A Closer Look at What You Should Be Reading

UNSOUND by Jennifer Martenson

Burning Deck/Poetry



Reading Jennifer Martenson’s poems are like ingesting the tastiest word soup imaginable. Unsound, Martenson’s first full-length book overflows with numerous concepts and thinking bits of poetic logic. It’s these logical phrases, words and thoughts that morph into actions and bigger words resulting in a specific kind of full-blown cohesiveness in this lyrical book of poems. In Preface, she begins to delve into inner thoughts and feelings about such things, “in my attempt to explicate by touch, I struck my forehead violently against the corner of an ambiguity. Was I holding your hand or merely an opinion? Here again were twisted paths, this time covered with damp, matted layers of perspective. Fate has a margin of error equal in width to the desire of one woman for another.”

Martenson challenges the reader to examine ones feelings and ideology about lesbianism and the desire we have to be understood by society as a whole, regardless of views, stereotypes and preconceived notions where sexuality’s concerned. The molecular force within a body or substance that unites us is also that which often pulls us apart. The author discusses the ideology involving same-sex relationships and the mindset of our society as a whole. She engages like-minded and unharmonious beings all at once with her profound vocabulary and lyrical symbolism. Poetry often categorizes language and words in a way that helps ordinary words to become extraordinary. Martenson uses irregular syntax and constructs phrases and sentences to give sound and voice to otherwise “unsound” feelings. Work like Xq281 was a previously published piece wherein the author addresses the mid-90s assertion that a “gay gene” exists. The caustic and witty dialogue explains through pages of footnotes that no “lesbian gene” currently exists yet the footnoted pages exist solely to explain artificial results about lesbians and how misshapen definitions alter the real meaning of what it means to be a woman. The author looks closely at the difficulties encountered when one attempts to give voice to thoughts and feelings left unsaid in Half-Life.

I have tried
to tell you but
my code is broken
clarity has
so we live
in the ellipses
on the line
where one tongue meets
another nowhere
crafted into pitch

Wittgenstein once said, “a poem, although it is composed in the language of information, is not used in the language-game of giving information” and Martenson’s ability to play the language game with text, form and functionality comes through here in footnote 5 “(it has been proposed that, by releasing abnormal amounts of shame, fear, and other unknown byproducts of several centuries, when no one knew what that word meant, into the trachea, they render one completely silent before the final message is encrypted and then brought to trial.)

The conventional and mundane are absent from the various forms that exist inside these poems. Instead, there is one long, bittersweet kiss that places itself on the heart and mind, disrupting formality and accepted ways of thinking. In the poem, Cast, we are asked to consider desire and same-sex unions that transcend politics, religion and familial discord by listening with our hearts. “Stuck in the sliver between two rooms, I had thought that definition was a chamber where ambiguous desires take on shape, the way a hand will trace its own reflection in pursuit of perfect forgery. And that this is why the category of the lesbian is useful. As if without it I could no more think to kiss her than ignore that pressure at the edge of my vocabulary. Or climb down from this hyperbole to find my way through the complexities of such a statement. “

This is an incredible debut from an author who knows how to play with form and can celebrate language and its ability to send messages that go beyond symbols and similes. Martenson’s writing uses language as a tool to place the proper weight on the backward logic that exists in today’s society and questions the very systems that allow for misperception and miscommunication in a thought-provoking and intelligent manner. In a world where judgment runs rampant and sympathy remains absent from society at large, Jennifer Martenson questions logic, science and our very own prejudices by asking us to take a close look at the “meaningful and objective reactions of the other.”

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ANGELA STUBBS lives in Los Angeles and is a freelance writer and MFA graduate of the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Black Warrior Review, esque Magazine, Puerto del Sol, elimae, Marco Polo Quarterly, Lambda Literary, The Rumpus, and others. She is currently working on a collection of short fiction entitled, Try To Remain Hidden.

6 responses to “Between the Pen and Paper – Vol. 4”

  1. For those of you who had the misfortune of reading the earlier version of this, my apologies, as I goofed and posted a “non-finished” draft. Ahhh, thanks to Shya for your help! xx

  2. Simon Smithson says:

    “In a world where judgment runs rampant and sympathy remains absent from society at large, Jennifer Martenson questions logic, science and our very own prejudices by asking us to take a close look at the “meaningful and objective reactions of the other.”

    And that’s always worth something.

    My goddamn Books to Read List. I have to put a moratorium on that thing.

  3. Simon, you and me both. I have stacks of books that I need to read. Forget about “want to read!” Thanks for checking this out. This book is fantastic! I gotta support good writing (and, us lesbians gotta stick together, you know?!) and Jennifer Martenson rocks. Loved it all!

  4. Wendy Lisbon-Slack says:

    Ang, you are so eloquent in your analysis of this author. I look forward to reading it and many more critiques from you. You have a gift; thank you for sharing it with the world.

    • Thanks Wendel! I really loved this book of poetry. Next month, I’m doing several LGBT authors as my focus and then on to the next. So much good work out there! Thanks for the kudos!

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