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A Review of Monks' Fruit
(Nightwood Editions, Vancouver, CANADA, 2005)
by A.J. Levin
'...densely packed with words, imagination and information.'
An aquaintance once remarked: "That restaurant is popular! All the arty people go there!" It was late in the evening going up College Street a few years back. I think my acquaintance was working on a kids television show, we were in one of those vans that drive film people and families everywhere in Toronto. It was late in the afternoon. I was bored, pining to get home. The balcony was littered with wet newspaper and Richard Scary books. I asked her: "Why arty?" She said,"The food is good. You know artists. They love good food. Good sex and not working for a living."
If that is the case then poet A.J. Levin has the food and more subdued sex(!) part(s) covered in his work. Vietnamese, Thai, Ethiopian Restaurants, Curry Shops, Mexican cafes all get their due. But this is no cook book or culinary tour. The soup of Levin`s choice is life and the quiet, at times, candid ruminations on the absurd, perplexing rituals of daily life. From Oxford College life to the crypt of St Martin-In-The-Fields, to Toronto and travel through Brazil, Mr. A.J. Levin has a field day with college and Jewish life, dating, poetry readings, the daily outrages, observed.
One of first poems is DA VINCI. I like this poem because it sets the tone for the style that Levin is developing: juxtaposing sad, comic and clever with a forthright style. This is not lovey dovey poetry or carefully composed, lyrical poetry. It is a little rawer as if Levin has found a word or phrase to compose a whole poem around. Renaissance man Leonardo Da Vinci is viewed skeptically by Levin.
They say he can fly.
I say they will believe anything
the Bishops speak out against.
I know these artists, especially
Firenze mountain-men. All his
inventions are a good reason for
labour-boys hewing and carting
and bending and panting, now
take the pantaloons off, soiled
by the dry cemetery mud.
Firenze mountain men? This is phrase that sticks with me, though we might know the territory: homoeroticism? Religious repression? and so on.
In Poseidon, Levin sets the tone for the comic setting of gangly pimply boys.
All Male Grade 10.
Levin is dissecting worms in biology class. This a life lesson in hushed tones. Hemaphrodites. Levin imagines ...
"...us original, decadent
together, naked, under purdah."
Only with new women have I done the dissection."
And so it is with women, who get the fondest and most regular attention in these regular visits to the restaurants and so on. In GREE-CEE-SPOON, one poor lass, a 'horse-haired chick, smoking' nods to imaginary friends. In Oxford, perhaps to woo another, Levin remarks in STANDARD CURRY:
"I don`t think fuck was in it, but I explained
fuddle-duddle to you, trying
too hard to be clever, I wondered
was trou d'eau a hole in the water?"
This book is densely packed with words, imagination and information.
This is a good thing. There are many things happening and a lot
of word play. The entry point is the title of the poem. With offerings
like: TENT OF SCIAMATIFIC WONDERS and WORLD`s MOST INCONTINENT
DODGEBALL PLAYER this is a book of lil gems and more importantly,
unexpected turns. It is like a conversation with a person who
is in a hurry and needs to get the facts to you. Some people try
and explain things to you. Levin talks you. It`s worth the listen.