Dawn Lundy Martin is the author of A Gathering of Matter / A Matter of Gathering (forthcoming in October 2007 from the University of Georgia Press), which was selected by Carl Phillips for the 2007 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. She is also author of the chapbook, The Morning Hour, selected by C.D. Wright in 2003 for the Poetry Society of Americaís inaugural National Chapbook Fellowship. She is a member of the Black Took Collective, a group of young Black post-theorists who perform and write in hybrid experimental forms, embracing radical poetics and cutting-edge critical theory about gender, race and sexuality. Their manifesto "Call for Dissonance," Black Took Collective appears in FENCE, Fall/Winter 2002. They are currently working on a book-length collection titled, Burning Down The (Plan)tation: Contemporary Innovative Poets on Process, in which they bring together innovative writers from diverse ethnic, cultural, and racial communities who enact for readers how their writing processes work. In addition to being published in a range of journals including FENCE, Encyclopedia, and Callaloo, Dawn has been awarded two artists grants in poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She has degrees from the University of Connecticut, San Francisco State University, and a Ph.D. forthcoming from the University of Massachusetts / Amherst. Her scholarly work focuses on feminist studies and experimentalism & subjectivity in contemporary poetry. In 2004, Dawn co-edited a collection of essays on third wave feminism titled, The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism (Anchor Books). She is co-founder of the Third Wave Foundation in New York, a national grantmaking organization that focuses on philanthropic and other social justice activism led by young women and trans youth. An assistant professor in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh, Dawn is also on the faculty of the Language and Thinking Program at Bard College.

Three Poems by Dawn Lundy Martin

Negrotizing in Five or How to Write a Black Poem

One: Formlessness.

One enters an unforgiving, inchoate world. No mold to make, fossilizing. Here is the secret: I cannot tell you because it is not known. My fingers obtund with effort. One asks about stuff, considers what comes next, is maddened by possibility. Some castigating black marks condition the body, soften the skin, open into sepulcher. But the body will not be buried there. It will put down a thing on a page, emancipated [nearly] by the imagination.

Two: Mutilation.

Hands are scarred, almost dead. You bleed from the knees, ruddy. Feebly scratch out signs including "as if." You are on the floor. You plead. You make filth. What to bare out? What to pitchfork? You want to be rid of the black. And you want to embrace the black. You write "grandmother" and cross it out. You peel. You acknowledge the pain of peeling. You are hollowing in, coarse carving a sound to resemble that which must be said. You drag your canvas over and finally write with whatever fluid has spilled.

Three: Sing a song that cannot be sung.

A maw. A silence. It wanted to say, I am, but said instead, it was. Noted the skinís purple hue, fell into longing, thought of what was made and what was done. Went to speak and said, sith sith, and then, mmmoss. Finger pointed at the body and then at the sun, realized nothing and fell again taciturn. There was, too, a craving: a stale remembrance that came a jolting. A hard feeling, a swallowed rock. Wanted to wrench a cavity and pull, expose the stone, as if I could, but could not.

Four: I/M/A/G/E

Tell me—I am telling you—the scent of your coming down, breath already at my belly button, easing. Or, the black room of terror that you half-recall, half-invent. Tell me of the exact moment you slashed through your surprisingly tough skin with a pocket knife and how it felt like rain. I want to tell you about the splitting, of a female body—how I squeezed into it—fitting barely, of the texture of melancholy, of a sycophantic love, draw a flicker for you, let you enter as if entering me.

Five: Completion cleaved.

All that has been spoken. All that threatens the legitimacy of that which is attempting to be said. Phonemic struggle—Iíll call it a precursor to blathering. Scintilla. Something dragged in the said. An ocean of debris. In the instants before arrivals some things happened. What is perpetually almost, spilling off its imagined page, signaling an infinite number of openings, leakages, stuck tongues. Blath, said by mistake, and begun again. Bath, said clearly. But, in the end, blath returned more persistently [unofficially], because it was dirty.

Last Days

What is the relation between Figure A and Figure B?

This is what the father has become.

That which is gone already?

Two feet, white with calluses, miasmic.

Who breathes in the room?

A girl on the bed, a daughter.

Only one then?

They wonít deliver him to her, her palms, little petals.


Untouched. Yes.

Will they arrive, then?

The wilting body is unmade on a soiled bed.

What color is the cusp of absence?

A selfish collection of coins in the dresser drawer.

Mine come that way.

A redefinition of what smell is.

Is there a terrible thing?

There are A and B and some curtains drawn tight to lock the room.
There is the scent that I will remember for many years.

This what happens before the figure disappears?

A row of unkempt stones they call heroes.

How is the pain endured?

A stem of grass imagined when it is not raining.
All those things called intentions. The private treasures one keeps safe.


Zero as the translation of O. The circle a mouth makes in pronouncing. O. I have never told anyone this before. It is ruby. Rubbed. Spot that throbs and gapes. Sound of the O. On my skin (it has a surface) I inscribe with a hot clip the letters of a puncture. Deserted carousel. Headless horse.

The fit is tight. Splitting into—stiff cup. A dark mouth moves, enters the tremor of a voiced, Uh. But, all this is not love, not love in the way one milks the center. Instead, chronic terror stripped to bone grating upon bone. Of down home, twang twang, and promise. My knees pressed behind ears.

Between poundings, the body Uhs. Cracked R. Cracker, crack her. Laughing: you ainít nothing but a black maid. The process is a patient body, waiting for discovery, hovering, crissed, saying Christ. This is raw data. Standing broken the udders flap. He grunts: Is this what you want, whore?

Swimmingly. Neck drooped. One attempt. Another. This is a very private moment. Zero as the incarceration of a theme. Uh, and Uh again. Peels the pink inside of the cheek. As if hollowing out. Hollering a big giant O. There is the saw sawing and the needle pinning. I wait. Unspeaking.

[Signal] [A black thought] [Black as in a tunnel darkening] [A secret] [Cranked] [Red] [Sense of unmoving] [Pleasure of seeing a dead thing] [Female as in floating, floating] [Whispering] [Muh]

[All poems from the collection A Gathering of Matter / A Matter of Gathering (University of Georgia Press, 2007)]