“Inheritance with A High Error Rate” by Jen Karetnick

Reading Jen Karetnick’s bio suggests that the woman is never without her computer and her scribbled notes, her peripatetic inquisitiveness driving her in a hundred directions at once. But this is not a scattered writer. Apparently when Jen Karetnick homes in on a topic, her views expressed as a critic, travel reviewer, appliance tester, cookbook author, or in her vast output of poetry, she gets done what she set out to do. The results are seen in multiple writing awards for twenty-one books and five poetry collections.

And one can see why beyond simply her prolific output. In this, her most recent volume of poetry, Inheritance with A High Error Rate (Cider Press Review 2024), Karetnick turns her attention and her revulsion toward the ways in which climate change and humans’ reaction to it are altering our inheritance, our once magnificent, but now struggling and weeping planet. In drawing our eyes toward the smallest of signs, a stranded octopus in a parking garage, a falling mango, frozen iguanas, and the poison that falls from the sky as mankind attempts to control the Zika virus, she makes the unimaginable alteration of our world a poignant, personal, and forlorn reality.

Yes, much of this eighty-five-page volume attends to things that worry us on a daily basis, but that is the grasp of this collection. Karetnick speaks to us and the everyday things that linger in the back of our own minds, climate change indeed, but she tells too of processing an unhealed familial relationship, the private thoughts of a hairdresser, on being a soccer mom in the rain, making jam, dogs peeing on her lawn, or a dachshund’s death. And she does it using the poet’s tools so deftly that at first we are only captured by the “story” the poem tells, and on its second read, by the brilliant use of metaphor, simile, and “literary art.”

Here are some elegant examples: “…leaves clasping petals like hands in prayer…”; “….the sandhill crane is a barren citrus tree; the flocks of parrots behead the palms when they lift away, leaving only the echoes of their complaints behind.”;”….strolling behind me in the iodine dark…” ; “ironed hippy-hair of the Spanish moss…”; “…the fallen toast of the palm fronds…”; “…Raw umber ghosts of hammocks coming back to growth after a fire, they offer no gifts aside from scar and shadow….”

This is a poetry collection to take with you to the park or the doctor’s office. It is one that is accessible, frequently funny (when Karetnick is not addressing the tragedy of the climate’s change), and one to not only make you think, but to feel. It may also offer a kind of impetus to others to take up their pens, look around at their fraudulently mundane worlds, and with words plucked from the kitchen or the highway, or from the breath of bees…to write poetry of their own.

Jen Karetnick

Karetnick is the author of ten additional poetry collections, including the chapbook What Forges Us Steel: The Judge Judy Poems (Alternating Current Press 2024). Her work has won the 2022 Cider Press Review Book Award, the Tiferet Writing Contest for Poetry, Split Rock Review Chapbook Competition, Hart Crane Memorial Prize, and Anna Davidson Rosenberg Prize, among other honors. She has received fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, Wildacres Retreat, Mother’s Milk Artist Residency, Artists in Residence in the Everglades, and elsewhere. The co-founder and managing editor of SWWIM Every Day, she has recent or forthcoming work in a wide variety of prestigious literary journals including The American Poetry Review, Notre Dame Review, Plume, Shenandoah, South Dakota, and Tar River Poetry. Karetnick holds two MFAs, one in poetry from University of California, Irvine, and one in fiction from University of Miami.  Visit her at: https://jkaretnick.com/


Birkat Habayit: A Woman Is a Bird When

            After Empowered Women by Tomas Valdivieso Valto

(Winner of the 2020 Tiferet Writing Contest for Poetry and

reprinted here with the poet’s permission)


Wood under feet, dressed in flower parts,

she surveys her private garden, ragtag,

everything in it equal to her heart.


Downsize, they tell her. It’s only a start.

Learn to bolster what’s beginning to sag.

Wood under feet, dressed in flower parts,


a woman is a thorn, poisonous dart.

Planes fly away from the kite of her back,

everything in them equal to her heart;


convertibles accordion, roofs hard.

Oh, to feel again the pain of the egg.

Wood under feet, dressed in flower parts,


A woman goes rogue, winging wide, apart,

her flock caught in a current of jet lag,

everything in it equal to her heart.


One eye doll-wide, one squinting an alert,

she talons her home like a prized handbag,

wood under feet, dressed in flower parts,

everything in it equal to her heart.











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