VCU Libraries Gallery

Believing in words: the Larry Levis papers

California/Winter Stars, photo by Jay Paul

Photograph: Jay Paul

How does a poem begin? With an image? An idea? With the sound and rhythm of a phrase? 

How are these elements crafted? How do they come together to become a poem? At what point does the poet know they are in the form and place where they belong? If we could watch the changes unfold, would we learn anything about the creator?

This exhibit invites you to look closely at a number of pages from the Larry Levis Papers. These documents would become the poem "Winter Stars" published in 1985 in the book of the same name.

One useful approach to documents research is to come with an open mind and a keenly observant eye. Ask yourself, "What questions do these documents raise? What questions might they answer? What answers do we still wish we knew?" 

As you become familiar with the Larry Levis papers, you'll notice many revisions, deletions, readers' comments, signed and unsigned versions, and title changes. But noticing differences is only the beginning. Ask yourself, what is the effect of those changes? What exactly changes? Is it the sound of the words? Perhaps the image in your mind? Has the writer changed the meaning of the poem? And how do these changes alter your experience of the words? 

When I left home at seventeen, I left forever.

When I left home at seventeen, I left for good.