Dawn Lundy Martin’s Week in Residence
Dawn Lundy Martin’s work is as wide ranging as the long lineage of Kingsley Tufts Award winners that precede her, and as the 2019 winner for her collection Good Stock Strange Blood, she returned to Claremont for a week-in-residence November 4-8. In many posts, I ask myself “where do I start?” Fortunately, this post answers that question fairly easily: Start on Monday.
Monday started out by meeting with CGU classes. Dawn visited my class (taught by Professor Wendy Martin, no relation), “Death and Dying in American Poetry.” There, we discussed the role of death within her poetry. Did you know that her book, Discipline, was born (in part) out of a journal she kept about her father? Hearing that internal perspective of a poet creates new layers to reading their work. For example, on constructing her work, Dawn briefly noted that she often uses interesting choices in form (see, for example: -My form against those at the border-) in order to cope with the impossibilities of language. It was a shocking idea for me that language can’t say something: we always hear the cliché “you are beyond words” idea, but a poet’s job is to find those words. So what happens when something is beyond even a poet? Dawn’s commentary brilliantly added to how form, especially jarring form, speaks where words fail.
I should also probably mention that there was an awesome welcome reception on Monday night at the President’s House that was wonderful. The evening was intimate, and I got to speak to some amazing people, including Timothy Yu, a poet that was visiting the area. I’m a bit of a wallflower, so when we had a side conversation about Billy Collins’s influence on his work, I was super excited. Plus, the snacks were brought directly to us on a fancy tray.
I missed Tuesday. I had to go to class. Dawn read at the Mt. San Antonio Gardens. It’s a really pretty location. It must have been amazing. I was loath to miss it.
Wednesday, I drove Dawn out to the California African American Museum (CAAM) by USC for a reading in the middle of the exhibits. I’ll say this: it was awesome, but what had me hyped was getting to chat with Dawn one-on-one. I’m an introvert, so I struggle to deal with big groups. Sitting right next to someone in a car is where I feel the most comfortable, since I can really get into the nitty-gritty with them. Dawn didn’t disappoint. She’s witty, thoughtful, complex, and down-to-earth. You can tell she’s a professor when you chat with her because, despite this being “her week,” she was extremely considerate of the back-and-forth that exists in conversation.
Thursday, Dawn read at the Claremont Public Library in an event put on in conjunction with Fourth Sundays, a monthly poetry reading series that the city has. It was a very interesting change-of-pace from your “average” poetry reading, because Dawn did something I have never seen before—she ditched her material. What I mean by that is that she read from Good Stock Strange Blood, Life in a Box is a Pretty Life, and so on, but near the end she whipped out her phone and read the crowd a poem she had been working on that week. It made the whole experience more meaningful—it’s how I imagine ancient poetry was experienced: a bit rough around the edges, full of passion, and completely captivating.
Friday was another huge day, not just for Dawn, but for CGU as a whole. Foothill, our annual poetry journal, released that day. We had the winner of Foothill’s editor’s prize up from San Diego, who read alongside Dawn and Stacey Park (you know: the Stacey Park, my Tufts blogger-in-crime and fellow Foothillian). It was a spectacular public event amidst the art of Jonathan Yacoub, and it was so packed that we ran out of chairs! It was a night to remember.
For me, Saturday started at 3:00 am because I ran the Big Bear Half Marathon, but Dawn & Co. entered the picture 11 hours later, at 2:00 pm. She conducted an MFA-style workshop with a group of eight students, where we hashed out one of each of our poems for about two and a half hours. It’s always a bit nerve wracking to get feedback on your poetry, but the workshop served as a reminder as to how great the poetry community is. Dawn, along with the students, were all active in their commentary. It felt like everyone was striving to develop each poem to be the best it could be. It was a great conclusion to an unforgettable week.
I want to shout another thank you to the late, great Kate Tufts for making this prize a reality, and whisper a more personal one to Dawn for being such an inspiring person. So uh. thank you and [thank you].
If you haven’t already bought Good Stock Strange Blood, click that link and pick up a copy. Dawn’s writing is incredible and you won’t regret it. Or, if you don’t read poetry, get it for a friend—a colleague, a homie, a student, your mom—whoever. Spread the love of poetry.
A Moment of Zen:
On the Matter of Tortoises
A stone with a beard!
I say, as I wipe his chin.
Dust and banana.
My tortoise friends are hibernating, so please enjoy this picture of me suffering at Big Bear this past weekend instead: