On This Day in Poetry History: Poems

Amy Newman. Persea (Norton, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-0-89255-470-6
Newman follows her excellent fourth volume, Dear Editor, with a snappy collection that similarly relies on a unifying concept, but in this case the concept can get in the way. Whereas the previous collection presented itself as a series of cover letters to a literary journal, here the poems describe events named in their titles: for example, “While Sylvia Plath Hemorrhages After Losing Her Virginity in Cambridge, Robert Lowell Jumps from a Moving Taxicab in Cincinnati” and “Elizabeth Bishop Sails Across the Equator at Night.” The volume amounts to a detailed, effusive group portrait of the middle generation of 20th century American poets—Plath, Lowell, Bishop, Jarrell, Sexton, et al—whose verse could record their tumultuous lives. Newman describes how for some of them “life is a desire to flee/ that constant pressure behind you/ from the moment you leave the womb.” Newman’s closing poems show seven poets on the dates that they died or took their own lives. Culling events and language from biographies, memoirs, and the poets’ own verse, Newman tells stories familiar to these poets’ fans; some will cherish the results, but others could find them sensationalistic, or schlocky, or—if they’ve already read the poems and the biographies—ask what new focus these retellings bring. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/18/2016
Release date: 02/01/2016
Genre: Fiction
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