"Levy was perhaps the most self-consciously Jewish poet of his milieu, his promise and agonies not only those of the 1960s counter culture but also of an unrecalcitrant [sic], prophetic Judaism seeking its destiny." Paul Buhle
"cleveland I gave you/most of my words & my time/and you laughed" d. a. levy
NEW YEAR When I was six years old we dipped apple slices & bread In honey touched small glasses of wine & sed "to life" "to life" that was the only time my father ever hit me his eyes were very sad &C he sort of walked away knowing he was wrong or that he couldnt reach me i dont think he knew who I was perhaps even asking if i was really his son that was 1948--it is now 1968 and i know he is watching a football game on television in another city--his grey hair his sad eyes and he is probably still wondering if i am really his son what father wants to admit that his son really is a "poet" i think I was ten when i asked the difference between Christians & jews and his reply was "the jews think jesus was a bastard" he was wrong again the jews believe in living, the Christians believe in jesus and have formed a death cult around his image a cult dedicated to suffering & love as a means of liberation the jews know, that one becomes liberated thru living, not only thru programmed acts of masochism or blindness it was sometime afterward my father and i went to a temple to hear the services sat down in time to hear that haunting language for just a moment when someone told us we had to stand in the back--we had chosen "reserved seats" seats that had been paid for we left & it was thus i completed my external jewish education my father was right we never visited another temple & now i wonder how many jews are destroyed in this country each year my father with his lonely eyes trying to return home only to have the american god of money slapped in his face when we left it was as if he passed the message on to me "there are no jews left in this place" and I spent years trying to fill in that hungry space denied me on holidays i did not know about i found myself thinking of the old man and later trying to remember what i dreamt when i was a child i kept discovering his quietness when did the first images appear in my head? "a place with sand where it was warm the blue sky--strange trees" my fathers eye had never turned from Israel i don't even know if he knew what was inside his own head once visiting hillel house i was told about keeping traditions alive lighting candles the secrets i learned from my father? how does one pass them on? my fathers terrible eyes the loneliness flesh phrases like "genetic memory" this poem? that I remember once being free to walk through all secret doors to walk with a free people where did I learn that when I think of my father I wonder if he can hear me this poem? for my father who will someday be reborn in Israel & this poem that I may once again be his son & the name we carry was once a name to be proud of now it is new years 1968 in a barbarian country that has always felt alien to me while blind men struggle to keep traditions alive my father watches football games on television to pass time & I dream of his sad eyes and I wonder about those blind men do they ever wonder who wrote their fucking traditions for them? what songs will be sung in israel for the young jews beaten or murdered in the south trying to keep alive the internal spirit what songs will be sung in israel to remember the young jews who took drugs into eternity trying to find the Spirit they couldnt find in America what songs will be sung in israel to commemorate the subtle murders while rabbis danced the hora ate dates & figs looked the other way to keep traditions alive? my father watched football on television his eye did not lose sight of israel for even a moment-- and once a year I break bread with him quietly in my mind (1) In October of 1988, while teaching at Case Western Reserve University, I attended "Days of Rain and Fire," a celebration in memory of a Cleveland Jewish poet who had killed himself twenty years earlier. The poet, born Darryl Alfred Levey in 1942, later changed his name to Darryl Allan Levy, but he represented himself to his readers as d.a. levy. A small group of his contemporaries would keep Levy's memory alive with periodic festive commemorations, the most recent, "Levy-fest 2014," having taken place in Cleveland in October of that year. At that first celebration, it struck me that poets (and their poetry), aside from one or two with national reputations (e.g., Allen Ginsberg), are an often ignored aspect of histories of Jewish involvement in the counterculture movement. And I have not changed my mind since that time. Scholars have investigated counterculture Jews who challenged the linguistic, political, sexual, military, religious and capitalist norms of the 1950s and early 1960s. But, whether it is an essay, or even a book, it is rare that those who write about this topic even mention the names of poets, and, for sure, they do not use their poems. (2) And yet, from personal experience and print records, I know that in a great many cities, Jewish poets lent their voices to the critique of Judaism and America in the mid- and late-1960s.
In Ann Arbor, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C.--to name only those cities whose underground newspapers and small press publications I have studied or in which I attended readings in the mid- and late-1960s--poets and poetry were a regular part of the counterculture. (3) When I was an aspiring poet in the mid-1960s, greatly influenced by the poems of Leonard Cohen, I knew about d. a. levy from the Los Angeles Free Press (4) in 1964 and 1965 and from an occasional mailing I received from him (I later learned he gave...