Me and Martha

I began the Martha Courtot section of This Frenzy accidentally—there was a poem of hers that I loved, “Lesbian Bears,” and hadn’t been able to find for years and years. When her family and friends issued her collected poems after her death I finally had the poem again so posted it. There was nothing about Martha on the web, so other people looking for her began to find me, including Martha’s sister and her daughters.

Then other women who had Martha poems that were precious to them began to contact me, with stories such as “We used a poem by Martha at our commitment ceremony 25 years ago and I can’t find it now—could you find it and post it?” And so a Martha Courtot online community began to form here.

More on that in a bit—but first this amazingness:

I’ve been buying copies of Judy Grahn’s The Work of the Common Woman for years now. Until last year her poems had been out of print and unavailable, so I regularly scoured used book sites and ordered copies, most of which I’ve given away. The last copy I bought this way sat on my shelf for a year or so before I opened it one day. There. at the top of the title page, was written “Courtot.” Could it really be a copy Martha had owned? It seemed unlikely, so I dreamed about it but set it aside. Then I “met” Martha’s daughter Thea via the blog, so I scanned in the page and sent it to her.

Then I waited. Only a few days, really (much less time than the 7 months or so that passed between my idea and my walking the book to the second floor of my own house to scan it in!). But now I was Actively Waiting. As in Judy Grahn’s advice “Love comes to those who wait actively / with their windows open.”

Yesterday I heard back from Thea. “Yes,” she said, “that seems to be my mom’s signature, and she signed EVERY book.”

Wow. Just wow. I have Martha Courtot’s Judy Grahn.

Now, back to the collecting Martha’s work. Julie Enszer, over at Lesbian Poetry Archive has asked me to work on a page about Martha and her work. Martha’s daughter is sending copies of her poetry chapbooks which Julie will scan to make beautiful online editions. I’ll work on an introduction talking about what Martha’s work meant when she was writing and why her words still matter to women, to lesbians, and also to the broader world of American poetry.

I’m not sure yet what exactly I’ll write for that, but I definitely want other “Martha and Me” stories – how have these poems affected you, how have they lived along with you?

I’ll see where that goes, and post more as I get into the work.

Signature on title page

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2 thoughts on “Me and Martha

  1. I knew Martha’s writing from her piece “A Spoiled Identity” in “Shadow on a Tightrope”, a collection of fat womens’ writing. It’s not a poem; it’s the text of a speech she gave to a womens’ studies department. It was my favorite piece in the book.

    I taught Yoga for Large Women for almost 15 years, and read Martha’s address to many of them. We’d have discussions based on the passage. Since the mid-1980s, I’ve been a fat activist and I believe that my students benefited from these discussions.

    Today I learned that she had passed away. Martha Courtot gave more to the world than she ever imagined.

  2. CurvyGirl – thanks for sharing your story. I know “Shadow on a Tightrope” well, and remember Martha’s essay. I’m working on an essay about Martha and her work, and I’d love to include your story if that’s okay with you.

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