Anglican Theological Review
To read D.S. Martin's Poiema is to embark on a journey through the richness of life, its complexities and challenges, its joys and shadows. While finely wrought, this poetry is accessible and, in its earnestness and depth, intensely moving. From poems based on the harships of the author's grandparents as missionaries in mid-1920s China, to a humorous riff on "wayward" shopping carts "seeking a ditch to wallow in" (p.67), to a lovely memory of pails brimming beneath "the pump at the end of our cottage lane" and a wish "to be like water in praise of him" (p.13), the poet covers an impressive range of subjects.
Over all, the book progresses from a boy's summery perspective of the world as unchangingly simple and his understanding of truth as "smooth solid & full of reassurances" to a man's humble, hard-learned insight that some truths refuse "to throw spears of light" and his consequent temptation to "decide / shadow is all he's ever known" (p.58). This discovery of the limited capacity of human knowing leads Martin to consider, as one of his key themes, our flawed human condition, but like the caesuras that mark his poetic style and leap over untranslatable white space, his contemplation of the fall furthers his song and his faith.
In "Living in the Shadow," the poet introduces this theme of a truth that exceeds human understanding using the image of the wind. He describes human history as a force that "unpredictably whirls" further observing that "Promises are difficult on a windswept shore" (p.6). In the poem "What Will Be," when the "people who should never let us down let us down," and a woman "learns of cancer in her breast" or "a man finds / his heart is failing," the poet tells us, "Hear the wind in the cavity where the siding is loose Hear it / banging against the wall" (p.51). And in "Meditation #5," when we listen in our homes to news of "famine earthquake / or tornado" or of "the latest war zone," and "even from the fridge / machine gun fire's still audible," the poet does not hold back, but instead asks, insistently, "What do we do to each other? / Why won't God intervene or does he / when true emotion flows from our stony hearts? (p.79)
In the face of these questions that sorely test our faith, Poiema arrives at a strengthening of belief. Subverting the cliché in "Seeing is Believing?" Martin asserts that "Believing is seeing" that an "act of prayer will contribute to healing giving substance to things hoped for / though unseen as through frosted glass" (p.53). In the poem "Let Beauty Come," he invokes beauty to make "right what we could never foresee" and to help us "find / what was hiding & what was on its way" (p.44). His yearning to "Let beauty grow in the work of our hands" (p.44) blossoms fully into an affirmation formulated in the book's last and title poem that "we are His workmanship His poem / & yet are oblivious to so much" (p.84).
Both truths, God's workmanship and our obliviousness, are wed in the book's closing lines, producing a steadfast resolution. "Let the prevailing winds blow where they please," the poet sings, and let us find our place in the fullness of God's creation: "...May all on earth / cycle down paths that follow their calling / like migrator birds' intinctive ways / Let rain & snow give in to their falling / & babies in the womb to their own birth / But mostly may this all be done as praise" (p.40).
Virginia Wesleyan College