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What are the main themes and poetic approaches in Larry Levis' Winter Stars?

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Larry Levis was a masterful imagist poet, whose work in Winter Stars employs jarring shifts in light and dark imagery as a means of self-examination. Considering he wrote this collection following his father’s death, the poems in this collection are rooted in his childhood memories of growing up on a vineyard in Central California. These poems therefore explore themes of nostalgia, love, and death, and Levis adopts a surrealist approach in navigating how these thematic elements interconnect.

By looking at the title poem, “Winter Stars,” we can see how Levis grounds his emotional narrative through creating thought-provoking, surrealist imagery. While the poem begins with the vivid image of a man attempting to slash his father’s throat, he follows it with a meditative image detailing childhood memories of laying out in the yard and watching the stars form in the winter sky. The last stanza of the poem tenderly displays how Levis uses juxtaposing, vivid metaphors of death to reinforce the lasting impact that childhood memories have on the psyche:

That pale haze of stars goes on & on,
Like laughter that has found a final, silent shape
On a black sky. It means everything
It cannot say. Look, it’s empty out there, & cold.
Cold enough to reconcile
Even a father, even a son.

In this passage, Levis personifies the stars lingering in the black sky to depict how immersive and darkly beautiful images of winter reflect internal truths. While the poem mostly addresses the death of his father, Levis reflects upon this father-son relationship by using surreal imagery in his work, thus illustrating how the fixed stars provide eternal light in the dark days of winter.

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