Larry Levis and All That Is Not

Winter Stars by Larry LevisThere is so much to admire in Winter Stars that it is difficult to know where to begin. One small but interesting angle on Levis’ work is to notice how often he describes “what is not.” He seems, in this way, to be drawing circles around possibilities in life, keenly aware of his place outside that circle which contains happiness, meaning, comfort, centrality, success. We can only really see darkness as contrasted with light, the void by the solid matter that surrounds it. So, to this end, “that which is not” appears time and again in some of Levis’ most compelling poems.

My favorite poem of the collection, “The Cry”, is rife with denied possibilities, where, in Parlier, “the prostitutes slept, as always, / With the small-time businessmen, their hair smelling of pomade, / Who did not dream.” and the homeless camped by the river see, “in their sleep how the cold shape of fire / Made, from each crystal of ash, the gray morning, / Which consoled no one.” and his parents’ bodies, asleep, “Were not beautiful, like distant cities.” It is Levis’ keen awareness — that men could dream, that the morning could console, that bodies could be beautiful — that makes his relationship to this world poignant and compelling.
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