Now Do You Know Where You Are
“Levin has written a book of adjustments—one that nearly resembles a sort of Delphic handbook on the transformation of self-concept.”
The magic of Dana Levin’s fifth collection lies within the author’s elevation of everyday interactions and observations—melancholic or otherwise—into higher meditations on our shared consciousness. A walk through a park turns into a chance to weave thread on the spindle of time; sessions with a chiropractor are more metaphysical than physical; a man with an empty bowl holds the hidden meaning of the speaker’s (perhaps, our own, as well) life in its concavity.
This collection is not easily digested, even after three or four readings (maybe an infinite number of readings would still not decrease its opacity) and is therefore not for the fainthearted. But like anything worth time and effort, readers will only get out of Levin’s poetry that which they are willing to put into it. And this is precisely what makes this book such a vital piece of art, especially now, when things like NFTs and “doom scrolling” threaten our attention and our autonomy over it, our sense of what we are capable of, and our understanding of just how far we should go to test those capabilities. Levin clearly invites us to put not only our thinking minds, but our feeling souls and our spiritual bodies into the ethereal “shoes” of each speaker, as this book is about the author’s agenda as much as it is about yours or mine. Upon reading this book, the reader feels as though they can claim a piece of it as their own.
In Now Do You Know Where You Are, Levin is as much a poet as she is a writer of prose. Yes, her collection is hybrid in form (prose poems, free verse), but what truly makes it share some real estate with fiction is how her speakers often possess the ubiquity of an O’Connor character, and how the “action” of each poem (especially in “Your Empty Bowl” and “Appointment”) seems to twist and double-back rather than unfold linearly.
In “Appointment,” the author employs a list poem form of journal entries, over an undisclosed period of time, to illustrate “the split between the bag of meat and the animating spirit, having to be the I they make together, what was that I, that psychoid thing—” and to indicate the speaker’s nonlinear journey of grappling with their personal history.
“In my journal I write:
You’re afraid because you’re already
dead, really, when you think about it.
And since you’re already dead, don’t you just
want to live—"
Her characterizations are striking, everchanging; her book is, after all, a circle: the cycle of life, death, and rebirth(s) is thrown off its axis as the speakers and “their[my] inclination to mine the personal past, when the collective present needs so much attention and aid” navigate the onerousness of either of those tasks.
Levin has written a book of adjustments – one that nearly resembles a sort of Delphic handbook on the transformation of self-concept. The speakers’ idea of self, whether viewed by the private “I,” the public “friend,” or the cosmic “god,” is being worked out on every page and with every poem:
“. . . the Father of Surgery, who set my skull-top
down like a cap, and advanced
with his silver needles
on the gray lobes of my open brain, saying, “I’m just
going to make
Through these adjustments, and the speakers’ remarkable honesty about them, Levin has shared how the magic of self-criticism (when used properly – handle with care!) and self-reflection can transform your life in millions of tiny but crucial ways. The speakers’ insights, or incisions, if you will, seem to have been life-saving.
At a time like no other in history, when the fabrics of our societies are becoming threadbare, we have no choice but to weave them together again. Hopefully we will do so with the thread mentioned in the opening poem of Now Do You Know Where You Are.