Dana Levin

Dana Levin’s poetry has been variously called “violent,” “prophetic,” “transcendent,” “intimate,” “hypnotic”—and it is all of these things. As Publisher’s Weekly put it, she “writes a harrowing poetry that at times aspires to the unstable intensity of Sylvia Plath and the millennial resonance of Tony Kushner. Her poems have decisively jagged edges, not only in their jutted left-hand margins, but in the brutal beauty of their sights and sounds.

The author of two collections, Levin is a rising star in the poetry world. In the Surgical Theatre received multiple first book awards, including the 1999 American Poetry Review/Honickman First Book Prize, the John C. Zacharis First Book Award, the Witter Bynner Prize from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the PEN/Osterweil Award. Louise Gluck praised this “book of terrors and marvels,” and Rain Taxi dubbed it “a true stunner, alive and pulsing in the reader’s hand.” Robert Pinsky found the imagery in her second book, Wedding Day, “satisfyingly clear…and excitingly inexplicable.” Levin’s third volume, Sky Burial, is due from Copper Canyon Press in the spring of 2011.

A self-proclaimed “struggling realist,” Levin says, “for me, imagination is a transpersonal force. Its products can come unbidden; when asked to be employed it is not tame, but surprises, frustrates, stuns, and confounds.” Her work offers us just that: the gritty details and gleaming truths that so often escape us in our daily lives. “Levin’s gaze is unflinching,” says Ploughshares, “and the reader is implicated and challenged at every turn.”

Levin was raised in the California Mojave Desert, and holds a BA from Pitzer College and an MFA from New York University. Among her many honors, she has received the Whiting Writers’ Award, and fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Library of Congress, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Her work has won several Pushcart Prizes and is widely anthologized. Levin teaches in the MFA Program at Warren Wilson College and holds the Russo Endowed Chair in Creative Writing at the University of New Mexico.

Poetry Center Reading:

Fall 2010

Ars Poetica (cocoons)

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)

Letter to GC

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)