Newman, Leslea. “Lovely”, Headmistress Press, 2018.
A Self-Portrait Over Time
How does one start a review of a book by Leslea Newman? Every time she writes a new book, I face this problem. Let me explain why. Leslea Newman is one of the writers that introduced me to the beauty of LGBT literature but I have never shared that with her and when she reads this review it will be the first time she learns this. I was a gay man with a secret crush on a lesbian woman all because of Harvey Milk. If you are a Leslea Newman fan you know what I am talking about and if you are not, then you have some reading to do. Now she wrote about Harvey Milk years ago but I actually met Leslea in the flesh for the first time when I moved to Boston some six years ago and she was exactly as I had pictured her— a beautiful, feminine, extremely intelligent and immediately likeable person.
When I received my copy of “Lovely”, I did something I rarely do—I opened in the last page and the last poem and I have no idea why I did so. On that page I found the lovely little poem, “Why I Always Wear Mascara” and there was the Leslea Newman that we know and love. She tells us that the reason she always wears makeup is
“Because on the day I leave earth
and this face I call mine,
I want to remember them both
In this new poetry collection, Newman tells us about how she came to be who she is. We go back to what she remembers of her childhood in New York City when being queer made us outsiders. We immediately sense her vulnerability and the pains that were part of her and she tells us what we have to do so that we can all live in peace with each other. Through her poems we see the human experience, her own relationship with her mother, her own maturing and aging and, of course, sex. The pains of youth are here and so is how she coped with them. It is Newman’s self-awareness that makes her poems so raw and visceral yet tender and loving.
She guides us from childhood to adulthood and the pleasure and frailties therein. The poems are Newman’s self-portrait. As James Joyce says in his short story, “Eveline”, “everything changes” and so do we. “I love the rhythm of the poems and when added to humor, care, sensuality and love, we get beautiful poetry that does not hold back. She shares the pain of losing her mother, her own aging and the acceptance of a sexuality that society, for so long, did not consider to be the norm. I suppose I should have not been surprised to see that Newman shares the intimacy that existed between mother and daughter and I love that she did.
There are so many times that I want to illustrate something with a quote from one of the poems but I decided that when I began this review that I would only do so once and, in fact, I already have. I think it is so much better for readers to find the lines they want to choose as their own rather then me doing so and I challenge you to find a single verse that somewhat defines you. I am sure you will be able to do so.
As an aging gay male, I totally found myself in what Newman has to say about “the physical and emotional shame of aging, of sexual restrictions, of a finite lifespan.”
“Lovely” uses the themes of love, empathy, and the growing older— issues we all face. For this, the book is relevant but not all books need to be such. Sometimes it is enough that the language be beautiful. Yet when we put relevance and beauty together, we can very special literature. Newman also incorporates her Judaism into her writing and one of the key attributes of Judaism is empathy and we find this in many of the poems. Newman lets us know that it is important to be kind and kindness comes out of empathy.
Now that I have come to the end of my review, I am trying to find a sentence to tie it all together but am having no luck in doing so. Just go read the book and enjoy every word and be thankful that we have someone like Leslea Newman around.