by Lauren Levato
Fractal Edge Press
Reviewed by C. J. Laity
The most difficult task for the American author in this day and age is to write something honest. Part of the problem, I suppose, is the current flavor of politics. In an age during which our own country goes on the offensive warpath and delivers to its people heaps of propaganda, telling us that it is unpatriotic to dissent from that, what hope does the truth have? Even the most veteran investigative reporters have buckled under the pressure (Dan Rather for example). And even the most liberal minded people have chosen to remain silent rather than endure the hogwash style of debating delivered to us by the lemmings in the world. The truth gets muffled by a pack of well-trained shouters.
However, for the poet, the biggest threat to truth does not come from government issued censorship, but most oftentimes it comes from within our very own poetry community. Recently I was blogging on Bitchapalooza and I mentioned that I was single. Someone asked wasn't I the guy who scratches his ass and then tries to get his girlfriend to smell his fingers (a reference to a line in one of my poems). I thought it was humorous: a line from one of my sillier poems supposedly summed up my entire life as well as my ability to love. Most poets are afraid to be brutally honest, for this very reason. One local poet, who runs a poetry radio show, recently suggested that people who are "brutally honest" cherish the brutality more than they believe in the honesty. That's hogwash as we all know. Let's face it. Honesty is oftentimes brutal, and without the gamble of that brutality, the honesty does not exist. It takes courage to be brutally honest, because honesty is not designed to please people; but it takes even more courage to face that honesty without stooping to cowardly acts of denial. In a way, being in a poetry community is like being in a marriage. We too often do not critique each other's work out of fear of offending and losing a comrade or a peer. And we too often hold back in our own work, out of fear of what our neighbors will think of us.
Thankfully, in Chicago we have poets like Lauren Levato.
In Lauren Levato's new book, Marriage Bones, she is not ashamed to speak of the truth. The sixteen poems in this twenty-two-page chapbook concentrate on the theme of a marriage gone sour. I don't know Levato's history, but I get the sense she could not have created such finely captured images with all their subtleties, if she had not first lived this book. She holds nothing back in relating the emotions and internal workings of a woman caught in a state of unhappiness. By doing so, Levato creates a surrealistic experience for the reader. Suppressed desires become bones hidden under the skin. Things left unsaid become foul objects held in the mouth, to be spit but not swallowed.
Without sympathy or regret, this book touches upon the sadness and helplessness that arises when two extremely close people interpret the world differently and simply don't understand each other. Levato points out that it is not a matter of being from Venus or from Mars, but simply whether or not the pretty shoe fits the foot. Unfortunately, some of us struggle with the shoe for five or eight years before getting sick of the blisters and calluses.
Marriage Bones is an exploration of what goes wrong, and Levato seasons it with her mastery of simile and metaphor:
And so, like our marriage,
you just drive on through.
(from "Bull and Frog")
Marriage Bones is a gem in the field of feminist literature. True, there are times when the male reader will interpret some of this poetry as man bashing. For example, in the poem "Anthropomorphism: Corvine" Levato states that crows are more tender than men. And in the poem "Toro, Cielo, Sirena" these angry lines mark the conclusion:
It only takes a night to drain
all the water from the ocean
and fill it up with poison sperm.
In fact, the angriest poem of them all is the title poem:
When you die
I will keep your teeth in a bucket
on a swing on the porch
so the moonlight turns them silver
and night moths can rest there
on the fossils of your words
(from "Marriage Bones")
But this is where the virtue of honesty comes into play. This anger is something the author as the everywoman has felt, these thoughts she has thought, and she's not afraid to offend any men with her brutal honesty; indeed, it is the fear of being brutally honest, the self-censorship when things need to be said, and the resulting oppression, that stand out in this book as the very causes of the uneasiness that destroys relationships.
Between the lines of these poems, many questions are asked. At exactly what point does a secret become a lie? How can there be any understanding between two people if the fear of hurting the feelings exists like a brick wall? How can a man ever hope to understand the moods that change like the seasons, if his very reality has been fabricated in order to please him?
Anyone who has ever used a pressure cooker knows that the steam cannot be held in the pot or the stew (here, ultimately, composed of bitterness, resentment and contempt) will find itself splashed all over the walls.
Lauren Levato accomplishes the difficult task of examining human motives not by telling, but by painting with her words a debatable picture of the complexities of the relationship, and also the search for the freedom to fulfill ones desires. This is what fills Lauren Levato's work with life. The honesty in this book is a breath of fresh air.
For more information about the author, go to LaurenLevato.com.
For more information about the publisher, go to FractalEdgePress.com.
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Note: Here is a review of Lauren Levato's new book, Marriage Bones.