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About this poet

Martha Collins was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1940. She earned a BA at Stanford University and holds a PhD from the University of Iowa.

Collins is the author of Night Unto Night (Milkweed Editions, 2018), Admit One: An American Scrapbook (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016), Day Unto Day (Milkweed Editions, 2014) and the book-length poem Blue Front (Graywolf Press, 2006), winner of an Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, as well as four other books of poetry: Some Things Words Can Do (Sheep Meadow Press, 1998); A History of a Small Life on a Windy Planet (University of Georgia Press, 1993); The Arrangement of Space (Gibbs Smith, 1991), winner of the Peregrine Smith Poetry Competition; and The Catastrophe of Rainbows (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1985).

In his review of Day Unto Day, Kevin Prufer writes, “Martha Collins delves into the shiftiness of gender, the power of romantic love, the nature of the divine, the troubles of American national identity, and the certainty of mortality. Musically brilliant, psychologically intricate, movingly humane—Martha Collins is one of our most vital poets."

A translator of Vietnamese poetry, Collins has also cotranslated books of poems by Ngo Tu Lap, Nguyen Quang Thieu, and Lam Thi My Da.

Her honors include the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award, a Lannan residency grant, and the Laurence Goldstein Poetry Prize, as well as fellowships from the Bunting Institute, Ingram Merrill Foundation, National Endowment of the Arts, and Witter Bynner Foundation.

Collins established the creative writing program at the University of Massachusetts-Boston and was the Pauline Delaney Professor of Creative Writing at Oberlin College for ten years. She is currently the editor-at-large for FIELD magazine and an editor at Oberlin College Press. She lives in Oberlin, Ohio, and Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Selected Bibliography

Night Unto Night (Milkweed Editions, 2018)
Admit One: An American Scrapbook (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016)
Day Unto Day (Milkweed, 2014)
Blue Front (Graywolf, 2006)
Some Things Words Can Do (Sheep Meadow, 1998)
A History of a Small Life on a Windy Planet (University of Georgia, 1993)
The Arrangement of Space (Gibbs Smith, 1991)
The Catastrophe of Rainbows (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1985)

lynch

not as in pin, the kind that keeps the wheels
turning, and not the strip of land that marks
the border between two fields. unrelated
to link, as in chain, or by extension whatever
connects one part to another, and therefore
not a measure of a chain, which in any
case is less than the span of a hand hold-
ing the reins, the rope, the hoe, or taking
something like justice into itself, as when
a captain turned judge and gave it his name.
that was before it lost its balance and crossed
the border, the massed body of undoers
claiming connection, relation, an intimate
right to the prized parts, to the body undone.

* * * *

there was a second another
a white there were two
that night the second an after

thought said one of the papers
the other said when they couldn’t find
the second black in the jail they took

instead the white who’d murdered
his wife because (she said before
she died) she’d refused—

not prejudice the papers
said the hanging of Henry Salzner
proves they were not moved by race

Copyright © 2006 by Martha Collins. From Blue Front (Graywolf Press, 2006). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

Copyright © 2006 by Martha Collins. From Blue Front (Graywolf Press, 2006). Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database.

Martha Collins

Martha Collins

Martha Collins was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1940.

by this poet

poem

If you were Chinese, you had (mostly) been excluded since 1882.
If you were Japanese, things were complex after 1907–8.

If you were anything else, you were not excluded as such in 1916

although there were many who thought you should be
if you were the eastern or southern European

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
poem
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