Saturday, November 7, 2009

Oblivion, Tyrants, Crumbs

Oblivion, Tyrants, Crumbs
by John Levy
First Intensity Press
Lawrence, Kansas
Paper. 194 pages. $16.00
ISBN: 1-889960-16-0

I wish I’d thought of that title. But of course I have my life, and the man who penned it, the poet John Levy, has his. And from his book’s opening pages, as I nodded in silent approval of poem after poem, I found myself caught up in that warm feeling of newly discovered friendship that defies distance and the ordinary boundaries of the printed page.

John doesn’t write complicated poems; the language he uses is simple, but it’s simple in the way the calm surface of a pond is simple, complexity shimmering and beckoning just beneath:

      (After Basho)

      My poems aren’t
      really mine. Any more

      than a frog
      owns its croak

      or its splash as it dives
      beneath the green surface.

      You see the surface translated
      into language

      ripples. (The frog, invisible,

Indeed, poet that he is, he loves words too much to take them merely at face value. Other, more playful, poems also show the deep impression words make on him:


      Imagine voting every four years not only
      to elect a President but also

      to add a few more words to what, and how, we
      think. Who’d campaign for them? I’d wear those

      campaign buttons, bringing to mind the
      title of Gertrude Stein’s book, Tender Buttons. Oh, to

      treat words tenderly, try not
      to forget how much they bestow

      their largesse and
      largeness, and their lovely lovely part

      in governing
      our thoughts.

Levy lives and works as a public defender in Tucson, Arizona. This part of his life is a rich source of poems and a springboard for self-examination, as is time spent with his children and parents, who play a delightfully instructive role in the book. His shortest poems move me most — poems you’d think might have been tossed off in passing, but which belie years of observation destined for glory in a single moment:

      almond blossoms
      in grey dusk appear
      as if their tree weren’t there


      unless asked to
      who would look
      under a butterfly in
      for a butterfly shadow


      If There

      If there were a poem
      made of only one letter

      let it be the V
      growing behind this white swan

      in the blue black water

Cover painting: Leslie Buchanan
Book design: Lee Chapman

(click to enlarge)

Note: This is one of two books I received from John, who kindly sent them my way after receiving a copy of my book, The Painting of You, from our mutual friend, the gifted poet Vassilis Zambaras. I was delighted to learn that John and Vassilis go way back, and that the two spent time together in Greece. This experience and more is the subject of John’s other book, We Don’t Kill Snakes Where We Come From: Two Years in a Greek Village (Querencia Books, 1994), which I hope to start reading soon.

Recently Linked: My thanks to barefoot.navigator for signing on as a follower of Recently Banned Literature.

As the Conversation continues, we finish one page and start another.


ALeks said...


vazambam said...

A fine introduction/appreciation of a book worthy of its fascinating title!

awyn said...

A great review, and thanks for the introduction to poet John Levy, whose work I might not otherwise have ever discovered. (What I like about the community of writers, we share each other's writings with one other!) You spoke of poems that "belie years of observation destined for glory in a single moment." What poems could be written based on that single, poetic utterance. Thanks, William.

Elisabeth said...

How wonderful to make these connections through words to other people who care about words.

William Michaelian said...

Aleksandra, thank you. This book really has much more to offer that I didn’t touch on in this short review.

Thank you, Vassilis — and I also have you to thank!

Annie, that’s very nice of you to say. I’m glad you like the review, and happy to have made the introduction. Pass it on!

Elisabeth, thank you, as always, for visiting. You’ve just underscored, in large part, what I mean for this strange, sometimes melancholy blog of mine to accomplish. And I’m smiling when I say that!

Momo Luna said...

I also wanna thank you for sharing this, 'cause if you didn't i never might have read his wonderful poems. My favourite in your review is the one of the butterfly. Such a lovely thougth and i'm sure if i see a butterfly again in summer i will try to find his shadow. :-)

William Michaelian said...

And when you do, I’m sure you’ll find a way to paint it.... Thank you!