“I don’t know what I’ll do without the Park Slope Food Coop,” half-joked Jynne Dilling Martin, who leaves this Thursday for Antarctica as the continent’s artist in residence. The bleak food situation is Martin’s biggest worry about spending six weeks in -40 degree weather. “I feel more alive when I’m cold,” she assures. However, as a vegetarian heavily dependent on fresh fruits and vegetables, her eating choices will be limited to canned goods. So, Martin is coming prepared: “I’m bringing my own intense spice pantry in my suitcase.”
Martin–director of publicity at Riverhead (a division of Penguin) by day and a poet by night–has spent the majority of her life preparing for a trip to the icy continent. As a child in inner city Cleveland, she saved her allowance in a shoebox to use for an expedition to Antarctica. Years later, she overwhelmed a soil scientist studying there with her enthusiasm for the area while seated next to him at a wedding. He suggested that the renowned poet apply for the program. In 2010, she did and got the grant on her first try. “I would’ve just applied for the rest of my life until I got it,” she said.
Her life-long commitment helped her though a very intense year of planning for the next month and a half. Among her many tasks, she had to: fill out over a thousand pages of paper work (an estimate), buy special sunglasses to protect against 24 hours of UV rays bouncing off of snow, and send over seven different dental X-rays. “If I get lost in a white-out storm, some day if they ever find me, it’s what they’ll use to identify my remains,” she explained. (No artist in residence to date has died.) The NSF will provide all of her clothing, which she will pick up at a warehouse in Christchurch, New Zealand en route. She did, however, invest in her own long underwear, rather than rely on the “grimy” used pairs provided. The scientists there also asked her to bring a set of darts.
After traveling for five days, on four planes, over three continents, Martin will make a final run to a supermarket to hoard fresh fruits and veggies before embedding with the McMurdo Station scientists and penguins. There, Martin will study the vernacular of the scientific experiments to inform her poetry. “It’s sort of the opposite of Walt Whitman’s famous poem about the astronomer,” she explained. “Whitman was kind of an asshole and has this jerky humanities position that science is a diminishment of the wonder that we feel.” Martin takes the opposite view: “The more you get to know how weird and wonderful these animals are actually increases the majesty and awe that you feel.”
Growing up in a no-TV household, Miller’s interest in animals and Antarctica came from the National Geographic magazines her parents let her use as entertainment. In her poetry, Martin has focused on science and animals, with poems such as “An Animal with Claws Should Use Them” and “Case in Point: Cats.”
Following her stay, Martin expects to write and publish poems based on her experiences. The grant exists to further cultural understanding of the area by those other than scientists. At the very least, the pictures she plans on taking of Penguin published books with penguins will attract some wider interest. “It’s a nice synergy that I work at Penguin and I’ll be working with penguins,” she said.