To speak the unspeakable, that is often the poet’s job. Finding a language for what otherwise goes shoved under the worldwide carpet. In Dawn Lundy Martin’s beautiful and uncompromising new book, “A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering,” we are given a language for the body. The body as object of obsession, the body as lover, the body as slave, the body as violator, and violated. The winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and published by the University of Georgia Press, Martin’s book has made her a Lambda Literary Award Finalist. And I for one, hope she wins.

The book’s steady desire to dissect the body in a way that reaches below the skin creates a constant tension buoyed by moments of true joy and a fierce defense of the wrecked heart. With language anchored in a cutting rhythm, Martin’s poems push and pull between lyric beauty and the painful truth of human cruelty.
In her poem, “The Symbolic Nature of Chaos” Dawn Lundy Martin writes,
Fabrication. It emits. It gags.
Steams into lips, slightly,
unconsciously parted. Putrid
breath escapes, unbeknownst.
Amid this fury, she wrote me a love letter. She said, “If you were
here I wouldn’t miss you this much.” She said, “There is cauliflower
growing amongst what has been planted.”
The body bends down so the wrists
are at the ankles. Exposed. Buckling.
[a matter of gathering
[the stray, unremarkable—
the reason of wings, you’ll notice.
Amid some beauty, one wall, for example, paved in patterned red
paper. Of please, please, I’m waiting. To cut. [This cutting.] And run.
Skin is felt, is raised, surfaced. Pulling down into haggard drown.
To stench of one’s own desire. They call and call from dark channels,
by hoards, knowing this—her viscera.
Her blue mound, a sapling. One remembers the gesture of a deep
footstep, the legs only, extending as if in awe. One remembers
the gutted r’s and o’s, the white haw, like my devil,
like the devil I keep.
Here, Martin employs the fragments of the mind’s wandering, the inner monologue of self- judgment and despair, and yet continues to ground the poem in the day’s simple details. Using the letter, the cauliflower, the garden, Martin brings us back to the physical world. The great power of this poem, is how it deftly swings between the mind’s tricks of memory and the agonizing fury of blame and reflection to the constant returning of what is standing in front of us, what is “real.” The two worlds colliding in what seems an impossible manner. Like one stunned after an accident, who believes the accident is still happening, the speaker exists in simultaneity. This is the devil she keeps.
In making the inner monologue combust with the present moment, Martin uses fragments and a staccato rhythm. Then, when the shift occurs, the movement back to the present comes in longer lines, let’s us enter the conversation. This changing of poetic forms along with the thick, plummeting language, allows Martin’s poetry to bloom intricate dialogues between the mind and the body.
Throughout the book, Dawn Lundy Martin has an innate ability to create a poetry that is speaking both to itself and to the reader, allowing for a feeling of being invited in and eavesdropping at the same time. This is the great pleasure of the book, even in the harshest most violent poems, there is a safety in her confident rhythms and forms, a celebration of power and awe. Martin is a poet unfolding the darkness with overwhelming talent, strength, and desire. And her desire is contagious, as is her poetry.

Originally Published: April 24th, 2008

Ada Limón is the author of Lucky Wreck (2006), This Big Fake World (2006), Sharks in the Rivers (2010), and Bright Dead Things (2015), a finalist for the National Book Award and the National Books Critics Circle Award. She earned an MFA from New York University, and is the recipient of...

  1. April 25, 2008
     Nicole Callihan

    Truly contagious desire. Thanks for this review, Ada.

  2. April 27, 2008
     Zachary Bos

    Does the posting of reviews on Harriet not circumvent the editors' purview in the print journal, which I consider to be TPF's organ of opinion? Or shall I be less puzzled if I think of Harriet and Poetry as entirely separate enterprises, each complementing without duplicating the work of the other?

  3. April 28, 2008
     Don Share

    Hi, Zachary!
    The latter. We are completely distinct, editorially, though obviously the magazine folks can chime in here, and there are other forms of synergy and synchronicity that might arise now and then...
    Yrs., Don