Friday, July 2, 2021

Review of Marjorie J. Levine's Road Trips


Marjorie J. Levine is a masterful poet. Her haunting words take you to places both familiar and unfamiliar and evoke deep-seated emotions. The power of her verse sneaks up on you as you find yourself compelled to re-read whole poems and sections of poems to glean every drop of meaning.
In her new book, Road Trips, Levine explores themes of memory, love, aging, film, color, light, place (often NYC) and weather as she gives us an extended glimpse of herself through 60 poems in 4 parts. As the back cover states:
The poems in NAP TIME unfold as fantasies and reveal how memories shape a life. In DELINEATIONS, pieces of lucid dreams push life along through time. SIX POEMS is a personal perspective next to views of other lives from different angles. The last part, STREET POEMS, comes from a place of reality which brings all roads to one place.
Levine takes the bold step of using recurring phrases across poems -- like "pristine gown clinging like translucent second skin" in "NAP TIME" and "DAWN ON SEVENTH AVENUE" or "she shares ambrosia with gods" in "SPINSTERS AND GHOSTS" and "OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER." At first read I honestly thought this was an oversight, but soon realized that she was deliberately playing with the notion of forgetfulness, challenging the reader's memory as her own memories play out before our eyes. Indeed, she includes a couple of poems that are nearly identical -- "TWO DAYS TAKE ONE" and "TWO DAYS" describing time at Long Beach and in Westhampton and "BORDENTOWN" and "REVISITED" about visiting aunts "on old Burlington Street." But there are subtle differences, with phrases substituted here and there and meanings slightly altered via small changes in wording. The repetition of words and phrases and even longer passages serves to emphasize the importance of various symbols in the author's experiences.

There are several poems I connected with strongly. "MURMURS IN THE DARKNESS" is a heart-breakingly drawn portrait of loneliness and memory. "BLOOD RUMINATIONS" hopefully advises the reader to "go paint in blended watercolors a new picture" despite the "tangled mess" life ends up being. My own lost loves were brought to mind by "THE DISTANT LEFTOVER." "WHAT GROUNDS A TOWN" is hauntingly melancholic, and I loved "THE WAY HE LOOKED AT HER." It literally brought a tear to my eye in its straightforward acknowledgement of loss.

I learned a new word or two from Levine: pentimento and aldehydic and charientism and gongoozler and entelechy and triptych all sent me scrambling for a definition. I thought I knew some of them but needed confirmation. She uses these words in just the right ways and not just to impress -- they are necessary.

One theme struck me savagely: aging. My father was 51 when I was born and I remember him oft-repeating the phrase, "Don't get old -- it's bad business," and other colloquialisms about the endless losses associated with becoming old. In "ON 82ND STREET" Levine states, "What a monster aging is." Ouch. She deals with aging in several other poems, notably "INVOLUNTARY PASSAGES" and "BENDING TO ENTLECHY." I found myself thinking, "my dad would dig these poems," despite him being more inclined to read Raymond Chandler than poetry.

I get the feeling that writing poetry is cathartic for Levine, and I'm glad she took the brave step of sharing her personal and penetrating abreactions with readers of her book. Road Trips will linger on your mind long after you finish reading it, and you will want to revisit it again and again to experience the exquisite way words can trigger your innermost feelings and bring you face-to-face with an author's life journey.  

NOTE: Levine was the winner of the Beat Poetry Contest we held in 2009 (click HERE). Her winning entry, "WHAT WAY TO GO TODAY," opens Road Trips.

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