Critical Essays Archive

Poetry of Data, Poetry of Experience

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“Truth in poetry” depends not on the record of information but on experience: a life represented in metaphor, the patterns of language that make a time-signature through which we listen.

Revisiting The Oasis

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Mary McCarthy’s 1949 novel is not just a story about personal failings and internecine squabbling—it’s also a stark warning about intellectual capture, about what can be lost if you don’t approach politics with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The Agency of Men in The Atmospherians and How to Kidnap the Rich

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In the world of fiction, as opposed to the real world and its assumed male passiveness, men must make choices; they are not victims, but the owners of their mistakes.

The Lingering Effects of Trauma in A Chronology of Water, Something Disguised as Love, and Smadar

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Our new understanding of how trauma lingers inside and outside of the body has expanded to include not only relationships between peers of the same age group, but seems to have grown over time to include a discussion of how adults teach children about their place in the world,

Reading Two Groff Companion Pieces

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Two of Lauren Groff’s recent stories share an interest: exploring the relationship between domestic violence and masculinity. Each story acts as a mirror for the other, the differences often pointing up the similarities and allowing the two pieces to connect in subtle and nuanced ways.

The Heartbreak of Bewilderness

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Karen Tucker’s new novel vividly captures the opioid epidemic that has exploded across the nation, while reinforcing the humanity of people with substance use disorder and demonstrating how wrong blaming individuals for their illness is. In the end, blame will not save you from a broken heart.

The Embodied Narrator in How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

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Clint Smith’s new book is an examination of memory through an examination of sites that represent our country’s collective memory of slavery. He makes an important and effective call for us to examine how we remember our past, and how central our historical memory is to our existence today.

We Wish You Luck’s Writerly Campus Novel

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There is something thrilling about a campus novel, the way its borders close around a defined perimeter and an alluring clique. Caroline Zancan’s entry to the genre, set at a premier low-residency MFA program, pushes the campus novel into such an academic, writerly realm that it takes on the

The Chorus of There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis

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The new anthology, edited by Tracy K. Smith and John Freeman, documents last summer’s period of quarantine and protest, bewilderment and commitment. Over the pages, the resonances build like voices gathered in a street singing justice songs.

The Perforation of Language in The Perforated Map

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Eléna Rivera's 2011 collection fuses the relationship between maps and language—a paper map is a metaphor for language itself, and can be pierced. To puncture a sentence or an entire poem means reaching through language’s strictures and expectations into what’s on the other side, and accessing language’s limits.