Mr. Memory and Other Poems

Phillis Levin. Penguin, $18 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-14-312811-3
“It is hard to hang a clothesline between stars,” Levin (May Day) writes, but she shows in her fifth collection that if anyone can do so it’s her. This gathering of lyric pieces, short series, and anecdotes displays an admirable facility with forms (haiku, trimeter, some rhyme), but Levin improves on them by adding a light touch to the most serious subjects. The title poem punningly follows the (murdered) minor character in a Hitchcock film: “how innocent/ Memory stays, how well to the end/ He behaves: an unassuming man.” A set of 11 austere memorial poems includes elegies to family members as well as the poet Tomaž Šalamun. But it is by no means all elegiac. Levin has edited an anthology of sonnets, and she deploys—unobtrusively—a few here. She can also be funny, as when an X-rayed Brueghel painting reveals “something in the snow: it appears/ To be an array of ham and cheese,” or when a few poems animate an alter ego named Zeno, “his hope rising/ without weight or measure,” aware of how little we change, how far we can go. Pathos and sweetness dominate the careful, information-rich book, which should appeal to readers who admire Robert Pinsky or Gjertrud Schnackenberg. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/21/2016
Release date: 03/29/2016
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