"the fire / that burns the longest": remembering Alan Horvath
By Ingrid Swanberg

Alan Horvath, cover for (Scheduled) Random Sightings by d.a.levy (Kirpan Press)


Though we never met in person, Alan was my good friend.

I have a big cardboard file box filled with our correspondence, which began in early 1999 when Alan contacted the d.a.levy homepage I co-curate with Karl Young, asking for permission to reprint some of the levy paintings in my possession in a forthcoming Kirpan Press publication of levy's work. I had not yet connected with the larger group of people concerned with d.a.levy in Cleveland, and so did not know of Alan, who had been actively publishing poetry there from 1974 until he moved to San Francisco in 1981.

I tended to keep the envelopes. This was not only for the postmarks, as Alan did not usually date his letters, but also because they were creative and playful expressions in themselves. They often came hand-stamped with Chinese characters for such words as 'wisdom,' 'grace,' 'forever', with crossed kirpan daggers, and/or with Native American petro-glyphs from the Columbia River Gorge where Alan liked to go. They also came decorated (sometimes abundantly) with an array of different brightly-colored stickers: an Impressionist painting, a flower, a woman doing yoga, a description of "Peruvian Organic" coffee, "Cleveland Bridges" (the label for the floppy disc included with the Kirpan Press book Surfacing), a football player, American flags, butterflies, the unasked-for 'gift' sticker from the National Parks & Conservation Association soliciting contributions. . . These sticker collages-collations are somewhat in keeping with the Cleveland small press tradition of using everyday materials at hand — from Burger King wrappers to city maps — to make art. The envelopes are done in a way that communicated Alan's having taken time and care and deliberation, qualities he brought to all of his work. It was the same with the boxes that yielded the wonderful Kirpan Press editions. Even the plain boxes were remarkable; so thoroughly were they sealed with clear tape that opening them was a challenge. Again, this was a communication—about valuable contents Alan and Kathy had poured hours into making, about what can happen in the mails, about how things are done right.



Our correspondence was mainly focused on our shared interest in levy. Alan's archival work on and textual editing of levy, which I had the privilege of helping with—at times even collaborating on, is unequaled among levy's collectors and editors. When we first connected, Alan's Random Sightings project of reprinting the body of levy's work —from obscure hand-written manuscripts to often-published (and then often with errors) well-known poems—was just getting underway. He'd first contacted Karl Young about the levy paintings appearing on the levy homepage, and Karl had forwarded his message to me:


I printed a couple dozen handmade chapbooks/magazines/etc in cleveland, ohio in the mid-to-late 70s. in fact the mimeo I used was a gift from rjs & was the one used to print levy's ukanhavyrf**kinciti bak. besides reprinting some of levy's work, I printed two collections of rare levy which hadn't been distributed very much in the cleveland area: barking rabbit (t.l. kryss silkscreen cover) and red cat of reason (barking too).


after the 80s, I'm beginning to publish again. I am planning a series of four very small press chapbooks (65 copies/per) of rare levy material. some of the reprints will include "the box lunch travelog of freemont gulch," "5 cleveland prints," "the in group" play and a collection of poems which were printed in small press publications that were never reprinted in citi or any of the collections.

the end:

recently I've gained access to the internet at my work & was really surprised to see so many links for d.a. I think this is a good sign.

                                                  (January 19, 1999)

I believe it was Alan's goal to preserve the breadth and depth of levy's work in accessible and readable editions, reprinting everything he could get his hands on so as to offer the most rounded sense of the man and his work possible. He approached this project with tremendous energy, tenacity and resourcefulness, guided by a love for what he might have called the honest poem. Alan had a keen distrust of literary and political facade. He was interested in poetry as direct communication, free from the interference of what is said about the poem or what is said about the poet. As he wrote in a letter to Russell Salamon (which he copied for me):

. . .the goal is to let levy speak for himself. much of the content in the Random Sightings series has never seen the light of day or has never been reprinted for 45 years.

levy seems to be in fashion again. A lot of people are interested in reading someone else's interpretation of levy instead of f**king reading about what levy had to say for himself. that should be the starting point. ground zero. . . . one thing I know: after excavating all my contacts for missing levy pieces for 40 years, there will never be The Complete Collected Works of d.a.levy. . . . It is the missing pieces that tell me that my job is not finished . . .

                                                  (undated, Autumn 2007)



Alan's work in 'letting levy speak for himself' is nothing less than stupendous. He reprinted levy's early lyrical poems that he found in obscure and forgotten little magazines from the 60s, poems that fly in the face of the stereotypes and myth-making that continue to surround levy. He reprinted levy's unpublished work, his early books, his picture-poems, his "destructive writing," his Concrete poetry, his collages (in color!), his hand-written manuscripts, his paintings, prints, drawings, and other artwork. He published levy's major poetry. He gathered and published levy's correspondence. With the collaboration of Kent Taylor, he compiled and published an exhaustive two-volume levy bibliography. He published everything of levy's he could find in lovely hand-assembled editions, with the intention of getting them into the hands of those who ought to hear "what levy had to say for himself." The Kirpan books were generally issued in editions of from 30 to 130 copies; most of the levy editions were done in 65 to 70 copies. Such work is demanding—of energy, time, patience—and it can be thankless. But Alan was not doing it for personal gain or recognition. And he was doing it as levy did (though of course by 1999 the printing methods were different)—largely by hand, largely given away. As he wrote in our initial exchange,

. . . these are not museum books, but meant to be seen by people who appreciate it. you price it too high, the wrong people read it. you make it too slick or too big & you send the wrong message. levy never made any money on his art/poetry. why should anyone else?

I once sent Alan a check for one of the Kirpan Press editions he'd sent me; he returned it to me cut into a snowflake.

Alan's publication of the nine working mss drafts of levy's long poem Cleveland undercovers coincided with my writing at length about that poem in my dissertation (in which levy is a central figure). Perhaps because that particular Kirpan edition was so helpful to me, I have often wondered if that may have been a motivating factor in its timing. That certainly would have fit Alan's generous character. His support throughout the dissertation ordeal was unflagging. During that time he presented me with one of a Kirpan edition of two copies, (Specific) Random Sightings: All the News that Fits d.a.levy, a collection of newspaper clippings about levy from 1965 to 1999.

Once, during the writing of the dissertation, when I'd asked him for information about the Old Viaduct, which looms in Cleveland undercovers, he shared a story (in a letter I cannot now find) about playing touch football with some of his friends on that bridge one afternoon or evening. 'It was a miracle no one fell off,' I think he wrote.



Throughout our collaborative work on levy, perhaps because it ran the risk of becoming obsessive, we were on guard against taking ourselves too seriously and/or making levy into a saint. One time, when I had to disassemble a rare levy pamphlet from my collection in order to photocopy it for Alan, I sent him the "original" binding staples along with the photocopies, as if to say, 'Here are the staples, the ones actually stapled by the great poet himself.' He responded in kind, sending me a large envelope filled with multi-colored paper shredding, labeled "binding from (Completely Covered) Random Sightings." Holy confetti!

He also sent me pages of printed-out listings of levy publications he had found being sold on online venues at exorbitant prices, including my own levy edition that was still in print and available from my press at the original price of $27.50, being offered online for as much as $100.

But if you really want to discover Alan's sense of humor, read his poems. See dirty dishes" and "the secret" (Surfacing). Alan's poetry is direct, spare, personal, ironic, often plain funny, at times stunning. He had the honesty and willingness to confront himself and the pain of life. He wrote in the spirit of the proactive, fearless Sikh soldier-saints whose kirpan daggers are worn as physical instruments of non-violence and defense of the vulnerable and disenfranchised. Symbolically, the kirpan means the power of truth to cut through lies.



The Random Sightings editions were well-received, with positive reviews in American Book Review, Small Press Review, Rattlesnake, and the online Big Bridge. They early on gained Alan the attention of other small press publishers such as Richard Hansen of 24th street irregular press and the well-known avant-garde poet and micropublisher jwcurry. They sold to libraries, bookstores and collectors. But many more were simply given away to those whom Alan thought would appreciate them.

Alan did not, in deference to levy's wishes, copyright the publications: ". . . I have never nor will ever file a copyright status claim to the library of congress for any of d.a.'s work" (February 21, 2001). However, he was impeccable about crediting people's work and had little patience for publishers who omitted attribution (in our first exchange he pointed out my mistaken statement, in Zen Concrete & Etc., that levy's "Last Dynasty Notes" were previously unpublished—actually, these visual poems were included in bill bissett's earlier blewointment press edition, Zen Concrete). Alan was also absolutely conscientious in handling copyrighted work. The annotated credits pages appearing at the end of the Kirpan editions are wonderfully detailed and complete, and many of them make for fascinating reading in their own right. Several of my Kirpan books are signed by the authors on the credits pages. A miniscule, handwritten number on the lower right corner of the credits page gives which number of the edition one has in hand.



Throughout our correspondence, Alan stressed the great importance of James Lowell to levy and to the literary scene in Cleveland, and to the whole country, for that matter. As he wrote in response to my description of the "levy fest" I attended in Cleveland in 2005, a year and ten months after Jim died,

It's too bad they didn't squeeze a bit more of jim lowell into the levy fest. Particularly when discussing the 60's mimeo revolution. Would there have been a Cleveland scene without jim lowell? Would levy have been exposed to as many people if he didn't have an outlet for his work? Would levy have found out about what was going on outside of Cleveland (particularly the Canadian concrete-ists) without Lowell making the effort to stock their publications in the Asphodel? Like the chicken & the egg. They just go together.

                                                   (November 21, 2005)

Elsewhere he wrote that an important aspect of Lowell's contribution was that he paid up-front for levy's and others' publications to be sold at the Asphodel—thus they could count on immediate payment for their work. This is quite in contrast to the sort of consignment arrangement usually offered to small press publishers by local bookstores, in which one receives payment only after a book has sold, months after, more often than not, and one has to keep track of sales oneself, an arrangement very often more trouble than it's worth.

Alan published three volumes of Jim Lowell's correspondence with Kent Taylor and Tom Kryss, — letters about poetry, literature, books, politics, government corruption, baseball, football, readings, poets, writers, family, gardening, mutual friends, Ohio snow storms and heat waves. . . The facsimile pages of handwritten and typed letters are interspersed with art by Taylor and Kryss, photos of all of them, a portrait of Jim by Hilary Krzywkowski, and a moving photo of Jim's empty chair at his desk after he passed by Cindy Marx. . . In this correspondence we are able to gain a glimpse of the deep camaraderie of the Cleveland 'brotherhood' of poets and artists (one which by no means excludes sisters) that first gathered in the 60s around levy and Lowell and continues. Alan found Lowell's lifelong dedication to literature an inspiration.

for the love of books

even as he was dying,
jim lowell typed
a few pages
for the next
asphodel book shop

Alan also published a collection of levy's letters to various poets and friends—a beautiful edition of multi-colored pages, including letters presented both in facsimile and retyped, details of levy paintings, a flyer for a fund-raising benefit for levy and Lowell, a photo of levy and friends from The Tibetan Stroboscope, and other ephemera from the time. Like all the Kirpan editions, it is the sort of book that had to be assembled by hand. The pages are of different weights, colors and finishes—a facsimile "P.S." page scrawled on a legal pad sheet is reproduced legal size, folded, and set into the spiral binding sideways, preserving its readability, as the handwriting would have been too small reduced.

Alan was as thoroughgoing an editor as I have ever known, from his encouragement of writers to his meticulous care in the presentation of their work. When it came to reprinting problematic levy material, we both tended to prefer to err on the side of inclusion. I consulted Alan when I was about to present a previously unpublished levy poem in a forthcoming issue of Abraxas. The mss I was working from had a number of hand-written indications of lines to be cut (who had indicated the cuts was unclear). He advised me to leave the lines in, and to simply indicate with brackets where the markings occurred. This was typical of his open approach as a textual editor, sharing all the information possible while upholding the highest standards of presentation.

The physical book itself was of central importance to Alan, in the sense of the pleasure taken in the paper, printing, and compilation, but also in the sense of a recognition of production limitations. His books were hand-assembled once enough pages had been printed and when the time was right, and thus there were natural constraints governing a book's editing and design that offered a positive organizing principle now largely lost in the economies of internet publishing.

Alan wrote in a letter of October 21, 2001:

. . . tom has been sending packets of poems. . . they seem to me to be an explosion of ideas which he has to toss to the wind. a lot more personal than the batches he sent me a while ago which I've assembled. forget when I laid that project down (months ago), but I have an impetus to complete it soon. glad I did take a vacation away from it. I needed to whittle down a few of the poems to both sharpen the book as well as thin it out so I could staple the book together. I think I have finally gotten a new perspective on it. as soon as he reviews it one more time, I think I can pump it out with only a minimal amount of effort (easier said than done). after that, the kent taylor book. & after that, more levy.



Many Kirpan books, like the book of levy correspondence or the 2004 edition of the anthology Measured Steps, present pages of many different colors, sometimes dedicating a set of pages of one color to a poet or a particular work, sometimes not. In every case, the effect is one of total readability.


Alan's books are tactile and personal. Each is unique in the usage of paper and artwork. Some have exquisite, bright, translucent, fine-paper fly leaves, as does Alan's A Series of Sharp Points, which gathers a variety of different colored pages in the body of the text, and Alan's and Dave Pishnery's Surfacing, in which white paper is primarily used for the text. The paper stock is very much a part of Alan's book design. For instance, his book Until the Last Light Goes Out presents a long narrative and meditative (even brooding) poem about a solo camping trip. The poem is printed on a rich, heavy, dark grey-green stock. Here are the final lines of the poem:

I stare awake the coals
until the tiny embers have gone black
& then leave whatever is left
as a memory,
because that is the fire
that burns the longest

The cover page is a lighter grey flecked with white. Following it is a color collage by Alan's friend Richard Werner. The end pages, of different colored stock, offer photographs, including one of Joan and her son, Joey, whom we encounter in the poem, and a candid portrait of Alan by Kathy Horvath. The cover displays one of Alan's digital pastel landscape 'paintings' (at least that's what I imagine them to be).

Office Copy, a collection of poems about Alan's years of work for a large corporation, is also printed on grey stock throughout the poetic text, but it is a softer, textured grey of company fog, subterfuge, tedium.

deaf, dumb & blind

those of you
who cannot believe
that poetry exists in
an office environment
have never heard
the howl of a trapped dog
moments before he chews off
his own leg

Alan's 2006 collection, Learning to Say Goodbye, is, aside from the cover page and credits page, printed on starkly bright, white paper throughout, in keeping with the poems' straightforward seriousness and candor. Rereading this book the other day, I came across one poem with a handwritten note to me from Alan in the lower right margins:

Just when I thought that I never wrote a poem for you, I remembered this one—written in 2002 around the time of levy's 60th birthday—as if levy was talking to everybody as well as you.

Alan is referring to a poetry reading, conference and celebration commemorating levy's 60th birthday that I had attended in Cleveland in 2002. Alan's health problems had prevented his attending. Here's the poem:

one final request

now that I'm dead
I want you to forget
about me

don't think about
     my birthday
     the day I died
     or how I died
it won't help you

every minute
which we shared
is projected
as wonderful white
clouds filling a
brilliant summer sky

but after this moment
it is time for you to move on

Though he makes clear in his note to me his intention that it is levy speaking here, this poem is the last in the book, and follows several others in which Alan directly contemplates his own mortality. I feel that Alan and levy communicate to the reader as brothers in this poem.

I think that, for Alan, part of letting the poet 'speak for himself,' was a feeling that a poem occupies its own moment, stands by itself, and speaks itself. I think this is the reason Alan printed the anthology The Clevelanders, Vol. III, which included work from eighteen contributors, without the authors' names appearing anywhere in the body of the text, but only on the final credits pages (except where a name was included as part of original art). He did something similar in Surfacing, co-authored with his friend Dave Pishnery, listing the poems by both authors in the table of contents, and then presenting them in the body of the book without designation, in an order seemingly suggested by the poems themselves. This approach helps one to appreciate the work solely on its own merits. Just read the poem, undistracted by who wrote it and by your preconceptions about them.



At the end of The Clevelanders, Vol. III, pasted onto the inside back cover, is an original pencil drawing of Alan's, a dense force field of tangled and energetic graphite lines, titled "MAKING A POINT (TOO)." The anthology is an edition of 75 copies, so he must have done 75 individual drawings! The title may be a glancing reference to his book, A Series of Sharp Points (planned as a Mostly Broken Scabs Press publication in 1978 and finally published in 2003). The drawing itself, the original, unique artwork itself, done in pencil point, communicates with a strong immediacy the care, energy, and delight Alan put into making his books. (Since writing the foregoing, I have learned from Kathy Horvath that these "drawings" were actually pencil point "sharpenings" from the time of Alan's work as a designer twenty-three years earlier! —See Kathy's "Kirpan Press Narrative." This new information explains the title, "MAKING A POINT (TOO)," but in no way alters what the inclusion of these "drawings" in the book communicates, except perhaps to add "foresight" and "humor" to the list.) In this vein, and again, in the Cleveland small press tradition of using materials at hand, a real coffee ring appears on the title page of Alan's book of poems Office Copy.

Alan elicited a variety of original individual works for his editions. Some examples are: the original individual cover collages by Richard Werner on the edition of Lowell correspondence to Taylor and Kryss (Sleeping Nude on Top of the Sheets); the silk screen covers by Mike Schaefer (A Series of Sharp Points), Dave Pishnery (Surfacing), and Tom Kryss (Looking for d.a.levy [Random Sightings: The d.a.levy Bibliography, Volume 2] and the Lowell correspondence to Tom, Notes to Cleveland). Kryss also did individual covers for Grace Butcher's book Horses in the Snow (a combined Kirpan Press/Black Rabbit Press edition), using ink and watercolor on a stamped imprint; some rare copies present the artwork on a tipped-in paper inset.

In the recent broadside card series, "Stories from The Flats" (a collaborative Kirpan Press effort with Tom Kryss's Black Rabbit Press), there is a decided focus on these touches of original handwork and art.

The broadsides were done in editions of 75-100 copies. Unique outer envelopes were designed for each illustrated card, some produced on inkjet printers, others illustrated individually, by hand. The envelopes for my broadside, "the pure," have each been pressed with a red lipstick kiss, thematically relating to the final line of my poem (thank you, Kathy!).

Tom Kryss did original artwork on the covers and envelopes of some 20 of The Flats series, working with ink and painted or sponged watercolor on stampings. Many of these have the artwork on paper insets tipped in. One, Michael Basinki's "Ghosts Live in Closed Eyes," has a watercolor-stamped paper inset tipped in on the cover, and the envelope has ink-stamped botanical prints on canvas that has also been tipped in.

A number of The Flats series envelopes appear with the familiar signatory stampings of Chinese characters, Columbia River Gorge petro-glyphs, and crossed kirpans.

The broadsides come to readers with their envelopes sealed. One has to break the seal. One's attention is brought to this moment of opening, this moment of the poem, from which there is no going back.

. . . wonderful white
clouds filling a
brilliant summer sky


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