Master poet Herbert Woodward Martin imagines the life of Willie Short, a young African American service worker who contracts AIDS and deals with the physical and spiritual ramifications of his illness. We watch the deterioration of his body and the final spiritual triumph as he faces death and the unknown. It is a remarkable achievement of the imagination as Martin traces the life of one who mattered for his courage facing a fate that awaits us all.
Uncasville, CT, December 12, 2020 –(PR.com)– William Meredith Foundation President, Richard Harteis writes in the introduction of SOMETIMES SAY MY NAME: “Herbert Martin has taken the life of Willie Short as his own. These cries of one dying of AIDS are so exact, so genuine, when I mistakenly told the poet Grace Cavalieri whose art graces these poems that Herb had AIDS, she said, ‘Oh my God, I am crying.'” (Cavalieri’s electric paintings written during the lockdown of COVID are a remarkable addition to the book. “I am trying to survive the pandemic by color,” she writes in a recent email.)
One can not be judgmental when one is facing death. It comes to us all despite the cause. But like Willie, the human hope is not to be forgotten. At the risk of being politically correct, Herb Martin has given us the life of one man whose life mattered, the universal from the particular as Aristotle would have it. This is what poetry can do, enabling us to actually see another human being, to feel his pain, to walk the lonely road of life with him a while.
“Who is there to take on the war of the night?” The poet asks. “Who is there to keep away fear when death comes as a surprise?” Willie, like Jesus suffers at the hands of evil. “What a diligence there was when he was crowned with thorns and ransomed in the night.”
Like Kubler-Ross, Willie Short achieves the final insight of dying, comes to accept what is in store for him: “I request only one thing from you when I am dead. Say my name from time to time. Do not allow it to be washed away in the waters of time.” In this collection, the poet sings Willie’s life into memory. Like prophets of old, crying in the wilderness, or John the Baptist standing at the river’s edge, these poems are not easy pablum to bring us peace and reassurance: though in an odd way, they do precisely that. Someone has paid the ultimate attention to a life of one who walked among us for a while.
“SOMETIMES SAY MY NAME is a great achievement, a hard-won, clear-eyed vision of life’s end in the short life of Willie Short. There is no book like it in poetry or prose anywhere. It is the song of Lazarus. Say it again: Willie Short, Herbert Woodward Martin.”