Fraught Energies: Heller Levinson’s Wrack Lariat

Available online here: (Amazon too).

An episodic epic. A chain of odes to the process of transformation. Incantations meant to summon no gods, but only energies. Poems masquerading as electron-swarms. Heller Levinson’s Wrack Lariat is all of these things and more. It is safe to say that no other poet writes like Levinson. I have been reading his words for the better part of a decade and they have always left me thrilled and baffled. They have instilled in me what Freud long ago called the unheimlich, that sensation that we are very far from home indeed. What impresses me most about Levinson’s poetry is the sheer ambition of his artistic vision. Many poets today write books full of disconnected poems that tinker lightly with language. Each tome that Levinson writes is thematically connected, each poem forming another imaginative layer.

Wrack Lariat is no exception. It is Levinson’s most sprawling and generous offering yet, the most realized expression of his ideas regarding the ways that language can never be fixed, how it is always wonderfully rogue. In his poems, words blend, collide, osmote, migrate, and rend each other apart, forming what he has called at one point, “the great cosmic smooch.” However, while Levinson believes that words form a “spiraling plasma,” the most striking thing about Wrack Lariat is how much weight each word carries, how each one is offered up to the reader to be savored. This comes out especially in how, despite the vast reach of Levinson’s Hinge poetics, many of the poems in Wrack Lariat are rather brief. In other words, Levinson lets his poems breathe, gives them space to do their thing, work their magic on the reader’s brain.

A most striking section in this volume is Levinson’s riffs off of various visual artists ranging from Van Gogh to his long-time collaborator Linda Lynch. However, “flute carved from the wing bone of a red-crowned crane,” (a live reading of this poem and other Wrack Lariat jewels is available here: remains, in my mind, the true standout. In this poem, Levinson writes of an ancient Chinese bone flute in such poignant phrases that one feels that they are briefly levitating, the same feeling I get when listening to Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending.

Hunt down a copy of this book. Rarely has contemporary poetry ever felt so alive, so full of possibilities.