December 6, 2007

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A Gathering of Matter A Matter of Gathering, by Dawn Lundy Martin, University of Georgia Press, 51 pages)
Reviewed by Dan Szczesny news@hippopress.com

In general I reject the modernist notion of words on the page having meaning beyond the words themselves. That’s not to say classic or traditional form is without its whitespace. Robert Pinsky held that poetry, like speech, needs moments of breath and pause. Those moments strengthen the words and clarify the meaning. Fine.

But modernists like Dawn Lundy Martin, typically, take those moments too far. The end result often is poetry of structure rather than meaning. In A Gathering of Matter A Matter of Gathering, Martin’s 22 poems are arranged in such a perplexing manner as to often leave me wondering how in the world any reader could even begin to interpret their meaning. It’s impossible, in fact, to describe the visual structure of the poetry. Tabs, italics, long indents, boxed prose paragraphs and boldface phrases abound — an optical train wreck.

My only thought when attempting to read these poems is how Martin could read them aloud. It might, perhaps, be interesting to witness her own interpretation, to hear her own breath and pause, so to speak.

And it’s a pity because Martin should have more confidence in her words. The rhythm is powerful and controlled, like rap beats in some cases. Listen to the wonderful machine gun-like patter of “After Drowning”: “To part pinprick, pry back / kind resistance, develop it, and / say something / incomprehensible.”

In the case of A Gathering of Matter... the structure cheapens the otherwise tight poetry. If the poet can’t express with the language first, then the poem, like a pretty building with no foundation, will simply collapse under the weight of the architecture. C-