Black Lawrence Press


Purgatory by Amelia Martens

Purgatory is uncomfortable. Here, the reader must face details that conspire, parents that won’t disappear, ice storms that bring zombies, and a universe that is ever shrinking. In the small rectangles of these prose poems, challenges present themselves without remorse and atonement stands offstage. Inspired by Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit”, which establishes hell as other people, Purgatory focuses on the limitations of the self in a landscape of Wonderland-like inversions.


  • "On my first tour through Purgatory, I thought, this isn’t Purgatory, this is Hell—a place where your car keys are made of construction paper, your house explodes, where you’re trapped under arctic ice in a one-man submarine wearing itchy wool underwear, and, (my favorite), where the telescope only takes Sacagawea dollars. But, on my second trip through Purgatory (two trips aren’t enough—each of Purgatory’s self-contained poem/paragraphs glitters with facets and shifts shape every time you take it in) I saw the light: Amelia Martens hasn’t described our place of Eternal Punishment; she’s described our Testing Ground, where we’re endlessly paged to the white courtesy phone, compulsively choose door #3 (our quarreling parents), and patiently stand in line holding out our hands for our ration of sun and quiet. A tour through Purgatory is a tour through our shrinking universe, where we’re getting squeezed—oh, it hurts!—but fighting our way through to enlightenment. Kafka would have loved Purgatory, and so will you."
    —Richard Cecil

    "The immediacy of these poems will make you sweat, and shiver—it’ll make you look over your shoulder a bit. You are in these poems—every one of them. Martens forces you to be there, throughout. It tastes like Windex. It’s cold. You hear cowboy ballads. You see things you can’t believe, like thousands of chickens, flipping through magazines. It’s a lot like a movie. The universe grows smaller every day. It’s true. Just when you think you’re anonymous: just when you
    think you’ve been forgotten, Martens makes things more alive than you ever thought possible."
    —Micah Ling

    "Amelia Martens' poems in Purgatory are dazzling, strange, spiritual, funny, and moving. Shimmering and skittish she whittles an almanac of apocalypse and praise. These poems burn and shine. Martens skewed vision and lyricism delights, haunts and reveals the world."
    —Catherine Bowman

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Amelia Martens

Amelia Martens received an MFA from Indiana University and works as an adjunct instructor at West Kentucky Community & Technical College. She is a co-founder of the Rivertown Reading Series, received an Emerging Artist Grant from the Kentucky Arts Council in 2010, and was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Recently, her poems have appeared in Bellingham Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Whiskey Island, and Willow Springs. Her poetry chapbook, Purgatory, won the Spring 2010 Black River Chapbook competition and was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2012. Her second chapbook, Clatter, was published by Floating Wolf Quarterly in 2013. Her first full-length collection The Spoons in the Grass are There to Dig a Moat was published by Sarabande Books earlier this year. She is married to the poet Britton Shurley; their collaborative projects include two daughters.

Martens Author page

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