Full program video: Lauren Levin and Melissa Mack: February 21, 2019
Highlight video clips: Melissa Mack reads from The Next Crystal Text | Melissa Mack reads from a set of postcard poems | Lauren Levin reads from "The Diamond Skull" (from The Braid) | Lauren Levin reads from Justice Piece // Transmission
I eat crumbs out of the baby's neck
I'm glad there are no great poems by women
I'm glad there are no great poems by Jews
I'm glad there are no great poems about motherhood
I'm glad no great poems have ever been written.
—Lauren Levin, from The Braid
The Poetry Center presents Poetry Center Book Award winner Lauren Levin, author of The Braid, (Krupskaya Books), together with award judge Melissa Mack. Both poets read from their work, then engage in conversation with each other and the audience. This event is free and open to the public.
Many of the books I read for the Poetry Center Book Award spoke to me, were doing urgent and interesting work, shared vital rhythms, sounds, forms, and concerns. But The Braid rose. It articulated and worried—as in worked, as in worried—some of my (and I would venture to say ‘our’) most pressing concerns. What I’m looking for is a way to join with the world / and love won’t let me do that any more than hatred will. And the way it did so was expansive and specific, so good at the vague grammar of consciousness and the precision of “personal” experience. Maybe I should call this poem that refuses to stop / ‘the care-giver’ / or ‘the shepherdess’ or ‘the murderess’… Levin’s long poems made of long lines allow tenderness and aggression to coexist, like in the game Levin plays with daughter Alejandra, “Little bee, little bee, don’t sting your mama” / while she nudges my face with her mouth and nose … / and shouts into my mouth, STING! Also, the principal of the braid as a combinatory form in which the source materials remain fully themselves, even when brought together, I found so respectful and responsible in this era of cooption, merging, networks. Different bodies at different times in different places have different experiences. The obvious things are worth saying instead. Once, my niece, five years old or so, told me, of a party she’d been to, “There was a part where I didn’t feel included.” I felt included in this braid alright. Levin’s examination of whiteness as the pastoral—willful innocence and a desire to be soothed, to be able to exit the scene at any time—and of persistent anxiety was gripping. But I do believe that it is meaningful / where relief and solace come from // If I am not afraid / because I have been listening to Reagan speeches / vs. if I am not afraid // Because the bravery of my murdered friends / has taken my fear away / That is a meaningful distinction. The Braid is rigorous and uncomfortable and beautiful and I am glad to have picked it for this award and I hope everyone reads it.
—Melissa Mack, judge's citation for the Poetry Center Book Award
Lauren Levin is a poet, mixed-genre writer and art critic, author of The Braid (Krupskaya, 2016) and Justice Piece // Transmission (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2018). Their gender identity is some mix of belated queer, Jewish great-aunt, and aspirational Frank O'Hara. They are still figuring it out. They live in Richmond, CA, are from New Orleans, LA, and are committed to queer art, intersectional feminism, being a parent, and anxiety.
Melissa Mack is the author of The Next Crystal Text (Timeless, Infinite Light, 2018) and the chapbook Includes All Strangers (Hooke Press, 2014). Her work has also appeared in a variety of anthologies, journals, poet's theater, and that most ephemeral of forms, the public reading. She organizes with the Oakland Summer School, a collaborative, non-institutional space of gathering & study created by a group of activists, artists, and educators, and she lives and works in Oakland.