This fall marks Blackbird’s thirteenth Levis Remembered, which calls attention to the work of Larry Levis and recognizes Roger Reeves, the winner of the seventeenth annual Levis Reading Prize.
Included in this Reading Loop are the Levis poem “Elegy Ending in the Sound of a Skipping Rope,” which originally appeared in Elegy; notes by David St. John on reading the poem with the forthcoming The Darkening Trapeze: Last Poems in mind; two images and a snapshot of Levis by artist David Freed; and a remaster of a previously published video of Levis reading.
A selection of poems from King Me represents Roger Reeves’s prize-winning book, and the poems are accompanied by a review of the book and audio and transcripts from the 17th Annual Levis Reading Prize event. That event includes the reading by Reeves, a brief Q&A, an introduction by Kathleen Graber, and commentary on Levis by Gregory Donovan.
If, as Larry Levis records, humans routinely stroll “out of history,” exiting the matinee of their lives only to enter “into something else: forgetful, inexact,” there to abide until forgetting itself, the habit of it, becomes a thing of “finite, thoughtless beauty,” what survives of the grit and residue of their passage? How long before the bits and pieces of Roger Reeves’s America, land of “gold grills and fried chicken,” are swept beyond the reach of the poet's “baffled heart,” and “the diamonds and mud of [his] mouth?”
The artists gathered here indict the insufficiencies of memory even as they engineer new substrates to catalyze human remembering. Agitations in typography assail the reader through a troubling study of Herculine Barbin by Aaron Apps, cueing text that admonishes and mourns that there are “no tranquil answers in the simplicity of facts.” Sharon Wang apostrophizes the elegiac mode itself, and the “ruined mind” at its center, conceiving time as a “widening field of inquiry,” an artifact processed beyond the lens of “a bright telescope.” And Camille Dungy tells us that “Grief will ride in on the smallest of bodies, a tick on a cormorant’s wing.”
But perhaps poetry is also to blame for our courage in the face of the relentlessly updated planet-shrinkage whose statistics crawl the screens of our handhelds. From David Hernandez’s note that “God will step into a time machine, reboot the universe” to Sarah Trudgeon’s snarky inventories of the daily minutia, the “Band-Aids [and] hair gels” she’s certain will, eventually, “do us in,” a persistent hopefulness shines out.
In Claudia Emerson’s providential sketch-work, personas spin history from “eye-drafts” of their fraught lives, as if vision were a kind of thirst and the only gesture that might quench it the “real elegance of a finished thing.” Norman Dubie, rearranging some mental furniture of Jack Spicer’s he’s evidently had in storage for a while, reminds us it’s never too late to chase our tails a bit, like kittens, to puzzle out “the omens of the old masters’ / magic lanterns.”
In Fiction, Kelly Cherry’s “The Starveling” depicts an intense struggle with love, pregnancy, and the legacy of one’s own parentage to create a story of dread and misplaced desire, and of the human heart—and the body containing it—in conflict with itself.
That conflict carries over to Joanna Pearson’s “Changeling,” which follows an exhausted new mother in a narrative permeated by a disquiet that acts as a sort of sleight-of-hand to demonstrate the ease with which the paranoid mind is duped. Amy Staehr’s “Swinging Lessons” echoes Pearson’s theme of dashed hopes as Staehr deconstructs “the usual story,” navigating the frustration of unknowing and of secret-keeping. Unfulfilled desire rules the piece, and Staehr’s clever prose grounds it.
On the other hand, Reema Rajbanshi’s “Ode on an Asian Dog” translates a young woman’s experience of love, bittersweet though it may be, into an evocation of the epic in the personal. Love may be doomed, but here it is as rapturous as the lyrics to a Bollywood song.
In his poetry/personal essay hybrid, “A Conversation About Desire,” Ira Sukrungruang meditates on physical and spiritual hungers—pleasure-pain yearnings for transcendence and sublime expression. “Desire starts with the mouth,” he writes, “all the parts of it.”
Also in Nonfiction, Sonja Livingston distills notions of heartache, endurance, wonder and communion among women in two deeply layered short essays. “It’s a wisp of a story, really, one that’s been told time and again—a woman abandoned to the desert, her husband flown off to the golden domes of home . . . as we eat the cake, I can almost hear a lullaby,” she tells us.
In Gallery, Dan O’Brien’s Visitations, a diptych of libretti for chamber opera created in collaboration with composer Jonathan Berger, provides a lyrical testament to how men become ghosts. O’Brien’s protagonists struggle with the trauma of duty in the wake of the unreal; they seem to inhabit heaven (or hell) and earth at once, suggesting the blurred line between mad and messiah.
Another artistic pairing presents the work of longtime friends poet Charles Wright and printmaker David Freed. Over the years Freed has created images to complement several of Wright’s poems, and those images as well as four portraits of Wright appear here.
Blackbird’s continued excavation of the digital archives delivers the 1914 film suite that looks back 100 years through the lens of three women filmmakers—Helen Holmes, Mabel Normand, and Florence Turner—and their impact in an era of silent one-reel shorts.
The video conversation with Richard Carlyon looks to a more recent past as Carlyon remembers a time in the 1960s when John Cage, David Tudor, and other representatives of the New York avant garde came to Richmond.
Audio of an event celebrating the Carole Weinstein Prize in Poetry, John Ravenal’s introduction to recent acquisitions at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and reviews of new work by Roger Reeves, Dexter Booth, Allison Titus, and Tarfia Faizullah round out the issue.