Sunday, April 03, 2016

Interview with Poet Rita Martinez of The Jane and Bertha in Me

Last year, at the request of my husband, I reread Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, one of a handful of books I have read multiple times over the years. It remains one of my all-time favorite books. When I first heard mention of Rita Martinez and her poetry book called The Jane and Bertha in Me, I knew I wanted to read it. I also knew I likely would not be able to fit in a review during the month of April. I am happy, however, to kick off National Poetry Month with an interview by the author of The Jane and Bertha in Me. This book is more than just an homage to one of the greatest novels ever written, it also speaks to every one of us, to anyone who has felt like an outsider or anyone who has ever suffered from or knows anyone who has suffered from a debilitating illness, whether seen or unseen.

I hope you will join me in welcoming Rita Martinez to Musings of a Bookish Kitty. Perhaps she and I can convince you to check out this great sounding poetry collection!

About Rita Martinez's The Jane and Bertha in Me
This spring marks the bicentennial of Charlotte Brontë’s birth. In her ambitious and timely debut, The Jane and Bertha in Me, Rita Maria Martinez celebrates Brontë’s classic novel Jane Eyre. Through wildly inventive, beautifully crafted persona poems, Martinez re-imagines Jane Eyre’s cast of characters in contemporary contexts, from Jane as an Avon saleslady to Bertha as a Stepford wife. These lively, fun, poignant poems prove that Jane Eyre’s fictional universe is just as relevant today as it was so many years ago. The Jane and Bertha in Me is a must-read for any lover of Brontë’s work.

Q: You first became interested in Jane Eyre as a teenager. Can you talk a bit more about why Jane appealed to you at that young age?

A: As a teen, I wanted to live in another era. I used to sing oldies by my high school’s reflection pond on mornings before the bell rang.

Reading Jane Eyre felt like I was immersed in an exciting and unique atmosphere, which, for me, was a welcome relief from the grunge culture of the 1990s. I liked the mystery, the lush language, and the romance in the novel.

As for Jane’s character, she is an underdog with a lot spunk, a heroine who stands up for herself. I thought leaving Lowood and entering Thornfield, a new environment, was courageous—as was leaving Thornfield. Jane also manages to have strong moral convictions while also being a sexual creature—one who refuses to settle for a passionless marriage.

Q: Bertha gets a good deal of screen-time in this collection. What about Bertha speaks to you as a writer and reader?

A: Bertha is a displaced person, an outsider. I think many readers and writers have felt like outsiders at some point.

In my early twenties, I started experiencing debilitating daily headaches and migraines. I went through several physicians. Some thought I was crazy. Some were sexist. Others thought my complaints were imaginary. These attitudes rob patients of their dignity—especially those who battle neurological conditions which are “invisible.”

Eventually, I was diagnosed with chronic daily headaches (CDH), a genetic disorder that affects about four percent of the population and is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. At onset, my head hurt non-stop for over two months—that kind of constant pain is enough to test anyone’s sanity. Migraines drive one to seek darkness, silence, and isolation; as a result, I started reflecting on Bertha’s plight.

Her daily life at Thornfield was one of isolation accompanied by periods of great suffering—as was Charlotte Brontë’s at times. Brontë mentions her migraines and health concerns in correspondence. Edward Rochester—who is far from being a one-dimensional character—also undergoes a great deal of anguish. He’s certainly not a saint, but, in some aspects is a casualty of the conventions of his society.

Q: Aside from Brontë herself, what other influences are at work in this collection?

A: There are so many! Some include Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s ground-breaking feminist text The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth Century Literary Imagination (1979); the amazing three-volume set of The Letters of Charlotte Brontë edited by Margaret Smith; Jean Rhys’s postcolonial novel Wide Sargasso Sea (1966); Virginia Woolf ’s expanded essays on the female writer’s life in A Room of One’s Own; and Rita Dove's Mother Love. I’m also a pop culture junkie who watches way too much television—especially the Turner Classic Movie Channel.

Q: What do you hope that readers will take away from the experience of this book?

A: I hope readers will become more empathetic and open-minded toward those in their communities who experience disability or illness of any kind—realizing that neither constitutes moral weakness or failure. I especially hope that all types of patients realize that they deserve to be treated with dignity—that a good physician will take one’s concerns to heart.

I hope poems like “The Literature of Prescription” help readers become more vocal about their expectations during doctor visits—and will prompt them to become active, assertive, and informed patients. Most importantly, I experienced a great deal of joy writing many of these poems, and I hope readers will laugh out loud now and then.

I hope the poems will spur them to reread or discover Jane Eyre and to encounter other Brontë works and biographies. April will mark the bicentennial of the birth of Charlotte Brontë, a wonderful reason to celebrate the work and life of such an influential author.

Thanks again!

About the author:
Rita Maria Martinez is a Cuban-American poet from Miami, Florida. Her writing has been published in journals including the Notre Dame Review, Ploughshares, MiPOesias, and 2River View. She authored the chapbook Jane-in-the-Box, published by March Street Press in 2008. Her poetry also appears in the textbook Three Genres: The Writing of Fiction/Literary Nonfiction, Poetry and Drama, published by Prentice Hall; and in the anthology Burnt Sugar, Caña Quemada: Contemporary Cuban Poetry in English and Spanish, published by Simon & Schuster. Martinez has been a featured author at the Miami Book Fair International; at the Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach, Florida; and at the Palabra Pura reading series sponsored by the Guild Literary Complex in Chicago. She earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Florida International University.

hope you will check out what others have to say about The Jane and Bertha in Me on the Poetic Book Tours route:

April 4: Musings of a Bookish Kitty (interview)
April 10: Emma Eden Ramos (review)
April 12: Everything Distils Into Reading (review)
April 15: Book Dilettante (review)
April 16: Suko’s Notebook (review)
April 18: True Book Addict (review)
April 22: Jorie Loves a Story (review)
April 25: Diary of an Eccentric (review)
April 26: Unabridged Chick (review)
April 27: Pretty Purple Polka Dots (review)
April 28: Impressions in Ink (review)
April 30: Create With Joy (review)

Many thanks to the Poetic Book Tours and Rita Martinez for the opportunity to be a part of this book tour!

© 2016, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.


  1. This does sound good! And perfect for April's National Poetry Week!

    1. Jenclair - I think so too! I hope I am able to squeeze it in this month.

  2. Thank you so much for hosting Rita today. Seems like Jane Eyre is a book I should have read by now.

    1. Serena - It was my pleasure! I look forward to reading the book. I highly recommend you give Jane Eyre a try!

  3. As a fan of Jane Eyre, I'm definitely going to be keeping an eye out for this collection.

    1. Lisa - Doesn't it sound good? I'm really curiosu to give it a try.

  4. Fantastic interview! I need to read Jane Eyre, I actually have two copies on my shelves, because I am crazy and bought the second one forgetting I already had a copy.
    The Jane and Bertha in Me sounds very good as does the message the author is sending.

    1. Naida - I've done that--bought a second copy of a book I forgot I had. :-) I hope you do read Jane Eyre. And this one too!

  5. Wow. What a personal connection she has with Bertha. Jason gets migraines but every few months at months and only lasting the better part of a day. I know people who suffer more and I can't even imagine.

    1. Stacy - I'm sorry to hear Jason gets migraines. I have a friend who gets them frequently and it really does interfere with her work and life.

  6. Really enjoyed this! What a perfect way to celebrate National Poetry Month too!

  7. Happy National Poetry Month Everyone! A big thank you to Musings of a Bookish Kitty for featuring my interview and commenting on The Jane and Bertha in Me. Much love and Viva the Brontës!

    1. Thank you for dropping by, Rita. I look forward to reading The Jane and Bertha in Me.

  8. Interesting interview! I am also part of the tour for this collection. I wondered about the headaches mentioned in the poems (and to what extent the work is autobiographical). I hope you are enjoying some poetry this month.

    1. Suko - I love to know what inspires and motivates an author or poet to write what they do.

      I haven't been able to read as much poetry this month as I had hoped, but I have enjoyed some.


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