Feedback and Fellowship: A Visit with Lynn Levin, Poet

Every writer needs other writers, to commune with, to commiserate with, to read her work and provide feedback.  One of my trusted writer friends is poet and translator Lynn Levin, whose work I've known and admired for years.  We live on opposite sides of Philadelphia, but every once in a while I hop on the regional rail:

and meet up with Lynn in Center City for lunch and poetry.

Lynn's got a new book out, her translations of the Peruvian poet Odi Gonzales, about which Chad Sweeney has written, "Woven of Spanish Catholic and indigenous Quechua colors, these pages shimmer like angels in an Andean Eden."

As for Lynn's own poems, they too shimmer.  Here's one that I love for its own sake, and also because I saw it in an earlier draft at one of our poetry lunches a few years back:


Odd to see a live one
up close
instead of a crispy ghost
clinging to a tree
or to hear one so silent.

On the herringbone pattern of our patio
the cicada lay
onyx and ornate
like a costume brooch fallen

from a lady’s coat.
Blackness oiled its back.
Lead camed           
the pearly clear windows
of its wings.

Not so pretty
the bug eyes bulging
round as the heads of map pins
red as indicator lights.

I feared the thing
might crawl up my leg or buzz my face
but it didn't move.
I bent to better see its armored plates.
What made me gasp

was the cicada-killer wasp
swooping in to reconnoiter.
She was big as a half-smoked cigar.
Her long abdomen bore
the black and yellow stripes of warning

then tapered
to a smooth black stinger  
the shape of a mortar shell.

She left.
She circled back.

A bodiless foot in a ridiculous sock
busy wings the color
of blood diluted with water.
Maroon eyes ruled her face
like aviator goggles.

The wasp alighted
on the frozen bug
clamped it in her six red legs
in what seemed a sexual hug

then rose like a chopper and carried her prize
across our lawn
and the neighbor’s after.

A sight to see them
in that sickening rapture
the cicada in the straddle of legs,
two giants locked
a doubled black rock
headed nowhere good

at least from where cicadas stood,
a sandy-edged burrow
by a sidewalk slab
and much chewing.

Then the trees tambourined with cicada song:
something wasplike urged the males on

Let us make more of us
Let us make more of us

they cried: their automatic racket
delicious to their long-awaited brides.

photo by Dave Ellis/The Free Lance-Star/AP 

"Cicadas" was originally published in video form by Apiary.


  1. I took a poetry class that Lynn taught, and I remain an admirer of her poems--including this one. I love when final lines can have that wonderful impact, but without seeming too neat or pat, as she accomplishes here.


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