Louise Landes Levi
Cool Grove Press ($10.95)
by Michael Perkins
Poetry is first a matter of breath. The words ride on the blessings of inspiration and suspiration. Then it is a matter of dance: the words strike our ears in rhythmic patterns that move us. But breath and rhythm are not alone sufficient to make poetry: since verse is, after all, emotionalized experience, the final ingredient in a good poem is passion.
There's plenty of passion in the pages of Guru Punk by Louise Landes Levi. A tiny (4 1/2" by 5 1/2") but mighty book, Guru Punk offers a generous 150-page-selection of Levi's work from the previous two decades—expatriate years she spent wandering in Italy, Germany, India, Holland, and France before returning to New York. The poems are mystical, exultant, erotic, devotional, defiant glimpses, haiku-like, into the mind and heart of a Jewish yogini poet who experiences the world in a state of exaltation, like the great 16th-Century Poet Mirabai (whom Levis has translated).
Poets build on the efforts of other poets. Levi pays homage in Guru Punk not only to Mirabai but to the French poet Henri Michaux, the American surrealist Phillip Lamantia, Allen Ginsberg, Lynne Tillman, the female warriors of the Warsaw Ghetto, and most importantly, her Indian and Tibetan spiritual masters.
Who is Levi? She was born in New York City, lived in North India for three years, studied Indian music in Bombay, and taught at Bard College, Naropa, and the American College in Paris. But in an excerpt from a poem entitled "Autobiography (1984)" she gives us the real low down:
Pop artist, Jew, religious fanatic,
Dzog-chen pa, surrealist,
street musician/cloud musician/attic musician
poorly dressed/well dressed/elegant
nude, model behavior,
telephone freak who lives without one.
In these poems Levi describes her quest for a lover, spiritual or physical, and her travels, in search of that illusory being. In "Illusion" she can lament simply "Of / all the illusions, / in this world of illusion, / the / most / beautiful / was / that / you / loved / me."
It's a rarefied level of being she aspires to, but Levi sees the real world in poems like "Letter": "I / miss Holland . . . America / ages one, makes demands / where's your / house, where's your car, They don't / ask about your heart. / The word ‘Guru' is a 4 letter word . . ."
Like poets throughout history, Louise Landes Levi has tasted the fruits of another world that touches on our "concrete reality" at many points—a world accessible in poetry and in passion. If you're not aware of that other world, try carrying Guru Punk next to your heart.
Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2001 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2001