by Mark Levine
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Pub Date 16 Nov 2022 | Archive Date 16 Nov 2022
University of Iowa Press, University Of Iowa Press
“Whether lark as in songbird, or lark as in stunt, these skeptical, fabulous poems pluck pieces from Herrick and Pope like particulate matter from which the wonder of a poem inexplicably grows. Here is the poet Mark Levine at a great height. Sound Fury turns any easy notion of content and context inside out, executing the truth of our effortful helplessness. This book is a feat, a tonal fiesta, but not for this will it keep mattering to me, no—these songs come from somewhere deep underneath: if bawdy, then tender, full of woeful delight.”—Sally Keith, author, River House
“Mark Levine has an extraordinary nose, taste, and mouth for lives low and abject, filthy talkers and doers. His new book, Sound Fury, carries to an absolute the relentless materialist exclusions of his previous books: no horizons, abstractions, reflections; he’s just not buying them. The postmodern disenchantment with the Anthropocene, that farce of human greed and conceit, finds its latest, most confident tracker here. Levine appears nihilistic because he studies those who are. He may secretly delight in their scrappy vitality, libidinal freedom, and jouissance; he just can’t get the vulgar and ignorant out of his imagination; it’s like love. Sound Fury, which presses its two nouns together loudly and furiously, would gag on its large cast of characters if it weren’t for Levine’s unparalleled virtuosity at handling low-life types, and this is to leave aside the competing virtuosity of his tightly packed rhymes and rhythms: out of fashion, yes, but nobody does it better; it becomes addictive. His language is unstoppably vigorous, his wit sly. Control of a kitchen full of screaming cats is his thing. Levine’s distinctiveness, though, is his genius for a devastating inwardness: he speaks of ‘habit hardwired / And etched in sorrow,’ which is perfect in its sound, as is everything he writes. As for pathos and the sublime, they aren’t splashed around; but how remarkable that Levine can evoke them at all: ‘You starry sentinels above, teach us to swim the serpentine channels of your/Tarry sands, searching for sign, sticky with misery’s mystery.’ That’s great writing. That’s the right pain.”—Cal Bedient, author, The Breathing Place
“Since his debut collection, Debt, Mark Levine has managed to reinvent himself with each new book. In Sound Fury, he turns to canonical poetry, which he has absorbed with love, distaste, and ambivalence, to embark on a chaotic, dream-like romp that puzzles and dazzles with its images and invented forms. The immersive landscapes of these poems might remind one of other fantastic and haunting worlds: environments such as Ian Cheng’s endlessly proliferating self-playing video game Emissaries, or Victorian fairy paintings like Richard Dadd’s The Fairy Fellers Master-Stroke. Sound Fury amplifies our conception of how the art of the past can be radically transformed and brought renewed into the present—and ultimately of what poetry can be: a realm of expanded possibility and a heightened feeling of being alive. This is an extraordinary book.”—Geoffrey Nutter, author, Giant Moth Perishes
Average rating from 4 members
Levine’s poetry collection 'Sound Fury', as its title suggests, assaults sound; its body, bend, and bellow. Highly erudite, bringing to mind the motto l’art pour l’art (“Art for Art’s Sake”), the poems prize impression over perception, often posing a challenge for the contemporary reader. But it’s a challenge worth noting.
As we step into Levine’s world, we pass through a stream of rhythmic pulsations. The first poem, conscious of its form, hints at the narrowness of consciousness, especially in the face of raw, natural force. The verses possess a dogged melody, forcing the English language to cave to a relentless seduction, a submission to sibilance, “(…) It/ Fell to us, wee ones, to prosecute/ Our case against it; to pursue it/ S condemnation, issue it/ Formal summonses, eschew it.”
What we witness, as a result, is a head-turning marriage of sight and sound. It yields multiple attempts at overpowering the device of alliteration, thus dismembering the engine of expression, “Misty missile misfiring mischievously.” Levine’s literary terminology makes for a dense serving, one that demands a few stabs at its contents. In many ways, this impenetrability exposes the vagueness of language, and the barrier it poses to many. To further enhance this coarseness, most of the poems focus on a brusque, labour-fuelled existence. There’s talk of the fate of immigrants, ICE agents, “fleers from war and famine”, and even a “peon.”
There’s a sense of helplessness that manifests as physical weakness, nurturing an air of hushed violence, “the scrawny one/ Absent from play, sullen/ In duff, refusing to stir/ When children kick it(…).” It’s no surprise, then, that every poem seems like a gateway into a still-life scene, as decadent and arresting as any classical painting. And, though sound systematically trumps imagery in 'Sound Fury', there can be no mention of its scarcity, “Worst of all were Flynn’s stinking boots on our pillows like bratwurst”, “The sky ran heavy with discharge (…).”
Similarly, the tone, though weighed down by form, is nevertheless playful. It seizes the kind of delight that saturates language, “Poster Boy for postprandial postnasal drip/ Deposits posterior on mildewy post,/ Posting bond. His Judge,/ Post-nap, reposes unopposed(…).” And so, we find ourselves in the belly of a thesaurus-muncher; or so can be deduced, but herein lies the collection’s slippery appeal. It offers a naughty fumble with form, a fabled teasing of the outmoded.
It’s only fitting, then, that Levine brings forward several historical and fictional figures, from Porfirio Díaz to Robinson Crusoe, stretching out the skins of their preserved identities. By doing so, he appears to inspect two sides of the same coin; both the fictitious and fanciful aspects of a continuous narrative. This cleverness, which extends to newly erected characters, breeds exquisite humour, more deadpan than demonstrative, “ICE agents slip on a scab Ollie’s/Dad sent back, booked for passing germs.”
But it also renounces space to remarkably heartfelt thoughts, ones that wobble the structure from which they’re pitched, “It might feel like something/ To feel something capturing you/ In milled mirroring lenses/ As you are and would be/ But that self-love/ Is nostalgia.” What further illuminates the complexity of the poems’ anatomy is the undertone of sensuality they carry; one that is made harsh by circumstance, giving way to a captivating clash of sensibilities, “Licked by breezes and loosening our lips in a show/ Of bodily danger”, “Held its yellow breath as he examined the back of his throat/ With my cock. It was fine to be of every use.”
As Levine notes, some poems are modelled on Robert Herrick’s work, the language of which feeds their distinctive rhetoric. A few others draw on Alexander Pope’s 'The Rape of the Lock', a mock-epic published in 1712, which depicts the real-life incident of Lord Petre cutting off a lock of Arabella Fermor’s hair. His impish action caused a rift between their families, forcing a mutual friend to ask Pope to write a humorous poem about the situation, thus soothing the ache. As a result, hefty dramatisation and epic phrasing were brought into play, inspiring the outpour of Levine’s verse.
Like any experimental work, 'Sound Fury' invites the reader to make a few concessions where expectations are concerned. More archaeological than psychological, the reward lies in the proffered exploration of the poems’ form, as well as the swell of sound they bear; duly furious.
This is a very interesting collection of poetry. There are short poems which are good. There are long poems but I read those poems of flash fiction because to me it seemed like a story not a poem, but still very good poems. I had never heard of this author til I got on Netgalley. Thought I would give him a try and in all honesty, I am glad I read his book. Its a great collection and he's a great writer.
I got a free copy of the book and is voluntarily writing a review