WORKING NOTES by Jennifer Martenson
It is often the case that I learn more than I intend in writing poems. Preoccupations do act as magnets, but I am most interested when accidents show me something I hadn't thought of in any explicit, conscious way and allow me to read my work as if someone else had written it. Sometimes these "accidents" do seem to address questions that I circle around more consciously, and to do so more effectively than any of my "conscious" attempts. For example, in "Cast" I stumbled onto the form simply because I was convinced that the lines which now occupy the position of margin notes belonged to the poem. The challenge was how to work them in. The mechanical act of placing them on the left side of the page exerted an influence over the final stages of writing and also suggested numerous readings of the form which became evident to me only after the poem was written. The relation of the synopsis, commentary, or interpretation to a text or an event; who speaks and who is spoken for; how authority is suggested or achieved in writing are among the things this form seems, at least to me, to suggest. While these issues are often present in a conscious way, finding a form to enact them happened largely by chance and on a dare. Hopefully there are more ways of reading the form than I have here suggested.


Five poems

Gene Expression

Structure of Detachment

Postcard from Aphasia




Gene Expression


A vocabulary handed

down through

letters twined in nature

nurture's alphabetic double

helixes where opposites attract

a myth encoded to protect

the public from the audible

expression of neologies

which propagate

recessive points of

view and threaten

to disorient the language


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The Structure of Detachment


tangled currents, dark
submerging dark

wave as they tug

at their roots
a few weeds

from the unsteady

fragile braid, the sensate
strung together, self

within a sheen of self

         the voice
might be a line

that gropes toward

in the foreground

solids where the gaze
might rest

a raft tossed out
the glittering



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Postcard from Aphasia

           for Candace Pirnak

All the cherished
certainties are dangling here
                      The distance seems

                      a little asymmetrical
My name is
an haphazard shelter
                      it is propped

                     on the conditional
it does not keep me
warm Most words
                     I do not understand

                     their lattice
structure, and the stillness

they extract


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This silence is meticulous,
enduring.  Touch / don't touch
is what it says, and that is
what we did, blacked out
entire chapters at a time
so we were always partially
submerged in pools of ink --

     legal by default
     in the regime
     of connotation
     I have tried
     to tell you but
     my code is broken
     clarity has
     so we live
     in the ellipses
     on the line
     where one tongue meets
     another nowhere
     crafted into pitch

Why am I surprised that they
still write us into sickness.
The atmosphere is lined
with odes to information
wildly detached from any
actuality. Have I not also
sung along.

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  I had thought that definition was a chamber
  where ambiguous desires take on shape, the way
  a hand will trace its own reflection in pursuit
  of perfect forgery. And that this is why
Stuck in the silver the category of the lesbian is useful. As if without it
between two rooms I could no more think to kiss her than ignore
  that pressure at the edge of my vocabulary.
  Or climb down from the hyperbole to find my way
  through the complexities of such a statement.
  Perhaps the "I" could function as an anchor,
  or a frame. Although it binds
She wanted to escape nothing to hang onto. Notes decay
her own reflection, or to the fragility of gesture as you reach to touch
she wanted to inhabit it the contours of a face as seen through cloth
  and even light slows down when traveling
  through the fibrous metaphors
  mistaken for the native language of the psyche.
  In fact, it is a system of gravel paths
  that never hook up in a clearing. All night,
  we paced the edges of what looked like solid ground,
Loose on its hinges, the exit deepening the grooves instead of repositioning
alludes to itself and is the lines by which we'd been partitioned
reversible into speech. Or mapping out a more accommodating
  theory of attraction. Soldered to the this/that
  scheme of things in which --
             empirically effaced

            exiled from experience and damned for it


            what it's like to be what there is no such thing as


  aporia and
dissonance and
  How to say, "This picture does not seem
  to coincide with my internal sense"
  if the mirror's closed over your head?


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BIO: Jennifer Martenson lives in Chicago. Her work has appeared in Re: Chapbook 4 (Reference Press, 1999).

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