A Review of Kathryn Levy’s Reports
by Susan Hankla
In her first book of published poems, Losing the Moon, Kathryn Levy devised settings for each of her speakers to inhabit, so that we saw the edginess of a rooftop, right before the ballerina plunged to her end, we saw a chilly character jury-rigging blankets to her windows to block out something colder than ice, we saw birds “singing beyond themselves” out there, where the poet masterminded her “nocturnes.” These turns were filled with dramatic presence, sharing the stage with Hamlet as he delivers that speech on quiddity. But here, in Levy’s second collection, Reports, the backdrops all fall away, and we are rawly mise-en-scène in contemporary horrors—there is no furniture to hide behind.
These really are reports. And when Levy shares them at readings, she delivers her lines from memory and not from the page, because she is reporting. These poems have marinated in a growing world-crisis but somehow avoid sounding like journalism. A New Yorker, Levy can write with intimacy and authority about 9-11 and post 9-11, seamlessly suturing the personal to the political in these artfully made poems. With the personal, we learn of a crazy mother and inept father and, even worse, we learn that they are dead. Though this can be crippling in the hands of a less perceptive and skillful writer, instead of confessional tropes, Levy offers us Reports.
When she and I were once together at a writers’ colony, I heard her report that for her, writing is “like sticking your finger in a light socket all day.” That scary image has stuck, so that when I am working, I always ask myself if I have done the same. And true to that, Kathryn Levy’s Reports will galvanize her readers, because this author risks everything. She is our soul sister, and we can trust that her Reports need no fact-checks.
Kathryn Levy, Reports, New Rivers Press, 2013: $14.95.
Susan Hankla is a faculty member of the Virginia Museum of Fine Art’s Studio School, where she is adjunct professor in creative writing. Hankla’s published works appear in Poetry Northwest, Southern Poetry Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, New Virginia Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Sun, Laurel Review, and others and in chapbooks published by Burning Deck Press and Mill Mountain Press. A recipient of the Virginia Prize for Fiction from the Virginia Commission for the Arts, she has been a fellow at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and at the Robert Frost Poetry Festival and Conference. An exhibiting visual artist, she collaborated in a show at Randolph-Macon College called “Artists and Writers” with her husband, Jack Glover.