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Prismatics: Larry Levis & Contemporary American Poetry

Prismatics 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.



About the book, Terrance Hayes says—


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.


From the editors of Prismatics, Gregory Donovan & Michele Poulos—


Prismatics seeks to honor and keep alive the memory of the poet Larry Levis and his poetry, as well as to provide an honest, involving portrait of a complex artist and his wonderful circle of poetry compadres, including his own teachers. The conversations here in Prismatics reveal a great deal about the personal and literary aspects of his life as well as of all their lives—a fascinating group of highly talented and articulate human beings.
This book is essential for anyone who would like to make a life in poetry. Libraries, creative writers (especially those who teach poetry), and all who take an interest in the challenges, risks, and pleasures of being an artist would also find Prismatics engaging.


Poetry can...be this kind of code—it's like its own escape room. You get stuck in here. And I think it's a lot of fun.
I fell in love with the sonnet because Lyrae [Van Clief-Stefanon] saw [the form] as a box of tension and release. If you're limited to only 14 lines and 10 syllables per line, then you go back in and—Lyrae taught me this—you go back in and you delete those unnecessary words. So often—especially in poetry and especially in lyric poetry—you don't need that conjunction. You don't need that preposition. You don't need that article. You don't need that unnecessary adjective that doesn't add anything to the actual image or...the action of the poem.

Listen to the full Primitive Information interview with Dorothy Chan below.


Dorothy Chan is the author of Chinese Girl Strikes Back (Spork Press, forthcoming), Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, 2019), Attack of the Fifty-Foot Centerfold (Spork Press, 2018), and the chapbook Chinatown Sonnets (New Delta Review, 2017). She is a 2020 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award in Bisexual Poetry for Revenge of the Asian Woman, a 2019 recipient of the Philip Freund Prize in Creative Writing from Cornell University, and a 2014 finalist for the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship. Her work has appeared in POETRY, The American Poetry Review, Academy of American Poets, and elsewhere. Chan is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Poetry Editor of Hobart. Visit her website at dorothypoetry.com.


“Who doesn’t think kissing is the greatest thing / in the world other than eating?” Revenge of the Asian Woman comes to life on a sexed-up soap opera / B-movie platter where passion and food and fantasy reign supreme: excess in the form of full odes and triple sonnets with towers of macarons and carnival desserts and Hong Kong street food on a skewer—and make it a double.

The East Asian girl boss takes her revenge on those who have fetishized her, looking great in gold booty shorts, because “If I played roller derby, my name would be Yellow Fever, / knocking out all those white boys from college / who used to whisper sweet nothings to me // in Mandarin.” She narrates her parents’ love story, the Chinese-American immigrant dream, her eastern zodiac fate, and her own sexual awakening. Revenge comes to life with scenes that mimic the movies: the speaker’s father as a young boy in Hong Kong running into a circus tent, winning a rice eating contest; young lovers in LA at 3 in the morning; and a forehead that is “too Godzilla, too Tarzan / too Wonder Woman”—scenes of a Chinese American experience, one in which the female speaker is “ready for takeoff,” while paying homage to her heritage: a grandmother who wants to buy her all the jade and gold in the world, a younger cousin who thinks she’s had a hundred boyfriends, and a grandfather who watches Hong Kong soaps with her.

Revenge of the Asian Woman is really about “it,” whether that “it” is the It girl, the It trend, or that ineffable feeling you have in “LA, 3 AM, the wind in your hair, down to your / breasts, braless under a low-v dress, / stroking the driver who’s your lover.” This collection presents plenty of longing for those fleeting moments, regardless if those moments are the speaker’s first sexual awakening in “Ode to the First Boy Who Made Me Feel It”;  the mother recounting her favorite childhood show about a family trying to reunite in “Triple Sonnet for Autoerotica”; or the nostalgia that’s presented with references to '80s teen films starring Andrew McCarthy, Liberace’s reign of Las Vegas, or “an appliance / that would deliver food from any part of the world—any part of the universe” from The Jetsons.

And with all this sex and food and longing, Revenge of the Asian Woman is above all, a fun romp. Let’s have a little Liberace-Las-Vegas-fun along the way with the glitz and glamour and kitsch of Japanese love hotels, B-movie starring Asian girls traveling to Mars, and total fantasy fulfillment as our dreams and nightmares come to life. The Asian woman conquers all, having her cake and eating it too—“Oh, cut that cake again.”



Poets on Craft is a cyberspace for contemporary poets to share their thoughts and ideas on the process of poetry and for students to discover new ways of approaching the writing of poetry. In the face of a pandemic that is both viral and political, it is a resource for strength and creativity, friendship and beauty, love and rejuvenation. It is thus a celebration of the beautiful and eclectic minds of contemporary poets.
“Generally speaking, how do you build a poem? How do you start a poem? How do you move from one line to the next? How do you know when to end a poem?”
Tina Schumann: The impulse to start a poem for me usually arises out of a moment of colliding elements (images, emotions, questions etc.) One or more of these elements may have been simmering away on the back burner of my mind for a while. For example, it might be that I had been thinking of my father and his dementia at the same time I am driving down a tree lined street on a fall day, a leaf glides to the ground while I pass a house under construction and bam! a trifecta of images, thoughts and emotions have collided and I know something is coming to a boiling point that will eventually make it on the page. I cannot fully articulate it at that moment, but I know (call it inspiration) that that moment of impact has stirred in me the urge to work towards getting to the root of a particular illumination and its connective tissue.

Read the feature in full on Cultural Weekly


Few poets make ideas as tactile as Tina Schumann. At once readily accessible and piercingly ambiguous, Requiem: A Patrimony of Fugues presents both the heartbreak and the epiphanies involved in caring for a beloved parent who is gradually fading into self-eradicating dementia. Each deeply elegiac poem stands on its own while serving as yet one more critical juncture in this most remarkable sequence. The volume astonishes not simply because of its consistently remarkable phrasing or its myriad musical nuances, but because of the inventive line-by-line composing and the manifold interpretative possibilities on every page. Schumann’s achievement is that the brilliant verse rendering of her ministrations calls us back to her daughterly devotion over and over.


—Kevin Clark, author of Self-Portrait with Expletives, winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Series Book Competition


Tina Schumann is author of Praising the Paradox (Red Hen Press, 2019) and As If (Parlor City Press), which was awarded the Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize for 2010. She is editor of the anthology Two-Countries: U.S. Daughters and Sons of Immigrant Parents (Red Hen Press, 2017). Her work received the 2009 American Poet Prize from The American Poetry Journal, a pushcart nomination and finalist status in the National Poetry Series, Four Way Books Intro Prize and the New Issues Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in publications and anthologies since 1999 including The American Journal of Poetry, Ascent, Cimarron Review, Midwest Quarterly, Nimrod, Tarrain.org, The Human and The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine.

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