David Morgan O'Connor


Good Stock Strange Blood

"where time, they say, ends. Whereas for extending, whereas what you might call a leaking or a wandering. Incalculable lang, incalcable list—what’s spun down the hole. No pulling or leaping up. Blackness, only the din of our existence. Wishing-rod defunct. Hear my voice without echo, always defunct. A stone in hand. A crown in laughter."
— from “One falls past the lip of some black unknown”

Dawn Lundy Martin’s latest collection Good Stock Strange Blood is a subtle and intriguing meditation, original in form, experimental in theme, and curious and probing in content. Martin probes concepts of power, being, and creation. With a meta-awareness of constructing a book, while questioning the forms of expression and the becoming of literature, paralleled with the politics of the body, Good Stock Strange Blood has an ethereal quality. Many of the poems are connected with em-dashes, giving a symphonic impression full of musical bridges that swerve and hypnotize through a series of seemingly unrelated ideas. When juxtaposed, deep foundational layers are added, even a new path to accessibility, which can be rare in experimental poetry.

—To be in covering is the problem, hunger caverns under this leather wrap—from destitution— from split skull— Mother as brown as— brawn and braided, toward—filth beneath, skin like wire— all our kin.

At first, the lack of narrative can feel discombobulating, but when read in sequence, a profound dialogue concerning race, gender, politics, history, and love grows apparent. Martin’s ethereal approach not only asks important questions, but provides answers, creating essential dialogue: “What is a dance for being? / A step towards nothingness.”

In the prose block, “To be an orphan inside of ‘blackness,’” Martin opens with a challenge to performativity of “blackness” through language and blood and “tennis shorts and salmon-colored pants.” Then slides into the point of view of the book: “what the book actually wants, however, is to know the distance between the ‘I’ and the ‘you.’” Then “the white woman professor” and Claudia Rankine are placed in opposition. Organized as thesis, antitheses, and syntheses, the poem concludes with, perhaps the key to understanding the whole collection:

When one’s action have so clearly produced the interrogative text, the refusal to enter the text as subject. For you, the text lives in the floating unreal, a document that has nothing to do with you, but, my dear, it is you, the grotesque monument to the regime, so perfectly sculpted you cannot see yourself in the mirror.

Heady stuff, yes, but vital. Martin is deconstructing the book, the university, the poem, the academic, and the poet, while using each as subject. Like a magician doing astonishing tricks while simultaneously explaining the inner workings, lowering the curtain so the magic of backstage mechanics are visible to all, the result, far from didactic or pedantic, is powerful imagery, a cinematic feat of memorable moments. “The I that is me lies forever in the mute mouth of the image.”

In the final poem, “Dear empty vessel,” Martin asks, “How to say, We remain / in tact, however fractured?” Perhaps by creating a collection as powerfully ethereal, as artistically intelligent, as thought-linking and bridge-building as Good Stock Strange Blood.