On Martina Reisz Newberry’s Not Untrue & Not Unkind, by Saul Landau

 

 

 

 

           In Not Untrue & Not Unkind, Martina Reisz Newberry embodies a compelling storytelling style reminiscent of of Robert Frost, the enigmatic brilliance of Emily Dickinson and the working class insights of the great singer-poet John Prine.

 

            When she writes “ON THE FORECLOSURE OF THE ONLY HOUSE I EVER OWNED” she discovers that “in love's great stink and stammer, the seasons don't matter”

            In LOWER CASE LETTERS she takes us, far from the Elysian Fields and into the weedy garden of poverty in America, but with humor and practicality.

            “What's wrong, says she

             My head hurts says I.

             When we hung up,

             I balanced my checkbook.”

            

            The volume brings readers to mysterious and perilous emotional places, where teenage girls experience their first sexual ambiguities and then, as women, experience involuntary recall over an open mango, like Marcel Proust’s daydream provoked by a napkin in the teacup.

            “just now,

            with the ocean in front of me,

            I cut open my mango for lunch and

            I could smell Vickie,” (IN HER MOTHER’S BED VICKIE HILL)

 

            The poems deal with precise memories of childhood, growing up poor and frightened. Indeed, classical bards tended to find themselves, as Wordsworth put it, “at one with Nature.”

            In this collection, Martina doesn’t ally herself with Woody Allen (“I am at two with Nature”), but takes us to atonal places, banal but scary scenes that defy the harmony of Grecian Urns. “

            A crazy woman “told us radio dramas

            on the telephone and rang off screaming

            "Someone's at the door! He's got a gun!  I'll call you later!"

            Then she wouldn't -- maybe never again.

            We blamed our own memories for her madness.” From (THE STORIES WE TOLD)

            

Reading her poems I also got dark flashes of Sylvia Plath,

             “Don’t look at me.

               I am soaked to the knees in loneliness

               and angrier than I am clean.

               This time of year tears at me” (NO HAY BANDA)

 

and the vicious wit of Dorothy Parker.

            “I began

             to move like Esther Williams

             in a water ballet, like

             a Piscean ballerina--

             selfish and keen and beautiful

             in my reluctance. (WITH THE KOI)

 

            One of her verses brought to mind John Prine’s lines from Meulenberg County, “where the air smelled like snakes we shot with our pistols, but empty -pop bottles is all we would kill.”       

            Martina wrote in WORKING THE HOT LINE

            “Movies lie, they don't show how

            being afraid smells.            Like sour milk. “

            

            In the era when documentary films have begun to fill movie theaters, it may also be possible to see books of reality poems stocked on the shelves of the chain stores. In desperate times, people need poems, to reassure them, that they share their own emotions with others, including some who can write them down in patterns and images that make them beautiful and downright fun to read.             “The morning was sweet

                       like a lover, cold like one, too,"  wrote Martina in DOWN TO THE SEA IN SHIPS.

            Her volume of poems deserves attention - merits reading.

 

 

 

 

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