© 2022 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
NPR Arts & Life

Book Review: 'The Darkening Trapeze,' Larry Levis


The poet Larry Levis died in 1996. He was 49 and had already published five books. His writing just keeps coming. A third posthumous collection edited by David St. John is out. It's called "The Darkening Trapeze." Tess Taylor has our review.

TESS TAYLOR, BYLINE: During most of his life, Larry Levis was a poet's poet. But during the 20 years since his death, his work has continued to reach an ever-widening circle of fans. These poem are melancholy, leaping and always aware of ghosts. One poem feels the nearby presence of assassin John Wilkes Booth. Another is written so the spine remembers wings. Swervy (ph) poems to Andre Breton and Van Gogh flow into poems about truck stops, methamphetamine addiction and what Levis calls the visible rushing hunger of days spent doing fieldwork. Levis's outlook isn't exactly bright. Life has one sad wing and no claw, he comments in a poem about owls. But like owls, these poems are wild, predatory, inescapably alive.

Levis crafts mournful, quicksilver inhabitations about falling out of the world or a peasant who refused to become a presentation of a peasant or the way a sawmill's whir, the moment after the lumber passes through it, changes into time. Wood changing into sound changing into time, the furious pace of life disappearing. Levis dazzles us, but all the while there is, as he puts it, frostbite in the melody. Because this book was edited by David St. John, we can't be sure these are exactly the poems Levis would have gathered. It doesn't matter. It's wonderful to have them. Goodbye, little century, Levis writes. Goodbye, riderless black horse that trots from one side of the street to the other, trying to find its way out of the parade.

SIEGEL: The book is a collection called "The Darkening Trapeze" by Larry Levis. Tess Taylor had our review. Her newest collection, out in April, is called "Work And Days." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: February 17, 2016 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous headline incorrectly spelled the author's name. It is Levis not Lewis.