A Writing Practice: Book Reviews

On those days, not infrequent, when I feel diminished as a poet, I still have a sense of confidence in my ability to write a really good book review. It’s become my writing practice and my connection with other poets. I like to think of the practice as my own personal MFA program. Writing poetry book reviews has deeply enriched my reading and writing experience– it’s taught me how to read “closely” and shown me how to recognize the craft of syntax, tone, meter, musicality. I believe it’s made me a better poet. It’s given me opportunities to connect with other poets and within the larger community of poetry.

Two years ago, in March 2019, I launched The Poetry Cafe Online: a Meeting Place Where Poetry Chapbooks are Celebrated and Reviewed with my review of Lauren Davis’s Each Wild Things Consent.

The goal of The Poetry Cafe is to create a comfortable, inviting home where interested poetry lovers can enter, feel welcomed, and read reviews of poetry chapbooks. As curator of The Poetry Café, I’ve received chapbooks from more than 100 poets. I’ve written many reviews myself, but more amazingly, I have published reviews by 27 guest reviewers and as of today, a total of 54 Reviews! I’ve also added Interviews to the site.

The project has grown far beyond my expectations. If you are not following it, please click over and add your email address to follow Cafe postings, usually once a week. I’m always looking for new reviewers or interviewers, and I could sure use some help with managing the site. if you’re interested, send me an email at:

C’mon in and have a cup of poetry!

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Equinox and Equanimity

I haven’t written on this site since October, and I’m not sure how to proceed. I’m having a winter hangover today, but really wanting to feel alive and hopeful. I’m listening to various versions of Vivaldi’s Spring. Isn’t it amazing how much emotion musicians show as they work their instruments? This has always fascinated me. I am entranced with Itzhak Perlman’s expressions. Watching him play the violin reminds me so much of my grandfather, who played the cello. I guess this is how I feel today. At least I have a poem for it. And a sweet picture of my grandsons.

How to Be Sad

If you listen without language, you may hear
my grandfather playing Brahms on the cello,
grunting every now and then with the effort
of an old man soon to die. He played for me

that spring I lay sick with pneumonia.
I was nine and lonely for my mothership,
her planets and galaxies preparing me
for a life of stargazing and solitude.    

Although at times I say too much, there is much
I will never say.  If you are sad, go to the ocean.
There, is music. Lay your tongue aside, listen.
May you hear the stillness between breakers.

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Hey! My chapbook, POSTHUMAN, finalist for the Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Prize, is available NOW for pre-sale at the amazing price of ONLY $7! I hope you’ll buy a copy!

Posthuman (PRE-SALE)

Praise for Posthuman from the editor, Michael Schmeltzer:

“Posthuman by Risa Denenberg is a warning and a wonder. The book begins on “a warm day in April” and ends with an ecological apocalypse. Smoke rises, oceans rise, Denenberg herself, however, “can’t rise up any more.” These timely and relevant poems lament the damage we do to the earth while it imagines a posthuman landscape where “bees / will grow fat and rejoice.” This book, though dire at times, displays a wisdom found by those who do not look away, who choose to witness the world on fire.

With a controlled voice and unflinching self-interrogation, Denenberg has written a book that is deeply personal, poignant, and utterly human.

Risa Denenberg lives on the Olympic peninsula in Washington state, where she works as a nurse practitioner and volunteers with End of Life Washington. She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press, publisher of LBT poetry, and curates The Poetry Café, an online meeting place where poetry chapbooks are celebrated and reviewed. She has published six collections of poetry,  most recently, slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018) and the chapbook, Posthuman, finalist for the Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Contest (2020).

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Sunday Morning Muse Checking In

So, I did it. I retired at the end of November. I will turn 70 in February and would have waited until then, but I had a higher calling; I traveled to New York to spend a month with my niece who delivered a sweet baby boy on 12/5/19. I returned and worked 4 days last week, so retirement is somewhat of a misnomer. I have let go of my panel of patients but will still be working in the clinic from time to time as a per diem staff. If you’ve ever had a provider (I’m a nurse practitioner) leave you, think about it in reverse. It was hard, people. Hard, but it was time. Also, I got a haircut.

My writing life was active throughout 2019. I continued working as an editor of Headmistress Press; published poetry book reviews at The Rumpus and other venues; started a website for publishing reviews of poetry chapbooks; had a few poems published, and the usual amount of rejections. In January I took a workshop with Aracelis Girmay at the West Palm Beach Poetry Festival; took a workshop with Carl Phillips in July at the Port Townsend Writers Conference; and spent a weekend with friends at Poets on the Coast. I have a manuscript that I am shopping around.

Upon retirement, I immediately thought about publishing an anthology of work by retired women. Poetry and short prose. Will need a snappy name for that, if you have any suggestions. Tentatively, I’ve got: Tired and Retired: An anthology of writings by women over 65. I’m looking for a publisher.

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Sunday Morning Musing over What’s Next?

It is, for me at least, a new year. Wishing everyone a happy Rosh Hashanah with hopes for a year in which we all move forward in all of the ways that we are able, hold on to one another in health and illness, and hang on to our own and each others’ goodness.

My new year starts with retirement in exactly 8 weeks. The scramble is on to apply for Medicare supplemental insurance and social security benefits. And then, at Thanksgiving, I am leaving my peninsula home for a month of family visits. More about that another time. But I am still looking for someone who would like to retreat at a lovely private home with water and mountain views in exchange for catsitting while I am away, in case you know anyone who might be interested.

And ! There are new chapbook reviews to check out!

I have a review and interview with Carl Phillips up at the Adroit Journal!

And there are new chapbook Reviews at The Poetry Cafe!

Guest editor Lenart Luhnd wrote this terrific review of Adam Deutsch’s chapbook, Carry On (elegies).

Guest Editor Siân Killingsworth wrote this fabulous review of Sarah Nichol’s chapbook, She May Be a Saint.

I am still looking for guest reviewers at the cafe. If you are interested, send me an email at: risa@thepoetrycafe.online

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Sunday Morning at The Poetry Cafe

My blogginess is lagging while I am concentrating on a new project, The Poetry Cafe Online- a meeting place where poetry chapbooks are reviewed. C’mon over!

New Reviews up at The Poetry Cafe!

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Janice Gould, 1949-2019

Janice Gould, beloved Koyoonk’auwi (Concow) poet, friend, musician, and teacher, left our realm on 6/28/19. Headmistress Press joins with others in our grief at losing her much too soon, and our deep condolences to her beloved partner. We are proud that we published two of Janice’s books, “The Force of Gratitude” & “Seed.” Her words will ring their truth forever. The last time we spoke with her, Janice said, I would still love to meet you and talk with you.  I so appreciate what your press has done for my poetry.


How strong this channel has become,
the river widening at the bend,
creating shoals and back currents,
where chilly water will be warmed
by sun, and willows sprout
along the graveled shore. I hear
bees among the blackberries,
can smell their prickly fragrance,
and some days I think I see her
on the other side, near the edge,
surveying the wild current, noticing
how the wind rips along the surface of water.
She watches all that shining where forces collide—
otherwise known as my heart.

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Sunday Morning Muse at The Poetry Cafe

I just want to say that the chapbooks people from many countries are sending me are amazing. There is a world of creative folks out there eager to have their words read. Not only is the poetry itself remarkable, most of the cover art is fantastic.

And so different, not only from each other but from the poetry I would tend to read if I weren’t curating The Poetry Cafe.

And the poets range in age from teens to 90’s.

And the notes that people have sent, the willingness to trust me with their sacred words humbles me.

And some are illustrated- with photos, collages, paintings, & cartoons.

And one that came from the UK was accompanied by a CD.

And some are micro-chaps- tiny little books sewn together or tied with ribbon.

And some are self published.

The list of these books and links to where they can be purchased is here. They are published by well-known small independent presses as well as many presses that I have not come into contact with. You could purchase any one of them, and I you would be supporting a poet and a small independent press.

It will take a while to review the lot, and I am looking for poets who would like to join me in writing reviews. If you are interested in writing a review, I will send you the review copy by mail. Just let me know!

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Sunday Morning Muse with News

It’s been a busy month for me. Sometimes there is drought: work, work, work, and little to show for it. Sometimes there is a Drizzle. And occasionally a refreshing, sudden-but-brief rain. Your work shines for a moment. And of course, that’s it. A moment. I say anyway: I love writing, reading, editing, publishing and reviewing poetry. The rewards are more intrinsic than extrinsic. Aw shucks, poetry folks, y’all know what I’m talking about.

I’ve published several book reviews and some of my own poems have been published over the past month. There are a couple of new reviews of chapbooks over at The Poetry Cafe and several at other venues including The Rumpus, Drizzle Review, & Psaltery and Lyre. An interview with Lauren Davis was published at Empty Mirrors. And our own Trish Hopkinson interviewed me about The Poetry Cafe on her site! I’m happy to share!

My own poems are up at Lavender Review and A Minor Magazine.

And my water color painting is also showing at Lavender Review!


I’m writing reviews of chapbooks at The Poetry Cafe as fast as I can. But I’m thrilled to say that I have reviews coming in from two other poetry reviewers!

In May, I published reviews of Refugia by Kristin Berger (Persian Pony Press, 2019 and FEED, by Emily Mohn-Slate (Seven Kitchens Press, 2019).

Emily Mohn-Slate’s chapbook, Feed, unpacks the strains and tensions that overwhelm mothers of infants: anxiety, forgetfulness, desperation, loss of identity, guilt, hypervigilance. 

Berger’s skill as a poet is in surprising language and a constant turning towards or leaning into an unexpected metaphor.  This craft comprises the poems, not just elements of them. 

Please contact me if you would like to review one of the chapbooks sitting on my shelf waiting for a review. You will find them here. And buy chapbooks! And when you do, buy them from the independent small presses that publish them. Support small presses!


Tanya Olson’s almost indescribable new release, STAY (YesYes Press) is up at The Rumpus. You may wish to read this deep probe into the American psyche.

There is an ever-present awareness of danger and wrongness here, matched equally with kindheartedness and deadpan humor. 

My review of Mary Peelen’s Quantum Heresies (Glass Lyre Press, 2019) is at Psaltery and Lyre. If you don’t already follow this wonderful online journal, you may wish to check out their gorgeous site.

The strange logic of Peelen’s work confirms my own understanding of subjectivity.

My review of Jessica Jacob’s Take Me With You, Wherever You’re Going (Fourway Books, 2019) was published at Drizzle, which is a great review site to follow.

Some of Jacobs’ most lyrical and sensual writing is about lesbian sex

Wishing everyone a productive and safe June!

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Sunday Morning Muse with List

Why I Write Poetry Reviews

I’ve always wanted to read poems more deeply and with greater compassion.

Writing reviews teaches me to read closely.

It forces me to read slowly, to re-read, to scribble marginalia.

Reading closely engenders intimacy.

Compassionate reading opens the text to diverse interpretations.

It’s helped me to love poems that I’ve always thought I couldn’t love.

I feel an intimacy with the poets whose books I review, even though I may never meet them in person. I imagine them reading my reviews and feeling known.

It was such a lovely surprise to find out I am good at it.

Writing reviews has become my own self-guided MFA program.

I think the poetry world needs more personable, less academic, book reviews.

I love seeing my reviews in print. It makes me feel less marginalized as a poet.

It’s a thrill to receive advance review copies.

So many books of poetry never get reviewed.

So many small independent presses deserve more love. Reviewing the books and chapbooks of presses I admire is my way of showing them some love.

Some days I think, “if my poems don’t reach readers, at least my reviews will.”

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