Returning to the “shell”—on Analicia Sotelo’s Virgin

“It wasn’t her fault. She wasn’t the shell I was after.”   So ends Analicia Sotelo’s “I’m Trying to Write a Poem About a Virgin and It’s Awful,” selected by Tracy K. Smith for Best New Poets 2015. Sotelo’s first full-length collection, Virgin, pursues and rediscovers the “shell,” the heart […]

Metaphor & Traumatic Memory in Emilia Phillips’ Empty Clip

Harvard Psychologist Arnold Modell in “Metaphor—The Bridge Between Feelings and Knowledge,” argues that, “When traumatic memories are activated, metaphor recognizes only similarities.” Working from a definition of metaphor as “a pattern detector that recognizes similarities and differences across a nearly infinite variety of domains,” Modell points out that something different […]

You Know You Want to Read This: A Review of Kristen Roupenian’s Debut Story Collection You Know You Want This

Inarguably, Kristen Roupenian is best known for her short story “Cat Person,” which exploded the Internet last year when it went viral after being published in the December 2017 issue of The New Yorker. It trended on Twitter. People wrote think pieces. My undergrads, who have never heard of anyone […]

A Midcentury Reckoning: The Most Foreign Country by Alejandra Pizarnik

It’s possible to read Alejandra Pizarnik’s debut collection of poetry as a kind of midlife crisis. Published in 1955, when the poet was only 19 years old, La tierra más ajena, translated masterfully by Yvette Siegert into The Most Foreign Country, with its tiny cataclysms and brooding flashes of brilliance, […]

To Make, Unmake, and Make Again: A Review of Anna Lena Phillip Bell’s Ornament

Anna Lena Phillips Bell’s skilled employment of repetition, which is the foundation of all poetic forms, creates a sometimes subtle, sometimes gaudy beauty in her debut collection, Ornament, winner of the 2016 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry. Whether the poems’ occasions are a lace pattern, a garden, a melody, or […]

“I’m not talking about my heart”–A Review of Melissa Stein’s Terrible Blooms

Melissa Stein’s title, Terrible Blooms, is good on its promise to weld the grotesque and the lovely so tightly and repeatedly that they transcend simple paradox and make of pain a single luminous skein. The poem “blessings,” for example, takes the form of a prayer comprised of repeated “may you […]

In Glitter Or In Ash: A Review of Heather June Gibbons’ Her Mouth As Souvenir

Heather June Gibbons’ debut collection is the literary equivalent of a carnival ride: it jolts, thrills, dizzies: you’ll step off windblown, with a little midway grit in your eye. The voice here feels relentlessly hectic, overwhelmed, a caffeinated oracle taking in and reporting on the signs and wonders of contemporary […]

Shape-shifting and the Subversive Sonnet: A Review of Angela Veronica Wong’s Elsa: An Unauthorized Autobiography

The title page layout of Angela Veronica Wong’s Elsa: An Unauthorized Autobiography breaks its subtitle down the right-hand margin: “an un- / authorized auto- / biography,” an apt design move to introduce a project that fragments the self across time and space. The speaker’s I is and is not a […]