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Brooklyn by Steven Deutsch
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Steven Deutsch’s Brooklyn,  winner 2022 Sinclair Poetry Prize

Cover photo: Brooklyn Bridge Artist: Jared Hankins

Brooklyn by Steven Deutsch

In Brooklyn, winner of the Sinclair Poetry Prize, Steven Deutsch examines story as legacy. “At twelve,” he tells us, “every thought is of tomorrow.” Later, he quotes an ailing cousin: “In the end,/you are left/with just your/memories.” It is such anecdotes—situated in Brooklyn and animated by wisdom, affection, humor, and regret—that link poet and reader in the universal location of place and time. Card games, street games, nicknames, and neighborhood and cultural landmarks make real the ways we claim, resist, repeat, and replay the past. With a backdrop of war, sports, and youthful mischief, the narrator acknowledges poverty without contempt (“Sure, we were poor,/but who wasn’t?”), celebrates comradery, grieves the loss of family and friends, and arrives in the present “an aged city kid/still most comfortable/with the lilt of moonlight/on a wet sidewalk//in East New York.” In Brooklyn, he explains, “We demanded so little of place,/so much of home.” And so, these poems remind us, by example, to re-visit our own narratives of origins and aging. “Here’s one you haven’t heard,” begins Deutsch’s later poem “Legacy,” and in the powerful way of poetry, we find the tales  of Brooklyn poignantly new and comfortingly familiar. —Marjorie Maddox, author of In the Museum of My Daughter’s Mind

Steve Deutsch’s fourth collection of poems, Brooklyn, expands the classic bildungsroman into middle and older age. And aren’t we always coming of age and coming into our age? Deutsch’s narrators remember, mourn, marvel, pay heed. They pay heed to people like Benny, savvy high school bookie lost to Vietnam; Sam and Saul, twin musical prodigies sundered by childhood leukemia; Davy and Sarah, unabashed sweethearts for 50 years. To places like Brownsville, Canarsie Pier, Jamaica Bay landfill. To things: RC Cola caps; secret spice mix stored in a Hellman’s jar; “a wooden spoon/that had been in the family/since the time of King David.”
Many of Deutsch’s mostly male characters are haunted by an outlaw brother and their poems are among the collection’s finest. In “Brothers,” a boy and his brother find brief common cause setting up a fish tank. But, soon, “the Bettas built bubble nests/and tore each other to pieces,” the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution triggers full-fledged war, and the older brother disappears into the rain. In “Zippo,” a younger pair watch, terrified, as their apartment burns down, clenching their secret of a stolen zippo lighter. Deutsch writes wonderfully playful poems, too, as his rollicking riff on Frank O’Hara, “Why I Am Not A Vacuum Cleaner Salesman.” Sorrowful or celebratory, his poems are always thoughtful, discerning, and reward rereading. —Mary Rohrer-Dann, author of Taking the Long Way Home

“How is it no one speaks of the weariness of the poor?” You’ll hear a distinct voice in these poems and come to know it. You’ll see a whole world slightly sepia-toned and blurry on the edges, but focused on the most revealing anecdotes. Details of everyday life sneak up on you and shine with meaning in these lines. “The summer the bettas built bubble nests/ and tore each other to pieces/ and my brother packed / a duffel and went off in the rain.” —Julia Spicher Kasdorf, author of As Is 

Read “Tilth” from Evening Street Review 12, 43

Read “Strondes from Evening Street Review 35, 256

Read “Brothers” from Evening Street Review 35, 257

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