The Form in Between
Dawn Lundy Martin’s A Gathering of Matter, A Matter of Gathering is an intense book of poetry that sits between two distinct forms of poetry while still exemplifying characteristics of both. One form of poetry is language poetry, while the other is lyric poetry. These types of poetry utilize language in drastically different ways, one focusing on the actual use of language and the meaning forming from the language while the other focuses on the addressed emotion. Martin is able to bridge the difference and bring a unique harmony to the two forms.
Language poetry, according to the Academy of American Poets, acknowledges “that language dictates meaning […]. Language poetry also seeks to involve the reader in the text, placing importance on reader participation in the construction of meaning.” Martin plays with the language in her poetry very poignantly. One example of her expertise with language poetry is her poem “Butterflies Become.” The portion of this poem in brackets seems very heavy, yet innocuous at the same time. Each bracketed phrase, “[Fatwa] [Faucet of defiance] [From mesa] / [Desert stinge] [Vulva stiffening] [Sulfuric blunder] ….”, holds a very relevant emotion but does not explicitly derive that emotion for the audience (Martin 20). The language creates the emotion as we read through the poem. Not only are these emotions build through the language, the diction needs investigation for many people as well. As the audience learns what “[Fatwa]” means (a ruling on a point of Islamic law given by a recognized authority) the following brackets change their meanings (Martin 20). Without the definition of such a word, the poem’s meaning would be less solid. The language of “Butterflies Become” creates the meaning, whereas the meaning is buried deeper and harder to find without examining the language directly.
The other aspect of Martin’s poetry is its lyricism. Lyric poetry, according to Types-Of-Poetry, is “a poem […] that expresses the thoughts and feelings of the poet. […] Lyric poetry addresses the reader directly, portraying his or her own feeling, state of mind, and perceptions.” All of Martin’s poetry attempts to portray an emotion through its message/meaning. However, Martin does not allow the narrative of the poems to obviously address the audience with pronouns of “you” and “I”. “The Symbolic Nature of Chaos” is a superb example of this. The poem itself is addressing a direct emotion or feeling but Martin doesn’t address herself or the narrator, much less the audience. She puts out the emotion “ … like a yelling and a tree” and allows the audience to sit in “… the darkness of this bereft body” without any explicit declaration of what is being read (Martin 3).
The best example of Martin’s duality of language and lyric poetry coalescing in one poem is her poem “After Drowning.” The diction used is baffling at times, skirting obvious meaning and burying it beneath the language used, but still suffuses a meaning, an emotion, a state of mind within the poem as it stretches across the pages. She also utilizes “I” within “After Drowning,” giving the distinction that there is a narrator expressing something, but it still takes a deeper reading and comprehension to bring that meaning to the surface.
Spontaneous Feelings Resisting Intelligence!
Martin creates poetry that both expresses a “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” and “resist[s] the intelligence” of the audience. She writes poetry that feels infused with so much emotion, heavy meaning wrought from some very heartfelt place. I felt as though the poems were dark: dealing with the feelings of being an African American woman writing form a standpoint of having power and not being able to express it because of her sexuality. There are times of very heavy emotions shining through (“After the Death of a Young Poet”), and times when after reading the poem I sat dumfounded as to its intent (“Blackface Caricature in Thirteen”). Most of Martin’s poems resist categorizing themselves into either just powerful emotions or simply resisting obvious understanding. “The Symbolic Nature of Chaos” is just such a poem. It holds such a vital feeling as it flows out nearly chaotically; it resists easy interpretation, and still holds the audience’s engagement because the feeling/emotion/meaning carry through the pages. In fact, her form on this poem really dives into both interpretations of poetic style expressed by Wordsworth and Stevens. Starting on page 4, Martin creates a very different form that both represents chaos (in the first portion on the page) and slips back into prose poetry to gather the audience back into comprehension. She does this several times with several poems, using form to instigate a feeling and break easily intelligible understandings.
Form Forming Formulations of Form
Martin plays with form all throughout A Gathering of Matter, a Matter of Gathering. Her first poem in the book, “Last Days”, automatically engages form. It presents a question and answer session where the answers do not necessarily answer the questions posed. However, the reader will intrinsically assume the answers relate back to the question just asked. This builds connections and meanings, even when these aspects are not explained in the poem language of the poem. “Last Days” uses the form very well.
Another poem where form is very important is “The Symbolic Nature of Chaos.” With the title of this poem, we should expect the poem to resist the natural forms of poetry: structure, meter, rhyme, etc. None of the pages that this poem crosses look the same or are structured the same. This continual shifting of the form really do lend to the feel and meaning of “The Symbolic Nature of Chaos.” Adding to the chaotic form of this poem are the brackets, which make their first appearance in the book.
The third poem that utilizes form in a very distinct way is “Blackface Caricature in Thirteen.” It’s a list poem with thirteen points. As the poem is read, the audience believes that each point has a connection to what it means to be a blackface caricature. With this form, the reader tries to create a picture of what is being described. This poem, however, is more of a language poem and the meaning of the poem is created by the language used coupled with the structure. It is hard to draw a picture from this poem, but looking into the words creates a meaning much deeper than an easy, explicit poem.
One of the poems that struck me was “Violent Rooms” which seems to dance between the idea of having sex for the first time and rape. This poem relates to the book as a whole by addressing an important step in life that primarily women experience. Women in many areas in contemporary society are seen as an ‘other,’ or marginalized in society, much as being African American. Several of Martin’s other poems deal with being black, like “Blackface Caricature in Thirteen” and “Negrotizing in Five: or, How to Write a Black Poem.” Both of these poems work with ideas of a marginalized person as well. Not only do all of these poems share the subject of a marginalized person, either all the same gender (female) or simply all African American, but they also deal with juxtaposed emotions.