The Millions

What Justice Is and Is Not: On Lauren Levin’s ‘Justice Piece // Transmission’

“What is justice?” This is the inquiry around which Lauren Levin’s Justice Piece // Transmission orbits. Unflinching, dialectical, and curious to its core, Levin’s work grapples with the nature and practice of justice—what it is, what it isn’t, who defines and enforces it, how we learn or create it, and how its absolutes buckle under the weight of examination. Consisting of two prose poems, “Justice Piece” and “Transmission,” Levin’s explorations raise even more questions—about motherhood, illness, family, and whiteness—which form a tangled, poetic body of limbs, placental membranes, and beating hearts.

At moments, reads like text messages from a brilliant friend who starts conversations midstream without context, or who suddenly picks up a conversation from weeks ago with renewed vigor. Levin is often funny and cringingly honest: “I read articles, read commentaries, read reactions. / Feel frustrated with myself, white women, white feminists, myself. Or: When A was very small … I walked around naked / in front of the windows / in front of my parents, there must have been something aggressive / about it / since everyone, parenting blogs, and statistics about racial violence. Juxtaposed across paragraphs, and sometimes embedded in the same paragraph, you can’t always follow the connections, nor are you necessarily meant to. Meanings rub against each other, finding friction and sparking connections that sometimes only become apparent on the second or third read. Other lines continue to elude, referencing a “he” or “it” that cannot be definitively pinned down, yet holding space for infinite meaning and interpretation. Each of Levin’s inquiries is an entryway into fundamental questions about justice, care, and transformation. Each line is a mode of grasping at the truth. Even if you don’t understand, the book’s incessant current will keep pulling you by the throat.

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