Review of Martin Ott’s Captive

CRCover_Ott_CaptiveReviewed by Elsie Ohem

In rhetorical criticism, one way to view a text, whether that be a non-fiction or fiction text, is to find the underlying metaphor that constructs the entire piece. In a similar case, poetry can be viewed as a text in which multiple facets of metaphors interweave to display many sides of one view. The intertextuality found among the words, images, sounds, and even metaphors capture an underlying experience as a series of happenings aimed at representing one’s world view. Martin Ott’s Captive does just that by excelling in the skill of capturing simple life moments with unexpected sincerity.

Winner of the 2011 de novo poetry prize, Ott insinuates, with collective ease, the nonsequential realities that make up a soldier’s experience by capturing readers into a world full of despair, amusement, and fervency. An underlying theme that can be expelled from Captive is its sense of discovery. The 52 poem collection expresses a similar kind reverie in which the reader learns, along with the speaker, the dichotomy of superficial civility and the brusque reality of internal conflict. Discovery, like other processes of action, fuels wonderment and revelation towards the unknown. This underlying theme leads one to believe that the underlying metaphor in Captive is found in its own construction.

In looking at Captive’s structure, one immediately notes the diametrical set up of each poem; it is a structure that combines its set-up with the notion of learning. The physicality of the text itself is contemporary, often relating contrasting “mysteries” with the obscure “unseen” (1). For instance, Captive is introduced with a quote by Salman Rushdie:

Five mysteries hold the keys to the unseen: the act of love, and the birth of a baby, and the contemplation of great art, and being in the presence of death or disaster, and hearing the human voice lifted in song. (1)

The mysteries found in Captive are what drive the speaker and the reader to learn the lessons of the unseen. They may, at first, be unfamiliar, with their diametrical contrasts obscuring  truths hidden beneath; however, by framing them with life moments, the reader and speaker learn a language beyond literal meaning; a language which expresses a metaphorical lesson about life and one’s world view.

In “Interrogator in Training,” the speaker captures the moment when a soldier learns the lessons of inhumanity; in “I Learned to Drive in a Cemetery,” readers view the lesson of maturity as the speaker experiences a passage of childhood into adult “reality”; in “Captive,” the speaker articulates the once-apparent truth of self-discovery. Captive is best captured in a few lines of its self-titled poem:

The truth is that you are not wanted
by everyone you wish to impress.
and the pain you feel is more real
than a glib answer, glass half-tanked,
hope passed to children that could be
lies, could be your way of forgetting.
Truth is not found by the glow of night
light or rescuers’ search beams, bare
bulb of the inquisitor or candlelit bath.
This day, this cardboard box you carry,
these dangling things are not you.
(Ott “Captive” 56).

In short, each poem directs readers towards an understanding of loss and the struggles one has in finding fulfillment in a world deemed untrustworthy. The question now arises if whether one would ever find trust again? If this “unseen” will ever be discovered? The answer lies in remembering what it is to just “be”:

I wonder if she will hate her name.
India Ivy—a hopeless romantic?
Or a nymph who will travel
from man to man, country
to country. Will she be invaded
by soldiers or overwhelmed
by brick and iron latticework?
When I walk with her on my belly,
people coo and reach for her
as though trying to remember
a language they spoke as kids:
Polish, Spanish, Cajun, Cherokee.
They’ve forgotten what it is to be.
(Ott “India Ivy” 72).


About Martin Ott:

OttMartin Ott is a former U.S. Ary interrogator who lives in LosAngeles where he writes poetry and fiction, often about his misunderstood city. He was born in Alaska, raised in Michigan, and loves to travel. He is coauthor, with John F. Buckley, of Poets’ Guide to America, a verse travelogue published in 2012 by Brooklyn Arts Press.

Author Website:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s