Manuscript Consultation Program Alum: Jeanne-Marie Osterman

After participating in our  Manuscript Consultation Program, Jeanne-Marie Osterman published her poetry collection Who Killed Marta Ugarte? with Broadstone Books. In this interview we will discuss finding community with other writers, writing as an editor, and the kinds of research that go into poetry collections based on real events.


Black Lawrence Press: Please give our readers a brief description of your book Who Killed Marta Ugarte?

Jeanne-Marie Osterman: The poems memorialize the victims of Augusto Pinochet, who was put into power by a right-wing military coup in Chile supported by Henry Kissinger and the CIA. Marta Ugarte was one of over 3000 Chileans murdered or disappeared during Pinochet’s brutal reign, which lasted from 1973 to1990. The stories told in the poems are a warning of what can happen when democracy is lost. The book includes photos I took on two trips to Chile, where I met former exiles and survivors of Pinochet’s detention camps.

 BLP: Who Killed Marta Ugarte? is your fourth book. What made you decide to choose Augusto Pinochet’s victims as the primary topic for this project?

JMO: Meeting people who’d lived through these horrors, and hearing their stories, gave a personal dimension to something I’d previously thought of as a political event. I found Marta’s story, however, on the internet. An educator and political activist, she was kidnapped, tortured, and thrown into the Pacific Ocean from a helicopter. Her story haunted me, and I was moved to write a poem about her. That was followed by other poems about Marta, and so began the collection. In my research, I found other victims’ stories, which appear in the book as well.

BLP: You’ve now worked with four different publishers–Finishing Line, Slipstream, Paloma, and Broadstone. What advice do you have for writers who are researching small presses as potential homes for their books?

JMO: Like many writers, I used the listing of deadlines in the Poets & Writers bi-monthly magazine. also has listings. Most calls for manuscripts provide guidelines which I was careful to follow. Before submitting, go to the publisher’s website to see if the quality of cover design lives up to your standards. Before signing a contract, buy one of the publisher’s books to check out production values. Though I was dying to be published, I actually turned down two or three presses I didn’t feel measured up.

Two of my four books, however, were accepted by publishers I found through word of mouth. That is, I asked friends who’d recently published, if their publisher might be willing to look at my manuscript. I wrote to these publishers mentioning the friend’s name, was invited to submit, and got a “yes.” Twice! The worst that can happen is they say no. And hearing no—probably many times—is part of the process.

BLP: In addition to being a writer, you are also an editor. How does this work inform your writing practice? And how does it shape your view of the literary landscape?

JMO: As poetry editor for Cagibi, almost all of my time is spent reading submissions. This may sound corny, but I think of each one I open up on our queue as a gift, and I can’t wait to see what’s inside. I’m amazed by how many folks are out there writing and submitting, and by all the different voices that speak through their poems. It tells me that poetry is alive and well, and that inspires me to keep writing, too. Interactions with fellow Cagibi staff also inspire me—especially when we disagree. The back-and-forth helps me see poems in new ways, and that keeps me engaged in both craft and thoughts on what role poetry can play in our lives. 

TJ Beitelman, Manuscript Consultant

BLP: You worked with TJ Beitelman on Who Killed Marta Ugarte? Can you talk a bit about that experience?

JMO: TJ was just what I needed at just the right time.

 Most of the poems in this manuscript had been workshopped, and with the help of my living room floor, I’d worked out a sequence. I’d been working on this relatively short collection for two years but wasn’t sure it was ready for publication. I needed a fresh eye—something more than the piecemeal feedback I’d gotten by workshopping individual poems—and that’s where TJ came in.

 He did the fine tuning I needed, and it made all the difference. First, he singled out three poems that he said had to go! I wisely took his advice. Some tiny changes he suggested in sequencing were transformative. For example, one poem he thought was a standout was buried two-thirds of the way in. He advised me to move it up toward the beginning, and that poem’s now up for a Pushcart Prize! Last, I had five options for a title and TJ helped me pick the one now on the cover. We went back and forth on that several times and he never tired of my picayune questions—to which he always had thoughtful answers.

By the way, this manuscript was accepted almost immediately–by two presses!

BLP: What is your favorite way to connect with other writers? Do you have a critique group, attend readings, etc? 

JMO: As poetry editor of Cagibi, I’m part of a community. We rarely meet in person but I know they’re there for me if I need advice on anything poetry-related. I haven’t attended any workshops or participated in writing groups in a few years, but I couldn’t have gotten where I am today without the feedback I’ve received there. I love poetry readings. I’m happy to attend them on Zoom and have made a few connections there. Last, I’m a member of New York City’s Writers Room. It’s a shared workspace with a strict code of silence so I rarely talk to anyone there. But being in that space with other writers is a way of connecting for me. When I look up and see people working, I can feel their energy and it keeps me going.

BLP: Are there any books coming out in 2024 that you’re excited to read?

JMO: Yes! Matthew Lippman’s We Are All Sleeping with our Sneakers On, due out in March from Four Way Books. His last book was chosen by Dorianne Laux for the Levis Prize and I’ve nearly worn out my copy. And if there’s anything new coming from Sharon Olds, Martha Silano, Kaveh Akbar, or Kevin Young, I’m in.

Interested in participating in our manuscript consultation program?

Learn about this month’s consultants right here.


Excerpt from Who Killed Marta Ugarte?


            Marta Lidia Ugarte Román, a teacher, was one of the many political prisoners kidnapped,

            murdered, and dropped into the Pacific Ocean by the Pinochet regime.


 I wasn’t a believer in afterlives,

            miracles, till I read

about you, desaparecida,


appearing to a fisherman               

            at La Ballena Beach.

Apologies—I’m late in saying this, 


I know: songs, poems, plays written,

            quilts, murals made

in your memory, and you’d probably


just like to rest in peace.

            But I can’t help myself—

want you to know we remember


that September day, when Pincetti

            injected you with pentothal

and took you for dead—



were you awake when they tied you

            to 30 kilos of iron track

and bagged you in a potato sack?


Like one of a dozen cocoons

            stacked at the prison gate,

did you feel the other bodies

grow cold? And when the guards

            saw you were still alive,

did they curse you for your strength?                                


Or themselves, for being unable    

            to kill a woman so small?

We remember too, how


they used the wire

            that tied you to the track

to strangle you, and how     



untied from the track, you didn’t sink


           when they dropped you

into the Pacific.


I think of you as una mariposa,

            still in your chrysalis—

metamorphosis when they pushed you


from the helicopter into the sky.

            How did it feel, Marta, to fly,

after days in a cell so small


you had to stand while waiting

             for the next round of torture?

I see you land on ocean surface,


and as butterflies are carried

            on a breath of wind,

you were carried by a current to shore.


When the fisherman found you,

         your eyes were open.         








to be a voice for the disappeared,

fifty years later,

put into words wounds

of a country not my own,

language not my own, wounds


from guns of country, my own—

serial numbers scrubbed out with acid,

junta by telex                                   

from Henry Kissinger

to CIA Station House in Santiago?


Poetry of witness—I witness

only to television reports

sent by satellite morning of September 11, 1973,

bombs dropping on presidential palace,

haze of static, lens shaking

to black

Jeanne-Marie Osterman is the author of four collections of poetry, including Shellback (Paloma Press), voted one of the top 100 indie press books of 2021 by Kirkus Reviews, and All Animals Want the Same Things, winner of the Slipstream Press Annual Poetry Chapbook Competition. In 2018, Jeanne-Marie was a finalist for the Joy Harjo PoetryPrize. She lives in New York City where she is poetry editor for Cagibi, a literary journal. More at