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Levitation for Agnostics by Arne Weingart, 2014 winner of the New American Poetry Prize, questions our faith, which oftentimes is passed down through families as a foregone conclusion. In “Chopping Roots,” Weingart’s narrator is digging to move water away from the base of his home and protect the retaining wall from eventual decomposition through erosion. If we have unmoor ourselves from the faith we’ve been brought up with, will be float without direction and is that such a terrible thing? These are just a few questions asked in these poems.
“…you will simply give up and lean down
into the hillside tearing all your roots out of the ground with
a great explosive twanging leaving a huge and unaccountable
hole we must stare into while
we listen to the river.” (“Chopping Roots”, pg. 86)
In many of these poems the narrator is unmoored and drifting, and structures are erected only to be considered false supports. Weingart also transforms solid objects into theories and mutable things that can be perceived differently and claimed by many. There is a dissatisfaction with what has come before in terms of religious fervor and faith, but at the same time, the narrator is in awe of these beliefs and long-standing institutions. In many ways, the narrator is seeking to become more, to be the creator of “big ideas” rather than just a believer of them.
“Every scaffold is highly
instrumental but exterior to
some central purpose some
permanent intention meant to
resist time and desire and the
inevitable slide of tectonic
earth. To live in scaffolding
is not to be free exactly but” (“A Theory of Scaffolds”, pg. 27-8)
From the sacrifices of ancient people in Machu Picchu to the Jewish religion, the narrator seeks to hold up the faith of these people to scrutiny, while at the same time being respectful. Exploring how religion and faith can bring people together, the narrator also examines how it drive wedges between neighbors and even family. In “Hebrew School,” kids are taught a language that is understood by few, in the way that children do not understand how they could be the chosen people. Despite the disenchantment with religion and faith, Weingart displays a sense of humor about ancestors and their quirks and about overcoming things that can make us different, like stuttering, only to want to be different again and take steps to recapture those differences.
Levitation for Agnostics by Arne Weingart, 2014 winner of the New American Poetry Prize, is a straightforward look at faith and ancestry, the ideas and mores that bind families, and the questions that should be asked about their tangibility and their applicability to our own lives, as we live them. Like in “Recursion,” as the rocks are skipped across the lake no matter how many times they reach the shore, the poet needs to question and continue to question because there is much more to learn and be taught.
About the Poet:
Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, and educated at Dartmouth College and Columbia University, Arne Weingart lives in Chicago with his wife Karen, where he is the principal of a graphic design firm specializing in identity and wayfinding. Recent poems have been published in Arts & Letters, Beecher’s Magazine, Coal Hill Review, Enizagam, Nimrod, Oberon, Plume, RHINO, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Georgetown Review, The Massachusetts Review, and The Spoon River Poetry Review. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and his book, “Levitation For Agnostics,” winner of the 2014 New American Press Poetry Prize, will be released in February, 2015.