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? . . .
Julian Barnes’s 1989 novel A History of the World in 10½ Chapters includes an essayistic meditation on love in which he brilliantly considers the meanings and ramifications of history and our tendency to turn life into a narrative:
The history of the world? . . .
Recent racial violence in the United States and abroad makes poetry books that take up social justice ever more urgent. Books with explicit political content often eschew the lyrical in favor of “documentary” materials, while others manage to twine them. In seeking ways to incorporate complex cultural/social information, some poets have developed hybrid forms, . . . Read more
In Lighting the Shadow, Rachel Eliza Griffiths’ third collection, the poet sings a song of nonself. Varied sources—from news, visual art, poetry, and family—generate the current along which moves the speaker’s polymorphous permeable body electric, enacting her intention to “turn to every shadow I’ve ever been, stare at them until they form another / woman . . . . Read more
We are enamored with the new. We exalt the original, the innovative, the experimental. See the proliferation of lists declaring the literary world’s next protégés: Muzzle Magazine’s “30 under 30”; Buzzfeed’s “20 under 40 Debut Writers You Need to Be Reading”; the New Yorker’s “20 under 40.” There is an ethic of disposability built into this fetish: what is new cannot endure in newness. . . . Read more
Is it possible to know whether the work we do makes any difference or whether the tasks and actions with which we fill our hours are meaningful? At my job I frequently employ diagrams called logic models—tools that can be used to plan, design, and evaluate strategies and projects. Typically represented through a series of boxes and arrows, . . . Read more