Jennifer Militello

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Inspired at an early age by the lyric’s ability to express life’s grand, inexpressible mysteries and to unite humankind in a shared emotional reality so that each of us might feel less forsaken, I strive to construct poems of this nature myself. An early student of Dickinson, and Lorca, I learned that inventive language can resonate to uncover essential truths of depth and complexity. Language can name our common struggles. Can make them song.

My poems are sparked by landscapes and buildings and names, people, habits, and other subtle elements, the way light falls, the way the air feels, by sounds and smells and weathers. Images of pines, fields, rivers, wild blackberries, mountains, dandelions, geese flying south for the winter, and snow recur in my work, much of the time through comparison since my poems often do not happen in a narrative setting. And yet the actual places come through strongly to me, in the shape a poem takes and in the way that it feels.

And yet I have found that the poems I write manifest themselves most completely as poems of identity. I am obsessed with the varying shades of character: the restriction of gender, the exploration of family and love and betrayal and loss, the endless complexities of the self.

In my latest book, Body Thesaurus, I investigate the tensions of identity as a source of illness and health. The poems in this book present the human physique as a flawed conduit and, through sections highlighting symptoms, antidotes, and diagnostic tests, seek alternate renderings for the self even as the endangered psyche supplies a filter.

A Camouflage of Specimens and Garments, a new manuscript in progress, is constructed around the quest for identity among a camouflage of selves. The book’s speaker, searching, sickly, unsure, intermittently sketches brief letters in her “real” voice, but adopts the voices and ventriloquisms of mythological heroes and long-dead composers, ancient goddesses and murdered girls, in order to sort through what she is and what she feels, and thus attempt to assemble a more forgiving reality. The poems take the form of a series of dictionaries which define and rename, describe and express, reshape and explain, the set rules and curiosities of such standard brutalities as love and death, as the “camouflage” of these selves and their definitions are methodically built to offer the speaker refuge from a world she cannot control. In this way, the collection highlights the struggle of humankind to conquer the futility of our very being, to declare out into the darkness and in this way be heard, and to at least find solace in the expression itself, while our various identities shift and slip away as facets of the disguises we all wear.

My goal is to write ambitious, surprising poems which challenge the boundaries of poetry, to crack open the common mysteries of existence, to hook the reader by the collar in a way that won’t let her go. To take her, to change her life.


Jennifer Militello

You can buy Jennifer’s poetry collection, Body Thesaurus here:,militello-jennifer-9781936797288