Kaitlin LaMoine Martin was raised by a community of writers in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She’s been published in Bellevue Literary Review, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, and Passages North, among others. She owns a photography business, works for a nonprofit, and spends hours thinking of new ways to entertain her dogs, Frida and Adam Lee Wags II. Her poem “Five Dead Dogs Between Here and Mercedes” is included in the Summer 2016 Premium Edition of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by July 11 for special savings and discounts.
Borders, both geographic and emotional, responsibility, and mercy, are some of the vital thematic threads connecting details in your poem. Are these themes you find yourself returning to in your work?
I’ve been fascinated by borders for a long time. In college, I studied critical anthropology and colonialism. We were constantly looking at how borders and boundaries are imagined, created, destroyed, navigated, violated, and blurred.
When I wrote this poem I was living on the Mexican/U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley. The poets I hung out with there were influenced by the work of Gloria Anzaldua — who grew up around where I was living. I became acquainted with her work, which deepened my appreciation for the tension of the line.
So, yes, I do return to borders often. I’m constantly thinking through how we construct the self/other dichotomy. I do believe, as humans taking up space on this planet that we have a responsibility to the planet and to one another. I’ve never consciously written about that, but now that I think about it, I can see that theme coming up in my poems from time to time. Many poems explore responsibility to each other as well as responsibility — or perhaps accountability — to one’s self, and especially to one’s heart. Mercy I’m not so sure on. I imagine it shows up occasionally in some of my love poems.
Are there other themes that you feel drawn to or notice recurring in your work?
There is a strong sense of “searching” in my poetry. For resolution, love, connection, change, accountability, for that moment when we can see a different possibility. Many poems look at a situation more deeply and till that earth: What is the romance of the highway? Does heartache have a specific pitch? What keeps us going and what stops us cold? A lot of my poems take some sort of witness. How can we exist with all this wreckage around us and come out okay? Or how do we sit with not being okay and still keep living? How can we acknowledge the suffering humans create and not turn against one another?
Is there a single line or sentence that feels like the “heart” of the poem to you?
“Then, the puppy / next door, squished under a truck, the drowned tarantula, / the windowed chachalaca, the cat we don’t feed for fear / of fleas.”
To me, these images capture the tension of responsibility. It also gets at the fear that comes up when tragedy strikes over and over. It creates an irritation in us. A resistance to reach out to one another. There is a lot of fear on both sides of the U.S./Mexico border. I think borders inherently produce fear because a wall, a fence, a line is designed to “protect” — so the question inevitability becomes “from whom"? This fear is what produces hateful presidential candidates who can make fascist and xenophobic comments and have an audience for that. Fear and grief have a cumulative impact on the body. When it’s one thing after another, we often break in some way, either toward action or toward apathy. I like how the poem plays with both of these aspects. This line feels like the heart of the poem because it is anchoring that cumulative weight in concrete examples.
Can you tell us about the development of this poem, how it changed over time? I’m particularly interested in how you decided to order the details of the poem.
This was a sit-in-the-drawer-awhile type poem. There were many images present that I wasn’t willing to let go of but that were weighing the poem down and not adding anything.
I pulled out an old “Tips on Radical Revision” sheet that Di Seuss had passed out years ago in a workshop. One of the instructions was to read the poem, turn the page over and rewrite it from memory. What needs to stick will stick. What doesn’t will fall away. This tactic makes me super nervous but I’ve used it a few times and usually it’s quite successful. Thankfully, this was one of those times.
I wrote the poem while I was still living in Texas and “finished” it when I was back home in Michigan. I don’t think there were any conscious decisions made about order or details. I knew I wanted the poem to be firmly anchored in place, so it made sense to start with a small moment and set the stage for that. Animals in peril have always had a habit of crossing my path. I knew I wanted to keep the part about childhood and how I used to rescue them all (I still rescue them all), but now there was a hardening that had taken place. In an earlier draft, there used to be a line in the middle that said “These aren’t my tragedies” in reference to the dead dogs. I liked how that line played with the ownership of grief mixed in with borders, responsibility, place, and other themes that are present. I couldn’t figure out where to put it in the final draft though so, ah well.
What is your favorite literary device and why?
Interrogative litanies are a favorite of mine. I like the rhythm that comes with a litany. Asking questions in a poem feels particularly Midwest, and more specifically Kalamazoo. I learned the sexiness of a well-placed question from Con Hilberry. I’m a very curious person and I'm more interested in asking than answering questions in my poems.