Jennifer Richter’s penetrating second collection of poems, No Acute Distress, introduces us to the unspoken struggles and unanticipated epiphanies of illness and motherhood, subjects rarely explored together in contemporary poetry. The first poem of each section borrows from a classic joke form—one begins, “An intractable migraine walks into a bar”—to consider the thin line this mother walks between the tragic and comic: debilitating pain met with increasingly absurd and desperate medical treatments.
Richter seasons her work with irony from the start, titling the book’s opening poem, “Pleasant, healthy-appearing adult white female in no acute distress.” As the collection progresses, the speaker’s growing children bring new, wider perspective to the poems; the heart of the book opens up to embrace the adolescents’ increasing self-sufficiency and the body’s vibrant re-emergence into health.
No Acute Distress offers readers fresh language grounded in a masterful use of form, speaking with an urgency that acknowledges chronic pain’s cumulative damage to the body and spirit, and with an openness that allows for hope and the inexplicable on the path to victorious recovery.
About the Author
Jennifer Richter’s first book, Threshold, was chosen by former U.S. poet laureate Natasha Trethewey as a winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer at Stanford University, she has received an Oregon Literary Fellowship and currently teaches in Oregon State University’s MFA program.
“In this powerful and enthralling collection, Jennifer Richter struggles movingly to understand the relationship between self and body. With her finely tuned ear and her often wry humor, she faces how difficult it can be not only to survive physical and emotional trauma, but to preserve ourselves through it for those we love. Her unwavering vision makes it clear why this is worth fighting for, testifying with beautiful precision to the human intimacies it makes possible.”—Mary Szybist, winner of the National Book Award for Poetry
“No shared human experience resists articulation more than physical pain. In No Acute Distress, Jennifer Richter transcends these limitations and renders the physical and spiritual ramifications of suffering in poems both wise and brave.”—Gary Young
“These poems are surprising, beautiful, disturbing, comic, and haunting, mixing interior reflections with medical language and chart notes to startling effect. No Acute Distress is an intimate history of pain, in which the richness of motherhood is punctuated by the terrible losses of bodily hurt and the perils of modern medicine. It does what books of poetry do best, conveying the lived experience of another’s life.”—Melanie Thernstrom
“Jennifer Richter’s new poems delight in such deep and abiding ways that they stay with you, long after you have put the poems down. They resonate through your life because of the poet’s highly tuned ability to embrace those moments that are most intimately and profoundly human. I love too the natural music of these poems, the lines often like urgent breaths taken in moments of wild desperation to say a thing straight. No Acute Distress is a truly remarkable achievement.”—Bruce Weigl