Friday, June 28, 2019

On Its Edge, Tilted - John Levy (Otata's Bookshelf)

Today's book of poetry:
On Its Edge, Tilted.  John Levy.  Otata's Bookshelf.  2018.

on its edge, tilted

Today's book of poetry is going to apologize right off the top, for the life of our research staff, and believe me, lives were at stake, we could not find out where Otata's Bookshelf originates.  Didn't stop of us from adoring the poetry of John Levy though.

"Let's talk about the weather, the earth
says with flowers."

Today's book of poetry loves his job.  We get to read read read poetry and then write about the books and poets we like.  So many fine poets out there...  but every once in a while Today's book of poetry finds a John Levy type.  Today's book of poetry wants to be able to write poems exactly like John Levy's On Its Edge, Tilted.

This Poem 

This is going to be one of those poems
that goes on and on and calls. . . 
calls itself a poem, looking in 

one of those sets of mirrors 
joined by hinges so that this poem can 
see itself in profile 

or from the ass backwards perspective, 
a poem written on a Sunday afternoon, the sun 

up and my wife walking 
the dogs around the yard, 
the poem is about to say it is going 

along like the trains I saw as a child 
in my mind out in nowhere with flat land 
all around and the train goes through and 

I’m seeing it as a child from a distance. 
The flat 
nowhere with the dried-up stream 

of consciousness and the brief 
bridge over the dried-up stream the poem 
goes over, so fast you miss it if you glance at your wrist-

or at the floor or at the sky or your palm, sore 
finger or old shoe. This poem is going 
to say almost nothing and the almost 

is itself close to nothing in many ways, 
ways no one will bother to count because 
the poem keeps going and there’s 

no time to count much beyond one 
line after another and it would be 
pointless to begin counting anything as the poem, 

say, preens a moment in the mirror, passing 
a stanza over its body in what could be mistaken 
for a caress, but it turns out is just a scratch— 

the itch about the size of the dot above the lower 
case i. This poem circles that dot 
and rejoices in the space around it. 

This poem, in fact, is primarily about that space 
and how the space 
looks in the mirror around it, the legendary 

negative space. This poem is going to say 
almost nothing about what’s positive about 
the negative space, or almost 

positive, or fractionally, though now it finds 
a sliver of positivity and then another, using them 
like rails in a train track. Stand back.


Levy had Today's book of poetry laughing out loud and for the best reasons.  John Levy is all about managing "the negative space."  Ha.  Levy 's autobiographical narratives are joined by utterly fabulous flights of fancy.  In On Its Edge, Tilted John Levy becomes whomever he chooses by whim.  One minutes he's Pablo Picasso and the next he's fulfilling Pablo Neruda's fancy by interviewing his spider.  Marvelous.

Will Today's book of poetry simply sound naive when we try to tell you that John Levy made us think?  Our in-house comedian Pistol suggested Today's book of poetry should "think more often."  Ha ha.

True Story

I was glancing at the man in line 
behind me in this bank when he 
pulled out a flask and took a drink. 
He offered it to me and no one 
watched as I downed whatever it was 
it tasted like grimace with toffee at first 

then orange notes followed by 
caramel and barley. It warmed, no, 
burned, no, increased my mass, but 
then the ceiling sparkled and a mother two people 
behind me told her little girl that everyone 

has been wrong, very very wrong, and the earth 
is flat. The man pried the flask from my grip 
as the teller waved him over even though, as I 
carefully noted earlier, he was behind me. 
At first I thought it was me the teller wanted to 

snub—”snub” is too short a word for how I felt myself 
wobble, massively, at the insult of having the smiling 
teller use all five fingers of a hand to neglect my 
Being. The after-

taste, a touch of dried flower petals, black pepper, tobacco 
leaf and chocolate was no consolation when I viewed the man 
pass the flask to the teller, which she took with the very same 
fingered hand she’d waved in the atmosphere. The view 

was nearly identical to looking through pillars at the Acropolis 
if the Acropolis were a bank and we were all tourists 
so none of us spoke Greek. The girl, inches behind me now, 
guffawed after her mother whispered loudly, “Some men are 

invisible, darling, and to think 
that they can help it 
is very very wrong.”


On Its Edge, Tilted has it all, love stories, instructional video, bad weather and so on.  What attracted Today's book of poetry was that there is hope in here as well.

Our morning read was a vivacious affair.  Any poet who mentions W.H. Auden's "Musee des beaux arts" with serious intent and respect, well, that poet gets our full attention.  Today's book of poetry continues to maintain, respectfully, that Sir W.H. Auden's "Musee des beaux arts" is one of our greatest poems.  It's certainly near the top of the charts.

Milo, our head tech, took the lead with this mornings reading.  Milo's recent reading has included Auden so his poetry eyes opened up big when reading Levy's On Its Edge, Tilted.  This isn't meant to distract you readers, Levy doesn't actually spend much time on Auden or anyone else, Today's book of poetry just appreciated the mention of one of our hero's.  Levy himself is a train, keeps a steady head of steam and arrives on time and fully loaded with every poem.

Postcard to My Wife

Dear Leslie,

As you know, sometimes I blather. What
is her doing in blather, near the nonsense of
blat, like a husband and wife, like us. You're
the dear one, next to a blat, the dear one
who gives birth. You gave birth
to our two children, an act of giving,
to them and to us. You made me
a father and brought them onto
this planet and you love them before you
think of yourself. I send you this postcard
with one word on the other side, LOVE,
hand-painted, seeming to rise above
all else, all upper case because you
keep it up so skillfully, so
carefully, with such kindness.



Today's book of poetry was delighted to end today's blather with a love poem/postcard.  Like Today's book of poetry, John Levy appears to love poetry, but loves his wife most.  Levy never walks and talk maudlin or saccharine, but he hits the poetry heart square on every time he tries.

Mr. John Levy will be welcome here anytime, Today's book of poetry liked how he handled it all.

John Levy

John Levy was born in Minneapolis. His father, a businessman, went to law school at the age of 45 and then opened his own law firm (and later began a solo practice). Levy's mother is a sculptor and painter.
When Levy was a young boy, his family moved to Phoenix. His first exposure to poetry was in the sixth grade, when his older brother began playing recordings of Dylan Thomas reading his poetry.
Later, Levy began to read e. e. cummings and at age 15, after finding a book of William Carlos Williams poems, began writing poems.
Levy graduated from Oberlin College in 1974. He worked in a factory that summer and earned the money to fly to Kyoto, where he lived for a year and a half. For six months he worked as a waiter and dishwasher with the American poet Cid Corman in a coffee and ice cream shop Corman had started with his wife Shizumi. He briefly returned to Arizona in early 1976, where he was a poet-in-residence at a private school (K - 12) for a month, having been awarded a grant by an arts commission. Levy then moved to Paris where he lived for just over a year, earning his living by babysitting a young Canadian boy and by working as a personal secretary for a retired diplomat.
Levy published his first collection of poetry, Suppose a Man, at the invitation of James L. Weil, publisher of The Elizabeth Press. Weil also published Levy's second collection, Among the Consonants (in 1980), and Weil became a generous and supportive friend until his death in 2006.
In 1980 Levy moved to Tucson and continues to live there. After moving to Tucson, he worked as a carpenter with a high school friend who had started his own construction company. From 1983 to 1985, Levy moved to Meligalas, Greece where he taught English as a second language at private language schools in Kalamata. After returning to the United States, Levy took up the study of law in 1988 at the University of Arizona College of Law. After graduation, he clerked at the Court of Appeals (1991-1992), then undertook a solo practice for three years (doing both criminal and civil work). He then joined a small firm that specialized in plaintiff's securities fraud class action cases. In 1997 Levy joined the Pima County Public Defender's Office, where he has worked in the felony trial division (except for a nine-month stint in the appellate unit).
Levy's poetry has appeared in various poetry magazines in the United States and in England, and has been anthologized in How the Net Is Gripped (Stride Press, 1992) and A Curious Architecture: A Selection of Contemporary Prose Poems (Stride Press, 1996), both anthologies edited by Rupert Loydell & David Miller.



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  1. Thank you for posting this review. John Levy is high on my list of favourite poets. Refined and experienced, confident and deep, Levy writes as one who is at ease with his poetic voice. He coaxes his readers, engages us, pulls us along to join him as he overlooks the streets of Edinburgh, remembers his parents, scoops a fly from his coffee, or becomes philosophical in discussing poetry and art. Many of his poems are written in the form of letters. While those letters have their addressee, they also feel like they are written to us.

    On its Edge, Tilted, is an excellent book of poetry. I was particularly impressed by Levy’s letter poem Dear Richard Hugo. The poem, among other things, addresses insecurity. It successfully yet subtly creates a comparison between the intimidation Levy, as a very young man, felt in meeting Hugo against the uncertainties Hugo himself felt in teaching with Levertov, Gold, and Singer. Even our mentors have mentors; even our leaders need to be lead. The expression of this theme resonates.

    I also thoroughly enjoyed Levy’s poems about family relationships. Two Mothers and The River stood out. The poems articulate the tenderness Levy feels for his mother and daughter respectively. From Two Mothers:

    “thinking of her death
    turns me into a child. Her child.”

    And from The River:

    “you put your same head
    under the water, eyes open

    again, happy to be a father
    and seeing blurred stones in the light”

    Beautiful work. Other favorites include “Note to a Late Goat”, “Water Pistols”, “ra-TOO-shin-SKY-yuh”, “2/4/18”, “Letter to Don Cole”, and “Misplaced X-Ray of My Head”.

    With regards to Otata, Otata is an online journal that publishes monthly. Otata’s Bookshelf refers to the books published by the journal. (Each book can be found alongside the journal for that month.). Various John Levy poems can be found in nearly every issue of Otata. Here is a link:

  2. Both the review and Mr. Read's comments are articulate and intelligent responses to the work of a fine poet and dear friend--one only wishes there were more reviews of John Levy's poetry so as to make it more accessible to a wider audience--thank you for helping do just that.


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