In embracing the ‘witch’ figure, Sexton’s “Her Kind” pushes back against stigma. It’s also an object lesson in writing well on tough subjects.

A representation of the Salem witch trials, a lithograph by Baker, Joseph E., from 1892. Accessed via Wikimedia, made available by the Library of Congress.

For Anne Sexton, writing poetry provided an opportunity to use and refine difficult life experiences into art.

Born in 1928, Anne Sexton was raised in the middle-class milieu of the Greater Boston area. She married young, at 19, and never received a college degree. A few years into her marriage, she had two daughters, one in 1953 and another in 1955. In those years, as in the years to come, Sexton was hospitalized after suicide attempts and nervous breakdowns. It wasn’t until the age of 28, with the encouragement of her therapist, that Sexton began to write poetry.

Having no…


Donna Zuckerberg’s ‘Not All Dead White Men’ explores the reductive tendencies of online ‘red pill’ communities

A bust of the young Marcus Aurelius. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

For three years, classicist Donna Zuckerberg spent nearly every day reading through the darkest, most hateful corners of the Internet, researching how misogynistic online communities misappropriate ancient texts. The final product of this research, Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age, was published by Harvard University Press in October 2018. In it, Zuckerberg argues that far-right online forums, like /r/TheRedPill, “have turned the ancient world into a meme: an image of an ancient statue or monument becomes an endlessly replicable and malleable shorthand for projecting their ideology and sending it into the world.”

At the…


Protestors participate in the “March for Science” in Pittsburgh in 2017. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

1.

The pageant of digits comprising the number pi
doesn’t stop at the page’s edge.
It goes on across the table, through the air,
over a wall, a leaf, a bird’s nest, clouds, straight into the sky,
through all the bottomless, bloated heavens.
Oh how brief — a mouse tail, a pigtail — is the tail of a comet!
How feeble the star’s ray, bent by bumping up against space!
Wisława Szymborska, “Pi”

The poet Jane Hirshfield stands on the stairs that lead down to the Dupont Underground arts space in Washington D.C. It is 5:30 p.m. on Thursday…


Because the essay fee isn’t the only way you can benefit from (and be harmed by) your published work

What we think of when we think about freelance writing (Photo by Christin Hume via Unsplash)

Let me get this out of the way first: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

When most people, myself included, consider whether or not they should freelance their work, they think about the benefits: the flexibility to work on your own timeline, pursue your own ideas, and shop your work around to any and every magazine or literary outlet. The mental image we conjure of “freelancing” probably looks something like the beautifully filtered, soft-focus coffee shop image above (^^^).

This, needless to say, is not the reality. Freelancing involves a lot of self-initiative and self-discipline…


In the past few weeks, as a group of thousands of Central American migrants walks on foot to the US border and President Trump sends thousands of troops to the border to make a “wall of people” to prevent the migrants (dubbed the “caravan”) from seeking asylum, the six final lines of the poem “Cenzontle” (Spanish for “birdsong”) by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo have resurfaced in my mind repeatedly:

Call it wound
call it
beginning

The bird’s beak twisted
into a small circle of awe.

You called it cutting apart,
I called it song.

Earlier this year, I wrote…


I first read and loved Margaret Atwood’s novel in 2010. But in 2018, we need to think carefully about how and what we use to argue for women’s rights

I took this picture in 2014. Someone had scrawled the famous tagline of Atwood’s novel in the women’s bathroom of Refuge Cafe in Allston, a neighborhood of Boston, MA.

In April 2017, four months into the Trump presidency, I grimaced for the first time at a Handmaid’s Tale reference. I had loved Margaret Atwood’s novel since reading it nearly a decade ago, but I saw how audiences and the press were reacting to the Hulu adaptation series premiere, and I was worried.

I do not need to tell you about the glowing articles that detailed how viewers felt that the show was “chillingly resonant.” As episodes premiered each week, I heard and read people say that under Trump, “we are living in Gilead” or, if they wanted to hedge…


I explore “Diving into the Wreck” by Adrienne Rich, a poet whose work explored female identity, patriarchal oppression, and sexuality

A diver explores Guantánamo Bay (via Unsplash)

In “Diving into the Wreck,’ the late poet Adrienne Rich provides a map to her creative process. The poem, the story of a scuba diver who has gone into the depths of the ocean to explore a shipwreck, suggests how Rich, known for her feminist sensibilities, negotiated writing creatively in mid-20th century America, a time when literary ecosystem was even more male-dominated than it is today.

“Diving,” then, suggests a possible solution to the idea that “women can’t write,” a prejudicial phenomenon typical in the nineteenth and twentieth century, by proposing that the spirit and soul, the murky unconsciousness (the…


Hamilton’s reconstruction of Athenian tragedy, Americanized to focus on individual “poetically transmuted pain,” appealed to Robert F. Kennedy.

Robert F. Kennedy greeting supporters in 1968, the year the senator was shot and killed while on the presidential campaign trail. (via Wikimedia Commons)

On April 4, 1968, when Robert F. Kennedy heard that Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot and killed, he knew what to do: he had a plane arranged to transport King’s wife, Coretta, and had three more telephone lines installed at the Kings’ home. In Indiana to campaign for the state’s presidential primary, Kennedy even knew what to say when he addressed a largely African-American crowd in Indianapolis that night. …


On Friday, Irish citizens voted overwhelmingly in favor of repealing their country’s amendment banning abortion in nearly all circumstances. This article, published on May 21, tells the story of the women who worked to help secure this victory.

Protestors in London march to raise awareness of the significant number of women from the Irish isle who seek abortions in Britain every year, a consequence of the abortion bans in Ireland and Northern Ireland. (Photo credit: Alastair Moore via the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign)

A few years ago, in the lead up to the 2016 Irish general election, Andrea Horan found herself surprised when the patrons of her Dublin nail salon had little to say about the upcoming vote that would decide Ireland’s next prime minister. Horan remembers how several of the patrons, the kind of young Dublin women who frequent the Tropical Popical salon, shrugged and said they hadn’t thought about the election much. “However my dad and mum are voting” was the answer that she heard from many of them.

Up until recently, this political indifference was typical among Irish women, and…


Woolf invented Shakespeare’s sister Judith to advance her feminist argument in “A Room of One’s Own

A portrait of Virginia Woolf by Roger Fry (via Wikimedia Commons)

Virginia Woolf was unconventional in her advocacy for feminist causes. Woolf believed in equality, but like other Modernist writers of the early twentieth century, Woolf saw herself as an outsider and observer. This identity made her participation in women’s political groups fraught — as the scholar Clara Jones demonstrates in Virginia Woolf: Ambivalent Activist, Woolf supported and helped organize organizations’ feminist projects but would return home from a meeting and lampoon other advocates in her journal. It is this sympathetic-yet-skeptical relationship to feminist activism that makes Woolf’s pro-equality argument about the dearth of great women writers so interesting.

A woman…

Tara Wanda Merrigan

Philadelphia-based essayist. 2019 NBCC fellow. More info at: membership.bookcritics.org/emerging-critics/

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