Guest Post by Heidi Seaborn
Finishing up my MFA at NYU, I wanted to read a first collection by a poet who had travelled this same path, Jen Levitt. While I waited for the delivery of Levitt’s The Off-Season from my local bookstore, I went in search of her poetry online. When I found “The Reality Show,” I knew I had met a kindred spirit—someone who delivers ironic humor but approaches it without a suit of armor. Her emotional temperature is tempered only by coolness of her cultural references.
Any poem about physique, about not feeling attractive and the brutality of middle school brings its own pathos, but this poem embeds, “In montage I mourn the boy killed by this classmate / for liking to wear heels & makeup, / also the jury’s devastating hearts / that go out to shooter / because twenty-one years is a lot of time” in the middle, a turn that is both jarring but important to weight this poem. The stakes are suddenly clear. With the line, “like the time it takes to get over middle school,” the reader accepts the burden of living in the speaker’s body, as well as one’s own.
Body and sexuality dominate this Levitt collection. In the titular poem, “The Off-Season”, the speaker wrestles with the awkwardness of coming of age—made more acute by her growing awareness of her sexual orientation. When I read this poem to my queer daughter, she said the poem was so evocative of that ‘puzzling’ experience. Levitt is piecing together the puzzle that is her—as she matures. She is also coming of age as a poet, under the influence of Elisabeth Bishop and Emily Dickinson. Yet, her poems in conversation with Bishop and Dickinson steer clear of worshipful dialogue, instead they reveal a more naked self. The Offseason is a graceful revelation of body, sexuality, growing into one’s self as a person and a poet.
The Off-Season by Jen Levitt. Four Way Books, 2016.
Reviewer bio: Heidi Seaborn is Editorial Director of The Adroit Journal and author of the award-winning collection Give a Girl Chaos (C&R Press/Mastodon Books, 2019) and two chapbooks.
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