Author of three books of poems, Martha Rhodes is a master of tone and compression. Louise Glück praised her debut collection, At the Gate, as “savage, wry, mordantly witty, tender, stern, deluded, [and] sane,” calling it “a book of immense vitality and beauty, deserving our deepest attention.” Rhodes’s second book, Perfect Disappearance, won the 2000 Green Rose Prize from New Issues Press. Robert Pinsky declared her latest book, Mother Quiet, to be “abrupt, unsettling, artfully distorted, indelible” and James Longenbach recommended it as “dark, hilarious, direct, otherworldly.” As Longenbach went on to say, “these poems display a poet in command of every note the English language is capable of sounding. They will not be silenced: they are unforgettable.”
Individual poems have been published widely in a variety of journals including Agni, Columbia, Fence, New England Review, Pleiades, Ploughshares, TriQuarterly, and the Virginia Quarterly Review, and Rhodes has been anthologized widely, appearing in Agni 30 Years, Extraordinary Tide: New Poetry by American Women, The New American Poets: A Bread Loaf Anthology, and The KGB Bar Book of Poetry, among others.
Rhodes is founder and director of Four Way Books founded in 1993 in New York City. Rigoberto González, one of her authors, describes Rhodes as “the classiest lady in poetry” and certainly one of the busiest. From her Tribeca loft, the non-profit press publishes eight to ten books a year, many to high acclaim. Four Way authors include the awarding-winning Jeffrey Harrison, Sarah Manguso, Pablo Medina, D. Nurkse, Kevin Prufer, Daniel Tobin, Cynthia Huntington, Pimone Triplett, and Susan Wheeler.
Rhodes is also known as a tough, discerning, and extremely generous mentor, having taught at Emerson College, the New School University, the University of California at Irvine, and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. She currently teaches at Sarah Lawrence and the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. Rhodes serves on the board of directors of several literary organizations, including Friends of Writers, Inc., and the Frost Place. She is the current director of The Frost Place Summer Poetry Conference and Festival.
Poetry Center Reading:
It Being Forbidden
to excuse oneself from the table
before each morsel is chewed and swallowed
it being forbidden to laugh
unless he conducts, pitch and duration,
his arms raised, our sisterly heads shamed
downward; it being forbidden
to invite another to that table who dares
to be more handsome and charming than he.
It being commanded to worship
that occupier of the armed-chair,
carver of pheasants, rabbinic imposter,
tweed-suited weekend gardener,
peddler of diamonds to the ghetto
and we do worship him
for plentiful is his table,
joyous the summer camps,
vast the Canadian forests,
the Caribbean Sea.
He who orchestrates with knife and fork
pulls us to our knees
and we pray with him who whispers
do you love me
and we kiss him on his temple
no one touches me
and we remain in his house
longer than we ought, for he prophesies
even you shall leave me
and when we do leave him, as we must,
we transplant lilacs and peonies from his garden
to ours so that he shall bloom
beneath our windows.
From PERFECT DISAPPEARANCE (New Issues Press, 2000)
He (please don’t tell) is the one man in my life
(almost 70 now?) I’ve ever wanted to grab by the belt buckle
and ride so fast the bed would take off.
but I’d just sit there all those interminable nights
at the Center for the Arts, my thigh grazing his—
through high school, Lucy and I drove to Cambridge
in my mother’s car, hid a few houses from his,
and followed him to the clinic where he worked,
then to all his Saturday afternoon chores.
We’d haunt Café Algiers.
When Lucy died he called me.
When I met my husband, I called him.
I can tell he has come to New York.
I can feel him walking in New York,
I can feel him walking up my block
and stopping to buy water
and looking up my building
up the 40 floors up through my floor
up between my legs
up through my head
From MOTHER QUIET (Zoo Press, 2004)
This May Be
This may be the room you lived in,
But do not fill it, tiny ghost. Do not fill
The blooming shadow we call “our garden.”
Grey-faced One, go somewhere else
and do not fill these winter flowers, do not fill
this drying sea sponge, do not stand beside
our bed tonight, do not fill our ears with glitter.
From MOTHER QUIET (Zoo Press, 2004)