What We Can’t Forgive, poems by Martina Reisz Newberry; a review

In this book Martina Riesz Newberry compels us to move forward. There are no labyrinths to her expression, though perhaps a mirror or two, as hers is a personal expression that reminds me of Wislawa Szymborska.

The cover states: “a richly textured collection of poems defining the incongruent regions of the heart—new life breathed into each of them by the music of imagination. ” I am not sure what to do with “new life breathed into them” (did they have another life?) but I would emphasize imagination. Sometimes descriptions are pedantic, while being encouraging, don’t have so much to do with the work contained in the book. It seems a rather unique yet almost misleading way of saying that the author, through the language of these poems, shares what she knows of the heart and what we can put it through. This is not to say they are about pain only. The poems are unique and “accessible.” I would say these poems are about familiar human conditions without being cynical but sometimes sad. From a perspective she builds over time, Martina asks that we look at the edge which is all around each one of us, and for all the emotions we must move through, to find that we have the ability to make the choice for redeeming the moment we have spun. She does not create this beauty directly but with what I call implied metaphor, by the relationship of her words. What is direct is the unfortunate aspect that we as people have trouble forgiving, we resent and carry grudges, our own anger and worries can keep us from living with any sense of what is sacred and precious. Martina reminds us that the heart is subject to things real and imagined, it is vulnerable and often illusive.

From Habit Unresisted

Does the nuclear-blast luster of our sins blind God?
We look straight into the sun without fear,

But can’t look into the faces of neighbors.

ending with

The world is breaking down, and we sleep,
dreaming of salt water, and the sweet scripture of lust.

These poems bring us to the threshold of spirituality simply by serving up just enough reality without being truly gritty.

From Our Drive Through the Projects in Praga Pólnoc
(based on my mothers journal during her trip to Poland)

Understanding, like some gypsy man,
dances through the curdled concrete

of the blown out projects,
stares, stares longer and listens . . .


. . . What trees there are
have leaves heavy as cement.

They do not blow in the wind. It is on these streets
and in the alleys behind the streets that Understanding

Sees the girls’ short skirts and dresses pulled up
around their bellies for easier rape,

From Smoke Rising

All night, the sirens warn of some new disaster and,
in our throats, our breathing catches. We hear the sound of
our eyelashes scraping the pillowcase and the
sirens’ last whines fly by our street. . . .

If it is not by incongruity, it is by inconsistency and silence that we find our bits of personal wisdom, and these poems whisper and shout like a zen master who slaps us to awaken us and then opens our understanding to the beauties and perils of life. Through the authors sagacity we essentially hold our own heart and through our own opening we rediscover experience. It is remarkable. I have not been able to put my finger on it until now because it is so simple. Once I attempted to describe what it was I found in reading these poems, like so many fine collections of poetry, comes the sense of transmission. Not that things happen for a reason but how turmoil tells us of peace, how injury can motivate goodness.

From Rain
for my son

I lived in an uneasy solitude before you were born. I said “Hello”
and “Goodbye” to each day and spent long hours brooding

over all my wrong decisions. I thought about loss of self
and loss of friends and loss of air, of breath.


Well, I am no fool and explaining my life to you seems
important even though you have no need to hear it. I insist

on shouting my love and pride, though it gives you some slight
embarrassment. As if it matters, son of mine, I keep asking

the same questions. Because it matters, you give me the same
answers. It’s not the weather’s fault, but it rained so hard today, I

was tricked into writing these things, bamboozled into
writing what is almost too much to write.

So often great poems transform, leave us with a question, or they reaffirm a preponderance. There is an honesty in Martina’s poems that reminds us that the world consumes itself, that being human is to avoid madness at almost any cost, and looking back, wonder why we stayed in a place of unrest for so long.

The cover is the best part of the design of the book featuring a quilt design by Do Palma, titled “There Is a Crack in Everything” from a song by Leonard Cohen. I wish that the typography for the content had what went into the cover. It almost takes away from the poetry with its seeming thoughtless use of bold san serif caps for titles and what seems like an almost condensed san serif for the verse, which is not done well enough to seem futurist but rather systematic and without proportion or sensitivity to the complexity of the poems. Nonetheless they should be commended for publishing this author.

Jeffrey Haste, June 2011

What we Can’t Forgive
Infinity Publishing
68 pages $9.95
ISBNS: 0-7414-6524-8;  978-0-7414-6524-5

Martina Reisz Newberry has several books, been published in magazines, and was awarded residencies at Yaddo Colony for the Arts, Djerassi Colony, and Anderson Center for the Arts, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize in Poetry.


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