“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 NorthamptonMedia.com, 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 WinningWriters.com. 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.

Videos from My Green Street Cafe Poetry Reading, Plus Upcoming Readings News

Saturday, Feb. 20, 7:00-8:30 PM: I’ll be reading with poets Karen Johnston and Ellen LaFleche at Thirsty Mind Coffee and Wine Bar, 23 College Street, South Hadley, MA. For more information, call 413-538-9309.

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.

And speaking of Naugatuck River Review

Saturday, Feb. 27, 2:00-4:00 PM: Launch party for the Winter 2010 issue, which includes winners of the 2009 narrative poetry contest, at Forbes Library, 20 West Street, Northampton. I’ll be reading with several of my fellow authors in this issue.

Readers include: Thomas R. Moore (1st place winner), Kathryn Neel (3rd place winner), Pat Hale, Gineen Lee Cooper, Jendi Reiter, Allegra Mira, Lynne Francis, Wendy Green Simpson, Don Lowe, Laura Rodley, David Giannini, Barbara Benoit, Christina Svane, Sharon Charde, Andrea Cousins, Paula Sayword, Jeff Friedman and Tim Mayo. Also reading are our poetry editors Oonagh Doherty, Ellen LaFleche and Sally Bellerose. Leslea Newman, our esteemed contest judge, will also read! Hosted by Publisher Lori Desrosiers.

Last month, I had the pleasure of reading with Charlie Bondhus, author of How the Boy Might See It (Pecan Grove Press, 2010) at the Green Street Cafe in Northampton. Thanks to my husband, Adam Cohen, and his ever-present Flip camera, our performances can now be viewed on Blip TV here (me) and here (Charlie). Each segment is about 25 minutes. We introduced each other, which is why Charlie’s segment starts with me and vice versa.

If you prefer to take me in small doses, as many people do, please enjoy these YouTube videos from the reading.

“Wedded” first appeared in The Broome Review. Regular readers of this blog may notice a familiar theme.

Buy Swallow!! I mean it.

And now for something completely inappropriate.

A Talent for Sadness (Turning Point Books, 2003) can also be yours.

Reiter’s Block Year in Review: 2009

My imaginary friends and I have had an eventful year. Some friendships were strained, many others proved more of a blessing than I’d ever imagined. Novel chapters got written, some published, and poetry did even better. My husband and I visited Chicago (AWP), New York City (friends, family and shopping), West Palm Beach (gay rights conference), and three agricultural fairs (we like cheese). My politics moved further to the left, dragging my theology along. Or was it the other way around?

Thanks for visiting Reiter’s Block. I look forward to continuing our conversation in 2010.  And now, the clips episode.

Biggest Accomplishment

SWALLOW. SWALLOW SWALLOW SWALLOW. Buy it now and the scary birdies won’t getcha.

Biggest Disappointment

You know who you are.

Guilty Pleasure

Facebook. Okay, so that’s tangentially related to my writing career. But…

Even Guiltier Pleasure

Farmville on Facebook. This game has no productive value whatsoever. The most I can say is that it’s easier on my wrist than computer solitaire.

Best Books Read in 2009

*Alex Haley, Roots

I thought I understood the story of slavery in this country, but I didn’t feel it in my heart till I read this saga of seven generations of an African-American family, beginning with Haley’s Gambian ancestor who was kidnapped and sold into slavery in the 18th century. Haley’s fictionalized re-creation of their lives is rich with drama, humor, tragedy, political outrage, and love that defies the odds.

*Cheryl Diamond, Model

There’s more to this teen memoir than meets the eye. Beautiful, blonde Cheryl has a wise old head on her shoulders, which helps her survive encounters with all sorts of human predators as she tenaciously builds a career as a fashion model in New York City. She’s also a sharp, funny writer. Now, when I feel defeated by life’s setbacks, I often ask myself, “What would Cheryl do?”

*Adrian Desmond & James R. Moore, Darwin’s Sacred Cause

Two leading Darwin scholars wrote this thorough and engaging history of how Charles Darwin’s hatred of slavery impelled him to seek a common origin for the races. The book has a strong narrative line and a detailed analysis of how politics, religion, and science have been entwined at every step in the development of evolutionary theory.

*David G. Myers & Letha Dawson Scanzoni, What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage

A journalist and a sociologist make a concise and persuasive case that marriage is good for everyone; gays are born that way; and the Bible doesn’t have to be interpreted to condemn homosexuality. While their arguments won’t be news to followers of progressive and queer theology, this is the book I recommend first to anti-gay Christians because it’s written by two straight evangelicals.

*Sarah Schulman, Ties That Bind: Familial Homophobia and Its Consequences

Original, hard-hitting new book from longtime AIDS activist and lesbian playwright casts a critical eye on the family dynamics of shunning and devaluing gay members, and how this becomes the template for the same behaviors in the wider society, as well as domestic abuse in gay relationships. Amazon reviewer C. Bard Cole writes, “…a tight and focused master work. Her approach to talking about the painful family dynamics in her own life is unlike anyone else’s, so unlike the calculated confessional approach of memoir and transgressive fiction that I hardly know how to describe it. It’s cool, intellectual, self-controlled — but perhaps like Perseus looking at the Gorgon only as a reflection in his shield.”

Favorite Blog Posts

“Blogging for Truth” Week: Writing the Truths of GLBT Lives

As Pontius Pilate famously asked, “What is truth?” Who gets to tell it, and about whom? The debate between affirming and non-affirming Christians is fundamentally about the relationship of truth to power. For that reason, it should concern all Christians, whether or not they have a personal stake in GLBT rights.

Liberal Autonomy or Christian Liberty

Original sin distinguishes the Christian picture of human nature from the liberal one. Privileging personal experience over text and tradition, a liberal might say “The truth is inside you.” I wouldn’t go that far. As a good postmodernist, I would say “You are inside you.” The right to stay grounded in our own experience should not be conditioned on the impossible burden of always “getting it right”. That’s another form of legalism.

I’m a Barbie Girl, in a Fallen World

When I’m with my Barbies, I can simply enjoy being a girl. I can pretend that I’m working on narrative structure by inventing elaborate storylines for them — TV show producer Barbie, transgender fashion designer Barbie, 12-step rehab Barbie, closeted evangelical gay teen Barbie, Korean radical feminist ex-stripper Barbie, and the rest. But the truth is, I just love clothes.

Happy 2010 from me and my muse…

Poem: “The Tune Michael”

This poem of mine was recently published in the 4th anniversary issue of the Istanbul Literary Review, edited by Susan Tepper and Gloria Mindock.

The Tune Michael

    for Karen and Dino

What comes through to the bedded boy, the laid-down boy,
the boy dark as church, weathering a sleep
fallen in childhood — all my hope

the boy wiped and leaking, the boy the body feeding
the house with its banked fires,
center of our constellation on God

is founded what comes to us through the body
is like practicing music
before anyone arrives, the nave’s silence maple thick

and sun after sun content to fall
through change and chance through dust
but no word, should that be enough?

What is enough for the boy tucked and sheeted,
sung favorites, insensate to our tender gloves,
still my trust rituals of a retired flag —

what funeral, what cure?
How much his life for ours
springeth out of naught

oh, let there be an inside
to this night, this boy bread,
in his flesh a listener

hidden like God in wine.

The tune mentioned in the title is #665 in the 1982 Episcopal Hymnal, written by Herbert Howells to accompany the poem “All My Hope on God Is Founded”. This video from Westminster Abbey includes captioned lyrics.

Poemeleon “Gender Issue” Now Online

Mystery boxes! Ironic diagrams! And at least one plastic vagina… It’s the latest issue of the online journal Poemeleon, the Gender Issue, with poems from award-winning authors including Rane Arroyo, Jeannine Hall Gailey, Jennifer Sweeney, and yours truly.

Other highlights include a review of Letters to the World: Poems from the Women’s Poetry Listserv. This lively and erudite online discussion group, better known as Wom-Po, was crucial in helping me transition from the 9-to-5 cubicle world to the more solitary and unstructured life of the writer-entrepreneur, back in 2003. Wom-Po demonstrates the potential of the Internet to create a community for women writers who may not have opportunities for face-to-face mentoring. (Be warned, though – the discussion is so active that reading and responding to the messages may consume your entire day.)

Poem: “What You Need to Know Is”

The New England Trans United pride march will be held in Northampton this Saturday, Oct. 3, from 11 AM-5 PM. I would love to march again this year, but my husband and I will be in New York City on family business for most of October. Please send me your photos and videos to post on this blog.

In honor of Trans Pride, I’d like to share this poem from my new chapbook, Swallow, which is now available from Amsterdam Press:

What You Need to Know Is

Not in my urinal or my soprano,
white rubber corset or tobacco whiskers.
Not in the gun or the red bloom
on the tumbled gown. Not prone and not aiming.
I could presume to say that you dream
of Lazarus and if it is anywhere,
it is there, in the nights your dry tongue
burns for wasted water but more so
in the mirror dream where your hand spills it away.
Sometimes I, too, soften it like the twilight
and then I am that lightbulb questioner
who slaps you awake with a hose.
I in my nursing smock, I in my meat-stained apron,
how I wish I did not know this
much as you wish I were not beside you
(O my mustache, O my silver-tipped fingers)
sweating through the Gloria.

“Swallow” Poetry Chapbook by Jendi Reiter Now Available from Amsterdam Press

My poetry chapbook Swallow won the 2008 Flip Kelly Poetry Prize from Amsterdam Press and is now available for purchase online. Thanks are due to my awesome editor, Cindy Kelly; poet Ellen LaFleche, who helped me organize the collection and suggested the title; and my prison pen pal “Conway” who drew the amazing cover art.

“Jendi Reiter’s poems are arrows that plunge dead center into the hearts of feminism, religion, death, the interior of mental health and psychotherapy. Her humor and satire here are as sharply honed as are her indignation. All are delivered in highly imaginative and metaphoric imagery. This is an intelligent and powerful read that will leave issues bleeding in the minds of readers for a while before they heal.”

—Ellaraine Lockie, award-winning poet, nonfiction author, educator

“There’s plenty of poetry I wouldn’t give a fig for, but I’d give strawberries for the poems in Jendi Reiter’s SWALLOW. When I started in Poetry in 1962, I felt poems were only poems if the top of my head was taken off, to use Emily Dickinson’s words. Jendi Reiter, who is also a bold experimenter, writes that way—solid images, worthwhile themes, and sentences that stick in the mind like raisins in rice pudding. I find much of today’s poetry too arcane, which may be why it’s ignored by so many. That’s not true of Jendi Reiter’s work. It’s challenging, beautiful, and clear. Read it, and again in Dickinson’s words, taste a liquor never brewed.”

—William Childress, Pulitzer-nominated Korean War poet and journalist

Enjoy a sample poem from Swallow:

Wolf Whistles

We’re all trying not to think about sex or cake.
That bitter word hurled from a car.
A moment ago you felt pretty.
Trying not to hammer the nail
into anything but the board.
Hard hat men sucking on coffee,
women with their hands down their throats
like a magician pulling a ten-foot rope out of a bottle.
It seems to go on forever,
monotonous intestine.
We’re trying cold baths and grapefruits,
another route around the tar
someone’s grateful to be laying down.
Saying throw me in the briar patch,
come on, do.
What a great distraction brambles are.
Rubbing and rubbing the saw against the wood.
What wound is he favoring
as his whistle strips you like paint?
We’re smashing pies into our faces,
we’re cutting open our skins. The better to eat.