Something to Talk About: A Case for Negative Poetry Reviews
From the looks of my Facebook feed since November 8th—my own posts not excluded—poetry is a living, breathing, and, yes, vital force in the world, a world that may resemble, less and less, the one many of us thought we knew. It is being used to espouse empathy. It is being shared to show rage. It is being reached for, back into the depths of history, to demonstrate how other poets, in earlier times, have responded to iniquity. Sure, my Facebook friends are overwhelmingly writers, mostly poets, and their enthusiasm for the form expected. But then the executive sous chef from the restaurant I worked at, years ago, in Houston, shares Maggie Smith’s viral poem “Good Bones” after the events in Charlottesville. A former classmate posts Warsan Shire. An ex-boyfriend finds solace in Brecht.
All of which is to say that I am not worried about what poetry can do, is doing, nor about the current state of Poetic Affairs. Poetry is fine. Some might say poetry has never been better. Despite the books and articles, recurring every few years, ringing out its death knell, poetry is read, is published, is recited at weddings and graduations and funerals and what may seem like funerals for a country. Just as it has been read for ages. Perhaps the “common reader”—should that figure truly exist—does not care about poetry as much as one might have in the past. Perhaps we, in the United States, do not teach or read enough poetry. But the art is not perishing, is not in harm of petering out, and if we can stop awaiting its final breath, the flatlining of its heart monitor, we might hear a healthy beat.
Far too many poetry reviews, however, read as if they’re written in the hospital room. The critical discussion, should one call it this, surrounding recently published books of poetry appears to have been composed on tiptoes. Circling the sickbed, the reviewer summarizes a noble life lived. Memorable quotations are delivered next to the wilting flowers. A general sense of purpose is rehearsed. Moments of discomfiture, characteristic missteps and disappointments—not to mention any real heartbreaks or cruelties—neatly elided. After all, these may be the final words uttered! May we send the dying off in peace!
Poetry, my friends, is not so fragile. It has lived a long life, and it can withstand a rigorous appraisal. In fact, a fair inventory—an airing of grievances, a good kick in the pants—may be just what the doctor ordered, and could, ultimately, underscore poetry’s vigor. After all, an appreciation of a life is even more meaningful, more true, when one considers, too, its flaws. I only tell my friends the truth when I think they’re strong enough to hear it.
This is not to suggest that only negative reviews are truthful reviews; some glowing endorsements must reflect the reviewer’s enthusiasms. But there is a climate of praise, now, that excludes criticism. Indeed, what one may have once deemed a fair, balanced review is now christened as negative. Other than the stock “At its best/at its worst,” very few reviews of poetry care to take on larger gripes and grievances; they must be couched in approbation, sandwiched between virtues. As a reviewer, I myself am not immune to these charges.
There are several possible reasons for this phenomenon. One is that, since the closure of book-review sections in print outlets such as the San Francisco Chronicle, the L.A. Times, and the Washington Post—not to mention wide-reaching cutbacks in many other dailies, as noted by Kevin Berger in “The Amazing Disappearing Book Review Section”—poetry reviewing is often left to literary journals where reviewers choose their own books to review, allowing for more writers to champion books they love, books they think wouldn’t get attention elsewhere, books they feel compelled to extol. This wards off the General Reviewer getting stuck with a book of verse she couldn’t care less about. It also leaves little room for editors assigning reviewers books they know they’ll loathe, preempting reviews like James Woods’s of Zadie Smith or Colson Whitehead’s of Richard Ford, match-ups certainly arranged at least in part for provocation.
But poetry reviewing is a much different beast than reviewing fiction. There is, as we all know, laughably little money involved in the selling of poetry; what is at stake is reputation. The publicity garnered in a positive review in The New York Times or The New Yorker—two venues recently devoting more and more room to contemporary poetry, and whose occasional attention to small presses and first books is a welcome surprise, even if the space precludes sustained, exacting (or interesting) reviews—may be enough to sail a young poet away from the rough seas of oblivion. Poets may gnaw their fingernails in anticipation at whether theirs is one of four books their publisher recommends this season to Publishers Weekly, but I’m dubious as to how many more books of poetry this sells. Reader-recommendations (in the form of best-seller lists and Goodreads) may influence fiction sales. As for the poetry coterie, maybe I’m a snob to think that its consumers are more discerning when it comes to purchasing books.
Randall Jarrell, one of this century’s true critics and champions of poetry, was skeptical of the public’s reception of critical engagement. According to Jarrell, “Good criticism, which is often involved or difficult, and which always tells the public not what it wants but what is good for it, is something the commercial public doesn’t care for.” The mythical common reader might actually benefit from scrolling through a few missives on the main themes of a book. But, as it seems more and more so that it is mostly writers who are reading poetry, thus poetry reviews, I would argue that a more specialized, careful commitment to the work would make sense. There is no commercial public when it comes to poetry.
Jarrell posited another reason for the dearth of negative reviews: the unreceptive editor or anthologist.
Reviews are codified in critical articles and anthologies; it is the nature of both to be approving, or to manifest their disapproval only negatively. Editors seldom print unfavorable articles on poets, so critics rarely write them. The anthologist has a vital financial interest in there being a large body of current poetry that can be called—that he can call—good. Poetry is always reviving today from yesterday’s revival.
Who wants to labor over a sustained, serious entanglement with a text, knowing it’s likely to be snubbed by the market, by editors or—though I doubt this is truly central to many reviewers’ concerns these days—anthologists? Writing reviews in absence of demand, mostly for a pittance, may just be too much masochism, even for poets.
The praise-model is also a survival technique, reflecting the size of a small poetry community. “In the end, the literary world is basically a small city,” J. Robert Lennon warns in “How to Write a Bad Review.” “We could maybe all comfortably occupy Madison, Wisc. And so a book review is not being read in a vacuum: when you angrily eviscerate somebody’s work, you are shitting where you eat.” Indeed, a class of which I was a member was counseled, recently, not to write negative reviews for the possible damage they could do to our careers. While discussing an essay-review in which I wanted to write critically about a popular recent book of poetry, I was advised, by many, not to do so.
“That would be professional suicide,” a friend warned.
“Maybe when you have tenure?” another offered.
Richard B. Woodward diagnosed this fear of retribution in his gloomy yet clever 1999 Village Voice article “Reading in the Dark,” and Heidi Julavits, in The Awl, expands on his argument in one of the better recent assessments of book reviewing culture, of which there have been many. “A writer/reviewer would sooner toss himself off the Brooklyn Bridge before he’d give a fair or truthful assessment of a colleague’s book,” Julavits writes, “for fear said colleague will be in a position to ding him from Yaddo next summer or stand between him and his Guggenheim.”
Or NEA grant or book deal or job offer. Not to mention the threat posed by social media’s lair-like Gotcha! culture, where a writer is always a few retweets away from making the worst choice of her career. Julavits’ verdict—accurate, if a touch simple—is that “we all need to grow up a bit, writers and reviewers alike.” What, though, does growing up look like, in our poetry-ecosystem? What kind of growth fosters a healthy literary clime? Saturation and critical gusto, for a start. If unswerving, honest reviews were the norm, and not the exception, their sting might not smart so. Their ripples, when making their way to the committee member/editor/contest judge reviewed, wouldn’t create such worrisome waves. And in this alternate, perhaps-impossible universe, the steady hand of evaluation could elevate the level of discussion.
I’m not the first to suggest the symbiosis between a robust arena of criticism and literature. Edmund Wilson believed not only that a competent criticism—one holding up a kind of critical mirror for the artist—might have staved off some of the lesser “scattered contemporary romantics” who found themselves “stalled, bewildered, out of date almost as soon as they were famous,” but that criticism also helps to show who we all are, not just the writer, but an audience, an age. For uncovering the literary zeitgeist is, of course, tantamount to uncovering a culture. Writing about James Wood, Cynthia Ozick elucidates this philosophical power. These philosophies at work “tell us that superior criticism not only unifies and interprets a literary culture but has the power to imagine it into being.” They are in themselves the roots of a creative force—criticism—able to extract greatness.
Then there is the infamous inability of an age, if defined by critics, to receive now-canonical work such as Lyrical Ballads, Leaves of Grass, or The Wasteland. Which presents another fear of the reviewer: that of being wrong. Of being on the wrong side of history. To be the fool who lambasted Keats. To not recognize greatness when it’s standing, in Advance Reader Copy, before you. William Logan—poetry harrier himself—writes quite convincingly, and without his usual truculence, on the benefits, even necessities, of negative reviews that miss the mark. “The sins of the critic are almost all sins of damaged expectation,” Logan writes in “The Unbearable Rightness of Criticism.” It is the truly original, the groundbreaking, the impossible-to-prophesy poetry that does a critic in. To evaluate is, most often, to possess a standard. And when that standard itself is threatened, we have John Gibson Lockhart, in 1818, calling Endymion “drivelling idiocy.” We have Rufus Wilmot Griswold, in 1855, calling Leaves of Grass “a mass of stupid filth.”
We shouldn’t discount these reviews so quickly, however, for lucid observations and complaint accompany their inability to find virtue in poetry we now know to be revolutionary. “The reviewer is most vulnerable”—Logan again—“facing a poetry that threatens convention—violations of form and formality tend to provoke the most ill-considered judgments.”
Yet even there, after you have adjusted for bias, the critic can be uncannily canny about the poetry itself. Such contemporary insight is important not just for its punctuality. The reviews expose how the poets failed the time—or how their time failed the poets. Only by knowing how critics resisted the work can we see what the poetry put in danger.
Admittedly, not many reviewers or critics desire to be made a lesson of in this manner. There’s something encouraging in Logan’s wisdom here, however, something a little buoying in this humility, this permission for the critic to falter on a larger level without sacrificing perceptive insight into the poetry itself. According to Logan, Louis Untermeyer lacked the ability to coalesce The Waste Land’s imperfections with its expansive vision. “It was exactly the lack of integration that told the tale, or the tales,” Logan writes. “Yet more favorable critics might not have been stringent enough to characterize Eliot ‘as an analyst of desiccated sensations, as a recorder of the nostalgia of this age,’ and The Waste Land as a poem ‘whose value is, at least, documentary.’” The failure of the negative critic may teach us just as much—if not more—than the poet’s advocates.
Here’s my favorite passage from Logan’s article:
We know what the latter critics will say—their taste is what our ears have been filled with; but, unless we read the other critics with attention, we can forget what an uncertain thing a poet’s reputation was at the start, forget what withering glances the poems themselves had to overcome, forget that, if the naysayers had had their way, literary history might have been different. Reading the reviews that mistook genius is not simply cold comfort for critics whom taste passed by, or an exercise in antiquarian taste. The critics who got it wrong remind us that poets in whom we now see only virtues once seemed full of vices, and that, though we may value those vices differently, sometimes it is their presence that makes the virtues virtues.
Logan’s redemption of these critics is humbling and unusually generous, toward criticism and toward poetry. If this doesn’t ease the reviewer, it may at least ease the reviewed; the most ambitious work will be the work most misunderstood by its age.
A critic need not solely stand the test of time for his mistakes to become apparent; Jarrell was an exemplar in correcting his earlier views of a poet. As excoriating as he could be (on the deceased, the living, even his friends—see his writing on Karl Shapiro’s Trial of a Poet), he didn’t shrink from the possibility of fallibility. For all his sweeping statements, his indictments, Jarrell knew that critics, just like poets, could change, and that one could improve his perception, could be redeemed in his new understanding, his reconsideration. Having first dismissed Robert Graves, for example, Jarrell later wrote that “Graves’s poems are a marvel and a delight, the work of a fine poet who had managed, by the strangest of processes, to make himself into an extraordinary one.” As Brad Leithauser mentions in his introduction to Jarrell’s selected essays, Jarrell didn’t make excuses for his previous critique of Graves. “Jarrell resolved this discrepancy not by recourse to some shift in the poet’s development,” Leithauser says, “but to a shift in his own judgment; he’d learned to read Graves better.” A shift in judgment—though it requires patience with a critical mind, there may be no better measure of humility. And revisiting an opinion, or a poet, may be one of the more effective ways for a critic to gain a reader’s trust.
While I do admire and enjoy a humble, generous reading of poetry, a critic can also garner my trust and capture my attention with a sharp wit, with a beautifully wrought damnation, a deliciously conveyed annoyance. Such as Wilson on e.e. cummings:
One or two accurately placed long i’s, if combined with other long vowels, are usually enough by themselves to illuminate a poem, but Mr. Cummings is addicted to long i’s, he has got into the habit of using them uncritically, and he insists upon turning them on all over until his poems are lit up like Christmas trees.
Or Logan on Charles Wright:
Charles Wright, who turns seventy next year, has for a long while been among our best poets. My complaint has been that lately he hasn’t written any *poems*, just bundles of lines, loose as kindling, offered to the reader with a crooked country grin, as if to say, “Why, you can’t hardly find so nice a bunch of kindling in fifty mile.” And you couldn’t, if what you were after was kindling.
Here’s Mark Halliday on Joshua Clover: “Sure, but Clover isn’t really thinking, he’s selling a cologne called Thinking.”
Jarrell on late Stevens: “Often, nowadays, he seems disastrously set in his own ways, a fossil imprisoned in the rock of himself—the best marble but, still, marble.” Or on the worst of Whitman:
The interesting thing about Whitman’s worst language (for, just as few poets have ever written better, few poets have ever written worse) is how unusually absurd, how really ingeniously bad, such language is
only a man with the most extraordinary feel for language, or none whatsoever, could have cooked up Whitman’s worst messes.
Or on Williams: “The materials of Williams’s unsuccessful poems have as much reality as the brick one stumbles over on the sidewalk; but how little has been done to them!—the poem is pieces, or, worse still, a piece.”
The following, though, comes directly after Jarrell’s complaint: “But sometimes just enough, exactly as little as is necessary, has been done; and in these poems the Nature of the edge of the American city—the weeds, clouds, and children of vacant lots—and its reflection in the minds of its inhabitants, exist for good.” Right after stating that “Whitman was no sweeping rhetorician” Jarrell relates his belief that he was “a poet of the greatest and oddest delicacy and originality and sensitivity, so far as words are concerned.” And his grumbling about Stevens was permitted by the poet’s very greatness; “I have felt as free as posterity to talk in this way of Stevens’s weaknesses … since he seems to me—and seems to my readers, I am sure—one of the true poets of our century, someone whom the world will keep on reading just as it keeps on listening to Vivaldi or Scarlatti, looking at Tiepolo or Poussin.” Jarrell understood Stevens’s sturdiness, and was not so proud as to presume that his assessment of Stevens would keep anyone from reading his work.
One might, following my argument here, insert, in the previous paragraph, “Poetry” for “Stevens.”
As much as I enjoy the moanings, the quips and the digs, they are only delightful when that distress comes, as Jarrell’s quite obviously did, from a deep care for, and belief in, poetry. Some of the most infamous curmudgeons of criticism were devout attendees of literature’s domed cathedral. Edmund Wilson, Mary McCarthy, Lionel Trilling, Yvor Winters—now James Wood and William Logan and Mark Halliday—could eviscerate a writer for betraying their (sometimes absolutist) well-cultivated credence. They were (and are), for the most part, also good literary citizens. They didn’t love everything they read, and they made this very clear. But none solely wrote negative criticism. Their admiration for a writer could shock a reader; the poet who survives the gauntlet of The New Criterion (if he or she isn’t John Ashbery, who will almost always find praise under Logan’s thumb) appears, perhaps, more deserving of attention than yet another cheery summary in Publisher’s Weekly. Granted, these critics could be cruel. As much as I adore some of Yvor Winters’ thoughts on poetry, must he have advised, at the end of a scathing review, Robinson Jeffers to commit suicide, in lieu of publishing more books? Winters’s steadfast commitment to the art excuses much, but not that.
Criticism written in good faith—that which, in general, the aforementioned critics illustrate—is worlds apart from the reviewers who only surface to slam a book, those so-called critics seeking status as a figure, as provocateur, and destined, mostly, for caricature. These are the snide attacks that swerve too quickly toward the ad hominem. These are the reviews that care more for dissing a book jacket than spending meaningful time with what lies behind it. The reviews written for shock value (like “hating the cunt,” Michael Robbins’ gratuitous repurposing of a line from Hass). The reviews that quibble over an incorrect fact, the examples of petty mansplaining and obnoxious fact checking meant to elevate the reviewer’s own exquisite intellect. See Ron Silliman on Andrew Motion (“Just for good measure, Motion’s muddled grammar has the river, rather than Diana or the photographers, swerving underground. The Seine does no such thing, and the mythological Diana is of course a hunter, not prey. Intellectually, this poem would be an embarrassment for a college freshman”) or Michael Schiavo on another review of Matthew Dickman’s All-American Poem:
Mr. Lippman can’t be bothered to do a simple Internet search to be reminded that The Wall ;came out in 1979, not 1980, and he certainly can’t be bothered with making a cogent argument as to why Dickman’s poetry is high-quality. He merely spews praise like a second-grader on pixie sticks who’s just returned from a Jonas Brothers concert. The only time Mr. Lippman gets anything right is when he inadvertently exposes Dickman for the fraud he is …
This is the cringe-worthy critical equivalent of the men who approach me reading poetry at a bar to tell me Some Fact About Verse. “WELL ACTUALLY …” these reviews scream. “Not for love of anything but himself does Matthew Dickman write poetry,” writes Schiavo. One might say something quite similar for Schiavo himself.
“If this writing is not good,” J. Robert Lennon advises reviewers, “regard the situation as regrettable, rather than a cause for an end-zone dance.” I do believe in hate-reading. When a prominent editor came to visit a program where I was a student, she told a room full of young writers that she had stopped reading things that she doesn’t like—a baffling idea to me then, and now. Who doesn’t relish reading terrible lines of poetry from time to time, especially if written by a literary darling? And I don’t trust the mind of someone who can’t learn something from a book of poetry, a novel, a memoir she doesn’t enjoy. This is an exercise I practice in private, however. Not many other than my husband are allowed to see my end-zone dance; that wouldn’t be instructive for any party involved. For some reviewers, it might be best to practice theirs in the mirror.
The immaturity of this derisive, defamatory type of review seems a transparent attempt to mask the deficiency of critical faculties, of anything really unique to say about the work itself. Elizabeth Hardwick, in her excellent 1959 Harper’s article “The Decline of Book Reviewing” noted this import of a reviewer’s original vision: “… the interest of the mind of the individual reviewer is everything …. It does matter what an unusual mind, capable of presenting fresh ideas in a vivid and original and interesting manner, thinks of books as they appear.” It matters, too, for the writing in a negative review to possess a literary quality of its own. Would you entirely trust a critic’s taste in books if their own prose puts you to sleep? Would you place your book-buying selves in the hands of a reviewer who cares more about a zinger concocted over one too many Manhattans than an intelligent argument, ideas that have legs? Halliday’s reviews, for instance, can be brutal, but they always employ a close reading of a poem, or a book, with his own particular, curated position about poetry as a field, as a life’s work. One could learn from this. Too many negative reviews mistake throwing Pop-Its with actual intellectual heat.
You’ll notice, no doubt, that I have been quoting, almost entirely, white men. Helen Vendler is a critic I cherish, but her prose doesn’t sing, nor singe. Michiko Kakutani, before her buyout, could slam a writer. While hers certainly wasn’t the type of engaged literary criticism one might desire, what can you expect from editors expected to churn out six reviews a week? And her prominent position is promising for women of color, but where’s our Kakutani of poetry?
There’s Baldwin’s takedown of Richard Wright, Ellison’s criticism of Native Son. Roxane Gay has enlivened the Twitter-verse (not to mention her own books) with her bytes of both literary and cultural critique. Largely, though—and I have not the time, nor the interest in conducting the statistical research needed to numerically support this with hard data other than my own intensive reading—negative reviews are written by men, and often straight white men. The plausible reasons for this would take another essay, have already occupied other books by minds far more authoritative on the subject than mine. It makes sense, though, that in order to correct a past scarcity of diverse voices in the literary marketplace, women and people of color and LGBTQ writers would review—and laud—such voices now. For one necessary function of the review is to let the world know a book exists.
Or is it? Is that the role of reviewer, or publicist? Does this method, then, bar any less-than-glowing examinations of a text? I found Los Angeles Review of Books’s engagement with Claudia Rankine’s Citizen fascinating and admirable in its depth and breadth, from the roundtable between Nick Flynn, Ruth Ellen Kocher, Mark Nowak, and Carmen Giménez Smith to the multi-part symposium featured two years later. Links to and quotes from these essays were shared over and over again across social media. But not once did I see a writer quote from Kenneth Warren’s essay, which is, among many other things, critical of the book. Not that quoting on Facebook passes as a litmus test for popular acceptance, but I found this alarming; Warren’s essay is just as intriguing, as brilliant, as carefully considered as any of the other pieces surrounding Citizen. Would tweeting a line from it mean endorsing his criticism? Would posting one of his hesitations mean one would have to defend, to the multitudinous Rankine enthusiasts, that position?
Of course, social media certainly doesn’t function as a platform for real, measured debate. Many reviews read more as “likes” than actual critical engagement anyway (see the glorified blurbs featured on Publishers Weekly’s website, with stars denoting, I suppose, one book’s superiority over another, far be it for their précis to explain why). The Internet provides us, however, with the physical—or cyber—space for lengthy, literary deliberations. For all the drawbacks, and there are many, of the receding realm of print journalism, when it comes to the review there may be hope. With so many online outlets, there aren’t the same space constraints, now, that the long, winding, critical review-essay once faced. Long-windedness shouldn’t be equated with intellectual superiority, but the room to inhabit a book—in all its successes and failures, to explain why a book doesn’t hold up, to ask and explore vertiginous questions, and to extend this criticism outward, to our moment, our culture—is invaluable to the serious critic. Newer online venues allow the reviewer to include entire poems, not just snippets (Halliday does this often, in both his negative and positive reviews, a commendable feature), so that readers, too, can join her on an intellectual journey. This liberty from the page also provides the opportunity for sustained conversations like that surrounding Citizen in LARB, for multiple takes on a single book (not the double or even triple-punch of applause given by the NYT, but diverse opinions and considerations, such as the dual review, in Pleiades, of the Legitimate Dangers anthology).
All of this establishes a horizon for critics to, according to Cynthia Ozick, “create the contentious conditions that underlie and stimulate a living literary consciousness. In this there is something almost ceremonial, or ceremoniously slow: unhurried thinking, the ripened long (or sidewise) view, the gradualism of nuance.” It is this nuance that we’re lacking in so many of our reviews, both the positive and the negative. No single critic can, nor should, act as the aesthetic standard-bearer for contemporary poetry. The breadth and diversity of poems being written today makes this, thankfully, impossible. But the ability to discuss, to argue and to disagree about poetry (unlike, it appears, politics in our lifetime) will not divide the field. Measured, lively debate, combative thinking, sophisticated understanding—all of this can transport poetry from its claustrophobic, prognosis-laden sickroom to what it deserves: the gloves-off treatment of a functioning art form.
We disagree most passionately about that which matters most to us. I would never, therefore, review a book of Flarf. I cried in a public bathroom after reading a negative review of my first book, but it was also thrilling to feel as though my art was worth such attention. The arena of critical conversation need not be so embattled as to prohibit such dispute. Sustained attention to opposing viewpoints fosters empathy, that complicated emotion that poetry itself can help us master. It isn’t necessary to agree with everything we read—great civilizations were built on this premise. Indeed, civil war was, for the Romans, nearly synonymous with civilization. Let’s allow poetry to be, in all its different forms, again great.
This—the negative review, which, I would argue, may not need to be called such in a time that welcomes more dissent—comes at a cost. There will be literary gate-keeping. There will be instances of punching down. There will be pervasive biases to overthrow, which won’t happen quickly. There will be retaliation. Reputations will be hurt, and so will real people.
Until we are able to carry out these critical conversations candidly, responsibly, without fear of retaliation, I ask those in positions of power to do so—those whose reputations are largely untouchable, those who are, now, our literary taste-makers, those who hold tenure. Because one of the main reasons for the shortage of negative reviews is that their authors—those reviewed and those reviewing—are all scrabbling for one of five tenure-track jobs, one of four fellowships, one treasured award, one book deal. That positive review I mentioned before in the NYT doesn’t just bolster, then, a poet’s reputation. It makes it possible for that one book to stand out among the other hundreds, for that poet to rise to the top of an applicant pile. The negative review, in our literary climate, can do just the opposite. So we send our friends review copies. So we write bland summaries of mediocre books so as not to offend these friends.
I have been privileged enough to occupy spaces—classrooms and conferences, bonfires and cocktail parties—where poetry is talked about as if it is the most important thing that exists. There have been raised voices. I have had my pride hurt, and I’ve hurt the feelings of others. I have winced at polemical statements and have made then revoked my own, and have become, because of them, a more nuanced, careful thinker, and thus a better artist. Or at least I hope so. It’s the next age that often defines us anyway, our art and our criticism. Let’s give them something interesting to talk about.
Corey Van Landingham, a contributing editor, is the author of Antidote and the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment fellowship. A former Wallace Stegner fellow, she is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Cincinnati, and a book review editor for Kenyon Review.