The Wanton Sublime

by Anna Rabinowitz


In her dazzling third volume of poetry, The Wanton Sublime, Anna Rabinowitz creates nothing short of a new genre of utterance as she cuts through pieties and myths to get at the essential humanity of the Virgin Mary, and, ultimately, of all women.

Format: paperback

ISBN: 978-1-932195-39-2 Categories: , Tag:


Anne Heide’s article on The Wanton Sublime, “Word Made Flesh: Rabinowitz’s Carnal Incarnation of Mary”, in Arizona State University’s How 2 (“exploring non-traditional directions in poetry and scholarship by women”) is not really a review, but more a breakdown and discussion. It’s a fascinating piece of reading:

The ability for the poet to invoke such a multiplicitous being expresses how vastly Mary can expressed, and the various ways in which she can be represented. She is not only an anthology of her past (the various feminine gods to which Rabinowitz compares her), but an anthology of all women, a symbol for universality.

Penelope Cray reviewed The Wanton Sublime for Jacket Magazine. It’s a long, insightful, and glowing review that reads, in part:

A catalogue of Mary’s losses—her virginity, her identity, and ultimately her child—and usefulness to a plan larger than herself plucks the myth from the sky and hands it once again to those of us still living on the ground. By turning her subject inside out and examining the dark act disguised within a flash of blinding light, Rabinowitz reveals the core of disquiet attending the world’s most famous virgin birth.

Newpages dot com “Good Reading Starts Here”, presents an insightful and complex review of The Wanton Sublime. Look about halfway down the page:

Later in the book, Rabinowitz makes more explicit her take on this mystery, quoting Gaimbattista Vico’s famous verum factum principle: “what is true is what we have made true.” While femininity is the subject of The Wanton Sublime, the lens through which she views it relies on an understanding of the constructed, transformational nature of language and art.

Patria Rivera, in the March 25th edition of The Catholic Register has written a comprehensive and deeply spiritual review of Anna Rabinowitz’s The Wanton Sublime. It concludes:

To those who have a firm view of Mary’s role in salvation history, some of the poems’ stark imagery may appear to push the boundaries, but to those who want to probe deeper into their faith, The Wanton Sublime poses challenges that may even strengthen their belief.

The Wanton Sublime continues to draw attention for Anna Rabinowitz’s revolutionary and humanistic depiction of the Virgin Mary. In the May 24th edition of the Publisher’s Weekly’s column Religion Bookline, The Wanton Sublime is discussed in the context of The Da Vinci Code and another new book on the Virgin Mary.

David Barker offers an insightful blog on The Wanton Sublime. In part, it reads:

Once, Mary was (and often continues to be) held up by traditional religious leaders as a model of submissive piety to be emulated by good Christian women everywhere. But women like Anna Rabinowitz offer different understandings of this model. In fact, she herself serves as a model of how women can think and can interpret ancient stories in fresh ways that take account of realities which would otherwise go ignored if viewed only through the lens of piety’s idealism.

The rest of this thoughtful review can be read at

From Library Journal:

Often using a series of responses, reflections, and interpretations to ancient florilegium (a collection of excerpts), Rabinowitz (Darkling) writes about the Annunciation and Mary, who says, “Though I be mute, unseen, do not be ignorant of me.” The author uses text as scaffolding, creating a field of words that seems to occupy and rise above the page, a meditative texture that is ironic and transcendent. Rabinowitz also contracts with multiple choices and voices to explore the human issues, which envelop the Annunciation, and the LIGHT [that] CANNOT BE EXPLAINED. The question of Mary’s being game or tool seems central to her poetic arguments. Rabinowitz portrays Mary as both maiden who submits (reluctantly? willingly?) and mother who truly anguishes over the loss of her child (“She is and remains a mother/ even though her child die”) and his eventual denunciation of her. As in her previous book, Darkling, Rabinowitz seems to inscribe the past to interpret and honor it: “For the child she will have boundless love/ For posterity the memory of being/ For her life no proper translation.” Recommended for contemporary poetry collections.

—Karla Huston

From Booklist:

Following her acclaimed book-length poem, Darkling (2001), this innovative examination of the Annunciation uses a collagelike, fractured narrative to explore the complex possibilities within the sacred story. Florilegium refers to “a collection of excerpts from written texts” and, in Latin, relates to flower gathering. The poems do form a “bouquet,” plucked from varying sources of truths, lies, and artistic inquisition. Rabinowitz is a highly intellectual poet with unique vision and a distinct voice. She knows the rules of poetry and breaks them beautifully, bending words and forms to her purpose. Some poems seem a tad gimmicky as they follow linguistic/mental association, but others succeed in lending a lightheartedness that demonstrates that Rabinowitz does not take herself too seriously. This does not, however, lessen her respect for her subject matter, or for her role as translator of thought or “vessel through which the music passes” (as Stravinsky called himself). Some readers will find Rabinowitz challenging, but all will be sent on a journey into fresh poetic and philosophical territory.

—Janet St. John

Publisher’s Weekly has a first review of The Wanton Sublime on their website, which starts with:

The editor of American Letters and Commentary, Rabinowitz investigates the mysteries, myths and cultural accretions around the Virgin Mary in this third collection; Mary becomes, in these rapt and provocative poems, both a symbol of ecstatic transcendence and a focus for questions about gender and power.

In her dazzling third volume of poetry, The Wanton Sublime, Anna Rabinowitz creates nothing short of a new genre of utterance as she cuts through pieties and myths to get at the essential humanity of the Virgin Mary, and, ultimately, of all women.

The Wanton Sublime is an “anthology” of texts and commentaries that propels us on a breathtaking journey mapped by questions, conversations, and speculations—a journey to the very foundations of womanhood and motherhood.

Again and again Mary, exemplar of the feminine, quintessential mother, bearer/birther of divinity is re-visioned and re-defined; she is made kindred to Io, to Europa and to an ancient Egyptian woman who may have been the first unflinchingly assertive feminist. Rabinowitz investigates Mary as concept and as fact, as symbol and as flesh-and-blood female.

What does it mean to be chosen? How does one engage with otherness? What forces operate when one’s life is interrupted? Are there possibilities of alternative narratives? How does one process the condition of not knowing? Linguistically brilliant and stylistically inventive, this daring work makes the universal particular, the particular universal.

The Wanton Sublime explores the burden, the dilemma and the glory of being chosen as it leads us to a renewed appreciation of what it means to be alive and a woman.

“Anna Rabinowitz’s riveting linguistic experiment is at once a celebration of and a quest for an understanding of what we have come to accept as “the eternal feminine.” Timely and important, The Wanton Sublime is a must-read.” —Claudia Rankine, author of Citizen

Photo by Elena Seiburt

A National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, Anna Rabinowitz has published four volumes of poetry: Present Tense, The Wanton Sublime: A Florilegium of Whethers and Wonders, Darkling: A Poem, and At the Site of Inside Out.

She has written the librettos for The Wanton Sublime, a monodrama with original music by Tarik O’Regan, and Darkling, a multi-media opera with music by Stefan Weisman. Darkling excerpts have been performed in many venues, and a full-length production ran for three weeks Off-Broadway. A semi-staged concert version traveled to Europe. Darkling’s latest incarnations are a CD from Albany Records, and a bi-lingual German-English translation from Luxbooks, Weisbaden, Germany.

She has published widely in such journals as Atlantic Monthly, Boston Review, The Paris Review, Colorado Review, Southwest Review, Denver Quarterly, Sulfur, LIT, VOLT, and Verse. Her poetry has appeared in the anthologies, The Best American Poetry 1989, edited by Donald Hall, Life on the Line: Selections on Words and Healing, The KGB Bar Reader, The Poets’ Grimm, Poetry Daily, Poetry After 9/11, Blood to Remember, Women Poets on Mentorship, and Aftershocks: The Poetry of Recovery.


National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship (2001)
Juniper Prize (1997)



Read the Bookslut interview with Anna Rabinowitz, where she describes the adaptation of her book Darkling for the stage.

Davida Singer of Theater, interviews Anna Rabinowitz about her book Darkling, and how it became an opera.

The literary blog Bookslut interviews Anna Rabinowitz, author of Darkling.

American Letters & Commentary

American Opera Projects

Chimera Review

Barrow Street

Reviews of Anna Rabinowitz’s Darkling

Reviews of Anna Rabinowitz’s The Wanton Sublime

Additional information

Weight .4 lbs
Dimensions 6 × .5 × 9 in