Larry Patrick Levis

30 Sep 1946
8 May 1996
Offer Flowers
Light a Candle
Pray for the soul
Seek Blessings

Larry Patrick Levis (September 30, 1946 – May 8, 1996) was an American poet.

Larry Levis was born the son of a grape grower; he grew up driving a tractor, picking grapes, and pruning vines in Selma, California, a small fruit-growing town in the San Joaquin Valley. He later wrote of the farm, the vineyards, and the Mexican migrant workers that he worked alongside. He also remembered hanging out in the local billiards parlor on Selma’s East Front Street, across from the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks.

Levis earned a bachelor’s degree from Fresno State College in 1968, where he studied under Philip Levine. For Levine’s classes and poetry workshops, Levis completed many of the poems that would appear in his first book of poems, Wrecking Crew (1972). Levine and Levis formed a lifelong friendship that would, for each of them, leave an indelible mark on their writing and on their art. Both of them continued to exchange poems for critique and consultation, either by mail or in person, during the rest of Levis’s life. Levine would go on to edit Levis’s posthumously published 1997 volume, Elegy.

Levis taught English at the University of Missouri from 1974–1980. From 1980 to 1992, he taught at the creative writing program at the University of Utah. He was co-editor of Missouri Review, from 1977 to 1980.

Levis was married three times. His second wife was Marcia Southwick, a fellow poet, whom he married on March 15, 1975. David St. John served as best man.

By the late 1960s, Levis had written many of the poems which would appear in his first book, Wrecking Crew (1972), which won the 1971 U. S. Award of the International Poetry Forum, and included publication in the Pitt Poetry Series by the University of Pittsburgh Press. The Academy of American Poets named his second book, The Afterlife (1976) as a Lamont Poetry Selection. His third book of poems, The Dollmaker’s Ghost, was selected by Stanley Kunitz as the winner of the Open Competition of the National Poetry Series in 1981. Other awards included a YM-YWHA Discovery award, three fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a 1982 Guggenheim Fellowship. His poems are featured in American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets (2006) and in many other anthologies.

Levis died of a heart attack in Richmond, Virginia on May 8, 1996, at the age of 49. An award in his memory, created by the online Blackbird literary journal, honors living poets and writers.

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