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.


Tess Kincaid said...

"Nude With a Trumpet" is brilliant.

Rodak said...

Yes. I like them both, very much. I will probably post one of his longer poems sometime over the weekend.

Anonymous said...

I also agree with Tess. Nude With a Trumpet is wonderful writing.


Rodak said...

Okay, Anonymous.

Fiocle said...

Love the phrase: '..books too worthy to pulp.' It's a great feeling finding the work of an obscure poet and bringing it into the sunlight. You should be proud. :) Both those poems are great, you found some treasure!

Rodak said...

Actually Pentimento had the map. I only had the shovel.

Fiocle said...

Nice blog, I am now following her :)

Rodak said...

You won't regret it.

Ron King said...

Rodak, You have me hooked. Since 1970 a large part of my life has been the experience of receiving the pain of existence from other human beings on the other side of the room and attempting to join with that human being to alleviate the sense of isolation and living death that is the foundation of their suffering.
My life has been centered on the crises of death, freedom, isolation and lack of meaning from the interpersonal neurobiological perspective for so long that I have deprived myself of the aesthetics of creative human expression of these crises.
I have an intensity of ambiguity with both of the poems based on death and life co-existing but isolated from each other and at the same time so intimately connected somewhere in that void which only the brave tend to explore.
Now is the time in my life to explore.

Rodak said...

Explore life from the perspective of the creative imagination is, never, I think, a mistake. But, as is the case with anything else, it needs to be done with caution, introspection, and contemplation.

Ron King said...

Rodak, Twenty years ago I went to a workshop on family dynamics and I volunteered to be a client in a therapeutic situation. What happened was amazing as I entered a mild trance and freely associated as the therapist was suggesting to allow the freedom of the unconscious mind to explore its history of relationships wherever that may lead. I was led to the familial history of being nothing more than tools being used for the purposes of others. Both sides of my family are coal miners and I discovered the underlying sense of pain and fear transmitted from one generation to the next and the intensity of that pain was so overwhelming that it caused the breakdown of defenses which kept it below the surface my entire life. I had an identity crisis until this new information was integrated. For a while there was no identity. This was 15 years before my conscious relationship with God. I think I tasted the "dark night of the soul" at that time.
I don't want to take your time so I will stop here.

Rodak said...

That's fascinating stuff. Have you written (or are you writing) about it?

Ron King said...

Rodak, I have written on it in pieces "left brain" dominated blogs that do not seem to appreciate it. I do not have something coherently written. I have many fragments of thoughts that all tie together internally but it seems overwhelming to tie it together in writing.
I do not know where to begin. It is funny that the word verification for this comment is "probs".

Rodak said...

Yes, it is very weird how often the word verification thing seems to be reading one's mind.

Don't worry about producing a coherent work. Just write things in notebooks as they come to you. Patterns will form by themselves.

Thomas McGonigle said...

I knew Al Levine early 1970s NYC...I remember going to reading with him when Transtromer came to Columbia now almost 40 years ago I saw him in Wash dc 1993.. He signed book but have lost contact..

Rodak said...

Thomas: Thank you for your comment. Do you have any reason to believe that Al Levine is still active, as a Catholic poet, using a pseudonym?