Alicia Ostriker Criticism - Essay

Martin K. Nurmi (review date July 1967)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Vision and Verse in William Blake, in Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Vol. LXVI, July, 1967, pp. 461-63.

[In the following review, Nurmi assesses the success of Ostriker's metrical analysis in Vision and Verse in William Blake, revealing the limitations of her technique.]

The analyst of Blake's prosody, in dealing with almost any of his lyrics after Poetical Sketches, operates under more than the usual handicaps, because the sound of the poems can only with great difficulty be directly connected with the meaning. In a symbolic poem like “The Tyger” especially, the sound is hard to associate with anything but the...

(The entire section is 1048 words.)

Robert Joe Stout (review date Winter 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “One of Each—with Echoes,” in Southwest Review, Vol. 65, No. 1, Winter, 1981, pp. 110-14.

[In the following excerpt, Stout praises the syntactical clarity and emotional restraint of Ostriker's poetic vision in A Dream of Springtime.]

Words clash, streak the mind with sunbursts, ricochet and swoop into irony—ah! but Hopkins, Hopkins did it better! And Sexton, really tough, didn't lapse into cute words, or kitten's play. And Roethke, the academician, kept control, both of reader and himself: his meanings were graspable—and profound.

But that's the rub. To be different is not to be bad, or wrong, nor does it make the poems less...

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Mary Lynn Broe (review date Spring 1984)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “An Aesthetic of Pain,” in Prairie Schooner, Vol. 58, No. 1, Spring, 1984, pp. 82-84.

[In the following review, Broe highlights various thematic and formal concerns in A Woman Under the Surfacewhich, according to Broe, revise the relation between contemporary feminist artistic principles and female life.]

Like Orpheus, Alicia Ostriker makes “that journey / Down from song, down to the impulse of singing” in her fifth volume of poems, A Woman Under the Surface. But unlike Orpheus, who “could not carry, haul, rob / His bride back,” Ostriker makes us feel the unsentimental solid-iron aesthetic of pain, fear, and bitter beauty that...

(The entire section is 1052 words.)

Daisy Aldan (review date Spring 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Stealing the Language, in World Literature Today, Vol. 61, No. 2, Spring, 1987, pp. 291-92.

[In the following review, Aldan disputes Ostriker's definitions of gynocentric poetics in Stealing the Language.]

I was among those who believed that if a woman poet's work was outstanding, it would achieve its deserved recognition in spite of man's traditional attitude toward it. In [Stealing the Language,] her survey of American women's poetry from the time of Anne Bradstreet to the present, Alicia Ostriker presents ample convincing evidence to show that I was laboring under a delusion. Despite the fact that not too many of the women...

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Rita Dove (review date Summer 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Stealing the Language, in Phi Kappa Phi Journal, Vol. 67, No. 3, pp. 45-6.

[In the following review, Dove admires the contents and insights of Stealing the Language.]

An impeccable piece of scholarship that's as exciting as a detective novel—impossible? Not as far as Alicia Ostriker is concerned. Her book Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America is much more than a portrait of this besieged literary landscape—hers is the clear-eyed commentary of an insider who nonetheless knows her trade. In the true mission of the literary mind, Ostriker offers not only analysis, but vision.


(The entire section is 657 words.)

Ellen Bryant Voigt (essay date Summer 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Poetry and Gender,” in The Kenyon Review, Vol. 9, Summer, 1987, pp. 127-40.

[In the following essay, Voigt addresses various implications of the female poetic aesthetic outlined in Stealing the Language, suggesting that differences in women's poetry, rather than similarities, would better illuminate female experience.]

The belief that true poetry is genderless—which is a disguised form of believing that true poetry is masculine—means that we have not learned to see women poets generically, to recognize the tradition they belong to, or discuss either the limitations or the strengths of that tradition. … 1


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Wendy Martin (review date October 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Stealing the Language, in American Literature, Vol. 59, No. 3, October, 1987, pp. 464-67.

[In the following review, Martin discusses the main themes of Stealing the Language, commending its personal style and the inclusiveness of poets represented.]

Beginning with Claudine Hermann's imperative that women writers must be “voleuses de langue”—thieves of language—Alicia Ostriker studies the American women poets who have claimed a poetic voice in spite of a tradition that too often ignores women's writing. Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America, then, is an extended discussion of the tradition of...

(The entire section is 1023 words.)

Bonnie Costello (review date Summer 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Writing Like a Woman,” in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 29, No. 2, Summer, 1988, pp. 305-10.

[In the following review, Costello exposes a number of pitfalls attending the theoretical orientation of Stealing the Language.]

Alicia Ostriker's Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America is the latest in a rash of studies that have attempted to define poetry by women as generically distinct from the dominant male tradition. Suzanne Juhasz's Naked and Fiery Forms, Emily Stipes Watt's The Poetry of American Women from 1632 to 1945, and Margaret Homans's Women Writers and Poetic Identity are the book's major...

(The entire section is 2229 words.)

Bonnie Costello (essay date Fall 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Response to Alicia Ostriker,” in Contemporary Literature, Vol. 30, No. 3, Fall, 1989, pp. 465-69.

[In the following essay, Costello defends her opinion of Stealing the Language, reiterating that Ostriker's reasoning is flawed.]

Alicia Ostriker and I disagree about the meaning and value of the category “women's poetry.” I welcome this opportunity to further articulate my view on a widely debated topic. Ostriker protests that I have broadened her use of the phrase, but her own introduction [to Stealing the Language] makes far-reaching claims. “My subject is the extraordinary tide of poetry by American women in our own time” (7). “The...

(The entire section is 1567 words.)

Anne Finch (review date Summer 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Poets of Our Time,” in Belle Lettres, Summer, 1990, pp. 30-1.

[In the following excerpt, Finch examines the “attitude” expressed in Green Age.]

These three books of poetry [Baptism of Desire by Louise Erdrich, Green Age by Alicia Ostriker, and Toluca Street by Maxine Scates], written by three women coming from very different places as poets at the beginning of the end of our century, make a revealing cross-section. Louise Erdrich, a successful novelist who has written only one other book of poems, presumably uses poetry to write in ways not possible with the novel form. Alicia Suskin Ostriker, well-established as a poet,...

(The entire section is 535 words.)

Judith Pierce Rosenberg (essay date Spring 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Profile: Alicia Suskin Ostriker,” in Belles Lettres, Vol. 8, No. 3, Spring, 1993, pp. 26-9.

[In the following essay, Rosenberg sketches Ostriker's life and career, incorporating the writer's own comments on her work as both poet and mother.]

Alicia Suskin Ostriker, 55, was one of the first women in America to publish poems about her experience as a mother. She began composing the title poem of the chapbook, Once More Out of Darkness, during her second pregnancy in 1964-5. “I started writing about motherhood almost as soon as I was a mother. My first long poem about pregnancy and birth was put together from jottings I'd made during my first two...

(The entire section is 2326 words.)

Doris Earnshaw (review date Winter 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Crack in Everything, in World Literature Today, Vol. 71, No. 1, Winter, 1997, pp. 156.

[In the following review, Earnshaw applauds Ostriker's achievement in The Crack in Everything.]

In her eighth volume of poems [The Crack in Everything], Alicia Suskin Ostriker puts no barriers of arcane language between herself and her reader. Her style combines acute observation in plain speech with halting rhythms of run-on lines as though she is thinking it out as she goes. Most poems begin with a setting: the beach, a bar, dance floor, classroom, hospital. The characters and story unwind, holding us charmed until the poem ends with a...

(The entire section is 631 words.)

Allison Townsend (review date March 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “No Pain, No Gain,” in Women's Review of Books, Vol. XIV, No. 6, March, 1997, pp. 12-13.

[In the following excerpt, Townsend highlights thematic concerns of The Crack in Everything.]

In “The Class,” in Alicia Suskin Ostriker's eighth collection, The Crack in Everything, the speaker/teacher says her job is to give her students “permission / to gather pain into language,” to make an art that is not “divisible from dirt, / from rotten life,” because, she believes, “Against evidence … / Poetry heals or redeems suffering,” even if it is “not the poet who is healed, / But someone else, years later.” Ostriker examines subjects...

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Marilyn Hacker (review date 12 May 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Tectonic Shifts,” in The Nation, Vol. 264, No. 18, May 12, 1997, pp. 54-7.

[In the following review, Hacker concentrates on the themes of The Crack in Everything, ranging from female artists, classroom experiences, and the physical and emotional scars of breast cancer.]

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...

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John Taylor (review date June 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Crack in Everything, in Poetry, Vol. CLXX, No. 3, June, 1997, pp. 174-77.

[In the following review, Taylor considers the significance of and justification for widely mixed themes in The Crack in Everything.]

Alicia Suskin Ostriker's new collection [The Crack in Everything] may at first surprise the reader with its multifarious subject matter (the “everything” referred to in the title), but this impression of heterogeneity takes on a compelling significance and justification by “The Mastectomy Poems,” the fourth and last section. Here the disparate “cracks” that have been observed in others and in various societal...

(The entire section is 1008 words.)

Sharon Dolin (review date September-October 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “How the Light Gets In,” in American Book Review, Vol. 18, No. 6, September-October, 1997, pp. 23-4.

[In the following excerpt, Dolin delineates the themes and style of The Crack in Everything.]

The Crack in Everything, Alicia Ostriker's eighth volume of poetry, is a mature work, filled with wisdom about personal grief and the world. According to the Kabbala, upon the creation of the world, the vessels into which light was poured cracked, and now it is up to human beings to repair the world's brokenness. And though Ostriker knows that she can't fix most things, including herself, she uses her poems to teach us—and herself—that “a crack...

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Diana Hume George (review date December 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Repairing the World,” in Women's Review of Books, Vol. XVI, No. 3, December, 1998, pp. 10-11.

[In the following review, George provides an overview of the principal themes of Ostriker's career within the context of the poetry in Stealing the Language and Writing Like a Woman and her two groundbreaking revisionist volumes on the Bible.]

In a conversation many years ago about her own poetry and that of Anne Sexton and Alicia Ostriker, Maxine Kumin told me that she thought of all love poetry as elegiac. For three decades Alicia Suskin Ostriker has been writing an extended elegiac love poem, in the way of Emily Dickinson's letter to the world...

(The entire section is 1833 words.)