Open Reading Period Selection


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ISBN: 978-1-62557-027-7
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New Life

Publication Date: October 2021



A subversive glimpse into the dark wildness of preparing for motherhood. New Life is a meditation on the changing/changeling body, wrought in lyric decadence. Novak leads a seductive tour through plashy islands, Great Lakes hideouts, cursed apartments, and castaway nightmares, sighting the baroque and the barren, and celebrating the romance of isolation amidst an interior of plenty.


“I need shipwreck ribs,” writes JoAnna Novak, “to get off.” The poems in New Life are hungry poems, they swell and thicken like a poet playing hide-and-seek with herself. Am I reading poems, I wonder, or am I reading their glorious bones? Here what nourishes is also what captures. Reading Novak is like eating a “mousetrap sandwich” on the edge of rapture.    

–Sabrina Orah Mark

New Life is an exquisitely rendered, naughty book, a tipsy affair of pregnancy poems in which each poem tips ever closer to its tipping point. The plane has crashed in the mountain; the ferry approaches and never arrives; and yet our speaker finds herself again and again in a series of glamorously induced isolations, each as vivid and pleasing as a sonnet or a handbag–close to hand, clasping and unclasping, and containing many choice, illicit terms.Here splendor and captivity are indistinguishable, and everything can be described, embroidered, adored, cut close–But what’s in the next room, the next trimester? What’s that, up there, behind the sky? 

–Joyelle McSweeney

How do you measure a journey defined as a series of thresholds? The voice of New Life is associative, yet declarative and nuanced. “In one suburb of this longing, a cognac leather sling. / Collapse,” offers the poem “House Sitter,” “Baby’s first forgiving tale, the legs curved // like French heels.” JoAnna Novak’s poems thrive in liminal spaces—“Beyond copse and corpse, hedgerow and scarlet hip”—before focusing on distinct anxieties: “the tent is white and obvious. Inside, a bride // begins her tour.” This collection encourages multiple reads, a chance to swim and dive deep in the generous phrasing and soundplay. But the deft lineation provides a way of surfacing: of navigating upwards towards air, toward truth. 

–Sandra Beasley

If a third-trimester Holly Golightly, famished and sporting an island-tan, had been written by Jean Rhys for a leading role as a haberdasher in Rosemary’s Baby, we might suspect JoAnna Novak of plagiarizing a lost cult classic. By turns notational and orgiastic, bored and braced for all hell to break loose, this paean to birth, in its myriad forms, is whistled through “water to sozzle some joy.” At the biopsychic threshold of I and thou, relations here are“tiresome / relaxing,” estuarial, gaslit and groped, with a casual dose of thc to boost the tlc. From Tibet to Terebithia, the Île St. Louis to “ill Illinois,” Auckland to Pizza Hut, Novak’s wanderlust for life is ginormous, her “mind / so orchestral” we’re flooded with thought, with alien arias “souling the throat”—loop-de-loo, oohkay, achoo! Lithe as Pavlova, as miffed as Godzilla, imperious as Cleopatra among “a galère of gardenia girls,” her inventories of affection comprise a sonogrammatology of a self who bring sbeginning into being. 

–Andrew Zawacki

About the Author

© Falyn Huang

JoAnna Novak

JoAnna Novak's debut memoir Contradiction Days will be published by Catapult in 2023. Her short story collection, Meaningful Work, won the 2020 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Contest and will be published by FC2 in 2021. She is the author of the novel I Must Have You and two books of poetry: Noirmania and Abeyance, North America. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Atlantic, and other publications. Her essay “My $1000 Anxiety Attack” was anthologized in About Us: Essays from the Disability Series of The New York Times. She is a co-founder of the literary journal and chapbook publisher, Tammy.

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