The Crack in Everything (Pitt Poetry Series)


This volume of poetry from Alicia Suskin Ostriker is one of her most ambitious, ranging from laments and celebrations for a flawed world to meditations on art and artists, to a powerful exploration of illness and healing.

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The Crack In Everything

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This volume of poetry from Alicia Suskin Ostriker is one of her most ambitious, ranging from laments and celebrations for a flawed world to meditations on art and artists, to a powerful exploration of illness and healing.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
 “This book is full of acceptance—not an enervated giving up, but a commitment to the way things are.”
New York Times Book Review

“Alicia Ostriker’s work joins the humanitarian’s unalienated will to ameliorate suffering and share what’s of value (which energizes progressive political engagement) to the humanist’s hunger to re-engage with and continually redefine intellectual (specifically literary, also spiritual) traditions: the pedagogical passion. She is a Blake scholar and a Bible scholar, a feminist critic whose work continues to germinate a wider-branching, inclusive literary purview, a Jew whose writings are informed by, while they interrogate, that heritage and history. She is a mother and a teacher. She is also an important American poet, whose writing is enriched, and enriches its readers, by all those sometimes conflicting identities.”
The Nation

“Ostriker slips us into the cave of her own vision and strikes a match, and that world, its deep shadows and clear places, is illuminated by a high, bright flame.”

Southern Poetry Review

“This is a wonderfully honest confrontation with the world. The Crack in Everything, a beautifully appropriate title, is Ostriker's eighth poetry collection, a quantitative testament in itself. But it is the honesty, the power of the will to face reality, the insight, the poetic skill obvious in this book that marks her as one of the chosen. This is the work of a major talent, an important voice.”


“While her poetry has never shunned the autobiographical, here we read a poetic account whose candor and detail and intimacy are nevertheless unusual. It is unusual not only because its subject is a mastectomy, and not only because the loss of the breast is rendered in a style so direct and literal as to injure the conventions of shame and secrecy associated with breast cancer, but also because the breast seems intimately related to Ostriker's sense of self. . . . It is this identity that is mourned—though never without irony and therefore always without self-pity. . . . Both the degree of her self-exposure and the intensity of her mourning should serve her fellow-sufferers well—even if the loss of the breast is indeed a sublime exemplification of Ostriker's poetics of the temporary nature of beauty.”

Literature and Medicine

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Ostriker has long been admired as both a feminist literary critic and a poet. The accomplished poems in her expansive eighth collection are grounded in the details of a woman's daily life and speak with the appeal of an intelligent, sympathetic friend. A broad-based politics enters this work routinely, like the morning news. Sensitive persona poems move the speaker into the realm of foreign wars, the bombing of MOVE in Philadelphia and the rape of a mentally retarded girl by her high-school classmates. Ostriker's poetics claim, as in "The Class," "To gather pain into language, to promise/ The critics are wrong, the other professors are wrong/ Who describe an art divisible from dirt,/ From rotten life." Yet these poems insist on life's essential goodness and passionate joy: "At the intersection of poverty and pestilence/ The planet's children, brave as hell, juiced/ Out of their gourds, invent the sacred dance." Within her generous vision of human imperfection, Ostriker confronts middle age and mortality with deft touch and wry humor, so that by the time we reach "The Mastectomy Poems"-whose observations cut as clean and sharp as the surgeon's scalpel-we are already immersed in her sensibility that "tragedy/ Is a sort of surrender." (May)
Library Journal
It is the fickle word that concerns Ostriker in this, her eighth bookbut this time with the twist provided by hard new experience. "What the eye instantly consents to," as the problem is wittily framed, "Language stumbles after/ like some rejected/ Clumsy perpetual lover, Language/ Encouraging himself." Never mind that such recognition can claim the origin all poetizingall species of writer's block as wellOstriker is not afraid to call them as she sees. Many of these poems, especially those at the close of the book, convey the experience of mastectomy in a frank and liberating clarity but always with the riddle of an illness underneath. Even in the description of perfectly fine zinnias on a daughter's kitchen table, one can't help but get a sense of cancer's context: "their very cells break down, their membranes crushed/ Where the condemned/ Beg for forgetfulness/ Where the guards/ Revel in brutality." Recommended for poetry collections.Steven R. Ellis, Pennsylvania State Univ. Libs., University Park
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822955931
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/1996
  • Series: Pitt Poetry Series
  • Pages: 112
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Alicia Suskin Ostriker is one of America’s premier visionary poets and critics.  She is the author of fourteen poetry collections, including The Book of Seventy; The Mother/Child Papers; No Heaven; the volcano sequence; and  The Little Space: Poems Selected and New, 1968–1998, as well as several books on the Bible.  She has received the Paterson Poetry Prize, the William Carlos Williams Award, the San Francisco State Poetry Center Award, the National Jewish Book Award, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. Ostriker is Professor Emerita of English at Rutgers University and teaches in the low-residency MFA program of Drew University.

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Table of Contents

The Dogs at Live Oak Beach, Santa Cruz 3
Boil 4
Marie at Tea 5
Alice Before Her Widowhood 7
Revolution as Desire 8
Surfer Days 9
Migrant 10
The Boys, the Broom Handle, the Retarded Girl 11
In Our Time. A Poem to Aphrodite 12
Triptych 13
At the Van Gogh Museum 14
Nude Descending 15
The Studio (Homage to Alice Neel) 17
Appearance and Reality 18
Globule 20
The Orange Cat 22
The Death of the Poet, Hartford 1955 23
Deaf Cities 24
Anecdotes Without Flowers: 1919 26
The Russian Army Goes Into Baku 27
The Eighth and Thirteenth 29
Somalia 32
Saturday Night 33
Disco 35
The Book of Life 39
Neoplatonic Riff 49
After Illness 50
Middle-Aged Woman at a Pond 54
The Figure of Metaphor 55
Lockout 57
The Nature of Beauty 58
The Class 60
Frowning at Emily 62
The Vocabulary of Joy 63
Locker Room Conversation 64
Jonah's Gourd Vine 65
Berkeley: Youth and Age 66
After the Reunion 67
Translation 69
The Glassblower's Breath 70
Spoon 72
Extraterrestrial: A Wedding Poem for Nina and John, January 2, 1989 74
Taylor Lake 77
Still Life: A Glassful of Zinnias on My Daughter's Kitchen Table 80
The Mastectomy Poems 85
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