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Martha Serpas

Martha Serpas

Martha Serpas is a native of Galliano, Louisiana, and a graduate of Louisiana State University, New York University, Yale Divinity School, and the University of Houston. Her poems are included in Uncommonplace: An Anthology of Louisiana Poets (LSU Press). A frequent lecturer on poetry and belief, she teaches at the University of Tampa. 

Also by Martha Serpas


Côte Blanche

Côte BlancheCôte Blanche

$14.00 paper | $22.00 Cloth | 70 Pages
ISBN: 978-1-930974-17-3 (paper)
ISBN: 978-1-930974-18-0 (cloth)
Publication Date: Feb. 2002
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In this, her first book, Martha Serpas succeeds brilliantly in fulfilling the calculations of the alchemists, those great hermetic artists of medieval Europe. Côte Blanche deliberately and beautifully weds the secular to the divine in poems which, steeped in the Cajun landscape of Serpas’s Louisiana, prickle with exhilarating sensuality. Through its votive offerings to a God who is all too aware of the longings and aspirations of humankind, Côte Blanche becomes a testament to a new, personal belief that is simple yet breathtaking in its reach.

“Martha Serpas is, in a highly individual way, a Catholic devotional poet from Louisiana, and she has perfected this, her first book, across fifteen years. Many rereadings persuade me that a double handful of these poems may achieve permanence. Like Elizabeth Bishop, her strong precursor, Martha Serpas practices a severely chastened art of poetry . . . I am moved to prophesy a considerable poetic development for her."
        —from the Foreword by Harold Bloom

"Lucid, yet luscious; rich, yet modest; full of spiritual insight, yet empty of bossy certainty, Serpas’s book of love and death in a Louisiana landscape is as savory and abundant as the rhythms she employs."
        —Molly Peacock

"Though she possesses—preeminently—some of the virtues with reason imputed to the engaging poet: accuracy of vision, for instance, and solicitude of address (her raptures are focused), Martha Serpas has a quality rare among such poets as engage us, and that is sustenance, a nurturing attention to her landscape, her weather, her personnel, off which one never feels she might be scoring for the poem’s sake, but rather to which she pays heed in order to sustain, to develop the Thing Itself even before she aggrandizes her sentiments, her judgments. This is how George Eliot, if she had written poems as compassionate as her fiction, might have proceeded, and it is certainly with such gifts that Serpas prevails."
        —Richard Howard

"Martha Serpas' gift for narrative propels these poems of bucolic Louisiana. This incredible book evokes not only the author's weighty but uncertain wisdom, it captures the world in which this wisdom lives."

"The fusion of Serpas’ subtle yet complex poetic and theological sensibility and dialectic with bayou particulars and argot is why these poems—emotionally, intellectually, and anagogically—are so compelling and successful."
        —Adam Vines, Birmingham Poetry Review

"Miracles happen at the water's edge - baptism, discipleship, a thirst for adventure, re-connection with ancient symbols of regeneration. In her collection titled Côte Blanche, poet Martha Serpas . . . invites us to become immersed in landscapes along Louisiana's low bayou country where 'Côte Blanche' is the name given by French cajun settlers to the 'White Coast' salt islands and inlets that encroach upon towns like St. Charles Crossing, Grand Caillou, and Port Fourchon. With the sure skill of a child grown up by the sea, Serpas navigates back to this briny world of characters she casts as pilgrims of a 'roustabout God.' She is a word artist drawing the reader into vivid descriptions of tough working men, of wives who count rosaries 'before a dark space in the wall' and a chorus of familiar voices, living and dead, that speak their experience of 'time we saved, forgot, then lost.'"
        —Carole Timin, The Democrat


I’ll Try to Tell You What I Know

Sometimes it’s so hot the thistle bends
to the morning dew and the limbs of trees
seem so weighted they won’t hold up moss
anymore. The women sit and swell
with the backwash of old family pain
and won’t leave the house to walk across
the neighbor’s yard. One man takes up a shotgun
over the shit hosed from a pen of dogs.
One boy takes a fist of rings and slams the face
of a kid throwing shells at his car.
That shiny car is all the love his father
has to give. And his mother cooks
the best shrimp étouffée and every day
smokes three packs down to their mustard-colored ends.

One night the finest woman I ever
knew pulled a cocktail waitress by the hair
out of the backseat of her husband’s new
Eldorado Cadillac and knocked her
down between the cars at the Queen Bee Lounge.
She drove the man slumped and snoring with his hand
in his pants home and not a word was said.
I’ll try to tell you what I know
about people who love each other
and the fear of losing that cuts a path
as wide as a tropical storm through the marsh
and gets closer each year
to falling at the foot of your door.