Cut And Paste: The Poetry Of J. Michael Martinez
There is little if any lyrical poetry in J. Michael Martinez’ heredities.
According to one of the blurbs, it is a book meant to revise Latino poetics.
I don’t know if I would go that far.
“In his volume, J. Michael Martinez attempts the impossible---he excises
nostalgia, peers through wolf skin, conquest, and god…” says Juan Felipe
“In J. Michael Martinez’s Heredities, history is unsettled by the way of
the visionary hybridity that is Martinez’s method of poetic inquiry. The
poems explore with a passionate lyric gorgeousness the borderlands
between myth and memory, between plunder and inheritance, between
the story we tell and the story we deny…” says Eric Pankey.
“In Heredities, Martinez mines various linguistic, mythological, and
historical narratives that complete themselves in one another. Both
corporeal and heady, this collection marries earth to word, and revises
how a twenty-first-century identity is forged with and through the past.
Martinez is not only a fine poet but is also a dedicated anthropologist
with the ability to excavate language from the ruins of history.” says
It is indeed an interesting narrative collection. At times going so far as
recreating an anatomically correct Quetzalcoatl and Virgen de
Guadalupe, taking chances with the past which more and more does
not belong to us. I think Martinez is at his best in the prose pieces. Take
for example, Corporeity,
Brash and handsome, my great-great-grandfather Francisco Beltran,
the youngest of five brothers, often crossed himself with other women.
He would play poker into the night with the rancheros, satisfying his want
with what woman made herself available in those hours of chance.
The last found beside a river, was washing her huipiles in the wet stillness.
The olive-skinned woman wound the material taut, dipping them into the
water, spiraling eddies across the surface. My great-great grandmother
Maria de Jesus, a Mexia married to the unfaithful Spaniard, came up from
behind, uncoiling concentric circles as her hand calming divided the current.
A ranchero later found the woman amongst her wash, unconscious. She
grew feverish over the following hours, cotton sheets stained bloody; her
skin softened into clay pallor as she died on the goose-feather mattress
belonging to my ribisabuelo. A partera, the nearest healer, despite her
massaging and prayers, could do nothing to revive her.
As soon as the pale one was at peace, the partera pulled the bloody sheets
from the body. She spooned her hand between the woman’s slick thighs.
When her fingers tentatively parted the still warm lips, the partera found
that space dammed with smooth river stones.
This prose piece is almost as earthy as Andres Montoya at his best. Overall,
heredities is an interesting first book, albeit in a curious style, one bravely
seeking the test of time.
Listen to or read two poems
from his collection here.