Enola Gay

Mark Levine, Author
Mark Levine, Author University of California Press $30 (79p) ISBN 978-0-520-22259-5
Paperback - 79 pages - 978-0-520-22260-1
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The follow up to Levine's debut Debt (1993) finds the poet spinning confrontational riffs on the same big questions that vexed him before: how can art survive a great disaster (a world war, say)? How can it not make promises it can't keep? And how far can a poem's language crack before it breaks up like an ice floe, giving a lyric speaker no place or tradition on which to stand? Levine explores these questions in poems whose agitated ""I"" and ""he"" and ""we"" can represent ghosts, or dead poets (as in a poem called ""John Keats""), or ""Everybody,"" as in the poem of that name: ""Everybody is visiting the gravesite of the President/ leaving plastic cups filled with wine and chocolate./ Everybody is holding their breath as the song approaches its end."" Where Debt addressed the Middle East and the Holocaust, the new poems sometimes depict with a surer hand the gutted and bombed-out landscapes of postwar Japan and Europe. Levine wants, and gets, disturbing, paradoxical, tones--deadpan awe, sympathetic self-suspicion, outraged weariness: ""the splash is coming, the reader is coming, the law/ is coming wearing Mother's private wig."" In ""Susan Fowler"" Levine's ""he"" (perhaps a spy) encounters a violent, bearded man whose ""shirt said `Susan Fowler'"": ""He wanted to laugh but could not decide/ if laughter was an appropriate response."" The book as a whole is a kind of triumph, one which perhaps does for poetry what David Foster Wallace has done for prose fiction. (Apr.)
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