Monday, December 3, 2012


Strange, how poetry wells up out of small towns perched on the bayous of Louisiana, and fine poets seem to emerge from the mists, reading poems that reflect the watery landscape. Their works are almost organic, coming out of the soil and water of Acadiana, appearing at celebrations of the rural arts such as the Fire and Water Celebration I attended Saturday in Arnaudville, Louisiana. Arnaudville, population 1500, is a town near the muddy Bayou Teche, that body of water which has birthed a culture rich in the arts. The last time I visited Arnaudville in the 90’s, the town was just beginning to develop an artistic energy that has burgeoned and begun to attract new residents from throughout the U.S. Today it draws artists and musicians from around the world.

Darrell Bourque, former
Louisiana Poet Laureate
 I went to hear my friends, Darrell Bourque and Margaret Simon, read from their latest works and to reconnect with Clare Martin, a woman with whom I once worked on the executive staff of Bayou Girl Scout Council in Lafayette, Louisiana. During the 90’s, Clare worked as Public Relations Officer of the Council, and one day at coffee break, she showed me a few of her unpublished poems. After I had read the few poems that she handed to me, I could tell she had “voice,” and although the poems were dark, they were mysterious and filled with longing for a fulfilling work and life that touched me deeply. After both of us left the Council, I saw Clare a few times on one occasion I wrote a letter of reference for her to work on her Master’s at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette; on another, I heard her read at a poetry celebration here in New Iberia. I lost touch with Clare but discovered Saturday that for the past eight years, she has found new life through her poetry, writing for the Avatar Review, Louisiana Literature, Poets and Artists, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and publishing in numerous literary journals and poetry anthologies. She has also been nominated for several awards that include Best New Poet, Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web (2011), and Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net (2008 and 2011).

Clare Martin, Author of
Eating the Heart First
 In Arnaudville, Clare read from her debut book of poetry, Eating the Heart First, published by Press 53 in Winston Salem, North Carolina, and I was stunned by the power of the poems she shared with us. They ranged from memories about her first child, Adam, who was born weighing only two pounds and maimed with cerebral palsy, to her bouts with mental darkness, and I kept thinking of two famous female poets, Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, who gave us revelations of their darkest moments in stark and powerful language similar to that expressed in Eating the Heart First. I bought a copy of Clare’s book and spent Sat. evening reading the work of someone I had once divined would become a fine poet. Before I left the “Little Big Cup Restaurant,” site of the reading, Clare told me that she was going to send her book to Oprah, and I think she possesses just enough tenacity and talent to enlist Oprah’s endorsement of Eating the Heart First.

Authors: Diane Moore (L)
and Margaret Simon (R)
 Margaret Simon, author of Blessen, sat next to us at a front table, and was moved to tears by Clare’s reading, and Darrell Bourque, former poet laureate of Louisiana, whispered to me, “She is a good poet. Darrell endorsed the back cover of Eating the Heart First, praising Clare’s work as “an oneiric treatise guided by the powers she believes in: the power of memory, the power of water, the power of moons, the powers of longing, and the power of love.”

One of the shorter, lighter poems akin to Haiku that I favored in Eating the Heart First, is entitled “Tattoo:”

“She has a tattoo
on her hip of a painted
Chinese horse—the brushstroke
animal grazes at her waist.

Black ink struggles
as if locked in wind.
In muscular unison the horse
strides to her belly:
         a field of moons.

Copies of this impressive book of poetry can be purchased from Press 53, P.O. Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130. Cover design of Eating the Heart First by Kevin Morgan Watson, and cover art, “He Cometh Out of the Swamp,” by Pamela Womax. Author photo by Jo Depew.

1 comment:

Clare said...

You blow me away with your generosity. Thank you, my friend.