Review of Martina Reisz Newberry's Never Completely Awake

By Claudine Cain


With Never Completely Awake Martina Reisz Newberry gives us a substantial collection. In it she is glancing over her shoulder, rummaging through the dark in an attempt to come to terms with a vantage point that skirts the abyss. She peers over the edge, balances on the precipice.

Never Completely Awake is both an accounting of time and an attempt to transcend it. Newberry addresses her lists, counts the worthwhile moments and aches in the rough spots to define meaning and beauty. In fact, this is where she begins, with what is beautiful – the cleanliness of bones in moonlight, the accident of passion – and the list goes on. Here the poet's maternal sense cannot be denied. She wraps us in beauty before sending us out into the thick of it; the dark, the sensual, the uncertain and sometimes broken.

Ultimately the reader will find that Newberry is a poet's poet. She attends to words, structure and form with admirable diligence. She makes no apologies and goes about the work of articulating life with a certain sangfroid. Never Completely Awake doesn't set out to show us the world through impossible metaphors and heartbreaking genius. Instead Newberry guides us through the nuance of ordinary life. We traverse fear, loneliness, passion, and grief in an attempt to excavate our authentic selves and extrapolate beauty from the mundane.

These poems are terrestrial and Newberry is grounded among them yet a frenetic undercurrent cannot be ignored. However subtly, Never Completely Awake is attempting something monumental. Newberry knows that poetry is the elixir and she wants to live forever. Pieces like


I see you little brother. I call down,

but you ignore me. Your long, skinny legs
and arms float like an alien's limbs in
low gravity. You do not wave to me
and I realize I am watching the dead.

and "Revenant:"

In a dream,
the ghost of my arm
and hand
moved across
my face as if
to ease the frown lines,
but it did not work.
You cannot feel
what you can see through.


ensure that, even if she doesn't attain the immortality she seeks, we certainly are glad that she tried.




Review of Jay Sheets' The Hour Wasp

by Claudine Cain 



If poetry is religion, The Hour Wasp is a sanctuary; a temple in which Sheets guides us to the altar. He gives us room enough to worship, seek absolution, or call forth ecstatic visions. Throughout he tries on the cloak of monk, prophet, and shaman before settling effortlessly into the mantle of modern mystic. All of this feels as deliberate as the intricacies of each work.  

The Hour Wasp and what I will call its three phases because each one permeates the other – casts us in shadow, gibbous ray, and then maximum incandescence. 

We do not circumvent the dark to get to the light offered here. "The pulp bitters to ash" and comets spew loneliness yet with Sheets' guidance we do not falter or shy away. He takes our hands and turns them over in the dust of things so that we might truly know ourselves and glimpse the mystery of him. 

There is nothing nominal within the pages of this vital collection. Even the ephemeral – "to explore beauty" – is gravid. Sheets has generously given himself over to his craft and the result is indoctrination into the non-denominational theology of words. 

He elucidates the unknowable in language that is at the same time ancient and immediate. We recall our own "god-nourished hours" even if we cannot place them in time or space. We find tangible memory of "skinless moons" and "angel skin plucked from green air." Real or invented they are no less visceral. 

Though we may stagger worddrunk through metaphor, proclaiming the names of saints and saviors as we go, Sheets implores us to stay the course. As we hope for the breath that will tie itself to our bodies ("her black hair shines among the evergreens") he knows that our reward is a jewel that lies hidden beneath the fears and folly of our disenchantment. The Hour Wasp's necessity springs from the hope that it bestows with each reading. 

Jay Sheets' debut collection is revelatory. In its pages we witness the stellar evolution of the literary artist. He establishes himself as a formidable poetic force. And though his words are enough to conjure vivid images of the impossible, the earthly, and the holy, illustrations by Robyn Leigh Lear add another striking dimension to this already complex and significant work. I'm keeping this one on my bedside table. You should too.