Introductions for Micah Ballard & Dawn Lundy Martin – 10/26/09

This was a Monday Night reading. Intros by Dustin Williamson.

Micah Ballard lives in San Francisco and is co-editor for Auguste Press. Recent books of his include Absinthian Journal, Bettina Coffin, Negative Capability in the Verse of John Wieners, Evangeline Downs, Parish Krewes, and the collaborations Death Race V.S.O.P. and Easy Eden.

Micah Ballard’s poems are always welcoming you into their confidence. Most of them mention “we” or “us”, which functions as the speaker of the poem to an other, a friend, accomplice, lover, as well as to the reader, as a mode of putting trust in the reader really, to say, that these are also the scenes you share with me. It’s not a leader/led position, but a mutual going forth. Beyond the personal whisper is a universal we, that the we in the poem speaks for an all, a human shadow that glides through the prayers, benedictions, invocations, and odes of Ballard’s poems. The poems are often solemn, but not necessarily mournful. In fact, in their solemnity there is a celebratory acceptance, of the place the living and the dead occupy in relation to each other, as well as, accordingly, the continuous present and the irrevocable past. In Ballard’s collection Parish Krewes it seems apt, and not just because of its recent history, that New Orleans serves as a geographic and psychological muse. New Orleans exists in the poems as both carnival ground and mausoleum, a place at once full of celebration and ever-accumulating ghosts. What I’m about to say might seem somewhat incongruous, since Ballard lives in San Francisco, but New Orleans represents in many ways our living present, though not so much Mardi Gras, but a funeral march during a life-long celebration of the Day of the Dead.

Dawn Lundy Martin was awarded the 2006 Cave Canem Poetry Prize by Carl Phillips for her manuscript, A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering (University of Georgia Press, 2007). She is the author of The Morning Hour, selected in 2003 by C.D. Wright for the Poetry Society of America’s National Chapbook Fellowship. Among her many honors include Massachusetts Cultural Council Artists Grants for Poetry in 2002 and 2006 and the 2008 Academy of American Arts and Sciences May Sarton Prize for Poetry. Her poems have appeared many journals including Tuesday Journal, Callaloo, FENCE, nocturnes and Encyclopedia. Excerpts from her new manuscript, Discipline, can be found in the forthcoming issues of Hambone, Deadalus, and Jubilat. She is a founding member of the Black Took Collective, a group of experimental black poets; co-editor of a collection of essays, The Fire This Time: Young Activists And The New Feminism (Anchor Books, 2004); and a founder of the Third Wave Foundation in New York, a national young feminist organization. She is an assistant professor of English in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh.

In Dawn Lundy Martin’s A Gathering of Matter/A Matter of Gathering there is a concern with language as a deceitful liquid of sorts, as a syntactic and lexical fluid that is supposed to fill a variety of containers (or forms), whether race, gender, sexuality or self. I say deceitful, because Martin’s poems question whether or not language can ever really “fit” any container or give any fixed meaning, let alone really reflect both social otherness, or even the otherness, wrought in part by language, of the estrangement of one from the self. Of all the spaces she attempts to speak from, the body is the least inhabited by the conscious self of language. In Martin’s poems there is plenty of writing about the body as having agency, but the language is always from the outside making observation, instead of from within speaking out. Even saying “making observations” in the previous sentence feels a little too definite, since many of the moments in the poems that carry the most thorny emotional observation weight are also the most unintelligible. Once you accept the inability to speak from within the self, the ability to be able to speak out from any fixed point or identity is called into question. In her poem “Negrotizing in Five; or How to Write a Black Poem” Martin takes the form of the tutorial and shows every step along the way how, paradoxically, a socially recognized form, in this case a poem speaking to and being of African American experience, is simultaneously so entirely restricting, as to be silencing (historically and linguistically) and so open as to never run out of possibility. It’s as if all identity structures exist as these limited/limitless voids, which through definition can be bound down, but no amount of language can fill up. Please welcome Dawn Lundy Martin to the Poetry Project.