Videos from Green Street Cafe Poetry Reading with Mark Hart and Jendi Reiter

Last week I shared the stage with poet and Buddhist teacher Mark Hart at a reading at Northampton’s Green Street Cafe. I would do the job for the free dinner alone. If you weren’t there, you’ll just have to imagine the roast duck and polenta, but you can feast your other senses on the videos now posted on the Winning Writers YouTube channel

Here’s a clip of me reading “World’s Fattest Cat Has World’s Fattest Kittens”, which won 2nd Prize in the 2007 Utmost Christian Writers Poetry Contest. Mamas (and daddies), don’t let your babies grow up to be writers.

My Poem “Bullies in Love” Wins Anderbo Poetry Prize

My poem “Bullies in Love” has just won the 2010 Anderbo Poetry Prize judged by Charity Burns and Linda Bierds. Anderbo is a NYC-based online literary journal edited by Rick Rofihe. This poem was inspired by the episode of “Glee” where the homophobic football player kisses sweet little gayboy Kurt. Who says watching TV doesn’t pay?

Bullies in Love

Wouldn’t it be nice to believe all hate is desire,

the bullet that wings the bird

wanting to be a bird?

Believe, if little dead boys can

hold their dear opinions in the ground,

that the fist is only a heart

stunned by too much muscle?

Because then you would still be visible,

chosen as carefully for destruction

as the cities of the plain

or the shy girl in a vampire novel,

the girl who is all elbows and sorrow

and stands outside at weddings.

The truth is, most hatred is different from really rough sex,

neither masked for the sizzle of mystery

nor screaming the name of the defeated, its own.

Not thinking is its flavor.

Deafness, its spice.

But believe, because you are not yet twenty-one

and drowning, not yet lying down at seventeen

beneath the homecoming train, not yet a choking thirteen

hung from your mother’s garage ceiling,

because you are still at home on prom night

watching the Discovery Channel, you will be convinced

that the zebras, by now, must be aware of the cameras

and that the one who tumbles beneath the lion’s

rank delicious weight is choosing

something like the mating that escaped you.

“Swallow” Gets Downright Eucharistic on Logic’s Ass

Martha Rzadkowolsky-Raoli has written a fantastic review of my chapbook Swallow (Amsterdam Press, 2009) for the Ampersand Books website. She’s reverse-engineered these rather difficult and prickly poems to make clear the theology behind them. The miracle of writing: when our readers mirror back to us more than we consciously realized we had said. I wrote Swallow by mad intuition, but an astute reader finds “method in it” after all. Some highlights:

Jendi Reiter created a tidy poetry book in which swallow means everything you can expect swallow to mean. She exhausts the word; its mashed remains a mix of cow meat, desire, intestines, bird. If you read the book, and you should, you’ll experience the beating of the word. Swallow. How else to learn something new ?(about the parameters of language) — – something only poetry can do, and these poems do it….


…By suggesting disparate contexts, these aphorisms maintain a collaged-world view. I like Reiter’s objection to a poetics bound by singular points of view. I like when word-artists comply with the rules of our new universe (a mess of sources coming at you from everywhere: billboards, email, the doorman). This kind of work feels real….


…Reiter’s rhetorical tricks can remind me of the riddle-ish catechism I was taught. The relationship between premises in these poems get downright eucharistic on logic’s ass. Mysterious pronouncements sound as zany as any church stories of body-magic: The body jesus lived in, the jesus body that is the eucharist, and the jesus body that you put into your body….

Read the whole review here.

You know you want it now:

My Chapbook “Barbie at 50” Now Available from Cervena Barva Press

It’s out!

My latest poetry chapbook, once again featuring cover art by the awesome Richard C. Jackson, is now available for the bargain price of $7.00 from Cervena Barva Press. Cheaper than a Barbie doll, and better for your daughter’s self-esteem.

Contest judge Afaa Michael Weaver said about this collection, “These are poems of a life more real than any doll’s, as they point up the grace of having confronted the problematic entanglements that attempt to derail a woman making her way through the puzzles of maturing in the last fifty years, a time studded with all ridiculous matter.”

Enjoy this sample poem, first published in Juked #5 (2007):

The Opposite of Pittsburgh

A garden hose fell in love with a footstool.
It said C’mon baby, opposites attract.
We belong together, like fudge and onions.

The footstool wasn’t happy in the mud.
It settled down, like it had been settling down
   all its life.
Its tapestry skirts got lopsided and wet,
like a Victorian lady visiting the poor
who sits down where there is no chair.

The hose couldn’t stay wound, it was that excited.
Flowers sprouted from the sides of the house
where the water sprayed, and nowhere else.

People whose feet were tired kept coming out
   to the garden
and poking the cabbages, seeing if they’d bear
like a sofa. “Why can’t you be more like a sofa?”
the footstool complained.

The garden hose felt love in all its arteries.
Big spurts of love, knocking over small dogs,
drenching every daddy’s barbecue.
The neighborhood began to eat their hamburgers

Stories like this always end with a garbageman.
The footstool drove away on the junk truck,
   headed for Pittsburgh
or a field that was the opposite of Pittsburgh,
just one long loop of day and night weather
and no one to keep it awake with love
running out the soles of their shoes.

Beer-Battered Squirrel (‘n’ Dumplings)

Turning Point Books, the publisher of my first collection A Talent for Sadness, is an imprint of WordTech Communications in Cincinnati. WordTech’s various imprints have published well-known poets like Robert Hass, Allison Joseph, and Rachel Hadas, as well as many emerging writers. Their monthly e-newsletter keeps us all up-to-date on one another’s readings and book reviews.

That’s where I discovered Richard Newman’s memorable poem “Wild Game“, from his collection Borrowed Towns (Word Press, 2005). “Wild Game” was featured on Garrison Keillor’s NPR broadcast The Writer’s Almanac on June 22 and can be read on their website. In this poem, the narrator reminiscences about his great-grandma Lizzie, whose scandalized in-laws were unable to polish away her zesty backwoods ways. I appreciate Newman’s use of the sonnet, that highbrow and tightly controlled form, to symbolize and poke fun at their containment efforts:

…It wasn’t that her wildness was tamed—
Lizzie used the finishing they taught her
to sneak the savagery in under their noses.

Roast haunch of venison, roast possum
with cranberry sauce, hare pie, quail on toast
points, merckle turtle stew, and the most
famous dish of all: cherry blossom
gravy, dumplings, and beer-battered squirrel.

Read the whole poem here .

Also in the WordTech newsletter, I enjoyed Meredith Davies Hadaway’s “Hall of Records“, an honorable mention winner in the 2010 Robinson Jeffers Tor House Prize for Poetry. Her book The River is a Reason is forthcoming from Word Press next year. They also published her first collection, Fishing Secrets of the Dead, in 2005.

Somewhere in a strange city,
my father cradled me in one arm while
gesticulating to the man in charge of records:

a birth—to write it down.

He’d always said we should go back there.
As if it proved that once and far away
we’d been part of the same enterprise.

The 2010 Tor House first-prize winner, Jude Nutter’s “Legacy“, is also amazing, as is every poem of hers that I’ve read. See her 2005 first-prize entry in the Winning Writers War Poetry Contest here .

For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow…

The Massachusetts Cultural Council has just awarded me a 2010 fellowship in poetry! Read the press release here.

My application packet included poems from my chapbook Swallow (Amsterdam Press, 2009) and my forthcoming chapbook Barbie at 50 (Cervena Barva Press), as well as some uncollected work. The following prose-poem, included in that group, won the Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Prize from the literary journal Quarter After Eight, and was recently published in QAE issue #16. (This $200 prize is currently accepting entries through June 15.)


I collect packets of soup noodles. The last pages of books from the prison library. I am a collector of others’ facial expressions. If you’ve found it hard to move your eyebrows lately, that was probably me. I collect the different colors the day appears in. Soup noodles crackle. There are many colors that are called gray. Dawn light and potato soup and regulation wool socks. I would collect them all, except I have nowhere to store the soup. Cellophane wrappers crackle as if something more was in them than you could see through. Fire and footsteps. Even in here there are hobbies I have no time for. I do not collect rats. They have no numbers. Unlike us. Every rat is the same number, meaning, more than you can see. Rats do not have the patience to collect soup noodles. That is why they will temporarily be your friend, again and again. Rats shrink from the sound of crackling, like a teenage boy forced to read a nineteeth-century novel of manners. The Victorians were so unsure of themselves that they collected the hair of the dead. Wove it into fetishes of gray flower brooches. Because they didn’t know anymore whether the soul had another place to go home to. Rapping and tapping, the dead return to turn out their pocket litter, to prove themselves by the ticket stubs and cigarette butts their unique past collected. Proving they are made of paper and ash. Like the clipboard woman sent by the state to ask me to circle how I am feeling today. I feel like the number 4. She does not want any soup noodles. I have found that most people, when they hear the sound of crackling, remember their dream of being followed through a dark wood.


“Barbie at 50” Wins Cervena Barva Poetry Chapbook Prize

All this time I thought I was just playing with dolls…turns out I was doing research!

Afaa Michael Weaver has selected my poetry chapbook Barbie at 50 as the winner of the 2010 poetry chapbook prize from Cervena Barva Press, an exciting small press based in the Cambridge/Boston area and edited by Gloria Mindock. The book will be published later this year.

Poems in Barbie at 50 have appeared or are forthcoming in The Broome Review, Naugatuck River Review, Phoebe, Conte, Juked, and Istanbul Literary Review, and in the Florence Poets Society annual Silkworm anthology.

Enjoy the title poem, first published in the Winter 2010 issue of Naugatuck River Review:

Barbie at 50

Her little girls no longer bite their nails,
the stubby hands that undressed her
have moved on to trouser buttons.
Pink polish, bitten to the quick,
or younger still, drawn on with purple marker —
now French tips and a diamond or later
an untanned line where the ring once was.
Barbie knows the world by hands and feet.
Her own are forever arched for heels,
hot pink, one sandal and one pump.
Barbie’s been buried in the sand
beside mother’s toes, splayed in flip-flops,
chunky piglet barefoot girls
who dunked her in a bucket,
drew on her nipples, cut and stroked her hair.
Head down in seawater,
she could have told them that midlife nirvana
doesn’t need a plane ticket.
Barbie’s naked as the widows
floating in the Ganges.
She wasn’t there when Ken died.
A lady of her age steers clear of most events
involving small boys and firecrackers.
Pink is the color of mourning
for Barbie, who wore it on every occasion
when there was someone to dress her.
Plump hands brush pink on lined and powdered cheeks.
Barbie is carried out in a box.
Hands turn over tags,
hunting garage-sale bargains.
Nude, she lies back on the picnic table,
points her inked-on breasts to the sky.

Fans wait on line for a signed copy.


Poetry Videos from Thirsty Word Reading Series: Karen Johnston, Ellen LaFleche, Jendi Reiter

The Thirsty Mind Coffee & Wine Bar in South Hadley, MA, was kind enough to host our first-ever Thirsty Word poetry reading series last month. We’re hoping to organize another event in early May. Featured readers were Karen Johnston, Ellen LaFleche, and myself. Enjoy these videos recorded by Adam Cohen. Each is about 25 minutes long. Thanks also to Mary Serreze for setting up the audio equipment. Mary is the publisher of, a local news site where I cover the public housing beat.

Karen G. Johnston is a social worker by vocation, a poet by avocation, a socialist by inclination, a UU-Buddhist by faith, and mother by choice. Her writing has been published in Silkworm, Equinox, Concise Delight, WordCatalyst, and Women. Period. An Anthology of Writings on Menstruation.

Ellen LaFleche has a special interest in poems about working class people, and issues of health and healing. She has published in numerous journals, including Many Mountains Moving, Alehouse, Alligator Juniper, the Ledge, New Millennium Writings, and Naugatuck River Review.

Jendi Reiter is the author of the poetry collections Swallow (Amsterdam Press, 2009) and A Talent for Sadness (Turning Point Books, 2003), and editor of the writers’ resource website Award-winning poet Ellaraine Lockie has said of her work, “Jendi Reiter’s poems are arrows that plunge dead center into the hearts of feminism, religion, death, the interior of mental health and psychotherapy.”

Poetry Videos from Naugatuck River Review

Naugatuck River Review is a handsomely produced and high-quality new journal of narrative poetry, based in nearby Westfield, MA. To celebrate the launch of their Winter 2010 issue, editor Lori Desrosiers organized a reading in Northampton last weekend with some three dozen poets, including the winners of their 2009 contest. The contest will reopen this summer, with nationally known poet and performer Patricia Smith as the final judge. Last year the top prize was $1,000. One of the nice things about this contest is that many finalists and semifinalists are also published.

Here are two short videos from the event, featuring Ellen LaFleche and myself. I’ll post more videos if I can get permission from the authors.

My Chapbook “Swallow” Reviewed at The Pedestal Magazine

The new issue of The Pedestal Magazine, a bimonthly online journal of poetry, literary prose, book reviews, and visual art, includes a wonderful review of my poetry chapbook Swallow by JoSelle Vanderhooft. It’s a treat to be read by someone who gets my work and appreciates its connections to other genres, including humor and horror. From the review:

The first thing that strikes the reader about Jendi Reiter’s Swallow is, naturally, the unusual cover illustration, which appears at once to be a multi-eyed cherub (the proper Old Testament kind), a brace of clothespins, a flock of nightmare birds, sewing needles, bent nails, and a heart-shaped crown of thorns. While one may have a difficult time explaining all of this, one need only know that this image by Richard C. Jackson is the best visual realization of the horror, madness, blood, and beauty that infuse Reiter’s work: Like something out of a fever dream, it just makes perfect sense.

In reading Swallow, I was struck by how much Reiter’s work appears to have been informed by the conventions of horror poetry. Namely, both frequently concern themselves with the strangeness and gradual decay of the body, altered states of mind, and grotesquery. The first of these themes appears prominently in “Body I” (here reproduced in full), which I consider to be one of the chapbook’s finest poems. Here Reiter makes a subtle and powerful statement about the baseness of life and the commonality of death that would seem cliché in the hands of a lesser poet. Yet Reiter’s conversational tone and her suggestive use of repetition and imagery make this poem truly sing.

Read the whole article here (I’m the fourth of four books reviewed). Sign up for The Pedestal Magazine’s free email newsletter to be notified of new issues. Donors to their fund drive can receive free copies of editor John Amen’s gorgeously apocalyptic poetry books, or other books or CDs by staff members.

For your reading pleasure, here’s a poem from Swallow:

Body I

Here’s the thing about a body:
There’s no one inside.
Here’s the body the body was born in:
In the ground.
Here’s the body that went into the body:
A small sword, withdrawn.
Here’s the thing that came out of the body:
The sane bury it.
Here’s the thing that came out of the body:
The mad write with it.
Here’s the thing that covered the body:
Keep washing till it smells like nobody.
Here’s the thing the body needed:
Take it away boys take it away.
Here’s the way it entered the body:
Enough holes to breathe.
Here’s the thing that holds the body:
Pinewood planks for a final ship.
What holds the body becomes the body:
All hands meet underground.