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The Flapper Press Poetry Café Welcomes Dana Henry Martin—A Poet of Witness to the Internal and External 

Updated: 6 days ago

By Annie Newcomer:


The Flapper Press Poetry Café is honored to feature the work from poets from all over the globe. This week, we present the work of poet Dana Henry Martin!


Dana Henry Martin

Dana Henry Martin, a poet, weaver, musician and birder who lives in Utah, is from Oklahoma and longs for Kansas. Martin’s work has appeared in Barrow Street, Chiron Review, Cider Press Review, FRiGG, Muzzle, New Letters, Stirring, Willow Springs, and other journals under the names Dana Guthrie Martin and M Ross Henry. Her collections include Toward What Is Awful (YesYes Books), In the Space Where I Was (Hyacinth Girl Press), and The Spare Room (Blood Pudding Press). 



 

Dana was my mentor a decade ago. She describes herself as a "poet of witness to the internal and the external." One of the first rules of poetry is to show, so I see this flash interview as an opportunity to use our mentor/student relationship to personally "show" our readers some skills of an exceptional mentor and teacher.


Mother Teresa wrote "If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one." I hope that this flash interview will underline the importance of reaching out to even one other emerging poet to offer advice and encouragement, for I can testify that this indeed does make such a huge difference.


Please meet Dana Henry Martin!


 

Annie Newcomer: Welcome, Dana. Working with you years ago with my poetry writing was one on the most exhilarating poetic times I have ever experienced. I literally would count the hours until our next session. They never disappointed, as you offered me challenging prompts that you had devised to improve my craft that exceeded every expectation. One message I kept from after one of our sessions nearly ten years ago is:


"Annie, I really had a good time today. It's a blast to have all those books at our disposal and to have the white board. It might seem like I am just scrawling on it, but it really does help me think and communicate. I HOPE you are in poetry for the long haul."

Dana Henry Martin: Thank you, Annie, and I appreciate your reaching out and being persistent about it. It's good to know you have continued to think of me rather than taking an "out of sight, out of mind" approach. It's easy for people to be forgotten by others. It's easier to forget others than to remember them.


AN: Dare I say, "Dana, you are unforgettable!" One quote that you shared with me during the time we worked together that I love is "There is in you what is beyond you" by Paul Valéry


I looked this up and discovered that:


Every morning just before dawn, in what Paul Valéry (Geary’s Guide, pp. 312–314) described as that “pure and pregnant hour of daybreak,” the French poet and essayist woke up and jotted down in his notebook anything and everything that came into his mind. Valéry believed that the creative process, the actual act of writing, was the most important thing, not the final product. “Nothing gives more boldness to the pen than the feeling that one can defer ad infinitum the time of recasting a phrase in its final form,” he wrote. James Geary, "Aphorisms by Paul Valéry"


I think this is why I found working with you extraordinary, because you brought new ways of "seeing" poetry to me, and it always appeared important to you that I understood that the "act of writing" was the most important part of the journey. 


Even now, you always ask me how I am and then immediately share that you hope that I am still writing. Better than any obvious or contrived compliment, this feels as though you are telling me that I have good reason to write (as do you), which means a great deal to me. 


Having shared this walk down memory lane, please include your ideas on the "finished product," which we must accept is, for most of us, the key objective. 


DHM: Listen to edits shared with you. That would be the best place to start in terms of potential revisions. When an editor wants you to revise something, don't ever feel embarrassed. It's part of the editorial process and happens routinely with poets and editors. Also, don't make changes you don't feel comfortable making. Listen to what editors want to do with your work. Be open. But know in the end that it's your poem and your vision. Sometimes an editor will want to make changes that don't feel right to you. You are under no obligation to make those changes. You can always decide that venue x, y, or z is simply not the right place for your work.




AN: I am curious as to who might be one of your favorite poets. 


DHM: Jack Gilbert is one of my favorite poets. He has a strong grounding that not all poets have. Here are some quotes from an interview:


"Your actual being is changed. My heart, for instance, was partially made by the songs of Frank Sinatra and by movies I went to when I was growing up. My heart was shaped by stories, by pictures, by songs. I believe we are made by art, art that matters. . . .
. . . What's the reason to write poetry? It's not a hobby. It's one of the major ways of keeping the world human. We have almost nothing else, no craft that deals specifically with feeling. . . .
. . . It's like if you have the power to make women fall in love with you. I don't want to become that person, that performer, that figure who can intoxicate his audience. . . .
. . . Poetry has changed my life and I think it's changed other peoples' lives. I don't see it changing people's life today."

AN: Please share a book and/or an article that you feel are valuable reads for aspiring poets. 


DHM: I will share one of each:



AN: Many times when first starting out, I felt insecure about my poetry and my relationship with poets and poetry in general. Once I wrote this to you about reviewing works of other poets. This is what you wrote back:


"I am not good enough yet nor knowledgeable enough

to be in a position to give a well-informed review on Billy Collins."


DHM: I disagree. I think you are definitely able to give a review of any poet's work. The relationship between poets is always reciprocal, and it's not like one day you will be knighted, in a sense, and told you have attained the level necessary to have a credible response to other poets' work. You have that ability as soon as you start to read poetry. That's just how it is. Feel strong and confident in your opinions, because they are sound and thoughtful.


AN: I was never going to quit poetry, but I was so overwhelmed with how to best negotiate my way through poetry that I felt forlorn and lost on the path, so I pulled away from a class. This is what you wrote to me when I left that class:


May I call you or, better yet, will you allow me to buy you coffee? I would like to talk, because I've been exactly where you are at in terms of trying to sort out what poetry is going to be and what role it is going to play in my life. I don't have answers, obviously, but I can lend an ear. I just want to find a way to be there in some way, if you will let me. I don't know you well enough, probably, to reach out in this way, but something in your words is calling to me to reach out. I would love to talk.


I will always be appreciative of your kindness to me in that moment, Dana. Being the middle child in a large family with a gaggle of kids, I learned to be an observer. What I observed in you was poetic genius. The air in workshop seemed to be heightened when you were present. It seemed to me that folks were intrigued and excited for what you might share next. So the focus was very much on your poetic style. For myself, I saw a beautiful woman with a kind heart. Too many poets, I believe, by being so focused on their own words and the reception of their words can sometimes—certainly not always, but definitely sometimes—forget that the work is meant to lead them to a place that elevates their humanity. So while I admired your work, what most intrigues me about you is your person.  


DHM: Thank you, Annie.


AN: Dana, I have so many more questions for you, so I hope that you will re-visit us here in the Flapper Press Poetry Café in the future. Now is the time, though, to share your poetry with our readers. 


DHM: Annie, yes, let's look to the future. I have these three selections with their backstories to share.


 


Fawns Discovered Inside a Dead Doe


You lived inside your mother’s womb, its water

and salt. You were two, twins. Each a mirror

for and of the other. One of you laid with hooves

tucked beneath your torso, your neck arched

so your head could rest next to your own body.

The other laid along the first, a drape,

not an inch of space parting this fur from that,

this muscle from that, this bone from that.

Eight ankles, eight legs, four ears, four eyes—

everything lovely about a deer, doubled.

The taxidermist who rolled your mother over

that evening by the highway was not the man

who struck her but the one who arrived after

and tried to help. He found you too late,

fully formed but drowned before you lived.

He gathered you in a blanket, brought you home

and preserved the uterine form of your bodies—

the way you nestled one another through death,

thin skins pulled like tarps over spines and hips,

your two faces facing each other, your mouths

that nearly touch but don’t. Now, in your vitrine,

you pass breathless secrets back and forth without

end. Secret of death. Secret of suffering. Secret

of two slipping in and out of this dark world as one.


“Fawns Discovered Inside a Dead Doe” first appeared in MadHat Annual.


 

About the poem:

“Fawns Discovered Inside a Dead Doe” is about two fawns I saw in Kansas City in the 1990s who had been preserved and were on display for a time at a local toy store. The store’s owner collected oddities, the kinds of things you’d see in a circus or in a cabinet of curiosities. A man I was dating at the time took me to see the fawns and other preserved animals that were in a display case at the front of the store. Years later, I was watching a reality TV show about artists. One of the artists had a painting of the fawns, not similar ones but the same pair. She has them now. Her husband at the time was the same man I was seeing in the 1990s, the one who first showed me the fawns. The fawns now live with the artist in a vitrine in her studio.


 




An Afterlife of Branches


1

Boys are beating back blackbirds. Houses hoard the sunrise.

This autumn is unmetered, a dream of wind and shovels.


2

The sound of fire, like bricks breaking in the distance,

is furious and stuttering. Here, it’s an afterlife of branches


and ancestors and hands on my shadows. Down, down

into iron, into ore, the moor. How wrong you are


about glass and God and horseshoes and skillets.

What they stand in for: bleeding. I’m inside banged ice,


beating inside the wrong water. I’m some sound like a crow

or crowbar, a cheap closet door fisted open.


3

Rocks smack and spill the sea and its pitchforks,

its long-gone riddances scatter. Drain the traps.


I’ve been circled, rung, ghosted, raked, corrugated,

skipped, stoned, scattered. Have a go. Thrum. 


4

This wind. This lightning. This breaking desert.

My back. My instruments. My mountain.


The house is a field. The birds are pricks

(if you believe they are). The wake of mother’s muses,


mother’s music, pots and pans clapping like applause.

All women are martyrs: wooden spoons, wrung smiles.


This room. This rock. This rough sand. On my shoulder.

On my stutter. On my girl skull. On my hinges.


I am surrounded by tines, rungs, yardsticks, rakes.

It’s raining. Silence empties into a child’s likeness.


5

Night of deep crimes. Day of mirage ceilings.

During each, an orchestra of fire between my ears.


Give the moon. Leave the wake.

Try my good silver. It shutters.


6

You. Your tongue. Your bell-clap. Your drumming.

Pull fistfuls of everything from my dress, my drawers.


 

About the poem:

“An Afterlife of Branches” is a poem I wrote using selected words from Deborah Digges’ poem “Rough Music.” This is something I like to do: take a poem apart so it’s reduced to its individual words, then limit myself to those words when writing a new piece. It's a type of constraint, a kind of poetic form not unlike a haiku or a sonnet. It’s also a way to learn about how other poets use language. Ideally, I would use every word from the original piece when I write this way. Often, I fall short of that ideal. (I took a few liberties in this one.) This was the first poem I wrote after leaving poetry in 2015. I think I was radioactive at the time or about to be radioactive. I had to swallow an R-131 pill to see if my thyroid cancer had returned. Poet Beth McQuillen gave me Digges’s poem to work with. It was eerie to write a poem again after so many years away from the craft/experience/way of being. I mean, being a poet who writes poems; I hadn’t been that for years.


 


Deliver Me


Deliver me from the insects that have consumed

my brain and left frass in its place.

Deliver me

from the sea louse attached to the base of my tongue.


Deliver me from the samurai beetle, the death’s head

hawk moth, the heike crab, the human-faced carp,

and the skull-back spider.

Deliver me from the duck embryo


boiled alive and eaten in its egg.

Deliver me

from the marmot cooked in its skin with hot stones

arranged inside its carcass.

Deliver me from auks


laid inside the hollowed-out body of a seal.

Deliver me from the rocks placed on the seal’s

body. Deliver me from the months in which the auks


are stored in this manner. Deliver me from the day

the seal is uncovered. Deliver me from the minutes

in which the auks are pulled out one by one


and eaten raw.

Deliver me from ash, salt, quicklime,

rice hulls, and clay.

Deliver me from the sheep-head

that my head has become.

Deliver me from the tentacle


in my throat.

Deliver me from the tuna’s eyes,

which have replaced my own, and from my eyes,

which float in brine.

Deliver me from the cow’s feet,


from her head, and from her stomach.

Deliver me

from the durian fruit and from its kidney-shaped

segments of flesh.

Deliver me from the fish filleted


while alive and served to guests with a beating heart.

Deliver me from pork blood, from milk, from rye flour,

from dark molasses, from onion, from butter.


Deliver me from pale, plated cockscombs.

Deliver me

from the occipital bone, the parietal bones, the frontal

bone, the temporal bones, the sphenoid bone,


the ethmoid bone. Deliver me from the bones

of the cranium and mass the cranium contains.

Deliver me from the singing penis, the bifurcated


penis, the four-headed penis, the clasping penis,

the dueling penis, the y-shaped penis, the spiral penis,

the giant penis, the detachable penis, the pseudo-penis,


the barbed penis, the surprise penis, the slapping penis,

and the penis that regrows before each mating season,

sometimes even harder than the year before.


Deliver me from words—alluvial, bromine, burr, callus,

capsule, coccyx, cud, plasma, pollen, scud, sequin, spore,

stone.

Deliver me from binomial naming.

Deliver me


from brain signals that tell me to run fast and hard

and away, always away.

Deliver me from my body fat,

which is already being called home by gravity, the way


a dollop of lard slides down an upright spoon.

Deliver me from an overdose of organ-destroying

skunk cabbage, from a plateful of toxic buttercups,


from the topical burn of the giant hogweed,

from the blood disturbance caused by a tongue-tip

worth of death camus. Deliver me from angel trumpets


fashioned into biological weapons. Deliver me

from the spiked canes of Himalayan blackberry,

from the stinging Gympie-Gympie tree,


from the neurotoxic tree nettle, from spur laurel’s

biocides, and from Red Tide algae that stills

the lungs.

Deliver me from the Fibonacci sequence


of my fingers, which allows my hand to curl into a fist.

Deliver me from wild horses turned into horse meat,

from intestines behind the processing plant that meander


like dunes. Deliver me from the carnation reds

and off-whites of the fresh entrails and the rubies

of those dumped the previous day. Deliver me


from the need to catalog days by color until

there is no more color, only shades of brown

in the cooling air. Deliver me from the hay laid


over ceca and intestines, over colons and rectums.

Deliver me from the heart of the animal, from the head

that stares into the distance.

Deliver me from electrodes


and optical coils, from the cage and the restraining chair.

Deliver me from brain-mapping, sterilization,

dissection, and genetic profiling. Deliver me


from available space and profit margins.

From the dry casks of Yucca Mountain.

From the love I still feel for my own body


in the long shadows of evening light.

Deliver me from any or all of these.

Deliver me

from nothing.

Open the door and deliver me.


 

About the poem:

“Deliver Me” is from an incomplete collection I started in 2014. It’s one of the last poems I wrote before I left poetry in 2015. One of the images gave rise to the entire piece. I can’t remember which one it was. I think it was the first one, which led me research more and more things along those lines: strange things that occur in the natural world, strange things we do to the natural world, and strange ways the natural world and humans interact. The poem is my reaction to all of that. And I don’t want to be released from any of it. I’m immersed in all of it. But the suffering? I want that to stop. I want to be released from suffering by way of seeing suffering come to an end in all its varied forms, even the suffering I, as a human, cause.


 

Annie Newcomer

Annie Klier Newcomer founded a not-for-profit, Kansas City Spirit, that served children in metropolitan Kansas for a decade. Annie volunteers in chess and poetry after-school programs in Kansas City, Missouri. She and her husband, David, and the staff of the Overland Park Arboretum & Botanical Gardens are working to develop The Emily Dickinson Garden in hopes of bringing art and poetry educational programs to their community. Annie helms the Flapper Press Poetry Café—dedicated to celebrating poets from around the world and to encouraging everyone to both read and write poetry!


If you enjoyed this Flash Poet interview, we invite you to explore more here! 



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