A Very Funny Fellow
by Donald Lev
HAVE BEEN WRITING REVIEWS for a while now, sometimes Pro bono for small press publications, other times as compensated side jobs, but I have always felt hindered by guideline restrictions. Reviews have their relevance, but as an avid reader; I have never solely purchased a book because of a written review. This bothers me, so does the fact that there are so many amazing writers that do not get the attention that they deserve. All of this is building up to some sort of explanation, so please bear with me.
A few weeks ago, I was at a diner with a bunch of local, Hudson Valley, writers in the process of planning the annual Subterranean Poetry Fest at the Widow Jane's Mine in Rosendale, New York, this upcoming August. Anyway, I sat down next to Donald Lev, mainly because I have to admit that I just love the man. During the course of the meeting while ideas were being bounced around about all different ways to make this event “epic,” I became increasingly pensive about the solemn tone, as I perceived it. Granted, I have anxiety issues and was nervous that they were going to ask me to do some sort of strange interpretive dance while poetry was being read. My stomach started to turn just like it did when I was in graduate school during those weird awkward silences in writing workshops before students began commenting on the work presented. At one point, I became so uneasy that I actually considered pretending to go to the bathroom then sneaking out the side door. Of course my imagination was going wild because the group of writers at the table, all of whom I have great admiration for, would never dream of making me do anything uncomfortable. Thankfully, Donald broke the tension when he began mumbling a bit about this and that, adding a few down-to-earth comments that calmed me down.
Anyway, I am writing this convoluted introduction to explain how Donald Lev actually inspired me to pursue this column and write about poetry on my own terms for Red Fez. I intended to review his new book A Very Funny Fellow (New York Quarterly Books, 2012) regardless, but I want to give him the respect that he deserves, not only for being an accomplished writer, but also for all of his contributions to the arts. I intend to do the same for other writers who inspire me. Ironically, the first question I asked Donald was: Why poetry? His response, “I don't have enough imagination to do anything else.” My thought was, bullshit Donald! In my life time, I hope as far as the arts are concerned, to achieve half as much as he has. And by the way, I will tell you right now, if you haven't already figured it out that I am writing this from some sort of bias; C'est la vie!
On the Eve of Friday the 13th, I invited Donald over for dinner, opened a bottle of white wine for myself and a bottle of red for him. I made meatloaf because I thought it was a safe choice...
On the Eve of Friday the 13th, I invited Donald over for dinner, opened a bottle of white wine for myself and a bottle of red for him. I made meatloaf because I thought it was a safe choice; however later on when my husband ate some, he asked me if I thought his life insurance would pay out if they called it suicide by meatloaf. Oh well, Donald, most likely out of kindness, said it was “pretty good,” and yes, I am quoting him on that response. Anyway, let me give a little background on Donald, before I go on. Donald was born in New York City in 1936 and spent most of his life there until he bought a house with his wife, Enid Dame (1943-2003), in High Falls, New York in 1989. The couple traveled between the city and upstate until after Enid's passing when Donald ended up making High Falls his permanent residence. During our interview he referred to the Hudson Valley as a magical place, and I cannot agree with him more. Many of his poems, pay homage to the area, including one of my favorites in the collection. “BIRDSNEST” is a short piece that describes a bird' s nest, on the ground in front of his house, becoming visible as the snow melts, the last two, one-sentence, stanzas are brilliant: “Perhaps I should, haiku like, leave it at that./ A flawed symbol of spring.” With a gregarious chuckle, Donald confessed that when the snow disappeared the nest turned out to be a piece of a broken ceramic pot.
When Donald moved to the Hudson Valley, he brought Home Planet News (http://www.homeplanetnews.org), the literary independent review, with him. Founded in 1979 by Donald and Enid, Home Planet is a spin off a publication called Poets. Donald was the editor and Mike Devlin was the publisher. Donald invited Enid aboard, who he had met at the New York Poets Cooperative, because he knew that she had the organizational skills that other staff members lacked. Prior to Enid being aboard, Donald said, “I am actually surprised we ever got anything done because no one was ever sober.” Nevertheless, they did manage to publish five issues before Mike Devlin suddenly disappeared and Donald and Enid became a couple. Don't worry, Devlin did end up resurfacing eventually, but in the meantime, Donald and Enid bought an electronic typewriter and started work on their kitchen table. Donald named the publication after a bookstore that that he had owned in the Lower East Side during the 70's while he was working for The Village Voice. For awhile, Donald was also The Village Voice's semi-official poet for several years. Prior to Home Planet News, Donald founded HYN anthology in 1969.
WHY POETRY? Reviews/Interviews with Poets #1 continues...