Critical Essays Archive

Washington Small Presses Make Their Mark

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While New York remains the center of gravity in the publishing world, a new breed of independent presses in the nation’s capital are set to pull some of that force down south.

The Importance of Uselessness: Language and Nature in the Poems of A. R. Ammons

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The poems of A. R. Ammons focus on easily overlooked, easily dismissed elements of the natural world. Ammons observes the inevitability of time both on a microscopic and global level: how time affects everything from maggots to “drift-logs.”

Sweet and Sour Paris

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The more I read about Paris, and whenever I am lucky enough to travel there, I want to know what Paris is really like, not just what I want it to be like. You don’t have to sugar coat it for me.

Meridel LeSueur and the Golden Age of Proletarian Writers

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Meridel LeSueur had a radical pedigree, living in an anarchist commune and writing about causes like migrant workers’ rights and Native American autonomy. Blacklisted during the McCarthy era, her novel The Girl became a seminal text for second-wave feminists. But why do few people read her today?

The Art of Inhabiting: Hala Alyan and Characterization

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The places and spaces of Salt Houses play a complex role in the craft of characterization.

Ages of Love

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Pablo Neruda’s rivers and seas are far from skyscrapers and train lines. His verdant island isn’t much like Eileen Myles’s neon city, where rivers tend to be placid and not ones in which to dip the toes of your feet.

What Plot Can Do

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Image, character, language are static, dead things until plot gets a hold of them and makes them move. The more I write, the more I pay attention when I read, the more I understand that I love characters and words and pictures because of the way plot animates them.

Reinventing Writing Workshops

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Like it or not, MFAs, as programs that aim at the professionalization of writing, have always been the vehicle of cultural imperialism; the propensity to remove “ideology” from writing in order to improve the latter is thus basic hypocrisy.

Doughnuts Oozing Their Secrets: Emotion by Jo Ann Beard

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The scenes in my fiction that worry me the most, that I go over and over and that cause me no end of doubt, are the big, emotional moments. Falling in love. Getting dumped. The death of a loved one.

The Blazing World Asks Why There Are No Great Female Artists

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In The Blazing World, Harriet Burden is a widowed sixty-something artist whose work languished in relative obscurity until she recruits three men to claim her work as their own, which fundamentally changes the reception of the art, and possibly even the art itself.