Martha L. Deed 
Intersections a twenty-day journal of the unexpected

Martha Deed is a poet and a web.artist who lives in North Tonawanda, New York (USA) on the north bank of the Erie Canal. Her poetry, multimedia, and video web publications, include Iowa Review on the web, Big Bridge, Shampoo,, nthposition, Unlikelystories, and many others.

@ 2006 - Martha L.Deed

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I've been reading Martha's 'Intersections', and I thought I'd like to write something about it.

One of the first things to strike me about it was a particular quality which is shared by a number of the photographs - the Nabisco plant on page 3, the County Fairgrounds on page 6 and the Friends' Meetinghouse on page 7, for example. The subjects are seen completely foursquare, and placed centrally in each picture. The effect is to divide the picture-area into a series of simple geometric shapes: the ground is a horizontal strip, so is the sky, and the building is a powerful oblong in the middle. It's almost like a piece of naive art, but the effect is very composed, very controlled and at the same time very contemplative. These are all qualities which come across from Martha's writing, and they are qualities which also point beyond the writing to an anchoring framework of moral and religious beliefs which underlies it - just as the photograph of the Friends' Meetinghouse , through its formal qualities as a picture, seems to be drawing attention to the values embodied in the building.

If this was all there was to Martha's writing - this composed, controlled and morally-centred way of looking at the world - then her journal might be admirable rather than engrossing. But she is constantly taking her writing into difficult places: her values and ideals are constantly being challenged and bent out of shape by the pressures of the real world: and these challenges, these derailments, are both resented and sought-after by Martha herself. Her journal is full of comments indicating her need for rest and contemplation, her feeling that she is being plunged into a turmoil which is preventing her from enjoying her life properly - 'I had driven too many hours and in too much traffic', 'I am in beautiful surroundings, but I have yet to see them', and so forth - but at the same time she is magnetised by difficult situations and moral problems. She has written about murder before, in The Montstream Project (, and in this journal the subject of murder soon crops up again, in the story of Sister Karen Klimczak, who founded a refuge for newly-released prisoners and was eventually killed by one of them. For the moralist, it is impossible to achieve personal equilibrium in a world full of suffering without trying to do something about it. The first condition of morality - particularly Christian morality, which tends to see virtue as an active rather than passive quality - is sympathy with other people's feelings. If other people are suffering then we must feel uneasy too, in sympathy. But of course every attempt to help other people involves a sacrifice of energy and time which could have been devoted to your own life, especially if you happen to be an artist: and this tension between the artist's need to be alone with her thoughts, and the moral person's need to engage with other people and confront problems, haunts the pages of this short book.

The plan with which Martha launches into her journal is to stay in one place herself while she follows, in her imagination, the 2000-mile and 20-day journey of the blogger 'Poetguy' (Michael Czarnecki) along Route 62 from New York to El Paso. No sooner has she begun this project, however, than the tension between a journey without responsibilities and the moralistic need to make connections and get involved begins to surface in her writing:

'I began reading the Rt 20 book to sense his urge to travel - not unlike mine. However, unlike me, he has given in to his wanderlust... For the trip to work poetically, one must have the gift of connection to land and people. However, for the trip to work emotionally, the poet must have an equal gift of separation... Although the sudden crises of travel... can leave one feeling vulnerable and alone, the small crises of home often cast long shadows, chores shadow days.'

A few pages later, these shadows of domesticity become dramatically longer and darker, as she learns that her daughter, in Boston, has been struck down with 'a life-threatening autoimmune disease that attacks the blood vessels anywhere in the body'. She asks herself:

'What travel am I on? How many travels am I on?... The most restful, spirit-centering travel I'm on is with Poetguy somewhere along Rt 62 in Kentucky. Whether I can stay on that road - let alone continue to enjoy that road - is open to question.'

She yearns to be free of responsibilities and off on a "spirit-centering" journey like Poetguy, but unlike him she feels her domestic and family life dragging her attention away from herself, away from her own spiritual needs and her artistic project. The contrast which seems to be emerging is between the (male? irresponsible?) life of the dedicated artist, and the shadowy, responsibility-laden, feminine world of the family and society. Yet although art seems to be associated with a journey and morality with staying at home, at this point Martha actually has to pack her bags and set off for Boston to help her daughter. Her imaginary journey with Poetguy almost disappears from her journal throughout the central section of the book, as she finds herself dragged into her daughter's hectic and hysterical daily life - Sarah's suffering becomes so acute that it drives her into placing impossible demands on those around her, especially Martha herself.. At this point the thematic structure of the book seems to be crumbling too. The contrast between art and morality becomes almost irrelevant, because although Martha is in Boston to help her daughter, doing the moral thing rather than the self-centred thing, her presence actually seems to make things worse rather than better. One quality which artistic endeavour and morality share is perspective, a sense of detachment from the mere necessities of existence - but as Martha's daily life becomes more hectic, so this quality of perspective becomes more difficult to preserve, and her journal becomes the record of a hand-to-mouth struggle to get through the days. Eventually, with little or nothing achieved either in moral or artistic terms, she packs her bags and goes back to New York, leaving her daughter to make her own way home by train.

The book ends with Martha imagining Poetguy on his way back to his wife and family - the wife, she muses, 'must be exhausted by now' from looking after the publishing house and family - 'If she were not able to do this, the poet man would not have been able to take to the road' - the clearest hint yet that there is something irresponsible about Poetguy's devotion to his art. Martha herself, on the other hand, is back home with her long shadows: 'Tomorrow is a birthday I have both anticipated and dreaded for years: my 65th birthday.' The journey she is now facing is 'the path from old age to death', but she comforts herself with the thought that this journey will be enlivened by 'surprise and connection, work and enjoyment of the physical beauty around me'. Note the keywords 'connection' and 'work'. The contrast between the connected-up, hardworking world of the moralist and the carefree, travelling-light world of the poet-artist is back - it's almost as if the poet will never have to get old or die if he can just keep moving, or as if getting old and dying is itself a moral choice, the price we pay for caring about other people.

This is not an artistically perfect book by any stretch of the imagination, but its artistic imperfection, paradoxically, is its strong point - because what makes it really gripping, in its central section, is the feeling that its thematic structure is breaking down - Martha has lost that composed, framed, controlled way of looking at things which comes through in some of the photographs, and the contrast between travel and domesticity which she has set up as her central theme has been shoved aside by something else, her struggle to cope with a personal and family crisis on a day to day basis. It's a brave and honest piece of writing.