It’s not that bad being lonely: a review of Thomas Patrick Levy’s I DON’T MIND IF YOU’RE FEELING ALONE
by APRIL Book Club member Sarah Baker
Reading I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone, you never quite feel that you are following Thomas Patrick Levy’s words; instead, you are caught in their current. The rush of imagery propels you through each scene, but it isn’t a journey without friction. There are so many textures here: carpet, hair, puddles, burning oil, sparkling lemonade.
Chronology and continuity are not strict or chartable either, like the dream you had last night but whose exact details you can’t remember. Levy restores those spaces with events both uncanny and intimate, absurd but familiar:
“The colors cutting through the silk we left in the lawn. This might be how they build their homes. Each toe like a kernel of corn. This is how we take off our clothes. The nests of silk so quiet. It hurts like sleep to build a home and most nights you are not this soft.”
The poems are most enjoyable when you allow his scattershot imagery to pile up in the back of your mind, so you feel the pull of déjà vu when an object or character arrives in a new context. Or, when images are inverted in a few lines:
“And Scarlett once I watched a man make your body in reverse and the dress he made you wear I swear was made of thin orange threads of my sweat … I see your knees bare as fields near the freeways and I see your knees crushed carrot-raw on wet hairs of carpet”
The “Scarlett” above is from the section titled “Please Don’t Leave Me Scarlett Johansson,” first published as a separate chapbook. These poems have no punctuation, but like the other poems in this complex network they are strewn with capitalized dialogue, which turns those phrases into signposts, as if to say YOU ARE HERE. When Woody Allen whispers to Scarlett “YOU ARE SEXUALLY OVERWHELMING,” even a whisper is forceful, insistent.
Levy takes you through lonely landscapes: cornfields, islands, deserts. And there is also a loneliness in his unnamed characters, identified only by generic pronouns that let the characters bleed together. Even the section with Scarlett Johansson is undoubtedly lonely. She is a solipsistic figment, triggered by loneliness. Her faraway roles of celebrity and sex icon allow her to be whomever we like, whomever the “I” in these poems wants her to be.
Levy may say he doesn’t mind if you are feeling alone, but that’s only because it’s not that bad being lonely. At least there is beauty and strangeness there.
Get I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone from YesYes Books here.