Wednesday Jun 19

DianeMartin Diane K. Martin's work has appeared in New England Review, Field, Poetry Daily, Crazyhorse, ZYZZYVA, and Third Coast, among others. She was awarded second place in the Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize competition, judged by B.H. Fairchild, in 2004. She was nominated for and included in Best New Poets 2005. In 2006, she was semifinalist in the "Discovery"/ The Nation competition. She has received a Pushcart Special Mention and won the Erskine J. Poetry Prize from Smartish Pace. She lives in San Francisco and is an unemployed technical writer and editor. Her book, Conjugated Visits, recently finalist for National Poetry Series, will be published in Spring 2010 by Dream Horse Press.

Diane K. Martin Interview, with Kaite Hillenbrand

Your poems use pronouns in precise, interesting ways—for instance, many of these poems refer to "you." Sometimes the "you" is general and sometimes it's specific, and it's not clear whether the specific "you" always refers to the same person (or us readers). At times, the pronouns shift to "I" and "he" and "she." I read in your blog that you use pronouns deliberately in the title poem of your forthcoming book, Conjugated Visits, in a way that "broadens out" and sets up a "strategy." Can you speak to this intentional use of different pronouns and why this element of craft is important to you?

I am working against the presupposition that a poem by a woman is by definition confessional. I want the reader of my poems not to see me but to see through me, to experience through my eyes and understand through my point of view. Mostly, "you" is meant to bring the reader in. In "Freeloaders," the verse with both "he" and "she" differentiates the male and female, because men and women experience differently; hopefully, the reader can, through the poem, see a little inside the other box. This is also the intent in "At the Party," where men and women are sort of playing the roles of men and women.

I also read in your blog about your understanding of the difference between fact (the string of literal events that happened) and truth (the emotional/mental/intellectual impact, perhaps, an experience has). In what ways does fact influence your poetry, and in what ways does the truth of an experience lead you to write new "facts" in order to get more poignantly at the truth? How do you get closer to the truth by writing a fictionalized version of the facts? Are you ever compelled to write the straight-up facts?

I'm not sure if there is such a thing as "straight-up facts." Again, I'm not that concerned with what happened (to me), but with what aspects of that experience may be important subjectively — in the sense that most reality is subjective — not the that of what happened, but the how. We say that our point of view colors what happened. Think of the Rashomon effect, the blind describing the elephant. Think also how red looks different next to purple than next to green. So, in "La Vie (en Rose)," the man running into the diner and the leaving behind of a Borsalino both actually happened, but not to the same person or in this exact way. The man who is making the phone call has committed a crime (this is not stated in the poem, but is, if you want, a straight-up fact). However, it is the busboy, the one who takes up the hat, who gets in trouble.

Many of your poems here are segmented, and they're segmented in different ways, for example, by day, by point of view, by different experiences (sometimes with the color pink; sometimes by different people or animals), and by "pieces." Putting so many segments in these poems seems to simultaneously show how interconnected, but also how separate, we are. Can you speak to this? Would you say that this is a defining part of your voice as a poet?

I'm not sure this is a defining part of my voice, but it's something I'm always aware of — looking at a cityscape, I can't help thinking of all the lives going on simultaneously, people giving birth or dying, or doing the quotidian, as I say in "La Vie (en Rose)," "...right this second someone is eating a tuna sandwich, someone is tying a shoe, someone is hammering a nail." I want that poem, where all the pieces contain a reference to the color pink, to be read either as a possible narrative (the reader connecting the dots, so to speak, filling in the blanks), or not, as separate isolated incidents. In "At the Party," whether they are the same people or different ones is meant to be ambiguous. They are actors, in a way, unconnected except by place. "Six Easy Pieces" are just riffs, fleeting aspects of reality, quick takes, glimpses.


                  "We are all freeloaders under God."
                  —Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekov

The great man lived in a hotel room; nothing
on the wall. On the sink a straight razor,
boar's-bristle brush, cake of soap in a thick-walled cup.

After the incident at the P.O., postal workers
pick up the mail and deliver it as addressed,
spotted with blood of their coworkers.

A dream of two boxes; you could see inside either,
but not both. She had no interest in the box that held
the past. He had none in the box that held the future.

Redwing blackbirds at a lake, a sudden flare
of knowledge, a clarity, erupting —
revelation, but you could not say what.

Two-year-old drowns in the backyard pool,
mother deciding what to defrost for dinner.
You tongue her pain until it possesses you.

The lover's footprints in the snow lead away
from the house, ice over. Snow melts to grass,
yields to corn and the deep hum of summer.

Wolves, normally shy of the geometries
of man, risk everything when their pups hunger.
That degree of need in the blood drove her.



Five Days on Twenty

She looks out at the fabulous confectionery of man, two bridges in alignment, and in the foreground a herd of gantry cranes, bowing and pawing.

Today even the closer bridge is hardly discernible through a powdery haze. She has begun to gauge the quality of the day on visibility, as if the view from the 20th floor is indicative of a vision like that of a saint's, several days into a fast.

Down below, three emerald-headed mallards, pub crawlers out looking for a dame.
Gotta trawl if you want to catch anything, says one.
Well, it passes the time.

The morning had started out fine; deep orange sorbets of sunrise, the tart-sweet air impelling her onward. Then the heat breathed on her; the air grew dense and muffled. She was a being from another planet, unused to our atmosphere. Here, among the lithe-limbed skaters in the day, she was uncoordinated and squat. A kind of vertigo came over her, and she thought she could erase herself with her hands.

Anxiety free floats in a brown haze over the city. Her skin a permeable membrane, she finds it hard to breathe. It ratchets up a notch. God, for a cool hand. In the office next door, two people are installing software. She hears them speak of longing. It sounds like longing, an easy install.



At the Party

There's a festive atmosphere like a street fair with jugglers and bad art on the sidewalk. Here there are M&Ms in glass bowls, chips and guacamole in Tupperware. A petal falls from a tulip at the exact moment D minor strums on a guitar.

He stands in the kitchen, beer in hand, popping story after story like flies to the outfield — an entrepreneur: everyone buys what he's selling. He refers to his wife as bland, not blonde.

She wanders in like an old woman in a ravished country, scouring the landscape for kindling. She thinks she was never anything but hungry; she thinks the river might be a good one to drown in.

She is the punch line to his joke, the secret he could never divulge — shape-shifter, changeling. She tells of finding the kitten: miao miao, making the sound with her particular embouchure, a miao-moue, full lips in doll pout, her accent Castilian.

He's a nice guy, his hair parted, his shoes shined. He refuses to fly; he knows the clouds are not going to hold him. His life's most inspired work is his epitaph, which he is constantly chiseling.



La Vie (en Rose)

Sweet Alyssum, she says, smells like dog piss — Army wife, married 35 years to a lifer, getting a divorce. But the pink panties in the Cecile Bruner rosebush are just an old rag the window cleaners dropped, not evidence of an affaire de coeur.

Dark when you go out with the dog. The 7-11 twinkles in a wasted sky beside the pink Pentecostal church, once a movie theater. If it is Thursday, the Ford guy is shuttling his stable of eight Mustangs from one side of the street to the other. If it is Friday, he is moving them back.

When the phone rings, you are applying New Dawn Pink nail polish to your toes. You hang up and snow starts to fall. A man climbs out a basement window and starts to run. He enters the diner for a cup of coffee or the thick ceramic heat between his hands. He goes outside to call you and leaves his hat on the shelf beneath the counter. The busboy finds the Borsalino and wears it home. Thief! cries his mother and throws him out of the house.

Valentine's day at the transit station: pink-lettered ads, over and over, a profusion of pigeons. A woman draws a comb through long wet hair. Below elevated tracks, six people motion a van to back up. Inside the train, she turns to her seatmate and says I'm into Choice Lite. Before you get to your stop, her hair has acquired a kind of permanence, like a baby shoe, bronzed.

In the daylight, you are blinded to the stars. You trust that they are out there, becoming, glowing pink and dying white supernovas. Just as right this second someone is eating a tuna sandwich, someone is tying a shoe, someone is hammering a nail.

You face an A-frame barn, a few rusted cars and tall fennel weeds in the foreground. You can see through the rectangular frame of its door and beyond to rows of grapevines converging on a house. Inside the house, a room, a bed. On the bed three girls are sleeping—no, two are asleep; the oldest, turned to the wall, is scraping off wallpaper, a small pink square.

Six Easy Pieces

Take 5
Cold water, smooth stones —
in shallows, small mud-colored fish.

Scrub your body
with blue snow under the new moon.

Twenty-three years old—
At night the sidewalks sparkle.

You can hear
the mucusoidal suction of snail across the glass.

Milk white light
on my desk—I tried to wipe it off.

Old couple
pretending not to hear each other's farts.