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The New Sorrow Is Less Than the Old Sorrow

Publication Date: March 2015


A young Au Pair living in Germany reads Goethe’s famous tragedy, The Sorrows of Young Werther, for the first time. Years later, she crafts an answer as she considers the storm of early love in her own life, the drudgery of work, and even Goethe’s later response to his own text. In this exquisite cycle of prose poems, Jenny Drai’s language twists around corners and bends at odd angles, delivering a voice at once deft and aching, sharp and hungry: “passion-trigger-passion. someone, somewhere, worships in a grotto at a shrine to suicide. the pain of. the remittance of. love.” The New Sorrow Is Less Than the Old Sorrow navigates the sturm und drang of early love, loss, and distance, and the timeless perplexity of heartbreak.


many, many times I answer to the succinct question how often have you? the rational subjectively. of all lungs that inhale antecedent.  a number of options loiter on counters. sweet, time-bruised plums. not decisions but placeholders. if enough, is not enough, written-out fog, carefully plucked. yes. plucked fog. I dare you. throw water against your heart as if that dragnet of emotions were a cliff. then master it.


Jenny Drai’s The New Sorrow Is Less Than the Old Sorrow is magic. Here the sources of the self (the selves) and the sources of love (loves) open and sing and challenge themselves. This poet renews rituals, this poet renews language.

-Joseph Lease

Jenny Drai’s work asks that the reader “throw water against your heart as if that dragnet of emotions were a cliff. then master it.” Reading these poems is the experience of puzzling with, even throwing oneself against, glass. Each shard is ripe with danger, and yet a whole picture will emerge, deftly and with booming imagination, if you choose to engage with the elements of this language. What I love most about Jenny Drai’s work is her faster-than-light, almost synesthetic switches. Poems that seem to be telling a love story are in fact heralding in a new color of visible light. And, of course, this teaches us what love really is.

-Emily Kendal Frey

Jenny Drai’s The New Sorrow Is Less Than the Old Sorrow is one of those vibrating works that somehow find electrical current to the light bulbs in your memory that have long lost their incandescence. The warmth from those burning pears can warm the dark forgotten corners of your past, but they can also bathe old haunts with cold remembrances. They can even startle you and make you laugh out loud at your own surprise.

I’ve never read a book of poetry that has so closely resonated with me, and I’ve never been more convinced that there is a Werther and an old Goethe in us all.

-Jack Morgan

About the Author

Jenny Drai

Jenny Drai is the author of three collections of poetry, including Wine Dark (Black Lawrence Press) and [the door] (Trembling Pillow Press). Two poetry chapbooks have also been published. They are The New Sorrow Is Less Than The Old Sorrow (Black Lawrence Press) and :Body Wolf: (Horse Less Press). A novella, Letters to Quince, was awarded the Deerbird Novella Prize and published by Artistically Declined Press. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online journals, including American Letters and Commentary, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, New American Writing, and The Volta, among others. In addition, she was recently awarded the 2017 Gail B. Crump Prize in Experimental Fiction from Pleiades Magazine. She studied literature and foreign languages at Beloit College and received an MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College of California. She blogs about her current project (a novel about Beowulf, bees, and queens), neurodivergence, and transatlantic life, and posts photos from her travels at She lives in Bonn, Germany.

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