” The borders Rita Brady Kiefer crosses in these poems are the straight lines drawn by dogmatists: lines of religion, politics, culture, and art. Against their assertions of authority she pits her own authorial sensibility, which is anything but straight. Like mountain streams her poems eddy and surge, darkening and shining, telling deeply personal stories that her voice, over and over, reveals to be our own. Borders drawn by others, her poems remind us, are illusions wherever love and intelligence flow freely – and both flow freely throughout this quietly exhilarating book.”
— Joseph Hutchison, Poet Laureate of Colorado
“Rita Kiefer writes a sensuous, musical, fierce, and tender poetry. That much is obvious and describable. So is the way her poems insist on giving voice to those who were denied it – to the nun she became for a while, to the mother, to the raped and violated, to those oppressed because they were women who would speak. What is indescribable is the way her poems remove a membrane whose distorting effect we have grown accustomed to, so that we more clearly experience an interconnectedness between here and there, past and present, living and dead; so that we see justice and injustice more clearly. When I finished reading hungrily through these compelling and marvelous poems, I lifted my eyes and lived, for a while, in a more mercy-filled world.”
— Sondra Zeidenstein, Chicory Blue Press
“Nesting Doll is a courageous book reminiscent of the early work of Louise Gluck in that it dramatizes heartrendingly the process and the risk of self-discovery in the face of daunting odds. We watch Ms. Kiefer being forced by these odds into significant formal invention. The resulting testimony is deeply moving and, like all achieved poetry, beautiful. But there is one quality that sets this book apart from virtually all other recent collections: generosity – Kiefer’s spiritual generosity.”
— Jonathan Holden, author of The Old Formalism: Character in Contemporary American Poetry
“Rita Kiefer’s chapbook, Unveiling (Chicory Blue press, 1993), explore her past before the simple process of removing thirteen layers of clothing and leaving the convent after eighteen years of religious life. Reading only the first poem, “Ex-nun in a Red Mercedes” convinces the reader that this book is not a conventional (albeit poetic) account in which one more ex-nun bares her soul to her readers.
Unveiling is a mere thirty-six pages, yet how much we learn about and feel with this gifted woman now in her sixties as she traces her life beginning as a carefully brought up Irish Catholic girl in the thirties and forties, through her years as a religious, to her present career as a college professor.
Reading her afterword before reading her poetry provided some necessary background and helped me to better understand the poems. I, too, am a nun and Kiefer’s poems of her eighteen years of pre-Vatican II religious life were like glimpses into a never-never land, a land that (in her words) was a felix culpa.
In “Naming It”, Kiefer speaks of how her religious habit:
bound the body in serge and
white linen, black veil
for the face. Years later it burst
that coffin leering
The “Sister Mailee Sequence”, the longest poem in the book (and the best in my view) poignantly traces her life from birth to the present. She who wanted spontaneity chose discipline instead:
The Rule that shaped each act: how to
fold a towel, place pins in a veil, stack
prayerbooks — all edges turned left — in chapel pews.
Rules for the body too: the Sisters shall conceal hands
in sleeves to avoid swinging their worldly arms.
The Rule, at first a foreign language
now her mentor.
Not many women can look back at this sort of life dispassionately and unsentimentally, as Rita Kiefer has done. Hers is a distinctive and authentic voice; one envies her students in English and Women’s Studies at the University of Northern Colorado and looks forward to future chapbooks.”
— Leola Hausser, Cross Currents, Journal for the Association for Religion and Intellectual Life