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Lisa Russ Spaar

Lisa Russ Spaar is the author/editor of more than ten books of poetry and criticism, most recently Madrigalia: New & Selected Poems (Persea, 2021) and a novel, Paradise Close (Persea, 2022). Her honors include a Rona Jaffe Award and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is a professor of English at the University of Virginia, where she has taught since 1993. 



Winter 2022 | Poetry

“Up!” she signals, syllabic cup
     meaning wherever I am now—up
or down—floor, high chair—change direction!—


Winter 2022 | Poetry

Ancestral or learned, such threats, 
   tonight’s charry staircase of heaven—
crash, storming, splitting flicker shards,

<i>Sight Lines</i>. By Arthur Sze. Copper Canyon, 2019. 80p. PB, $16.

“Alone with America”

Summer 2019 | Criticism

Much has changed in America and American poetry in the nearly forty years since Richard Howard published his expanded edition of 1969’s Alone With America: Essays on the Art of Poetry in the United States Since 1950. The 1980 table of contents itself tells a significant tale of those changes: forty-one poets under consideration, six of them women, not one a person of color.

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<i>Magdalene</i>. By Marie Howe. Norton, 2017. 96p. HB, $25.95.


Summer 2017 | Criticism

Perhaps poets are attracted to edges because, as Anne Carson puts it in Eros the Bittersweet, “Words…have edges. So do you,” and perhaps also because notions of the self tend to form in response to and because of those limits. Identity—what Emily Dickinson called the “Campaign inscrutable / Of the interior”—has always concerned the lyric poet, but what might constitute a “self” has perhaps never been more prevalent on the public radar than in our current moment. In three new, mercurial books—Magdalene, by Marie Howe; In Full Velvet, by Jenny Johnson; and Milk Black Carbon, by Joan Naviyuk Kane —poets resist, succumb to, and transgress the identities—familial, social, ecological, biological, sexual—to which they attend.

Roll Deep. By Major Jackson. Norton, 2015. 93p. HB, $26.95.

Irresistible Arrest

Spring 2016 | Criticism

I’m looking for poetry I can’t resist. Poetry that arrests me, reads me its riot act, signals my rights, detains me with its linguistic and thematic force (high volume or seductively subtle), and liberates me with a subtext of human culpability, vulnerability, acceptance, and possibility, what Emily Dickinson would call its “costumeless consciousness.” 

Celibacy 1

Winter 2015 | Poetry

Unmarried, the heart ejaculates
what it must, scarlet-purled, arterial,

away, away. Or conversely, married,
it requires all—venous, freighted with wastes.

Celibacy 2

Winter 2015 | Poetry

Nervous, twigs split, become swallows, 
jeté the platinum poring chits

over horizon’s bistered tinge.
Is a murderer secreted in us all,

Breaking Bad

Fall 2014 | Criticism

Poetry is broken language. Even in its “prose” incarnations—proems, prose poems—when lineation is not formally observed, poetry works the break. It interrupts, truncates, burglarizes. Poetry ruptures and ameliorates.

<i>A Metaphorical God: Poems</i>, by Kimberly Johnson. Persea Books, September 2008. $14

God-Hunger Redux

Winter 2009 | Criticism

Kimberly Johnson, Alex Lemon, and Brenda Shaughnessy take up the poetics of God-lust with renewed, edgy, often darkly humorous imagination in distinctive second books of poetry.

Empty Nest

Winter 2008 | Poetry

Pubic tufts, thyme & moss, are greening
 again in the clefts of the wall

latticed by the first flails of warm, late winter,
 and so she removes her shirt

Review: Things are Disappearing Here

June 26, 2007 | Criticism

Pitched between the mind’s “cool remove of moonlight” and the body’s “lurid plurals,” these poems enact the ineffable with a spectral exactness

Wild Imperatives in Character and Prose

Spring 1998 | Criticism

  Kneeling on Rice, by Elizabeth Denton. Missouri. $12.95 paper. Nightwork, by Christine Schutt. Knopf. $22.95. Two recent, startlingly hewn first story collections chronicle the last decades of our century with original gifts of craft and ins [...]