Sunday, July 1, 2007
d.a.levy & the turn toward concrete poetry
I've been reading d.a. levy this past week, an homage to Cleveland and the poet who loved this city so much that he never could leave it, even when it began to kill him. I've lived in Cleveland for six years, so I thought I was ready to read the work without casting it aside as second-rate Ginsberg. He turned out to be more interesting than I'd expected, though the tragedy is that he died at 26 (suicide), and left an immense yet immensely uneven body of work. What I've discovered is a poet of restlessness, who wanted to confront the violence of his age (and of himself)....
levy’s turn toward concrete poetry and collage had everything to do with the exhaustion of language that would turn the poets who are now called “language poets” toward a material poetics. In his introduction to his concrete poetry, he writes, “What DOES CONCRTE POETRY MEAN? People ask me! As close as i can get to it its meaning (for myself anyway) is after eons of time & boxes of poets writing singing chanting & shrieking love poems; people still prefer to kill each other. The PEACE poets arent getting their message across…so fuck it” (d.a. levy & the mimeograph revolution 234). As Michael Basinski writes, “words had failed him, us, the world” (234). Poets interested in writing for peace have in levy a sobering reminder of the limits of words as such. The same sense of exhaustion led the language poets to abandon the notions of language that held sway in mainstream verse from the time; if only levy had somehow lived long enough to find that poetry was turning his way.