Miss Plastique by Lynn Levin
Annandale, NJ: Ragged Sky Press
2013.


Plastique is a plastic explosive. It's also, according to Wikipedia, "a fictional super-villain" who appeared in D.C. comics and whose alter ego was Bette San Souci. My guess is that Lynn Levin was unaware of the existence of the comic-book character because the very helpful notes at the back of the book make no mention of it. Yet Plastique and her alter ego could easily have been the author (authors?) of the volume because the tone of the individual poems varies quite dramatically throughout the collection. Some are, as the title suggests, explosive in their subject and the implications of its treatment, but others are playful and lighthearted.

One of my favorite poems, "Idylls of Mayfield," laments the loss of simplicity that characterized "America during the days of Leave it to Beaver." There are hints in the poem, however, that life never really was that simple here. The fourth stanza, which is about Eddie Haskell, the friend of Beaver's brother Wally, begins

Wally couldn't find a better best friend. Anyhow, life after Mayfield wasn't easy for Ken Osmond. He could only look forward to smarmy-guy roles and finally became a cop on LAPD (p. 8.)

Life after Leave it to Beaver, and Make Room for Daddy, and Ozzie and Harriet and all those other shows from the golden age of television wasn't easy for anyone who grew up thinking they were honest depictions of the travails of family life. There's no bitterness in the poem, though, only the sinister suggestion in the penultimate line that the discrepancy between idyllic Mayfield and the narrator's own childhood was far greater than the average reader would be comfortable having stated directly.

"Hitchhiker" is more direct, yet the frightening story it relates is unfolded with a matter-of-factness that suggests the kind of dissociation that often characterizes memories of traumatic events. "Insomniac Romance" is a brutal but also profound portrayal of the dark side of any long-term romantic relationship. It isn't merely it's honesty that makes it compelling though. It is a beautifully crafted poem that makes skillful use of internal rhyme.

Not all the pieces in this collection are dark though. Some could easily have been penned by Bette Sans Souci. "Some First Thoughts," and "The Language of Wildflowers" (an allusion to a Victorian work, The Language of Flowers, by Kate Greenaway, rather than to the novel by Vanessa Diffenbaugh) are both wonderfully light hearted, but also so clever that they avoid being trite.

Intelligence marks all the poems and humor many of them, such as "Being Me," which contains the lines "dark energy controls most of the world/and pulls me I-don't-know-where/but not to dinner with Danny and Marge," and "To A Rival" that begins "Some say the world is big enough for all of us/but I think you take up too much space/in the book review section."

This collection contains everything from formal poems such as "The Grip," which is a villanelle, to free verse. It's divided into sections marked with roman numerals. My favorite section, taken as a whole, is the last. Most of the poems in this section place Eve and Lilith, Adam's purported first wife, in various scenarios such as responding to being locked out of the Garden of Eden and trying on clothes in a Macy's dressing room.

This is not a contemplative collection. It will not send the reader into quiet reverie. This is a provocative grouping of poems, one that will shake the reader up and make him think in a way that only really good poetry can. The title suggests that this was the author's intention.