Donald Lev's latest book, A Very Funny Fellow, published by NYQ Books, is a compilation of ninety-two short poems, mostly written over the last decade and a half, and appearing
in periodicals, but not included in any of the dozen collections gleaned for his The Darkness Above: Selected Poems 1968-2002 (CRS Outloudbooks, 2008), or the two chapbooks subsequent to those. These are poems of inner observation, of quotidian magic or lack of magic, in which one finds wisdom, wry humor, and echoes of one's own complexities. The book opens in a Brooklyn donut shop with the author's irritation at the delay in the refilling of his breakfast special coffee, continues through bar room, temple, and snake hole, and ends in a house whose floor is covered by "box loads of books and neuroses." The real subject of each poem is the knot in the core of human existence, which each reader is allowed the pleasure of untying.
The title of Donald Lev's new book—half of a statement made about the author by the late Marguerite Harris—is as perceptive as it is obvious, as you will soon see when you read it. What Marguerite should have said for the second half, instead of "but not a poet" (she spoke during a period of mandated formalism), is that Donald's poems speak with a wisdom that back then belied his age but now resonates with nearly all of us.
Donald Lev is not only a Very Funny Fellow but a first-rate poet of profound wit and charm. This is a collection of a hundred or so quick anecdotes and observations that work as allegories for the human condition and national political ethos with titles whose aptness are reflexively summoned at the end of each poem.
Lev is self deprecating but is not shy about taking stance. He makes no apologies for his fondness for beer & wine. Nowhere does Lev mention Buddhism as a driving force in his life but he sees the drama of the suffering world as a buddha sees it. Many of the pages are like sutras bursting with inner instructions.
His musings on history are hilarious. The poem "Fire" made me laugh out loud. The poem "Luck" exhibits the ever present sadness and compassion for humanity that furnishes the poignancy of the humor rising above mere joke and literary slapstick.
Part II, "The Black Refrigerator," what a great title! The piece on page 68 is exceptionally beautiful. Read "A Public Radio Interview" on page 57, it'll make you want to buy the book.
Donald Lev is American poetry's great taxi driver, telling stories so rich, observant and personal that you forget all about the running meter and the appointments you need to keep. This collection has a huge, comfy back seat. The world outside the window never looked better.
—Lawrence Bush, editor, Jewish Currents