Jennifer Martelli’s debut poetry collection, The Uncanny Valley, was published in 2016 by Big Table Publishing Company. She is also the author of the chapbooks Apostrophe and After Bird from Grey Book Press. Her work has appeared in Thrush, [Pank], Glass Poetry Journal, The Heavy Feather Review, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal. Jennifer Martelli has been nominated for Pushcart and Best of the Net Prizes and is the recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in Poetry. She is a book reviewer for Up the Staircase Quarterly, as well as a co-curator for The Mom Egg VOX Folio.
Her poem "Anniversary" will appear in the Winter 2018 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Sunday, January 14, for special savings and discounts.
We are so pleased to publish this poem, with its rhetorical through-lines of Kitty Genovese and loving what we fear. Please tell us a bit of what triggered this piece.
I wrote my first “Kitty” poem in the summer of 2016. Until the election, the poems were concerned with the Kitty Genovese story and my own Italian-American heritage. After the election, though, the poems took on a different aspect; I began to conflate the Genovese murder and Hillary Clinton’s “loss.” In both cases, women weren’t heard, or they were heard, but ignored.
July of 2017 was the anniversary of my starting the Kitty poems and the anniversary of Sylvia Plath’s writing “Poppies in July.” I’d just been reading about Plath’s abuse during her marriage to Hughes and how no one really believed this was happening. Again, another woman not heard. So, the poem concerns itself with Kitty, Hillary, Plath, misogyny, fear.
The startling images in this poem work in concert with one another as objective correlatives to build narrative. Some writers “see” their poems in pictures or sensory experiences before they express them in words. What occurs first for you as you are writing, the images or the words?
That’s such a good question!! This isn’t for all my poems, but I guess the images come first—but usually they attach themselves to an idea that’s been floating around in my mind for some time. Perhaps that’s where obsessions come from. One day I walked by a small garden filled with Queen of the Night tulips, and now they are showing up in a lot of my Kitty poems. On the other hand, I find myself resurrecting lines from poems I had considered dead! So, in that case, the words came first!
You spin bold and intelligent narratives so well that one hardly knows they aren’t one’s own—or perhaps, it feels as if the poet and the reader are conversing in person rather than on the page. In your collection, The Uncanny Valley, the poems borrow from the quotidian. The poems pay attention to the world around them and make of it a shared human experience. Which authors inspire your own writing?
When I’m at a loss for words (for poetry), I mix a cocktail of Sylvia Plath and Laura Jensen (a poet who should be lauded far more). Marie Howe is my teacher when I want to speak to the world: a perfect combination of transcendence and plain speech. My recent favorites are: Mary Szybist, Lucia Perillo, and Natalie Eilbert.
What current projects are you working on?
I’m “finishing up” my Kitty Genovese manuscript (is a manuscript ever finished?) and looking at a collection that I put on hold last year when Kitty took over. I’m not sure what I have on my hands, though—lots of antlers and women transformed!