Review of Megan Martin’s Sparrow & Other Eulogies
Gold Wake Press, 2011. 90 pages. $14.00

By Ezekiel Black

Perhaps the three most common words in Megan Martin’s Sparrow & Other Eulogies are story, narrative, and treetips. Most readers would recognize story and narrative as synonyms, and such an equation is rational, especially given Martin’s use of the words in her poetry; however, one could argue that treetips is also a synonym (or in that vicinity). Instead of the familiar word treetop, Martin prefers treetips, the nodes from which branches grow, and when one considers Martin’s aversion to “identical and clichéd stor[ies],” where “[a]ll heroines are trapped in the same doomed plotline (ankles roped to railroad tracks, wrists to bedposts, waiting, always waiting for)” the rescue “that goes off without a hitch,” one understands that Martin neglects the branches of the story’s plot to examine the source of the story itself. To avoid the mature but cliché branches of plot, Martin nips it in the bud and fosters a fresh scion of plot, one that she can shape as her own. Essentially, treetips is an objective correlative for Eros, that urge to create. As an author begins to write, the story or narrative sprouts ex nihilo like a tree from its treetips: synonyms.

Indeed, Martin is conscience of her quest for an original story and outfits the reader for the journey early in the collection:

       A story unhinged: is it still a story? All the pieces are there, disordered,
       masked, refantasized, dispersed like seeds…

       the bandage of white space…

       too mythical to be ordered in rational landscape…

       I am a story without a narrative; a ghost without a sheet.

       (That afternoon she tries to jump out the window.)

       A story failed.

       (Fired a bullet through his right temple.)

       Read: palm of broken rivers.

This excerpt functions as an ars poetica, but to comprehend Marin’s particular approach, one must first acknowledge her homage to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. For example, the line “Read: palm of broken rivers” melds “I will show you fear in a handful of dust,” “you know only / a heap of broken images,” and “I sat upon the shore / Fishing, with the arid plain behind me / Shall I at least set my lands in order?” Like the Fisher King’s dilemma, Martin’s speaker must commence the awesome, “mythical” task of reconstructing a “rational landscape,” but with mere fragments of a story, the speaker knows not where to begin. The only option, then, is to imitate the Fisher King: “These fragments I have shored against my ruins.” That is, the speaker attempts to mend these fragments, these ruins of story, with white space, with poetry, hence “the bandage of white space.” In Martin’s excerpt, the speaker’s anxiety about trite stories bars the formation of narrative, so he or she, like the Fisher King, dwells in the liminal space between creation and destruction, between life-giving water and sterile earth.

After a thematic examination of Sparrow & Other Eulogies, a demonstration of Martin’s poetic skill is due. In the second section of the book “Postcards from New Life, Vol. II,” which is a series of ekphrases that answer handmade postcards from friends, Martin exercises her poetic, near scientific precision:

       I traded all my shimmering petticoats for a sopping gray cloak, made of the finest
       imported burlap dyed with drowned souls, sold to me for three dollars by a toothless
       witch-surgeon named Candi, who assured me of its transformative powers.

       It will be fabulous to pull it up over your ears at the theater! To huddle inside it on
       feverish beaches! To listen as it accumulates the sound of your sweat! said Candi. To don
       it at the ball!

Initially, the exclamations of the second paragraph convey an internal monologue, but as one reads “said Candi,” dialogue supplants that internal monologue; and for a moment, the reader holds two versions of the poem, “A Changed/Delusional Woman, She Ventured into the ‘Wild,’” in mind. Although the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle seldom darkens the door of poetry, Martin’s opportune dialogue tag could exemplify its mutual exclusivity: once the reader learns the position of “said Candi,” a portion of the poem’s momentum, one of its two possible interpretations, disappears. Essentially, Martin’s placement of two words can wrench the reader’s mind from one trajectory to another, and this speaks to her adroit ability.

Martin exhibits various fragments, such as treetip narratives and postcard collages, throughout Sparrow & Other Eulogies, but she also attempts to coalesce these fragments, what she terms “sentence-scraps.” This process spans the entire book and begins in “Sparrow, Eulogy 5: The Body Insists,” the sixth poem: “When I pray for doves, stray pigeons descend to me; I strap sentence-scraps satcheled to their backs, fly them off cross-country at random intervals.” The speaker then asks, “Someday bits of my story will fall somewhere in the vicinity of your coordinates?” Later, in “43° N/35° E, A Postcard Falls (Afterword),” the fortieth and final poem, those coordinates appear. If Sparrow & Other Eulogies had a climax, this poem would be best candidate, thanks to its visions of renewal. For example, bees populate the poem. Along with the flowers that they pollinate, bees are harbingers of Spring, and because of their unique drive, bees symbolize industry and productivity, the traits necessary to repair Martin’s wasteland. Perhaps the bees reference W.B. Yeats’ bucolic, utopian “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Indeed, Martin’s finale contains a “bee-loud” chorus:

       A seashell rings and I hold it to my ear.

       Is that your sea-hymn out there, writhing beneath the hive-static?

       I hold it to my ear, hold it to my ear, hold it to my…

The buzzing, ringing, and the words “I once heard a scientist refer to ‘the timeline of healing’” that crisscross this poem, not to mention the “sentence-scraps” that crisscross the book, suture the torn body of Sparrow & Other Eulogies, crafting a whole that is both familiar and foreign, Martin’s modus operandi.

Ezekiel Black is a lecturer of English at Gainesville State College. Before this appointment, he attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he received an MFA in Creative Writing. His poetry and reviews have appeared in Verse, Sonora Review, GlitterPony, Skein, Invisible Ear, Tomfoolery Review, Tarpaulin Sky, InDigest, Drunken Boat, CutBank, and elsewhere. He lives in Oakwood, Georgia and edits the audio poetry journal Pismire.

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