1. What was it about levy's work that first drew your interest, and what was it
about the work that distinguished him from other poets you had read?
I was going to school in New York (Sarah Lawrence College), and was sick of New
Yorkers bragging their poets, so I hunted up every poet I could find that was from
Cleveland. At the time, The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry was published, with
its meager offerings from levy, so I researched him and soaked up everything
I could. What distinguished levy, and subsequent poets I've met through Deep
Cleveland, is the honest mirror held up to Cleveland. There is a mixture of
celebration and rage that I've felt at the city--the "OH, YOU WITH YOUR BRIDGES
AND SKYSCRAPERS AND POLLUTED WATERS ARE BEAUTIFUL" paralleled
with "ARGH!!! WHY DOES THIS CITY WREAK OF SUCH [fill in immediate social
problem here]", and the back and forth between the two is something I really
identified with. There is a passion in levy that I think a lot of modern poets (yes,
even those from New York) are missing. Also, levy could experiment, but he was
also lyrical. I think that ability is something that is lost on some poets, who want
to do one or the other. levy was also an artist, and can't be pigeonholed into one
category. That drew me in, as well.
2. What has kept you reading him (if you have been doing so over a long period of time),
and/or why do you think his work will continue to interest you in the future?
Joanne Cornelius insists that levy's "Cleveland Undercovers" is the greatest poem ever
written about Cleveland. I disagree (it's really "The North American Book of the Dead.")
but the issue is that whichever poem is the greatest, levy wrote it. No other Cleveland
poet comes close. I have studied Ed Sanders' Investigative Poetics technique, and sooner
or later, someone (possibly me if I can find the money to stay around long enough)
should/will write the entire history of Cleveland in verse. Until that time, levy remains
the poet laureate of Cleveland.
3. How has levy influenced your own work?
levy taught me, over anybody else, that it was okay to say the things that needed to be
said as opposed to the things that "should" be said. Not necessarily in terms of
swearing, but giving myself permission to write ugly poems, but poems that pointed
to a deeper truth than a "proper" or "academic" poem would. levy also taught me how
to integrate the spiritual and the mystic into the urban landscape, and taught me that
this was possible. Though the obvious formal influence on my chapbook "Deep
Cleveland Lenten Blues" is Kerouac, the content and the longing for mysticism is
all levy. levy also made me understand and consider the audience of my work and the
importance of other people reading my poems.
4. How has his work affected your sense of the work of other poets and/or of
poetry in general?
I find myself expecting a lot more from other poets, in terms of content.
I plow through literary journal after literary journal, and read poem
after poem in class when I was still a student, and very few people
seemed interested in a strong content. There were exceptions, of course:
Tim Seibles is one, and his Buffalo Head Solos is a
must read for anyone desiring vaccination from the current political
plague that infects the United States. Sam Hamill's "Poets Against The
War" project is another. However, too few poets have any solid content or
intention in their work, and I find myself frustrated with their pablum.