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The Beauty of a Poet in a Truck

By: Alice Deters

Alice Deters

Alice is an American Studies & English Double Major at the University of Alabama and aspiring Homes Editor for Southern Living. When she’s not reading, writing, or volunteering with elementary school children, she enjoys spending her time catching up on SEC athletics, perusing the humane society website for possible four-legged friends, or watching PBS documentaries on various historical topics, particularly those related to the American South. Alice currently resides in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where her passion for elephant figurines flourishes at a rapid speed.

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Explore alternate routes when feasible.
Let the eyes range over the land, the sky,
the near, the distant road, and the mysterious
Transcend rage and panic with humor and consideration.
Tell the truth especially when a brilliant lie
seems more appropriate.

trucking poetFor most people, the words “poet” and “trucker” have very different connotations. However, a new book of poetry published recently by the University of Akron press shows that these two titles can exist simultaneously and result in some really beautiful poetry.

A Poet Drives a Truck: Poems by and about Lowell A. Levant is turning stereotypes of truckers and poets on their heads. Levant, was a University of California-Berkeley undergraduate who was well known and respected in California’s Bay Area poetry circles during the 1960s. Levant also received critical acclaim for works published in UC’s literary magazine Occident and was chosen as a featured reader in the 1965 Berkeley Poetry Conference. However, despite his success, Levant dropped out of Berkeley. With no employment opportunities as a poet, Levant took to driving long-haul rigs all across the Western United States.

Levant continued to drive all of his life until 2012 when he suffered a stroke. Only a few months later, Levant died at the age of 65. When it came time to sort through Levant’s personal belongings, his brother and fellow Berkley student, University of Akron psychology professor Ronald Levant, was concerned with preserving his brother’s poems. Tracking the poems down became a challenge in and of itself. “We couldn’t find them anywhere in the townhouse,” Levant recalls. “Finally, in a backyard shed, we found them—stuffed into several old grocery bags.”

Levant spoke highly of his brother’s work, saying the he “exemplified the tradition of the proletarian intellectual.” Ron also noted his brother’s love for the open road. “He drove all around the West Coast and the Southwest, and he really liked it. He liked the freedom, the machinery, the culture. He took pride in it.”

With their family’s assistance, Ron Levant reviewed and collated Lowell’s poems. This task turned out to be quite difficult. There were multiple versions of many of Lowell’s works, and many of them were untitled. After much effort, the Levants were able to pull together a quality selection of his poems. The completed book includes works from other contributors including Caren Levant, Ron’s daughter; Kenneth Irby; Will Staple; Doug Palmer; and Gene Anderson.

The publication of Lowell’s works was a cathartic experience for Ron.

“Lowell and I had a complicated relationship,” he says. “We were very different. I was the older brother, I was the achiever. I had graduate degrees and a family, I was the university professor. He had dropped out of the university, and never married. I guess I hectored him at times. And he didn’t like me getting into his business, that’s for sure. But we were great buddies. We loved each, and my daughter was very close to him. It’s difficult, losing a sibling. You expect your parents will die at a certain point. But a brother, well, it’s harder. Working on this book was one way for me to deal with my grief.”

Ron reports that his brother “would’ve been…amazed, floored” by the publication of his work, but that he “wouldn’t have been ambivalent”. “I know he would have quibbled about the selections we included, and those we didn’t. He was a poet, after all.”

Levant’s work is receiving rave reviews from some of the poetry world’s most prominent names. Gary Snyder, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, notes “… the complex depth of his writing about work, machinery, trucks, equipment, repair, maintenance  — all in a deceptively slightly befuddled voice that masks the surprising competence of what’s being actually done.”

Lowell’s poetry embodies many of the typical marking of the Beats. There is an overwhelming sense of nature throughout the collection, calling to mind Snyder’s “Deep Ecology” poetry. Employing characteristics of Beat style, the poems are experimental, often free-associative, and always unfiltered.

If the thought of reading a book of poetry scares you, don’t fret. Perhaps one of the most important aspects of Beat poetry, including that written by Lowell, is the accessibility to all readers. Lowell does a wonderful job of making poems that are both beautiful and moving yet easy to connect with.

If your route takes you through the Bay area on May 15th, make the time to stop at an event to celebrate Lowell Levant’s work. The event will take place at Books Inc. at 1760 4th Street, Berkeley. The celebration will feature performances by Lou Garcia, Will Staple, Doug Palmer, and John Oliver Simon, reading verse by and about Lowell Levan

Samples of Lowell’s poems can be be found on his brother’s website where the book is also available for purchase.

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