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About this poet

Alicia Ostriker was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1937. Ostriker received a BA from Brandeis University in 1959 and an MA and PhD in literature, in 1961 and 1964 respectively, from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

She is the author of more than ten poetry collections, including Waiting for the Light (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017); The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014); At the Revelation Restaurant and Other Poems (Marick Press, 2010); The Book of Seventy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009); The Volcano Sequence (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002); The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, 1968-1998 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998) which was a finalist for the 1999 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; The Crack in Everything (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996), which was a National Book Award finalist and won both the Paterson Poetry Award and the San Francisco State Poetry Center Award; and The Imaginary Lover (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986), winner of the William Carlos Williams Award of the Poetry Society of America.

Her numerous books of critical writing include Dancing at the Devil's Party: Essays on Poetry, Politics and the Erotic (University of Michigan Press, 2000), The Nakedness of the Fathers: Biblical Visions and Revisions (Rutgers University Press, 1994), and Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America (Beacon Press, 1986). She received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1976.

About Ostriker, the author Joyce Carol Oates writes, "[She] has become one of those brilliantly provocative and imaginatively gifted contemporaries whose iconoclastic expression, whether in prose or poetry, is essential to our understanding of our American selves."

In 2015, Ostriker was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She is professor emerita of English at Rutgers University, and a faculty member of the Drew University's low-residency poetry MFA program. She divides her time between New York City and Princeton, New Jersey.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Waiting for the Light (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2017)
The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014)
At the Revelation Restaurant and Other Poems (Marick Press, 2010)
The Book of Seventy (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009)
The Volcano Sequence (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002)
The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, 1968-1998 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1998)
The Crack in Everything (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996)
The Imaginary Lover (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1986)

Prose

Dancing at the Devil's Party: Essays on Poetry, Politics and the Erotic (University of Michigan Press, 2000)
The Nakedness of the Fathers: Biblical Visions and Revisions (Rutgers University Press, 1994)
Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America (Beacon Press, 1986)

Laundry

Just finished folding laundry. There's the news. A slender prisoner, ankles shackled, nude back and legs striped by a brown substance you might take for blood but which probably is feces, hair long, arms extended at shoulder level like a dancer or like Jesus, walks toward a soldier with rolled-up pants and a gun, posed legs akimbo in the tiled corridor. I cannot say from the image if the soldier is smiling, too few pixels to tell. Barely do the prisoner's elegant feet touch the floor. In another nude photograph a prisoner with shorter hair cowers against a wall while two dogs whose leashes are held by soldiers examine him. I cannot say from the photograph if the dogs are snarling or drooling. And in this one a girl soldier holds the leash, which leads to the neck of a prisoner lying on concrete.

Oil oozes a mile or two underground. Like sand, it was once alive.

In another photo the nude prisoners have been formed into a pyramid. They look like something in the back of a butcher shop. A stack of magnified calves' livers. Now the girl soldier leaning over a bleeding prisoner—are those dog bites—gives the thumbs' up sign and smiles her toothy wholesome Homecoming Queen smile, a smile descended from a Good Housekeeping cover, twinkle twinkle little... Oil oozes a mile or so underground. Atop it stands a palace of air conditioning. Somewhere in the green zone is a swimming pool for the officers, its water chemically purified. Stagnant waters are also good—to the flies. As is blood. A fly's life there would be prosperous. I put away the laundry. I put my nose in the laundry, it smells warm and well. My husband's underpants and undershirts I lay in his dresser drawer. In my dresser drawer go my underpants and t-shirts.

The correct word is not prisoner. The correct word is detainee.

Speaking of correctness, some other terms have lately come into play: hooding, waterboarding, rendition. The bleaching of the news. The rinsing and spinning. Some of the laundry items are not quite dry, a knit sweater of mine, a flannel of his. I hang them on plastic hangers in the bathroom. The bathroom is tiled in white, the tub is tourmaline. Above our twin sinks hangs a large flat mirror in which we are obliged to see ourselves each day, and on the opposite wall, that is to say behind us when we stand at the sink, a Rodin watercolor sketch depicts a semi-nude woman in some sort of peach diaphanous garment, seated, holding one pink knee in her hands, her shaven pubes showing, the lines at once easy, comfortable, and elegant. The correct word is detainee. The sweaters hang patiently. The mirror ponders a rebuke.

Copyright © 2014 by Alicia Ostriker. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

Copyright © 2014 by Alicia Ostriker. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

Alicia Ostriker

Alicia Ostriker

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1937, Alicia Ostriker has been a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. She currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

by this poet

poem
The downward turning touch
the cry of time
fire falling without sound
plunge my hand in the wound

children marching and dying
all that I do is a crime
because I do not reach
their mouths silently crying

my boychild reaches with his mouth
it is easy, being a mother
his skin is tender and soft
kisses stitch us
poem
But it's really fear you want to talk about
and cannot find the words
so you jeer at yourself

you call yourself a coward
you wake at 2 a.m. thinking failure,
fool, unable to sleep, unable to sleep

buzzing away on your mattress with two pillows
and a quilt, they call them comforters
poem
        —for Elizabeth Bishop

Tuwee, calls a bird near the house,
Tuwee, cries another, downhill in the woods.
No wind, early September, beeches and pines,

Sumac aflame, tuwee, tuwee, a question and a faint
But definite response, tuwee, tuwee, as if engaged
In a conversation expected to continue all