Reading as a Writer: “Mister Martini”

My brain lacks the synapses to write poetry, but I love reading it.  I love the distillations of emotion and images, the rhythms of language in poetry, its music.  Read poetry aloud.  Listen to yourself.  Poetry affirms humanity.  I used to read poetry aloud every morning for about 15 minutes before beginning my writing for the day.  The rhythms and language pulled my mind into a creative state for writing, opened the doors and windows of my imagination.  I read Homer (loved The Iliad), Virgil, Wordsworth, Pope, Tennyson, Shakespeare, among others, as well as contemporary poets.  Reading poetry is an essential part of being a writer, whether or not one writes poetry.  And I say this as someone who could not stand poetry when I was in school!  I am on the lookout for interesting and new poetry, poetry with substance.

Recently, I discovered a poetry collection, Mister Martini by Richard Carr.  Full disclosure: Richard Carr lives in my neighborhood and I also recently met him.  Learning that he was a poet made me curious about his poetry (you can check it out for yourself at his website: or his page at  I read excerpts of Mister Martini online and was interested to read the entire collection.  

What a great title, for starters!  Who is “Mister Martini”?  Richard juxtaposes descriptions of martinis in italics with a narrative about a fictitious “I” — the use of this pronoun in poetry can be confusing and misleading.  I learned from other poets that “I” is more often a fictitious narrator than the poet writing the poem, and that is the case in this collection.  It gives the poems an immediacy, however, and creates a relationship with the reader that might otherwise not occur if approached differently.  The reader becomes “I,” so to speak.  So, when the narrative poems talk of a father, it jogs the reader’s memory to his own father.  A powerful connection through words, and in a few, highly descriptive words, that rarely is done in prose but which prose writers strive mightily to achieve. 

As the collection proceeds, the poems explore specific situations regarding “I” and the father, and the italicized martinis seem to reflect back an emotional resonance like a mirror.  When I first read the poems, I thought in terms of music — the call-response of gospel music, or the rondo structure in classical music.  But now, I think of it more as a mirror — reality and its reflection.  This is a highly original structure that unites the poems, gives them an arc of development, however loose, I think. 

Images in poetry need to be as specific as images in a screenplay.  This doesn’t exclude metaphor.  For example, in a poem entitled “Odometer,” Richard writes:

“In the last limping mile of his beat-up life/the old man’s odometer simply/rolled over/and he drove on into yet another reality….”

Or, a favorite: “His shoes were sprawling palaces/for his imperial feet.” 

I love the images in this poetry collection.  They startle and delight without stopping the flow, just as images should in prose.  The martini images are particularly evocative.  I craved green olives for a couple days after I began reading this collection.

I plan to re-read Mister Martini and aloud.  And I recommend it for anyone who enjoys an original approach.  Bravo, Richard.


2 responses to “Reading as a Writer: “Mister Martini”

  1. I really like the shoes/imperial feet. I tried writing poetry. Of course, I tried to throw a football, too. Having someone explain it, no matter in what detail, just doesn’t give the ability to do it. The book sounds interesting. One of my best friends, who’s in Germany, seems to enjoy American writing – I know he bought a copy of one of the Best American Short Stories of 199x and like it. His birthday is next month – I might check this out, and see if it would make a nice present. Of course, Peter’s birthday is in 2 days, and I have no clue what to get him. Poetry just ain’t it.

  2. Glad to see you survived the flu!

    I’ve tried writing poetry, too, but failed miserably. But I do love to read it.

    Richard’s book is at or you can order it through the publisher, University of North Texas Press at

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