Martha Collins is the author of the book-length poem Blue Front (Graywolf, 2006), which focuses on a lynching her father witnessed when he was five years old. Blue Front won an Anisfield-Wolf Award and an Ohioana Award, and was chosen as one of "25 Books to Remember from 2006" by the New York Public Library. Collins has also published four collections of poems, including Some Things Words Can Do (Sheep Meadow, 1998), and a chapbook, Gone So Far (Barnwood, 2005), as well as two collections of co-translations of Vietnamese poetry, most recently Green Rice by Lam Thi My Da (Curbstone, 2005, with Thuy Dinh). Other awards include fellowships from the NEA, the Bunting Institute, the Witter Bynner Foundation, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation, as well as three Pushcart Prizes and a Lannan Foundation residency fellowship. Collins is editor-at large for FIELD magazine and the Oberlin College Press, and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Martha Collins' web site
Blue Front (Graywolf Press)

Poems by Martha Collins

Selections from Blue Front

There were trees on those streets that were named
for trees: Sycamore, Cedar, Poplar, Pine,
Elm, where the woman's body was found,
where the man's body was taken and burned—

There must have been trees, there were trees
on Seventh Street, in front of the house that stands
in the picture behind the carriage that holds
the boy's mother, the boy's cousin, the boy—
And of course there were trees on Washington
Avenue, wide boulevard lined with exotic
ginkgoes, stately magnolias, there were trees
on that street that are still on that street,

trees that shaded the fenced-in yards of the large
Victorian houses, the mansion built by the man
who sold flour to Grant for the Union troops,
trees that were known to the crowd that saw
the victim hanged, though not on a tree, this
was not the country, they used a steel arch
with electric lights, and later a lamppost, this
was a modern event, the trees were not involved.


as a mirror on a wall, or the fall
of a dress. a dress, a shirt on a line
to fasten to dry. on the rack, or back
in the closet again, a sweet curse
on it all, sliver of nail, delayed
attack. shamed creature, a curse
on itself, so the act of doing it
changes the verb, tense with not
quite right. with rope, like a swing
from a tree. from a pole, like a flag,
or holidays, from an arch lit bright
with lights. in the night, in the air
like a shirt. without, or with only
a shirt. without, like an empty sleeve.



Not a story, they said, not even a line.

And there wasn't a line, there was a circle.

A perfect circle, though there were breaks.

But it wasn't broken, it was open.

It was open in the spaces between

It was open in the spaces between them.

And they were like candles, giving light.

But the light came from the length of their bodies.

And they were like lilies, that opened their throats.

And as they opened they almost touched.

And they threw back their heads, and the circle widened.

And there was silence, but they were singing.