Are you vexed by questions of our time? Are you anxious when you think of frightening, terrible things? Think you’re alone? Feeling uncertain about the future? We may not have answers, but here’s some company.


Book lovers may enjoy the new book, Now Do You Know Where You Are, by St. Louis poet Dana Levin. Her new collection conjures the end times and gives readers some welcome company.

The review follows, and you can find more new books with special Missouri interest here.

Why write a poem? Contained within that question are layers of other peripheral lines of inquiry such as: Why create a work of art of any kind? Do words have power? We can’t grapple with those larger questions in this space, but one thinkable reason to write a poem could be as a way to make sense of something difficult, like the death of a loved one. The act of writing the poem may never actually make a tragic event like that make sense, but it can add layers of understanding for the one composing it. Another reason to write a poem follows from this impulse—writing as a means of expressing a feeling that is so powerful it demands an outlet, like lightning finding its way to the ground from the sky.

Dana Levin’s most recent collection of poems, Now Do You Know Where You Are, is concerned with the end of the world, history, national politics, technology, and death in all its varied forms. In “You Will Never Get Death/Out Of Your System” Levin writes: How old is the earth? I asked my machine, and it said: Five great extinctions, one in process, four and a half billion years. It has always been very busy on Earth: so much coming and going! The terror and the hope ribboning through that. Death like a stray dog you kick out of the yard who keeps coming back—its scent of freedom and ruin—

The collection is full of insightful reflection and lyric beauty, the kind that seems to reflect a process of writing undertaken by someone attempting to make sense of tragedy, someone who feels powerful emotions that demand to be put down on paper.

Through the collection, familiar St. Louis scenes provide a backdrop for this process, with Levin, who lives and teaches there, visiting the graves of Tennessee Williams, Kate Chopin, and Dred Scott, then walking through Forest Park and stopping into Schnucks in the course of one poem. Levin also renders the scenery of her former home of New Mexico in this collection, and the two settings create something like magnetic poles for the poems contained here.

Although both locations contrast one another, Levin does not let the reader forget that they are bonded by the same fate, particularly in lines like “once I’d been a baby who’d been born dying. And/really, isn’t that how each of us is born? Grow now, and die in the future.” Levin’s collection never shies away from confronting the condition of humanity facing an uncertain future, but she does so with care, with specificity—like when she contemplates having to euthanize an ailing cat—and with something like hope, as in the line “What would be a horizontal/notion of progress? (wider and wider/rings of kindness—).”

The residue of the endeavor to compose a poem is the poem itself, and that’s what we, the readers, are left with. So the next question that we must consider, then, is: Why read a poem? You bring something to each line of verse that you read. The text forms images and calls forward feelings within your mind that are different from the ones the author saw and felt when the poem was being written.

And so, by reading a poem, you become an active participant in its creation. The same deeper understanding and sense of relief that writing a poem can offer are available to the one reading it as well. When you read a collection like Now Do You Know Where You Are by Dana Levin, you look upon the most vexing questions of our time in parallax with the author, and you know at least that as you read the words and think of frightening, terrible things, you are not alone.

The book has 96 pages and is published by Canyon Press, paperback (5.9 by 8.9 inches), for $17.