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d.a. levy & the mimeograph revolution
Edited by: Larry Smith & Ingrid Swanberg
Bottom Dog Press
P.O. Box 425
Huron, Ohio 44839
Price: $25 / 264 Pages
Review By: Charles P. Ries
Word Count: 824
A few months ago I asked Chris Harter, Editor/Publisher of Bathtub Gin,
who were some of 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 was 28 years old when he shot himself. Well-regarded small press
editor Len Fulton says that the mimeograph 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 groundbreaking the
free speech movement of the 1960s 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 1960s.”
Levy, who only graduated from high school, devoured books and built 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 a 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, and “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 artists 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 1960s 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 a 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 lived 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
If you love the independent small press, poetry, and the freedom of
expression we all hold so dear, you must read this book.
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 freshwater surfing club
on the Great Lakes.