Some Fantasies, Anxieties, & Poetry

Blue sky with pink clouds at dusk  behind fall woodlands, with oaks and other trees and leaves of different colors
Forest Park, Lenape land, Queens, NY

The days are growing shorter, the trees on the land across the way will soon shed the last of their leaves, and I have been reading the poems of W.S. Merwin and the fiction of Lauren Groff, enjoying the break from my other job, and teaching myself how to write essays again.

What I would like to do is move to depleted land in the Catskills or Adirondacks or somewhere further from the city and live in a cozy shack and do what I can to help the land become hospitable for trees and other native growth and beings again. There are various problems with this fantasy, among them the fact that my partner does not share it and also that I have a fairly unhardy constitution, little aptitude for all but the most basic home-repair tasks, and a horror of ticks. Merwin’s poems, steeped in communion with the natural world, feel like a vicarious entry-point, but also a call to relate ever more deeply with the woods that are right here alongside my house rather than getting lost in a fantasy about what could be in a more rural setting. I’ve been interested to see, too, how much of Merwin’s work deals with inheritances and family resemblances so uncanny they have the flavor of apparitions. Deep immersion in his poetry sparks a glimmer of the same feeling that I experience after a walk in the woods, an afternoon tending plants, or a week of meditating regularly.

As you probably know, my first book, Ancestor Trouble, is out in March. I’m not especially gifted at allowing myself to feel excitement, and I’m frequently finding myself lost in a fluttery anxious state of anticipating publication and wondering how it will go and what I might do to affect the outcome. It’s interesting to find myself here once again. I had to step back from these kinds of concerns for so long while writing the book the way I wanted to write it — for a certain kind of fellow seeker — that I had almost convinced myself I wouldn’t worry over how readers would find it and how it would land when they did. But these feelings of triumphant rising-above are almost always fleeting, no matter how long they last or how permanent they seem, for me at least. Wherever I go, there I am again.

Notwithstanding all this, a couple of early takes have been complimentary! Only one is public so far. Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say: “Newton debuts with a masterful mix of memoir and cultural criticism that wrestles with America’s ancestry through her own family’s complex past. . . . The result is a transfixing meditation on the inextricable ways the past informs the present.” (Full review.)

And here are a couple recent writings elsewhere:

  • What Did the Forbidden Tree Want?: On Eve, the Garden of Eden, and the forbidden fruit, at Medium.
  • A Sense of the Present Rises: “We are being asked to know our people’s histories, because our people’s histories are part of us—and because they are inseparable from who we are, individually and also collectively.” In my Ancestor Trouble newsletter.


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