Darryl and I were the best of friends for about two years until his judgment began to deteriorate. (I refer my readers to my partially-published five-page 1969 poem, "Threnody / for d.a.levy.") I was going to school at Kenyon (College) at the time. It is about 50 miles north of Columbus, and I was only in my native Cleveland on the weekends and holidays during the academic year; so our contact became less and less frequent as the years went by. levy began to choose younger men for companions (such as rjs and Tom Kryss who were responsible for the first [mimeo] edition of his collected works, ucankanhavyrfuckinciti bak), and rejected his contemporaries like myself, Kent Taylor and Russell Salamon (who has now put ucankanhavyrfuckinciti bak into a second printing.)
I met levy at one of Adele Simon's soirees in 1964. Adele
was married to a member of the Cleveland Orchestra during the extensive,
lauded tenure of George Szell. It was even considered the finest symphony
in the world, since his musicians were overwhelmingly Viennese-trained.
These individuals, who largely had escaped the Third Reich,
were honored to work with Szell, and vice versa. In the Simons's
home, the mind-set was a very European one. Adele and
Martin Simon mentored him, and this was important in d.a.'s development.
Although he was a literary rebel, he was well grounded in a cultural
milieu that went considerably beyond the cliché of the Cleveland
street poet that he is too often vulgarly reduced to! At the same time,
he was a self-educated man, and that did detract from the depth of his
words and the employment of his metaphors. With a broader education,
I feel his work would probably have had a wider acceptance within the
poetry establishment of the era.
levy was also an artist – his collages being best known because of their printability, although today they are very fragile and difficult to preserve. d.a. was a considerable self-taught painter, too. Some of his paintings are quite powerful – both the watercolors and the oils. I owned two of the watercolors that my parents lost in one their many moves. He had his large canvases stored at the Simons's. They are rare now; for the most part they are lost and/or missing. He had given one to me that I valued quite highly. I finally sold it to the great collectors of levy's work, Marvin and Ruth Sackner, for I did not feel I cold keep an oil painting in the best of shape. As it was, the Sackners had to renovate the image. I hear that another painting has been located in the estate of Kay Wood (who conducted the other soiree in town).
My sense is that levy's work is a bit like the prose of Henry Miller
where some of the best and the most uneven episodes in American
literature appear in the same chapter (for levy this would be the same
poem). I would say the same thing about Allen Ginsberg who fought for
lev's publication by a major New York press during levy's lifetime.
Unlike the famous American author, Thomas Wolfe, who had a magnificent
editor, d.a.levy still needs an exceptional editor, for he often is
guilty of overwriting. His contemporary, Charles Bukowski (who along
with levy and Douglas BLazek were the paramount poets of the larger
Underground Movement of the 1960s) emerged from that Alternative Bloc at
the insistence and support of Lawrence Ferlingetti, who published a book
of his prose – not his higher profile poetry – in his City
Lights Press series. Bukowski was also lucky to have had his poetry
published over a considerable period of time by John Martin's Black
Sparrow Press. He was exceptionally well-presented! When the mainstream
British publisher, Penguin, put Buk into their series of slim poetry
books including three poets per volume, he was classified as an American
Surrealist. That surprised many of us in the poetry community during
that period. levy had no such editor, but by looking back at his work
maybe we can still persuade someone to put d.a.'s far-flung work into
order! Let me give a short example of what I mean:
This is a very fine imagistic poem, and the language is exceptionally
compact, but, if I were editing the text, I would suggest to Darryl
to either cut the last line or substitute it with (. . . .), for
he is commenting on what has already been said much better in
understatement in the foregoing lines, and the redundancy and
sticks out as an overstatement, spoiling the imagist feel of the verse.
no sounds here except
on the streets
over the rooftops
(that's my sound)
Editing is the first element that has to be approached, and part of
this could be done by constructing a short volume with only the
stronger poems rather than by cutting up the texts. The second
component should be to encourage serious literary criticism on
d.a.levy's opus. I hope this present effort – including my
minor essay – may help to encourage this. There has been
one book written on lev, and his work – and that a
sensationalist commercial biography that leaves much to be desired.
The recent dissertation of one of the editors of this present
miscellany of essays, Ingrid Swanberg, partially deals with the Ohio
poet's compositions. I only hope she will expand the levy portion
of her theoretical exercise into book format! Also, B.L. Kennedy's
oral histories of the poet should be made available in book form
(it would have to be abridged), or at the very least, archived for
researchers as basic research materials.
levy printed my first published poem in a 1964 edition of his
Marijuana Quarterly; thus, my vocation as a poet began!
Further, I gained a considerable reputation as a visual poet later in
my profession. It was lev that introduced me to the form, and
encouraged several of us to collaborate on two mini "books." It was
like no Concrete poetry I have seen since. He was influenced by
a "school" of Colombian poets with whom he was corresponding. I might
add that I became a visual artist, too, once I settled down in
California during the 1970s after I returned from India.
One of the greatest of the influences handed down to me by levy was the relationship between art and human rights. I was very angered at my Cleveland cohort's death! A decade later my colleague, Clemente Padin with his coworker Jorge Caraballo, disappeared in Montevideo. I organized a worldwide effort to find and to free them. (They were tortured, by the way!) This project has been considered by some to be the second most influential project within the genre of mail art, and it added to the politization of my art. As can be seen, d.a.levy was an early influence upon my later development and interests.