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Jennifer Grotz

Jennifer Grotz was born in Canyon, Texas, in 1971. She received a BA from Tulane University in 1993, an MFA from Indiana University in 1996, and a PhD from the University of Houston in 2005.

She is the author of Window Left Open (Graywolf Press, 2016); The Needle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), named the 2012 Best Book of Poetry by the Texas Institute of Letters; and Cusp (Mariner Books, 2003), winner of the Katherine Bakeless Nason Poetry Prize. She is also the translator of Psalms of All My Days (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2015) by Patrice de La Tour du Pin.

Henri Cole writes, “I admire the solemn precision of her poems. Her mind thinking—about life and art, about landscape and love, about loneliness and loss—illuminates everything it touches.”

Grotz is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She currently serves as the assistant director of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conferences, and she teaches at the University of Rochester and Warren Wilson College. She lives in Rochester, New York.

Selected Bibliography

Window Left Open (Graywolf Press, 2016)
The Needle (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011)
Cusp (Mariner Books, 2003)

By This Poet


The Needle

        "When your eyes have done their part, 
        Thought must length it in the heart."
           —Samuel Daniel

. . . Thought lengths it, pulls 
an invisible world through 
a needle's eye 
one detail at a time,

beginning with 
the glint of blond down 
on his knuckle as he 
                              crushed a spent cigarette—

I can see that last strand of smoke 
escaping in a tiny gasp—above the table where 	
a bee fed thoughtfully 
                               from a bowl of sugar.

World of shadows! where 
his thumb lodged into 
the belly of an apple, 
                              then split it in two, 

releasing the scent that exists 
only in late summer’s apples
as we bit into 
                   rough halves flooded with juice.

Memory meticulously stitches 
the market square 
where stalls of fruit 
                           ripened in the heat. 

Stitches the shadows stretched and 
pulled across the ground by 
the crowds pigeons 
                           seemed to mimic 
in their self-important 
but not quite purposeful 
            singly and in droves. 

Stitches the unraveling 
world where 
only vendors and policemen 
                    stood in place.

The Whole World Is Gone

Driving alone at night, the world’s pitch, black velvet 
stapled occasionally by red tail lights
on the opposite highway but otherwise mild 
panic when the eyes’ habitual check 
produces nothing at all in the rearview mirror,
a black blank, now nothing exists 
but the dotted white lines of the road, 
and the car scissors the blackness open
like the mind’s path through confusion,
but still no clarity, no arrival, only Pennsylvania darkness,
rocks, cliffs, vistas by day that thicken to black. It’s
sensual, though, too, and interestingly mental. What 
I do alone, loving him in my mind. Trying not to 
let imagination win over reality. Hurtling through the night
passions so spent become facts one observes. Not tempered,
just momentarily out of view by the body that perceives them.
Turning that into my prayer: to be deprived.

Self-Portrait on the Street of an Unnamed Foreign City

The lettering on the shop window in which
you catch a glimpse of yourself is in Polish.

Behind you a man quickly walks by, nearly shouting
into his cell phone. Then a woman

at a dreamier pace, carrying a just-bought bouquet
upside-down. All on a street where pickpockets abound

along with the ubiquitous smell of something baking.
It is delicious to be anonymous on a foreign city street.

Who knew this could be a life, having languages
instead of relationships, struggling even then,

finding out what it means to be a woman
by watching the faces of men passing by.

I went to distant cities, it almost didn’t matter
which, so primed was I to be reverent.

All of them have the beautiful bridge
crossing a grey, near-sighted river,

one that massages the eyes, focuses
the swooping birds that skim the water’s surface.

The usual things I didn’t pine for earlier
because I didn’t know I wouldn’t have them.

I spent so much time alone, when I actually turned lonely
it was vertigo.

Myself estranged is how I understood the world.
My ignorance had saved me, my vices fueled me,

and then I turned forty. I who love to look and look
couldn’t see what others did.

Now I think about currencies, linguistic equivalents, how
    lop-sided they are, while
my reflection blurs in the shop windows.

Wanting to be as far away as possible exactly as much as still
    with you.
Shamelessly entering a Starbucks (free wifi) to write this.