Meet Martin Settle

I first heard Marty read at the Vin Master Wine Bar Final Friday Readings that were held in Charlotte for several years. The events were organized and hosted by Jonathan Rice and M. Scott Douglass who pulled in poets from all over. The poetry was an eclectic mix of humor, philosophy, blues, politics, and commentary on everyday life, and I was introduced to and made some good friends on those Fridays. Marty was one of them, and his poetry seemed to touch on each of those elements at some point.

This is from his bio from his book, The Teleology of Dunes – He is a writer and assemblage artist. He grew up in Quincy, Illinois, on the Mississippi River, steeped in the mythology of Mark Twain. Settle was in a Catholic religious order, attended Quincy College, the University of Illinois, and UNC Charlotte, and is a Viet Nam Era veteran. The three loves of his life are his wife Deborah, his daughter Hannah, and words.

I use his bio because Martin draws from all of it in this collection. His poems honor the sacredness of both nature and humanity – some of his work inspired by the words of Paul Shepard, Wendell Berry, and Black Elk. His poems carry the pulse of family heartbeats – the ones that race and the ones that ache.

With Marty’s permission I’ve included one poem from his collection . . .  and then I snuck another one in. (Titles are bolded).

So here’s Martin!

1. Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote? How old were you? What was it about?

    I think the first poem I wrote beyond birthday card sentiments to my mom was a poem about rebirth after my divorce. I was around 35 and I felt like Punxsutawney Phil seeing the sunlight.

2. If you could share a cup of coffee or lift a glass of wine with any poet, living or deceased whom would it be?

e. e. cummings — he was the first poet that I loved

Swallowing Whole

parting grasses near a tree bole

I open a curtain to an ancient scene –

black snake coiled around a chipmunk.

the chipmunk’s mouth curled

in agony of last prayer.

merciful man

what to do.

deus ex machina

I could unravel this drama

with my hands unwinding the twists

head to tail,

or like Alexander simplify the tangle

with my knife.

in a youth

unattuned to tragedy

I would have watched this drama

siding with prey,

prejudiced by myths

of deceiving serpents,

and fangs in the heel.

but I have seen the vulnerability of snakes

shedding skins,

helpless as strangers passing through.

or jaws unhinged

unable to plead their cases,

like witches of Inquisition.

this alimentary script says

that we eat our prayers

that mercy may be an injustice

that the abstractions we mouth

do not exceed the next meal.

I do not stay for the climax,

or the darkened tunnel toward death

and life.

swallowing whole is a paradise

difficult to accept.

best to walk away

as God does.

Seven Jars with Seven Fetuses

Reflections on a display at the National History Museum-Chicago and all lives cut short


I want to say their names

these babies in bottles

progression of fetal questions


when can we say a work is really done?

the smallest the size of Van Gogh’s ear

the largest with fists ready

for pronouns of suffering


I have traced my Viet Nam sorrow

in the valley of black stone

humidity of 50,000 deaths

names without bodies

honor without ears

were it better never to have been born?

I still hear their cries


freezers filled with 50,000

fertilized human eggs

comets waiting to be called by a sun

how long does creation keep?

can thought be thawed?

does what we sacrifice

come to our tables in 10,000 years

as mastodon meat?


names that do not come to term

half lives.

U235, U238, RU486

categories kept in fat

rivulets wriggling to water tables

caverns for dark sortings of the liver

is the body a temple?

are cancers tetragrammatons?

does plutonium have a home?


blood of the lamb

culture of the zygote

what new religions from caduceus?

Ishmael and Isaac

cloned with Abraham’s knife

genes of Jesus resurrected from shrouds

Dolly Lamb reincarnated with Dalai Lama

does Babel have twin towers?

is Jacob’s ladder a double helix?

whose birthright has woolly arms?


how long can fists hold history?

is the table laid for a guest?

is there still some detectable heat?

is this the hiss of the Holocene?

can we meet in cryogenic tears

angels of microwaves?

how many planets are stillborn?

do the arms of the galaxies embrace?

what light might yet arrive?

what scales to measure bliss and holiness?

who will whisper Lazarus?

should we bury our dead?

what wraps grief in sleep?

Martin Settle ~ The Teleology of Dunes

Available through Main Street Rag Publishing Co.

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