You should always read a poem aloud. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, and I’ll say it until I die: you should always read the fucker aloud. I am especially grateful for having just read this sensational poem by David Tomas Martinez, for two reasons:
1) I found it just after reading an unrelated, but shitty poem. I don’t talk about poetry that doesn’t move me because I haven’t the energy to spare for hate or pettiness, but this lifeless poem I read left a bad taste in my mouth. So ‘Mechanics of Men‘ was an excellent palette cleanser, being just the opposite, brimming with life lived and lessons learned. With vitality.
2) For being so damn good I stopped midway and went back to start again, reading aloud this time. Usually, I read something first, so I have an idea of what ends where; I don’t like to pause in the wrong places – even when it’s just me in my room, reading is a performance. I made an exception because I knew just sounding this one out would be an aural discovery, regardless of whether I screwed it up or not. But enough about that, let’s get to the goods.
Wrenches, screwdrivers, or shovels
have never made nice with me. In the shipyard,
the bilges of frigates.
This is, on the face of it, an innocuous enough opening, for all that it does the job of setting up the narrative to follow, but my god, even here it’s a joy to read. There is throughout this poem subtle assonance and alliteration, a repetition of sounds, a rhythm that builds. I could chew on that second line. And he’s not even saying anything important! I’m nine kinds of impressed and too many kinds of jealous to count, so let’s move on.
The brass tool
hissed like an ostrich
when it fed on metal. That day, my flame cut
permanent deck fittings; the loops fell like bright oranges;
I ripened the rusty metal.
Look, this poem is a fucking orgasm in my mouth. Do you understand that? Maybe not. ‘Hissed like an ostrich’ is wonderful, but then, it isn’t just sounds that make this poem stand out, it’s the evocation of work and masculinity, of the gulf between a father and his son, of life and love and never quite fitting in and most assuredly always fucking up.
It’s the little things as well. I love the juxtaposition of ‘flame cut’ with ‘permanent deck fittings’, such a simple and literal line that pits what is temporary against the idea of permanence itself. I love, too, the way the metal becomes organic, a fruit that ripens. I want to quote this whole poem, basically, and I’m annoyed that I can’t. I’m annoyed too, just thinking that there will be some of you out there who won’t feel what I’m feeling – the intensity of joy suffusing my body right now, the ecstasy of recognition – that, hell, it might somehow read as lifelessly to you as that one poem earlier tonight did for me.
I read recently a quote from a book which said that the best moments in reading are when you come across something you thought special and particular only to you – that it’s like a hand coming out and taking yours. Well, if that’s the case, reading this poem was like meeting someone, falling in love, getting married and then at the end of it, jotting down some thoughts. Which is to say, it felt like living a life with that held hand. There’s so much of me here it’s scary.
This is true for a lot of the poetry I love; this is the most subjective of arts. Every poem is a sampling of DNA, and it can be a matter of pure luck whether you turn out to be a match or not. Oh, I’m not saying those which don’t match aren’t skilful, or that you can’t appreciate them objectively, you certainly can, but it’s a cold and distant thing in comparison to this mad heat, this crazed passion you should probably only feel when in love or while fucking, but which somehow extends to this thrilling expression of language, this superlative art.
I’ll stop rambling now, but man am I glad to have read this outrageously good poem today. If anybody out there knows David Tomas Martinez, tell him this poem is seriously good, and that I now feel the same mixture of admiration and envy I reserve for those whose quality I aspire to emulate, to match and – in my wildest, most ambitious moments – hope to one day exceed. My benchmarks. I’ll end this with his words, and a reminder that you need to read this.
And that summer, I returned
to each of the women of my past and bedded
them all, trying to reheat our want. I don’t regret that—drinking wine
and making love, or writing poems and making love, of wanting to stay
but nonetheless leaving.