Contact me with questions about The Silence Of Men.
We all know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but I have to tell you about the cover of The Silence Of Men, which was painted by CavanKerry Press’ designer, Peter Cusack. I’d sent Peter a whole slew of images as possible cover art, some of them connected quite explicitly to the ideas of men and silence, some more focused on silence and some that were so abstract that they would only have worked to the degree that the viewer was willing to connect the book’s title to the shape(s) and flow and mood of the image. Meanwhile, as part of preparing to design the book, Peter had asked me to send him some poems so he could get a sense of what the book was about. When he was done reading them, in response, he painted the picture that became the book’s cover. When he sent me a digital version of the image, I was immediately struck by how profoundly “right” it felt: that it should be flowers representing that which silences the man in the picture by covering his mouth and that the flowers themselves, the silence of their existence, could also be read as that which is coming out of the man’s mouth. When I saw the actual painting, at a reading given by another CavanKerry Press author, I was, for a moment, speechless. The colors were so much richer than the digital copy, the (simultaneously disturbing and optimistic) beauty of the image so much more present — I had no choice. I bought the painting, and I am very proud to say that it now hangs on my living room wall.
Here are some of the poems I gave Peter to read.
The Silence Of Men
A man I’ve never dreamed before walks
into my apartment and sits in the green
chair where I do my writing. He carries
in his left hand a large erect penis
which he places silently on the floor.
The phallus begins to waltz to music
I cannot hear, its scrotum a skirt;
its testicles, legs cut off at the knees.
I want to know why this disfigured
manhood has been brought to me. I look up,
but my guest is gone. His organ, deflating
in short spasms like an old man coughing,
spreads itself in a pool of shallow blood.
The silence between us is the silence of men.
In the dream, my life was smoke: I couldn’t breathe.
So I ran, unwrapping myself down the beach
till your skin, the ocean, lapped at my knees.
I dove in. Your voice was a current,
a melody gathering words to itself
for us to sing, and we sang them,
and they swirled around us, iridescent fish
bringing light to the world you were for me;
and then I was water, a river
washing the night from your flesh,
and I cradled your body rising in me
till you were clean, glowing,
and when you surfaced, glistening,
there was not an inch of you I didn’t cling to.
I’m waiting for the tears that didn’t come
when they put him in the ground, that wouldn’t come
among the family friends and relatives
who later came to mourn. The small talk
they made of other deaths to make their own
smallness less apparent made my brother’s dying
smaller by the hour. One woman,
lost in a cousin’s cancer, turned to me
as someone handy to do what her grief
would not allow her to do, Richard, sweetie,
be a dear, bring me an ashtray. After lunch,
I recited kaddish. The same woman
took my arm, That was wonderful!
Who knew you had such Jewish in you?
When you went home that night to tell your husband
and he took the swing that missed your jaw
and bruised your arm, I wanted you enough
to see that blue-black Rorschach on your flesh
as a gift. Now, behind me on this train,
a mother worries in your language
that her daughter is too old to find a man.
Ji-in must be sixteen by now, too young
for you to worry yet, and yet the voice
your sister screamed in when she saw my face—
Go! Be a round-eyed’s whore! May your daughter
do the same!—will not have been forgotten.
Even all these years later your neighbors
will wonder which of them would dare
give their son to such a woman’s offspring.
Last night, the small commotion of my spilled drink
turned a woman’s face I thought was yours
to where I was sitting. If it had been you,
what would I have said?
Remember the beach in Pusan?
We laughed like newlyweds, took these pictures
I joked our children would someday call treasures.
I’m looking at the one of you on the rock we climbed
to escape the stares that brought back
your talk of suicide. You grabbed my hand,
led me to the edge and we stood gazing out
over the water, a future
waiting for us to cross it.
you’ll read this only if you read my book.
These lines must end. I have to let you go.
Newman’s first book-length collection, The Silence of Men, explores the space between old-fashioned male silence and contemporary male sound and presents poems that force us to rethink the place of poetry in masculinity studies.
–Fred Gardaphe, Men and Masculinities
This is a fairly hard volume to read. Not because the poetry is bad: it has moments of epiphany and insight many writers would love to produce, but because the materials and themes are so close to the bone.
–William G. Doty, Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality
Superficially The Silence of Men appears to be a guy book, which is not to imply that women will be turned away. This is not a guy book in the disdainful way a guy would say a film is a chick flick, but a book that openly portrays what a man feels and experiences […] Ultimately Newman shows me a side of tenderness and empathy. I am drawn into what this man and many men have gone through to survive in this culture.
–Eve Rifkah, Diner
In many ways, The Silence of Men can be read as a narrative. The reader follows the speaker’s journey through a complicated past and understands both how these events have shaped him and how he refuses to let these events control his adult decisions. In this debut book, the voice the reader hears is a strong one, singing, despite the hurts and wrongs of the past, an optimistic song in which “the earth [can be] transformed to a tent where we all break bread” (“Poem from the Barnes & Noble Café”). If the ending of silence is also the beginning of new stories, I look forward to reading future books from Newman, to hearing what he’ll sing about next.
–Amy Unsworth, The Pedestal
Richard Jeffrey Newman’s work is exceptional. He expresses human emotions in ways profound, powerful, and poignant. In The Silence of Men, he tries “to give the dream a shape this page will hold.” How he gives life to those words taking shape on the page is an enlightening journey.
Laurel Johnson, New Works Review
Hugo Schwyzer, in his response to The Silence Of Men, singled out the poem “Coitus Interruptus” and how it explores “the ways in which racist reality both impinges upon — and leaves untouched — white existence.”
THE SILENCE OF MEN is Richard Jeffrey Newman’s first book of poems. I know few people go to bookstores or Amazon to find new poets but he’s worth the effort. The publisher is CavanKerry Press (2006). Newman […] is NOT a silent man, he writes with great depth and insight and openess about the things most men never talk about [.] Poem after poem astonishes me.
June Calendar, Calendar Pages
Just as I finished reading The Silence of Men (CavanKerry Press, 2006) a new friend confided that he’d learned a secret about his father — a secret that shook the foundation on which he’d built his life. He said he wanted to write about it, but didn’t know where to start. I recommended [The Silence Of Men].… As I was preparing to post this piece, I received an e-mail from [that] friend. He had this to say: “I LOVE IT!…his ability to communicate feelings is precisely what I’m hoping to be able to do. It’s great reading.”
Shawn Pittard, “An Open Letter to Richard Jeffrey Newman” on The Great American Pinup