The poems in Begin Empty-Handed ride the hinge between the life expected and the reality of life in process. When the mid-life speaker surrenders to hard truths—loss of a parent, enduring marriage, daughters in trouble, for example—she’s a subject-changer, she digresses, pivoting between being empathetic and disengaged. Then she looks straight at the pain. Throughout, she remains remarkably witty and ironic. No illness, damage, or danger is made light of; painful situations are witnessed or resisted with a raw, honest, and intermittently comic attitude as the poet goes about the brutal work of letting go.
Susan Kan, Publisher, Perugia Press about the 2013 Perugia Prize winner Begin Empty-Handed.
I love reading Gail Martin’s poems the way I love watching birds alight on my feeder. They are wise and funny and graceful.
Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of Once Upon a River
Gail Martin’s Begin Empty-Handed is a gorgeous book of poems that delivers all the troubled loves that focus us. In Martin’s poems you can never trust anything that calls itself ordinary—deer stroll down the street like gunslingers, a bovine heart is found in a carwash, a mother dances with burglars who’d come to rob the house. Each line is honed to its sensate particulars; its breathtaking images are restrained and wild and wonderfully alive.
Traci Brimhall, author of Our Lady of the Ruins
The most remarkable thing about Gail Martin’s Begin Empty-Handed is that the poetry is spinning itself into words as we read. Each line is a surprise, as if Martin caught the words in the air as they flew overhead. And yet the work is precise and crafted by the surest and most capable of hands. That is the awe-inspiring experience for the reader: although each poem is flawlessly revised for music and meaning, there are ragged and astonishing associative fingerprints left on everything. This collection introduced me to her work, but I will never miss another poem that Gail Martin publishes.
Laura Kasischke, author of The Life Before Her Eyes