Ilya Kaminsky described Fred Marchant as a poet who is “never afraid to say what matters.” He fearlessly moves his readers through turbulent subjects with passion and purpose. In 1968, having become convinced that he should do more than observe the Vietnam War from his living room, he enlisted. Two years later, he became one of the first United States Marine Corps officers to receive an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector. Educated at Brown University, he went on to teach poetry and direct the creative writing program at Suffolk University for many years. A perennial proponent of social justice issues, Marchant served as president of New England’s Freedom to Write Committee, founding a writing workshop in the Hampshire County House of Corrections, and continues his long-time association with the Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts-Boston.
Marchant’s books include The Tipping Point (1994), Full Moon Boat (2000), and, most recently, The Looking House (2009), all from Graywolf Press. The Tipping Point guides readers through the complex weights, balances, and ethical dilemmas of the Vietnam War Era, from both public and personal perspectives, including meditations on his personal tipping point—the refusal to remain complicit and instead to leave the war. The book was awarded the 1994 Washington Prize, and established Marchant as an important voice of conscience. Of Full Moon Boat, Maxine Hong Kingston has written: “These poems break open the heart, so we can weep in compassion for all our lives.” The Looking House was recognized as one of the ten best books of poetry by the San Francisco Chronicle, the Barnes and Noble Review, and the Massachusetts Book Award Committee. A new collection, entitled The Day Later is due from Graywolf in 2016.
Marchant has said that it’s the poet’s job to wield the resources of language so that readers may stand with suffering. In book after book, he applies muscular language and lucidity of focus to subjects as diverse as Greek myths, Vietnamese legends, exiled Iranian writer Faraj Sarkoh, the Haitian Earthquake, his father’s death, and a midnight thunderstorm. He also wields the power of words to heal, renew, and to shimmer, in more meditative poems that help us to see beyond our limited and panicked perspectives into the sacred and shared dimensions of human consciousness.
In addition to his original work, Marchant has edited a selection of the early poems of William Stafford and co-translated (with Nguyen Ba Chung) From a Corner of My Yard, poetry by the Vietnamese poet Tran Dang Khoa—an important historical document that was published by the Ho Chi Minh Museum in Ha Noi, Viet Nam. Marchant is the recipient of the 2009 May Sarton Award from the New England Poetry Club. He has received fellowships from the Ucross Foundation, the Yaddo Foundation, and the MacDowell Colony. He will spend a week at Smith as the ninth Tammis Day Visiting Poet.
Poetry Center Reading:
In 1959 you were thirteen and rose
earlier than you ever
imagined, knowing birds had noting
on you, leaving
on an empty stomach to deliver the news,
ignoring your mother’s
sleepy warnings, beating your lathered
father out the door,
to hop now on the company bike
and ride to the station
where your Globes and Heralds waited
to be folded and stuffed
into the wire basket, the canvas bag.
Let everyone else go
fishing: you patrolled an uncharted
city, a zone dawning
in headlines and traffic. You were
losing baby fat and
saving money for school. The papers
you heaved you imagined
grenades, and that the porches they
landed on burst into flame,
sending the little girls out flying
straight into your arms,
arms already smeared with the ink
from the world’s bloody deeds,
your own war only seven years away.
From THE TIPPING POINT (Graywolf Press, 1994)
I’d like to wake at sea, rise at dawn and paint
the disappearing night fog—shades of white
for the fog, shades of black for the rest.
I would resist thinking these had anything to do
with race, or the memory of a morning centered
on me and Eddie Bolden, on different sides
of a rusted fence, him black, me white, and neither
of us much beyond six, grasses up to our thighs,
as we spoke about what I cannot recall,
but am certain was not a reason to punch me
in the face, which he wound up and did anyway.
Was I bragging about my clothes, the yard?
Or was it a tone that he alone could hear,
one that said I thought the world was good,
or would be, at least to me. Something about
my easy smile under fair-weather clouds
and shade catalpas where neighborhoods
abutted, the corner of Camp Street and Locust,
halfway up the hill to Hope and some other
names for irony that have washed ashore
here in Providence and its adjacent Plantations.
From FULL MOON BOAT (Graywolf Press, 2000)
Words for Faraj
A woman is lost in delirium at the platform edge,
saying that no one would understand, and she is right.
On the train a father whispers with his eyes to his son
across the aisle, the son looking away.
There must be more words for God than snow.
A flag will flicker in the slightest wind.
I listen to you confess to confessions coerced,
you saying torture can be a doorway, and the pain
in a mock hanging lasts only until the lights go out.
When they wake you what hurts the most is
that the afterlife should seem so ugly and familiar.
Under your chin faint traces of a line, as if the scar
wants to disappear, be camouflaged by folds of neck
and the cartilage we name for Adam and the apple.
From THE LOOKING HOUSE (Graywolf Press, 2009)