Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Larry Levis: A Condition of the Spirit

Romania is perhaps the only country in the world where young women come up to you after you have read your poems, poems which some of them haven't understood a word of, to hand you flowers, bouquets of flowers. As a custom it seemed very sweet, and if some poets consider it insincere and false, because you're even more incomprehensible over there than you are here, I think their reaction is shabby and selfish. What the Romanians respect is poetry, any poetry: whether they've understood it or not, they think it civilized to hand you a bouquet out of respect for the art. There's no such respect in this country: here you are more often thought of as some con-artist guru, or as a clown who isn't terribly funny, or as someone pretentious, someone who doesn't understand that he lives in a democracy, where we are all equal, and therefore all equal in talent and brains. And always, in such a country as ours, the poet, who publishes his work in the naive expectation of being thanked for this gift, is often judged not on the merits of the work, but for his or her life, his or her behavior, judged for his or her morals. For finally, you see, there's no money in poetry, so why is this man or woman doing it? There must be something wrong with him, with her. This is capitalism in concert with that detestable vestigial Calvinism that grows everywhere here. It's depressing. How many people attended Poe's funeral? Whitman was one of the few.

-Larry Levis being interviewed by Robyn Selman, "Roll Call: The Many Lives of Larry Levis," in A Condition of the Spirit: The Life and Work of Larry Levis, Edited by Christopher Buckley and Alexander Long (Eastern Washington University Press, 2004), p. 271


Blogger Busstogate said...

Greg, Thanks for this piece. I've been accepted to IU's summer foreign language workshop to take a year of Romanian. Even though I don't have any previous foreign language training, I found something eerily attractive and comforting about Romanian culture in what little of it I have studied. Plus, they advocate lots of healthy eating!

I also have a book of Levis's on my Wish List and will probably now make that my next purchase. Stern might have been right about him after all.

7:40 AM  

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