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Domestic Fugues

photo of 17th century coupleDomestic Fugues

richard newman


Poetry $12.00



Praise for Richard Newman

Richard Newman's plainspoken, forceful voice is lifted up and transformed inside these elegant and complex poems that echo the piling up of voices in a Bach fugue. He writes of ordinary life--marriage, family, work--but finds ways to release tension and anger so that we come out in a new place that is both formally and emotionally satisfying. His greatness, for all his technical skill, is to give us a sense that we are all in this together, that he's out there for all of us, figuring out how to make sense of muddled, disappointed lives, those "hours spent on nothing more than money." In Domestic Fugues, Newman, like Woody Guthrie, uses the rhythms of American speech to prod us, empower us, and delight us.

--Maura Stanton


As the title implies, Richard Newman's Domestic Fugues is a musical confrontation with the difficult and painful recurrences of middle age--love lost and love renewed, the depredations of time and change, the fear of aging as diminishing possibility. But as the title also suggests, and as the poems consistently demonstrate, this is also a book about enduring need and the transformative power of song. Domestic Fugues is a lovely, grimly funny and always moving celebration of persistence.

--Alan Shaprio


Reviews of Domestic Fugues

See a great review of Domestic Fugues on the Contemporary Poetry Review website: "A Formal Party" by Bill Coyle.


Domestic Fugues By Jenny Mueller SPECIAL TO THE POST-DISPATCH 11/29/2009

Early in Richard Newman's "Domestic Fugues," the poet tackles a familiar chore: killing bugs. "Centipedes" finds the speaker coping with a house infested by the insects and, simultaneously, combating romantic failure. Coming home after a blind date that includes "a bad first and last / impression, too much Chianti" and the painful sighting of an ex-lover, he finds another affront:


"hundreds of centipedes" are

scattered across my newly-painted white

ceiling — a starry sky in negative.

I lay in bed, spinning slowly, watching

them watch me back with their tiny black

unblinking eyes, before I finally

stood up swaying, dipping on my old

spongy mattress, fresh roll of toilet paper

in hand, hardly knowing where to start.


"Centipedes" is a darkly funny poem, but that hostile "starry sky" provides a hard note, typical of this entirely unsentimental book. Typical, too, of "Domestic Fugues" is the idea contained in the final image, as the speaker makes a stand for order and for starting again, even as he "spins" within a domestic chaos.


Newman, the editor of River Styx magazine, joins that spinning to song. In this way he controls it or, at least, briefly gentles it into dance. "Domestic Fugues" showcases Newman's complete assurance as he takes his poems through a number of formal paces (readers will find several sonnets, pantoums, and a sestina, for example). Among the book's best poems are his "fugues," which imitate the interweaving of voices in the musical form. The effect is supple and disquieting:


The phone rings — we don't answer.

We rustle bills, scratch pens.

As if from a gravel shore

we watch ourselves move

beneath the shadowed water.

Our silence hunkers down

till we can barely breathe.

We watch ourselves move

across the bedroom carpet.

Our silence sharpens its teeth.

The room sweeps light to dark,

and it's too much work to breathe.


The musical pleasures of Newman's poetry may make it easy to miss the book's greater achievement. "Domestic Fugues" deals with the disappointments of middle age, with broken marriages, "stupid jobs," the pileup of estrangements and routine, the wary effort to keep faith and love going amid it all. Some readers may initially find this territory too acrid or too familiar, both in life and poetry. Yet Newman consistently transcends this difficulty, largely through his knack for capturing freshly seen details that manage, simultaneously, to be both common and extraordinary.


What's unlovely is consistently rescued by his eye, as when the speaker contemplates the South City night: "The brewery boils its cereal, / the steam making the neighborhood / yeasty and ethereal." Elsewhere, he comes home tired to the same territory and cooks dinner with "the orange coils of sunset on my stove," while musing on the work of family love. This is daily and "domestic" work, but also life-saving work — in which, "Domestic Fugues" reminds us, the life you save may be your own.


Poet Jenny Mueller teaches literature and creative writing at McKendree University. Her first book, "Bonneville," was published by Elixir Press.


Poems from Domestic Fugues have been Featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, American Life in Poetry and The Writer's Almanac.

Verse Daily presented "Little Fugue of Love and Death" as its poem of the day; Richard Newman also had a poem of the day on Poetry Daily. American Life in Poetry offered "Coins" on November 14, 2010. National Public Radio listeners heard Garrison Keillor read "Home" on September 23, 2010 on The Writer's Almanac and Keillor has previously featured other poems by Richard Newman on this show.


About the Author

Richard Newman is the author of the poetry collection Borrowed Tears (Word Press, 2005) and several poetry chapbooks, including 24 Tall Boys: Dark Verse for Light Times (Snark Publishing/ Firecracker Press, 2007) and Monster Gallery: 19 Terrifying and Amazing Monster Sonnets! (Snark Publishing, 2005). His poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, Boulevard, Crab Orchard Review, Poetry Daily, The Sun, Tar River Poetry, Verse Daily, and many other periodicals and anthologies. He lives with his wife and daughter in St. Louis, where he teaches at St. Louis Community College, edits River Styx, and co-directs the River Styx at Duff's Reading Series.


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