As part of National Poetry month, NHPR's Sean Hurley has been introducing us to a New Hampshire poet every Friday. Today we hear from Rodger Martin who lives in Hancock. Martin published his latest volume of poetry, The Battlefield Guide, in 2010.
Rodger Martin loved writing stories as a boy, but he blames the typewriter for turning him into a poet.
I grew up in the Amish Country in Pennsylvania and boys were not allowed to take typing classes. We would have secretaries is what they told us. But when you had to turn a paper in they had to be typed.
12 year old boys don't have secretaries and Martin proved to be a terrible typist.
And I'm left handed so writing itself is a problem, where we still had inkwells and you had to wear blotters.
But poems were short.
In other words, the retyping was a lot easier on a poem than it was on a page of prose. And then I got to love just the words themselves and the sounds and the play with it. And I just drifted into that and I just loved doing it. That's how I got my start.
For Martin, a poem is created in two distinct parts. There is the emotional poem, something that emerges in a rush of connections. And then there is the cerebral poem where he begins to cut away the loose brush, the excessive, the overstated, the too beautiful.
Sometimes I love a phrase so much...that I can't let go. But you have to let go. And it's taken me years sometimes and at some point you let go and the poem's there.
The idea that it would take Martin years to allow the small bird of a poem to fly reveals his unnatural restraint.
I learned at some point that if I'm working 60 hours a week and doing everything I can, I will write 6 to 12 poems a year. If I was given the entire year free with nothing else to do, I would write 6 to 12 poems a year. So the pressure of being prolific was lifted for me. These poems will come when they come.
Despite his limited output, Martin is always, as he says, surrounded by the language. He teaches journalism at Keene State, edits literary journals has just concluded a 10 year long project transcribing Milton's Paradise Lost for dramatic performance. But still those 6 to 12 poems a year...
Oh they're important to me. Those 6 or 12 are not easy - there's something that I need to say. I'm not always sure what it is. I forget which poet said a poem takes 7 years to work from experience through the body to the actual writing of the poem. And I tend to believe that. I internalize a lot and it works its way through and then it tends to come out.
Inspired by Thomas Cole's painting "The Oxbow" here's Rodger Martin reading "Christmas and the Other Season".
Out of this, in the barn, by the stall
A daughter practices again her violin
Drawing a bow
Plucked from the tail of her horse
Who will fly like Pegasus
To lift her over the double oxer and the slate
If that's what it takes to keep her upright
To keep her straight
To free from an instrument, music
Her fingers confidently fret the neck
Independently find the notes
A pitch just shy of perfect
A timing just short of exact
So she skips onward with double stops
Her mount perks in tune and nickers
Honed on the dustings of holiday
Her leather, her waxes, her string
Let them romp in these presents and sing
Knowing the sway of rhythm
Even perfection cannot close the gap
Or bridge the straight
Between those that loved her first
And those whose love must wait.