Friday, April 8, 2011

Readings: A Mystery Poet

As is obvious from the (increasingly scant) posts below, I continue to read both fiction and non-fiction. But recently my reading has been more strongly focused on poetry. So when my friend, Pentimento, asked me recently if I had ever heard of a poet named Al Levine (I hadn't), my curiosity was piqued.

Pentimento remembered a poem by Al Levine entitled "An Alphabet" which had appeared years ago in The New Yorker magazine. She was able to find it online, but couldn't unearth much other information about Al Levine. Her research seems to have shown that he published only one book of poetry: Prophecy in Bridgeport.

I was able to determine that my library has a copy of that book. That copy has been taken out of general circulation and shelved at our annex facility, where unread books too worthy to pulp reside in literary limbo.  I immediately put in a request to have the book delivered to me at the main library.

When I received the book and checked it out, I discovered that it had last been borrowed on November 4, 1981, a couple of months after the break-up of my first marriage. In the interim between then and now I have lived through two subsequent marriages and raised two daughters to adulthood . It seems a long, long time. (But, then again, it doesn't...)

I haven't been able to find any additional information about Al Levine online. Some of the poems in Prophecy in Bridgeport were published in New American Review and Harper's Magazine, in addition to The New Yorker (and a couple of other, lesser publications), and the book was published by Scribner's--so Levine must have been a hot commodity for a spell in the late sixties and early seventies. But he has completely disappeared--as nearly as I can determine--save for the availability of his one book from various used book dealers.

On page 22 of Prophecy in Bridgeport are two short poems which I like and which seem to me to be characteristic of Levine's work. I present them here, noting that all of the poems in the book are in italics:


A ray of sunlight struck
The face of a corpse
The woods
A frog's face
The exposed nerve of a dying hare
The jacket of a copper slug
The exposed bud of a March tree
The face of a corpse
The sole of his boot
The cloud drifting over his face
The moon


My friend in the bath house
Took her trumpet from its black case
And blew a long silver note that fell on the stones
Glistening with a kind of afterbirth
That died a long way off in the black spruce forest
And the creature which had just been born
Licked itself on the wet flags
And rose, following.
The quivering trees.

If anybody coming across this post knows anything about Al Levine, please share it.