Diane G Martin

My exile, not entirely self-imposed, as circumstances and illness forced me to leave San Francisco, CA for a more hospitable and affordable city, wrought much soul-searching, creative production, and many changes. While I had never felt like an insider in my native country, I became a thoroughgoing nomad in others, able to commiserate more fully with my fellow passengers to the grave and experience the sometimes privileged perspective of a genuine outsider, but often one who passes some of the tests of inclusion. This book is the artistic result of my reflections and interpretations, influenced by the landscapes and cultures of my wanderings.

This collection of 55 poems is called A Pilgrim’s Progress, written over a 15-year span during the period when I moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, and then to Sansepolcro, Italy, with sojourns in numerous other countries to sit out my alternate three months out of the Schengen zone, as I was not given Italian residency.

Published by Purcell Press


A Pilgrim’s Progress, my collection of poetry written over fifteen years of exploration and displacement, marks a crucial phase in my development as a poet and writer. Begun in 2000, when I pursued my dream of finally moving to St. Petersburg, Russia, it documents in verse critical moments of élan vital, and my wanderings, and my perceptions of our kaleidoscopically fragmented civilisation. We, my band of brothers and sisters, had hopes of different millennium realisations, but the 21st century is devolving otherwise.

The initial poems express hopeful rediscovery and discovery, such as “Pilgrimage” and “Summer’s Eve.” Gradually, conflict and trials appear in the pilgrim’s path. The last poem “Never Mind” marks her resignation to living out vagabond days in surroundings fast becoming alien, owing to a personal situation as much as to societal and political upheaval.

Far from the first time in history that “ruinous disorders follow us disquietly to our graves,” as Shakespeare noted in the cited epigraph from King Lear, but it appears it could be the last, given our descent into the hell of tyranny, climate change, and now pandemic.

I believe that, in part, a poet’s job is to document perception, another part, to bear witness, yet another to warn and ward off evil with the spell of language performing these tasks quintessentially and powerfully. We poets are hybrid conductors, historians, magicians. In Anna Akhmatova’s monumental elegy Requiem, my constant muse cites an incident when, freezing, standing in a line to deliver a package to her son in prison, the woman behind her whispered:

“And can you describe this?”

And I said, “I can.”

Then, something like a smile slid across what had once been her face. *

Many of us also follow a tradition of rebelling against oppression.

Form is as important as content, which, with age and practice, has become more formal. In these poems, meter, internal and external rhyme, alliteration, onomatopoeia, simile, metaphor, etc., are used seriously and playfully, often ironically, referentially, though rarely strictly. When absent, they show crisis: the world is falling apart. Grief is too severe to adhere.

I do not apologize for refusal to lapse into the simplification and trendy authoritarianism of free verse. Educated in the importance of literary structure, I agree with Stephen Fry in An Ode Less Travelled that Anything Goes is not poetry, but prose… or some other category… like music, but lacking the attributes that make it music. Using traditional forms to write verse with contemporary themes and language now seems to me to be avant-garde.

*My translation.

– А это вы можете описать?

И я сказала:

– Могу.

Тогда что-то вроде улыбки скользнуло по тому, что некогда было ее лицом.

In short:

In their own small way, these poems endeavour to fulfil metaphysical obligations while creating objects of beauty, while conversing with other artists. Stepping the stones where brilliant poets walked, inhaling their words, incorporating them, and transforming the coalesced composite into an individual necklace of autobiographical, multifaceted gems is the challenge of craft.

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