After living with disaster for the better part of a summer, reading poems was something that made very little sense most times. When I could, I reached for poems in the thick of that grief and here are the ones that helped:
Early on, Bev Dahlen emailed some lines from Rachel Blau DuPlessis' "Draft 6: Midrush," which I reread while my mother was still in the ICU:
'"Where are they now
Human shards marked
markers ash the foiled
feathers of an eaten bird
maintain at the boundaries
of sense and tact
their dun features,
mostly much as did in life,
and away, blown
into the incomparable.
Lines from Stevens' "Auroras of Autumn" kept coming to mind. As did lines from Cohen brothers films (which I turn to at least as often as to Stevens). All of which is to say, it took awhile to feel comfortable reading away from that present grief. In the meantime I read Sonali Deraniyagala's WAVE (grief writing, grief reading).
Brenda Iijima's GOING BLOOMING FALLING BLOOMING (Delete Press) was the first full book of poems that was legible to me after the storm, and I read it through a few times to remember what it feels like for a book to take precedence over the world, for at least the time it takes to read it---and because it knows about the problems of that world.
John Thorpe's chapbook of prose poems, STITCH AND HEM AND LINE AND FLIGHT, printed and bound by Thorpe himself, came next I think (in the stack of mail that awaited on my first visit home to Austin, about a month after the storm): “This is for those who will witness a world not held to its word.”
Once things settled down a bit, but before we were done with the cleanup, I finished up work on Paul Klinger's RUBBLE PAPER PAPER RUBBLE, which we published during the summer. Work on Paul's book was a welcome distraction. It's a book I'm extremely proud to have had a hand in, largely because every time I return to it I find something new and startling.
When I got back to Austin, Julia was writing through her grief, and in a way I think I may be the only person who can ever really read her V HARD ISLAND--or the last person who can really read it, maybe both. But hopefully I won't be the only one who gets to.
I probably listened to Bob Dylan's bootleg series release of the SELF PORTRAIT sessions a hundred times while binding a book for Cuneiform Press at the end of the summer. And Willie Nelson's RED HEADED STRANGER a hundred times before that while cleaning up after the storm. Mostly to cry and talk to my dad...
Stacy Doris' FLEDGE was a book I was thankfully very late to read. I read it at the end of the summer and I have a feeling I'll be reading it for years to come. A book that not only is a comfort, but also entirely retunes my sense of what poems can do, what people can do.
When not rereading Doris, I was knee deep in Eigner's COLLECTED (but mainly volume IV). Impossible to sum up what holds in those poems. I spent quite a bit of time writing through David Brazil's THE ORDINARY (more here). William Corbett's COLLECTED I read and loved somewhere in there. Lately I've been returning to Creeley's poems a lot, which are a kind of first love: "He counts his life like cash in emptying pockets. Somebody better help him."
C.J. Martin is the author of Two Books (Compline, 2011), as well as four chapbooks: 1978 (Self-published, 2010); WIW?3: Hold me tight. Make me happy (Delete Press, 2009); Lo, Bittern (Atticus/Finch, 2008) and CITY (Vigilance Society, 2007). He has two new chapbooks: 2012 (from Supersuperette) and Unused Cover (from Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs). For the past year, he has been working on broadside collaborations with poets who do visual art (available here). His essays and reviews have appeared in ON: Contemporary Practice, Jacket2, and American Book Review. He lives in Austin, TX, and works as a teacher and bookbinder. With Julia Drescher, he publishes Further Other Book Works, and he’s also on the masthead for Little Red Leaves &LRL e-editions.