"Standing on the Edge of the World"
by Lindsey Martin-Bowen

In this book of poems Lindsey Martin-Bowen takes us on a journey and from the windows of her stagecoach -- or is it an airship, train, or taxi? -- points out the transient scenes you'd most likely not have noticed. She makes you love what's out there, framed within these pages, and lofts us far from place to place, from soul to soul, and back in time and onwards. Such crafted art is rare. All Aboard, Dear Readers!

--David Ray, former editor of New Letters and author of Music of Time: Selected and New Poems (The Backwaters Press) and When (Howling Dog Press).


When Marianne Moore wrote "I, too, dislike it" in her poem "Poetry"
she didn't stop there. Rather, Moore goes on to assure the reader
that "Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one/discovers in/it
after all, a place for the genuine." While her comment is apt for so many poems we run across, her poetic assessment could have been made specifically for the work of Lindsey Martin-Bowen. In her new book, Standing on the Edge of the World, the "genuine" is found in poem after poem, and with a voice that belies the fact this is Martin-Bowen's first full-length volume of poetry. These poems speak with a grace and maturity of a poet is full stride.

Standing on the Edge of the World was published in 2008 by Washburn
University 's Woodley Press. Ostensibly, the book's theme centers on
living and life in the American Midwest, specially inside the state of
Kansas . Martin-Bowen is able through her keenly focused lens to observe what
life is like there. She renders that life for us in poems that reach far
beyond typical red-state/blue-state dichotomies that infiltrate our thinking about a country polarized near the point of splitting apart. Rather,
Martin-Bowen focuses on what is human in each of us, and how that sense of
humanity breaches strict ideologies of religion and politics. That's not to say that Martin-Bowen doesn't get religious on us or doesn't grouse about some political issue, she does. But she does so in Marianne Moore's best interpretation of "genuine." Martin-Bowen's sense of religion and her sense of what matters about politics come to her naturally as part of her deeply felt spirit.

Martin-Bowen speaks repeatedly of that spirit-self as complex and yearning. One example comes to mind from her poem "TIghtrope Walker" when she

     I walk without a net.
     Towing this thin line,
     my knees wobble, my chest shakes.
     No pretty celestial carriage ahead,
     just a battle above a frenzied crowd
     that whoops and hollers.
     Inhale, exhale<and still
     this diastolic, systolic breath
     won¹t calm my mosaic heart.

While I sometime wish the craft showed through a little less than it
does, I confess that the hand-crafted feel of these poem endear them to me.
Much like the Midwest itself, these poems have been cradled by the desire
of this land and its people for expansion, growth, and even deliverance. Martin-Bowen gives us the truth and nothing-but-the-truth in her
work. In reading this book, one cannot wish for more of the sense that this
poet herself is here inside these words, these poems, this book. For us
the reader, finishing the book is like leaving someone's company we've
come to cherish. Our departure is much the way Martin-Bowen herself
describes in "Chinese New Year" as the poem ends, we feel:

     Drums hammer in this year of the snake.
     These city blocks refuse to end.
     I pull away from this dream
     that wraps me in shadows.
     Your grip tightens.

For the poems of Lindsey Martin-Bowen, that grip is an embrace. And
we, as her readers, are warmed by it.

Bob Haynes, Director, Writing Certificate Program
Arizona State University
Department of English

In the Kansas City Star's annual feature of 10 noteworthy book in 10 categories, Kathleen Johnson selected Standing on the Edge of the World as one of the 10 for poetry.


Lindsey Martin-Bowen uses a descriptive lyric voice, vivid
imagery, and interesting personas to generate a sense of place and to
transport the reader into those places like Caribou Hill or Copper
Mountain, Colorado; Bath, England; or Victoria, Kansas. Her effective
repetition of sounds, words, images, and ideas creates unique rhythms
and establishes connections among the poems. Written over a period of
some 25 years or so, this collection presents many intense and
insightful glimpses into a changing reality, altered perceptions, and
the "yearn[ing] for something eternal."

In "Periwinkle Park," Martin-Bowen's sharp imagery draws
the reader into a park of ponderosa pines that is as "green as Iraq TV
scenes/shot at night in war zones." The smell of "bleached logpoles"
and the sound of a buzzing fly that "interrupts the creek's high- pitched/refrain" create a surreal sense of place, so that when we
read, "Clouds roil into battalions-/they cover the skies./I think we
read of Armageddon," we are prepared for a storm. What we get, though,
is not an immediate storm or battle, but an image described with
sounds that provide internal rhyme and slow the pace, delaying the
inevitable: "In the field, just one small aspen/intertwines with
pines/that align like soldiers." We sit with the persona in the truck
and "wait for the rain."

In "Against the Current," Martin-Bowen skillfully uses
sound and imagery to create the rhythm of whitewater rafting. All our
senses are engaged throughout the poem, again placing us with the
speaker for a catharsis that we, at first, are not expecting. The
poem's first stanza puts us in the rat on that "crazy blue river" that
is "so tough."

Wild as a woman caught in hot
flashes, lapses of memory, it whips
rapids into white caps, rages back
and forth, and winds through canyons,
switches back, cuts through an aspen grove
interspersed with pines.

We are breathless by the second stanza and "grip till our
knuckles/whiten" in the third. By then, we've recognized the
metaphor , and, as in times of stress, we can identify with the
persona as she says, "We push on,/yet regret entering/this insane
race." Like her other poems that present controlling metaphors, this
one invites a second, third, and fourth reading to ponder the
expansion of the images into a larger reality.

The repetition of this sort of intense imagery in
subsequent sections interweaves the poems together, as does the
recurrent mention of places. The sonnet, "Everyone Connects Kansas
with Oz," which ends the first section, presents snapshots of places
like the Flint Hills, Cottonwood Falls, and St. Fidelis's altar in the
Cathedral of the Plains. We see more of Kansas in section two
in "Floating through Coffeyville on Pontoon Boats: Flood Poem #3
(2007)," and in section three, "Cathedral of the Plains (St. Fidelis
Church)" describes that notable cathedral visible from I-70 at
Victoria, Kansas, the architecture of which seems out of place on the
plains. Connecting in this section with poems set in England, this one
shows "white marble" that "guards the sanctuary." Discussing St.
Fidelis, Martin-Bowen also divulges some autobiographical information
that connects her with the saint-a German heritage and the study of
law. But she says, "I come from German farmers in Mankato,/where the
prairie roils from rust to green,/acres away from this Plains
Cathedral" and makes the following confession: "burdened with
uncertainties,/I wonder if I'm a tsunami or a soaring melody."

In the last section, "The Soul of Kansas Might be a
Scream" is an unrhymed sonnet with sights and sounds that reveal the
song of Kansas as both melody and tsunami scream. "You hear it late at
night when the moon/becomes a sliver in someone's dream" the poem
begins, then lists several possibilities: "It might come from John
Brown's ghost/or the specter haunting the WPA castle" or be "wails
from Bob Elliot, who died in a wreck/on the red trail winding down
from the peak." The sestet makes Kansas like the edge of the world:

Perhaps it's the lonely moan of a locomotive
over plains where fires break through nights.
Maybe it's the shriek from the red-tailed hawk circling
yuccas in the cemetery where the snow never stays,
or from the western ridge where coyotes cry
and geese wing through wide, blood-red skies.

Throughout the collection, not only do the lyric poems
draw us to those different locations, but the persona poems present
different views of life and reality. Whether it's a landlady, a
trucker's wife, a Madonna statue, or a prostitute who started a fire
in her brothel, the characterization is dramatic. A few of the poems
that use Biblical characters as personas could give a distorted view
of events and ideas to the reader who has not also read the Scriptural
accounts. In the award-winning poem, "Peter's Wife," the wife, if
taken seriously, mistakenly refers to conjugal love-making as sin.
This, of course, does not detract from the literary merit of the poem
but can confuse some readers. Details stray from the literal account
or are presented out of sequence in "Mary Magdalene Rebukes Peter"
and "Mary at the Wedding in Cana." However, Martin-Bowen's other poems
with Biblical personas probe a fact often neglected-that the people
who are mentioned in the Bible were real people, with human thoughts
and emotions like ours. Other personas are perceptive and captivating
because of the authenticity of their voices. In "The landlady says," a
non-cognizant landlady suggests a clever metaphor but is totally
oblivious to the wisdom she has spoken, creating a humorous tone.

The book's title poem appears last in the collection. At
first, I wondered why; when finished, I knew. "Standing on the Edge of
the World" is a powerful poem which combines Martin-Bowen's use of
rich imagery, musical repetition of sounds and words, and unique
perceptions of a persona to place the reader where that persona is.
The poem's speaker is a woman who is "tired of working this town, sick
of selling/my body to solders" who don't even call her by the right
name. She says, "Maude's Pleasure Palace gave me no pleasure" and
confesses to "dousing kerosene on/rafters, carpets, curtains, and
sheets." She knows of only one person who didn't make it out, and that
was one who was "dead already [ . . .] gone/before the first flame,
before/I stepped into the lobby." From here, the ambiguity spreads
like kerosene upon a hard wood floor, as we realize the possibilities
of the poem. Was the madam the dead one? Did the persona kill her? Or
is the prostitute the dead one (by suicide), and the speaker her ghost?

Adding to the mystery is the mention in stanza one of
an "overturned lamp/and a match," which seems to set the incident in
the nineteenth century. In the second stanza, we see a car idling and
a mother shuffling her boy into it, which snaps us forward to the
twentieth century. This bridging of time is mirrored by the poem's
images which echo earlier poems in a fresh way. Here the trees that
line up are apple trees rather than aspen or pine, a detail that adds
much to the poem. We stand with the persona, amidst "dead weeds,"
aching "to ride morning's wings through fields." And then it hits us.
The final two lines of the poem, of the book, carry the answer to the
perpetual change of seasons, scenery, and settings. "When a door
closes, they say, a window opens./I close my eyes and pray they're
right." And this is where we leave that persona-woman or ghost:
standing on the edge of the world. It's where we all must come to

-Victoria Carroll

Victoria Carroll is the winner of the 2003 Word Journal Poetry Prize.
Her poem, "Duende" appears in the Word Journal 2003, published under
her married name. Her poetry has also appeared in the Connecticut
Review, and reviews of poetry collections by Vivian Shipley, Denise
Low, and Lois Marie Harrod have been published in the Midwest
Quarterly and previous issues of Flint Hills Review. She teaches in
the English department at the University of Kansas.

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Standing on the Edge of the World
Lindsey Martin-Bowen

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