Ode to d.a. levy by Ed Sanders

Ode to d.a. levy by Ed Sanders
Copyrite 2004 Edward Sanders, www.woodstockjournal.com

Beginning with an epigraph:
My heart rouses
thinking to bring you news
of something
that concerns you
and concerns many men. Look at
what passes for the new
You will not find it there but in
despised poems.
It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.
—W.C. Williams

“Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”
Darryl Allen Levy was born in Cleveland
on October 29, 1942
He was a 1960 grad
James Ford Rhodes High School
“I didn’t have
enough money to
go to college,” he
told the Cleveland Press
He was in the Navy
7 months. His parents
lived in Cleveland
during his times
as a bard
Joseph Levy, his father
was a shoe salesman—
his mother’s name was Caroline
By early ’63 he’d started a press—
He called it Renegade Press
We gave our magazines & presses
mine was Fuck You/ A Magazine of the ARTS
among d.a.’s were the MARRAHWANNA QUARTERLY
and later the
Buddhist Third Class Junk Mail Oracle
He described it:
“It was February ’63 when I had enough money
to buy a 6by9 letterhead hand press & type. Spent
amost a year at my aunt & uncles printing, sometimes
8 to l6 hours a day for days and days (playing
‘the man with the golden arm’ & some old 78s: peggy
lee, jack teagarden, dexter gordon, etc. over & over
while i worked)
Some of the hippie highschool shits who think i’m
hip don’t realize i’ve worked my ass off for the past
3 years trying to change the literary reputation of
*The Mary Jane Quarterly
Volume 2, Number 1 1966
Three years he designed, adorned and printed
from his letter press—
In early 1964 he wrote me in New York
asking for a manuscript.
I was overwhelmingly excited.
“If you want a book done,” the letter said,
“I’ll do it — the wilder the poems —the more
I enjoy printing them and thus better
printing job.”
Few publishers there are
in infinity
that ask for
poems, the wilder the better
Wow! I thought,
as I jogged around our little three room pad
on the spot, pulling from file folders
the poems
for the book he published on his hand press
with the title, “King/Lord Queen/Freak”
He asked me to send him some
copies of Fuck You/ A Magazine of the Arts
and I did.
His own poetry
arose toward greatness.
He was relentlessly
He refused to be
& he called it like he
saw it.
His message
freedom to write
& to read aloud
freedom for the soul to soar
& freedom
from poverty.
“All I want to do is
write poems, say what
I want to say and be
able to turn on once
in a while. Is that
asking too much of
your country?”
(d.a. to Plain Dealer 1-13-67)
He had an eye as sharp
as the Eye of Horus
He seared through the fluff
into the sempiternity.
He was spiritual
Believed in
& sequences of lives
I used to adorn my verse
with Egyptian glyphs and images
and he too
knew that the
in our century
was in the ascendency
We both
sensed that
the ability
to differentiate
& analyze
fine points
in the
visual gestalt
was on the
rise — in fact
it was
one of the most powerful
forces of the era
He had a highly developed
in his verse
he had a Good Eye
for visual array
did important work
in concrete poetry
He was
good w/ scissored shapes
good at
positing images
among one another
good at gluing
and fashioned a museum quality
series called “Zen Concrete”
I called
these visual images “glyphs”
A good
in a poem
thrills the sky.
I used the Eye of Horus
renamed Peace Eye
as a symbol for the
Ascendency of the Visual
in Poetry.
Levy studied Buddhism
as Kerouac
also studied
Two troubled
American artists
in the ascendency
He loved
All of us were searching
that writers have to mill around together
search across the electric forests
like hungry deer
He wanted
to do it
in his home city
so he reached
out and roped together
the best minds
in his
though it’s so hard
to get your compatriot best minds
to study
the same things you study.
The great fear
so endemic to America
rinsed over his
23 year old soul
“Have you read ‘The Sacred Mushroom–
Key the Door of Eternity'” — he
wrote me in January of ’65.
“It is a bridey murphy thing in egypt.
How aware are you of yr Egyptianish
poems. I am not finished with the book
but turn on like a light bulb cosmic high
when reading it.
“…I still get paranoid… think cia & fbi
are going to get me for something (burn
this letter) many people here becoming
very sensitive and perceptive…
New coffee house opened THE WELL — could
be a Le Metro in cleveland… it is backed
by a christian, leaving the church &
going back to god…
Everyone sez it is unhip to talk about
it… what is it… do you know?”
Two sea-line threnodies
roiled our generation:
d.a. felt their swell—
the threat of the bomb
& the threat of the Vietnam war
to which you could
have added two more:
the lack of economic justice
& the threat
of the secret police & the CIA
plus the rinse of, the rinse of ‘noia
He drifted toward trouble.
Ginsberg and I helped
set it up.
In 1963 I called for legalization
of marijuana
in an editorial in
Fuck You/ A Magazine of the Arts
that many poets read.
In early ’65 we formed LEMAR
The Committee to Legalize Marijuana
Ginsberg and I and others
at Peace Eye Bookstore in N.Y.C.
The photo of Allen Ginsberg
holding a POT IS FUN sign
at a demonstration
outside the courthouse
was in the newspapers
and it made the cause seem safer.
We put out The Marijuana Newsletter
off of the Peace Eye Mimeograph
I sent it to d.a.
On April 19th, 1965, he sent a post card
“Please put me on your mailing list & I will
sign petitions… wd distribute the
Marijuana Report if I could afford…”
d.a. jumped to the cause
with the same tenacity
that glued him to the
letterpress the past three years
He thought he’d bring it to
after which he was an early
—one of the first—
of the drug wars.
On January 1, 1966
the police raided Peace Eye
and I was arrested
They hauled away a squad car full
Fuck You’s, and they seized
and marked for evidence
such publications as W.H. Auden’s “Platonic Blow”
and d.a.’s Renegade Press edition
of “Farewell the Floating Cunt.”
The police
killed my magazine
I not publish
till after th’ trial
and even though I won the case next year
I never resumed it
such a crimp was placed
in my Mind.
d.a. began to bring
poetry to the coffee houses & bars
in the University Circle area–
near Case Western Reserve University–
a resumption of the
beatnik bardic oral tradition.
Just the word “beatnik” in those
days had the power to inflame,
enrage or bemirth.
He granted an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer
in January, 1966, which was published on page one
under the headline BEATNIK LEADER
To say the least, it caused a stir.
“I felt that someone had to come out in the
open and challenge the hysterical arguments and
myths spread by the police, the press and the
government,” he told an interviewer at the time.
The police put him on their list.
First issue of Marrahwanna Newsletter
from Cleveland came out in early ’66
Price listed: 10 cents
The second issue out in the
summer of ’66, with part 5
of d.a.’s North American Book of
the Dead
The publication d.a. continued as
The Marrahwanna Quarterly,
with an emphasis on poetry
and d.a.’s comments on the cleveland
police & psychedelic scene
(acid had just been made a federal crime)
Levy wrote an editorial, “the first time
i discovered the cleveland public library
wasn’t worth a shit was when i wanted to
read bks of contemporary poetry… they
were mostly academic poets/only a few of the
‘beats & post beat generation'”
d.a. announced he’d “recently presented over
40 books of poetry to the library… included
were books by Gary Snyder, Charles Olson, Antonin
Artaud/Clayton Eshleman/Diane Wakoski/Jonathan
Williams/Charles Bukowski/Kenneth Rexroth/Jacob
Glantz/Bob Kaufman/Denise Levertov/Frank O’Hara/
Paul Valery/Ludovico Silva/Roger Taus/Charles
Reznikoff/George Oppen/Robert Creeley”
Attention from the Establishment
He stood on the spiral staircase of risks
and sang how RE-CREATION
was his
poesy & collage
pot & music
He was a victim
of the cold vectors of war-mind
and the sound of the sloshing waves
by Plymouth Rock.
I’ve never been fully able to understand it
but somehow a few powerful people
thought Levy
with his pot manifestoes, verse and beatnikery
was somehow a detriment to the
local real estate market
Maybe it had to do with
keeping prices up
for urban renewal deals,
new apartment houses and parking lots….
d.a. covered the real estate
in his underground newspaper The
Buddhist Third-Class Junk Mail Oracle
It was the eery drone
of the police state
that began to unnerve him
Cops with body wires
monitored the poetry readings
levy attended
There was a reading at The Gate,
the coffee shop in the basement
at Trinity Cathedral
on November 16.
Police were there in secret,
looking for pot,
but settled
for taping the reading
and voila! a poem was
read with the word “cocksucker”
in it
That same month a grand jury indicted
him for obscenity.
On December 1 of that year, narcotics officers
raided the Asphodel Bookstore
and in some geeky twist
seized 9 crates of d.a.’s publications
on the grounds that they
advocated the legalization of hemp.
Jim Lowell, the Asphodel’s owner
was arrested.
Also seized, as if it
were the era of Dostoievsky,
was a mimeograph machine.
“Grand Jury Named Beatnik Poet
in Secret Indictment on Filth”
That about says it all
about Cleveland in ’67
The press
dripped deprecation
with such ditties as:
“Levy is a widely
know figure around
University Circle beatnik
*Cleveland Press 1-9-67
The squares did not know
that in just a few weeks
the word “Hippie” would
blow the word
“Beatnik” away as a pejorative
in the pejoracracy.
d.a. went into hiding
but on January 16, 1967
turned himself over,
and was released on bail.
Then, on March 28, d.a. was rearrested,
and charged on five counts
of contributing to the deliquency of minors,
in that, at the famous reading
in the basement of Trinity Cathedral
last November 16,
he had read obscenity
to a fiften year old girl and
a 17 year old boy. The lad’s parents
had discovered a poster
in his room,
and complained to the police.
“Specifically,” the Plain Dealer intoned,
“Levy is charged with accepting immoral
and indecent poetry from the boy and
publishing it, as well as reading and
distributing it at the coffee house.”
d.a. gave beautiful interviews
in those few days—
“I am part of a movement
trying to make this planet
more civilized.”
Case Western Reserve Law Students
and professors picketed
the Criminal Court Building
Poets made legalize
d.a. levy stickers
and sprouted them onto
the buildings
of Cleveland
Known beatniks
gathered to
howl verse in public protest.
There was a claw-hammer crudeness
to his arrest
No attention
to the 1st Amendment
They seized his mimeo
and it leaked ink
on the desk at
the police station.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press
or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and
to petition the government for a redress of
Pot was easy for the police
to pick on
for there were no guns
no capos with hit lists
just poets and love lists
In court on January 17
there was a legendary colloquy with the judge:
The judge, to levy: “You write poetry… do you
sell it?”
Levy: “I sell poetry for 89 cents a day.”
The judge: “Bail of $2,500 is not excessive for a
a great poet. Maybe you should charge more than
89 cents.”
The great fear
rinsed through Cleveland
and d.a., already
prone to fear
was battered in the fear-foam.
The prosecutor
in both cases
George Moscarino
(& in 1989
21 years later
had trouble
recalling the case
or levy’s name at all
but in ’66 Moscarino
bedeviled him.)
d.a.’s poem “Kibbutz In the Sky”
traces the arrests.
Friends published a huge anthology
about levy and his work
a classic act of solidarity,
A bunch of us— Allen Ginsberg,
and the Fugs
flew to Cleveland to do a benefit for d.a.
at Case Western.
The day of the benefit
we tried to do a preliminary poetry reading
at the Gate
in Trinity church
but the fuzz broke it up.
1967 was a year
in which you didn’t give up
and d.a. was no exception.
He began publishing
a post-beat newspaper:
The Buddhist Third Class Junk Mail Oracle.
After all, why give up.
It was the year all the beatniks (those young
enough, anyway) became hippies,
and the year they put flowers
down the barrels of rifles
when we exorcized the Pentagon.
There were Love-in’s
at the Cleveland Museum
the summer of ’67
I had written asking for
a poem to publish,
he wrote back frazzled,
“cannot possibly sent you manuscript
in time and thot i should let you know/
everyday for the next two weeks are
shot/ my trial has been detained again/
best of luck & many prayers for you’
It doesn’t take that many years
to scorch a psyche—
America broke his heart
when he realized
as did Allen Dulles
that few actually read
& that
“the people want blood.”
The Great Fear
of the era
was giving its
final soul-rinse
“the people want blood.”
You have to
hang on to
a controversy
with the passion
of a fanatic
wear you down
The hatred
of officialdom
at your
Attacks ate Debs
They ate
Norman Thomas
& Emma Goldman
They ate
Martin King
It finally wore d.a. down
is like roadway
on tires—
you wind up with metal.
His poems were riven with death:
he wrote about it
in a Poe-like
surge of work—
tombstones, epitaphs
and thanatonoia
filled his fingers with ink.
After his arrest in ’67
he described an incident when he was 17
“Unable to find competent leaders or teachers,
unable to discove intelligent persons in
places of authority, unable to find anything
other than pseudo-christian bigotry &
ignorance – i decided to commit suicide at
the age of 17. Changed my mind at the last
minute & started to read everything & write
Death was always
a crow’s wing
in his eyes.
He lived very quickly
for about five years
He was stunned
He was in the end overwhelmed
He was a loner lover liver & giver
He liked to help his friends
d.a. levy was his name
’68 cracked the bones of America.
The Tet Offensive in February
The My Lai Massacre in March
MLK murdered in April
Robert Kennedy in June
the Riots in Chicago
the Birth of Nixon
what a horrid year.
d.a. kept up the
Buddhist Third Class Junk Mail Oracle
but money was difficult.
Early in ’68 he made a deal
that sealed his anger and depression–
His lawyer says he was very afraid of jail
and he was facing something like 5 years
so he pleaded nolo contendere
to the charge
of contributing
to the deliquency
of minors
in exchange for probation
& the dismissal of the obscenity charge,
& a $200 fine.
He sent his beautiful manifesto on
verse and the poet in
the American capitalist milieu,
PROSE: on poetry in the wholesale education
& culture system
with a note:
this was printed
last night — it is
already out of
print — please
read it if you get
a chance to breathe—
a different bag—
john scott just got two
years in the county
workhouse & we can’t
do a damn thing except
wait send the motherfuckers
bent love rays—
d.a. levy”
Vol. 2, Number 2 of The Buddhist Third Class Junkmail Oracle
was published in July 1968
Volume 2, Number 3 August-September ’68
with d.a.’s editorial:
“At this point, I am left with no choice other than
discontinuing this paper. The rumored ‘hip’ community
is either incapabl or unwilling to support this
paper so fuck it. The spiritual corpses of the ‘hip
community’ can continue to learn where it’s at from
Life Magazine and the Cleveland Plain Dealer as they
have in the past. A section of the Cleveland
Underground would like to leave & go to areas where
there is a more constructive community, where there
is less talk, less apathy & a little more constructive
psychic action. We are tired of being Eunuchs for the
local Christian Death Cults, We are tired of being kept
humble by (….)hic businessmen, We are tired of being
forced to worship the power of the American god, the $,
or starve. DON’T SEND MONEY – all mail received after
OCT. will probably be burned unopened… piece/peace&
awareness d.a. levy c/o The Asphodel Bk Shop
306 W. Superior Ave Cleveland 44113 THIS IS A MAILING
August ’68 wrote the 24 page SUBURBAN MONASTERY DEATH POEM
printed by ZERO EDITION
E. Cleveland Ohio
U.$.$.A – 1968
with its periodic outcries, such as
“William Burroughs – rescue me!
forget that!
Michele Ray – Yael Dayan – rescue me!”
“Ingrid Swanberg, Aileen Goodson, HELP!”
“Vajra Yogini Help!
Papa Legba — open the gates
I don’t want to die in Ohio anymore!”
He inscribed the cover:
“to ed sanders
musical joint
for Peace
d.a. levy – l968”
Perhaps a sign he sent it around
the Jewish New Year in the fall of ’68,
and maybe also a reference
that I left the “STRICTLY KOSHER”
sign on the outside of Peace Eye Bookstore
in place when I opened it
(It had been a Kosher meat market before)
In October of ’68 he was invited to
to be “Free University Poet in Residence”
in the alternative school
associated with U. of M.
d.a.’s course was one on telepathy
and he did not attend.
The class grooved with it,
and continued to gather,
focussing on levy from afar.
Levy created a series of collages in Madison
— someone gave him some old Greek texts
which he turned in a half hour
into startling electric Greek collage poems
and then October was over, and he returned
to the Cuyahoga—
the first week of November Nixon was granted to us
He was
an organism
longed for
He was thinking about moving to California
He was thinking about staying
He hated to be driven from Cleve’
On November 24, he shot himself
in the forehead
with his childhood 22
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
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
& we need a way
that a
yes even more
and fearful
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 conrete books
find their measure
Shine on
oh d.a. levy
rinsed in the American dream!!

—Edward Sanders
Boulder, Colorado
for a d.a. levy celebration

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