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About this poet

Martha Collins was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1940. She earned a B.A. at Stanford University and holds a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa.

Collins is the author of a book-length poem, Blue Front (Graywolf, 2006), as well as four other books of poetry: Some Things Words Can Do (1998); A History of a Small Life on a Windy Planet (1993); The Arrangement of Space (1991), winner of the Peregrine Smith Poetry Competition; and The Catastrophe of Rainbows (1985).

She has also published a chapbook, Gone So Far (2005); CO-translated two collections poems from the Vietnamese, The Women Carry River Water by Nguyen Quang Thieu (1997) and Green Rice by Lam Thi My Da (2005); and edited a volume of essays on Louise Bogan (1984).

In Blue Front, Collins dissects a horrific lynching that occurred in her father's hometown (Cairo, Illinois) when he was a child. In a review in Booklist, Janet St. John writes: "Collins carefully examines the event and its aftermath, especially the effect on her father who later seeks a home in an all-white community. She then extends her thoughtful scrutiny to incorporate newspaper accounts, photographs, personal accounts, and history to expose the way racism permeates all layers of society. Collins employs a staccato, matter-of-fact tone that strikes like a sledgehammer at persistent, if hidden, hate. More than worthy as poetry, Blue Front is also a powerful statement about America and a potent reminder of humankind's terrible potential.

Her honors include fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Bunting Institute, as well as three Pushcart prizes and a Witter Bynner Grant for translation, and a Lannan Foundation Residency Grant.

Collins established the creative writing program at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and currently holds the Pauline Delaney Chair in Creative Writing at Oberlin College. She lives in Oberlin, Ohio, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

[ 14 ]

Martha Collins
black keys from trees white keys locked

on black shoulders locked together above

skeleton ribs keys to 45 keyboards from one

tusk the word ivory rang through the air

one tusk + one slave to carry it bought

together if slave survived the long march

sold for spice or sugar plantations if not

replaced by other slaves five Africans died

for each tusk 2 million for 400,000 American

pianos including the one my grandmother

played not to mention grieving villages

burned women children left to die the dead

elephants whose tusks went to Connecticut

where they were cut bleached and polished

while my grandmother played in Illinois

my mother played and I— there were many old

pianos and slaves were used till the 20th century:

an African slave could have carried a tusk

that was cut into white keys I played, starting

with middle C and going up and down

From White Papers by Martha Collins. Copyright © 2012 by Martha Collins. Reprinted with permission of University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.

From White Papers by Martha Collins. Copyright © 2012 by Martha Collins. Reprinted with permission of University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved.

Martha Collins

Martha Collins

Martha Collins was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1940. She earned a

by this poet

poem
Wanted that red, wanted everything tucked inside
that red, that body, it seemed, turned inside out,
that walking flower, petals furled, leaved
by the trees by the forest path, the yellow basket
marking the center--

			wanted to raise that rose
petal skin to my gray face, barely to brush
that warmth with my cold
poem
could get a credit card loan car

come and go without a never had

to think about a school work job

to open doors to buy a rent a nice

place yard park beside a walk

in any store without a never had

to dress to buy a dress shoes under-

wear to understate or –play myself 

to make myself heard to get across