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Cate Marvin

1969–

Born in Washington, D.C. in 1969, Cate Marvin was raised as the only child of a C.I.A. intelligence analyst and an editor for the Crime Prevention Council. After graduating from Marlboro College, she received an MFA in poetry from the University of Houston and an MFA in fiction from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She went on to earn her PhD in English and comparative literature from the University of Cincinnati.

Marvin's first book, World's Tallest Disaster (Sarabande Books, 2001), won the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry. Her second collection, Fragment of the Head of a Queen, was published by Sarabande Books in 2007. She also co-edited Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century (Sarabande Books, 2006).

A review of Marvin's work in Publishers Weekly referred to her as a "postmodern Plath," noting: "Marvin can make you laugh at crying and cry at laughing, yet few works so rife with satire ever took the human condition more seriously...Even at its most composed, it flashes with temper, merging the metaphysical and the dramatic, and arriving at unpredictable resolutions."

In addition to the Kathryn A. Morton Prize, Marvin's honors include the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, the Whiting Award, and a NYFA Gregory Millard Fellowship. She teaches at the College of Staten Island in New York.

Cate Marvin

By This Poet

6

Scenes From the Battle of Us

You are like a war novel, entirely lacking
female characters, except for an occasional 
letter that makes one of the men cry. 

        I am like a table 
        that eats its own legs off
        because it’s fallen 
        in love with the floor.

My frantic hand can’t find where my leg
went. You can play the tourniquet. A tree
with white limbs will grow here someday.

        Or maybe a pup tent
        that’s collapsed in on itself, 
        it so loves the sleep
        of men sleeping beneath it.

The reason why women dislike war movies 
may have something to do with why men hate 
romantic comedies: they are both about war.

        Perhaps I should
        live in a pig’s trough.
        There, I’d be wanted.
        There, I’d be tasted.

When the mail bag drops from the sky
and lands heavy on the jungle floor, its letters 
are prepared to swim away with your tears.

        One letter reads: 
        I can barely feel
        furtive. The other: 
        I am diminishing.

A Windmill Makes A Statement

You think I like to stand all day, all night,
all any kind of light, to be subject only
to wind? You are right. If seasons undo
me, you are my season. And you are the light
making off with its reflection as my stainless
steel fins spin.

		On lawns, on lawns we stand,
we windmills make a statement. We turn air,
churn air, turning always on waiting for your
season. There is no lover more lover than the air.
You care, you care as you twist my arms
round, till my songs become popsicle

and I wing out radiants of light all across
suburban lawns. You are right, the churning
is for you, for you are right, no one but you
I spin for all night, all day, restless for your

sight to pass across the lawn, tease grasses,
because I so like how you lay above me,
how I hovered beneath you, and we learned
some other way to say: There you are.

You strip the cut, splice it to strips, you mill
the wind, you scissor the air into ecstasy until
all lawns shimmer with your bluest energy.

Lying My Head Off

Here's my head, in a dank corner of the yard.
I lied it off and so off it rolled.
It wasn't unbelieving that caused it
to drop off my neck and loll down a slope.
Perhaps it had a mind of its own, wanted
to leave me for a little while.

Or it was scared and detached itself
from the stalk of my neck as a lizard's tail
will desert its body in fright of being caught.
The fact is, I never lied. The fact is,
I always lied. Before us, we have two mirrors.
At times, they say, one must lie in order

to survive. I drove by the house, passed
it several times, pretending it was not
my own. Its windows were red with curtains
and the honeyed light cast on the porch
did not succeed in luring me back inside.
I never lied. I drove by the house,

suckling the thought of other lovers
like a lozenge. I was pale as a papery birch.
I was pure as a brand new pair of underwear.
It will be a long while before I touch another.
Yet, I always lied, an oil slick on my tongue.
I used to think that I was wrong, could

not tell the truth for what it was. Yet, one
cannot take a lawsuit out on oneself.
I would have sworn in court that I believed
myself and then felt guilty a long time after.
I hated the house and I hated myself.
The house fattened with books, made me

grow to hate books, when all the while
it was only books that never claimed
to tell the truth. I hated him and I hated
his room, within which his cloud of smoke
heaved. I disappeared up narrow stairs,
slipped quick beneath the covers.

My stomach hurts, I told him, I was tired.
I grew my dreams thick through hot nights:
dear, flickering flowers. They had eyes
which stared, and I found I could not afford
their nurture, could not return their stare,
Meanwhile, liars began their parade

without my asking, strode sidewalks inches
before my doorstep. I watched their hulking
and strange beauty, their songs pregnant
with freedom, and became an other self.
I taught children how to curse.
I bought children gold pints of liquor.

I sold my mind on the street.
1 learned another language. It translates easily.
Here's how: What I say is not what I mean,
nor is it ever what I meant to say.
You must not believe me when I say
there's nothing left to love in this world.

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