BLUES for FRENCH ROAST with CHICORY: Poems
by Martina Reisz Newberry
60 poems ~ 86 pages
Publisher: Deerbrook Editions
To Order: www.deerbrookeditions.com
Reviewed by Michael Escoubas
Martina Reisz Newberry’s latest poetry collection, to quote a famous line by Renee
Zellweger, “Had me from hello.” (From the movie, “Show Me the Money”.) I’m a fan of
blues music; blues guitarists such as B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Lonnie Mack
come to mind. Blues music probes the deep regions of the soul; blues connects with
where people live, breathe, hurt and sometimes die. My family roots originate along the
Gulf Coast in communities such as Sulphur and Lake Charles, bastions of that bitter, yet
treasured blend known as chicory. Then, there is the poet herself. Blues for French Roast
with Chicory, personifies Newberry’s outlook on life, an outlook ripened by years,
smoothed and honed by reflection on life’s complexities, ironies and joys. Newberry’s
work asks no easy questions, provides no clichéd answers. Hers is a poetics that resonates
with, Oh, yes, I’ve lived that, I’ve felt that very thing happen in my life.
Newberry leads with “Passing a Deserted High School in the Nuclear Sunshine of a Fall
Afternoon.” Picture yourself walking by an abandoned school reminiscent of your youth;
you stoop down, pick up a feather and find yourself lifted, as on wings, transported back
to days of bittersweet memories. For me this poem opened the door to heartfelt reflection.
“Discernment” is a touching tribute to Newberry’s friend and fellow poet, Larry Kramer,
who lived in a wintery climate as contrasted with the poet’s warm environs:
The voice of snow
must be very different
from the voice of dry winds
and canyons … soprano
rather than alto and
and, since I have
not heard it trilling
and falling so light
on the ground, I can only
wish it well and continue
to embrace what I know.
Poem after poem illustrates Newberry’s extensive range of subject matter. “Sea Shanty,”
needs only 12 lines to explore a deeply personal theme: being ashamed and not knowing
why. “Julia Set: Integration Around a Circle,” is contemporary with the intellectual
milieu of our time:
Because she is white,
she knows privilege.
Because she is a woman
she knows powerlessness. [Bold type is in the text]
Because she is become old,
she knows invisibility.
Reviewer’s note: Newberry features an interesting mathematical symbol (not included)
which enhances the poem’s power.
Personification is a favored device; Newberry sprinkles the technique liberally
throughout her work. “Certain Stars” is a good example:
They live without regret or desire—
orderly, coherent and wondering
what it is like not to be.
I was moved by Newberry’s use of irony in these lines as well. Like the stars, which will
ultimately fade and disappear, “they shine exuberantly, / while they shine //.
There is a famous story in the New Testament in which Jesus forgives a lady named
Mary. She is a lady with much to regret. For insight about the secret thoughts of Mary
Magdalen, check out “Sea of Galilee—Western Shore.” I’ve made a promise to myself,
to clean up my own life, before I find fault with others’.
Do you have a cigarette habit or know someone who does? You may be surprised, as was
I, by Newberry’s treatment of this theme in a poem entitled, “Bad Habits.” Expect the
Two poems arrest my attention about life in our technology-driven world. “By and
Large,” and “Friday,” address our preoccupation with change and the downside of social
media, respectively. We want change in our personal lives, whether change is couched in
the latest weight-loss plan or political/social/environmental change. Something needs to
change or so we think. We communicate via social media but what about the human side
Such subjects are the purview of poets; my sense is that this is Newberry’s world. Yet,
she does not lecture, there is no need as the poems themselves do their job. And what,
you may ask, is the poet’s job? Surely, our collective job is to provide shelters where our
readers may safely consider or reconsider their stance in life. Poets ask: What shall we do
with the eye-blink of time allotted to each of us on this earth?
With this question, I close with the poem “Courage” quoted in full below:
Last night, I stroked the face of sleep
with shaking hands. My thoughts, then dreams,
then thoughts again wouldn’t quiet
themselves. Out in space where all those
other planets dance, I heard the
voices of beings I’ll never see.
They chorused, “Are you afraid? There
is more than being afraid, much
more. Get up and know courage.”