Visiting Poets

Dana Levin

Dana Levin

In Dana Levin’s most recent collection, Banana Palace (Copper Canyon, 2016), the act of scrolling through a cellphone becomes linked with a sibyl’s prophetic voice and an overheard rant on the street swirls with the force of the oracular. In Levin’s work, this collision of voices becomes a means of interrogating the complex collage of information and human desires in an era that seems wracked with political and global anxieties. These are urgent and inventive poems, determined equally to confront the vicissitudes of our age as well as the interiority of the self.

Levin's first book, In the Surgical Theatre, was chosen by Louise Glück for the 1999 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize and went on to receive numerous honors, including the 2003 PEN/Osterweil Award. Copper Canyon Press brought out her second book, Wedding Day, in 2005, and in 2011 Sky Burial, which The New Yorker called “utterly her own and utterly riveting.” Sky Burial was noted for 2011 year-end honors by The New Yorker, the San Francisco Chronicle, Coldfront, and Library Journal.

Levin’s poetry and essays have appeared in many anthologies and magazines, including Best American Poetry 2015, The New York Times, Los Angeles Review of Books, Boston Review, The American Poetry Review, Poetry, and The Paris Review. Her fellowships and awards include those from the National Endowment for the Arts, PEN, the Witter Bynner Foundation and the Library of Congress, as well as the Rona Jaffe, Whiting and Guggenheim Foundations. 

A teacher of poetry for over twenty five years, Levin has served as the Russo Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at the University of New Mexico (2009–2011), as well as Faculty and Chair of the Creative Writing and Literature Department at College of Santa Fe (1998–2009) and Santa Fe University of Art and Design (2011–2015). She currently serves as Distinguished Writer in Residence at Maryville University in St. Louis.

Select Poems

Six monarch butterfly cocoons
clinging to the back of your throat—

you could feel their gold wings trembling.

You were alarmed. You felt infested.
In the downstairs bathroom of the family home,
gagging to spit them out—
and a voice saying, Don’t don’t—

From WEDDING DAY (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)

I was tracking the stars through the open truck window,
my friend speeding the roads through the black country—

and I was thinking how the songs coming from the radio
were like the speech of a single human American psyche—

the one voice of the one collective dream, industrial,
amphetamine, and the starts unmoving—

the countryside black and silent, through which a song
pumped serious killer over and over—

and I could feel the nation shaping, it was something about
the collective dream of the rich land and the violent wanting—

the amphetamine drive and the cows sleeping,
all along the sides of the dark road—

never slowing enough to see what we might have seen
if the moon rose up its pharmaceutical light—

aspirin-blue over the pine-black hills what was rising up—

mullein or something else in the ditches their flameless tapers—

world without fire the song heralded a crystal methedrine light—

while the sky brought its black bone down around

the hood of the truck
the electric migration—

we were losing our bodies—

digitized salt of bytes and speed we were becoming a powder—



what we might have seen, if we had looked—

From WEDDING DAY (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)

I say most sincerely and desperately, HAPPPY NEW YEAR!

Having rowed a little farther away from the cliff

Which is my kind of religion

Adrift in the darkness but readying oars

How can there be too many stars and hands, I ask you


I would be disingenuous if I said “being understood”

is not important to me

Between the ceiling of private dream and the floor of public


Between the coin and the hand it crosses

Mercantilists’ and governors’ and preachers’ alike

The imagination and its products so often rebuff purpose

And some of us don’t like it, and want to make it mean

I would never shoot you, even if you were the only meat



Anyway, snow-bound sounds gorgeous and inconvenient

Like the idea of ending on the internal rhyme of psychics

and clients

Though I too privilege the “shiny”

And of course, I want to be approved of, so much

Despite the image I’ve been savoring, the one of the self-

stitching wound

Yes, I want to write that self-healing wound poem, the one

with cocoon closed up with thorns

We are getting such lovely flourishes from our poets

Fathomless opportunities for turning literacy into event

It’s the drama of feeling we find such an aesthetic problem,

these days

From SKY BURIAL (Copper Canyon Press, 2011)

Poetry Center Reading

Fall 2019
Fall 2010