Alicia Ostriker

A self-confessed “unashamed woman poet,” Alicia Ostriker writes about sex, war, pregnancy, mastectomy, rape, and religion, expertly intertwining the personal with the political, leading readers to ask whether these divisions ever existed at all. Poetry magazine proclaimed that she “leaps into her subjects with bristling intelligence, fierce humanity and wit,” and Maxine Kumin has said of her work, “Nowhere in late twentieth-century belles-lettres has the personal inserted itself so meaningfully into the political.” Wildly alive in body and mind, Ostriker is as deeply human as she is humorous. Both her poetry and her scholarly work are concerned with challenging received concepts of identity, speaking for women as diverse as Hagar, Miriam, Sheba, the “crazy” woman on the subway, and herself.

Twice nominated for the National Book Award, Ostriker is the author of 15 books of poems, including The Imaginary Lover, winner of the William Carlos Williams Award, The Crack in Everything and The Little Space, both finalists for the National Book Award, The Book of Seventy, winner of the Jewish National Book Award, and, most recently, the sage and delightful collection The Old Woman, The Tulip, and the Dog. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, American Poetry Review, The Atlantic, and Paris Review, among many others.

She has also published 8 works of critical prose. The ground-breaking Writing Like A Woman—in Ostriker’s words, meant both for “those readers who still have no idea why anyone would want to write like a woman, as well as those who know very well”—celebrates this crucial literary shift, which she appraises more comprehensively in Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women’s Poetry in America.

The Nakedness of the Fathers: Biblical Visions and Revisions approaches the Torah with a midrashic sensibility. The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems 1979-2011 and prose works such as Feminist Revision and the Bible and For the Love of God: The Bible as an Open Book, examine Judiasm from a feminist perspective, laying bare the Bible’s historic marginalization of women and transforming it into something fresh and personal.

Born in New York City in the 1930s, Alicia Ostriker earned degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Brandeis University. She is professor emerita of English at Rutgers University, core faculty at the Low-Residency MFA Program at Drew University, and lives in Princeton, NJ. Named one of “10 Great Jewish Poets” by Moment magazine, she has received dozens of awards and prizes, including fellowships from the NEA, the Guggenheim the Rockefeller foundations. Joyce Carol Oates noted that “Alicia Ostriker 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.”

Poetry Center Readings:

Spring 2014

The Blessing of the Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog

To be blessed

said the old woman

is to live and work

so hard

God’s love

washes right through you

like milk through a cow

To be blessed

said the dark red tulip

is to knock their eyes out

with the slug of lust

implied by

your up-ended

skirt

To be blessed

said the dog

is to have a pinch

of God

inside you

and all the other dogs

can smell it

From THE TULIP, THE OLD WOMAN, AND THE DOG (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014)

Deer Walk Upon Our Mountains

When they see me said the old woman

they stop where they are

and gaze into my eyes for as long

as I am willing to stand there

in the wind

at the edge of the forest

You are speaking of my mortal enemy

said the dark red tulip

they have eaten many of my family

they do not spare children

they are pests

beauty excuses nothing

Oh cried the dog

the very thought of them

thrills me to the bone

the chase as much as the capture

the scent weaving ahead of me like a flag

saliva spinning from my teeth

From THE TULIP, THE OLD WOMAN, AND THE DOG (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014)

fire

the Lord your God is a consuming fire

The stories of the gods outshine the moon

your story is darkness outshining the sun

we hide our eyes because of your fire

at the moment of the mountain

let not God speak to us lest we die

no wonder history gives us

cities like widows

sitting in their menstrual blood

no wonder book of revelation surges up

four horsemen orgy of vengeance

after nonviolent gospels

no wonder swarms of Christian soldiers

burning libraries

burning heretics

no wonder chapel in Cuzco

sculpted conquistador striding upon

the prone body of an Indian

no wonder imams cut hands off sinners

no wonder the Jewish lunatic murders worshipers

in a place of reconciliation

everybody trying to look goes blind

From THE BOOK OF LIFE: SELECTED JEWISH POEMS 1979-2011 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012)