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American Sentencing: Poetry Rooted in the Body

American Sentencing (Winter Goose Publishing) is Jen Karetnick’s new poetry collection. The poems are a testament to the body and all it is capable of enduring.  Part lament, part celebration, these poems reverberate with pathos, with humor, and with the knowledge that the human form is a delicate mechanism requiring recalibration. The speaker navigates the complexities of daily life and its demands amidst a body that often refuses to cooperate. These poems will strike a nerve with readers who suffer from invisible illnesses like chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and migraine. They are also a must read for anyone who is a caretaker. What makes these poems so compelling is their candor and the poet's unique brand of humor as she navigates the tightrope of motherhood, explores her Jewish ancestry, and creates order out of chaos by infusing her work with formal elements. Indeed, one section is composed entirely of villanelles and is titled “Villain Elles.” However, Karetnick’s poems do a curious thing; after embracing rebellion, one is surprised by submission and acceptance of emotional and physical limitations. But this submission is not snonymous with defeat; it is part of an ongoing cycle of regeneration and rebirth as depicted on the book's cover by the image of a snake cascading across a woman’s forehead and obscuring the left eye. The image is a perfect metaphor for the poet: a wife, mother, daughter, teacher, and patient driven by a unique vision.


Dear Stephanie          

       —Jen Karetnick, from American Sentencing
For Stephanie Green, September 17th, 1975
-January 9th, 2011                           

I held your breast in my hand
the other day, the newer one,
                                                                                                                                          round and hard, the size of
a mini compact disc, the one

you scanned and printed
and made into party favors,
                                                                                                                                          coasters for drinks, the Old
Granddad on the rocks poured

at the corner bar, a hole
over the aureole the only nod
                                                                                                                                          toward modesty, your private-
made-public joke that you handed

out at the Heeb Storytelling event.
That night, the tumors had left you
                                                                                                                                          wearing the lustrous kind of wig
only Jewish girls in Miami know
                                                                                                                                          where to buy, in a corset, displaying
cleavage that appeared authentic

and pearls whose aged patina
shone with promise, spinning
tales of sex and the tropics. I held
your breast and I am sorry to say

I smiled and let it sail toward the trash
despite having kept it all this time.

From another friend, who called
you "sister" on her blog, I found out

you had died, just before taking
my students to the Holocaust Memorial,
                                                                                                                                          where many of them cried openly
over the photos of the nude, heavy-breasted
                                                                                                                                          women forced to the gas chambers,
their heads shorn and uncovered,
                                                                                                                                          while the Nazis looked on and laughed.
I said the mourner's Kaddish for you there,

over the sculptures of Jews who have gone
from this world the way they came in

bald, grimacing, wondering. I wish
I had held your breast, marked with

the tears of drink and condensation,
at least a little bit closer to mine.  



Mourning The Body

                     —Jen Karetnick, from American Sentencing

Grieved now to think of you in silky disguise, cleats two-stepping, a misplaced Brazilian on the Jersey blades, belly to bump with a hand-sewn Diadora, indent on the forehead directing like a traffic cop, instep laces as long as night wrapped around like a gift—

Grieved to think of you in August, salt staining your cheeks, a tide come and gone and come again, calluses as big as coins, muscles itching with acid during pre-season sprints, dribbling laps, drills for foot speed, shots, passes

You in November and the unyielding marble of thigh, taking hits like paintball shots, chilled air a liquor to the chest but still, leather smacking leather into the upper right just under the post, billowing the net

You in the gym, Samba flats squeaking, overgrown tennis ball bouncing off bleachers, burning proof on your skin, five to a side, blizzards at a boil outside, whistles in your ears that reverb and ring—

No scars sneering on your knees, no earthquakes in your Achilles, no ache traveling from shoulder joint to elbow like a spice on the palate, that slow saffron spread—

No sunscreen, no lenses, no ball cap, no nap—

You lithe and lean, you unscathed, you unprotected, you playing, you body doing your sweet, sweet job

UPCOMING EVENT: Jen Karetnick will be reading poems from American Sentencing at Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida, on June 5th at 4:00 p.m. For more information, please visit Books & Books. You may watch from anywhere online via Livestream here: http://livestream.com/uastreaming/karetnickandmartinez.

ABOUT THE POET: Jen Karetnick is the author of three full-length poetry collections, including the forthcoming The Treasures that Prevail (Whitepoint Press, September 2016), as well as four poetry chapbooks. The winner of the 2015 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Award and runner-up for the 2015 Atlantic Award from The Poet's Billow and the 2016 Stephen A. DiBiase Poetry Prize, Karetnick works as the Creative Writing Director for Miami Arts Charter School and as a freelance dining critic, lifestyle journalist and cookbook author.

ABOUT THE GUEST CONTRIBUTOR: Rita Maria Martinez is the author of The Jane and Bertha in Me (Aldrich Press), a poetry collection based on the classic novel Jane Eyre. Visit Martinez's web site to learn more about her writing.