Featured Poet: Martin Rock

Martin Rock is a poet, editor, and educator living in Brooklyn. His poems have found homes in Best New Poets 2012, Black Warrior Review, Conduit, DIAGRAM, Forklift Ohio, H_NGM_N, The Journal, Salamander, Sixth Finch, Tampa Review, and others. He is the co-author, with Phillip D. Ischy, of Fish, You Bird (Pilot 2010) and the poems featured in The Bakery are from a forthcoming chapbook, Dear Mark (Brooklyn Arts Press 2013). He has received fellowships from the Port Townsend Writers Conference and New York University. Martin is Editor in Chief, designer, and webmaster of Loaded Bicycle, an online journal of poetry, art, and translation. He lived in Japan for three and a half years and is working on a number of translations from the Japanese. His Twitter handle is @martinerikrock and his website is martinrockpoetry.com. He wants you to vote, especially if you read poetry.

Artist’s Statement: All these poems are from a manuscript titled Dear Mark, which is a series of epistolary poems to Mark Rothko in response to individual paintings. Initially they were all sonnets, as I felt the repetition of the form would fit the repetition of Rothko’s form, and I felt that the rectangular block of words would act as a visual portal in a similar way that the rectangles of the paintings do. I was wrong. After sitting with the poems, I saw that they didn’t fit in their spaces, which I feel is a thing that can be said about Mark Rothko’s work as well. People have immense emotional reactions to Rothko paintings, and part of this (at least for me) is the existence of three-dimensional images lying in wait just beneath a screen of color. The paintings are quite literally embodied, and the rectangle acts as a doorway through which those bodies can communicate with the viewer. This leads to the release of a wellspring of (in many cases repressed) emotions and images.

The idea of embodiment in art led me to the idea of embodiment in the psyche (ie. the many-peopled totality of the human mind; both conscious and unconscious), which in turn led me to the theories of Carl Jung, particularly those of the Collective Unconscious and the archetypes that inhabit it. When one looks at a Rothko painting and sees, for example, “a malformed zygote” or “death’s head on the body of a spider,” or the mythic hero of Raven the Trickster, one may in fact be tapping into a pool of knowledge greater than the sum of one’s own experiences (similar, perhaps, to the consciousness attained during meditation, spiritual trances, while on hallucinogens, or in the dream state).

For this reason, the majority of the discordant images in these poems are simply verbal recordings of visions that emerged from the paintings as I sat in front of them. Whether the images emerged from the random firings of my own dew-addled brain, or from a larger, more mystical Collective Unconscious is a question for the metaphysician and not the poet. Regardless, Rothko’s paintings allowed me to access that most slippery of states in which images arise and are released as plainly as leaves passing on the surface of a river.

And yet (a dew drop world); and yet, the poem (even haiku) is not complete within the image. Once the images have been harvested they must be processed. A narrative must be built around them if we are to understand the workings of our own minds. Humanity is nothing without our myths, and myth (and yes, poetry as well) must contain more than fragmented dissonant images piled on top of one another. I hope these poems find that balance. I hope that the images are mined from a place of Truth, and that the material containing them, sufficiently tempered.


No. 61, Rust & Blue, 1953
Ochre & Red on Red, 1954
No. 9, Dark over light Earth, 1954
No. 9, White & Black on Wine, 1958
No. 43, Mauve, 1960
No. 1, Black Form, 1964
No. 7, Black Form, 1964

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