The Flapper Press Poetry Café: The Poetry of E. Martin Pedersen

Updated: Sep 2

By Annie Newcomer:



The Flapper Press Café features the work of poets from around the world. This week, we highlight the work of E. Martin Pedersen.


E. Martin Pedersen

E. Martin Pedersen, originally from San Francisco, has lived for over 40 years in eastern Sicily, where he taught English at the local university. His poetry appeared most recently on Ginosko, Metaworker, Triggerfish, Unlikely Stories Mark V, and Grey Sparrow Review, among others. Martin is an alumnus of the Community of Writers. He has published two collections of haiku, Bitter Pills and Smart Pills, and a chapbook, Exile's Choice, just out from Kelsay Books. A full collection, Method & Madness, is forthcoming from Odyssey Press. To read more, visit his blog here.

We reached out to Martin to ask him about his work and inspirations.


AN: You mentioned that your parents were pioneers in Seward, Alaska. Can you tell us a little bit about your grandparents and their adventures there? Was this before the WWII military fortifications were set up on the island to spot incoming enemy incursions or after the war? Barwell Island is only populated by birds today, correct? Have you yourself ever visited this island or did your grandparents inform you about it?

MP: My great-grandfather was one of the founders of Seward, Alaska. He was there as a missionary in the 1910s. He kept his family in a snow-covered tent the first year, then built them a log house. He also built the first school and his own Methodist church, which is now a coffeehouse/bookstore. The Pedersen Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park is named for Louis H. Pedersen. I was close to my grandfather, Ralph, who often told me stories of growing up in the small, wild port town.


Rockwell Kent was already a successful painter when he escaped from New York to Fox Island in Resurrection Bay. He and his son lived in a shed and barely had enough to eat or wood to keep warm. Kent painted or drew when he could. Some extraordinary work. He was coming to terms with the break-up of his marriage. For the full story, see his book Wilderness.


One minor point that inspired the poem was that Kent would row to Barwell Island to collect gull eggs to eat.


I visited Seward in 2003 and flew over the islands in Resurrection Bay that I'd seen in a Rockwell Kent print.


AN: We are always curious to know what led a poet to write a particular poem. In this case it's "How to Make Love: A Manual." What moments in thought triggered your creating this poetic manual?


MP: When I said that this poem was a manual, I was being facetious. Who am I to write such a work? Make love to the world, maybe. I think the relay runner trope is meant to expose the expandable mental time frame we use to judge our reality. By this I mean, when I get angry or worried about what's happening today or yesterday (as portrayed by the media) and believe the world's going to pot, as I do, I can ask myself "compared to when?" A century ago, the Middle Ages? Are we better off today than in the prehistoric era? I'm not sure "yes" is the answer, but the question helps me take a different look at myself in society and the definition of progress.


So we carry our torches and pass them on (or not), and we've done our best, and that's enough. Right? Right?


AN: First of all, I loved your title "I read Dante's Inferno, I liked it—." Please tell us more about The Limbo Reports. Is this a manuscript you completed last year during the pandemic?


MP: When I read Dante's Inferno, I enjoyed imagining all the people in my life who had done me wrong burning in one of the nine circles of Hell. With the exception of the part about Sodomites, I could fill in names for each category of sinner and get my virtual revenge. Probably that's a completely wrong reading, but . . . I liked it.


My poem plays with religion and social concerns and ends with the spirit of the Obama presidential campaign. The inspiration of hope and public service that seems so repressed these days.


The Limbo Reports is a collection of 50 poems I wrote in between quarantines last year and am publishing separately for now.


AN: In conclusion, Martin, how do you describe your poetry? Does it fall into a particular category such as narrative, lyrical, confessional?


MP: I write a lot and a lot of different types of poems. I'm not sure how to categorize them. Maybe poetry of confusion. I express what I think, what I think is right, always with a pinch of doubt and an admission of inadequacy.

 

My grandparents were pioneers in Seward, Alaska, at the same time that painter Rockwell Kent was there with his son on a sort of spiritual retreat.


Photo: Rockwell Kent's Wilderness, Pictoscribe - on VisualHunt

Gull Eggs


It seems that we have both together by chance turned out of the beaten, crowded way and come to stand face to face with that infinite and unfathomable thing which is the wilderness; and here we have found OURSELVES -- for the wilderness is nothing else. (Rockwell Kent)


If you're living in a goat shack

for an adventure of the spirit

thinking of two women and

death a hundred times a day

on Fox Island, Resurrection Bay

between Bay Harbour and

near what is today Kenai

Fjords National Park

just you and your son of nine

thirteen miles from Seward

at the open end of the Bay

painting like one possessed

cooking playing flute cutting wood

and motor-boating the area round

on rare hours of decent weather

temperatures above zero °F

no incessant wind storms, drenching rain

squalls of hail or snow, you're hungry

in need of a pick-up

tired of fishing or corn-meal mush

try Barwell Island, many

gulls breed there, their eggs

are delicious.

 

Photo: DonkeyHotey on VisualHunt.com

How to Make Love


When your dog is dying in the same room

When your Dad is dying in the same room

When your God is dying in the same room


They pass you the torch, all the way back through human history

And what do you do?

You got to run

You run with the torch and in the crowd

Lining the streets you think you see

Familiar faces blurred

The crowd thins out

As you reach the outskirts of town

So you welcome the solitude of the runner

Until somewheres out in the suburbs,

You realize you don’t know which way to go anymore

You run nonetheless

They gave you the torch, right?

You can’t very well just stop

Even though no one is looking

You can’t very well just sit on the curb

And wait

Flag down the Ford Explorer full of soccer kids

That flashes by

The Taurus, the Lynx, all the sedans and wagons

You hitch and hitch, but get no rides

You stick out your torch

Hey, it’s me!

Maybe they don’t pick you up because they all have their own torches

To carry to destination

To pass to the next runner


Sit there and weep.

 

The masterpiece of Italian literature. The Limbo Reports is an unpublished collection written last year.


Image: Trey Ratcliff on VisualHunt

I read Dante's Inferno, I liked it —*


all those sinners getting their due

but I didn't read Purgatorio, maybe I should

to get context, historical and emotional

-- expect a miracle, God will protect --

I don't know how believers do it

this current scourge picking us off

like flicking dead flies

off the dinner table

-- do not gather, do not congregate --

yet they are protected unless they aren't

loads of Christians in ICUs choking

to death, accompanied by pastors

pastoring: all prayer all the time

-- it's not the results, it's the feeling --

the peace that passeth all understanding

as you drift away or the guilt or anger

why do I deserve this

after the sacrifices I've made

-- one righteous brother, one all drugs & whores --

and which got rich ... both

so which one life to live ... neither

when we obsess over our debts

we play the 'Me' game

-- get out of the graveyard, get out of yourself --

can we volunteer down at the COVID ward?

no, you're not qualified

can we elect reps who will provide

who will act, who will be helpers?

YES, WE CAN. YES, WE CAN.

don't live in Dante's Inferno

HOPE.


*number 36 of The Limbo Reports

 

Annie Newcomer teaches poetry classes at the University of Kansas Medical Center's Turning Pointa place for hope and healing for people suffering with chronic health problems. Her North Stars series shares interviews with poets and writers and Annie's own experiences through writing.


Annie is also helms the Flapper Press Poetry Café—dedicated to celebrating poets from around the world and to encouraging everyone to write poetry!


FlapperPress launches the Flapper Press Poetry Café.

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2. Include a short bio of 50–100 words, written in the third person.

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