What Do You Mean When You Say Green?
       And Other Poems of Color

by Lori Levy
36 poems ~ 50 pages
Price: $20.00.
Publisher: Kelsay Books
ISBN #: 978-1-63980-423-8
To Order: kelsaybooks.com

Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

If I were to choose an epigraph for Lori Levy’s latest, I would choose this miniature:

Little Surprises

          Today I see red flowers dancing by the dusty roadside,
           a brown bird hopping on a garbage can lid–
           just as joyful as the one in the tree. Funny,
           because on the same path yesterday,
           I saw only the dust, the garbage, and the fog.
[Italics mine.]

In my initial thinking about Lory Levy’s What Do You Mean When You Say Green? I expected a tutorial about using color in poetry. Or, to put it another way, “What may I learn from a truly talented colleague?” Lory Levy did not disappoint. However, the book is so much more. My journey in this review has been one of discovery. My goal is to highlight what I discovered.

A Word About Style

Levy’s predominantly Free Verse style exudes a variety of line lengths. Her lines flow as naturally as if walking down a sidewalk, in a field, or beside a lake. She is good with metaphors. None seem forced … she gives what is needed to make her point. For example, the ending lines from “Morning Walk” reveal the author’s serendipitous musings about life and what her surroundings evoke within her:

           Is focus the point? Or is it something else?
           I thank my socks for taking me on this journey.
           For cushioning, absorbing. For being what they are:
           soft and white, like the roses I pass–
           and worn in places, like the paint on the picket fences.

The two ending similes bring gentle closure to a poem about noticing things. More on this later.

A Word About Titles

Titles are segues into my reviews. Note these teasers: “The Blue Embrace,” “Spice,” “Craving,” (Wonder what she’s craving!), “In the Mood for Orange,” (Who is this moody person, really?) “Where are the Purples,” and “The Chapter on Dry.” Predictably, I skipped around to the poems whose titles intrigued me most.

Getting Down to Business with Lory Levy’s Poetry

Poets are eager observers of life. “In the Mood for Orange” taps into all-things orange: “a leopard lily … a barn swallow’s chest … a slice of mango … squash, carrots, and yams.” There’s more, but suffice to say, that Levy is so attuned to her surroundings that by the end of the poem she is “twirling / to the rattle of Mexican maracas / until she drops like the sun.”

The world could use more minds like Lory Levy’s. How much more is exemplified by “Where are the Purples.” In this commentary on politics Levy wonders,

           How can we compromise when we’re so damn sure
           we’re right, they’re wrong? Where are the Purples?

Here Levy’s color-scheme puts the squeeze on being either Red or Blue. Questioning our inability to compromise. She avers,

           But, no, we are the Reds, the Blues. There is no middle.
           Compromise is curled up sick on our latest bridge.
           Beaten and battered from all sides.
           Broken. Dying. Cursed like something dirty.

“At My Father’s Funeral,” is among several poems that witness Levy’s faith. We are by her side when “the sun comes out / a welcome warmth / in this colder than usual winter in Israel.” The providential appearance of the sun symbolizes her father’s protection of his family, his love evident even in death. She deals with a profound dilemma: her inability to weep. She longs to be like the sky, the day after the funeral: “pouring and pouring, / like those who wail and beat their chest / in grief.” The way Levy employs color in this deeply moving poem hints at the “something more” alluded to above.

In my open, I featured a miniature poem which italicized these words:

           because on the same path yesterday,
           I saw only the dust, the garbage, and the fog.

I think of a well-known Bible passage, “I once was blind, but now I see.” Indeed, through this reviewer’s eyes, I’ve held Lory Levy’s hand. In poem after poem, she notices those little things the rest of us don’t. And in so doing, yesterday’s path is filled with multifaceted glory barely noticed in the rush of life … her title, What Do You Mean When You See Green? means “the color of poetry is the color of life.”


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