A. Martine on the Musicality of Poetic Forms

A. Martine is a trilingual writer, musician, and artist of color who goes where the waves take her. She might have been a kraken in a past life. She’s an assistant editor at Reckoning Press and co-editor-in-chief/producer/creative director of The Nasiona. Her collection AT SEA, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Kingdoms in the Wild Poetry Prize, is forthcoming with CLASH BOOKS. Some words are found or forthcoming in: Déraciné, The Rumpus, Moonchild Magazine, Marías at Sampaguitas, Luna Luna Magazine, Bright Wall/Dark Room, Pussy Magic, South Broadway Ghost Society, Gone Lawn, Boston Accent, Anti-Heroin Chic, Cosmonauts Avenue, and tenderness lit.

Her poem “Undercloud” is published in Capsule Stories Summer 2020 Edition. The poem explores missing someone, shattering the silence, being chased by the sun.

Capsule Stories: The images in “Undercloud” are so striking—a mug shattering, the speaker lying on a bed being chased by sunlight, a finger on the speaker’s thigh. How did you land on these images? Are there any ideas or images that you cut from earlier drafts of this poem?

A. Martine: The guiding impulse, in writing this, was contrast, and the tension found therein. Silence and clamor, movement and stillness, tenderness and lethargy, a light touch that carries heftiness . . .

“Undercloud,” in many ways, stands out from my other poems in that it’s one of the last ones I wrote for my collection. There were no multiple drafts, and I didn’t cut down any imagery: it came down fully formed in my head, like I was simply waiting for it.

Perhaps because of this, I feel like it’s also one of my clearest: I wanted to focus on subtle instances that told a story, so whereas what I usually write tends to be frenzied, this one was sober. Quiet.

Capsule Stories: In the second stanza, you abandon line breaks and slip into a prose poem format. Why did you choose to play with form and line breaks in this poem, and what effect do you hope it has on the reader?

A. Martine: It’s probably the musician in me, but it first comes down to rhythm. In the same way that I play with changing time signatures when writing songs, in poetry, I like the inherent musicality of different forms. To my ears, prose poetry is always breathless, 6/8 time at a frantic beat. Line breaks, on the other hand, feel much more controlled to me, especially if we’re talking traditional (sonnets, etc.).

I started ”Undercloud” using only line breaks. In retrospect, those parts were the restrained, cerebral versions of what I wanted to express. I quickly realized I was hiding behind words again, behind nonchalance and rationalizations. What I truly needed to convey was coming from the gut—less put together, yes, but also much more vulnerable.

Instead of getting rid of the cleaner line breaks, I simply sandwiched the prose form in between, and liked how they played off each other. Hence, I hope the prose comes in like a harried whisper that tells a messier truth.

Capsule Stories: You noted in your original submission email that this poem plays with the themes of manic depression, grief, and disillusionment. Yet it feels hopeful in the end. In a poem that explores darker themes, why did you want to end on a hopeful note?

A. Martine: “Undercloud” is in many ways an anomaly for me, in that I don’t always write with optimism in mind: especially not when it comes to heartache, and especially not when it comes to summer, which is my least favorite time of the year.

But I suppose “Undercloud” is an answer to the questions the other poems from my collection ruminate on: how to forgive and ask for forgiveness, how to cut through the noise, how to stop, as I say, “trying so hard to be so cool all the time.”

Maybe this is why it came to fruition so intuitively, and why, as a last-minute addition, this poem had such a demanding, such an imperative effect on me. I wanted to speak from a place of honesty, and in honesty, I guess there is hope.

Capsule Stories: What music do you listen to when writing poetry?

A. Martine: I put together my two collections to the tune of women who have always been my muses and whose respective music has taken on a more profound connotation as I explored trauma and healing in the last couple of years. I love to give out playlists. The soundtrack for these sister poetry collections includes: Rokia Traoré, Soko, St. Vincent, The Big Moon, Mayra Andrade, Nina Simone, Solange, Feist, Fiona Apple, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kate Bush, Marika Hackman, PJ Harvey, Alexandra Savior, FKA Twigs, Bat for Lashes, Aimee Mann, Janelle Monáe, SZA, Angel Olsen, Sade, Miya Folick, Kandle, Mitski, Chelsea Wolfe, Nolwenn Leroy, Olivia Ruiz, Cesária Évora, and Emily Haines.

Capsule Stories: How has being an editor influenced your work as a writer or your writing process?

A. Martine: On process: While being a writer has made me a more compassionate editor, I think that being an editor has made me a bit harder on myself as a writer. I am constantly in awe at the tirelessness of those who write and rewrite, rejections be damned. When I ask people to resubmit and they do, it makes me incredibly proud that they never give up, even if they aren’t guaranteed acceptance. In light of that, why can’t I be a tad less self-indulgent about setbacks, about putting in that same fervor?

On my actual writing: Being an editor has made me braver, especially as it relates to personal essays. It is so very humbling to read nonfiction, to read others’ most intimate, most difficult moments laid absolutely bare. It makes me less scared to tackle difficult things, and to trust that another human being will also want to read and listen, and offer feedback.

Capsule Stories: How do you balance your time and creative energy between editing and writing?

A. Martine: It’s a balance I am still trying to find, to be honest. More often than not, I’m so tunnel vision-y with editorial stuff that I look back on the week and realize I’ve put my projects to the side again.

I’ve taken to writing when I know I am most awake and aware, in bits and pieces: namely, at the crack of dawn, and in the dead of night. This way I feel less guilty when the day’s hours are put into others’ work. 

Capsule Stories: Where can readers find more of your work?

A. Martine: I catalogue all my past and upcoming poetry, fiction, article, and nonfiction publications on my website, amartine.com. My poetry collection AT SEA is forthcoming with CLASH BOOKS sometime next year. And as soon as I am done with the last poems, I hope to have a home for my second collection (its companion, of sorts), Burn the Witch.

You can follow A. Martine’s work online at amartine.com, and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @Maelllstrom.

You can read A. Martine’s poem “Undercloud” in Capsule Stories Summer 2020 Edition, now available in print and ebook.

A. Martine
A. Martine

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