My Poems “Inheriting a House Fire” and “touching story” in Solstice Literary Magazine

Solstice Literary Magazine, an online quarterly, selected two of my poems as the “Editor’s Pick” from their contest submissions this year. “Inheriting a House Fire” and “touching story” appear in their Summer 2011 issue. Launched in 2009, Solstice has published such authors as Kathleen Aguero, DeWitt Henry, Leslea Newman, and Dzvinia Orlowsky. Enjoy (if that’s the right word?) “touching story” below.

touching story

not the turn to gold but touch he
wanted most, no object that
flesh of his
supper gelled to shining
ore lumps when he bit, that sepals
stiffened on the rose
like nipples bared to frost. not
the lark that lasted but the scar
its moneyed weight peeled
down the tree. not the trophy
hound, that sudden andiron
dropped from his lap,
but the fox, stinking, invisible,
myth to asses’ ears,
no nodding velveted clefts
named his errata, not a page
or armed barber kissed the riverbed
to scandalize the reeds
into singing true. and when his
as he’d tell it, sprang
into his transmuting arms, and after,
there was no god to take the
   hardening gift away.

Poemize the Patriarchy!

I’ve just begun reading Kathryn Joyce’s expose of evangelical doctrines about female submission, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Simultaneously, I discovered the Random Poem Generator. The “poemized” ad copy for Vision Forum’s Heroines of Christ’s Kingdom Paper Doll Set reveals some interesting subtexts:

Doll voices inside list,
catalog mullins site bluebehemoth!
jackson two switch wrist,
an adams as behemoth.

Christ stock adelina six,
daughters stock older paper.
eliza shopping women fix,
calvin paper for taper.

Online god online six,
retail outlet reviews stock.
dolls wives anne fix,
regular jackson vision cock.

My Interview on the Mass Cultural Council ArtSake Blog

Last year I was honored to receive a fellowship for poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Since then my gratitude has only increased, to see the publicity support that the MCC gives its fellows and finalists. In conjunction with our reading last week at Forbes Library in Northampton, the MCC’s Dan Blask interviewed me on their ArtSake blog. Here’s a sample:

ArtSake: Along with your poetry, you also write fiction and nonfiction. Do you approach writing prose differently from the way you approach poems?

Jendi: Yes, definitely! Poetry and fiction must be written by hand with a mechanical pencil in a 6×9 Mead Five Star notebook. Nonfiction, by which I mean my blog posts about gay rights and Christianity, is written on the computer. I don’t know how to shape a narrative in creative nonfiction. There are too many facts, and most of them were hard enough to live through once.

When I write poetry, I’m not thinking about an audience. What wants to be written, gets written. It’s like a computer’s self-diagnostic. I write to find out what I think. Naturally, my values and preoccupations are reflected in the poetry, so in that sense, it often contains a critique of society, but it’s driven by my own need to express my authentic inner experience, rather than to have a particular impact on others. (Though I wonder whether the two are really so separable – doesn’t every self-disclosure cherish a tiny hope of being recognized and responded to in kind, however much one tries to cultivate self-protective detachment?)

My novel-in-progress is about a young fashion photographer in 1990s NYC who struggles to reconcile his faith and his sexual orientation. With this project, I have more of a conscious intention to bring about social change, along with telling an entertaining story.

Writing a novel is harder than poetry because it’s impossible to be in the “flow” for that length of time. With a poem, by the time I figure out where my subconscious is taking me, the trip’s over. I don’t have much opportunity to get in my own way. Far more planning has to go into the novel, which means that there are many chances for self-consciousness and ideological agendas to seize control, instead of letting the work tell me, itself, what it needs to be. I counteract this problem by conceiving of the novel as a collaborative effort between myself and my characters. They’ve got to retain the freedom to surprise me. My job is to see enough of the big picture so that they don’t get lost and despondent, but not be so directive that they lose their independent life force. It is a constant, elaborate, frustrating, fascinating dance that calls on all my relationship skills, and maybe even improves them in the so-called real world.

I do my creative writing by hand because this slower, temporally linear method allows intuition to take the lead. Writing on the computer, it’s too easy to pull back and see the big picture, to let the analytical mind start rearranging and criticizing, and skip past that quiet inwardness where the soul of the poem or story gestates.

Read the rest here. Videos of myself and my talented co-readers Rosann Kozlowski, Nancy K. Pearson, Cynthia Morrison Phoel, and Jung Yun are available on the Winning Writers YouTube channel.

My Poem “not with the old leaven” Now Online at the St. Sebastian Review

My poem “not with the old leaven” is now online in the first issue of the St. Sebastian Review, a new literary journal for GLBTQ Christians and allies. Yes, we do exist! As editor Carolyn E.M. Gibney says in her introduction:

Many times over this past year, in the midst of my clumsy attempts to get this journal going (It’s sort of
felt like learning stick shift all over again: You think you’ve got it, then you lurch forward violently for a
few seconds, sit stunned for a moment, and start the damn car once more.), I’ve had people – mostly
genuinely concerned and gentle people – ask me: Why would you create a journal for queer Christians?
How many of you are there?

My answer is always the same: Twelve. There are twelve of us. (At this point in the conversation I smile
and tell them I’m kidding. Which I am. Mostly.)

It’s true that this seems like a bit of a strange niche. Queer Christians tend to fall into the section of the
Venn diagram that most people either A) don’t think exists (which in most cases is easily rectifiable), or B)
vehemently deny is metaphysically possible. ‘You can’t be gay and Christian!’ they say.

Word on the street, though, is that metaphysics can only take you so far. (Buy Martin a beer and he’ll tell
you why, in the end, he never could finish Being and Time.) And, in any case, the problem, unfortunately,
has never been metaphysical. The problem is not whether gay Christians can or should exist. The problem
is that we do exist, and that people still consider our existence a metaphysical question.

The question of being queer and Christian is deeply, terribly physical. And immanent. And quotidian. (‘See
my hands?’ I would like to say back. ‘See, here: Touch the wound in my side.’)

That’s partly why I started this journal. I want to affirm that the question of the intersection of queer and
Christian has moved, must move – entirely and completely – from the realm of the metaphysical to the
realm of the ethical. The question, now, dear friends, as I’m sure you already know, is not ‘What?” but

The issue is available for download as a PDF here.

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.