Poet and psychologist Gail Martin will hold a reading Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. at Portage District Library for her new book Begin Empty-Handed, which won this year’s Perugia Press Prize. Perugia Press publishes poetry by up-and-coming female poets every year.
There are a lot of references to birds in Martin’s Begin Empty-Handed. Martin says birds are certainly a part of her days. She has a large feeder outside her office that gives her a window into their world.
“Birds have their mysteries. I don’t know too much about them. I don’t know why sometimes the feeder is hopping and the next day empty," she says. "My brother suggested that it wouldn’t be too hard to learn more about them, but part of the joy for me is not needing to do that.”
Here’s an excerpt from Gail Martin’s poem “The Therapist Watches Birds”:
I don’t care deeply about birds, I enjoy them. They raise questions in a casual way. I have found them with their necks broken at the base of my window. There are cats and fox and snakes. And some nights are just too cold. I am not responsible. Right now as I watch, a chickadee is pedaling in space outwaiting a wren at a feeder. He looks like someone running off a cliff, suddenly realizing the ground beneath him has fallen away.
During the interview, Martin explained a little bit about why she titled the book Begin Empty-Handed. Martin says, for her, hands embody giving and receiving.
“What do I want to release in my life and what do I want to hold on to, or take in, or ask to receive,” says Martin.
Reviewers have said the book moves between life as we expect it and life as it is.
“It speaks, I think, to our need to make space for both the wonder and miracle of everyday living, but also the harsh pain of knowing that all that we are attached to and all that we love will ultimately be taken away,” says Martin. “I have a strong identification with the ideal so I tend to be disappointed a lot when life doesn’t live up to that. So I need to work to stay open to the possibility that life being different than what I thought it was going to be means that it’s different, not necessarily that it’s less.”