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The Black River Chapbook Competition Winner


Publication Date: January 2012


Winner of the Fall 2010 Black River Chapbook Competition

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

About the Author

Amelia Martens

Amelia Martens is the author of The Spoons in the Grass are There To Dig a Moat (Sarabande Books, 2016), and four poetry chapbooks, including Purgatory (which won the Spring 2010 Black River Chapbook competition) and Ursa Minor (forthcoming in 2018 from elsewhere magazine). She teaches at WKCTC in Paducah, KY and her writing has earned support from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, the Kentucky Arts Council, and Rivendell Writers’ Colony. She met her husband in the Indiana University MFA program; together they have created the Rivertown Reading Series, Exit 7: A Journal of Literature and Art, and two awesome daughters.

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