Elegy (Pitt Poetry Series)
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."
Praise For Elegy (Pitt Poetry Series)…
--New York Times Book Review
“His work is monumental, spiritual, and some of the most enduring in contemporary poetry. These final poems are long, elegiac, and tragically alive. They show how his work was moving toward a great dance of the self finally coming to terms with the world.”
“Everyone who cares about contemporary American poetry should read Levis's posthumous Elegy; despite quite a bit of dead-pan humor and a recurring air of self-mockery, it's a heartbreaking book.”
“Levis's lines are never burnished in the way that [Charles] Wright's can be, but Levis possessed the same near-perfect pitch, and had reached a similar level of free-verse mastery. ...the poems are never less than brilliant.”
“The poems in Larry Levis' posthumous book, Elegy, are haunted, a weave of lyrical ‘riffs,’ plangent scenes, and demotic narratives. Levis hones his discursive style masterfully here, turning frequently to objective correlatives in order to complement the poems' intense emotions. . . . Marrying realism and transcendence, Elegy celebrates the vulnerability of downtrodden orchard workers, victims of war and crime, tired professors, abandoned lovers, dying race horses. These are strong, romantic poems, essential poems at the end of a dehumanizing century, which remind us despite our forgetfulness that without such elegies to wake us to what we love and grieve, we are doomed to an ‘Oblivion who would be nothing’ with us. These poems spread their ‘wise chill over (our) flesh.’”
“There isn't a false word anywhere. It is poetry that you read silently to yourself, then read it over again and get up out of your chair to take over and read aloud to someone else so you can share the thoughts and the music and hear the sounds of the words out loud. Elegies—laments for the dead—form a theme for the collection: soft remembrances gently unfolding, torrents of words, piling on top of each other to anxiously explain a lost moment, or sharp, short lines that flash on violent death. Time and again, the words ring out, echo back on each other, repeat a phrase or image so that each poem stands alone but is also part of a whole.”
—The Fresno Bee
“A landmark work written by one of America's finest poets. The imagery and mastery of tonal discipline, the way the poems feed off each other, and even the music of the line delicately posited with jazz improvisation, all make this book an important work to have close at hand.”
University of Pittsburgh Press, 9780822956488, 96pp.
Publication Date: October 30, 1997