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The Naomi Letters
Rachel Mennies embraces the public/private duality of writing letters in her latest collection of poems. Told through a time-honored epistolary narrative, The Naomi Letters chronicles the relationship between a woman speaker and Naomi, the woman she loves.
Set mostly over the span of a single year encompassing the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath, their love story unfolds via correspondence, capturing the letters the speaker sends to Naomi—and occasionally Naomi’s responses, as filtered through the speaker’s retelling. These letter-poems form a braid, first from the use of found texts, next from the speaker’s personal observations about her bisexuality, Judaism, and mental illness, and lastly from her testimonies of past experiences.
As the speaker discovers she has fallen in love with Naomi, her letters reveal the struggles, joys, and erasures she endures as she becomes reacquainted with her own body following a long period of anxiety and suicidal ideation, working to recover both physically and emotionally as she grows to understand this long-distance love and its stakes—a love held by a woman for a woman, forever at a short, but precarious distance.
Press for and Reviews of The Naomi Letters
“The Naomi Letters is a record of one’s continued, lifelong reconciliation with their changing body, with the practice of faith situated in historical violence, with what increasingly looks like the volatility of the future. As a record, what language exists on the page represents a specific time in a specific person’s life: July 10, 2016, through June 15, 2017. To encounter these poems years later, years to come, means to experience the making of those poems into the future—in which readers observe and participate in their sequenced re-making.”
—Christian Wessels, Ploughshares
“The meticulous form of the book—from an abiding commitment to strophes, to the dates of the letters, to chronology—shows us a speaker immersed in acts of devotion both sacred and profane. Just as Mennies’s first book of poems, The Glad Hand of God Points Backwards, takes on the predicaments Judaism imposes on a woman’s body, The Naomi Letters takes up the epistolary and the strophe as though they were prayer. Naomi’s name appears in this book as often as Adonai appears in a Siddur. And like Adonai, Naomi is revered in her lack.”
—Lisa Hiton, the Kenyon Review
“What makes The Naomi Letters so compelling, beyond its yearning, delicate, mind at work, is its commitment to shining a bright light on struggle and asking to be loved anyway.”
—Emily Pérez, RHINO
"The Naomi Letters takes an unusual form—each poem in the collection is a dated letter or draft from the speaker of the poems to the woman she loves, named Naomi. Recounting a year in the life of this speaker, a Jewish woman under the pressures of mental illness and longing, this form also allows us to explore a profound question: can a fictional character an author creates change that author’s life?"
—Podcast interview with Dylan Zavagno of the Deerfield Public Library
“What makes love happen in the first place and why does it disappear? There are no answers to these questions. Yet, [The Naomi Letters] provides an oddly fulfilling emotional journey. We may not understand ourselves, or the people we love, but Mennies reminds us that poetry accompanies us in our fraught attempts to navigate the complexities of the human heart.”—Stephanie Barbé Hammer, Jewish Book Council
“Reckoning with identity, Mennies’ epistolaries provide the space for the speaker’s language to transform knowledge into understanding, thus achieving revelation.”—Dylan Hopper, The Arkansas International
“Almost all of the speaker’s letters to Naomi end with an invitation into adoration: “How do I look away now that I have seen you?” We learn to adore the speaker as she adores Naomi. This adoration becomes its own art: a method for our own self-realization.”—Mary Sims, Carolina Quarterly
Praise for The Naomi Letters
“In this book-length, epistolary sequence, Rachel Mennies addresses Naomi—beloved, elusive, erotic muse, anchoring the narrator’s wide-ranging meditations on the female body. Released by the intimacy of the letter form, Mennies interrogates desire and the longing to ‘unbrick’ the houses that contain, medicalize, or thwart the complexity of women’s expression. Lines from many cherished poets—including Amichai and Rich—create a dense conversation across geographies and identities. Jewish cultural practices and the fierce love between the Biblical Naomi and Ruth echo here. Dated like diary entries over the course of a year, these ‘portals to the made world’ attest to the ‘small electrocutions’ and ‘impossible peace’ of daily experience. Original, piercing, The Naomi Letters makes a startling, unforgettable contribution to contemporary American poetry.”
—Robin Becker, author of The Black Bear Inside Me
“Rachel Mennies’ second book is a triumph. The Naomi Letters chronicles a year in epistles that invites the reader into the intimacy of a private exchange where we, over and over again, bear witness to the poet's expansive vision. At once grief-limned, sharp, and funny, this book explores the desires, obsessions, and limitations of the writing body negotiating history on this particular planet sprinting toward the unknown. This is a book to read, and then read again, and then again.”
—sam sax, author of bury it
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