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.
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.
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.
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.
Alicia Suskin Ostriker is a major American poet and critic. She is the author of numerous poetry collections, including, most recently, The Old Woman, the Tulip, and the Dog; The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems, 1979–2011; and The Book of Seventy, winner of the National Jewish Book Award. She has received the Paterson Poetry Prize, the San Francisco State Poetry Center Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award, among other honors. Ostriker teaches in the low-residency MFA program at Drew University and is currently a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.