From My Bookshelf: Lesléa Newman’s I CARRY MY MOTHER

Earlier this year, I shared one line from a poem by Lesléa Newman (“Sitting Shiva,” which I’d discovered thanks to Keshet/ as a “Sunday Sentence” on the Practicing Writing blog. Simultaneously, I ordered a copy of the collection in which that poem appears, I Carry My Mother, in which the poet recounts her mother’s dying and her own grief. But it took me until this week to sit down and actually read the book.

It is a searing collection. I dare anyone to read it without shedding tears at least once. (Maybe I suspected that would be the case, and maybe I needed some time to steel myself before engaging with the full collection.)

It is also a remarkably instructive volume for anyone interested in the practice of poetry. And since April is National Poetry Month, it seems appropriate to comment on this quality.

For starters, Newman makes use of a range of poetic forms (which I need to study more closely before attempting to identify properly). Even more interesting to me, given some of my own poetic work/intentions, is the degree to which Newman draws inspiration from other poets and poems. You’re likely to recall at least a few of her “source texts” even before you see them cited at the book’s conclusion; they include Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” (in Newman’s book, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at My Mother”) and Muriel Rukeyser’s “Looking at Each Other,” which I will have to find and read for myself because Newman’s “Looking at Her” is one poem that drove me to tears.

I’d recommend this book to anyone at any time, but special encouragement goes to any reader who may be seeking a new book of Jewishly-inflected poetry to read during National Poetry Month.

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