Saturday, September 12, 2015

“Purposeful Poetics”: A Review of Wrack Lariat, by Heller Levinson

(Boston, MA: Black Widow Press, 2015). ISBN: 978-0-9960079-8-6

To engage with Heller Levinson’s poetry is to make the commitment to immerse. To commit. Reminding me of a combination of the visual–typographic poetry of Vernon Frazer, the fractal approach of Ric Carfagna, and the boundary-pushing poetic theories of Eileen Tabios, Levinson’s barrage of words and forms and breadth of artistic starting places (plasticity of language and its meaning, philosophy, music, visual arts) comes forth from the writer’s inner alchemical furnace into a vortex powered by a girding energy of quantum physics and Eastern spiritual tenets that swirl the material together, where it places on the page, not randomly, but in a molecular–textual structure that one could walk the exploratory halls of for days on end.
Given that there is no chance of even scratching the surface of this work in a two-page review, I am choosing a handful of sections (what Levinson terms “modules”) that were particularly resonant for me. One of the joyful challenges of engaging with poetics as approached by Levinson and the other poets I mentioned in the opening is that the keys of the reader’s own worldviews, literary, performing arts, and philosophical background can be tried in the various locks of the poems with varying degrees of accessibility and resonance. Levinson is particularly erudite and complex in the breadth of material from which he draws, and so the locks are numerous and amenable to the insertion and turning of any number of keys.
The first module is called “How Much of / wHoosh.” The energy of this module is motion. Any time a wordsmith can get the immovable type to gather and sustain motion on the page, the entire field of poetics is elevated. All good writing has a potential energy—plays and screenplays, and many forms of poetry. They rely on the actors, viewers, directors, and readers to activate the energy, making it kinetic. Levinson’s poetry is sizzling on the page. Activation is easy. But the ensuing trip, once the vortex is in full pitch, is the reader’s thrill. Using phrases like “Meteoric Velocity,” “momentum,” “rhymetime serpentine,” “eruption,” “seas unwrinkling,” the poems of the wHoosh module exist in mutual states of Being/Becoming and Particle/Wave, with the Reader (or Observer as termed in quantum physics) truly affecting the motion itself, like capillaries in the hand affecting the path of raindrops.
This module also incorporates Buddhic koan-like pieces such as “how much of /stillness/races through motion” and “how much of/ circumstance/is/circumstantial,” which offer a still, quiet space; a respite from the whooshing vortex for contemplation and reflection, before carrying on.
The next module is titled “moreover hardly sometimes of if ever obviously,” denoting the first word used in the poems in that section (first “moreover,” then “hardly,” etc.). These words are qualifiers—they are words that change the momentum, the direction, the content of our statements. Interestingly and aptly, the last word, “obviously” does not seem to be used (setting the meaning on its ear).
Poetics like these give us ideas, like threads or breadcrumbs for the maze-path to new spaces of meaning, to creations of our own, which continues with the third module, “The Corner of __________ & ____________.” Like the mechanism of Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Stories” (How the __________ got its ____________) the intrepid writer-traveler can absorb what Levinson offers (using a module created by another “Hinger” named Amy J. Huffman) and make intersectional creations of one’s own. This, again, is movement and momentum. Why should the reader be passive? Why should the journey end with the end of the volume?
The follow-on module is “Gerundial Geist,” which uses a device where the “particle is initialized by a gerund” [which is a noun made into a verb by adding –ing].
Those interested in the history of the Plains Indians will find provoking, challenging pieces in the section titled “Accidentals,” which also holds treasures for those who are drawn to the poets mentioned in the opening, as well as Felino Soriano and Mark Sonnenfeld.
The module from which the book takes its name articulates many of Levinson’s goals and ideas about what art is, and what the artist’s aims and responsibilities should be: “Wrack Lariat is meant to suggest the Artistic Mission. A mission compelled to reject all that is stale, handed down,—habituated… intolerant of falsehoods, of the trivially redundant, of the Uninspired Quotidian” (179). This, to me, is a call to the Alchemical in the art. Seeking the nigredo, the prima materia, which is transformed in the crucible of the process through intersections, the bending of language to change the trajectories of meaning, and cross-arts pursuits (this module consists of poetic intersections with the lives and works of Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Picasso as well as with the music of DeBussey). The line “I should be watching the musicians rather than listening” (217) brings to mind the new approaches to music brought into being by John Cage. 
Levinson’s work launches forward to a new fringe locality from the nexus of quantum physics and Eastern mysticism, the overlaps of which have been well-remarked-upon by Michael Talbot, Fritof Capra, David Bohm, and others—an indication that we need to push much farther than those who have come before if we are to take the active journey with Levinson. Wrack Lariat is the map, with the borders torn off.

Two of the three remaining modules in Wrack Lariat, “Dot Soliloquies” and “Linda Lynch,” also hinge from intersections and inspirations with other artists. The message is clear: this is large-scale, life-encompassing work, and the artist in isolation would be a fool to think it can be done alone.

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