My tenth book, Because What Else Could I Do, has just won the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award.
The judge was Alice Fulton. Here is her citation:
Alice Fulton’s Citation:
Throughout her distinguished career, Martha Collins has devised a poetics of justice and revelation. Her singular aesthetic reaches its apogee in this sequence that witnesses personal devastation and testifies to the terrifying forces of love and grief. William Carlos Williams asked poets to write “a new kind of measure,” “the poem as a field of action,” and Collins’s innovative work answers the challenge. A life-altering tragedy is enacted in a prosody built from silence and fractured language. Radical loss decimates lines that stumble and stutter in resonant spasms. The “story”— and its emotional backlash—levitate from the fissures of a flayed syntax.
Williams also advised poets to “listen to the language for the discoveries we hope to make.” But Collins must listen to discoveries she never hoped to make. Because what else could she do? The pathos of that desperate question transfigures these minimalist poems that testify to the excruciations of shame, the malevolence of scams, the sadness of delusional disorders, the helplessness of guilt and mourning. The linguistic surface is planed; the rhetoric free of pedantry or archness. Negative space vibrates with contained emotion, and it is especially moving to feel such intensity emerge from a purposefully limited palette. I could not stop reading.
I will be in Marfa, Texas on a Lannan Foundation residency from January 11-February 17, 2020. Looking forward!
In this deeply personal book (initially not intended for publication), poet Collins (Admit One, 2016) steps away from her usual explorations of the larger social circumstances in which we live—and the pain they cause—to explore the pain of her husband’s death. This collection reads like a short story with an emergent plot that includes a last-minute twist. Many of the poems stand on their own beautifully, such as “I alone in a restaurant,” but the collection should be read all of a piece and in order. Collins captures the variations in the voice of grief: confusion, despair, irony, and talismanic attention to small details. These poems are stripped and spare; they read almost like erasure poems or like listening in on the poet talking to herself only half aloud. Structurally, some poems nearly dissolve into the white space of the page, requiring careful rereading, while others knot and reknot themselves around a single word. This small book urgently and unflinchingly captures the shock and reverberation of unexpected grief.
Because What Else Could I Do is a sequence of fifty-five untitled short poems, almost all of them addressed to my husband following his unexpected death in 2016. I wrote them for him, for his abiding presence—and I wrote them for myself. At the time, I had no intention of publishing them. But the book will be published in the Pitt Poetry Series in September.
I will be teaching a week-long workshop this summer from June 23-29 in Chautauqua, New York. See the Events page of this website for information.