February 7, 2017KR BlogCurrent EventsEnthusiamsLiteratureReading

Notes on BANANA PALACE or Fourteen Ways of Looking at Dana Levin

1. Toward the end of Dana Levin’s remarkable book of poems Banana Palace, a poem entitled “At the End of My Hours” closes its first section like this:

. . . a day called

Rip and Brood, a day called

Glorious Hour, the long hunt and the worm found

in the battered petunias—every

morning in summer

that last summer

before the bees collapsed and the seas rose up

to say Fuck You.

My first questions are, of course, whom are the seas addressing? If it is the speaker/poet, well, we’ve all been there. If the seas are addressing me, the reader, then I’ve never been more charmed.

2. Reading a Dana Levin poem is a bit like spelunking into a cave of golden light in which there is a reverse disco ball that turns in synch to the beat of your heart.


3. “A sense of the Line,” Donald Hall writes in Claims to Poetry, “disappeared from common knowledge a long time ago.” Dear Mr. Hall, Dana Levin is, to quote Pitbull, bringing it back.


4. Section 4 of “Melancholia,” a prose poem from Dana Levin’s remarkable Banana Palace begins (and ends) thusly:

The first time I saw a picture of King Henry VIII, I couldn’t believe he had been my dad. Star Trek‘s Captain Kirk, actor Brian Keith—one the blowhard Commander rake of space, the other as a diver with a laudanum addiction, sinking in a sea of hallucinations as the Krakatoa volcano explodes.

In his 1929 essay on Dante, T. S. Eliot posits, rather famously, that “genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” I do not fully understand the above-quoted section of Levin’s poem, but I know that something raw, surreal, humorous, and historical has been communicated to me. For this, even in my un-understanding, I feel both wisdom and gratitude.


5. Dante and Eliot were always pretty taken with endings, and interestingly enough, Levin is as well. In fact, according to a fine reviewerBanana Palace is “all about apocalypse.” I don’t think of either Levin or Eliot as an apocalyptic poet, but I do see similar preoccupations with the fundamental tensions of hope and despair. When read through the lens of Banana Palace and post-truth America, the Eliot of “The Hollow Men,” is eerily prescient.

The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms

If it were even remotely culturally appropriate, I’d like to think that Eliot, when lounging around watching college football on Saturday morning or piddling in the garden, refused to wear anything but a hoodie with this passage from “The Gods Are In The Valley” on the back:

His head’s on fire

Like a Paleolithic shaman

working now in the realm of air, he

folds his hands—

No more casting bones
for the consulting seeker, this gesture

seems to mean.

Your business, this flaming head suggests,

is with your thought machine.


6. I’ve been trying to think of a brilliant metaphor for poetic form. I am unable to do so. Is poetic form like a backbeat? Like signs on a highway? Like the ice in a fountain Coke? Like the rope connecting a hot air balloon to the ground?

If that is fail #1, then fail #2 is making a brilliant connection between Dana Levin’s form and my metaphor.

I think at this point, we cut our losses and say merely that Dana Levin’s sense of form is brilliantly architectural in its design, in part because she pulls off the seemingly impossible by making her poems both vertical and horizontal.


7. You won’t believe me, but there is a poem in Dana Levin’s remarkable new book Banana Palace called “Fortune Cookie,” and here it is.

You will never get death
out of your system.


8. True or False: the final line of the first section of Dana Levin’s remarkable poem “Lady Xoc” is this:

fuck the 

False.

It’s the last line of “Urgent Care.”


9. I began reading Banana Palace before the November 8 election. Reading it again since then, it has taken on a whole new significance, as here, from the title poem:

We broke the world
you’re living in,
future person.

Maybe
that was always our end:
to break the jungles to get at the sugar, leave behind
a waste of cane—


10. Robert Frost once claimed that a poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom. Dear Mr. Frost, Dana Levin refuses to choose between the two.


11. I’m not joking about #7. Seriously. That’s the whole poem!


12. Midway through the poem “Banana Palace,” from the remarkable book by the same name, the poet Dana Levin writes:

Anyway.

Banana Palace.

Even now when I say it, cymbals
shiver out in spheres. It starts to turn its
yellow gears.
and opens like a clam. Revealing

a fetal curl on its temple floor,
bugged and sleeping—

a white cocoon.

Tell me this passage does not make you think of these lines from Yeats’ “The Second Coming:”

The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

Permeating both poems is that amazing sense of foreboding, of the ominously nascent, of the about-to-awaken, the soon-to-transform-into-that-which-we have-called-forth.

Yeats is a fascinating poet to read alongside Levin. They share not so much a paranoia but a prescience that borders on wisdom. Both possess an astral awareness of the terrestrial and are drawn to speculative systems to help explain our current state and our future course. Like Yeats, Levin knows poetry can function as a kind of secular prayer, if not to a god then to the invisible god of language itself.


13. Thirteen is an unlucky number. But my favorite passage on page 13 of Dana Levin’s remarkable book Banana Palace is this:

Next to me a woman who grew food from her skin, we would
never go hungry—

as I lit out escape
through tunneling darks.

Which was the beginning of a different, more
courageous dream—

Self-lit, self-fed, we’d be
compensating masters for the world’s

want.


14. True or False: Banana Palace is one of the best books of 2016.

Not false.