Photo Credit: Jerry Naunheim

Dana Levin

b. 1965

Current City, State, Country

Saint Louis, Missouri, USA

Birth City, State, Country

Los Angeles, California, USA


Dana Levin’s fifth book is Now Do You Know Where You Are (Copper Canyon, 2022), a New York Times Editor’s Choice and a Lannan Literary Selection. Recent books include Banana Palace (2016) and Sky Burial(2011), which The New Yorker called “utterly her own and utterly riveting.” Her first book, In the Surgical Theatre (1999), received the APR/Honickman First Book Prize, chosen by Nobel Laureate Louise Glück. Levin is a grateful recipient of many honors, including those from the National Endowment for the Arts, PEN, and the Library of Congress, as well as from the Rona Jaffe, Whiting, and Guggenheim Foundations. Levin teaches in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and serves as Distinguished Writer in Residence at Maryville University in St. Louis.

What is the relationship between Judaism and/or Jewish culture and your poetry?

In the sixteenth century, Rabbi Isaac Luria transformed Kabbalistic teaching by extolling the necessity of “raising sparks”: nitzotzot, the lit shards from the broken vessels of the Tree of Life, which shattered when the light of I AM lasered through them to ignite Creation (the vessels couldn’t withstand the pure power of God’s presence; leave it to Jews to view the world as a work-place accident!) Luria taught that holy sparks adhered, hidden, to everything; a person’s primary task was to find the hidden sparks in self and world and raise them back up to God: tikkun, the act of mending.

Shattering and mending are on my mind as I contemplate what makes my work “Jewish.” Bat Mitzvahed at thirteen, four years of Hebrew school, weekly dinners with a succession of rabbis (my father was for a time President of our local congregation), Shabbat at temple, large family gatherings for the High Holy Days and Passover―and yet my Jewishness rarely makes an overt appearance in my poems. But I find Jewishness everywhere in my writing, when I think in terms of shattering and mending: poems so often swayed by suffering of self and others, by the conundrum of suffering’s ubiquity and purpose, by the question of what will ameliorate and fix.

Shattering: the psychic legacy of grandparents who fled poverty and violent oppression in Belarus and Poland. Mending: the confrontation with the larger, broken world, and how any poem can attempt to address and heal it. That language itself can be a vehicle of mending is Jewish to the heart, when we recall that Genesis begins with an act of speech: Let there be light! God says, and astonishingly it is so. To say is to make, taught the Kabbalists. My poems are Jewish poems in that they harbor a belief, however strong or riddled with doubt, in a word’s capacity to capture essence, to cup and raise up lost light.

Published Works

Now Do You Know Where You Are (Copper Canyon Press, 2022)
Banana Palace (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)
Sky Burial (Copper Canyon Press, 2011)
Wedding Day (Copper Canyon Press, 2005)
In the Surgical Theatre (American Poetry Review/Copper Canyon Press, 1999)

Author Site

Links to Sample Works

Video Reading

Current Title

Distinguished Writer in Residence and Associate Professor/Maryvlle University


Undergraduate, Graduate, Craft of Poetry, Poetry, Literature, Creative Writing, Mentorship

Subject Matter