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
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.