In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Jennifer Martelli

by Apr 16, 2024

Picture by Clement Falize from Unsplash

The Hunter,” is a beautiful poem that uses many sensory images; you bring us to this ideal summer’s eve in the work. When did you first start writing this piece, and where did the spark to write it come from?

Thank you so much–both for your generous words and for publishing the poem in Water~Stone Review! I began writing this poem as part of a wonderful ekphrastic group I belong to. I came across the image, “Orion (Space Paintings Series),” by Alma Woodsey Thomas (USA, 1973). I loved the depth and movement, the color; the image looked like a curtain, a drapery. It has a very Twin Peaks energy to it! Orion is the hunter, which is where I got my title. My friends will tell you that I have many (too many?) poems that use these big sliding doors in my bedroom that look out to trees growing and being felled—the doors almost work as a vehicle into a meditation. So, to answer your question, the poem began in my ekphrastic group, but probably is part of a series of “looking out.”

I like how the titled hunter has multiple meanings, referencing both the bat and the speaker of the poem. How did the title come about in relation to the piece? In general, what is your creation process like?

Yes, I love all the meanings of “hunter.” Again, there is the reference to Orion—both the myth and the constellation. I love astronomy and astrology for all the great language and the sense of circularity, of being on a wheel. Orion is a Northern Hemisphere constellation (as opposed to The Cross, as the end). I have to think with all my looking out this window, that I must be hunting for something! The bat is so thrilling to me—this strange flying mammal! I used the image of the bat throughout my book, My Tarantella, which was about a murder. The bat, in that book, was a witness, but also a defense; the victim’s gloves were all cut up. D.H. Lawrence compared bats to gloves in this poem, “Bat,” and this stuck with me. I have heard, on warm nights, something heavier than a bird. But, to answer your question about my creation process: I have obsessions that I return to. This can be dangerous, though, and I have to make sure I’m not being lazy; that I just don’t want to think of newer concepts or images. I’m inspired by different things: collections of poems for their music; imagery through art or film. I belong to a couple of writing groups where we commit to daily writing for a month; sometimes, something sparks! I usually write in the morning. And I hate starting a new poem! I do love revision!

Your lines are filled with both story and visuals. When you’re writing, how do you find balance between keeping the poem moving and letting readers linger in the beautiful details?

This is a great question—and my answer is elusive and illusive! I can become lost in the beautiful weeds of music and imagery. Many times, I’ve sacrificed a narrative thread for loosely tethered images, that in my mind, go together. My mind alone. This is why my writing groups are so important. These are poets with whom I’ve worked for years; we don’t try to rewrite each other’s poems. We are very honest, while keeping the sensibility of the poet in tact. More than once, I’ve been told to clarify, or to make the connection just a bit clearer. I’m not sure if this answers your question, but any balance I strike between the movement of the the poem and letting the reader linger is truly collaborative. 

What themes do you return to in your work? What themes are you still developing?

“The Hunter” is a poem in my forthcoming collection, Psychic Party Under the Bottle Tree (Lily Poetry Review Books, Fall, 2024). The book concerns itself with long-term abstinence and recovery. This poem is in the middle section, which confronts the speaker’s atheism (thus, the constellation of The Cross, which would be in the Southern Hemisphere, is not seen by the speaker). But the book is also filled with snakes and knives and bowls and tarot—images that circle throughout the collection. I think, though, in terms of overall themes, I tend to lean to the political (lately, the attack on reproductive rights), and have been using these same images in these poems, too. I’m very interested in the sense of belonging—or, the opposite of that. Going back to your question of balance: in my life (poetry and otherwise) there is the need for being alone and the fear of being alone! This is a theme that is always in development.

What books are your favorites? What authors inspire you to write?

So many. I’ll start with the books/poets I return to over and over (especially when I can’t hear music): Lucille Clifton (Blessing the Boats); Elizabeth Bishop (Geography III); Laura Jensen—anything; Lucie Brock-Broido; Marie Howe.

Lately, I’ve been really into Yona Harvey’s You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love—very exciting structure! Also, Erika Meitner’s Useful Junk and Rachel Mennies’ The Naomi Letters; Monica Youn’s From From. And of course, anything by Diane Seuss.

I’m so into horror poetry too! Dorothea Lasky’s The Shining and Mothman Apologia by Robert Wood Lynn—amazing!

What projects are you working on now?

Speaking of horror poetry—I’ve been working on this series of poems that respond to Luca Guadagnino’s revision of Suspiria. I have about 20 poems—I’m interested to see where they go! This is a very horrific time; I feel like this genre meets the moment! 


Jennifer Martelli is the author of The Queen of Queens and My Tarantella, named a “Must Read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book and awarded Finalist for the Housatonic Book Award. Martelli’s chapbooks include All Things Are Born to Change Their Shapes, After Bird, and In the Year of Ferraro. Her work has appeared in POETRY, The Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, The Tahoma Literary Review, THRUSH, Cream City Review, Jet Fuel Review, River Mouth Review, and elsewhere. Martelli has twice received grants for poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. She is co-poetry editor for Mom Egg Review.

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