Tuesday, April 21, 2009
J. Michael Martinez: a brief interview and fragment
J. Michael Martinez received an MFA from George Mason University. His poems have appeared in New American Writing, Five Fingers Review, The Colorado Review, Crab Orchard Review and others. He was winner of the 2006 Five Fingers Review Poetry Prize and is co-editor/co-founder of Breach Press. He has poems forthcoming in the anthology Junta: Avant-Garde Latino/a Writing. He teaches literature and cultural studies at the University of Northern Colorado. He lives in Boulder.
And (this just in over at lorcaloca): J. Michael Martinez is the winner of the 2009 Walt Whitman Prize, whose final judge was Juan Felipe Herrera.
What inspires you artistically?
Martinez: I suppose it's an attempt to achieve a clarity and a unity, because so much of what I experience in my own individual world — and the more cultural realm of politics — is fragmented. It's fragmented and chaotic in the sense that how I experience employing language in poetry is a way for me to clarify and to achieve a certain sense of beauty. That's not to say that I achieve it, but I aim for it. And the strange and difficult thing that beauty is — I have a yearning for it, and I hope to one day achieve that in a poem. The other aspect of that is that poetry always occurs as a community. It's language so it's a dialogue. And for me — I operate with language, in a sense, with the theories of Martin Buber, where, at the highest level of communication, there's this arcing toward a level of the unattainable — and for him, it's divinity, dwelling with divinity. For me, the concept is sort of old- fashioned — this sort of arcing toward communion is old- fashioned. I definitely have a sense of operating with that in mind. One other thing that comes to mind is a quote by Reginald Shepherd. He said that poetry aims for the end of poetry, which is unattainable. And I think that's really true for me and what I try to do.
DP: Who are your favorite poets?
Martinez: Oh, man. The one that I always return to is Rainer Maria Rilke. And then the others that I go back to are Susan Howe , Rosmarie Waldrop, and H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), one of the first Imagist writers. I love all of those writers, and they're the ones I consistently turn back to for inspiration and a guide to excavate what language is guiding me forward.
DP: Why do you think poetry is important?
Martinez: The first word that came to my mind is reconciliation. And a lot of what deals with language in postmodernism deals with fragmentation of language itself. For me, that's beautiful. However, what's implicit in that fragmentation is that language mends at the same time what it's tearing. What that makes me think of is a quote by Maurice Blanchot, and I'll paraphrase it. It embodies what I'm trying to say: In fragmentation, in that space between the fragments, is almost a stronger unity because the fragments beckon each other, and are almost a stronger hole than the whole itself. That speaks to the paradox of language to me.
The first time I read J. Michael Martinez's work was a few years ago in New American Writing. I had no idea who he was (had not had the pleasure of meeting him--yet) I can't remember the last time someone won me over in that fashion with a single poem.
Xicano [a fragment]:
a wind settles in the body.
Echécatl the breath, the flint & spark.
the house of prayers.
when sounds exchange questions
when light enters the lung