Loving the Haters and Converting the Doubters
A Review of Lynn Levin’s Miss Plastique
Miss Plastique, Lynn Levin, Ragged Sky Press (2013)
Lynn Levin’s new full-length poetry collection, Miss Plastique, might be the collection that will convert your poetry-hating friends. Its accessibility lies in its humanity and humor and toughness. Miss Plastique herself is an action figure in fashion doll form, lovingly crafted from plastic explosive. She joins a cast of characters that includes an Elvis impersonator (the Faux King), Eve and Lilith (roaming through modern settings), Eddie Pratt, crazy hitchhiker-collector Tom Wise (or Wyse, or Weiss), and memorable facts-of-life teacher Mrs. Hay. Also covered: The Incredible Hulk, the Man from U.N.C.L.E., the cast of Leave it to Beaver, Janis Joplin, and Waylon Jennings. Levin is comfortable everywhere in the world of pop culture, and she understands the way it creates a backdrop that connects almost all of us.
With this book, Levin continues to develop her already considerable skills as a storyteller and observer of human nature. It’s a brutal history of the doomed, as in “Action Hero”. It’s a meditation on what it means to be a woman in America today, as in “Vacation” or “Yes No Maybe”, and what it meant to be that same woman in the 1950s or 60s, as in “Dippity-Do”. It’s a look at what brings men and women together, and what keeps them together for an evening or a lifetime. And as always, Levin’s cleverness shines through, as in “Some First Thoughts”, her tribute to the letter A, which fittingly begins the book.
This book is also about love in all its forms: courtly, forbidden, past its prime. It explores the boredom and balance of long-term marriage just as well as the split-second risk/benefit calculations before a parking lot hookup.
But most interesting to me is the “I” speaker of these poems, who seems like one evolving person. This Wild “I” takes us behind the scenes of TV Land, into the untamed sections of tightly ordered suburbia, the mini-jungle behind the 7-11, the darker parts of a teenager’s mind, the tricky balancing act that is a couple’s vacation in an unfamiliar home.
From “Faux King in the Parking Lot”:
“Ah, to be taken without being adored.
Though to be adored without being taken
is also a wonder.”
This “I”, though Levin controls her tightly, is just as volatile as the flashy Miss Plastique, who wants to “wrap some [plastic explosive] up like bubble gum/ and give it to [her] enemy”. For example, in “Being Me,” the Wild “I” says:
“Remembering my childhood
is like putting my hand down
the garbage disposal
And hoping no one will turn it on.”
* * *
My only criticism is that the book is so full of characters, styles, and eras that it’s hard to get a handle on it as a coherent whole. The character poems (including those about the Wild “I”) are so compelling that some others pale a bit in comparison. But this is a book by a poet with many powers, and it’s hard to fault her for using them all.
Recommend this book to your suburban mom (who may or may not have her own wild side). Hand it out to the hipsters in the coolest coffee shop in town. It’s for your rock star boyfriend, your seventh-grade math teacher, and that friend of a friend who just sailed alone to Fiji. It’s poetry for people who don’t love poetry, and for people who love it too much, and for everyone in between.