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Demetria Martinez

Visiting Poet

Demetria Martinez

Dedicated to illuminating both our private lives and our public personalities, Demetria Martinez is both a poet and an activist. Jimmy Santiago Baca calls her latest collection, The Devil’s Workshop, “A tough and solitary celebration of the song [by] . . . a solid and unflinching voice in Latina poetry.”

Born in Albuquerque and raised by her Mexican grandmother, Martinez’s poems gracefully and powerfully interweave religion, gender, and ethnicity while probing the intimate interior of the human heart. By turns sensual, political, and outraged, she writes from a conviction that transformation—of the world and of the self—is always possible. Martinez reminds us, notes the Bloomsbury Review, “that the most important political work begins and ends in the human heart.”

A committed social activist, Martinez has been on the forefront of the sanctuary movement. In 1988, when she was indicted on charges related to smuggling two refugee women into the country, federal prosecutors attempted to use one of her poems, “Nativity, for Two Salvadoran Women”, to convict her. In a landmark decision, she was acquitted on First Amendment grounds. Her first novel, Mother Tongue, which won the 1994 Western States Book Award, was loosely based on her involvement with the sanctuary movement.

A graduate of Princeton University, Martinez is a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter. She is involved with immigrants’ rights issues along the U.S.-Mexico border and teaches workshops on writing for social change. Her essay collection, Confessions of a Berlitz Tape Chicana, is slated for a spring 2005 release. She lives in Albuquerque.

Select Poems


Too clinical.


The name has been

smoked down

to a stub.

For sixteen years

I have ransacked

the universe,

unsealing files,

lifting lyrics,

looking for a way

to say how it was.

Because we have

no word for light

we live in shadows.

From BREATHING BETWEEN THE LINES (University of Arizona Press, 1997)

Do you know who I am? If I fell to pieces could you

Reassemble the jigsaw? Do you know where it all

Goes: Grandma’s prayer book, my cassette tape

Of Taos drummers, the postcard from El Salvador?

You-who’ve never even asked about my book

Of matches, to light the light I’ve carried

Through a hundred tunnels because

The light at the end is never enough.

The night is a boarded-up city of nameless streets.

Winds hiss through the slit tire of a star

While that other woman named Sleep

Holds you as I look on until morning.

From THE DEVIL’S WORKSHOP (University of Arizona Press, 1997)

Damn the brain’s chemical spills, evacuating

Every thought. Damn the smiles I pinned

To my face like a politician, a face

Like coffee with too much cream

Because I could not draw the

Curtain strings, raise the

Flag of a new day.

Cry, too, for the lost nights,

The poems, aborted, because I locked

The canvas of my heart in a man’s closet

And talked my way into his bed.

I was nineteen when I saw the light

Of God escape like steam

From every living thing.

Now doctors say it was just

A tap dance of neurotransmitters.

But I know what I saw and what I heart:

How His heart pumped inside the heart

Of the Sandia Mountains like an accordion.

God, you alone know I took notes;

You alone know I wrote pages

And pages of psalms,

Then lost them on the road

Down a red-ribbed mesa north of Albuquerque.

Twenty years later I am rewriting them.

Remembering, dismembering.

God, will You forgive me

If I call them


From THE DEVIL’S WORKSHOP (University of Arizona Press, 2002)

About Demetria

Personal Website
Poetry Center Reading Dates: October 2004