I first encountered Amy Newman’s poetry in a chapbook called Curving the Present Tense published in The Ohio Review shortly before the publication of her first book, Order, or Disorder, which won the 1994 Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize, I knew immediately that hers was a unique and luminous talent. Her two subsequent books have only confirmed that conviction.
If Charles Olson was an archaeologist of morning, then Amy Newman is an epistemologist of morning: she wants to know where the knowledge starts. She is Wallace Stevens’s inheritor in the depth and precision of her investigations of the interrelation of mind and world, the imbrication of perception and conception. In Newman’s work we see that to know something we must touch it, feel it in both senses of the word, and to touch something we must know it, know of it.
Amy Newman is not an “abstract” poet: all her ideas are in things, and all things, for her, are bright with idea. This embodiment is not only in the images but in the words of her poems, which have a body and substance felt on the tongue and in the ear.
I included a substantial selection of Amy Newman's poems in my Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries, published by the University of Iowa Press in 2004.
The Architecture of the Wings
Everything vanishes. The line of rain
traverses the country. A certainty of rain.
Behind it, the narrative oceans,
at our backs the longing, the cold sweat
of winter. I say The lake has a vagrant current
drifting toward the possible
I say the subsequent sun on its skin is
the second language of platinum.
Tiers of white quarried by silence or
an alliteration of angels.
Everything about it vanishes.
Sapphire comprehending white
in the vault of wings,
twilight’s outstretched torso
down the noon from which
cold blue has fallen,
the safest indulgence into the air.
It is an accident they are
so beautiful, so severe.
Darwin’s Unfinished Notes to Emma
Actually Darwin’s gradual loss of faith, which he downplayed for fear of upsetting his devout wife Emma, had...complex causes.--Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden
The world this morning is wide as this sea,
and full of potential. I think of you so often,
with great sadness at our distance.
Some of the plants I see are extraordinary. One,
whose petals seem lined with cream
and opens out so full
reminds me of your hands...
It is a diverse world, Emma, the structure
is breathtaking. We will never unlearn these
hours of facts. The world...
I think of you especially as we observe the orchids,
those flowers that you so admire. I would like to give you
all the varieties of orchid
Bees cut holes and suck the nectar
at the bases of certain flowers, which,
with a very little more trouble, they can enter
at the mouth
The mistletoe depends on birds to spread its seeds, the
flowers depend on insects, it is all
a series of increasingly apparent
relationships. Nature moves
in profitable steps.
To propagate, the orchid,
I am flustered to write,
requires the cooperation
of the male wasp, and so resembles
we have acquired some idea of the lapse of time;
the mind cannot grasp the full meaning of the term
of even a million years
Do you remember that one morning I smelled of nectar?
Darling, the world is feral, and we are natives.
Of all the species of bee,
only the humble-bee can visit the common red clover.
It has to do with curvature, with length
of the proboscis, too slight
to be appreciated by us. Whole fields of red clover
offer in vain their abundant supply
of nectar to any other bee. This idea
of a vast spread of fresh green waiting
with all its juice,
Instinct! The mental processes of animals!
To propagate, the orchid
requires the participation of
the male wasp, to get the pollen
on his legs, and to get him to transfer
the pollen to other orchids.
The orchid must resemble genitalia,
a female wasp, her body,
so the insect will copulate
with the flower. The orchids had to become
desirable, so this man wasp
will alight from one to another,
cross-pollinating. She wears her color
like flesh, and scents brazenly
for him: spreading herself in the cooler air;
her sweet interior; the fumbling
of the dizzy wasp. This did not happen
as a whim. This is
an extremely intricate subject.
The similar framework of bones in the hands of man,
wing of a bat,
fin of the porpoise,
leg of the horse
I am remembering your subtle throat, how in the heat
your skin will almost pearl. Underneath your dress of skin
all that fragile blood. You are this morning
a field of clover, and I feel drawn to this,
a humble-bee. I am carried in the world’s
The same pattern in the wing and the leg of a bat,
in the petals, stamens, and pistils of flowers
This is a matter of perfection, over time,
and complication. Did the orchid have the means
to think itself into seducing, to adapt as idea
the perfect dress of reproduction,
the female wasp
a bit of fur and soft petal
curved like its soft parts
Last night a dream of you and I dusted in pollen
I would like to believe
Penelope’s Notes to Orpheus
This wet land is a weird equation, the lily’s
anther bowed with pollen,the lily’s stigma
reaching, and all around them,
moths, who beat their gray, ecstatic wings.
At the moment you saw her gone,
the world as fair as any wager and her, blooming
like a crazy vine;
it did you up. I tremble
at your impossible body. I consider you as one
defining loss, its difficult glass
curtain. I want to say, Orpheus,
are you as bad as I hope? Could you
have maybe been playing your music
to me? I feel remote
as any island. Some days I look out on
the water’s turned back,
and no ship can cross it, no matter
how famous the man.
A moth is dusting his legs
in a flower: impossible weight, his
vague gray lust; the bloom and he
nearly graze the ground. I promise you something
you’d shape a sound on,
white as a page but full, of little
pointed licks and volutes. How close to the earth
can we hover? You would fill me like a sail.
To move under the influence of gravity; especially, to drop without restraint.
The eyes close and the gilded flesh
leaves messages in its spiralling, leaves
us astounded at the festive lethargy, at the body’s
reckless, pliant, beautiful lessening,
a shedding of the eye level of thing—
tinny cascade of objects, and the dailiness—
then the weight of all that blood and flesh, the fully human
and bright limbs thinking their way
to the pavement, to the grass, to the water
at the root of the world, all that
thinking, I am falling, and the requisite dull hit
and the end of the defining. A body falls like a story:
beginning, middle, end. I am watching as she falls,
an equation: the earth’s rotation cleaved
as if by insects by this tiniest shift of breath,
the angle of the downward motion
factored in wing beat against the world’s rushing curve.
A beautiful woman falls against the scrim, the tiny distance,
shoulders almost fold as a neat clean blouse,
rib cage dropped in gentle descent, musical,
the decrescendo, her diminution, this whisper added
to the world’s weight. Natural, artful,
the body falls. First height, then loss, all the way down:
the earth the only friend to catch you, the hard truth, the helpful ending.
"The Architecture of the Wings" is from Order, or Disorder, published by Cleveland State University Poetry Center in 1994 and now out of print. "Darwin's Unfinished Notes to Emma" and "Penelope's Notes to Orpheus" are from Camera Lyrica, published by Alice James Books in 1999 as winner of the Beatrice Hawley Award. "To move under the influence of gravity; especially, to drop without restraint" is from fall, published by Wesleyan University Press in 2006.