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A Year in the Life of Death
Poems Inspired by the Obituary Pages of The New York Times
by Shawn Levy
Publication Date: October 19, 2021
Trade Paper; 212 pages; 5-1/4" x 8"
When Shawn Levy had the notion to write a poem each day for a year, inspired by the obituary pages of The New York Times, he had no way of knowing that the year in question, 2016, would claim so many of the world’s most iconic figures. His project became, in effect, a vehicle for surveying the breadth of the twentieth century: Titans from all fields of endeavor, lives that contained one quirky but insoluble achievement, and people who had special significance in his own life. From Nancy Reagan to Muhammad Ali, David Bowie to Arnold Palmer, Prince to Janet Reno, Antonin Scalia to Mary Tyler Moore, and including a Black Miss America, an obsessive weather reporter, the nurse famously kissed by a sailor on VJ Day, the man who put the “@” in your email address, and the last man to walk on the moon, the lives recollected in these one hundred poems provoke compassion, sorrow, outrage, surprise, nostalgia, even laughter.
“Shawn Levy has written into the mouth of death with a mission: to reclaim joy, ecstasy, passion, the matter of art. The poems in A Year in the Life of Death reanimate those we lost during an unimaginable epoch of loss, and yet, aren’t we always living up and through loss? Don’t we need to remember how to carry the tune and voice, the art and work, and the bodies of those who are gone? This book is a wailing song, with side eye when and where you need it. These poems are a resuscitation of art and heart.” —Lidia Yuknavitch, author of Verge (Riverhead Books, 2020), The Book of Joan (Harper, 2017), and The Chronology of Water (Hawthorne Books, 2011)
“Shawn Levy’s A Year in the Life of Death blows past its premise (emanations of one year’s New York Times obituaries) into a staggering symphony of lives, with parallels to Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip and Jim Carroll’s ‘People Who Died,’ but all the more shocking for having been shared. In the emotional cacophony of the transitional era that seems to have been initiated by 2016, some code seems to be embedded in these losses, and in their reportorial summaries, which only Shawn Levy in his brilliantly angular perspective could have decoded.” —Ed Skoog, author of Run the Red Lights (Copper Canyon Press, 2016) and Travelers Leaving for the City (Copper Canyon Press, 2020)
“This debut poetry collection seems to me an ode to readership—to the transportive experience made available to a human who picks up a newspaper with an open heart and a broad imagination, ready to treasure the stories of other humans. I’m grateful to Shawn Levy for reminding me what a generous, evocative exchange the newspaper obituary can be.” —Elena Passarello, author of Animals Strike Curious Poses (Sarabande Books, 2017)
“Full of feisty and tender elegies, A Year in the Life of Death is a sweeping ekphrasis of the American twentieth century. With his gimlet eye and big heart, Levy takes us on a backstage tour of our own popular culture. As much as these poems eulogize and lionize, they also revise and scrutinize, each with a kind of unboxing at the end. The effect is original, and the book exudes that rarest of all qualities in poetry: fun.” —Dobby Gibson, author of Little Glass Planet (Graywolf Press, 2019)
“In this brilliant collection, Levy unfolds portraits within portraits, giving us moving and insightful glimpses of lives embedded in their own cultures and time. His poetry is a striking montage of how we remember, retain, and love through our public mourning.” —Juan Delgado, author of Vital Signs (Heyday Books, 2013), winner of American Book Award