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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Footlights: Illuminating the Richmond Theater Scene

This week: Finding MLK Jr., trucks on stage + more.

Posted By on Sun, Jan 31, 2016 at 8:00 AM

Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington.
  • Martin Luther King Jr. at the 1963 March on Washington.

We’re on the cusp of Black History Month and in February, Richmond stages will feature dueling Martin Luther King Jrs. Well, kinda.

In “I Have a Dream,” which opened Friday at Virginia Repertory Theatre, Michael Brown plays the iconic leader in a show aimed at young audiences, delivering King’s most famous speech as part of a chronicle of the iconic leader’s rise to prominence.

On Feb. 20, Cadence Theatre will debut “The Mountaintop,” a fictional dramatization of King’s last night on earth before his tragic assassination. Award-winning Broadway veteran Jerold Solomon will take on the mantle of the civil-rights leader.

As befitting two very different plays, the actors portraying MLK took opposite approaches in preparing for their roles.

Brown immersed himself in recordings and videos. “YouTube is an incredible resource,” he says. “I watched Martin’s speeches over and over again.”

For Brown, the key was to capture the cadences of the famous orator as clearly as he could. “I want audiences to forget that there is even an actor up on stage,” Brown says. “I feel I do Martin justice by getting out of the way of the speech and letting those powerful words come through.”

Solomon had a different challenge. “‘The Mountaintop’ is not quintessential Martin Luther King,” he says. “It’s supposed to be everything you haven’t seen on camera.” Solomon explains that everyone knows the powerful, poetic voice of King the orator or the careful, measured voice he used giving interviews. “But he had a third voice,” Solomon says, “the way he spoke in regular life. I had to figure out what that voice was.”

“I Have a Dream” runs through Feb. 14, and “The Mountaintop” through March 12.

By the way: Small theater companies with limited budgets often rely on their audiences to fill in context, using a few chairs to represent a car, for instance. But for the 5th Wall and Chamberlayne Actors Theatre coproduction of “Unexpected Tenderness,” set designer Eric Kinder wouldn’t settle for an imaginary vehicle.

According to 5th Wall’s artistic director, Carol Piersol, Kinder assembled a full-size 1950s-era truck cab using parts salvaged from a junkyard. It may not be as substantial as the World War II bomber famously used on stage in the Broadway revival of “South Pacific,” but the result adds literal weight and substance to an extended truck-driving scene that opens the second act of “Tenderness.”

Running: “Tenderness” closes Feb. 13. Swift Creek Mill’s world-premiere Holocaust drama, “The Little Lion,” runs until March 5.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

KRS-One Drops Wisdom on Young Prince Charles

Local rapper encouraged to appear at make-up show tonight at National.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 28, 2016 at 2:30 PM

Local rapper Young Prince Charles in a recent video for his song, "Now or Later."
  • Local rapper Young Prince Charles in a recent video for his song, "Now or Later."

A young local rapper, Charles Jones III, a.k.a. Young Prince Charles, recently delivered his CD to hip hop legend KRS-One and the encounter was caught on video.

KRS-One gives the aspiring artist some solid encouragement and advice to continue to up his game, and even asks him to participate in his make-up show tonight at the National, which was postponed due to the weather.

You may remember Young Prince Charles from his brief role in the locally produced film, "Troop 491:The Adventures of the Muddy Lions" by Style 40 under 40 recipient Patrick "Praheme" Ricks, who is now pursuing his film career in Los Angeles. Charles also created the film's title song and is know for his local work on an anti-bullying campaign.

Here's a recent video by Young Prince Charles.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Water Slide Coming Downtown This Summer

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2016 at 7:00 PM

What's the most you've ever lost on a water slide? Sorry, I mean, what's the longest you've ever slid on your face in a water slide?
  • What's the most you've ever lost on a water slide? Sorry, I mean, what's the longest you've ever slid on your face in a water slide?

If you're one of those incessant whiners crying about the snow or the cold, fear not: Some people out there are busy preparing special, splashy things for humid summer in RVA, which is only four months away.

That's right, folks: Tickets already are on sale for Saturday, June 18, when a national tour called Slide the City plans to turn one of Richmond's downtown hills on East Byrd Street into a giant, 1,000-foot slip-and-slide.

Here's what the one in Raleigh looked like:

"We are super excited to come to Richmond. This year will be a block party with music, food, street entertainers, local vendors and more surrounding our 1,000 ft slip 'n slide," says Slide The City marketing manager Amy Gessel via e-mail. "Sliding starts at 9am. Single, Triple and Ultimate Slider passes are available on our website."

Sounds like a good first date plan: Who wouldn't be impressed by an offer of an Ultimate Slider pass? We're not talking burgers here.

Early bird registration is now available for $10 bucks and that price goes up to $20 as the date approaches.

Of course, someone will probably turn this into some kind of themed pub crawl and puke flume. You know that's coming next.

The event has a positive message, though. According to a press release, "Slide the City is dedicated to responsible water and resource use and to raise awareness about water conservation and scarcity."

The slide is designed to recirculate water throughout the day, which minimizes water use. Approximately 12,000 - 20,000 gallons of water is circulated in a day. After each event, the water used is treated and/or recycled back into the community. Methods of recycling include local reclamation centers, watering city parks, and other places dependent upon direction from city officials.

As pointed out by a reader, last summer's Slide the City event in Hampton was not without controversy, with some participants demanding refunds after claiming the slides were not lubricated enough and water was too chlorinated. They apparently had to fight for refunds.

"As it was our first slide season last year we had a few unforeseen problems in Hampton that led to a late start," says Gessel. "Since then, we have held over 70 events worldwide and over 180,000 people have experienced our one-of-a-kind slide. With this additional experience, and the systems we now have in place, we are prepared for anything that could cause delay so that the event can continue as scheduled and customers are not affected. We're excited to be back in Virginia."

Footlights: Illuminating the Richmond Theater Scene

Vagabond companies, Acts of Faith Festival + More

Posted By on Mon, Jan 25, 2016 at 12:58 PM

Five years ago, the Richmond Triangle Players redefined themselves with a move from cramped quarters in a seedy Broad Street nightclub to comfy new digs in Scott’s Addition. It was a short distance physically but the move demonstrated how the company had graduated from the shadows to become a key driver of resurgence in a funky neighborhood.

When TheatreLab picked an underground location as its downtown home in 2014, it was the perfect choice for a young, insurgent company. On the other end of the spectrum, Swift Creek Mill has matured into its 17th-century gristmill home, offering finely crafted classics and crowd-pleasing originals fitting for such an historic space.

There’s just no escaping the way venue reflects a company’s character. So what then to make of the vagabonds in town? Quill’s staging shows at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts seems like a match made in artistic heaven. Both entities offer works grounded in time-honored masterpieces enhanced by flights into modernistic fancy. But even after Quill’s rousing production of “Lion in Winter” on the museum’s stage last February, and popular Bootleg Shakespeare offerings the past two years, the museum seems reluctant to commit to the relationship.

During its short lifetime, Carol Piersol’s 5th Wall Theatre Company has bopped around from stage to stage, landing this weekend at Chamberlayne Actors Theatre with its latest production, “Unexpected Tenderness.” Chamberlayne has been offering mostly Richmond premieres at its Brook Road location in the North Side for decades, currently putting on its 52nd season. The co-production with 5th Wall has mutual benefits: The homeless company gets a stage to use and Chamberlayne gets a chance to attract new audiences.

But while such an arrangement can work in the short term, expect both 5th Wall and Quill to continue searching for permanent places to call their own. As with people, home ownership is a major character-building step in the life of a theater company.

By the way: Speaking of moving around a lot, Georgia Rogers Farmer brings her cabaret act to CenterStage’s Rhythm Hall on Friday, Feb. 12. The itinerant performer has gained a rabid fan base with sold-out musical comedy specials such as “The Real Housewife of Chesterfield County” and her CenterStage offering, “Lies My Martini Told Me.”

Running: Firehouse’s “The Fourth Wall” and Quill’s “Stupid Fucking Bird” wrap next weekend.

On deck: The annual Acts of Faith theater festival (theactsoffaith.org) has really kicked into gear, with 10 shows opening over the next four weeks. Most notable is world premiere “The Little Lion,” opening at Swift Creek Mill on Jan. 28. It’s the story of a Jewish teenager fighting for freedom during the Holocaust penned by local actress and playwright Irene Ziegler and based on the book by Richmond author Nancy Wright Beasley.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Rapper Danny Brown Tweets Love For RVA's Spacebomb

Posted By on Sat, Jan 23, 2016 at 9:50 PM

Detroit rapper Danny Brown has received accolades as one of hip hop's most unique voices.
  • Detroit rapper Danny Brown has received accolades as one of hip hop's most unique voices.

Good news for local hip hop heads: Rapper Danny Brown recently tweeted that one of his top two records of the year was Richmond musician Natalie Prass' self-titled debut (the other was Sufjan Stevens).

This prompted a quick response by her label, Matthew White's locally based Spacebomb Records, also a well-known recording studio that has drawn comparisons to Stax Records..

The Detroit-based rapper responded:

Brown hasn't released a full-length since 2013's "Old" and says he could be ready this year. Whether that means he's already recorded work, or has written it, I'm not sure. But if he recorded his next album in Richmond, it could only be a good thing for the local hip hop scene.

Here's a guest spot by Brown on that Freddie Gibbs record.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Macklemore Stuck in RVA While His "White Privilege" Goes Viral

Posted By on Fri, Jan 22, 2016 at 3:20 PM

Macklemore is examining his own white privilege by releasing a song called "White Privilege II" that instantly went viral.
  • Macklemore is examining his own white privilege by releasing a song called "White Privilege II" that instantly went viral.

Seattle rapper Macklemore (Ben Haggerty) is seeing white right now.

That's because the famous rapper is stuck in Richmond waiting to perform a concert that has been moved from tonight until Sunday at Altria Theatre. All tickets will be honored for the new date.

That should give him plenty of time to go online and read the mess of press concerning his new song, "White Privilege II," which dropped Thursday night. The nine-minute track (a sequel to a 2005 song of the same name) ponders the role of white hip hop artists/fans within the struggle of the Black Lives movement.

"We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for Black Lives?" he asks in the song, which you can check out below.

Responses to the song have varied widely online.Over at the Atlantic -- an outlet which has covered racial issues in a meaningful way over the past year -- writer Spencer Kornhaber says the main appeal of the song is pathos, not politics. And that Macklemore is a little light in the artistic dept.

"The fact that his lyrics are so basic, forgoing metaphor or ambiguity or impressionism, certainly accounts for a big part of his wide appeal," he writes. "But it also accounts for why many other listeners (ahem) feel pandered to, exhausted by, and/or vaguely embarrassed by his songs."

The LA Times was similarly embarrassed, writing that the long-winded song is "so self-flagellating that it hurts."

What do you think? Is Macklemore simply cashing in on a movement, legitimately attempting to spur discussion among his fans, or as some think, playing the "white savior"? Could it be all three? "What's the intention" as he asks in the song? Is this even a decent song or just a rambling apology disguised as a song?

If you see him out there on the snowy streets, you can ask him yourself.

Oh, and if you don't want to listen to his music, you can read the lyrics to the controversial number right here:

[Verse 1]

Pulled into the parking lot, parked it

Zipped up my parka, joined the procession of marchers

In my head like, "Is this awkward, should I even be here marching?"

Thinking if they can't, how can I breathe?

Thinking that they chant, what do I sing?

I want to take a stance cause we are not free

And then I thought about it, we are not we

Am I in the outside looking in, or am I in the inside looking out?

Is it my place to give my two cents

Or should I stand on the side and shut my mouth for justice? No peace

Okay, I'm saying that they're chanting out, "Black lives matter", but I don't say it back

Is it okay for me to say? I don't know, so I watch and stand

In front of a line of police that look the same as me

Only separated by a badge, a baton, a can of Mace, a mask

A shield, a gun with gloves and hands that gives an alibi

In case somebody dies behind a bullet that flies out of the 9

Takes another child's life on sight

[Hook]

Blood in the streets, no justice, no peace

No racist beliefs, no rest 'til we're free

There's blood in the streets, no justice, no peace

No racist beliefs, no rest 'til we're free

Blood in the streets, no justice, no peace

No racist beliefs, no rest 'til we're free

There's blood in the streets, no justice, no peace

No racist beliefs, no rest 'til we're free

(Ben, think about it)

[Verse 2]

You've exploited and stolen the music, the moment

The magic, the passion, the fashion, you toy with

The culture was never yours to make better

You're Miley, you're Elvis, you're Iggy Azalea

Fake and so plastic, you've heisted the magic

You've taken the drums and the accent you rapped in

You're branded hip-hop, it's so fascist and backwards

That Grandmaster Flash'd go slap it, you bastard

All the money that you made

All the watered down pop bullshit version of the culture, pal

Go buy a big-ass lawn, go with your big-ass house

Get a big-ass fence, keep people out

It's all stubborn, anyway, can't you see that now?

There's no way for you to even that out

You can join the march, protest, scream and shout

Get on Twitter, hashtag and seem like you're down

But they see through it all, people believe you now

You said publicly, "Rest in peace, Mike Brown"

You speak about equality, but do you really mean it?

Are you marching for freedom, or when it's convenient?

Want people to like you, want to be accepted

That's probably why you are out here protesting

Don't think for a second you don't have incentive

Is this about you, well, then what's your intention?

What's the intention? What's the intention?

[Verse 3]

Psst, I totally get it, you're by yourself

And the last thing you want to do is take a picture

But seriously, my little girl loves you

She's always singing, "I'm gonna pop some tags"

I'm not kidding, my oldest, you even got him to go thrifting

And "One Love," oh, my God, that song – brilliant

Their aunt is gay, when that song came out

My son told his whole class he was actually proud

That's so cool, look what you're accomplishing

Even an old mom like me likes it cause it's positive

You're the only hip-hop that I let my kids listen to

Cause you get it, all that negative stuff isn't cool

Yeah, like all the guns and the drugs

The bitches and the hoes and the gangs and the thugs

Even the protest outside – so sad and so dumb

If a cop pulls you over, it's your fault if you run

Huh?

[Interlude: Multiple voices] So, they feel that the police are discriminating against the, the black people? I have an advantage? Why? Cause I'm white? What? Haha. No. People nowadays are just pussies. Like, this is the generation to be offended by everything. Black Lives Matter thing is a reason to take arms up over perceived slights. I'm not prejudiced, I just–. 99% of the time across this country, the police are doing their job properly

[Verse 4]

Damn, a lot of opinions, a lot of confusion, a lot of resentment

Some of us scared, some of us defensive

And most of us aren't even paying attention

It seems like we're more concerned with being called racist

Than we actually are with racism

I've heard that silences are action and God knows that I've been passive

What if I actually read a article, actually had a dialogue

Actually looked at myself, actually got involved?

If I'm aware of my privilege and do nothing at all, I don't know

Hip-hop has always been political, yes

It's the reason why this music connects

So what the fuck has happened to my voice if I stay silent when black people are dying

Then I'm trying to be politically correct?

I can book a whole tour, sell out the tickets

Rap entrepreneur, built his own business

If I'm only in this for my own self-interest, not the culture that gave me a voice to begin with

Then this isn't authentic, it is just a gimmick

The DIY underdog, so independent

But the one thing the American dream fails to mention

Is I was many steps ahead to begin with

My skin matches the hero, likeness, the image

America feels safe with my music in their systems

And it's suited me perfect, the role, I've fulfilled it

And if I'm the hero, you know who gets cast as the villain

White supremacy isn't just a white dude in Idaho

White supremacy protects the privilege I hold

White supremacy is the soil, the foundation, the cement and the flag that flies outside of my home

White supremacy is our country's lineage, designed for us to be indifferent

My success is the product of the same system that let off Darren Wilson—guilty

We want to dress like, walk like, talk like, dance like, yet we just stand by

We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?

We want to dress like, walk like, talk like, dance like, yet we just stand by

We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?

[Interlude: Multiple voices] Black Lives Matter, to use an analogy, is like if there was a subdivision and a house was on fire. The fire department wouldn't show up and start putting water on all the houses because all houses matter. They would show up and they would turn their water on the house that is burning because that's the house that needs it the most. My generation's taken on the torch of a very age-old fight for black liberation, but also liberation for everyone, and injustice anywhere is still injustice everywhere. The best thing white people can do is talk to each other. And having those very difficult, very painful conversations with your parents, with your family members. I think one of the critical questions for white people in this society is what are you willing to risk, what are you willing to sacrifice to create a more just society?

[Outro: Jamila Woods]

Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury

Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury

Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury

Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury

What I got for me, it is for me

Why we may, we made to set us free

What I got for me, it is for me

Why we may, we made to set us free

What I got for me, it is for me

Why we may, we made to set us free

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Anderson Gallery Reopens to Make Room for Student Work

VCU's Institute for Contemporary Art eventually will be home for exhibitions.

Posted By on Thu, Jan 21, 2016 at 11:47 AM

It may have been shuttered last year, but there's more color and creativity to come to the walls of the Anderson Gallery.

The 45-year-old exhibition space, on Virginia Commonwealth University’s Monroe Park campus, was known for its tradition of providing a place for graduate students to show their first major works to the public. But Anderson also drew artists from beyond the university, notably Yoko Ono’s star-studded appearance during her “Fly” exhibition in 1996.

The gallery on West Franklin Street, now referred to as the Anderson Building, officially closed May 18. While the tradition of showcasing end-of-year graduate student exhibitions continues for now, this wasn’t the according to plan. As Style reported in a farewell to Anderson cover story, the exhibitions were planned to be held at VCU's Institute for Contemporary Art at Broad and Belvidere.

But the $35 million center, previously scheduled to open in 2016, has hit construction and expense snags. It’s now scheduled to open in 2017. At 43,000 square feet, it’s expected to be a major anchor at the intersection and link VCU’s Monroe Park and medical campuses.

The plan is to present the graduate exhibitions at the Anderson and Depot galleries at 814 W. Broad St. A first round of exhibitions will begin with an opening reception April 8 at 5 p.m., with the show running through April 24. Round two runs April 29 to May 15, with an opening reception April 29 at 5 p.m.

A launch of undergraduate juried exhibitions will start with an opening reception March 24 at 5 p.m. at Anderson, with the show running through April 3.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

After Dominion Decision, RVA Creatives Continue Social Media Push

Posted By on Tue, Jan 19, 2016 at 2:30 PM

Laney Sullivan of local group Lobo Marino with her sign during a peaceful gathering at Brown's Island on Jan. 9.
  • Laney Sullivan of local group Lobo Marino with her sign during a peaceful gathering at Brown's Island on Jan. 9.

As a singer with the meditative local duo Lobo Marino, Laney Sullivan is no stranger to socially conscious music.

The group wrote the song "Holy River," which was the first track on its album "City of Light." It was inspired by the Ganges in India and the James here in the band members' hometown, where they filmed the video.

Now Sullivan and others are continuing to speak out and encourage local social media-making after the State Water Control Board approved permits allowing Dominion Virginia Power to dump treated wastewater from coal ash pits into the James and Potomac rivers.

"I think the [Department of Environmental Quality] really failed in this matter with the permit limits. I think our system of government failed us and the only option we have besides taking back that permit is to encourage Dominion to be a more enlightened corporation," Sullivan says. "I have to put some of my energy into faith that Dominion could make that choice to self-regulate at a higher standard than government is asking them."

Sullivan and others, such as local entertainer Parker Galore, were speaking out before news of the meeting broke, starting the hashtag #GatherForTheJames weeks earlier. They held a peaceful gathering of artists, media-makers and poets by the river Jan. 9 to educate the public on the issue. There is some audio here about what the river means to participants.

Laney says she became aware of the issue Dec. 8 after reading postings about the then-pending water board meeting on Facebook.

"My personal belief is that it's important that more people feel empowered to organize themselves in their communities and protest in ways that are unique to their talents and desires," Sullivan says from the band's tour stop in Charleston, South Carolina. "I think there will be many more actions."

"The general public seemed to be mostly kept in the dark until it was too late," says Galore about the permit meeting. "It was disheartening and shocking that this was even pushed through as quickly as it was, even after at least 200 people -- including eco-scientists, river preservation groups, attorneys with the Southern Environmental Law Center and concerned citizens -- provided hard evidence of why this was a terrible idea. The DEQ seemed glazed over."

Sullivan suggests that people contact Gov. McAuliffe's office to voice their concerns. She also directed advocates to the James River Association's action network at www.riveratrisk.org. There's a petition being circulated at Change.org.

Sullivan is also involved with protesting the Atlantic Coast Pipeline -- a group met today at the General Assembly building for a Lobby Day rally -- and says that her band recently finished a music video collaboration with Good Day RVA for a new song, "Awake," shot at Yogaville Ashram in Buckingham.

"We're hoping to premiere that video on NPR or PBS, we're shooting for the stars," she says. "The song is written specifically about this time in human history of dealing with energy and our relationship with it. ... Fracking is not the answer either."

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Footlights: Illuminating Richmond's Theater Scene

Performance fusion at K Dance. Plus, Spin, Spit & Swear and more.

Posted By on Sun, Jan 17, 2016 at 1:38 PM

Many types of performance fit under the big umbrella of “theater.” There are the standard plays and musicals, of course. But then there are the wacky hybrids that defy easy definition.

To wit: For one night only, the K Dance company will offer a performance mash-up called “Dance/Theatre -- Conversations” at the Weinstein Jewish Community Center. The production will feature four separate vignettes based on short plays that either spin into or are dominated by movement and dance.

Choreographer and K Dance artistic director Kaye Weinstein Gary has been interested in the interplay between theater and dance almost since founding her company 16 years ago. “I like to act as well as dance,” Gary says, “and these works developed out of my desire to speak on stage as well as move.”

This kind of mash-up also can introduce contemporary dance to audiences who are unfamiliar or intimidated by it. “For years, I’ve heard people say, ‘I don’t go to modern dance because it’s so abstract and I don’t get it,’” Gary says. “The movement in these pieces may be abstract but it grows out of and is grounded in the words.”

The short plays that make up “Conversations” were written by Wendy Wasserstein, Christopher Durang and Suzan-Lori Parks. The Jan. 21 performance is being directed by Billy Christopher Maupin.

By the way: Richmond’s newest theater company, Spin, Spit & Swear, also will offer a not-quite-traditional production soon in TheatreLab’s Basement space. For three nights starting Feb. 1, local favorites Matt Shofner, Audra Honaker and Durron Tyre will star in a concert version of “tick, tick … Boom,” Jonathan Larson’s only pre-“Rent” composition. Honaker won a Richmond Theatre Critics Circle award for her performance in a full production of the show staged in 2008. A replacement for the company’s tongue-tying name also will be announced during this run.

Running: Next weekend will be your last chance to catch TheatreLab’s “9 Circles” at The Basement. Firehouse’s “The Fourth Wall” stands through Jan. 30.

On deck: Carol Piersol’s 5th Wall Theatre is co-producing the family drama “Unexpected Tenderness” with Chamberlayne Actors Theatre, the underappreciated “professional theatre with a community heart.” Opening Jan. 24, the show furthers Piersol’s fascination with Israel Horovitz, the playwright whose “Line” has been running off-off-Broadway for more than 40 years.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ghostwriter

The church of poet Larry Levis is still alive and staying up late.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 13, 2016 at 4:00 PM

The new collection of poetry, "Darkening Trapeze: Last Poems" (Graywolf Press) marks a posthumous return by acclaimed poet and former VCU teacher Larry Levis.
  • The new collection of poetry, "Darkening Trapeze: Last Poems" (Graywolf Press) marks a posthumous return by acclaimed poet and former VCU teacher Larry Levis.

About thirty people fill the narrow aisles of Chop Suey Books late one Monday evening, many expecting to stay up till midnight. There are coffee, brownies, and a high density of MFA degrees.

Asked if they were out till midnight for New Year’s Eve the week before, most admit they stayed home, or were in bed before midnight. But this is the midnight release party for a new collection of poems by Larry Levis, and few in this fervent community of fans would miss it.

“Reading him is an out of body experience,” says Michael Mullen. “I’m not aware of the poem. I’m aware of a story I want to find truth behind.”

Senior editor of VCU's Blackbird, Mary Flinn, calls his poetry “incredibly powerful, an evocation of a time and beyond time.” Mullen lists him in the legacy of great American poets like Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound.

The book, “The Darkening Trapeze: last poems,” edited by David St. John, is Levis’ third posthumous collection and the last of his unpublished poems. And its midnight release is evidence of the local readers who help stoke his legacy.

At the bookstore, people are invited to read their favorite Levis poem. There are young and old alike, and several people from North Carolina. It’s Consuelo Marshall and her husband’s first time in Richmond, “literary tourism,” she calls it.

“His work feels very avant-garde and aesthetically contemporary, but he’s also a great storyteller, stories that were unusual and unexpected,” says Greg Donovan. “Young poets that have intelligence and taste find their way to Larry Levis.”

Donovan was the chair of the hiring committee that brought Levis to Virginia Commonwealth University in 1992, where he worked for four years until his sudden death at age 49.

“[Larry] liked Richmond because it had such a long and striking history,” he says. “Some of it dark.” Donovan remembers Levis as a deeply compassionate and generous person. “He made friends everywhere he went.”

Levis grew up on a ranch outside Fresno, and much of his poetry conjures the valleys of central California and the migrant farm workers he grew up alongside.

But in those short years at VCU he produced many poems influenced by his adopted city. In “The Darkening Trapeze” there’s “Ghost Confederacy,” which weaves evocations of the civil war with modern economic inequalities. “The Space” references a tavern that once stood at 15th and Main, the site of slave auctions, that he walked past en route to his Church Hill home.

Cabell library at VCU holds a special collection of Levis’ papers. And Blackbird, an online literary journal of the English department frequently publishes and promotes his work.

Like for “Elegy,” a book that Levis had nearly completed at the time of his death, Donovan and Mary Flinn helped David St. John assemble Levis’ work, sometimes deciphering handwritten revisions on post-it notes.

The English department also awards the Levis Reading Prize to an emerging poet annually. “We named it after him to keep his memory alive, but it hasn’t turned out to be necessary,” Donovan says, noting that his popularity continues to grow and young poets cite him as an influence.

“It seemed as though [Levis’] ghost was haunting Richmond,” Michele Poulos says of when she moved here. “Everywhere I went, people knew Larry, would talk about Larry. His presence was very alive.”

Poulos is the filmmaker behind “A Late Style of Fire: Larry Levis, American Poet.” At the midnight release, she screened the first thirty minutes of the full-length documentary on Levis, scored by the music of Iron & Wine.

Also a poet, Poulos never met Levis, but a “disembodied man’s voice” told her she would make a film about him in a dream. She’s submitting the completed film to festivals and hopes to have a Richmond premiere later this year.

After the screening, Poulos mentions that people can purchase the new book. It’s 10:30 pm.

Ward Tefft, owner of Chop Suey Books, who took classes from Levis as a graduate student, says he got approval from the publisher to sell it a few hours earlier. “Mary Flinn told me to ‘consider doing it earlier,’” he says, smiling.

So the crowd starts to dissipate and most people are gone by 11, copies of the book in hand.

Some of the younger attendees head to Don’t Look Back for a drink. They would’ve stayed up till midnight.

“The Darkening Trapeze: last poems” is available for purchase at Chop Suey Books and Fountain Bookstore.

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    • on September 18, 2018
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