Poet Of The Week

Rachel Levitsky

     December 1–7, 2014

Rachel Levitsky’s books include Under the Sun (Futurepoem, 2003), Neighbor (UDP, 2009) and The Story of My Accident Is Ours (Futurepoem, 2013). She has also published several chapbooks including Renoemos (Delete, 2010) and Dearly, (A+Bend, 1999). She is a member of the Belladonna* Collaborative, and she is an officer of the Office of Recuperative Strategies. She is core faculty in the activism-focused MFA in Writing at Pratt Institute. She is currently working on collaborations with Simone Kearney, Susan Bee, Marcella Durand, Ariel Goldberg, Christian Hawkey and Lonely Christopher.

Present Tense / The Factory

At the school of time and vision
the master paints one
identical painting each
day while
muted apprentices

                . . .

At the school of time and space in time
there is no paint.

Canvases are stretched
large or small.
There is great speed and
no hurry.

The school of time and light fills with water.
Well-lit and heavy, the water, carrying so much death and light.
Rocks, birds, branch, the painter, backdrop: container.
The origin of thought gone missing. Repetitions scheduled.

At the school for change painters have two rooms each.
In one there is an icy drag queen whose bare back is
what is seen by mothers.
The other is brother and
natural scenery. The curves entwined.
All mouths open. The motion:
opening doors.

At the school for memory and longing, their eyeballs settle in the center of their face. They are eyes crossed with desire to recall gesture and the angle of light on the wall behind. Their one hand stands up high, atrophied by the repetition, the effort to repeat it well. With the other, photos are taken on three planes of space: close, far and farther.

At the school for utopian conditionals they imagine the unheard sounds which imagine themselves as paintings or pictures that can be photos—or a moment framed simply by the eye. Pictures that can only be read inside the head. Real though, though this story is not.

At the school of schools the laughter is fabulous.
The experts delight in themselves,
at their elimination
of the neighbor.

–From Under the Sun, Futurepoem, 2003.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

Well, it’s a page in my first full-length book Under The Sun (Futurepoem, 2003). I wrote the book within the context and frame of Ecclesiastes, i.e., the title comes from: “There’s nothing new under the sun,” and the 12 sections follow the 12 sections of that book. It is the first in a perhaps trilogy about the spacial relationship in relationship, or the architectures of relation (the other is Neighbor, the focus of which is self evident via its title, and The Story of My Accident is Ours—which examines political movements/activism). In Under the Sun, I attempt to say something about love relationship as an impossible spatial frame, all the desire to be close and together and yet … and in that space, that resisting space, the world enters … this is one of the pages where the neighbor begins to be the interlocutor/hard outside fact (having to do with me not having to do with me) and the fact that becomes the book that comes after, Neighbor, published by UDP in 2009. I should also say that I begin to utilize a prose/verse dichotomy in Under the Sun in which ‘outside,’ the structural observation, formulates as prose … and this distinction seems to be most articulate in this piece. Prose as necessary form for structural reading/writing.

What are you working on right now?

I am working on several collaborations: The one with the artist Susan Bee about Islands (another spatial problem) is most on my mind right now—we’ll be reading some of it at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project Annual Marathon. I am also trying to allow the correct form to emerge for a project/writing obsession I’ve had for three years about the repressed recognition of the exile/refugee condition of United Statesians made most evident in the way we all lie/underplay the truth when being asked the question (say, at a party or at the dog park) “Where are you from?”—and the answer will be for example “Cleveland,” i.e., few will give hint to the traumas and complicated realities from which they emerge. We exist here in a constant state of this particular misrecognition. I think the book will be called Space of Appearance which is from Butler (via Arendt), her work on the emergence of new publics in occupied squares, out from domestic privates.

What’s a good day for you?

Well, Wednesdays with my students at the new MFA are pretty awesome. More generally, hanging out in my apartment and taking long walks with my new dog, J. Weinstein. Reading with Alfie, my neighbor who turns seven on Dec. 1, the day before I turn 51. Cooking for others … going to the Park Slope Food Coop where I’ve been a member for 22 years. I try not to eat out too much … it hurts my stomach and the foodie culture can repulse me with its fancy consumer vibe but I do enjoy it occasionally and do like a few of the places around here, like Bar Corvo and Barboncino. Anything the beach. Seeing art that makes me weep non-trauma tears. Reading my friends’ poetry and loving it. The surprise of inspired writing. It used to be the movies but there is an under-theorized crisis in film/movies … at least to my mind. Somehow the new digital technologies combined with the straightjacket of straightforward ‘story’ in fiction has flattened the screen. It used to be that I just needed to get into a dark theater and have the lights go out to be taken into realms of delight. These days often I stay unconvinced throughout the too-long, not-well-enough-edited film in front of me. And I want to say that one of the best days I had this Fall was seeing the Sally Silvers dance piece Actual Size at Roulette. SO GOOD.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in?

My parents are from here and grew up here and I lived here the first year of my life 1963/1964 but they got work in New Jersey and we ended up there, first in Fort Lee and then in Oakland, NJ, and then a variety of other New York/Rockland County towns. I came back in 1985 and lived in Park Slope and then had some back and forth until 1991 … I’ve been here since then pretty much, and in Crown Heights since 1995.

What do you like most about it?

I like my neighbors. I like that it’s a cash economy. That there are many cash economies. I like people’s autonomy and community. I like that I see people I’ve been seeing for as long as I’ve been here. I like that I walk through the Botanical Gardens on a regular basis, that the Brooklyn Museum is my living room. I like the sky and the parks large and small. I like the dirt and the small efforts to make things personal and pretty. The little library boxes popping up. The effort to meet across experience. I like that many people on Franklin Avenue gossip about what a jerk the guy who owns a lot of the businesses is (Little Zelda, the cheesemonger, etc). It was hard when gentrification first started and college-graduating white people that were priced out of Park Slope moved here; because they grew up in the suburbs and had a fear of people of color, I think that is why they walked in impenetrable packs on the street. It’s gotten a bit better. I miss the lesbian bars of the 1990’s.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.

Blizzard of 1996 (January) … I had a fight with my GF, skied from Grand Army Plaza across Prospect Park and ended up at a friend’s where the cooped-up night turned orgy.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

Some faves, an incomplete list: R. Erica Doyle, Christian Hawkey, Uljana Wolf, Krystal Languell, Emily Skillings, Tracie Morris, Charles Bernstein, Laura Elrick, Rodrigo Toscano, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Patricia Spears Jones, Maxe Crandall, Stephen Boyer (also a novelist), Mahogany Browne and (soon she is moving here) Saretta Morgan. I just got an amazing book by Michael Broder, This Life Now … he grew up in Sheepshead Bay and lives in Bed-Stuy now.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

I am LOYAL to Unnameable Books and I appreciate all the other independents with a special gratitude to Berl’s.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

Botanical Gardens, Sit and Wonder Café on Washington Ave.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

Waterfronts (Sunset Park and the Promenade and Red Hook), beaches (Coney and Brighton, etc), parks, and the neighborhood that surrounds Medgar Evers College. Of course, the Brooklyn Museum and Botanical Gardens—they are home.

Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?

The chapbooks that Jen Hofer and John Pluecker put out through their language justice organization Antena, and which are available online or in print; the latest slew of Nightboats, among them Jill Magi’s Labor and Caroline Bergvall’s Drift, which are both so good. Also manuscripts: Tonya Foster’s Swarm of Bees in High Court (out soon from Belladonna*), Tisa Bryant’s new essay, “Tracking Dust” which she wrote in response to a film by Lynne Ramsay for the Los Angeles arts organization Clockshop, for My Atlas; and Mia You’s heart-rending challenge to poetry: I, Too, Dislike It.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the wounds, this bloody earth, the mothers
     of black sons, the black sons, this humble poisoned sky,
And what I and we scream, you and you should scream,
For every broken cell of me as good the broken cells of you.

Why Brooklyn?

It’s in me and it’s really very good, so where else would I go?