If You Asked me About Phillis Levin

If you asked me about Phillis Levin’s 2016 release, Mr. Memory & Other Poems, I would ask you to read her work aloud and hear the music that contemporary poetry often lacks. In her poem “Road Trip Through the Rockies Interrupted by a Dream,” she sings:

She was as large as a mountain,
Was a mountain,
The one watching over us
Everywhere, always.

She filled a billowing
Ragged banner, her face
Intact, entire –
Light seeping through
From another world churning behind.

Levin’s work is alive with the poetics of the generations before her. If that’s not convincing enough, I would also ask you to look into your world to find yourself in the things looking back. Rilke observed the panther in his cage. Pound observed the Underground’s platform. O’Hara observed the streets of New York on his lunch breaks. And each produced a poetic energy that medicates the mind and angles the reader’s perceptions inward.

That energy is here, it’s electric, intellectual, humble, and precise. Levin’s work, here, observes the memory, tricky and unreliable. Her precision is not the precision of detail. It is focused on the nuance of the project, masterfully. Between tangents, subjects, and locations the project never loses sight of the mirage, the fuzziness in the details, forcing the metaphors to do the heavy work. And it’s there she redirects her reader toward the inner self. Then, never losing sight of the trickiness of memory, the poet refocuses, moves outward, but never stays so long as to allow the reader to forget the secret self, the inner self. Her poem, “Bayou Haiku,” completely engages in the project’s focus:

Egret on a cloud
reflected in the water.
singular | plural

Phillis Levin’s work would warrant pages of praise. And I encourage the reader to celebrate it.

~ Phillis Levin is a poet, essayist, and editor. Levin is the author of six books of poetry from various presses. She currently is a professor of English and the poet-in-residence at Hofstra University.

Visit her website here and check out her many works.

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