Photo Courtesy of Michele Poulos, Photographer
Gregory Donovan is the author of the poetry collections Torn From the Sun (Red Hen Press, 2015), long-listed for the Julie Suk Award, and Calling His Children Home (University of Missouri Press), which won the Devins Award for Poetry. His poetry, essays, and translations have been published in The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Copper Nickel, TriQuarterly, and many other journals. His work has also appeared in several anthologies, including Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets of Virginia (University of Virginia Press). Among other awards for his writing, he is the recipient of the Robert Penn Warren Award from New England Writers as well as grants from the Virginia Commission for the Arts and fellowships from the Ucross Foundation and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Donovan has served as a visiting writer and guest faculty for a number of summer conferences and low-residency programs, such as the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Chautauqua Institution Writers’ Center, and the University of Tampa MFA program. Donovan is Professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he helped establish its MFA program, and he is a founding editor of Blackbird: an online journal of literature and the arts.
Prismatics: Larry Levis & Contemporary American Poetry is a collection of the full-length transcriptions of the extended interviews Gregory Donovan and Michele Poulos conducted with a group of America’s most notable poets—including two U.S. Poet Laureates—in making the documentary film A Late Style of Fire: Larry Levis, American Poet. These discussions cover not only their relationships with Levis and his poetry, but also more wide-ranging commentaries on a broad spectrum of American literary life.
Prismatics reflects the multiple angles of perception provided by its fourteen participating poets, including David St. John (who also contributed the foreword), Philip Levine, Charles Wright, Norman Dubie, Gerald Stern, Carolyn Forché, Stanley Plumly, Colleen McElroy, David Wojahn, Carol Muske-Dukes, Kathleen Graber, Peter Everwine, Charles Hanzlicek, and Gail Wronsky. The book’s title points out that Levis’s personal and professional life as a writer provides a prism which leads these discussions to range broadly into a wider portrait of a highly influential era of poets and poetics, personified not only in Levis, but in each of the poets interviewed. In these lively, spontaneous conversations, Prismatics provides an informed and intimate portrait of the risks and triumphs of a life in poetry, a discussion of distinct intellectual, practical, and historical value that’s also emotionally involving—and quite entertaining.
Should some Hollywood biopic ever be inspired by Michele Poulos’ stupendous documentary and these marvelous interviews, the great problem will be finding someone to play the inimitable Larry Levis. These transcriptions double as oral histories, flash memoirs, and spontaneous poetics essays not only about Levis, but about contemporary American poetry in the years spanning his larger-than-life life: 1946-1996. In one interview Carolyn Forché says, “Larry’s poems are suffused with an awareness of human presence.” The same must be said of this rich and spirited collection.
—Terrance Hayes, author of American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
Larry Levis was the genius of our generation; he was the star risen out of a constellation of poets coming from Fresno. In Prismatics, many of our most notable poets offer insightful, personal, and detailed responses to and assessments of Larry’s life and work. Especially touching and salient are the interviews with Philip Levine, Peter Everwine, C.G. Hanzlicek, and David St. John, Fresno poets and friends who knew him best and who knew Larry from the start. They testify to his talent, humanity, and unmatched originality and voice. For lovers of Larry’s poetry, of contemporary poetry, this is an invaluable collection.
—Christopher Buckley, author of A Condition of the Spirit
As I read through the interviews in Prismatics, I found myself pausing in the middle of chapters, rather than between them, so as to savor the feeling of always being immersed in a rich and rewarding conversation. I love the cumulative warmth of this book, of so many poets speaking affectionately and thoughtfully about one of the great American poets of the 20th century—as friend, colleague, lover, co-conspirator, and cynosure. But more than a commemoration of Larry Levis, Prismatics offers meditations on passion, creativity, self-destruction, ambition, and the nature of literary legacy. It’s a book as capacious and complex as the poetry of Levis itself.
—Nicky Beer, author of The Octopus Game and The Diminishing House