Critical Essays Archive

Saar Yachin, Ethan Nichtern, and the Poetry of Instability

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“Ewer Toccata” depicts the surprise that Saar Yachin—a poet, translator, and musician—experienced when he moved to the desert town of Mitzpe Ramon in southern Israel and was hit by divine inspiration. “I went to the desert to find quiet,” he writes. “Boom! Ewers of poetry.”

Dark Places in Paradise

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After having children, the always-baffling allure of a commune began to make a bit more sense. I had a daughter and was pregnant with my son when the media began reporting on refugees dying while attempting to cross the Mediterranean, and when my outlook on American policy became nihilistic.

Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects and the Repression of Women’s Anger

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Where other recent feminist works have focused on women’s anger sparked by sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, Flynn’s novel attributes this rage to unrealistic and gendered expectations of perfection.

Absence and Marcel Proust’s Letters

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In an 1863 letter to his sister, Blessed Cardinal Newman wrote that “the true life of a person is in their letters…. Not only for the interest of a biography, but for arriving at the inside of things, the publication of letters is the true method.”

Writing the Unknown in Memoir

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Novelists, Vladimir Nabokov once said, are “more fully at home on the surface of the present than in the ooze of the past.” Great memoirists, on the other hand, are not fully at home in the present until they navigate their way through this ooze.

Lizzie Borden in Angela Carter and Sarah Schmidt

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In 1892, Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered in their home in Fall River, Massachusetts. The prime suspect was Andrew’s daughter Lizzie. The murders have since been mythologized in a heady mix of rumor and conjecture; poisoned milk and madness-inducing menstrual cycles are but two of the incongruous details.

Karen Russell and the Art of Discomfort

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Without the draw of discomfort, horror wouldn’t be possible. Karen Russell uses different types of discomfort to shape her new short story, “Orange World,” in which Rae, an expectant mother with a high-risk pregnancy, makes a deal with the devil for the safety of her unborn child.

The Joys of a Journal

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Last April, I attended Alexander Chee’s talk on reporting the self. He said: “The thing that you remember is the thing that you live with.” I’d never heard this truth stated so clearly before. What else but memory could be at the root of so many personal conflicts and

Meaghan O’Connell’s Lessons in Parenthood

I’ve always thought of stories of new parenthood as a cross between how-to manuals and cautionary tales. It wasn’t until I read Meaghan O’Connell’s memoir that I realized mothers don’t write their stories for the benefit of those without children—whether their stories scare me or encourage me is irrelevant.

The Risk and Reward of “We” in Poetry

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Poems, Eleanor Wilner has said, are vehicles meant to circumscribe the boundaries of the self, but our individual imaginations are situated within politics and history. Use of the first-person plural, then, can open up the poem’s historical vision.