“Clare L. Martin is a fine young poet whose work is dark and lovely and full of a deep organic pulse. Like the landscape of her beloved Louisiana, her work is alive with mystery. You could swim in this hot water, but there are things down inside its darkness that might pull you away forever. It is an exquisite drowning.”
“Martin is a fearless poet who opens her collection with a poem called “Naked.” She tells us she “winc[es] at self-recognition”—but wincing isn’t running, isn’t hiding from the mirror. In “I Have Learned to Hold My Tongue” a few pages later, silence isn’t forever, but “Not yet, not yet.” Words must gestate, be nourished in wombs until viable.
Knowing when to let words out becomes knowing how hard to love, and the knowledge, anthropologists might conclude, comes from women. Perhaps it’s one woman who is many women: “The woman naked before the mirror,” “the woman you married,” “Bone Woman,” “Girl Running with Horses,” “Garbage Woman,” “wood-boned mother,” “the earth, your other mother”…there are more. Martin tells us what women know, and looks to women in dreams, in art, and in memory for answers. Many of her poems even read like spells—the knowledge is “conjured,” “illuminates” and “enlightens.” Love letters are burned and smoke is “sacrificial.” Ashes are offered “to the thunder and wind.” Ceremoniously, Martin honors lives—her father’s, her infant son’s—she couldn’t herself sustain anywhere else but in the altar-tombs of her poems.
“What are these words / but weapons of grief?” she asks rhetorically in “Abandoned.”
And such weapons as we find in her book are exquisitely rendered.
“Clare L. Martin pulls off an impressive balancing act in her debut book of poems Eating the Heart First. In this collection, divided into three sections, she manages trust of her intuitive powers while she tats her findings onto poems built with technical expertise. She is a believer of dreams, and the whole of the work can be read 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. In one of the late poems a crow in a dream asks, ‘Let me be a whorl of darkness— / Let me be a fist in the sun.’ All of the poems in this collection have the impact of that crow’s call and of the trope it creates. Gradually the poems reveal richly textured revelations of a heart tied to human experience in that ‘dream we cannot know completely.’ And, while we may not ever know the dream completely, Ms. Martin hands us a guidebook to dreams and to the art that uses dream and dreaming as the scaffolding from which to make something beautiful, and useful, and mysterious all at the same time.”
— Darrell Bourque, former Poet Laureate of Louisiana and author of In Ordinary Light, New and Selected Poems
“In her first collection, Martin deals with many common themes – motherhood, death, nature – but does so with an unsettling grace. There is an honesty and an understated tone that give each piece the right mix of tension and release. Many of the poems are exceptionally well wrought, describing loss and hope, anger and want. The most powerful piece in the collection has to be “Bread Making.” The seething anger, mixed with a dash of christian mythos, combined with flour, and sweat, all bake together into the perfect loaf.
Although described as a Louisiana poet, Martin will appeal to readers way beyond the dankness of the bayou.”