I first came across Martha Collins’s work at a seminar on taboo at the Mass Poetry Festival. Sharon Olds read a poem about testicles. Jill McDonough read a poem that included a line about a stripper’s “perfect pink asshole.” And Martha Collins read a poem about race. It was the Collins poem that made me the most uncomfortable. I’d spoken about race plenty in conversation with people of color, but for a white person to initialize the discussion seemed uncouth, discomforting, in a way that frank talk about sex is not. To confess the sins of one’s ancestors and acknowledge the privilege of one’s whiteness seems the biggest taboo in our day and age.
Collins read from White Papers, the second in a trilogy about race in the United States. White Papers focuses on the poet’s own recollections of race growing up in the Midwest and living in New England. Blue Front is a book-length poem circling around and around a brutal lynching that her father witnessed in 1909 in Cairo, Illinois. Admit One uses the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis (which her grandparents attended) as a jumping-off point to speak about “scientific racism,” the eugenics movement of the 20th century, and the continuing legacy of racism in the United States. Continue reading “Martha Collins’s Race Trilogy”