When Michele Poulos and Gregory Donovan teamed up to film the documentary, “A Late Style of Fire: Larry Levis, American Poet,” they shot hours of interviews with some of the most influential, revered poets in the United States. The film, which was released in 2016, could only pack but so much of that compelling content into its 92-minute running time. Poulos, an alumna of Virginia Commonwealth University’s M.F.A. in creative writing program and the film’s director, and Donovan, a longtime creative writing professor at VCU, knew well before filming was done that they would have to find another outlet to share a more comprehensive record of the poet’s words.
As a result, Donovan and Poulos, who are married, have collaborated on another project – “Prismatics: Larry Levis & Contemporary American Poetry,” a book that collects transcriptions of the extended interviews conducted during the making of the film. “Prismatics” features discussions with 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.
Of particular interest to many participants was the topic of the risks and sacrifices that are necessary to live the life of an artist.
“Larry was really the poster boy for that question, because he was so willing to sacrifice everything for his work,” Donovan said. “His work as a writer always came first. And that was a problem for some of the people in his life.
“It's a very difficult choice. It's a painful choice, not a simple one. Larry writes about that in his poems, and all of the poets interviewed could readily identify with that struggle and that choice. How much do you give to your work?”