The Minor Virtues

Lynn Levin

  • Review
By – April 5, 2021

Poet and teacher Lynn Levin’s newest col­lec­tion of poems, The Minor Virtues, aims to notice and por­tray the beau­ty of the world through all the seem­ing­ly mun­dane objects and small kind­ness­es that make life more enjoy­able. Divid­ed into five sec­tions, the book moves through themes of thank­ful­ness, to play­ful­ness, to per­cep­tions on the after­life and the past.

In the first two poems of the book, Buy­ing Pro­duce from the Marked-Down Cart” and Fix­ing Bro­ken Things,” the speak­er reeval­u­ates the use­ful­ness of dis­card­ed things and the scratched and bruised” fruit, striv­ing to avoid waste­ful­ness. She rumi­nates on kintsu­gi, the Japan­ese art of piec­ing back / bro­ken bowls with gold­en glue…” Levin focus­es many of her ear­ly poems on small things that peo­ple don’t typ­i­cal­ly pay atten­tion to in the hus­tle and bus­tle of dai­ly life.

This col­lec­tion shines in Levin’s brief, nar­ra­tive poems, often focused on women. One poem, titled The Milk of Human Kind­ness” recalls a mem­o­ry of new moth­ers help­ing each oth­er breast­feed, while anoth­er poem, Offer­ing One’s Hand to a Stranger,” describes the kind­ness of a pas­sen­ger sit­ting next to the speak­er on an air­plane, offer­ing her hand dur­ing the scary tur­bu­lence of a storm cloud.” Levin writes, I can bare­ly express the com­fort I felt / for if I were to die / I would not die alone nor would she.” Her poems remind read­ers of the small ges­tures that humans can pro­vide for each oth­er, lift­ing each oth­er up.

Many of the poems in The Minor Virtues either praise or lament the loss of some­thing from the past, whether it be table eti­quette — in the poem On Know­ing One’s Gob­let at the Ban­quet Table” — or the good old days of hand­writ­ten let­ters and cards — in Writ­ing in Long­hand.” Levin clear­ly pays atten­tion to the sound and music of lan­guage, work­ing rhyme into many of her poems, as she writes about the beau­ty of the world, both lost and found.

Through­out the book, Levin touch­es upon some icon­ic Jew­ish fig­ures, such as Lilith, and Jew­ish images and places, such as a del­i­catessen, where “…when a cus­tomer walks in / the din­ers look up / from their soup to see if the per­son looks Jew­ish…” In this poem, apt­ly titled Del­i­catessen,” Levin prais­es the unique qual­i­ties of two local delis, switch­ing off every oth­er stan­za to describe the dif­fer­ent décor and food.

The col­lec­tion con­cludes with two back-to-back poems about Lilith, titled Lilith, the Scribe,” and Lilith Tries Online Dat­ing.” Levin relies on both Midrash and humor to imag­ine Lilith try­ing to write her own sto­ry down for future gen­er­a­tions. Then, when Lilith tries to find a com­pan­ion because she is thirst­ing for com­fort, she has a dif­fi­cult time find­ing a man who won’t make any demands from her. Levin’s obser­va­tions of the minor plea­sures in life, enhanced by her use of rhyme and humor, make The Minor Virtues a very enjoy­able read.

Jamie Wendt is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion Fruit of the Earth (Main Street Rag, 2018), which won the 2019 Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Press Women Book Award in Poet­ry. Her man­u­script, Laugh­ing in Yid­dish, was a final­ist for the 2022 Philip Levine Prize in Poet­ry. Her poems and essays have been pub­lished in var­i­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Fem­i­nine Ris­ingGreen Moun­tains Review, Lilith, Jet Fuel Review, the For­ward, Poet­i­ca Mag­a­zine, and oth­ers. She con­tributes book reviews to Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as well as to oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing Lit­er­ary Mama and Mom Egg Review. She has received an Hon­or­able Men­tion Push­cart Prize and was nom­i­nat­ed for Best Spir­i­tu­al Lit­er­a­ture. She holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Oma­ha. She is a mid­dle school Human­i­ties teacher and lives in Chica­go with her hus­band and two kids. 

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