by Amy Newman
Wesleyan U. Press, $13.95 (paper)

Humid, corporeal, and tropically inclined, the poems in Amy Newman’s third collection take on the least—and most—original of topics: the fall from grace. “Adam tussled with the animals, he dreamt beneath / the cherry woods.” In the opening of the book, we find ourselves, somewhat predictably, at the moment when the first man names the animals: “Adam imagines: / rest, avian, warmth, hollow, fill, kiss, dream, woman.” Newman’s task here is not easy: she aims to breathe new life into deeply familiar subject matter, drawing connections between sexuality, nature, and language. More personal are the poems in the book’s second section, titled “transitive” (the entire collection is organized around the seventy-two dictionary definitions of the book’s title); many deal with the subject of the death of the speaker’s mother from cancer. Here, again, Newman links the imagery of the garden with the imagery of the body: “she was nectar, and the lump, a honeybee / who wanted to be full, and it fed against her veins / and split her cells, and all its tiny fur undid her.” The book’s final poems are more abstract, tending toward the universal: “If I let x = want, if I let y = beginning.” Newman braves cliché and tedium with this collection, picking up an already exhausted subject matter only to exhaust it again through the programmatic use of such a closely controlled organizing principle; at times, the limits of her project seem to limit her voice altogether: One poem begins with the phrase, “In a series of poems I’m unable to write”; the book’s last line is “I wish I could tell you.” Beneath Newman’s undeniable technical mastery and her precise deployment of denotative and connotative meanings, one senses a desire to let go—to fall—into that truly wild garden of the poet, the unbridled, unpredictable act of creation.