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Monday, October 3, 2011

Number 276: Joe Paddock "Old Martin"

Old Martin

His name was Martin, Old Martin,
and he was bent in the back,
nearly double, and a great hump,
under his blue work shirt, rode him
like a buzzard.

For years, in the background
of the dust-filled memory of our town,
he'd swung
hundred pound sacks of feed
onto trucks and into boxcars.

Work was his passion.
He honed his love and his hate
against work,
and grew lean and folded into himself
like a jackknife.

In Garner's Pool Hall,
I listened while a man
whose belly rolled over his belt
like a dead goose
sipped a beer and said,
" Ol' Martin's all bent over like that
because he lost a quarter
when he was a small boy,
and he's been lookin' for it
ever since."

-- Joe Paddock

Hap Notes: Joe Paddock (born 1937) is was born and raised in Lichfield, Minnesota and much of his poetry is concerned with the rural life of a small town and the connection of people to the natural world around them. Paddock went to the University of Minnesota where he majored in philosophy and studied under the poets Morgan Blum, Allen Tate and Howard Nemerov (all poets we have yet to cover although we have covered their peers and students.)

He is also a "soft activist" for environmental issues and an oral historian who has coordinated a local history project in his home town of Lichfield. He has won many awards and fellowships including the Loft/McKnight Writer of Distinction Award and the Milkweed Editions Lakes and Prairies Award. He has been poet-in-residence for Minnesota Public Radio.

Much of Paddock's work is concerned with the story. Today's poem is reminiscent of the pithy story poems of Edwin Arlington Robinson or Edgar Lee Masters as the poet relates an incident in the life of a man and lets the incident define the characters.

For example, the fella in the bar who makes the comment about Mr. Martin – do you think he is being humorous or mean-spirited or both? Why does the humor seem particularly offensive? The Midwest is full of farmers, farm-hands and laborers who hone their "love and hate against work." What does the word hone imply? Do you see the connection with the jackknife?

This poem is a stunning succinct word picture that tells a very large story with very few words. There is much in this poem that is left unsaid – things the poet left for us to fill in. Do you see how the unspoken works successfully in this poem to draw out our emotions?

Paddock has written several volumes of poetry. This poem is from "Earth Tongues".

Here's a good Paddock quote: "When writing poetry, we allow in the wholeness, we welcome it. We work with images and rhythms capable of conveying, of carrying, wholeness. The reader or listener is in turn given an experience of wholeness, a moment in time that is complete, one in which he or she does not feel the need to change or control the world."

You can find more Joe Paddock here:

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