From Sleep: New and Selected Poems is published to coincide with Charles
Martin's sixtieth year, and a fine collection it is indeed.One
would hope that Martin's slowly growing reputation will be greatly enhanced
by this book, which brings together a generous sample of new work and a
substantial selection from his previous books.
a quick perusal makes one aware that Martin is a master of form, of many
forms.From the epigram to the extended
verse narrative, he handles every form he touches with apparent ease.The
villanelle and sonnet appear, as do many nonce forms that might fall under
that general catchall of ode.There
is even a one?page short story.(I
have always considered the term prose poem to be an oxymoron; also,
"Death and the Four?Year?Old" has a plot and is comprehensible, which would
seem to eliminate it from the category as well.)Martin,
a noted translator of Catullus, also includes some translations, though
not of Catullus.
closer perusal reveals that Martin is a philosophical poet, though he is
always accessible to the patient reader.There
is something Eighteenth Century in some of his themes and leisurely pacing,
though he never seems anachronistic.Nor
is he afraid of capitalized abstractions.Few
other poets would attempt such titles as "Against a Certain Kind of Ardency,"
let alone make them work. Most poems written by a longtime teacher entitled
"To the Blackboard" would elicit a groan from tired readers of poet?teachers,
but Martin makes the work a fresh examination of time and transcendence,
wondering "Whether, beyond us, there is aught to wonder / At what the meaningful
was meant to mean, / At what can happen to us here, between / The momentary
lightning and the thunder."
There are also some wonderful epigrams in the opening selection of new work.I'll content myself with quoting two:
Can I express how much I cherish you
In just one line? Not possible. Take two.
"Cuckolds," says Pontius, "should be ducked in ponds??"
"Learn how to swim then," his Pontia responds.
(from "Seven Poems from the Latin of John Owen")
is a grace of wit, a lightness of touch while thrusting in the knife, of
many poets who are familiar with classical models. There is also an expansiveness
of scope that comes with such learning, which reminds us of how much we've
lost by making education more "relevant."
the most striking of the new poems is "How My Queer Uncle Came to Die at
Last."This piece does not lend itself
well to quotation, which is part of its strength.It
is centered around one incident which gains power from being told so reticently;
the poem thus mirrors the slowly growing and then erupting knowledge of
rest of the book reintroduces old friends to those who have followed Martin's
career and brings necessary poems to the attention of those who haven't.Meditative
lyrics such as "Stanzas after Endgame" and "Speech Against Stone"
mingle well with witty work like "Victoria's Secret" and "Modernism: The
Short Course."The powerful short
(and packed)lyric, such as "Getting the Miracle Wrong," "Metaphor of Grass
in California" or "Easter Sunday, 1985," plays off against the leisurely
narrative pacing of "A Walk in the Hills above the Artists' House."
is also a variety of voices throughout.Lot's
wife is given a voice, if not a name, and mice speak part of "Steal the
Bacon."There is a cultured voice
in many of the poems roughly identifiable as the poet's, but Martin also
can write an extended sequence, "Passages from Friday," from the point
of view of Crusoe's servant.This
last poem, incidentally, was one of the first to bring some attention to
am tempted to go on listing titles, from "E.S.L." to two poems far too
little known, "A Happy Ending for the Lost Children" and the early "Four
for Theodore Roethke."But no review
will do proper justice to this book.Those
who know Martin's work probably already own the book; those who are new
to his poetry owe it to themselves to purchase this collection.It
is hard to imagine a better book of poems being published this year, or
for some time to come.
If menu is not visible, select Back button on your browser.