In his fine, new collection of poems entitled Closing Distances, the award-winning poet Paul Martin, “who dreamed of changing the world in a single, dramatic act,” instead dazzles the reader gradually by telling it slant. The collection includes remembrances of his childhood home in rural Pennsylvania. These poems form a portrait of a hardscrabble, immigrant class working for the railroad.
Martin’s poignant rendering of the lives of his ancestors reveals him to be not only a first-class wordsmith but also an artful storyteller. Other poems in the collection are from the perspective of a young man. In such poems as “Young Lovers in the Park,” “Sweater Girl,” and “Strawberries,” Martin adopts a lighter tone to match the optimism of youth. The poems that predominate the collection are from the viewpoint of an older man. These deal mainly with separation and loss. In particular, Martin grieves the untimely passing of his brother Fritz in such masterful pieces as “The Delicate Boat.”
In several of his poems, Martin draws on elements from nature to create powerful imagery. Trees, animals, and especially birds pervade the landscape of his poetry. For instance, in “Watching the News,” the demise of a nest of birds conveys the hopelessness of war that has left the narrator paralyzed. Martin’s use of natural imagery brings immediacy to his work, yet there is a shimmering intangibility that remains.
Martin’s poems are at once personal in their content yet universal in their themes. In “The Strap” the poet makes note of his “hopelessly open face.” Arguably though, it is this open quality, which allows Martin to, for example, take in the story of a downtrodden drunk at the end of the bar in “The Quarry.” In this excellent collection, there seems to be a longing for something that escapes the ravages of time and endures beyond all understanding. For that, Martin needs to look no further than his own poetry.