I’ve been having a hard time talking about books lately. The words just aren’t coming. I’m not sure why. I have so many words. There are nearly infinite ways to string them together. Disregarding context and structure, the possibilities grow even more uncountable.
I first started this review discussing how I’ve changed in the past 5 years since graduating from the writing program at Ball State. I talked about how I would’ve hated this book then. Then, I liked primarily realist work, no tricks, give me subtext or give me death. I devoured Carver, Hempel, Sandburg, Wright. I strayed on occasion. I loved the less playful Brautigan, adored cummings.
I would’ve hated Levy’s I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone then.
Maybe that’s too strong. I wouldn’t have hated it. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it but maybe for some of the more readily available beauty in lines like:
Sometimes there is too much light and the leaves are crushed across our linoleum floor. I fold your dough into itself on the counter. I whisper I AM GOING TO TRY TO FIND OUT WHAT IT MEANS. Your eyes watch the strays chase children across our lawn. Your eyes know what it means to sleep through the smallest hurts.
Sometimes I touch your face with the moisture of my tongue, I press my fingers into your hair while I do this. You are not a desert.
But, I would’ve read Levy’s recent discussion of “negative capability” in a recent interview at Monkey Bicycle as attempting to justify nonsense. I would’ve thought about “The Wasteland” by Eliot, how I learned in school that it was meant to be intentionally obtuse, how I agreed with Stein that while Eliot had written some of the most beautiful lines in the history of the English language, he had written few if any of the greatest poems.
At lines like:
In your eyes of terrycloth I cannot pretend I don’t exist. I try to come apart again, a bathtub or windowpane. I concentrate on you as if I were stepping on a hill of sand. I touch you again, my tongue of branches, my touch of cracking leaves.
When my heart is the wind the sweet kernel corn is born into me like a splintered two by four. You can’t tell how I bleed each sack of skin into a paper flower. You can’t see my heart which frays like sun-burnt cloth.
I would’ve recoiled, likely. I might’ve read them out loud; I might’ve enjoyed their sounds and the sharp freshness of their images, but ultimately, I would’ve said, “I am tired of these words not communicating anything.”
I know now, words put down with intention always mean something, or mean to mean something. There is still plenty of writing out there like this that I don’t care to “get,” that doesn’t communicate with me. It’s a mystery of chemistry, maybe. But with a title like I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone, I am already invested in this book. I often feel so unimaginably lonely.
So, when Levy, before I even break the cover says, “That’s okay. I don’t mind. Here, I wrote this for you. I’m trying to tell you something. I’m trying to show you something new,” I want to try harder. I want to invest myself in what Levy wants to show me, even if I at first don’t quite understand it beyond words beautifully strung together. I know that now.