The Off-Season

Jen Levitt. Four Way (UPNE, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (76p) ISBN 978-1-935536-772
Levitt, a high school teacher, confronts everyday angst in her charming debut collection. Pulling inspiration variously from television, the classroom, and the New York City streetscape, Levitt’s poems are refreshingly accessible while they retain a sparklingly complex thought and skill. Broken into four sections, the collection addresses attraction and anxiety around sex: “my fear packed like a grove/ of trees in fog my desire/ is also the grove but dark/ like a chestnut on your/ tongue.” Levitt also transports women poets of the past into a modern landscape. An arresting eight-part series titled “Dickinson in Psychoanalysis” finds Emily Dickinson with email, phone chargers, and supermarkets. And letters to Elizabeth Bishop end the collection: “Elizabeth, you could get married now/ if you wanted to.” Throughout, a brilliant poet fidgets within the strangeness of a body that doesn’t always feel right: “I used to think either way a girl can’t win—she’s seen/ and it ends in tragedy or she’s unseen,/ which is worse.” And on slippery nature of gender, she writes, “Imperceptible the difference/ between phenotype & Photoshop, pronouns/ & antecedents, my body, its fixed uses.” Levitt offers the kind of unabashed vulnerability and intelligence that makes readers feel a little less alone and awkward in the world. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/15/2016
Release date: 09/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
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