The Interdisciplinary Work of Jennifer Sperry Steinorth

On this day eleven years ago, Jennifer Sperry Steinorth published her poetry chapbook Forking the Swift. Originally published in 2010 through Michigan Writers Cooperative Press, Forking the Swift consists of twenty poems which range in topic from the creation of Earth to bear wrestling.

Since the success of her chapbook, Jennifer has gone on to publish two more collections. In 2019, she published her book A Wake with Nine Shades. Then, in 2021, Jennifer published Her Read: A Graphic Poem. This poem goes past the reaches of a single art form, and instead combines poetry and visual art together to create something unique, which she achieves through the use of erasure.

Erasure is a method of writing poetry in which some of the words of an original source material are covered up to create a wholly new work from an older one. The older text which Jennifer uses as the canvas for her poem is Herbert Read’s 1931 book The Meaning of Art. In it, Herbert Read takes the reader through the ages to examine history’s greatest art. However, in the entirety of his book, he fails to mention the contributions of a single woman artist.

Through Her Read, Jennifer subverts her source material while also creating an original piece. Though Herbert Read left no space for women artists in his book, Jennifer creates space for herself by erasing some of his words and filling the emptiness with beautiful poetry as well as visual art. Her Read vivisects its source material while at the same time breathing new life into it.

Her Read vivisects its source material while at the same time breathing new life into it.

A year ago, FF2 contributor Iris Dunkle took part in a workshop led by Jennifer Sperry Steinorth, and was able to speak with the poet in person about Her Read. When asked about what drew her to create an erasure poem, Jennifer responded, “I think erasure is a uniquely dialogic space. It assumes a multiplicity of voices, even if the words you erase are your own.”

In the conversation, Jennifer revealed that she wrote three complete drafts of Her Read before feeling satisfied with the finished product. Her hard work and dedication to the poem paid off, as Her Read went on to win the Texas Institute of Letters’ Fred Whitehead Award for Design, as well as the Foreword Reviews bronze prize for poetry.

As is immediately evident from her poetry, Jennifer is a talented interdisciplinary artist. However, the differences in the spheres in which Jennifer possesses skills are truly incredible. She began as a dancer, and performed with the Houston Ballet, the School of the Pennsylvania Ballet, and Interlochen Arts Academy. After that, Jennifer worked for fifteen years as the president of a construction company which built environmentally-friendly houses. To this day, she continues to apply that skill as she sometimes works as an architectural designer and a building consultant.

Currently, Jennifer lectures at the University of Michigan and continues to create new works. This year, she is a Beinecke fellow at Yale, where she is writing a biography on another American woman poet, C. D. Wright.

Jennifer Sperry Steinorth’s talents transcend a single form. Her successes in so many different methods of creation are a testament to the contributions of women artists of her time and throughout history.

© Reese Alexander (4/18/2023) Special for FF2 Media


Click here to read Iris Dunkle’s Article on Jennifer Sperry Steinorth.

You can learn more about Jennifer on her website.


Featured photo: An excerpt from Her Read: A Graphic Poem.

Tags: A Wake with Nine Shades, Erasure Poetry, Forking the Swift, Her Read, Iris Dunkle, Jennifer Sperry Steinorth, poetry, The Meaning of Art

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Reese Alexander is currently a student at Barnard College, where she studies English literature, creative writing, and French. Reese enjoys writing both fiction and nonfiction, and her work has been published in multiple campus publications, including Quarto, Echoes, The Barnard Bulletin, and The Columbia Federalist. Reese is most passionate about medieval literature, as she believes it illustrates the contributions of women artists throughout the centuries.
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