A few months ago I asked Chris Harter, Editor/Publisher of Bathtub Gin who were some the pioneers in the independent small press movement. He said without a doubt one of them had to be the late d.a. levy of Cleveland, Ohio – this was the first time I had ever heard of d.a. levy.
Levy was 28 years old when he shot himself. Well regarded small press editor, Len Fulton says that the mimeo graph revolution “is almost overwhelming in its reach and passion for its subject. It is sobering to think that one young person could accomplish so much in so short a time, while confronting torment from within – and genuine torments from without.” While I enjoyed reading levy’s poetry and seeing his visual art, what I found most compelling were the numerous interviews with him from this time period. They reminded me how ground breaking the free speech movement of the 1960’s was, and what a wonderful, diverse and passionate group of poets were at the forefront of this effort.
In Karl Young’s essay on levy he says, “levy invented more literary forms then any other young poet working in the U.S. in the 1960’s.” Levy who only graduated from high school devoured books and build an international network of writing friends. He was consumed by language and words. When he was arrested on obscenity charges in 1967 Allen Ginsberg and the infamous Fugs (Ed Sanders rock group) came to Cleveland for benefit concert. He never left Cleveland or, rather never gave up on Cleveland. As Ed Sanders says, “Cleveland was levy’s decision. I think it was an act of Cleveland patriotism. ….he wasn’t going to let anyone drive him out.”
Contributors to this book include: Ed Sanders, T.L. Kryss, Karl Young, Allen Frost, Larry Smith, Russell Salamon, John Jacob, Doug Manson, and Michael Basinski. The book includes a 2006 DVD of Kon Petrochuk’s film documentary titled, if i scratch, if i write. It also includes a chronology of his life and work, biographical essays, photographs, interviews, profiles, statements, letters, art work, collage, poems, critical appreciations of his writing and art, “Cleveland Prints” in full color. This is as comprehensive and riveting a book about an artist, passion, and persecution as I have ever read. It’s all meat, no bullshit. I found it confounding and amazing that such a young, untrained writer could grow himself in to such a remarkable talent in so short a time.
I asked Larry Smith of Bottom Dog Press why he published this book and he told me, “I know that I and Ingrid Swanberg, as co-editors, have long had a sympathy for the outrider or outsider artist and writers. My books on rebel-poet Kenneth Patchen and later Lawrence Ferlinghetti were my launching place into the world of publishing on alternative writing. Ingrid’s big dissertation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison links levy with world writers of vision and rebellion. We both carried a deep appreciation for d.a.levy as a person of small means who created a great deal of good through his devotion and hard work. That he was persecuted by the forces that be (were and are) in Cleveland is clearly documented in our book. But we wanted to go beyond making levy a martyr hero, and show the range of his vision and the achievement of his work. He is acclaimed internationally today as a visual artist, concrete poet, and main force of the 1960’s underground movement. To bring it home, his poems about his native place and times are just remarkable works deserving of our deepest attention because the repressive forces he confronted are still with us. Long live levy.”
The conclusion of Ed Sanders interview is beautiful tribute to this young genius, “On November 24, 1968, he shot himself in the forehead with his childhood .22 rifle sitting lotus. And once again pled nolo contendere. It’s always difficult to make sense of a poet’s brief florescence, Hart Crane…d.a. levy…the chaff of genius, blown up above harsh Cleveland. It may take centuries to sort him out. It often does with poets. The issues of economic justice and personal freedom which wore out the good bard levy have not yet been addressed in America. And we need a way that a shyer and yes even more timorous genius can flourish their proper span. And Darryl Allen Levy live not his span, but his poems….”The Bells of the Cherokee Ponies,” “Kibbutz in the Sky,” North American Book of the Dead, Cleveland undercovers, and a big series of concrete books that find their measure. [Raises fist in solidarity] Shine on, oh d.a. levy, rinsed in the American dream…”
If you love the independent small press, poetry, and the freedom of expression we all hold so dear, you must read this book.
About the author:
Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over one hundred and seventy print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing. He is the author of THE FATHERS WE FIND, a novel based on memory and five books of poetry — the most recent entitled, The Last Time which was released by The Moon Press in Tucson, Arizona. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot (www.wordriot.org), Pass Port Journal (www.passportjournal.org) and ESC! (www.escmagazine.com). He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore (www.woodlandpattern.org). He is a member of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission and a founding member of the Lake Shore Surf Club, the oldest fresh water surfing club on the Great Lakes. You may find additional samples of his work by going to: http://www.literati.net/Ries/