Read Elegy by Larry Levis Philip Levine Online


A few days before his death in 1996, Larry Levis mentioned to his friend and former instructor Philip Levine that he had "an all-but-completed manuscript" of poems. Levine had years earlier recognized Levis as "the most gifted and determined young poet I have ever had the good fortune to have in one of my classes"; after Levis's death, Levine edited the poems Levis had lefA few days before his death in 1996, Larry Levis mentioned to his friend and former instructor Philip Levine that he had "an all-but-completed manuscript" of poems. Levine had years earlier recognized Levis as "the most gifted and determined young poet I have ever had the good fortune to have in one of my classes"; after Levis's death, Levine edited the poems Levis had left behind. What emerged is this haunting collection, Elegy. The poems were written in the six years following publication of his previous book, The Widening Spell of the Leaves, and continue and extend the jazz improvisations on themes that gave those poems their resonance. There are poems of sudden stops and threats from the wild: an opossum halts traffic and snaps at pedestrians in posh west Los Angeles; a migrant worker falls victim to the bites of two beautiful black widow spiders; horses starve during a Russian famine; a thief, sitting in the rigging of Columbus’s ship, contemplates his work in the New World. The collection culminates in the elegies written to a world in which culture fragments; in which the beasts of burden—the horses, the migrant workers—are worked toward death; a world in which "Love's an immigrant, it shows itself in its work. / It works for almost nothing"; a world in which "you were no longer permitted to know, / Or to decide for yourself, / Whether there was an angel inside you, or whether there wasn't."Elegy, as Levine says, was "written by one of our essential poets at the very height of his powers. His early death is a staggering loss for our poetry, but what he left is a major achievement that will enrich our lives."...

Title : Elegy
Author :
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ISBN : 9780822956488
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 96 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Elegy Reviews

  • Kevin Lawrence
    2018-09-30 15:57

    This would've been one of the best volumes of poetry I've read in a long time but for the middle section. There seems to be something for the Baby Boomer Generation of American poets that compelled them to try and imaginatively inhabit and write from the basest instincts of murderers, rapists, and just your general human monsters. Levis joins poets like Ai, Stephen Dobyns, Carolyn Forche, and even Frank Bidart in this effort to try and bring a poetic sensibility to rendering moments of torture and abysmal destruction into the light of day--a kind of surreal naturalism that reads like Quinten Tarantino on the page (sans the obnoxious sophomoric tone of whimsy). I guess these are supposed to be noble attempts to sublimate the most depraved human behavior imaginable into something redeeming (to his credit, Levis doesn't indulge in Tarantino's maniacal historical revisionist fantasies), but for me this type of poetry more often than not just ends up giving the reader a depraved and weary experience (writing about forcing a friendly couple working as record store keepers to drink Drano after raping the woman in front of her boyfriend, as one poem in Levis' middle section does, is simply wearying in its pointless details and in its utter depravity).Luckily, the other two sections of Levis' final book are much more engaging and (as the title suggests) have a poignant elegiac tone about reaching middle age and trying to find beauty and purpose that will somehow sustain life. In a poem about the Cumaean Sibyl whom Apollo granted eternal life to but not eternal youth, "Elegy with a Thimbleful of Water in the Cage," Levis asks:"What do you do when nothing calls you anymore?When you turn & there is only the light filling the empty window?When the angel fasting inside you has grown so thin it fliesOut of you a last time without yourKnowing it, & the water dries up in its thimble, & the one swingIn the cage comes to rest after its almost imperceptible,Almost endless, swaying?"It's a sobering set of images and questions and I, for one, appreciate the lengths to which Levis strained to bring a lyrical voice to a condition that seems to have depleted any belief or hope in lyricism. It seems like an inspired moment that Levis was able to inhabit quiet a few times to write some really amazing poems ("The Two Trees," "In 1967," "The Oldest Living Thing in L.A.," Anastasia & Sandman," "Elegy with a Bridle in Its Hand," & "Elegy for Poe with the Music of a Carnival Inside It" -- as well as the Elegy quoted above -- are all excellent poems), though it must have been a wrenching experience to simultaneously feel so much hopelessness but beauty at the same time. Highly recommend these sections to anyone who is interested in post-50s American poetry.

  • Michael Gossett
    2018-10-01 07:49

    If not his best, his second best (behind 'The Widening Spell...'). A posthumous collection, 'Elegy' stands as just that to its tremendous author. Levis is, without question, my favorite contemporary poet. "Elegy with a Bridle in Its Hand""Elegy for Whatever Had a Pattern in It"

  • Jim McGarrah
    2018-09-30 12:48

    Larry Levis died suddenly in May of 1996 and it was a great loss for contemporary poetry. There is no way to measure how many more poems he would be writing if he were still alive. Elegy was his final collection of poems and a good enough collection that it makes me sad that Levis will write no more. With that said, however, I think it’s good to realize that the book is a little uneven and to understand how that could happen.Phil Levine put the collection together from notes and poems that Levis left behind. To Levine’s credit, he resisted the urge to revise or rewrite anything. To the discomfort of the reader that means some of what we read is not Larry at his best. Most good poets, and I think he was a great one, live in a state of constant revision. It’s impossible for an editor to gauge when a poem is finally finished. For a poet, it may never be finally finished, but we may eventually let it go. I had the feeling that, with some of these poems, Levis may not have been ready to let them go.He was always a writer with tremendous imagistic range and the ability to leap time and space without losing a reader. I remember one poem in particular that begins with him looking at a Carvaggio painting, traveling through Carvaggio’s debauched life, Levis’ high school days, the loss of a friend in Vietnam, and ending back in front of the painting. It’s a remarkable piece and at no time during the reading of that poem does the reader ever lose his way or question how the poet gets from one place to the next.You can sense this same genius in many of the poems in Elegy. Some of them, though, seem to leap in one direction or another and never come back. They just keep on leaping into a vague dimension that we’d rather not be in ourselves. Boy in the Arcade and Anastasia & Sandman are notably examples of this. I’m not saying that these inconsistencies ruin the collection. They don’t, by any means. I’m saying that Phil Levine did the best he could, but no one can read a dead man’s mind.When you come across a poem like Elegy with an Angel at Its Gate, which does all the things a Levis poem usually does brilliantly, it’s much easier to notice the less complete quality of some of the others. Reading such disconnected lines as “we were never the color blind grasses” – “And one by one we vanished from the place/ vanished by becoming part/ of everyone, part of the horses bending/ their necks to graze, part of every law/ part of each Apache heirloom for sale/ in a window, part of a wedding cake/ part of the smallpox epidemic, part of God….” and then jumping to Carl Marx, sugarcane in Cuba and what happened to Larry Doyle, how he went to hell in an Easter basket, might drive you crazy until seven pages later when the last line of the poem hooks up perfectly with the first and you emerge from the world of Larry Levis knowing exactly where you’ve been and why and wishing that you could someday go back.

  • Kent
    2018-09-21 11:08

    Every time I read this book, I feel how much a tragedy it is that Levis didn't get to call this mss complete, if only because of the few rusty spots, and if only because of the outrageous departure this book is from Widening Spell that was published only four years previous. The feeling of human futility may carry from one book to the next, and I personally find the poems in Widening Spell have a scope of ambition to them that is beyond what this book is striving for. But I appreciate the breadth of subject matter here. And the full engagement with this sentiment as it plays out in each of the narratives.

  • Kate
    2018-09-27 10:47

    Some of these poems were almost unbearably depressing: "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." (from "Elegy with a Bridle in Its Hand") Well written, but dark.

  • Leah
    2018-09-26 07:55

    I love Levis. Leaving a star off since this work was compiled posthumously and the editorial touches are not his. "The afternoon after he found it,The music of a keel scrape still in his ears,Columbus wrote in a journal: Walking under the trees thereWas the most beautiful thingI have ever seen." It's what he left out of it, outOf the entry, that looks back in recognition.Did he mean walking there? Did he mean the empty, shadedSpaces beneath the trees where he restedAfter sending his men off to accomplish some task?To find a waterfall & a China behind it?Did he mean someone he saw?But the entire point of the entry, the impossibleChore he had assigned the men,Was to be left alone there,With the sky washed clean above him, with the sunBurning through all its likenessesTo be what it is, by erasing them."-from Elegy with a Petty Thief in the Rigging

  • Helen
    2018-10-18 10:15

    Elegy is a posthumous collection of Larry Levis' poetry collected by his friend and fellow poet Phillip Levine. Many of the poems are in fact elegies, not just to people, but to horses, ideas, and places. The poems are lovely and heartbreaking when you realize that we won't see any more of Levis' work. But one wonders if this is the collection Levis would have wanted to come out. Many of the poems, especially the elegies, feel unfinished, too long, unedited by a careful eye and hand. While death creeps throughout most of the poems in this collection, it doesn't necessarily feel like there's an overall arc, some poems stick out in places and one wonders why they were put there in the first place. A lovely example of the poet's work, but not necessarily the most successfully collected.

  • Rachel
    2018-10-17 16:10

    There is a blueprint of something never finished, something I'll never Find my way out of, some web where the light rocks, back & forth, Holding me in a time that's gone, bee at the windowsill & the cold Coming back as it has to, tapping at the glass. The figure in the hourglass & the body swinging in the rhythm of its work. The body reclining in bed, forgetting what it is, & who. While the night goes on with its work, the stars & the shapes they make, Cold vein in the leaf & in the wind, What are we but what we offer up? —"Elegy For Whatever Had a Pattern In It"

  • missy jean
    2018-10-08 08:10

    Levis used to teach at the University of Utah, so some of these poems are set in Utah (my home state). I love reading poetry and prose that is set in Utah, because it tends to have such a naturalistic bent. We are in that wild, "untamed west," after all, and my childhood in Utah was filled with snow-covered mountains and red rock deserts. I know what it is to love a pine tree or a piece of prehistoric stone with such intensity. Levis' poems use nature in such interesting ways--subtly and thematically, like background music.

  • DilanAc
    2018-10-18 15:02

    A poet of images, beautiful, concrete, surprising images.And the voice, the voice has authority so that the reader sits up and listens. Try reading them aloud - the music of them entrances even when the meaning is not clear. I love "The Cook Grew Lost in His Village, the Village in the Endless Shuffling of Their Cards" poem. Ultimately it is about death and how prescient is that considering Mr. Levis died unexpectedly in the middle of composing these poems.I was moved in a way that only the best poetry can.

  • Darin Ciccotelli
    2018-10-13 08:11

    I'm still rereading my favorite books of poetry, but I had to stop with Hass because I lost the book. (Note: I think my hairdresser stole it, but that's another story.) So I reread ELEGY. I don't know what to say here. I love this work. Every time I read it, I feel this profound mix of delight and envy. I think the poems are absolutely masterful, and Levis is one of the few poets that I know of where contemporary poets, no matter how different their styles, all seem to love him.

  • Nicola
    2018-10-08 12:54

    Poet-friends kept recommending this book to me and now I can finally understand why. Yes, yes, yes, yes. These poems are working on so many levels. I was trying to read them as an example of narrative (for an Intro to Poetry class I'm teaching next semester) and love the way they show how expanded web-like luminous narrative (and worlds!) can be. Side-note/dish: This book taught me more about how to write about violence than so many other books with that explicit intent.

  • Hannah Baker-Siroty
    2018-09-24 11:09

    In my top 5 books of poetry, no question. Larry Levis is a brilliant poet and I am grateful for this book. Read it. He makes the long poem seem short, and for that alone his is a poetic genius... to me, anyway.

  • KateRosenberg
    2018-10-09 12:11

    Oh, Larry. I posthumously adore you. These poems are like houses of cards. Or like a beaver dam. Well-constructed and so much more. I weep at them. Read them or suffer an emptiness that will haunt you until your death.

  • Gregory Donovan
    2018-10-07 09:09

    Along with all the other books by Larry Levis, Elegy continues to be a powerful influence and inspiration to all sorts of poets and to all manner of people who love poetry. It's an essential book for anyone who enjoys being seriously engaged with the art of poetry.

  • Danielle DeTiberus
    2018-09-25 13:02

    His posthumous collection- read: "Anastasia & Sandman," "Elegy for Whatever Had a Pattern in It," and "Elegy With a Bridle in Its Hand."

  • Carrie Lorig
    2018-10-09 07:47

    someone in my class said, "i love this because i know how to feel at the end of each poem." i died and was buried inside of a box made of pelican eyelashes ever since.

  • Rae
    2018-10-22 11:06

    I'm reading this slowly. Very moving, at times so much so that I can only read one poem at a time. Great book to put next to your bed and read when you can spend some time thinking about each line.

  • Amy
    2018-10-07 12:53

    A moving, brilliant final collection. I must admit that I haven't read every poem in it because I can't bring myself to know I will never read another new poem by this amazing writer and man.

  • Darrin Doyle
    2018-10-19 13:49

    I lost more than half of my poetry books in a flood. This one was salvaged, and I just reread it. One of my favorite lines: "Arms and wings. They'll mock you one way or the other."

  • Greg
    2018-10-09 12:50

    Longer poems, but worth the patience. Not difficult reads, just extended imagination required by the reader.

  • Robert
    2018-10-05 16:12

    "The Smell of the Sea" was unnecessarily graphically violent and disturbing. I wish I had never read it. The rest of the book has flashes of excellence akin to [Book:Winter Stars].

  • Jeremy Allan
    2018-09-29 13:09

    This book is simply superb. I should have read it when I first started writing poems. If you haven't read it, do so. Immediately.

  • Dallas Swindell
    2018-10-21 09:11

    The poems in Larry Levis' posthumous collection are often prosaic and elegaic, merging contemporary and traditional Roman proclivities in poetry. The entries in the collection employ the harsh sentiments and inexplicable violences of the world in flux to cut anachronistic shadows into the face of each poem's remembered or dreamed world. At times Levis recounts historical events or eras from the 20th century and beyond as a conduit for his thieves and despots and wandering souls. The backdrops he constructs, and the tensions gnashing their teeth in each world's shadows, all combine to provide dense, somber meditations on the course of events both personal and historical. Many of the poems are written as elegies for or with the characters he guides through each elegaic couplet, cutting deep to the core of their constituent bodies with rhetorical barbs. His rhetorical turns always broaden each poem and suggest bigger, more fundamental, questions that he never explicitly puts to the page, or as Levis puts it "that [which] looks back in recognition." The poems depict Levis' attention to detail and pervasive endearment with masculine melancholy, his poetic eye fixed to the fleeting meanings in struggle and purpose and adversity.

  • Lisa Folkmire
    2018-09-25 08:58

    One of the best poetry books on my shelf.

  • Jay
    2018-10-09 13:06

    Philip Levine assembled Elegy from Levis's manuscripts after Levis's death, from a heart attack, just before his 50th birthday. I know this isn't true, but the book seems to get its courage up as it goes along-- it opens with a few calm, kind of boring lyric poems then gradually expands into elegies (whether called so or not) that are colossal and frightening and world-containing. "Elegy With a Thimble Full of Water in a Cage," "The Smell of the Sea," "Elegy for Poe With the Music of a Carnival Inside It." Reading them, I had the weird specific question come to me: What part of Larry Levis isn't contained in these poems?

  • Melissa
    2018-09-30 08:08

    I didn't like this book as much as I expected to -- I guess I had high hopes for Larry Levis. Sometimes the poems were really amazing, and I especially liked much of the "Elegy withs" but the writing seemed somewhat lazy at times. The emotion was there (perhaps too much there, even) but the language wasn't specific enough. That said, I loved "Elegy with a Bridle in Its Hand" and "Elegy with an Angel at Its Gate." Very different stylistically than what I've been reading lately.

  • Curtis Bauer
    2018-09-26 14:16

    This is a must read. As simple as that. Levis is one of the great contemporary American poets. This book is one I reread at least once a year

  • Bryce Emley
    2018-10-09 13:57

    this man uses an uncomfortable amount of commas.

  • P.
    2018-10-22 13:48

    everything larry levis writes is perfection. (ok 99%)