Jeff Newberry and Justin Evans Give Confessional Poetry a New Twist
This 2019 collection of poetic letters, published by WordTech Editions, adds a welcome variety to the world of poetry. Taking the forms of letters gives these confessional style poems an imaginative twist. The correspondence between Jeff Newberry and Justin Evans creates, as these very poets say, an interesting “…verbal double dutch…”; however the work does seem that it could have offered a bit more exploration into life’s deeper, darker caverns.
Within Cross Country, the poets discuss a score of subjects in sweeping terms: their children, national politics, their own childhood – the readers are only given glimpses into their worlds. And national politics is a subject which has so saturated the average American’s daily life that it has almost become a cliche to write about. What of the mayors? The city councilwoman? The school board? Share those dramas and double dealings with the world. Such local politics, which still have massive governance over daily life, are, for some reason, held in such a secretive state it is almost as if they were a publicly ordained shadow government. Politics is teeming with fodder for poets, but it would intensely refreshing to be introduced to some unknown characters in that field.
The differing tones of the Evans and Newberry does bring a liveliness to the page. Newberry carries a splendid gravitas. His piece, “Letter to Evans: I was a Preteen Werewolf,” is magnificently chilling and in many of his pieces there is the weariness of an aged oak, worn yet still imposing to look at. Evans is a bit more fiery and undisciplined in his delivery. He condemns all of Texas in one breath and then in the next remarks, “I try to think of how many different / variations each of us have, how many / gifts we might possess worth of offer…” But he is still quite introspective.
In one letter to Newberry, Evans discusses the difficulty of poetry at times:
Sometimes I think I try to use
too many works to express my anger; where
I see other poets excise, I become verbose,
try to purge myself of all language, expel
every ounce of emotion.
Evans continues to wrestle with the craft in “Letter to Newberry: Coda.” His internal struggle creates thought provoking elements even at the close of the collection. He admits that his version of history is skewed. “I am trying to re-write the past, perform / my best magic trick in making people / believe my version of events is gospel.” No creature can lie quite like a human. That slyness, craftiness is what makes our stories so good. And he highlights one interesting theory as to why poetry has a habit of falling out of favor with the general public:
Maybe that’s what
happened to poetry. Maybe we promised
something miraculous one time too many
and the world has wizened up since then.
He makes an interesting point. What good is this craft if it only spins golden platitudes and cries jeweled tears? Yes, there can be a time and place for poetry that is severely optimistic and obsessed with helping humanity reach its highest moral state but there is a profound need for bitter, angry, practical, realistic poetry. Poetry which vivisects not only the writer but the reader. Poetry which giggles, “Look at all these tumors of self importance and false pride.” Sadistic, violent work that is honest, like the work of V. C. McCabe. There should be more of it.
Jeff Newberry and Justin Evans’ Cross Country is an interesting collection. By allowing another poet to probe and question, some truly worthwhile poetry is created. Their work highlights the need for constructive criticism, critique – not only in the arts but in the wider world as well. This collection is perfect for anyone interested in letter writing as an art form and accessible poetry. Pour some coffee and settle in to go Cross Country.
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