CUTBANK REVIEWS: Lauren Levin’s THE BRAID

It’s the really satisfying second of the opening credits
When the neon flashes in
And you know you’re in good hands.

Acts of Abandonment: Lauren Levin’s The Braid

by Poppy Samuels

Lauren Levin the Braid.jpg

In Lauren Levin’s The Braid, I know I’m in good hands. So I feel comfortable asking all the strange questions great poetry brings: Where am I? Where is Susan Sontag? How many bridges into the now escape? Where is the poet’s grandmother, a true shepherdess of grace? And where is the ricocheting voice of Alejandra? In this radiant collection, I count nine epic poetries consumed with relentless travel across bridges of all kinds: imaginative, emotional, spiritual, physical, intellectual, intuitive. Bridges that connect and displace, “like a footbridge between myself” the poet writes. A ravenous intellect roams Levin’s constructed landscapes of where her “body stops and the world begins,” computing all the possibilities flashing behind the poet’s thinking gaze. Bridges built from the texturized language close to Thought, pinpricked in sweaty rashes across an innsomatic body, a mapping of cascading orders strung with lights and rattling shells amplifying overheard conversations. A body anxious to receive visitors but sometimes without the proper response in hand. A hand that measures time with her own maternal body, signaling this haunting reflection: “Braiding is a social art / to own a body’s time….” The body as a living repository of failed political landscapes, but the braid never a network of complimentary connections.

The Braid bravely considers how to walk the interconnected spaces that link the poet to motherhood, art, politics, health, love, and language. Its rhythmic lines step long, step short, but always with an honesty articulating rashes of anger, the waves of unharnessed anxiety at what the world brings before her. The double life we live as lute players and punkers (reckless lovers & mothers) walking fields, hunting for echoes, knowing some of us will be stopped on the bridge by a police cruiser for no reason. The question at the heart of this heartbreaking book might read as: Abandon all?

(The mask unceremoniously lifted off the speaker’s face reveals Lauren Levin.) The poet’s daughter, Alejandra, a talking bridge—her speech pulling the poet into confrontation with her own reverie. The poet’s partner, Tony, an accomplice bridge. Their twinned experiences and perceptions pull them into the twilight of an uncanny knowing. Friends and acquaintances litter the book, repositories of an earlier, imagined travel. “The friendship I knew pasted with living bandages” but the decision to move forward. The poet’s parents—foundational, elemental—reconfigure a new order around their poet-daughter, shoring up the physical moments of an impending motherhood.

Levin’s style paradoxically slows down the onrush of sensory details (the endless cataloguing) just enough so that the salty tears and storytelling can be drunk sweetbitterly. And everywhere the pain, the heartache and anguish of being a woman. What’s noticeable is how frequent the body’s interruptions are (the blood, snot, mucus, sweat, breast milk, shit) but how little they affect the rhythm of a breathtakingly fierce emotive cognition. All braided, all intertwined. The writer and critic, James Pate points to this element found in contemporary American poetry, one that exists with its “unapologetic corporeality and grotesque vitalism” which Levin uses to her advantage. The body’s chemicals spiral out, pumped into the outlying, displaced factories of feeling. “What I’m looking for is a way to join with the world,” the poet writes. I wish more people had the conviction to join with this monstrous world. The poet “staring at the hot sun” who visions what if, what if, what if?  


About the Author:
Poppy Samuels is a critic who lives in Los Angeles.


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