Announcing: Levenstein's Poems of World War III

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This is a new collection of poems by Chuck Levenstein. They reflect his anti-war sympathies -- and his struggles with aging. This is about "our goddam lives."

Chuck Levenstein’s new collection of poems gives a fresh voice to the increasing unhappiness of Americans with the wars in the Middle East.

This is what Jim Doss of Loch Raven Review has to say about the book:

Judging from the cover of Charles Levenstein’s latest book, which shows a painting of a Big Brotherlike figure dressed in khaki clothing, or the title, Poems of World War III, it’s hard for the reader not to expect a book filled with political poetry, or apocalyptic visions. However, in the preface Levenstein goes to great pains to claim that he doesn’t write political poems, but from his “old-man’s consciousness and life.” Or as Levenstein puts it in his poetry:

Oh Lord, how am I to accept this life of privilege

when Your world of violence and tears,

Your bloody world of Oil and Empire,

requires that I bear witness— at the very least.

And later:

I do not write political poems.

I write kitchen crap and confessions.

This is not about politics.

It’s about our goddam lives.

But a more representative quote that embodies the spirit and tone of the collection is:

It’s hard to maintain the level of outrage

Warranted, this unending tale

Of imperialism gone amok, money

And power no longer sufficient to explain

Schoolboys with firepower killing and

Killing. The world is sick of this and,

If it is not, I am. Columbine. Kabul.

This is indeed a book of political poetry with unabashed socialist leanings, but there is also a very human element to it, not just pre-baked ideology and diatribe, and this is what Levenstein refers to in his disclaimer. In the post 9/11 world, it is impossible for a person of conscience to shut their eyes to the atrocities taking place around the world. They inundate us every day in the newspaper headlines, or on the cable news networks. Whether we’re sitting comfortably in our living room or sipping coffee in a third-world café, we cannot and should not ignore them.

Levenstein poems are set in such diverse places as Brazil, Bolivia, Guantanamo Bay, Mexico, Spain, Russia, China, and Boston. He offers us a global perspective on world events and modern day Empire building, the absurdity of politicians and the news media, and the greed of corporations. The poems that are most successful blend politics with personal history and humor:

What mad Designer did this to us!

Just when I am becoming not-an-asshole,

the innkeeper announces last call!

Oh, Lula, if you had only won on the first round,

I would dance in Bahia,

I would be a child again

with wide eyes and hope for the human race.

Or offer unexpected insights:

I remember the Che poster we displayed— Ridiculous as it might seem, the

true revolutionary is motivated by feelings of love— or something like that.

The poems that are least successful in this volume remain almost exclusively in the political realm. But the reader must remember it is vital for the author to recite the litany of injustices that have intruded upon his retired life. For example, in a poem such as “Occupied Territory,” the reader is bounced between the current events of the day: the Terry Shiavo feeding ordeal, the war on terrorism, the latest Michael Jackson trial, the war on terrorism, the impending death of the pope, the war on terrorism, then the Red Sox-Yankees opening day game. There are also several poems devoted to the Guantanamo Bay detainee camp. But when the personal is mixed with political and juxtaposed across time and history, Levenstein creates a devastating impact:

When I was a youth my mother hid

The People’s Songbook so I would not

sing commie songs at college and

waste my young life at Leavenworth.

Now I scour my home for middle eastern

treasures, olive wood camels, varnished

sunflower seeds, posters with strange scribbling

might frighten Homeland Security.

I do not say Shalom for fear

they’ll hear Saalam and search my shoes

for bombs or other secret messages.

I worry for the baby boomers

who missed the valuable training

provided by the Red Scare of the 1950’s.

In Poems of World War III, Levenstein has created a book of extraordinary intelligence and social consciousness. But more than that, it is a call for fellow poets and human beings to see the world in its entirety and speak up:

Reading the Three Penny Review #103 last night

I am stunned at the world in which these writers live—

no unrelenting war in Iraq (or Afghanistan),

no threats of assassination by fundamentalist preachers

against the President of Venezuela, no catastrophes

in New Orleans or Houston, not a hint of Americans

killed and killing, no American refugees—

Meanwhile, World War III rages on, the ocean heats up a degree

or two. Cancers erupt on those in the sun.

I wished I lived in the bubble, I certainly tried…

Whether or not you agree with Levenstein’s political point of view, this book is worth reading and paying attention to. He has gone places most poets fear to tread or don't have the talent to turn into poetry.

About author

Charles Levenstein is the author of Lost Baggage, a collection of poems published by Loom Press in Lowell, Massachusetts. He is a contributing editor of Poems Niederngasse, a Zurich-based electronic poetry magazine. His poems have been published widely in e-zines. He is also Professor Emeritus of Work Environment Policy at University of Massachusetts Lowell. He has a Ph.D. in economics from M.I.T. and a masters degree in physiology and occupational health from Harvard School of Public Health. He is editor of New Solutions Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health Policy, and author of numerous articles in peer-reviewed journals as well as of several books, including The Cotton Dust Papers (with G. DeLaurier and M.L. Dunn) and The Point of Production (with J. Wooding).

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Charles Levenstein

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