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.
Newman's prose poems--a series of letters to an editor regarding a book manuscript--at first glance seem a little too precious. But she quickly defies that expectation with this haunting and evocative collection, her fourth. The title of the manuscript, described as a "lyrical study of chess," X = Pawn Capture, seems to pose the question, What does this symbol mean? With this query at the very heart of the book, Newman goes on to ask, How can the imagery and tropes of saints, chess, and letters to the editor accurately, or at the very least adequately, capture the essence of an experience? Like the poet's letters, this question goes unanswered, and Newman is left trying to ritualistically fill in the gaps with as many explanations and metaphors as possible. At the same time, she acknowledges that the most poetic part of poetry is the space between metaphors and images. And it is in those gaps that the reader finds enough hints to discern the shadowy beauty and pain just barely out of reach. A surprising and delightful collection. -- Sarah Hunter