Monday, July 20, 2009

The Habitual Poet: Jendi Reiter

Installment #2

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The Habitual Poet is an ongoing series of contributor interviews. If you are a Poemeleon contributor and would like to participate copy & paste the Q's from below and e-mail your answers to:

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Q: Where do you prefer to get your books?

Q: How many poetry books do you think you own, and what percentage of these have you actually read?

Several hundred; 25-30%

Q: When, where and how do you usually read? (i.e. at bedtime under the covers, cover to cover, etc.)

At meals, in the bathroom, during breaks from office work; usually read a book cover to cover, unless it's really bad

Q: What books of poetry have you read this month?

Charlie Bondhus, "What We Have Learned to Love"

Francine Witte, "First Rain"

Q: What other books/magazines/backs of cereal boxes have you read recently?

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

Tracy Hogg & Melinda Blau, "Secrets of the Baby Whisperer"

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Q: When, where, how do you write, and why?(i.e. at dusk on a dock, longhand in a notebook, because...)

Mornings and after dinner, in a Mead Five Star 6x9 notebook with a mechanical pencil. Because: these are my peak energy times, and writing on a computer gets in the way of my subconscious and sensual connection with the text. And other notebook brands just suck.

Q: How many first drafts do you think you complete in a week? A month?

I've been writing about 35 double-spaced pages a month of my novel-in-progress, about halfway through the first serious draft.

Q: How long do you wait before revising a poem?

I don't revise a whole lot, but any revisions are usually done that day or the next day, when I type it up.

Q: When do you know a poem is “done”?

When the plastic turkey baster pops out.

Q: Have you ever given up an invitation so you could stay home and write?

Yes, though not as often as I should!

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Q: What is your system for sending out work?

I search the database of Winning Writers, the writing resource site that I edit, to find upcoming contests in the next two months that fit the style and length limit of whatever pieces I currently have available.

Q: What have you more recently received: a rejection notice or an acceptance? Was it what you expected?

I was excited to receive an acceptance of a novel chapter from American Fiction earlier this month. I love that particular chapter so I wasn't surprised that someone else did too, but I was very gratified.

Q: Where do you generally publish: online, in print, or a mix, and do you have a preference?

About half and half. I like the prestige of print but I'm increasingly drawn to online publications because it's much easier to publicize my work through links in the Winning Writers newsletter and on my blog,

Q: What is the worst (or weirdest, or best) experience you’ve had with a journal/magazine/press & its editor(s)? (No names, please!)

I felt that my first book publisher printed so many titles that mine got lost in the shuffle. By contrast, I love my current chapbook publisher because she's so responsive to email and has involved me in the book design process. Not only is she using my prison pen pal's awesome cover art, she's publishing his book too!

Q: Have you ever received any fan (or hate) mail? If so, what was that like?

A poet on Facebook friended me and said that a poem of mine from Best American Poetry 1990 was still one of her favorites. It's humbling to have written anything that people remember after 20 years. I get hate mail on my blog from folks who don't think the Bible is compatible with homosexuality. That used to give me some self-doubt but my faith is stronger now.

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Practical considerations:

Q: What is your day job, and how does it affect your writing?

I'm the Vice President of, a writers' resource site. Other than the time it takes up, it's a boon to my writing life because it keeps me informed about contests and is great for networking with writers around the world.

Q: How does your significant other’s occupation affect your writing life?

Adam is the President of WW, when he's not blogging local politics. He supports me in every way. (His occasional off-color parodies of my poems keep me humble.)

Q: Have there been periods in your life when you couldn't write?

I had a crisis of faith last year about my novel, which is about a gay man struggling with his Christian upbringing. I had to work out my own doubts before I could imagine a way for him to resolve the conflict and accept himself fully.

Q: Do you have a “poetry budget”?

Not officially, but I end up spending about $1,000 a year in entry fees etc.

Q: Have you ever suffered (or made someone else suffer) in the name of your art? (i.e. picked up your kids late from school

so you could finish a poem, forgone lunch to buy a book, left a relationship because the other person just didn't understand, etc.)

My art mainly makes people suffer when I write about them too candidly. Sometimes intentional, sometimes not. My novel was too explicit for my former workshop leader, but we parted as friends.

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Random nonsense:

Q: Do you have any superhuman abilities? (i.e. can you tie a cherry stem in a knot with your tongue, or write a double sestina with both hands tied behind your back?)

I can read very fast. I can also probably list the entire contents of my fridge without looking.

Q: You write a scathing poem about your mother and she learns about it. You:

a.) Move to South America and leave no forwarding address
b.) Delete the poem and insist it never existed
c.) Show it to her (she’s already written you out of the will anyway)
d.) Do none of the above; instead you: _____

...quote to her the motto of the Aspen Daily News: "If you don't want it printed, don't let it happen."

Q: If the best medical specialists in the world told you that if you didn’t give up your poetry habit today you would die in six months, would you get your affairs in order or would you leave that up to your family?

I would spend the next six months writing my novel, fooling around with my husband, and shopping for Barbie clothes...pretty much what I'm doing now. My affairs can take care of themselves!

Q: If you could be a vowel, which one would you be and why?

O, O, Oh Yes!!

Q: Finally write a couplet for a collaborative ghazal using the following kaafiyaa and radif: “said the poet”.

Perfect love casts out fear;

That's the only verse you need, said the poet.


Jendi Reiter's first book, A Talent for Sadness, was published in 2003 by Turning Point Books. Her poetry chapbook Swallow won the 2008 Flip Kelly Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from Amsterdam Press. Her work has appeared in Poetry, The New Criterion, Mudfish, American Fiction, The Adirondack Review, The Broome Review, FULCRUM, Juked, The Sow's Ear Poetry Review, Clackamas Literary Review, Alligator Juniper, MARGIE: The American Journal of Poetry, Best American Poetry 1990 and many other publications. She is the editor of Poetry Contest Insider, an online guide to over 750 literary contests, published by Visit her blog at .

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