Diann Blakely's Reviews > Dear Editor: Poems

Dear Editor by Amy Newman
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Apr 08, 2012

Read from April 08 to June 16, 2012

Before DEAR EDITOR appeared in the world, it was a truth universally acknowledged that no further poetry collections could succeed, much less equal, Lucie Brock-Broido’s THE MASTER LETTERS, but Newman has pulled off an well-nigh impossible feat: she adheres far more strictly to epistolary decorum, but what bleeds through the lines is a universal human pulse, veins opening in the form of words; or, to put things a different way, Newman’s voice has its locus in the deepest parts of the self, representing its call, clamor, and cry. “Please recognize my existence,” comes through the story of the battling grandparents and references to chess and saints, “recognize my singularity, my poems, and the wounds from which they originated.”

Not that “Amy Newman” ever asks for pity. She wants only what the rest of us do: to be hear, to be understood, and somehow loved for who she is. A Bob Dylan song would have seemed out of place in Dear Editor’s particular soundtrack, but four lines from “Maggie’s Farm” often ran through my mind as I was reading: “I try my best / To be just like I am / But everybody wants you / To be just like them.”

While the word may never hear or understand the poems by "Amy Newman" in this book, she refuses to accommodate or change herself--no such option exists. And herein lies DEAR EDITOR's bravery: the threat of rejection is imminent and constant, just as in life, and creating a near-allegory of the enormous, even dangerous, vulnerability to which we subject ourselves when approaching a new Other is part of what I can only call the collection's wholly unique, wholly original genius.

For a terrific pair of items on DEAR EDITOR, including a chat with Newman herself, see http://therumpus.net/2012/01/the-rump... and you'll be able to understand why editor Brian Spears chose the book for the December selection of the RUMPUS's poetry book of the month club (http://therumpus.net/2011/12/why-i-ch...). I found his surprise to be not unlike my own: "How did she pull this off?"

While I look forward to re-reading DEAR EDITOR, I take equal pleasure in anticipating the completion of newest project, ON THIS DAY IN AMERICAN POETRY HISTORY. Some poems have already appeared in the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, with a particularly stellar commentary by Lisa Russ Spaar (http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm...), the MISSOURI REVIEW (http://www.missourireview.com/archive..., and http://www.missourireview.com/archive...), and, once again, the RUMPUS ((http://therumpus.net/2012/04/national....)

Of particular interest is a reading/talk Newman gave to her local branch of NPR: the voice that reads three poems from DEAR EDITOR is more confident and forceful than I would have thought. She speaks of the saints throughout the book as emblems of her detestation of "bullying"; what Newman doesn't say is obvious to any reader of DEAR EDITOR should know to be true: the defilement, interrogation, and deaths of female saints was perpetrated by men, one of whom also assumes--in my mind, at least--the role of the eponymous editor. And the word "submission"! I have many reasons to be grateful for my time as the late William Matthews's student and friend, one of the most important was his emphatic declaration that this wasn't a word that poets should ever use in such circumstances. "Use 'offer' instead." Matthews, as always, was right: I have known many editors whose chief characteristic was reveling in the ultimately tiny amount of power they wield, and I tried never to be like them during my twelve-year stint as a poetry editor at ANTIOCH REVIEW, but to this day, I "offer" my poems to any editor, dear or not.
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