Monday, December 30, 2013

Devotion: A Memoir by Miriam Levine

Miriam Levine

Devotion: A Memoir by  Miriam Levine ( University of Georgia Press)

Review by Doug Holder

  Each family and each life have their own secrets, their own beauty, and their own warts. Yet each has its own universal characteristics, after all as the song goes "It is still the same old story." And though Levine's story has her own distinct flavor, every person can relate to the overall themes presented in this book. In Miriam Levine's memoir Devotion, Levine an accomplished poet and writer, recounts in stunning detail about her life as a Jewish kid in New Jersey with an idiosyncratic family, and her maturation into a scholar, writer, wife and mother. There are no stick figures in Levine's lush memoir. The people are fleshed out, and Levine, with her gimlet eye, does not miss nuance , affectation, the stray aside, or the damning gesture. In this passage Levine describes her grandmother Molly, and at the same time her own emerging artistic sensibility:

  " The memory of Molly's serenity does not interest me: there are no quirky bumps, no sticky places, and certainly no passion. If she had a personality, her clothes did not reflect it. They were like a habit: old woman's costume. She wore cotton self-belted house dresses, sometimes a white linen babushka, blue felt slippers...She never wore jewelry. Molly was unadorned as a nun--even more so: she had given her wide gold wedding band--it had come from Europe-to a daughter-in-law. Thinking of Molly's hands disturbs me. I wish I could have given her a ring--two rings. She never knew the exact date of her birthday. Sometime in the spring, I believe. Peasants don't keep those type of records."

Levine recounts her years as a student at Boston University; her courtship with an older man who she really did not find attractive, but at the same time she was drawn to. His satyr-like face haunted her for years, and she realized the devil in this man's details was an aphrodisiac. While driving through
Somerville, Mass, the memoirist had an epiphany:

"..I remember Mike's face, the habitual smirk was now a genuine devilish leer, unselfconscious; his head was tossed back; he was about to speak, or rather, make a sound, one of his buzzing sounds of pleasure. There he was-naked, his high broad chest, the glint of fair hair, the flat belly, and narrow hips, and strong, well-shaped legs. His penis was erect, pointing up. His skin was delicate and pink. I found myself grinning into his awful satyr's face. He was ruined and potent. I laughed out loud and let myself remember."

 So often today our writing is in tweets, bytes, flashes--punctuated with LOL--inexpressive fragments of frenzied 21st Century life. Levine is decidedly old school. She is not plugged in to some high tech device, but she is plugged into the world. She stops, she listens, she breathes in deeply, and exhales so the reader can take it all in before returning to the endless rush, the press of the flesh, and the pounding heels of the crowd.


  1. Beautifully written review by Doug Holder. His writing and Miriam Levine's except draw me to read this book. (I hope I can post this per my URL.)

  2. Wow, what a descriptive, thought provoking, inspiring review!! I always enjoy Miriam Levine, her poetry, her gentle, but assured comments on poetry. I'm glad to know her a little, and will read her memoir to get to know more about her life. Thanks Doug for this review!!