Martin, Charles 1942–
Martin, Charles 1942–
Born June 25, 1942, in Bronx, NY; son of Charles Justus (a salesman) and Kathleen (a homemaker) Martin; married Leslie Barnett, 1965 (marriage ended), married Johanna Keller (an arts journalist); children: Gregory, Emily. Education: Fordham University, A.B., 1964; State University of New York—Buffalo, M.A., 1985, Ph.D., 1997.
Educator. Notre Dame College of Staten Island, teacher of English, 1968-70; Queensborough Community College, Bayside, NY, instructor, then associate professor, then professor of English, 1970—; teacher at Syracuse University. Teacher in the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars, Baltimore, MD, 1987-94; teacher at Sewanee Writers Conference, West Chester Conference on Form and Narrative in Poetry, and Unterberg Center; poet in residence at Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York, NY, 2005—.
Academy of American Poets, Poetry Society of America.
Pulitzer Prize nomination and National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, both 1987, both for Steal the Bacon; Pulitzer Prize nomination, 1996, for What the Darkness Proposes; Pushcart Prize, 2001; Lenore Marshall Award finalist, Academy of American Poets, and Pulitzer Prize nomination, both for Starting from Sleep: New and Selected Poems; Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, Academy of American Poets, 2004, for Metamorphoses; Award for Literature, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 2005; Bess Hokin Award from Poetry; grants from National Endowment for the Arts and Ingram-Merrill.
Room for Error, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1978.
(Translator) The Poems of Catullus, Abattoir (Omaha, NE), 1979, revised edition, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1990.
Passages from Friday, Abattoir (Omaha, NE), 1983.
Steal the Bacon, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1987.
Fulvio Testa: Watercolors, March 6-31, 1990, Claude Bernard Gallery (New York, NY), 1990.
What the Darkness Proposes, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), 1996.
Starting from Sleep: New and Selected Poems, Overlook Press (Woodstock, NY), 2002.
(Translator and author of notes) Ovid, Metamorphoses, Norton (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to periodicals, including Parnassus, Hudson Review, New Yorker, and Poetry.
According to Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor Richard Moore, American poet Charles Martin "is known among his fellow poets … as a writer of wit, lyrical delicacy, and compelling form, who has developed an artistic language with which he can deal with fundamental questions in American life." Martin's oeuvre, which ranges from translations of the classical Roman poet Catullus to offbeat, quirky modernist and surrealistic works in the style of Franz Kafka, Theodore Roethke, Matthew Arnold, and Alfred Lord Tennyson, has attracted much favorable critical attention. In the late 1980s, his collection Steal the Bacon was nominated for several major book awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. "The distinguished record of his publications and the honors he has won," declared Moore, "attest to his growing reputation."
"From the beginning," Moore maintained, "Martin has been committed to ambitious projects that combine bookish parody with personal experience and social concern." Martin began his career as a poet while working at Notre Dame College of Staten Island in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when a series of his poems appeared in the journal Poetry. Martin later moved to Queensborough Community College, where he would continue to work as a professor of English. His earliest works were parodic in form, and a selection of these appeared in the collection Room for Error. "Caught up in the apparently arbitrary, almost surrealistic associations," explained Moore of one poem, "The Rest of the Robber Barons," "one hardly notices the elaborate rhyme scheme (abacdcdb), which is precisely kept for the rest of the poem, and the subtly varied meter. The effect—one might call it ‘irony of treatment’—is complex."
Other works in Room for Error continue Martin's odd mixture of parody and seriousness. "Thus, ‘Four for Theodore Roethke,’ a poem in ironic celebration of the married life, becomes a precise parody of Roethke's well-known marriage poem ‘Four for Sir John Davies,’" states Moore. Another poem cycle, "Institutional Life," consists of twelve sequential sonnets evoking an surrealistic atmosphere "suggestive of a mental hospital and Franz Kafka's fictive bureaucracies," the Dictionary of Literary Biography contributor explained. "It is also an outrageous, funny parody of Homer's Odyssey…. At times the sequence has a ‘pop’ carnival atmosphere, which is also very characteristic of Martin." "The original meaning of satire was ‘a dish of mixed ingredients,’" continued Moore, "and once the reader's initial confusion settles, the elements of Martin's mixture work well together."
Martin also takes elements from classical and English literature—as well as from his experiences teaching English as a second language—in his translations of the Roman poet Catullus as well as in his books Passages from Friday and Steal the Bacon. The Poems of Catullus was a landmark volume, not only for Martin personally, but also for classical studies. "The Roman poet had already been so copiously and so variously translated and at so many levels of competence," explained Moore, "that one at first wonders what Martin could possibly add. But with his combination of metrical fascination and modernist experimentation, he may have produced the most memorable Catullus of his generation." Passages from Friday (incorporated in its entirety in Steal the Bacon) tells the story of Robinson Crusoe "from the point of view of Crusoe's man Friday," Moore states. "First Martin had to invent a language for Friday to speak: seventeenth-century, archaic, broken English—but in regular iambic quatrains." "Martin has plans for future poetry projects," Moore declared. "Judging by what he has already produced—its techniques, ambition, and inspiration—important things are to be expected."
Martin received a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his 2002 collection, Starting from Sleep: New and Selected Poems. The work includes sonnets, translations, and excerpts from his long narrative "Passages from Friday." "In this indispensable overview of more than thirty years in which his mastery of craft has graced contemporary subjects," remarked Antioch Review critic Ned Balbo, "Martin offers a wholly original voice to which his measured lines bring dignity and feeling." According to George Held, writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "Starting from Sleep shows how a poet with a fund of knowledge about classical culture who is alert to contemporary issues can employ traditional forms to treat his thoughts about both the ancients and the moderns."
In 2004, Martin published an award-winning translation of Ovid's epic Metamorphoses, a collection of myths told in verse. According to Rodney G. Dennis in the Harvard Review, Martin's translation "is a substantial achievement—the poem is in fifteen books, each composed of the 700 to 900 lines dictated by the capacity of papyrus rolls in antiquity. Martin is a good poet and a good scholar. His blank verse, the meter used most often, is graceful and smooth." Eric Ormsby, writing in the New Criterion, praised the work, stating, "Martin doesn't attempt to duplicate Ovid's hexameter but employs a basic pattern of iambic pentameter which he subtly varies, interrupting the cadence at moments so that it hesitates or seems to stumble, then allowing it suavely to unfurl." Dennis added that Martin's version offers "passages that show [his] own verbal strength moving effectively along with Ovid's intentions, and the sum of it all is extremely good."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 120: American Poets since World War II, Third Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994.
Antioch Review, summer, 2003, Ned Balbo, review of Starting from Sleep: New and Selected Poems, p. 586.
Classical Journal, April, 1994, review of Catullus: A Critical Study, p. 408.
Classical Review Annual, 1994, review of Catullus, p. 40.
Classical World, July, 1993, review of Catullus, p. 524.
Harvard Review, June, 2006, Rodney G. Dennis, review of Metamorphoses, p. 186.
London Review of Books, October 8, 1992, review of Catullus, p. 16.
New Criterion, November, 2004, Eric Ormsby, "A Song and a Mistake," review of Metamorphoses, p. 61.
Philadelphia Inquirer, April 6, 2003, George Held, "Poetry, Translations with a Hint of Satire from Defiant Formalist," review of Starting from Sleep.
Publishers Weekly, September 30, 1996, review of What the Darkness Proposes, p. 84.
Religious Studies Review, October, 1993, review of Catullus, p. 349.
Sewanee Review, April, 1994, review of Catullus, p. R37.
Washington Post Book World, December 4, 1994, review of Catullus, p. 16.
Charles Martin Home Page,http://www.charlesmartinpoet.com (January 1, 2007).