Monday, July 24, 2006

Martha Rhodes

This week at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, I am in a workshop with the poet Martha Rhodes, who is the author of Mother Quiet, Perfect Disappearance, and At the Gate. She is encouraging us to experiment with the way we revise our poetry by playing with tenses, structure, line breaks, and sequencing.

According to Rhodes, there are four aspects that feed into the creation of a poem: music, imagination, narrative, and structure. They are not mutually exclusive, but it is helpful to know which, as a poet, is one's dominant way into a poem, or way of reading a poem. It is clear to me, after working with Vijay Seshadri and now with Rhodes, how much my poetry is informed by my musical ear.

This poem by Rhodes is posted online at AGNI Magazine:

The Hose

A hose ran through our house, used
to wash our windows down; to keep
us teenagers in line; to dilute Father’s
martoonis; “to make life a little more
exciting,” Mother said.

When Mother turned 70 and renamed us
“Enormous One,” and
“One Who Walks Bare on Rug,”
and “One Who Hideously Shares My Bed,”
and “Which One”

we hosed her into the corner of her dressing room—
Strong Medicine.
Clean out the cobwebs.
Cold showers are a cure-all.
Shock therapy.

Mother would giggle herself silly when we’d towel her dry,
dust her with powder, pull the bedrails up.

Martha Rhodes

The mother in this poem, although claiming that the hose makes life "a little more / exciting," actually uses the hose to control her family: it keeps the windows clean, monitors the kids' behavior, and prevents the father from getting drunk. Her family has learned this; so when illness leaves their mother in a frenetic, uncontrolled state, they hose her "into the corner of her dressing room" to regain order. Even then, she "giggles" when washed with cold water, and rails are needed to pen her in.

This is a very sad and powerful poem, and what I admire about it is how an extensive, emotional story is compacted into 17 lines. We get a sense of the entire family dynamic very quickly (nobody says martoonis unless they drink a lot of them), and the inevitable fall of the mother into an uncontrolled state, despite her attempts to always control her environment. Maybe that is the unltimate conflict here: that she could gain control over her environment, but not over her internal self.


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ufukhati said...


The creation of a poem - please deliberate one of the them.

Thank You.

MB said...

Reading this poem is a little like having a cold hose suddenly turned on me. Shocking, clears out the cobwebs. Powerfully compact.

Danny Sillada said...

Hi Amy,

You seem to be doing fine engrossing yourself at the workshop.

The image of a hose also symbolizes life-giving ties, like umbilical cord, between mother and child and the whole family. Every family has a household element that they can identity with significant meaning to their lives like the “hose” in this poem. My household element is a “coconut broom” made of coconut leaves’ sticks.

To create a coconut broom, you have to remove in-between leaves, like palm leaves, of long skeletal stem that resembles a long thin stick. And then, tie a number of thin sticks together. A single stick cannot sweep the fallen leaves on the ground, but if you put a hundred of them together, they become effective as a whole. The “coconut broomstick” in my culture is pregnant with meaning; I might create a poem on this as inspired by Martha Rhodes in her “Hose”.

Anonymous said...

I am as impressed with the readers' responses as I am the poem1 MB and Danny have given me new perspective on this piece.

pseudonym said...

Perhaps it is just me, but I am struck at how playful this poem is in spite of its tragic elements. A family will do things in the home that they would never consider under any other circumstances. "Here comes mom with the hose again." When dad drinks he knows he will get the hose, when the kids horse around they know what will happen. I can almost hear my own mom saying "Let go of your little brother or I'll get the hose out."

**SilvermOOn** said...

I agree with Pseudonym. Although this piece is rich in bonds emphatically depicting life flow from water and medication to unseen family feelings, I also hear wry clannish subtle humor, like a release from the serious theme that pervades this observation.

I'm enriched by reading your workshop experiences. I always read poetry outloud even for that musical sound. Rhodes' workshop sounds fascinating. I can't wait to see the results of your own experimentation!

Plus Ultra said...

What a lovely poem, one that each of us can own if we do take ownership ot is a reminder again and again that the highiest mountain one can climb is the everest of Self...all other mountains are mole hills, really enjoyed your whole blog, and am requsting permission to link.

fjl said...

Great timing, this is just what I'm looking at at the moment! Feel free to come over whenever.

the amplified bard said...

P-town is a wonderful place. As a poet who received a fellowship to attend FAWC a couple of years ago, I know the dizzing effects the center can have. well, nice blog. i'm definitely adding you to my list of poetry blogs on mine.

MB said...

Thinking of you, Amy...

Anonymous said...

Hi Amy,
I was searching around Blogger for poetry blogs, found yours, and I dig it. I have started a blog w/a poetry experiment I am undertaking, check it out:


iamnasra said...

Hi Amy
I can not thank you enough for all ur visits
Well its so nice for u to share your thoughts on poetry and way to listen to ur musical ears

Ó Seasnáin said...

The renaming seemed most powerful to me. To think that the mother is actually establishing the identity of the children...

Voidwalker said...

I'm not sure I like this style of poetry. I've run across a lot of poetry like this, where the poem itself is almost a narration of feelings in the form of events. (this doesn't mean it isn't good, only that I don't like that style) Interesting nonetheless.

Kieran said...

As my friend Arthur Schopenhauer pointed out last night, music is better than everything, especially itself.

iamnasra said...

Okay so here is another visit from me hope u are find AND HOPE TO READ SOMETHING NEW SOON

MB said...

Amy, I hope all's well with you.

**SilvermOOn** GEL said...

Dear Amy,
You're in my thoughts one hand to another in friendship.I hope your writing is fruitful!

Rethabile said...

Very nice poem. Didn't know Ms Rhodes, but now I do.

MB said...

Amy, you are missed. Hope you are well.

sigmund fraud said...

How are you?

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

very nice post, amy. in a different way, i look at the flow and word usage that e.e. cummings implemented. just as i hope others can learn from my writing one day...and likely they can learn from yours, as well.

Alson Teo said...

Where is Amy? I hope she is fine.

harveyg said...


I just found your blog (through Blogflux) and love it. Blogrolled it!!

The poetry you present is unpretentious and powerful.

Thanks for this!

Danny Sillada said...

How are you my dear friend; I hope everything is fine.

I am no longer that active at, but here at

If you have time, please visit me there.

Peace & love,

PS. I miss you dear Amy

Alicia said...
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