In a landscape of having to repeat

Martha Ronk


April 2004



With each poetry collection, Martha Ronk has further refined her unique use of the sentence, its textures and tangents, to extend the ways that a meditative lyric might address the most intimate and subtle experiences of living. Yet Ronk’s diction remains as direct and urbane as it is mulitvalenced in its range from serious to wry to confidential to questioning. In these poems, we find Ronk’s most stealthy syntactic turns, returns, and juxtapositions, which expose to us the rhetorics we unconsciously use to frame our perceptions of the daily. In a landscape of having to repeat, Ronk offers a language of attention that is composite, disruptive, and vibrantly immediate.

Winner of the 2005 PEN Center USA Literary Award in Poetry:

Martha Ronk’s In a Landscape of Having to Repeat is a collection of poetic meditations on repetition. In these lean, clean blank verse and prose poems, Ronk plays with how creatures of habit (dutiful as we are to necessary repetition (say, bodily functions, memory) and selective repetition (say, watching TV)), attempt to repeat once-and-only-once experiences that cannot without difficulty be repeated. The poems are narrative and semi-narrative views of landscape, moving toward, away from and through Ronk’s linguistic flora, Freud’s dream theories, Eva Hesse’s intentionally deteriorating props and sculptures; delightful.

Once and again, In a Landscape of Having to Repeat is an addictively liberating poetic exploration of repetition in familiar and new language we are honored to select Martha Ronk for writing. Word for word, right down to the title askew and the two poems of the same title, Martha Ronk’s In a Landscape of Having to Repeat is a delightful addition to our contemporary literary canon.

About the Author

Martha Ronk is Irma and Jay Price Professor of English at Occidental College. Among her poetry books are Why/Why Not (University of California Press 2003), Eyetrouble (University of Georgia Press, 1998), State of Mind (Sun & Moon, 1995), and a memoir Displeasures of the Table (Sun & Moon, 2001).

^ back to menu

Eventually Ronk’s sense of displacement, or perhaps her sense of the simultaneity of place, leads her to conclude that “it is no longer necessary to go anywhere which is no longer different from anywhere else.” Despite the poems’ unconditional indeterminacy and economy of expression, Ronk’s sincere desire to comprehend a reality that refuses to hold still for analysis generates an unexpected and uniquely human warmth.

In asking herself how memory would function without routine images, including the “picture” on the surface of the word itself, the poet creates a prosaic heightening of repetitive events that would otherwise be taken for granted or forgotten. The epigraph from Stanley Cavell is a fitting catalyst for Ronk’s amplification of “gone” routine: “The everyday is what we cannot but aspire to, since it appears to us as lost to us.”

Each page, each poem is a meeting place for the personal, the philosophical and the nuances of each. Ronk’s diction is written in a register that is at once informal and formal. Even the most casual musings are at times nothing if not complex. Her tone is one of determination, of following up on questions asked, but ultimately inconclusive. She suggests and inquires and leavesthe reader to follow suit. Urging usto follow her lead, to ask perhaps what isn’t designed to be answered.

In these poems, a bit of remembered conversation or trivia from yesterday or decades past could form a sturdy component of the present inquiry. In other words, for the poem to faithfully represent a thought process, to illuminate a problem, the poem must incorporate lapses, since a sequential approach promises information overload (not to mention—for the reader—deadly boredom). These creative disruptions are predicated on formal rupture. This may not be new information to the contemporary reader of poetry, but it is nice to be reminded of the continuing validity of the description of the surf provided by Tennyson that still reads like revelation for the construction of poetry: “Break, break, break.”

^ back to menu

In a landscape of having to repeat

In a landscape of having to repeat.
Noticing that she does, that he does and so on.
The underlying cause is as absent as rain.
Yet one remembers rain even in its absence and an attendant quiet.
If illusion descends or the very word you’ve been looking for.
He remembers looking at the photograph,
Green and gray squares, undefined.
How perfectly ordinary someone says looking at the same thing or
I’d like to get to the bottom of that one.
When it is raining it is raining all the time and then it isn’t
and when she looked at him, as he remembers it, the landscape moved closer
than ever and she did and now he ban hardly remember what it was like.

^ back to menu