Levinson's previous book, ToxiCity, is one of the most intricate and downright blood-throbbingly exciting books to emerge from the giant deluge of American poetry within recent years. With Smelling Mary he has moved into a far denser and more sophisticated direction. If words in ToxiCity are arranged with the careful chaos of a jazz musician, in Smelling Mary these arrangements have been overlaid with all kinds of harmonics, so that poetic composition no longer takes the straight line of the sentence, but achieves the simultaneity of multiple planes of consciousness crashing together, the very kind of simultaneity that suspends our usual awareness of time and brings the onrush of the sublime. Upon first reading, Smelling Mary proves to be an elusive volume as meanings appear and disappear almost more quickly than they can be processed in our consciousness. This perpetual state of almost-knowing makes the poems' elusiveness absolutely addicting. One keeps returning to a certain poem, desiring to gain a more permanent foothold in its world, only to be rebuked and reminded that it is a ghostly mental construction. Also, with each reading, the poems' images and ideas seem to change. In fact, the tome is so chameleon-like that one begins to have the eerie feeling that the poems contain some sense of life. Levinson can be said to possess a deft touch that belongs more to the wrists of Japanese silkscreen artists than to those of most poets. He sketches with words so quickly that all sorts of associations begin to emerge with one cluster of words. Clusters such as these do not so much tell stories as they present the faded negatives of stories. On top of this, Levinson makes these physical absences begin to interact with each other, so that a chorus of ghosts begins to blare from each poem. However, let's not mistake the instability of representation in these poems as different from any other. Rather, they are an extreme exaggeration of the gaps inherent in the activity of reading. Michel de Certeau characterizes this activity: "He [the reader] insinuates into another person's text the ruses of pleasure and appropriation: he poaches on it, is transported into it, pluralizes himself in it like the internal rumblings of one's body. . .the viewer reads the landscape of his childhood in the evening news. The thin film of writing becomes a movement of strata, a play of spaces. A different world (the reader's) slips into the author's place." Since Smelling Mary makes us acutely conscious of how are interacting with the text, Levinson's book actually produces two types of readings: not only the reading of the words, but the reading of the ways we read. I don't believe Levinson would find this notion out of place with his Hinge Theory, the complex approach that he used to build the book (a theory that is wonderfully explained by him and expounded upon by a transcript of a conversation between two academics). In this book, language is sourced in the body. Hence, each word we release must contain a trace of that body, a reverse imprint of that physiognomy. However, with his Hinge Theory, Levinson is not content to just arrange these body-negatives together like knick-knacks on a shelf; he strives to make them have interactions of their own. While this might be an utterly impossible task (how could language act like cellular life?), it is one that illuminates how language operates as an alien system outside of our control. Smelling Mary is nothing less than a preliminary study into the constellations that a language system possesses, a linguistic astronomy that observes how language collides with our brains. Jared Demick, Fall, 2008 --"Jivin' Ladybug" online
Heller Levinson has created an archaeological dictionary of poetic implications which are the source for SMELLING MARY. These are encyclopedic visionary allusions to a literary state fighting for its democratically creative independence. This is a wonderful, fun book of poetry, full of notions of abstraction, word rearrangements, on the road insinuations & kneecap hinges of flexible connections. (Jayne Cortez) With Hinge Theory , Heller Levinson has presented us with a gift, the magnitude of which will become evident with the passage of time. He is to poetry as Thelonious Monk is to jazz: a master of thoughtful composition and spontaneous invention. (Joe Giglio, master jazz guitarist, composer) Take a line like light analyzed as supine and you will find delicacy of image and syllable. Take a line like paradigmatic breakdancing and you will find nerve and boulevard in intellectual headspin. There is a generosity of spirit at the core of Heller Levinson s poetry that urges a convergence of science & passion. Words smelt, melt, unite, and explode. Fuse, flow, flirt, and flip. This is anti-poetry at its best. Petruchio on steroids. Heisenberg at the bowling lanes. Wild in its discipline and certain of its uncertainty. (John Olson) Heller Levinson s SMELLING MARY is a fantastic book Hinge sequences and sections that reverberate, that hitch poetry to theory and beyond. What draws me most to it, though, is the careful way the words are laid down, almost as a bricklayer would lay bricks. The result: a larger construction whose entire force retains the mundane significance of a single brick, or break: a breakthrough book. (Vincent Katz) Heller Levinson hyper-boils the raw ingredients of language into a savory bouillabaisse, a fish stew from the deep prim-mortal waters of life. His new book, SMELLING MARY & the Unveiling of Hinge Theory causes us to consider the state of the human condition that exists on the edge of chaos between the solid state and the liquid environment of reality. Its a wild Thelonious Monk riff of far-out chords and emotionally charged notes that wail Round Mid-Night like a strange harmony of body language and primal urges. (Coulter Watt, The Bog Blog) Heller Levinson's latest lingual swarm does far more than expand language's possibilities. Most of all it is a compelling interaction with the social. Through Hinge Theory's emphasis on language's cellular nature and each poem's associative leaps, Levinson reminds us that language is rooted in the body and that it ultimately represents that body in social discourse. Relentlessly questioning how we place our words side-by-side, Levinson causes us to wonder about the way our relationships are structured. It's a sexy politic seeking to change the space we situate our lives in, one rarely pursued since the days of Arthur Rimbaud and Aimé Cesaire. (Jared Demick) In Heller Levinson s SMELLING MARY, language swelters, rotates, rises, in keeping with its own intrinsic balance. Thus, the words raise themselves above the contiguous, like a galvanizing dawn replete with new experience. (Will Alexander) SMELLING MARY makes connections between cyborg consciousness, cosmology, and poetry; the book moves by fractal self-reference, lyrically performing Russell s paradox of the self-containing set. Levinson mixes genres of verse, interviews, and personal correspondence to multiply & displace the writing self. Here, smelling becomes an analogy for investigation sniffing out the truth of being alive at a moment of radical historical flux. (Andrew Joron) --"Misc. Testimonials"
About the Author
Heller Levinson was born James Heller Levinson on October 1, 1945 in New York City. He grew up in Mamaroneck, New York and was given a drum scholarship by his grade school, Daniel Warren. Drums and literature were an abiding interest throughout grade school and high school. A fortunate aspect of his upbringing was the family library Edgar Allen Poe, Friedrich Nietzsche, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Strindberg, and others, sizzled on the shelves where he passed many rapturous hours. In high school, he was active in a five piece jazz band that concertized throughout the New York area. At around fourteen years of age, poetry entered his life and merged with his jazz interests. An intense immersion in poets such as Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, and many others, commenced and continues unabated to this day. After graduating high school, he attended New York University where he majored in Philosophy. Graduating in 1967, he continued graduate studies in Philosophy specializing in phenomenology under the guidance of William Barret. The desire to be a writer intensified. In 1968 he left for Paris to undergo his literary rites. There he met James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett, and Papillon, taught English, and lived a colorful ten months before the need for funds urged him back to the states where he managed to secure a job in the textile industry. For the next twenty-two years he worked in the textile industry, married, fathered two children, divorced, and continued to write whenever free time permitted. His first novel, "Another Line" (Watermark Press), grew out of his experiences in the garment center. While working in the garment center during the day, he also managed to complete an MFA in writing at the University of Southern California. An important crossroads occurred in 1992, when he went on a literary cave tour to the Dordogne region of France sponsored by Clayton Eshleman to interpret and contextualize the prehistoric ritual paintings and petroglyphs deep within the caverns that reveal the literature of the ancient tribes. While there, Eshleman encouraged his writing and urged him to quit his textile work and devote himself full-time to writing poetry. This is advice he followed. Over the years, he has published in over 300 literary magazines, given readings throughout the country, and has published many chapbooks, several volumes of poetry including "ToxiCity: Poems of the Coconut Vulva" (Howling Dog Press, 2005) and Smelling Mary (Howling Dog Press, 2008)* and one novel. He is an astute, and passionate observer of human behavior, and a continuuing student of historical anomalies. Scholarly research is being conducted on his work, which is cited as being as original, potentially revolutionary, and philosophically acute as that of Emily Dickinson's.