Born October 29, 1942 in Cleveland, Ohio, d. a. levy (as he chose to scribe his name) achieved both fame and notoriety in his brief career as a non-comformist, people's poet, pamphleteer, and counter-cultural icon. He published no books commercially while he was living, yet his "beat" poem, "Suburban Monestary Death Poem" (which he was most famous for) received critical acclaim. His influences were the European Surrelaits but more often than not, levy wrote like the "beat poets" of the fifties and sixties. It was easy to see elements of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, and Neal Cassidy in his poetry.
Levy was the son of a Cleveland shoe salesman, and graduated from high school in 1960. Soon after graduation he joined the U.S. Navy, and was discharged in less than a year, diaignoised as being a "manic depressiant". For several years he was a nomad of sorts, wandering about the country and Mexico. In 1963 in Mexico, levy discovered that he was a poet. He made this statement; "... in June 1963, i became a poet ... a man stopped hating me because i was an American and listened to me because i was a poet - it left me awed to receive for a few moments the respect my country had denied me."
levy made it his mission to enlighten the sub-culture in Cleveland, and created the Renegade Press, feverishly working 16 to 18 hour a day to publish booklets and pass them out to anyone he would meet on the street. He was also known to read to strangers, whether they wanted to hear his poetic ramblings or not. Often criticised for his candor and sarcasm, in writing and real life, d. a. levy brought great attention to himself because of his determination to see marijuana legalized and the War in Viet Nam ended.
The autumn of 1967 saw levy secretly indicted by the Grand Jury for distributing obscene materials. In early 1967, the indictment was made public and levy was arrested along with the owner of an alternative bookstore which carried levy's work. Bail was set at $2500, money levy (who'd held only one paying job in his life) didn't have. Jack Ullman, a physicist levy had met a year earlier while in New York City, heard of the arrest and posted levy's bail. In April of that same year, levy was incarserated again, allegedly for giving copies of his poems to two teenagers at a coffeehouse reading. Immediately, a defense fund was organized; donations poured in from poets across the country, "Free levy" demonstrations in the streets of Cleveland were held. Allen Ginsberg and The Fugs came to Cleveland and gave a benefit reading. Soon, the charges against levy were dismissed, but the experience left a black mark on levy's soul. Levy became bitter, angry, depressed, and suicidal.
Although he suffered emotional pain most everyday thereafter, levy continuied his efforts to touch those that others looked away from, especially in the literary world. He experimented heavily with abstract and concrete poetry (his minitures). Levy was known for pushing expression to the very edge, past the logic of words with nuances of thought, and reflections of an inner being that not most poets of that era ever fully touched upon.
Ingrid Swanberg, a friend of levy's who edited a collection of levy's works (Zen Concrete & etc. ghost pony press, Madison, Wisconsin, 1991), wrote that "levy reduced the "word" to silence. He broke-up, cut-up, shattered, fragmented, pulverized the word in concrete poems, his silence erupting against the death carried by the word and the death carried by the image, as if to throw everything think-able into disruption ..."
By June of 1968, levy had published over 55 books and about 30 issues of various magazines. In October, he was invited to spend a month as poet-in-residence at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In November he returned to Cleveland, his behavior had become quite disturbing: He would sit in his apartment for days in the dark without eating, without leaving, holding a rifle, and would ask, "How symbolic would it be if I blew my brains out?" He burned manuscripts of all his poetry, (published and unpublished) over 300 copies of "Tibetan Stroboscope" (a collection of concrete poetry), and several original collages, gave away most of his belongings, quarreled with his wife and threw her out, visited friends he hadn't seen in years "to shake hands with them one last time", and told people he was leaving Cleveland. "I'm leaving the world".
Finally, on the evening of Nov. 24, 1968, at about 11:30 pm, levy sat alone in his apt., put a .22 caliber rifle between his eyes, and pulled the trigger. He was 26. There is still rumor that one of his dope addict friends killed him. When the police went into his aprtment his gunshot body was surrouded by ashes, several mattresses, and an undisclosed amount of "smack"/"girl". To this day in coffehouses in the Tremont area, jazz clubs in University Circle, at Poetry Slam Competetions at C.S.U. you can clearly hear echoes of d.a. levy in the words of poets who knew him, were influenced by him, and are presently discovering his unorthodoxed works.