Larry Patrick Levis was born in Fresno, California, to William Kent Levis and Carol (Mayo) Levis. The Levis family owned vineyards and orchards, property that was referred to locally as “the ranch” and that was described by Levis as “a place that seemed to exist . . . in some motionless and unchanging moment.” Adapted to this rural environment and the routine of farming, the Levis family life emphasized work and religion. Levis recalled his parents as ascribing to Victorian morals and conservative politics, harboring suspicion of social change, fearing communism, and disapproving of labor unions.
Carol Levis was a strong Irish Catholic who raised her children to believe in the “real presences rather than abstractions” of mystery, spirit, and the Holy Ghost. Her efforts to instill her traditional faith in Levis failed, leaving him feeling “guilty for something” but unsure of what. Levis responded creatively, mistakenly confessing to adultery during his First Confession at age seven. In later years, Levis portrayed the Catholic Church as a “garrison so effective it doesn’t need soldiers.” When he was twelve, Levis came to believe, following a confrontation with his father over a nude caricature that he had drawn, that he was not a good person and would have to live outside conventional society—an event he later cited as a perfect beginning for a poet. As a teenager, Levis worked in the fields with Spanish-speaking migrant employees...
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