I'm author of five chapbooks of poetry and two full-length collections of poems. Both of the book-length volumes are published by Phoenicia Publishing, an independent press in Montreal which focuses on "words and images that illuminate culture, spirit, and the human experience." This page lists my poetry collections in reverse order -- newest first, oldest last.
Waiting to Unfold
Phoenicia Publishing, 2013. $13.95.
Buy it at Phoenicia or on Amazon.
Waiting to Unfold offers an unflinching and honest look at the challenges and blessings of early parenthood. Poet and rabbi Rachel Barenblat wrote one poem during each week of her son's first year of life, chronicling the wonder and the delight along with the pain of learning to nurse, the exhaustion of sleep deprivation, and the dark descent into -- and eventual ascent out of -- postpartum depression.
While some of these are poems of wonder, others were written in the trenches. These poems resist and refute the notion that anyone who doesn't savor every instant of exalted motherhood deserves stigma and shame. And they uncover the sweetness folded in with the bitter. By turns serious and funny, aching and transcendent, these poems take an unflinching look at one woman's experience of becoming a mother.
The intense observation of the poet and the intense observation of the mother unite in a celebration of what is new and newborn, what is intensely felt and cherished and what is lost and mourned. Rachel Barenblat's poems are easy to enter into, and they carry both the uniqueness of her persona as poet and serious Jew and the universality of love that has made us all. There's a subversive wit here too, -- a changing table that's also a throne of glory, or the baby chewing on his mother's tefillin -- that speaks to a newly emerging sensibility about what is reverent and what is holy. It's in the everyday as our best American poets have taught us, and as Rachel Barenblat teaches us in a new way too. -- Rodger Kamenetz, author of The Jew in the Lotus and the lowercase jew
These rich poems will carry you into the great timeless miracle and mystery of unfolding littleness, nonstop maternal alertness, beauty and exhaustion and amazing, exquisite tenderness, oh yes. -- Naomi Shihab Nye, author of Fuel and The Words Under the Words
In these remarkable poems Rachel Barenblat traverses the world of first-time parenthood with insight, generosity, rare courage. She shares first innocent awe, then unexpected darkness as a winter of the soul claims squatter's rights in the nursery, and finally, aching, yearning, growing toward hope, a relearning of holy presence in small things. We ascend and plummet on the rollercoaster with her, terror in the pit of the stomach, knuckles white, and then -- unparalleled joy. "Daily I expand how much I can love/ your toes, your cough, your raised eyebrow... Each day your glee polishes my rough edges/ and I shine///" New parents will be astonished that someone has found words for their deepest secrets, parents long past these early months will gratefully nod -- yes, I remember, this is true. -- Merle Feld, author of A Spiritual Life: Exploring the Heart and Jewish Tradition and Finding Words
(This just in: "The Akedah Series" from this collection was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2011!)
Each of the poems in 70 Faces arose in conversation with the Five Books of Moses. These poems interrogate, explore, and lovingly respond to Torah texts -- the uplifting parts alongside the passages which may challenge contemporary liberal theology. Here are responses to the familiar tales of Genesis, the liberation story of Exodus, the priestly details of Leviticus, the desert wisdom of Numbers, and the anticipation of Deuteronomy. These poems balance feminism with respect for classical traditions of interpretation. They enrich any (re)reading of the Bible, and will inspire readers to their own new responses to these familiar texts.
"These poems are so out there, so radical, and at the same time so gentle and inviting. Barenblat manages to do work that has passion and truth behind it, without ranting. I love the simple and confident way she deals with the akedah -- and I love the final poem in this collection -- gliding right past heartbreak into renewal, which is what her poems all seem to do." -- Alicia Ostriker, author of For the Love of God: the Bible as an Open Book and The Book of Seventy
"In the poetry of 70 Faces, Rachel Barenblat continues the work of translation and commentary that has occupied her for years as the Velveteen Rabbi. She is as young as our century and as old as Judaism. Her poems have the classic cadence of the scriptures and the fresh wonder of a new mother. These are old words for the modern mind. This is ancient wisdom we can feel and know." -- Pastor Gordon Atkinson, author of RealLivePreacher.com and Turtles All The Way Down
"Rachel Barenblat's Torah poems open the doorway into sacred text so that we can walk in and make it our home. She invites us to bring all of our passion, doubt, humor, humility and chutzpah as we encounter these ancient words and bring them to Life. Through Rachel's skillful, joyful, playful and profound poetry, the Torah opens her secrets to us and invites us into an intimate conversation with Truth." -- Rabbi Shefa Gold, author of Torah Journeys
The book is infused with smoke, milk, blood, stars, curls of lemon, saddled donkeys, sinew, rafters hung with garlic, sand, apple skins, mountains. The scenes are well-set. The layout and forms support the narratives and the pacing for reading. The questions -- and there are plenty of questions -- are asked with the best sensitivity one could want in midrash explorations. -- From the review in Seminary Ridge Review, issue 14:1, Autumn 2011
Poems written during National Poetry Month 2013
$3.59 at Amazon
Join poet and rabbi Rachel Barenblat for a journey through parenting, prayer, and the incremental advent of spring: 30 daily poems written during National Poetry Month, 2013.
Here are poems about parenthood, morning prayer, a rooftop New York city bar, a walk to the beaver dam, Iron Man and the golem of Prague, and more. An experiment in playful attention.
"This can’t have been an easy experience to write anything about at all, let alone to distill into ten brief, searing, and luminous poems. As with Rachel’s earlier chaplainbook, these are accessible poems with several different layers of meaning, so I think almost anyone who’s ever gone through a miscarriage will get something out of it. Which is not to say the audience should end there: miscarriage is a subject every bit as relevant and revealing of the human condition as warfare, for example. So why doesn’t it get more attention from writers and artists?" -- Dave Bonta, at Via Negativa
The Velveteen Rabbi, Rachel Barenblat, has written a collection of poems about miscarriage — based on her own — and offers Through to any reader who wants or needs them. As Dave Bonta points out, miscarriage is not a widely discussed topic, certainly not by men too often, but not even by women. Find comfort and companionship in shared grief and experience. For yourself, or someone you know. -- Deb, at ReadWritePoem
Hospital chaplaincy work highlights the central commonalities of sickness, fear, grief, and loss...but also opens the possibility of a sanctified encounter with the sacred. These poems dance and wrestle with the difficult realities of embodied existence, seeking blessing.
"Rachel Barenblat's chaplainbook is work by one who is a poet first and foremost. Barenblat knows how to make a poem, and it is incidental that she has shaped these poems out of her hospital experience. Indeed, she has made seventeen strong poems for this collection. She recognizes that whatever the 'obvious' subject, a poem is always about the poetry of our existence, that ineffable lifting up that occurs when we are most fully human." -- Tom Montague at The Middlewesterner
"The work has breath in it. Reading it at night, alone, in total silence, I can feel the capacity of my heart increasing. I think of the first time Adam laughed and wondered what that strange sensation was. I think of the way fluorescent lights gleam on polished hospital floors." -- Teju Cole
Bennington Writing Seminars Alumni Chapbook Series, 2002
$8; order a copy via e-mail.
My mother thinks its goyische
bringing flowers to a gravesite, but
she can't resist the tin shed on the
Austin highway. Three dollars and
one yellow rose later she's back
in her cat wheeling around the left
turn punching numbers on her cell
phone, waiting for an answer...
These hills ripple with bare matchstick trees
like dogfur standing on end,
brushed against the skin... (--from the poem "I knew a dancer once")
As the leaves come off the trees these lines from one of Rachel Barenblat's poems make one remember how Mount Greylock and the Taconic range will look in just a few weeks. Barenblat, a Williams senior who had her first collection of poems published by Pecan Grove Press last month, feels a deep love for her adopted home in New England and its images, along with those of her native San Antonio, Texas, run throughout her work... -- Gail Burns, The Advocate, October 18, 1995