Rachel Barenblat, also known as The Velveteen Rabbi, has been a friend of mine for almost as long as I've both been blogging. After becoming friends through our blogs, we worked together on an anthology of poems, Brilliant Coroners, and on the online literary journal qarrtsiluni. We met several times in person, in Boston, Montreal, and New York. During the past decade, she studied to become a rabbi, was ordained, and started serving a congregation. As religious people coming from different places we both engaged with and talked about the difficult issues of the Middle East. We did a presentation together about Jewish and Christian approaches to Scripture, and contemporary life and politics. Recently she entered into the world of parenthood. All the while, she blogged, and wrote poems. Very good poems.
When I started Phoenicia Publishing, it was because I wanted to publish the work of writers like Rachel, who had the courage to look beyond borders and convention and to illuminate the liminal spaces of ethnicity, spirituality, politics, and personal identity. Works that created bridges for readers, rather than walls behind which we could fortify ourselves, or hide within our prejudices. The first book of Rachel's that I published, 70 Faces: Torah Poems, looks at the first five books of the Hebrew Bible through a feminist perspective. Other people shared my own enthusiasm: for an independently-published book of poetry, it's done amazingly well.
Today we're launching Rachel's second full-length collection, Waiting to Unfold. These are poems about pregnancy, birth and early parenthood, but again, she doesn't take the expected route. The poems, written as letters to her unborn son and then as a sort of poetic journal of the first year of his life, take an unflinching look at the difficulties as well as the joys of motherhood. I'm not a parent myself, but I've often observed that parents, and mothers especially, are under tremendous pressure to feel and to say that everything is rosy, even perfect, when in fact the experience is often quite mixed. A lot of women who give birth find themselves finally admitted to the secret club of motherhood, where it's almost as if they have to sign a pledge not to reveal the darker side.
Rachel had a miscarriage before she gave birth to her son; that experience and that unborn child are not forgotten, but woven into her poems about this subsequent pregnancy as he writes of her worries as well as her anticipation. And after the birth, she experiences and is treated for post-partum depression, eventually emerging from that cloud. The majority of the poems are celebratory, joyful, funny, and above all, honest. Like all of Rachel's work, I found them very accessible, and -- like the author herself -- imbued with a deep spirituality that's always present but never overbearing.
It was a real pleasure as well to work with the exuberant cover artist, Mary Bullington, a Roanoke, Virginia artist who I met through Marly Youmans. The cover art is a detail of one of Mary's collages, titled "Creation."
The whole process of publishing a book -- like becoming a parent, I imagine -- is exciting, demanding, and challenging; the best part of it is working with the author and artist as a team trying to do our creative best, and trying to do justice to the words themselves.
I hope some of you might decide to buy a book for yourself or to give to a mother you love; while you're over at Phoenicia please take note that all of the other full-length poetry books are on sale through the end of April, in honor of National Poetry Month. The books are all available through Amazon UK and Europe, but if you're on this side of the pond and able to order through the e-store, both the author and publisher will receive considerably more of your support. Thanks!