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Perrine, Jennifer

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Jennifer Perrine
Comments from the author about writing: I understand my poetry as a way of writing that calls attention to itself as a made thing and to the use of language. I employ various formal techniques—rhyme is perhaps the most obvious, drawing readers to focus on sound as much as sense. Concrete poetry in which the shape of a poem enacts some aspect of the poem’s sense, draws the reader away from the experience of reading and into the act of looking at the poem as an object. In both writing and teaching poetry, my hope is that the reader will attend to language differently than he or she might while reading prose; that the reader will become more alert to the way our experience of the poetic sense is mediated by language and will be more apt at recognizing the relationship between language and meaning-making in the world at large. 

I explore imagination as empathetic act. I do this primarily through the use of persona—I consider all my poems, even ones that draw on my own experiences, to be persona poetry. Though a reader might assume that a poem I write in first person is autobiographical, such a poem is actually my imagining a particular situation that I have not experienced in order to better understand a variety of human experience. Many of my poems are written in first person in an attempt to place the reader in the position of the “I,” and to ask them to consider how they would respond were they in the same situation as the narrator. Sometimes, I write in personae who are obviously not me—biblical figures, invented historical persons. In these cases, I am often concerned with creating voices for characters who are overlooked or silenced in other texts. Often, these characters are women who have been written into history as mere footnotes. In these poems, there is an overt attempt to, in Monique Wittig’s words, “Make an effort to remember. Or, failing that, invent.”  While I do not claim to speak for other people, I do attempt to imagine (and thereby help readers imagine) what these characters might have said had they been given the space to speak or had their version of a story been considered important. 

Empathy at work in persona poems is also my way of writing to represent and respond to trauma. In both my books, though more frequently in In the Human Zoo, I wrestle with human cruelties. I am concerned with ways to write about “inhumanity” without depicting the perpetrators of violent acts as monsters. My poems seek to acknowledge the ways in which we are all complicit in human suffering, and in so doing, to trouble this complicity, while recognizing the need to treat ourselves and others with compassion. My writing connects to my teaching interests. For example, “gender trouble” in my first book, The Body Is No Machine, ties into the questions representing and responding to social injustice raised in courses like "Introduction to Women’s Studies" and "Queer Theory." Exploring the ramifications of violence in my second book challenges students' notions of the spectator or innocent bystander in the context of the horrific in the courses "Holocaust Literature" and "Writing Horror."

Beyond conscious attempts to work with form, persona, or ideological concerns, my poems grow out of researching areas that are relatively unknown to me. My hope is that this process of ignorance, discovery, and experimentation will be one that occurs for a reader who discovers some language, or a character, or a historical event, or an allusion to a work of art in my poems.

Read more about how Jennifer became a writer

Literary awards received and date received:

  • Winner, Third Coast Poetry Contest, 2011
  • Agha Shahid Ali Poetry Prize, University of Utah Press, 2010
  • The 49th Parallel Poetry Award, Bellingham Review, 2010
  • Mérida Fellowship Award, U.S. Poets in Mexico, 2010
  • Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize, 2009
  • Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award in Poetry, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, 2008
  • Winner, Fourth-Ever Poetry Contest, Black Warrior Review, 2008
  • Poetry Award, The Ledge, 2008
  • Grand Prize, The Taste ‘Test, Virginia Arts of the Book Center, 2008
  • Poetry Prize, Ellipsis, 2008

Book Types: Poetry Collection

Audience Types: Adult

Genre: Poetry

Will you charge a fee? Yes. My fee is negotiable. At a minimum, I ask for reimbursement for travel expenses. For institutions that can afford to pay a stipend or honorarium, I charge on a sliding scale from $250 to $1000, depending on the work involved.

E-mail Address:

Author's Web site:

County: Iowa

Books By This Author

  • The Body Is No Machine, New Issues, Kalamazoo, MI, 2007.
  • In the Human Zoo, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, UT, 2011.

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