8/03/11: Dana Levin

Comedy of  not-so-funny errors and a wonderful poet

In the late 90s, when my mother was ill, and not getting better, during a period of unemployment, I had the idea that, if I didn’t anchor myself to NYC where I lived at the time, I would end up returning to Silver Spring Maryland, where she was living, and assume my monolithic nurse identity, letting the hermitage writer drift away, perhaps to be lost forever. I was pretty split at the time, and unable to integrate my many internal components. So moving back to where my family lived (and needed me) would likely have caused injury. At least I realized that, but what I did was pretty foolish: I applied and was accepted into a PhD program at NYU—a program, it turned out, that was a very poor fit and which I abandoned almost immediately, after becoming indebted for a semester’s worth of credits.

So it’s not uncharacteristic for me to follow a path, being unemployed and anchor-less again, living in a city I never considered living in before accepting the job-that-wasn’t, to be looking for anchors to hold me tight. The anchors I am seeking are writing workshops. Which are not an inexpensive way to hold tight, but serve an important purpose for me right now. And so I am planning to go to a workshop in September and one in December. Having just returned from the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, I thought I would register for next year’s conference as well.

I looked at the faculty—sadly Kate Marvin, who led the workshop I took this year will not be doing a workshop next summer—and did my homework. I decided to take a workshop with Dana Levin. I ordered a book of her poetry and read some of her stuff on-line, which I frankly adored. So I went to the registration page, and (by mistake) thought her workshop was already full! Could that be, a year in advance? Well, yes, it seemed possible, but I was simply looking in the wrong place. So I checked it out, figured out my error, and went back on-line to register, anxious that I would somehow miss out on something (how foolish we are, right?).

The real error was to not notice when I put down what I thought was a $50 deposit, that I was actually delivering the full conference fee over. Money I don’t even have in the bank! After many emails and phone calls, I just had to laugh. I guess it will all get straightened out, although, as you can imagine, a debit comes out of the account a lot faster than a refund is registered.

But worth it, I think. Here is a sample of Dana Levin’s work, a poem titled, In the Surgical Theatre. Fantastic, methinks.  You can probably see why it would have special appeal to me. A few lines:

When they cut you down the middle you fled.
The angels descended.
         You came up here with me,
with the voiceless 

         thousands at the edge of the curtain, hearts beating
with ambivalence.
         Do you know if you want it? Is that jumble of spit and bone
so worth it
         that you would go down again and be
a body
         raging with loss, each beat of the heart
like the strike of a hammer,
         spiking the nails in, to feel, to feel—
I learned this from you, Father, all my life
         I've felt your resign to the hurt
of living,
         so I came up here, to the scaffolding above
the surgical theatre

         to watch you decide.
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