Book Reviews

Review of Poetry, Politics and Passion from Arnold Levine of KOWS Radio:
Politics is not often an easy bedfellow with poetry and passion, but Jennie Orvino clasps them tightly together with a personal journey through her life from the turbulent 1960s up to today. Travel with Jennie as she meets, and sometimes beds, the glitterati of the progressive left, and treats us to the erotic passion that coloured her life through her very personal, and sometimes big picture poetry. Her deep belief in feminism, and skepticism of religious control brings her to a truly adult appreciation of her sexuality and relationships. A powerful life well led.

Poetry, Politics and Passion: memoir, poems, personal essays
Book Review by Barbara L. Baer
Turn to the middle of Jennie Orvino’s collection until you get to the pictures. No baby portraits here, only a young Jennie being led off by Milwaukee police among anti- Vietnam war protestors. The final image shows that Jennie, looking as if she’s been deep-sea diving and coming up for air, hasn’t taken up couch-surfing as she’s grown older. The caption under the photo reads: “Freeze frame from Orgasm, Faces of Ecstasy.”
Jennie’s Catholic education shaped her ethical foundations, her non-violent acts of conscience against war and injustice, though her love relationships weren’t what the patriarchal church would approve of.

“The desire for the forbidden was very big for me as a young Catholic woman. Breaking senseless taboos seemed right and necessary. And for all the idealism that went with being in The Movement, it was also extremely exciting. We were relevant and alive! We were risk-taking. And it seemed to me that the best and brightest those who were acting out of humanist values, ethics, and a sense of justice. These men were not ordinary. I am not interested in ordinary. I am attracted to the leader of the seminar, the star of the show, the teacher, the celebrity lawyer, the iconoclast. As feminist ideas were beginning to percolate, I saw that my inner rebel was also interested in power. I wanted influence and effectiveness in a world that seemed available only to men, and by extension, to the women in their beds who held them there by the magnetism of intimacy.”  

Jennie’s book makes her trajectory of politics, poetry and passion a fascinating journey over 40 years. Her way has been undeviating, her compass pointing to the left, a left of her own making, never locked into dogma or institutions that gave her the rules. Her memoir conveys both the young woman in love and lust and the memoirist remembering being star-struck in the presence of an older charismatic activist. She returns us to the time when Joan Baez proclaimed, “Girls say yes to guys who say no.”

Jennie has taken her chances and her pleasures, had great food and sex and excitement, suffered heartbreaks that come with the being vulnerable. Any woman who’s a rebel as she was had conflicts when a child came into the picture. The mix must have been right because Jennie and her daughter love each other and share intimacies. Reading Jennie’s memoir pages, I don’t sense regrets; though many of her wished-for goals haven’t happened, the pleasures of love and political honesty far outweigh the dents and lumps taken over the years, at least in her prose. However, when you begin the section of poetry, sadness more than joy colors the lovely writing. Perhaps it’s the nature of poetry to be the closest to what the soul needs to express, to nakedness.

I should have made full disclosure earlier that I know Jennie Orvino. Also that a review on this page or screen can’t give the flavor of her poetry. Jennie belts out and croons a poem almost in the same breath. She’s a performer. But even if you’re not at an event, you feel sadness in your veins if you’re also a woman growing older, reading “I Know my Kitchen.” The second stanza below is especially moving because the details, the images, paint the picture.

I know the inside of my freezer: bags of bread ends, lonely
chicken hearts and wings and gizzards left for soup, pints
of Haagen Dazs rationed out by nightly spoonfuls, the contents
of an ice cube tray evaporated to smooth round sparrow eggs.

Another poem, as personal as its title “Dressing for the Break-Up,” is the call of a woman who can’t help desiring a man even as he’s about to shatter her.

I want your hand
to smooth the stocking over my ankle and calf, but it’s

 just my fingers moving up the inside of my thigh, only nylon
gripping my waist as if it cared. To find what is indestructible,

must I expose myself over and over to annihilation?
Every step of my expensive French sandals answers, Yes.

Even as the decades pass, Jennie doesn’t easily accept becoming invisible to men, and certainly she doesn’t bow to resignation.  Sometimes she has needed help.

Girlfriends chipped in
(though they deny it)
to send a handsome stranger
home with you. Deep-voiced as God,
attentive as a priest performing last rites,
he calmed you to sleep with velvet
lips and expert placement
of his expert thumb
then, at 4 a.m., tiptoed out.

The vignette of a telephone conversation that prefaces the third and final section of Jennie’s collection is sweet.

I told my favorite aunt I was finishing my book.
“I’m not sure you’d want to read it, though,”
I said. “It’s full of secrets.”

“That’s all right,” Auntie Marie replied,
“I don’t need to read it. I just want to be
able to say my niece is a published author!”

             Jennie’s probably right to give her Auntie Marie a heads up before her relative discovers her niece’s essays on sexuality, particularly “How I Like It,”  and “A Face of Ecstasy” about orgasm—the essay that the photo “Faces of Ecstasy”— is taken from. I have to guess that Auntie Marie is still Catholic, and though she loves her niece, there are some things one does not share: the moment of orgasm caught in the still and put on a circulating video that celebrates liberation and pleasure might be too much. I admit to being with Auntie here, though I understand the point of exposing one’s most cherished self has meaning to Jennie. The photograph is truly beautiful.

I also admire Jennie Orvino’s dedication to her art as well as to holding fast to her beliefs in the face of endless war and injustice. Jennie’s written a complete volume that will stand along with books by Barbara Kingsolver and Barbara Deming. Even if she doesn’t enjoy their renown, Jennie’s absolutely right to publish and promote her work, first among friends and colleagues in Sonoma County, and then into the world on the Internet.

To get Jennie’s book locally, copies of Poetry, Politics and Passion can be purchased at SoCo Coffee and Copperfield’s Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa, Copperfield’s in Healdsburg and Share Exchange in downtown Santa Rosa. Also available from (print and Kindle edition) and at Createspace.

–by Barbara L. Baer, Forestville, CA  Author of Grisha the Scrivener

Book Review: North Bay Bohemian
by Gabe Meline, Editor (April 4-10, 2012 issue)

Jennie Orvino has been writing since she got a diary with a lock and key at age 14, but in ‘Poetry, Politics and Passion’ (Piece of Mind; $15), she throws the lock away. Comprising poems, personal essays and a lengthy memoir, Orvino’s book is tremendously frank about the author’s many exploits while stylishly circumventing embarrassment. It opens with Orvino being arrested inside St. John’s church in Milwaukee in 1968 for protesting the Vietnam War; swings swiftly into young sexual liaisons; touches on courtroom cases, jailed draft resisters and an aborted engagement; and shows a college-age Orvino horrifying her parents by sewing a burlap wall hanging with the immortal words of e.e. cummings: “I WILL NOT KISS YOUR FUCKING FLAG.” And that’s only the first 24 pages. Orvino’s 28 poems are similarly blunt, sometimes with the whomp of Raymond Carver (“The Thought of Writing Poetry,” a succinct, beautiful tragedy) and sometimes with sorrowful lament for the world (“FGM,” “Boys Do Cry”). Personal essays, perhaps the most revealing of the book, cover masturbating from the age of five, an ongoing friendship with Robert Bly, a grandson born with an arm that ends below the elbow, matchmaking services gone horribly wrong and being filmed in the throes of climax for a documentary on orgasms. A page-turner, indeed.—G.M.

Book Review: by Linda L. Reid, author of Touch of Magenta
There are so many reasons to love this book, so many facets, that it’s hard to know where to start. First, it plops you into the middle of the 1960 anti-war protests with all the personalities that we read about in the news, only up close and personal, a chance to revisit these game-changing years through Jennie Orvino’s eyes as she describes her involvement in these explosive events. Secondly, the writing is superb, intelligent and honest. The poetry is remarkable and keeps the pace of the book, and lastly, her essays have a frankness meant to break barriers about what can and should be said about sex, about it being okay to enjoy, express, to be inventive with. This is a wild ride that doesn’t let up from beginning to end. Each section offers something different that all ties together in a complete look at a moment in time and one woman’s take, one complex and interesting woman. A definite great read.

Book Review: from the Poet Antler
I loved Poetry, Politics and Passion! It brought back memories of those Milwaukee days of yore when we were young and starting out and you and Jim Sorcic, Morgan and Barbara Gibson, Julia and Lucy, the whole cast of characters in the drama then, those apocalyptic days. Jeff  and I were at the May 1969 Resistance Reading too!

Your frank heart-talk about sexuality is inspiring and a blessing—so sincere and honest and helpful. I never heard of “tickling my cookie” and now I’ll never forget it! What a poignant Father/Daughter story and brave compassionate soldier youth he was. “California Camping” tent delight and gazing at the sleeping friend in moonlight archetype.… “FGM” is great, the greatest poem on that subject. “Boys Do Cry” belongs in every Mathew Shepherd anthology—you might email it to these websites: “Mathew’s Place” and the Matthew Shepherd Foundation.

“Improviser” and “Pasta” have super powerful endings. “Redolence” a smell-awe epiphany, and the ending is phenomenal. “In the Town of Tal Afar” is indelible and crucial. “Dream of Undoing” has magic shaman energy; ending of “Valentine MIA” is so sad. “Roberto and the Gringa” is a real short story, the characters come through—“he wanted an iguana moment” —and the last line is so provocative. “One of Many” gets A+ “the heat/wavers between us/like air above desert blacktop.” “He entered me like a thief who knew/exactly where the good silver was kept” –astounding image.

“Refrain” precise redwood branching notice and “don’t wash just yet.” “Reunion” is hot and raw and a story in itself. Would we could all have reunions like that! Tango, “why does/the music make/feeling sad feel good.” “Invisible” — kind friends’ gifts and sensitive cosmic gifter he was! “Sanity Defense” — I’ve felt like this a lot, a companion poem to “The Thought of Writing Poetry.” “Of My Own” makes our deaths be beautiful, visualizing in advance lets us experience it now, as then we may be in a dream that eclipses all. Last poem is so sensitive after all that came before in eye and love and sorrow—the babylove cameo at peony heart center.

Your book is a triumph of honesty and sexuality and courage that will charm and empower women and men in the years to come.


Book Reviews/Comments:

Fabulous book! Always engaging, gutsy. The poetry is terrific! Much congratulations.
Jean Wong

Thanks so much for the copy of your book. As usual, the writing is graceful, lovely, and poetic—-even the prose. The metaphors and similes are spot on. Your recounting of the early anti-Vietnam movement evokes the whole era, and some deeply embedded memories for me. Much success in the sales!
Your cousin Dick (Rev. Richard La Pata, O.P)

Ken and I read aloud from Orvino all the way down I-5 – had quite a thrill. Quite a thrill. I repeat. The politics and the sex both made us laugh and get horny. What can I say? What a woman she is! I hope we meet her, and soon.
Katie C.

I loved your book.  Your description of the 1960’s was fascinating to read through your eyes as a participant in the Peace Movement.  You were a very brave young woman.  I loved reading about your many passions.
Penny M.

I am so enjoying your book. The fascinating memoir give me a window back into the 60s and a beautiful glimpse of the passionate, ever idealistic Jennie. Thank you for your honest, eloquent writing.
Connie W.

You are magnificent…I need to get your new book and the CD too.
Love, Paul N.

Jennie. You were so awesome last night! Lovely reading. I was moved, especially when you read the poem about your father.
Sarah A. R.


“With her curly grey hair caught by the stage lights and her breathy, flesh-and-blood metaphors fired straight into our souls, there isn’t a man or woman in the house who wouldn’t surrender.”
(Bill Noble, of Jennie’s poetry reading at Red Devil Lounge in San Francisco)


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