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In Memoriam: Lawrence Levine

Lawrence Levine

The UO remembers a victim of the Oct. 1 shooting at Umpqua Community College, who earned two English degrees here.

Lawrence Peter Levine, 67, was an assistant professor of English at UCC, which allowed him to share his passion for writing with others. He was a writer first and foremost, according to an obituary in The Oregonian, and he completed numerous novels—including a mystery set in the Northwest called “Timber Town”—but none was published.

Born in Manhattan, Levine grew up in Beverly Hills and, after graduating from high school, moved to Oregon. He moved back to California in the mid-1970s and joined UCC a few years ago, where teaching was a secondary occupation to his work as a fly fishing guide, the newspaper reported.

Private services were held early in October. Levine is survived by a sister, Joanne Levine Press, who lives in California.

At the UO, Levine received a bachelor’s degree in 1969 and, in 1972, a master of fine arts in creative writing. Though his novels were never published, Levine’s rich contribution to the university community is preserved in his MFA thesis, “Collected Works: 1969-1972,” available in the Knight Library.

Levine labelIn the collection, the cheekiness of a young writer in training is immediately evident: among the areas of special interest listed in his vita, Levine cited “Ceramics, Study of Boredom, Pocket Billiards.”

Some of this early material shows flashes of a light, playful imagination. In “The Game, for Toronto Atwell,” Levine writes:

Tell me of Chicago and Bo Jangles;

the night, after a game at Paddy’s,

Ethel Waters gave a party.

Tell about the nine ball that fell,

the crumpled hundred dollar bill,

the hot nights in Philadelphia,

the cold ones in Minneapolis.

It was not just the money you won,

having the good fortune to be where Billie Holiday was singing

(and Lena Horne walked in).

But a somber, melancholy feel—even a touch of darkness—runs through much of it. In one poem, Levine describes a poet reading his work, for the first time “no longer scared of failing in my art.” In another—“An Insomnia of Destination”—night brings an old refrigerator that “sounds like machine guns shooting down clowns bouncing at the penny arcade” while something in the distance moves closer.

“Owl’s wisdom hereditary” ends jarringly: an owl sets its glowing eyes upon a swan in a dark pool “with its neck tied in a knot.”

In another section of the collection, “Toward Fiction,” Levine explores the rougher edges of existence: embarrassment, suffering, desolation. Short stories describe a man carrying a naked corpse across the desert and another in a suit of armor, enduring unbearable heat, stopping for a drink of water and then clanking on stoically toward a burning red sunset.

The last entry in the collection is “Cinematic Piece no. 1/The Magician and the Clown,” which Levine wrote in the form of production notes for a vaudeville magic show.

He describes the magician’s movements as “crisp and disciplined,” his smile “cold and condescending, and … frozen on his face throughout his act.” The magician is handsome but the clown has a “piecemeal” face and eyes “seemingly devoid of comprehension.”

As the scene unfolds, the clown wanders from one side of a stage to the other, increasingly confused and vexed by the audience’s various reactions to his wild gestures.

Then, the magician enters. He walks up to a closet and opens the door, signaling for the clown to enter. The clown is timid, slightly cowering, but with the magician’s fatherly reassurance, he enters cautiously.

The lights darken and are brought back up slowly, the door is opened and the clown is revealed to be standing inside. He exits and continues his routine as if nothing has happened, but now his wild gestures bring only silence.

The clown tries harder and harder to create a reaction, to no avail. He quickly passes through all the familiar stages of loss: shock, confusion, anger and, ultimately, with a melancholy sigh, acceptance. As the scene ends, Levine describes the clown as alone on the stage and seeking refuge, but with nowhere to hide:

“Clown turns and walks toward closet. He stands in front of it and tries to open the door which has closed since his exit. It is locked. He nods his head consentingly, but tries door again, more boldly. Still locked. He scratches his head. Shrugs his shoulders, sighing deeply on their downward movement. Clown sits in front of closet, legs folded inward, back to audience/camera.

Lights dim to black.”

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