Review of Swallow


by Jendi Reiter

Jendi Reiter is the exceptionally rare poet that reads hundreds of poems for each one she writes.  She has been the editorial engine behind the immensely popular, Winning Writers free contest newsletter the in-depth Poetry Contest Insider database, and final judge of the War Poetry and Wergle Flomp prizes for almost a decade. So, when 15 of her poems are collected into a single startling and coherent chapbook, all that taste and sensibility assure a tour de force.

And that is what we have with Swallow, the winner of the 2008 Flip Kelly Poetry Prize. These are complexly yet lucidly-crafted substantive poems with significant themes -- Christianity and psychotherapy, birth and bulimia -- encoded in brilliant imagery, like this from “Sarai Said”:

  • helmet lie open on ocean
  • floor for fish to understand prison
  • like bright dreams on the locked ward
  • describe that baby belief painted with food
  • ripped with crayons the first word
  • to die like an egg in the hand

or simply gorgeous imagery: “the sea’s/ dumb ardor licks the breath from our lips” from “Save the Trees” or striking, as this description from within a dream from “What You Need to Know Is”: ”I in my nursing smock, I in my meat stained apron.”

Most are wickedly funny, angry and skewering, as in these lines from “How to Fail a Personality Test”:

  • You want me to say that one’s a bat, don’t you? I
  • know, I saw it on Wikipedia

Though there is plenty of wit too, especially as these are, in many ways, poems about language, aping the colloquial and twisting phrases in on themselves.

In particular, “Our Story So Far,” with its sestina-like recurring end words and phrases, winds through a perfectly-paced narrative spanning of novelistic scope.  Simply, it is delightful.  May it be republished many times and read aloud by talented readers.)

Staple-spined within a two-color card cover, this modest chap contains the crystalline offering of a refined sensibility honed and poised.  Swallow satisfies at every level, inviting and standing up to many readings, troubling and surprising, indelible.