Tuesday, April 18, 2017

National Poetry Month: Martha Collins

from Blue Front 
(Martha Collins)

There were trees on those streets that were named for trees: Sycamore, Cedar, Poplar, Pine, Elm, where the woman's body was found, where the man's body was taken and burned—
There must have been trees, there were trees on Seventh Street, in front of the house that stands in the picture behind the carriage that holds the boy's mother, the boy's cousin, the boy—
And of course there were trees on Washington Avenue, wide boulevard lined with exotic ginkgoes, stately magnolias, there were trees on that street that are still on that street,
trees that shaded the fenced-in yards of the large Victorian houses, the mansion built by the man who sold flour to Grant for the Union troops, trees that were known to the crowd that saw
the victim hanged, though not on a tree, this was not the country, they used a steel arch with electric lights, and later a lamppost, this was a modern event, the trees were not involved.
as a mirror on a wall, or the fall of a dress. a dress, a shirt on a line to fasten to dry. on the rack, or back in the closet again, a sweet curse on it all, sliver of nail, delayed attack. shamed creature, a curse on itself, so the act of doing it changes the verb, tense with not quite right. with rope, like a swing from a tree. from a pole, like a flag, or holidays, from an arch lit bright with lights. in the night, in the air like a shirt. without, or with only a shirt. without, like an empty sleeve.

Blue Front (Graywolf Press, 2006) is Martha Collins' booklength poem about a lynching in her father's home town of Cairo, Illinois in the year 1909, when he was five years old. From a review by Janet St. John in Booklist: "One November day, he was hoisted on a relative's shoulders to watch a bloodthirsty mob kill a black man and then, in an escalation of its 'hunger,' hang an accused white murderer. Collins carefully examines the event and its aftermath, especially the effect on her father. ... She then extends her thoughtful scrutiny to incorporate newspaper accounts, photographs, personal accounts, and history to expose the way racism permeates all layers of society. Collins employs a staccato, matter-of-fact tone that strikes like a sledgehammer at persistent, if hidden, hate. More than worthy as poetry, Blue Front is also a powerful statement about America and a potent reminder of humankind's terrible potential."

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