Review of Glyphs by Martina Reisz Newberry
Dear God, point me to a myth,
that will raise my cherished dead
and bring them back to me, bright,
iridescent as the stars.
— (“On The Anniversary Of Marianne’s Death”)
Los Angeles poet Martina Reisz Newberry is a seeker. In her latest (sixth) collection Glyphs, she asks the Big Questions, such as Why am I here and What will happen to me when I die? while managing to avoid sounding pretentious. I could easily relate to these poems that ask the type of questions that have no answers beyond cliches, although that doesn’t stop Newberry—or me—from asking them. The fact that another poet thinks a bit like I do gives me solace where I otherwise find none.
Newberry’s speaker explains that what she knows about the afterlife (which the speaker identifies as the place we existed before we were born or where we go between waking and sleep) is “not comforting.” The speaker wants reassurance that her identity won’t change or disappear after she dies, that:
life and death are the same—that I
will keep loving and making love, and,
walking and humming, and wanting
and holding, and will never lose
my appetite for joy or for
potato chips and onion dip and ice cream.
— (“The Glyphs In The Canyons”)
My response is good luck with that, but I also resonate with the poem: I, too, would like to think I won’t lose myself after I die. I, too, wish for an afterworld where I’ll be reunited with loved ones. I find myself agreeing with the speaker in “Ghazal” who states: “3 a.m. is a devil. It whispers ‘you don’t want to die.’ / No, I don’t. I want to be here to help the night absorb the moon.”
The poems in which a woman named Aunt Sadie appears are standouts, although I’m still not sure if Aunt Sadie is a real person or an alter ego of the speaker. Aunt Sadie often has interesting—if not wildly improbable—things to say. For example, the speaker begins: “Sadie tells me she has had sex with the ocean.” The experience, according to Aunt Sadie, “is similar to sex with angels / (which I have had / on numerous occasions).” She adds, “[A]ngels are heavier than the ocean / …more intrusive, not as slick…..” (“Sadie and the Sea”). Giving us exact details and using imagery, metaphors, and natural speech patterns, Newberry creates an effect where for a moment, I believe Aunt Sadie and her story.
I also appreciate Newberry’s sense of humor, which is very dry and very noir. It’s probably more accurately called her sense of irony. For example, in “Romance,” the speaker says she was reading a romance novel during the “Rapture” and bemoans the fact that she wasn’t chosen to participate. We eventually learn that her concept of the Rapture might be a little special.
Similarly, in a poem dedicated to erotic-feminist poet Alexis Rhone Fancher, Newberry relates the mostly hilarious tale of how she (Newberry) lost her virginity:
to figure out where to touch me
to unleash my passion. My passion
seemed to want to stay leashed.
It took 12 minutes…..
He said, You’ll get to like it the more we do it.
— (“Into the Skid”)
Newberry excels at using poetic devices such as imagery, sound effects, and word arrangement to create atmospheric nuances. For example, the speaker tells us:
there is a town too far from here,…
sadness and trepidation hangs [sic] over it
like a century-old quilt. It is always late
and the atmosphere is the color of
vanilla custard, carries the taste of tin…..
…we get to its Hallowfield Cemetery
where I turn my head to see the gisants
nodding their granite heads.
— (“Home Team”)
The description of the atmosphere that is like “vanilla custard” is a clever, evocative comparison. But what really stands out is the word gisant. A footnote to the poem explains that gisants are “sculpted figures on a tomb, usually with arms crossed over their chests.” (“Home Team”) It’s a very noir image that’s also very far from cliché. (And I learned a new word.)
Although most of its poems are a mere page in length, Newberry\’s collection Glyphs gives us a lot to think, wonder, and dream about. Readers will find no glib or cliché answers, only a quest for clarity and compassion. Often the poems seem to reveal a speaker who has concerns similar to mine. And I take comfort in that.