Thursday, April 12, 2018

Marthe Reed (1958-2018)

Marthe at the 1958 reading in Volcano, Hawai'i on March 29, 2018.

I wrote this to send for her memorial service in Syracuse on Saturday. So wish I could be there.


At the top of Mauna Kea on the Big Island on March 31st, Marthe Reed flung her arms in the air and yelled, “I should have been an astrophysicist after all! Then I could come here all the time!”

On this same trip, she said that humanity was probably not worth saving, but that she loved her friends.

Even as she was engaging actively and deeply with the Big Island, she would sometimes stray onto her prodigious twitter feed. When she got going, Mike would say, “don’t feed the rage machine!” “FUCK!” she would sometimes catcall. That meant news of Trump or Katko, her dastardly congressperson.

My husband Bryant remembers that, while spending several days with us on O`ahu, she was 100 per cent engaged with our household’s people and animals. When at one point I muttered, “we’re really odd!” she responded by saying, “we all are.”

Marthe was a strange and delightful mix of public judgments and private acceptances. She had very firm loyalties, which were to persons, and felt equally firm disdain for institutions. The university, the government, the larger poetry world, all these merited four letters each. Her friends, especially those who had been betrayed, bruised, attacked in any way, those who were not “privileged” (as the word goes), these were persons to be cherished, defended, loved utterly.

Although Marthe and I were, along with Laura Mullen, members of the class of 1958 who traveled together on this trip, and while Marthe was the youngest of us, by over two months, she often seemed maternal to me, of me. Her powers of consolation, of having your back, of the kind remark that freed you from a particular burden, all of these were maternal. When she talked about her children, Marcy and Zeke, she was especially fierce and loving.

Marthe hated poetry climbers, though she didn’t call them that. “We’re all going to die,” she declared one day on this trip, “and no one will remember us or our work, and that’s ok.” Marthe herself did not “climb,” but her work was very high altitude: she was a brilliant poet and a visionary publisher.

You are here to remember Marthe. We will remember her in New Orleans next week. We will remember her at occasions far and wide in coming years. Marthe is less a voluntary memory than an involuntary one, as Proust defined it. We don’t have to work to summon her up. She’s there. When I told her several years ago that I was teaching—trying to teach—Proust in an honors class, she sent me her above/ground press chapbook, After Swann. Section 28 goes as follows:

abandon the idea
perfect marvels

source of keen pleasure
breaking everywhere
multiform, coherent

deep blue tumult of
the fragrance of

the moist air
such moments
escape submersion

vanished sensations
suddenly returned
slow and rhythmical

a state
melancholy, incessant, sweet

without speaking
a woman
a moment

a new form of
not even her name

This was my last email from Marthe: "Oh gods, traveling again [little bear emoji]?...totally jet-lagged and blurry now."

She has traveled farther than she had imagined, and has come closer to us. We are now she. Let us be as fierce and beautiful as she was. At least let us try.

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