skip to main content
White Papers is a series of untitled poems that explore race from a variety of personal, historical, and cultural perspectives, questioning what it means to be "white" in a multi-racial society.
White Papers is a series of untitled poems that deal with issues of race from a number of personal, historical, and cultural perspectives. Expanding the territory of her 2006 book Blue Front, which focused on a 1909 lynching and won an Anisfield-Wolf Prize, Collins here addresses questions of what it means to be "white" in a multi-racial society that continues to live under the influence of its deeply racist past.
"White Papers is a praise song for the truth. It bravely pulls back the covers of whiteness to offer us precious views of racial privilege. Martha Collins has laid bare the more complex dangers of America's central trauma in a book of innovative craft and startling honesty. The rhythmic tapestry of this remarkable work helps open the door to a healing that is long overdue. Let this praise song be praised."
—Afaa M. Weaver
"The path of Martha Collins' work—selflessly risky, formally innovative, profoundly social—has always been leading to White Papers. These fierce, beautiful poems not only confront the illimitable issue of "whiteness" itself, they are a breakthrough in the conversation we, with our fractured thinking about race, have yet to have. They defy the silences and insist nothing is unspeakable."
"White Papers is that difficult beginning, the one beneath traditional poetic confessions of written Whiteness. Martha Collins transforms the history of America's troubled racial roots and, most importantly, her own into a slide show of non-capitalized flesh. This book is the one we knew was out there but had rarely read. It is an honest and powerful half-portrait, leaning into its own brave profile.
—Thomas Sayers Ellis
This tightly focused, strongly argued book-length sequence uncovers a personal, regional, cultural, and institutional history of whiteness and white privilege: its clipped quatrains, spare recollections, and embedded citations give the rare and valuable show of a white author reflecting on the meanings and the oddities of race. Collins’s Blue Front (2006) told stories of an Illinois lynching, and this volume clearly grew out of that one; but she here deploys a range of forms, visual as well as aural, and a range of effects, from a hammering self-reflection ("could get a credit card loan car/ come and go without a never had/ to think about") to ironic collage. Race is not only nor always black and white: "the natives of southern New England," Collins notes, were "our first them." But black and white and their intertwined asymmetries rule this serious collection.
Collins continues the inquiry into race that shaped Blue Front (2006), here, in this startling and provocative collection, exploring the motif and myth of racial "whiteness." She writes, "history leaves us nothing / but not: like children playing at being / something, we made, we keep / making our whiteness up." The imaginary quality of whiteness reveals itself as a childlike fantasy as Collins evokes its abstract quality. Collins’ flair for metaphor is evident when she shifts from "five white baby dresses" to "Gray faces framed in white / Black faces in negative / Shadows in the sidewalk’s gray mirror." The movement from soft white baby dresses to the harsh concrete of the sidewalk seems to be a movement from comforting to cold. The fact that she has outgrown the baby dresses also indicates a movement from the stark world of black and white into the more hazy world of gray. Within the stark chromatic scale of black, white, and gray, Collins evokes a dazzling spectrum of palpable emotions, racial tensions, and unraveling binaries.