C.L. Martin’s poetry collection “Off The Path and Straight Into the Woods” focuses on form. Most of its 27 poems are written in three columns and can be read across or down; they don’t look cramped because the pages are 8.5” x 11”. This playful spirit is reflected in the poems’ titles, such as “a day at the beach,” “God in a ball cap,” and “hooray for Marilyn.”
Martin celebrates the poetry of everyday life, showing an appreciation for the simple and wholesome. The tri-columned poem “american dairy” begins (across): “I stood there watching her | looking for fresh jugs | of milk.” Reading down, it says: “I stood there watching her | checking for freshness, | Gleefully unaware.”
The horizontal reads generally reveal simple sentences; reading downward offers a more fragmentary experience, but the lines still make sense and display interesting juxtaposition. Compare “Her basket already so full | for those who slept | at her home” with “Her basket already so full | Plenty never sleeps | And her heart never rested.” The vertical read is much more intriguing, whereas the horizontal verges on the sentimental.
Martin’s style is clever, although the poems can begin to feel gimmicky and the reading experience stuttering as one pauses visually at each leap across the column. The poems in single columns allow readers to focus on the language and enjoy a more organic rhythm. When this happens, some delights emerge. The poem “fantastic young men,” for example, employs vivid figurative language to describe lawn mowing: “The blade’s anxious glimmer/impatiently spirals a song/of preparedness to reap,/twist and cut.” This stanza contains interesting visual, aural, and kinetic imagery, with the single-syllable words (“reap, twist, cut”) echoing the efficient action of a motorized blade.
While some readers will wish Martin had used the three-column format more sparingly, this poet’s style may appeal to readers who enjoy word games and appreciate a light-hearted approach to writing and life.