Donald Lev

A Very Funny Fellow, a Review of the book by Donald Lev

Back when I lived in NYC, skulking on the fringes of the downtown poetry scene, before I ever thought of photographing the poets, I heard Donald Lev read as part a marathon reading in a loft on Lafayette St. Others I recall reading that night were Enid Dame, June Jordan, & Kathy Acker.

And after I had moved to Albany & taken over the poetry interview video series started by Charlie Rossiter, “The Poetry Motel,” I brought Donald & his wife Enid Dame up to Albany to tape interviews with them & feature them at a reading at Cafe Web. Donald has remained a fixture of the mid-Hudson poetry scene, reading at all the great venues, & continuing to periodically crank out his tabloid poetry zine, Home Planet News.

That said, this then is less a review than an appreciation of Donald’s latest book of poems from NYQ Books, A Very Funny Fellow. I like him & his work too much to be an objective critic. And any one who has been to one of Donald’s readings, even before this book was published, will read familiar poems & hear his distinctive, laconic Brooklyn intonations coming off the printed page.

The poems are mostly short, never more than a page & often less than half a page. I have heard Donald read from a series of movie poems & some pop up here, such as “East of Eden,” “Art -Deco Blues” & “Homage to the Playwright.” These are sometimes combined with his dream poems, as in the just mentioned “East of Eden.” Once in a while (as in “In this Dream…”) a poem is identified specifically as a dream poem, but often I can only guess, pencilling “dream?” in the margin of my copy of the book. Donald walks in the long tradition of poets who turn real dreams into poems & writes poems that turn the everyday into dream-like scenes & narratives. Two of my favorites are “I Kept Missing” & “Breakfast with Prufrock.”

Another poetic tradition that Donald successfully exploits is the poet writing about the role of poetry, what it means to be a poet. This includes making fun of poetry, as in “Titanic” or “A Wind Was Blowing” or the tiny apocalyptic “Untitled.” At the end of the longest poem in the book, “When I Seek an Image,” the poet concludes, “All that ever was for me is here,/ sitting in my chair, seeking images.”

And of course, while “Lines in Winter” is explicitly dedicated “for Enid,” her ghost hovers behind many of the poems, indeed throughout the entire work, like that movement in the shadows we catch out of the corner of our eye while reading late at night.

Like the nearly bookend poems “A Window” & “This Big Window” these poems are windows into the days & dreams & memories of this poet known as Donald Lev.

[Donald Lev will be reading in the Poets in the Park series in Albany, NY on July 14, 2012, 7PM with Albany poet Don Levy.]

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