Tag Archives: Larry Levis

By Heart

I’m an increasingly big fan of memorizing poems, and have decided to do something I’d thought about before but never implemented: memorize one poem a week this year. (And now that I’ve said so publicly, well I’ll have to do it won’t I. Oh well, why not? This week it was “Musee des Beaux Arts” by Auden.)

I think knowing poems by heart is wonderful as a regular person (among other things, it means if you’re stuck somewhere totally boring you can recite a great poem in your head, or if you come to a split in a ski trail you can go all Robert Frost and impress your friends, and you just never know when you might wind up stranded on a freaky tropical isle, or a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and will need something memorized with which to entertain yourself between adventures, or console yourself during zombie terrors etcetera. Television has made me sure of that possibility.) And it’s probably essential as a writer. (How wonderful to not only have great poems even faster than “at hand” but also to internalize their rhythms and movements and mystery.)

There are lots of methods out there for memorizing poems — here’s mine. Continue reading

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2012: A Short Look Back At What I Read

Before the look back, a quick look forward. Coming soon (or eventually) in 2013:

  • Reviews of collections by James Arthur, Bruce Beasley, David Biespiel, Stuart Friebert, Laura Jensen, A. E. Stallings, and Wendy Willis
  • Posts about William Matthews’ and Christian Wiman’s poetry
  • The afore-mentioned monthly look at an animal poem (replacing 2012’s Months posts)
  • Some more extensive film reviews on occasion, in addition to the short ones you can always find, frequently updated, on the Film page

Now for the requisite (and for all it’s cliché to do so, enjoyable) quick look back at the reading I did this year. (I stuck the Worst in the middle, because I didn’t want to end on a low note). Continue reading

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Bishopian

Elizabeth Bishop is the most important poetry god.

The most important in my personal pantheon, I mean.

And more generally, I don’t think you can love poetry and not love Elizabeth Bishop.

I’ve touched on most of my other major gods in this blog before (Mark Doty, Yusef Komunyakaa, and the most recent addition, Larry Levis), but haven’t said much yet about her. One must tread lightly when analyzing one’s gods, after all. But I’ve been writing Poetry Dork posts for exactly a year now, so it’s about time I paid Bishop some attention here.

Doty, Komunyakaa, Levis, and Bishop are poets who “are it” for me. They do what poetry is supposed to do, what I want it to do. They write poems that are and do what poems are and do when they are at their best. Continue reading

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James Dickey

I usually start talking about James Dickey‘s poems by saying, “The one where…” The ideas behind the poem, the context and ‘what happens’ — the vision, in other words — is what sticks with me so much more than individual lines.

The one where the stewardess is falling to earth (“Falling“); the one where he puts on the taxidermied head of a boar and becomes the boar as it’s being hunted, years ago, by his now-dead father (“Approaching Prayer”); the one where the hobo is nailed to a train car by his hands and feet (“To a Folk-Singer of the Thirties“); the one where the speaker is in the pantry thinking about dropping bombs on his suburban neighborhood from the plane he flew during the war (“The Firebombing“); the one about animals being predators in Heaven (“The Heaven of Animals“); the one about the half-sheep, fathered by a farm boy, who dies right after birth (“The Sheep Child“); the one where the soldier drinks water from a dead soldier’s helmet and sees his memories (“Drinking From a Helmet”); the one with the surreal colors in the grass and the horses, (“The Dusk of Horses“); the one about the shark trashing the house (“The Shark’s Parlor“).

Intensity and life are the two themes I’d call out if I was asked to call out two themes in his poems. Or maybe it should be intensity and life-and-death. Continue reading

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Larry Levis

I discovered Larry Levis only a few months ago. (I feel the same way about that as I did about seeing Spinal Tap for the first time only last year. How could I have been missing out for so long!)

Larry Levis, who died unexpectedly in 1996 at age 49, wrote six books of poetry, including one published posthumously. His early work is lovely but his later work is what I’ve been obsessively re-reading. The poems’ sprawl, or maybe sweep is a better word —  it is never scattered or unfocused. The tone/voice. The sensibility.

And then of course, there are the great images, for instance “he hears the geese racket above him / As if a stick were held flat against / A slat fence by a child running past a house for sale” and “Heaven was neither the light nor was it the air, & if it took a physical form / It was splintered lumber no one could build anything with.”

Robert Mezey called Levis’ poetry “the nourishing shock of fresh ideas that rise from the work of the true poet.” Continue reading

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