night.”
Levis’ work also impresses me because it is an extension of working-class poetry, similar to Levine’s work. While Levine wrote about the Detroit factory worker, Levis focused on Latino grape pickers in California.”Picking Grapes in an Abandoned Vineyard” is an especially beautiful poem.
If you want to check out any of Levis’ full-length collections, I recommend Wrecking Crew, which has some gritty poems about California, or The DollMaker’s Ghost, or Winter Stars, which features longer, meditative poems about Levis’ relationship with his father.
If you want a nice overview of his work, check out The Selected Levis.
You can also find a few of his poems here.