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Once I Gazed at You in Wonder


Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets

96 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations


  Paperback / 9780807123652 / April 1999

Alice Fulton, the judge for the 1998 Walt Whitman Award, calls Once I Gazed at You in Wonder “quite simply, the most endearing book I’ve read in some time.” Readers of this audacious and, yes, endearing collection will agree. Jan Heller Levi has said that her poems are not confessions but conversations. Here, then, are her conversations with the world. What sets Levi apart, however, is that she lets the world answer back. Difficult fathers, ineffectual mothers are forgiven; ex-lovers are blessed. Sophisticated but never jaded, this poet looks in wonder beyond the self: a cup of coffee in one of New York’s ubiquitous Greek diners can launch Levi into a meditation on truth versus compassion; a suite of elegies for her mother takes us from a hospital corridor to the studio of a television talk show where God is the guest; a poetry reading in which she shares the stage with a folk singer illustrates Levi’s gift for illuminating the absurd textures of late-twentieth-century existence.

Don’t you have any happy poems?
he wondered.
Don’t you have any cancer songs?
I asked.

With the narrative drive of great fiction, the consolations of philosophy, and the rigor of art, Once I Gazed at You in Wonder marks the entrance of a much-needed new voice and vision in the conversation that is American poetry.

Jan Heller Levi is the editor of A Muriel Rukeyser Reader and is working on a biography of Rukeyser. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Antioch Review, Iowa Review, and Pequod. She divides her time between New York City and St. Gallen, Switzerland.

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