Lake Michigan is growing smaller.
Each time I go home more of the beach
shows its ratty, pocked face. I dream the Greeks are responsible, I see them-
climbing the old peeling stairs. Each man carries a piece of lake up past
the gold shops, steaming bakeries, rows of fish and unpronounceable cheese.
Back home the neighbors struggle
to get their boats in the water. My father
cuts open his toe swimming. When a new sandbar appears, it's flagged
and named for its uncommon shape. Working faster and all the time now, the
are moving Lake Michigan. In a room I don't remember, although
the floor is familiar, I've surrendered to infection.
under my skin, concentrates at the tonsils.
All the time the men marching-
what looks like thick glass tucked under their arms. The hostel owner
on his tongue one at a time. His wife prays near the cash box.
When the doctor comes he kneels by the mattress I've made hot with fear,
a silk curtain floats between his shoulders.
He says go home. Your throat is closing.
It's not the lonely descent over Detroit that's stale and grim, it's what happens
to the northern woods. Everyone sleeping when I get there. The flag waves
on the sandbar and Lake Michigan is gone. There are no sounds
in the canyon. No sounds pass through the fields of bleached
I walk to make certain I was ever there.
To find the car I once discovered
buried in the pines as if it were left
for the mushrooms to affix
to pull batting from its seats. Small
when I see it body rubbed free of paint
caved like a chocolate egg left in the rain
and the myths are gone the witch
I thought placed it here the silver horses
that drag cars off many roads.
Now I imagine before trees filled in
someone drove just this far and parked.
Up here the water
driving against the northern shore
just one layer of silence
spread thin inside another.
-from Gray Matter
stationed in Denver, Sara Michas-Martin writes, teaches and occasionally designs. Her book Gray
Matter (Fordham University Press) was chosen by Susan Wheeler for the 2013 Poets Out Loud Prize. Her poems
and essays have appeared in the American Poetry Review, The Believer, Best New Poets, CURA, Denver Quarterly, Gulf
Coast, Harvard Review, jubilat, Prairie Schooner, Threepenny Review and elsewhere. She is a former Wallace
Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University and has also taught creative writing and interdisciplinary studies
at Goddard College, University of Michigan, and continues to teach courses for Stanford's Online Writer's Studio. Other
awards include a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prize, a creative nonfiction grant from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, residency
fellowships from the Hall Farm Center and the Vermont Studio Center, and scholarships from the Bread Loaf, Squaw Valley
and Napa Valley Community of Writers' Conferences.
earned a BFA in visual arts from the University of Michigan and an MFA in creative writing from the University
of Arizona, where she was twice awarded the Poetry Center’s Poets-in-the-Schools teaching fellowship. She has also
studied at Naropa University and Scuola Leonardo Da Vinci in Florence, Italy. Since leaving Ann Arbor, she has lived
in eleven cities and backpacked through countries including Greece, Ireland, Laos, Portugal, Thailand and Vietnam.
A Review of Sara Michas-Martin's
Gray Matter by Dawn Leas, first published at Poets' Quarterly
Since my son is an undergraduate student at Fordham, I usually find my
way to the Fordham University Press booth when I attend the annual AWP conference, and this year in Seattle, I was able
to speak with Elizabeth Frost, who is the Poets Out Loud series editor. During our conversation, I mentioned that I write
reviews for Poets' Quarterly, and she suggested Gray Matter by Sara Michas-Martin, which was selected by Susan
Wheeler for the 2012-2013 Poets Out Loud Prize. I agreed, and then since Sara happened to be right near the booth, I had
the rare opportunity to meet an author prior to reviewing the book. When I asked her to describe the book, she said that
it is about science and philosophy and community; that it moves from the personal I to the community I and back again. I
walked away looking forward to reading the collection (even more so when I saw a blurb from a neuropsychologist on the back),
and I was not disappointed when I began reading it on the flight home and then when I recently finished a second reading
of it while sitting on a beach during vacation.
this debut collection, Michas-Martin becomes an artistic chemist, head bent over a formula for a new elixir that not only
enlivens the exterior world and animates personal experience, but also opens the interior world wide open helping readers
wend through the vast landscape of gray matter where seeing, hearing, remembering, emoting, speaking, deciding and self-controlling
reside. And she shows us the gradations of gray by exploring the science and art of the mind – how it works or sometime
mis-fires; how it processes memory, experience, images and words.
Michas-Martin writes in beautifully tight language, making just about every word carry weight. There is a litheness
to her economy, one that you know does not come easily, but only with serious focus and practice on the part of the writer.
Many lines lead readers quickly across and down the page. Others stretch their legs and arms lengthening the time eyes are
on them, allowing brains to decipher meaning.
is punctuated with long and short lines, its phrases separated on each line by white space. They spill and tumble over each
other like salt and pepper from shakers:
around the olfactory bulb
to name directly
a scent that opens on you
like a fire alarm
carrot yanked clear out of the ground
or the whisper
you inhale from a few rooms over...
Some poets jumble into a crumpled piece of paper what seem like disparate images and ideas, and then in the un-balling
of the paper create an exquisitely executed poem. Michas-Martin is one of them. The dance of details within many of the
individual poems is a force to be reckoned with, a artistic display to be contemplated.
From “Since He Asked:”
They saddle me with flatware,
I let the plants die
A music stand does not belong in the field.
in oversized boxes;
I should want this
and a white dress.
Writing in a formula laced with personal
experience, Michas-Martin gives us vivid images of Lake Michigan, the comfort and angst of summer camp and home, the love
and grit of marriage. These are poems that are relatable and reachable.
a new sand bar appears, it's flagged
and named for
its uncommon shape. Working faster and all the time now, the men
are moving Lake Michigan...
Michas-Martin does not shy
away from exploring the workings of the brain, the science behind its successes and failures; from blending philosophical
questions with tiny tidbits of daily life in a poem; from questioning a lot. Sometimes she arrives at the answer, but she
is also not being afraid to leave the question open-ended.
From “To Know It Again:”
The mind has some idea
of what to do
because it's always been invested
in the enterprise
of how something feels
and how it operates and if
it's been here before, certain
about the death of many cells
or the time in line
at the bank
you hugged the wrong mother.
In “Trichotillomania” the reader travels back to a summer camp
cabin, the sting of being singled out for being different even when it is due to a disorder beyond the cabin mates control:
of your ugly-making habit
we don't share our lip gloss.
We don't like your strange
brooding weather, or your face
“Capgras Syndrome” and “Cotard Syndrome” also portray
stunning images of what happens when the brain misfires, when human biology goes astray.
In a short 60 pages, Michas-Martin covers a broad landscape - marriage, childhood memory, place of origin,
travel, nature, psychological disorders, to name a few. Throughout most of it, she succeeds in making the interior accessible,
the exterior more alive, and the abstract more tangible. This becomes more evident the more time a reader spends with the
collection's poems. I recommend making the commitment to dive into it more than once. Each time you do, the deeper you will
sink into meaning and understanding; the author's thought processes will become more vibrant each time; and the world of
each poem will become multi-dimensional.
Click here to read a review of Gray Matter
at Publishers Weekly
Click here to read a review of Gray Matter