Poets have been lamenting the recalcitrance of language at least since Byron’s Childe Harold complained in the early nineteenth century that he had not found “words which are things.” Approaching the midpoint of the twentieth, T. S. Eliot observed in “Burnt Norton” how
Crack and sometimes break, . . .
What gives a poem with political content its force? How does a poet use lyrical tools—in a book-length narrative—to critique powerful institutions when those very institutions seem too large and unwieldy to describe? In their new poetry collections, two contemporary women invite readers to consider their approaches to these questions. . . . Read more
To say anything about Donika Kelly’s gorgeous debut poetry collection Bestiary is difficult. The book takes its title from illustrated volumes made popular in the Middle Ages that categorize real and imaginary animals. In classical bestiaries—which often fasten each animal to a moral lesson—naming is a process of differentiation, . . . Read more
When the body of three-year-old Alan Kurdi washed up onto the shore of Bodrum, Turkey, in September 2015, the photograph of him went viral, sending a shockwave through a part of the world that, until then, had largely ignored the civil war the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) António Guterres has called “the biggest humanitarian emergency of our era.”
Four thousand miles east in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, . . . Read more
Almost by accident, not long ago I found myself living and teaching in the Baltic seaport town of Klaipeda, Lithuania, for several months. A few wealthy Mennonites from North America started an English-language liberal arts college there twenty-five years ago, and today LCC International University has 600-plus students from all over the Baltics and eastern Europe. . . . Read more
Whereas speaking itself is defiance.
—Layli Long Soldier
In the discourse of law the term whereas signals a recitation of the important context in a formal or contractual document—but it also represents non-binding language. In the discourse of a contract or a treaty, . . . Read more
According to the American Academy of Microbiology, the human body contains about three times more bacterial cells than human cells—to say nothing of viruses, fungi, or other protozoa. These invisible beings are not neutral inhabitants. Rather, they mold our moods, perceptions, actions. Studies of microbiota have found, in fact, that perhaps hope is not (as Emily Dickinson wrote) the thing with feathers after all, . . . Read more
In The Writing of the Disaster (1986), Maurice Blanchot argues that narrating disaster—global, national, local, or personal—is an impossible task because it cannot be articulated or explained. Writing about disaster, Blanchot argues, is at “the limit of writing” because it “describes.” This “de-scription,” this un-writing, is taken to its extreme in writing about radical loss because we are often left literally speechless, . . . Read more
Steven Dunn’s novel Potted Meat begins with an unconventional table of contents under the guise of an ingredients list and instructions for consumption. This maneuver automatically subverts readers’ expectations of convention and brings to the forefront the idea of control. This formal device also asks the reader to immediately question what goes in and out of our bodies, . . . Read more
The text message that begins Tommy Pico’s 98-page-long poem is addressed to potential lover “Girard,” but I like to think of it as an invitation to the reader as well:
. . . do
u wanna come
over? . . .