Dear Editor

Amy Newman. Persea (Norton, dist.), $15 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-892553-87-7
In her fourth collection, Newman mines the awkwardness of composing cover letters for submitting creative writing for publication and the inevitable anxiety of the wait that follows, weaving them into ruminations on youth, memory, and religious belief that double as commentary on poetry and process. Almost every poem takes the form of a letter to an anonymous, perhaps godly, editor, describing her “manuscript,” X=Pawn Capture, purportedly a “lyrical study of chess” and its effect on her family. The letters quickly digress into recollections of how the speaker’s grandparents, who raised her, evaded their own emotional responsibilities—grandfather through chess and grandmother through devotion to Catholic martyrs—interspersed with scenes from a socially stunted adolescence. Beauty, time, and displacement of desire are recurrent themes, buoyed by playful and baroque descriptions reminiscent of Lisa Robertson: “Because it is not our privilege to understand the world, which is shown to us in such irritating dimensions and swatches, like the scratchy tweeds I would have preferred to the wrinkled handkerchiefs of my upbringing.” The epistolary form retains its ability to surprise, perhaps because it feels like Newman’s speaker is in a trance from which she suddenly snaps to, realizing that she is in the midst of composition. This is a complex, nuanced, and stimulating work. (Jan)
Reviewed on: 11/28/2011
Release date: 12/01/2011
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