To A New Era
(Hanging Loose Press, 2021)
Joanna Fuhrman’s To A New Era lights a path to an alternate future; eyes open, filled with humor and empathy. It seems no coincidence that this book was birthed during the Trump era when hate and polarization came back to light. Fuhrman targets protests, apathy, and calls to action in poems that show how it feels to be a New Yorker blindsided by this racism that popped up like weeds in sidewalk cracks. Anger-fueled action and empathy is made real in the poet’s eye. “A Short Essay on Protest,” “In the Spleen of the City,” and “Benediction for a New Year” give a ringside view of what that particular time brought to light. Fuhrman gets deep into this with “Muriel Said That to Be a Jew in the 20th Century Is to be Offered a Gift.” The realization that the gift came with a steep price is stated in powerful sonnets with pantoum-like oft repeated lines:
In a place you whose name you can’t—
you try to embrace the rage, the stone insanity
with all it’s cracks. Run into the crowded street,
the Bill of Rights written on your ass in eyeliner.
In “A Short Essay on Protest” she writes:
I attempt to make a clearing for my anger. I watch it digging up
the bones that rot beneath the field. I imagine it tangled in the
muddy roots, paddling in the polluted underground river, its howl
transfiguring the dark water into fire.
To A New Era also gives us a taste of the humor, hope, and growth that came out of living through the pandemic. I’ve seen Fuhrman’s gorgeous pandemic cat, Victor, on Instagram; legs crossed, purring eyes, and I couldn’t help but smile while reading “The Cat We Don’t Own,” and how in “Whiskers” she writes:
Bob’s pandemic beard is the new member
of our household. He pets it as if there were
a kitten crawling across his chin.
Life does go on and love is ever present.
Fuhrman’s voice is rich with echoes of past poets, and her use of current events and contemporary tropes paint pictures of life in the city on stay-at-home orders. We look out the window and see the wonder that accompanies us through this time of isolation. Poems like “Brorealism,” “Boredom,” “Search Engine Overlord,” and “Self Portrait with A Missing B-Movie Star” make time vibrate, while combining current headlines, media manipulation, and the-kids-are-alright-on-the-internet in a voice that communicates a longing for touch, the need to speak out, and a coming reckoning.
Sestinas, abecedarians, essay poems, couplets, pantoums, centos and re-writes of poems and lines from William Blake, Frank O’Hara, Muriel Rukeyser, and more populate the pages of To A New Era. We are given news, views of aging, and longing for youthful innocence left behind and looking forward. The titles are polished gems and the line breaks give breathing room to thoughts we might not want to examine too closely (but we must!).
In “The World is Burning, But Everyone Needs Sleep” she writes:
Maybe it’s enough to bask in the shadows
of the thighs of the monumental icon,
to rescue dented souls with the tongs
of a sparkling imagination, to stretch out
Then in “The Tyger Burns the Bones of William Blake (Or, Self Portrait as Poem)” she highlights the trials of the poet of a certain age:
If you want to become
the red dress
you need to wear
And in “Why Can’t Middle Age Be Like Childhood, but with Sex, Liquor and Hipper Boots” she gives this:
Why can’t middle age be like that TV show
where the ending comes at the beginning?
Everyone knows it’s going to be tragic, so why not
show that first? Then we can focus on the love story—
I’ve been living inside these poems for a few weeks now and they get so much better with each reading—like an excellent bottle of wine found in the corner bodega guarded by a sharp-clawed, purring cat. Like middle age—but with better knees. Joanna Fuhrman’s artistic eye makes these pages turn, giving witness, turning current events into verbal cues, and spurring us on to grow and work and speak our truths.