The Naomi Letters
Author: Rachel Mennies
Publisher: BOA Editions (2021)
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.
“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.”
“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.”