Seek the Holy Dark is now available for pre-order. Trade paperback, 66 pages, only $10. Pre-orders will ship in early February. To order click here.
Any new book of poems worth its salt must reinvent the intelligences of poetry: trope, word, image, argument, sentence, strophe, music. The poems in Clare Martin’s Seek the Holy Dark will keep. They are salt.
~Darrell Bourque, Former Louisiana Poet Laureate, author of Megan’s Guitar and Other Poems from Acadie and Where I Waited
From the holy dark of horror storms and freedom in the hand, to starving wolves and old women who live in woods, Clare Martin’s poetic imagery seeks in myth to locate depth of soul. She incants salvation “bone by bone” up from the shadows. Her writing has a beautiful fury, a hard questing and secret exultation that keep the reader poised and intoxicated. “Do you seek the heart too” the opening poem asks, and of course, we answer Yes and read breathlessly on. These poems “drop through this world/into dark awakening.” The strong-hearted will understand.
~Rachel Dacus, author of Gods of Water and Air
Seek the Holy Dark is a book of revelations in poems. Clare L. Martin sees the richness and the poverty that are bedmates, proffers them as gifts, lays them at our feet. Her poems suggest we join in the quest to be both humbled and exalted. Martin, who never looks away, fully understands the duality of nature, its light and darkness, exploring both in this lush and lyrical new collection.
~Susan Tepper, author of dear Petrov and The Merrill Diaries
Seek the Holy Dark is the 2017 selection of the Louisiana Series of Cajun and Creole Poetry by Yellow Flag Press.
“Feminine Abstract” by Clare L. Martin, charcoal on paper, digitized, filtered. 2016.
“Marsh Song I*” Mixed media, Clare L. Martin ©2016
We drive westward along the Louisiana coast on a crumbling highway with my parents. The sky purples with becoming light. Our bellies are full of boudin and cracklins. Hot coffee is handed carefully from the front seat to my husband and I seated in the back.
We sing “J’ai Passe Devant Ta Porte” or “Bon Vieux Mari,” called by my mother and responded to by my father. Always my father embellishes his responses. My mother rolls down her window and points to the Roseate Spoonbills lifting from their roosts. My father stops singing and praises God.
A prayer is said for loved ones, wherever they are. More of the morning sky erupts over the marsh. I think of painters, how I wish to be one, how I have tried with my words. This day we are traveling to see Sandhill Cranes that have been spotted in Creole, a few miles from here. We always take the scenic route and happily travel from dawn to dusk.
How many times have we come to this slipping away land and been blessed by our forgetfulness of the world’s problems and our own? Countless. How much do I miss these two people who gave and saved my life? My longing cannot be measured.
To treasure the dead is our inheritance.
*I dedicate this artwork and these words to my beloved family, especially to my deceased loved ones, wherever they are.
Clare L. Martin
“Embryonic Self*,” mixed media, by Clare L. Martin
A tree held in its branches
a womb that carried me.
My strong heart
beat brilliant red
through fluid translucence.
A thick cord
connected me to roots
of the tree
into the blood
of the earth.
Who knew I would experience
such sorrow, such joy
once born into the world?
*Dedicated to Bessie Senette.
Clare L. Martin ©2016
after a mixed media art piece in the Angel Bath series by Dennis Paul Williams
The fetal heart stops
in a globe of light
their way through flesh
her cheek depressed
a doctor’s thumbprint
gray washes into amber
soft, blooded veins—
her mother bears
the crown of thorns.
Desiccation we know
because the artist
layers each dream
upon the other
the artist dreams
these dreams for us
to show us
when waters rise
when rains fall.
When mothers suffer
up to their necks
reach for the ceiling
pray for lightning bolt holes
through the roof: a delivery
of a different kind
the ever-ghost children
quickly go to ground—
still-hearted and all.
©2016 Clare L. Martin
I am thrilled to announce that Yellow Flag Press will publish Seek the Holy Dark as the 2017 selection of The Louisiana Series of Cajun and Creole Poetry. Great thanks to J. Bruce Fuller for this honor. Yellow Flag Press is a Louisiana-born publishing house that is growing its national presence. I have had a long relationship with it, and I can’t think of any other affiliation that would make me as happy.
A little backstory:
For a long period of time since my mother’s death in May of 2014, I felt aimless. I was writing, but I did not have a meaningful writing project in front of me to keep me focused on the bigger picture of my Writing Life. I had material for a new manuscript, tentatively titled “Broken Jesus,” that I began to assemble after Eating the Heart First was published. Over the course of a couple of years, I abandoned hope for it and just kept writing new.
Several months ago, while having coffee with The Bayou Mystic, Bessie Senette, I expressed my feelings of a lack of purpose beyond my personal responsibilities and our writing group’s objectives. She knew that I had relinquished my roles in many of the projects I had been involved with before my mother’s death. She also knew that was very hard for me, because of my giving and ambitious nature. The deep dissatisfaction I had been living with was causing depression beyond normal grief.
Bessie listened as I shared my feelings. After a silence, Bessie stood, pointed her finger between my eyes, and said, “You need to write another damn book!” As soon as she said it, I was taken aback. I went home with a charge of energy to do exactly what she said to do. I got to work with real determination.
In December 2015, in a casual conversation, I brought up the work I was doing to J. Bruce Fuller at a writing event we were attending in Arnaudville, LA. He offered to read the manuscript. When I sent it, I had a sense that if I had to face a “no” I would reluctantly consider other options. Honestly, from that moment in Arnaudville when the opportunity opened, I desired for Seek the Holy Dark to be a YFP book. I have always had great faith in J Bruce’s integrity and the good health of his press.
[Surprisingly, in less than three days of receiving the publishing news, the cover art was selected and rights acquired. That is another story that involves my dear Bessie!!]
I am thrilled, ready, excited, and focused to bring this new work to the world. I again express thanks to J Bruce Fuller and Yellow Flag Press for this amazing opportunity.
And great thanks to Bessie for seeing my need and calling forth my energy to fulfill it.
Washing my hands this morning, I thought of Noami Vincent, who was like a great aunt to me. She was my grandmother’s neighbor from the time that my grandparents (along with my mother and her siblings) moved from the country after a terrible flood that took everything they owned, to the house where they lived 50 years, where I live now.
Noami lived into her 90s, became my closest friend for many years until she passed in 2007, the same year as my father. She was a lively, seemingly impervious Cajun woman who had so many losses in her life. She was one of the strongest women I have ever known. She lost seven children. She miscarried six times and the only child that she birthed, a girl, died in childbirth. This woman saved me so many times in our great friendship. She was family to us and is dearly missed.
I looked out of the bathroom window this morning and could see her house, empty still. When she lived, her door was always open to me and to so many loved ones. She was brave, funny, stubborn and deeply faithful. Here are a couple of facts about her: she kept a bayonet in her closet to defend herself, if needed, and she traveled alone to California from Louisiana without knowing how to drive during World War II.
Noami’s story is complex. Both of her parents were deaf and mute and her mother went blind, too, after contracting diabetes. The poem below is collected in Eating the Heart First, and was written with inspiration from events in her life. She was very close to my mother, too, and I incorporated something of my mother’s narrative in it.
I will leave it at that.
I don’t want to use copyrighted images in this post, but please look at this painting, “Hands #1,” oil on canvas, 24″x24″, 2011, previously shown at Saatchi: Gallery Mess, London by Daniel Maidman that really struck me today.
Hands like flushed doves
flutter to say: dry the dishes—
sweep the floor, but never be quiet.
When she went blind, too,
we spelled goodnight and I love you tenderly,
tracing each alphabet
on the scattered leaves of her palms.
I married and she touched
my hips, spreading her hands wide
to note I was getting fat. She patted
my growing belly
but never cradled my offspring.
When the infant died,
fell like trees
in storms from her mouth.
Copyright 2012, Clare L. Martin. All rights reserved.
I have happy news to share with you all. I have known for a few weeks but I got permission to share publicly a bit of news that I was conceived on Valentine’s Day in 1968! This explains a lot about me and my almost crippling (being facetious) romanticism. Really the fact that I was a Valentine’s Day baby makes me feel all kinds of wonderful, and I thank my mom for letting me share this with the world. She did ask me however to keep the details of the actual conception confidential. Ha!
I visited with my mother for a little while today and she read a poem to me dedicated to a deceased loved one that meant something to her. She pulled it out of a Ziploc bag that had neatly folded sheets of newspaper clippings. I asked her, “You keep obituaries in a Ziploc bag?” She said, “Yes?” I asked her to give me a moment and I found a piece of paper in my purse and jotted the poem below down. Many of my friends know that my mother is always asking me why I haven’t written any poems about her. I have cryptically, but this one is in a new vein, and she approved it.
My mother keeps obituaries
in a Ziploc bag,
neatly-folded reminders of loss.
She always reads the obituaries
first thing in the morning,
before prayers, so that if she knows
anyone, anyone she can pray
for their souls
and the hearts of survivors.
Once at 6:00 am,
as my father handed her
the just-delivered paper,
she told me that the wife
of my favorite professor and mother
of my friend Victor, had died.
I knew Barbara, a poet herself,
had breast cancer
and was close to the end.
I dressed and peeled-out
of the driveway to Dr. V.’s house.
He was shocked to see me
and just shook his head and said,
“How? How did you know so quickly?”
My mother slips a thin
piece of newspaper
out of the plastic bag and says
it has been ten years
since my firstborn’s death.
This stops me, so I pet her dog, Demitasse.
How else could I end this poem?
©2014 Clare L. Martin
I slip from the edge of a muddy cane field into the Mississippi River with a baby in my arms. It is my daughter and she is one or two years old. We glide over the water, my bare feet causing small wakes. Sometimes we move by vaulting with a large limb of a tree that carries us farther and faster than our own energies. We are like wind over the water. We move far and fast; away, away but always the river hungers.
My little girl keeps falling asleep; limps out of my grip into treacheries of the river. She sinks quickly, or sometimes floats just at the surface. I pull her out by her hair. In one part of the dream, we fly through a deep-green stand of trees along the riverbank. The leaves and branches do not ribbon our skin, but I fear flying into their hardwood bodies. I tighten my grip on my girl. Sometimes she laughs, enjoying herself on this great adventure. I don’t know why we don’t smack right into a trunk. Why don’t the trees kill us?
In open air, we meet a woman who can also fly and knows the river. She promises us safety. She flies with a baby in a carriage chained to her backside. At one point she slips the baby, much younger, much smaller than my own, into a pocket, and unhooks the chain, dropping the carriage into the mud. We fly great distances. The river grows angrier that it cannot have us. We glide close to the bank, sometimes we change course. In the very middle of the river, the deepest part, I see a half-sunken iron statue of Evangeline; her rusted breasts emerge from water. The flying woman solemnly, weeping, gives us up. She flies to a silent grove to breastfeed her infant.
A man with a boat that is shaped like a deep gumbo bowl with an outboard motor finds us, or rather we find him via a hand-painted wooden sign offering boat tours. I ask him where we are, tell him I want to go to Youngsville, and that there is a new sports complex with tall, bright lights that might serve as a landmark. He says we are only three miles away. This gives me hope.
Once we are isolated on the water, with no one watching, wind forces its tongue down my throat. Thrice, my only child falls in, and I have to go deeper each time to get her and bring her back to life. She is exhausted, sick from coughing the Mississippi. I keep telling her to hold me tightly, but she doesn’t comprehend enough language, so I grip her with the one goddamn-willing muscle I have left.
The man with the boat starts to ask questions, says he doesn’t have a woman and I seem to be a good one. From the belly of the boat where I am seated, I see the longed-for lights of the sports complex, not too far away. The man operating the boat continues on the river swiftly, jamming his wrist with a hard twist to increase the motor’s speed. At some point he abandons us wordlessly, waist-deep in a forgettable tributary.
I wake up wanting home, being home and grab a notebook. Write down the bones.
All rights reserved