Dawn Lundy Martin's second book of poetry takes on the idea of discipline and the effects of constraint and regimes of power on the body and the soul. In the Foreword to the collection, Fanny Howe cites D.H. Lawrence's views about the damaged psyches of young people in the wake of the Great Depression; he ascribed their state to an "erosion of mutual sympathy among...citizens after decades of exploitation and violence...toward the earth and others." Howe posits that Martin is trying to respond directly to this condition, to the "loathing that trickles down to the youngest of the young." Indeed, a passage on the first page of Martin's collection reads
in breath-attempts under weight metal here the jar here the inside of the jar excruciation fixed [or phrase] or doubt: three went in and three emerged although significantly reduced
The struggle with (and for) compassion looms large in the poems. The characters in these fragments struggle with shame, desire, health, ostracism, and danger. This is difficult reading precisely because Discipline doesn't offer easy solutions or a constructed respite. Claudia Rankine notes that what Martin's poems evoke "is beyond knowledge. Instead, find [in Discipline] the feelings words only strive toward. I was awakened...”
This book review originally appeared in American Poets, fall 2011, issue 41.