Annika Neklason
Annika Neklason
Annika Neklason is an assistant editor at The Atlantic.
  • Poem of the Week: ‘America’ by Alicia Ostriker

    Hyungwon Kang / Reuters

    In honor of this week’s Fourth of July celebrations, here are the first few lines from Alicia Ostriker’s “America,” from our July/August 2012 issue:

    Do you remember our earnestness our sincerity
    In first grade when we learned to sing America

    The Beautiful along with the Star-Spangled Banner
    And say the Pledge of Allegiance to America

    We put our hands over our first-grade hearts
    We felt proud to be part of America

    It felt a little strange to celebrate my country’s Independence Day this year, as the Trump administration remains under investigation for possible collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice, millions of Americans await the possible loss of health-care coverage they’ve come to rely on, and the country stays mired in a Middle Eastern conflict that’s already spanned most of my lifetime and cost trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives. The spirit of the holiday was just so incongruous with how I’ve been feeling about America in recent months: angry, sad, embarrassed, and more than a little pessimistic.

    But I grew up in a time of uncertain patriotism, too, coming to national consciousness as the United States invaded first Iraq and then Afghanistan, and as President George W. Bush’s administration oversaw the erosion of civil liberties and a descent into national—and then global—recession.

    I also grew up in a place I loved. I grew up road-tripping to national parks, excitedly learning to use technologies dreamt up in Silicon Valley, and reading Whitman, Faulkner, Dickinson, Vonnegut. I grew up surrounded by people who came from somewhere else in search of some kind of better life, and hearing stories about ancestors who did the same. I grew up in the midst of a constant cacophony of protest, struggle, and criticism aimed at building a fairer and more peaceful country for the future; in a place where the only thing stronger than the dissatisfaction with the way things were often seemed to be the drive to make them better.

  • Poem of the Week: ‘Darling’ by Naomi Shihab Nye

    Mahfouz Abu Turk / Reuters

    In 1966, at the age of fourteen, Palestinian-American writer Naomi Shihab Nye moved from Missouri to the West Bank with her family in the fraught lead-up to the Six-Day War. They stayed there for only a year, departing for San Antonio before the fighting began, but the experience left a lasting impression on Nye—as did later conflicts in the region.

    Nye explores one such conflict, and her relationship to it, in “Darling,” from our March 1995 issue. In the poem, she shifts between descriptions of everyday life in Texas and struggle in the Middle East, drawing tenuous connections between the two places through her own memories and experiences. The stanzas are weighted with a sense of loss and separation, even as they link disparate scenes together. But in the contemplative final section, and through her deft navigation between Texas and Lebanon earlier in the poem, Nye speaks to language’s power, however fragile, to bridge divisions between places and cultures—or, at least, to the hope that it can.

    Here are the first few lines:

    I break this toast for the ghost of bread in Lebanon.
    The split stone, the toppled doorway.

    Someone’s kettle has been crushed.
    Someone’s sister has a gash above her right eye.

    And now our tea has trouble being sweet.
    A strawberry softens, turns musty,

    overnight each apple grows a bruise.

    Read the full poem here.

  • Poem of the Week: ‘The Cellist’ by Galway Kinnell

    Darrin Zammit Lupi / Reuters

    The late Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning poet Galway Kinnell excelled at creating immersive moments. The stanzas and scenes of his plain-spoken verse are grounded in physical detail and acute psychological insight, even as they explore more abstract philosophical territory. From his dark preoccupations—mortality, and the familiar ugliness of everyday life—he draws a sense of beauty and wonder that always resonates with me when I go back to his poetry.

    The Cellist,” from our October 1994 issue, exemplifies a lot of the things I love about Kinnell’s writing: that immersion in a scene, that empathetic insight into his characters, that entwinement of ugliness and beauty. In the poem, he describes a girl playing the cello as he watches from the audience. She’s nervous for her solo, both before she comes on stage and as the performance begins:

    Her bow niggles at the string like a hand
    stroking skin it never wanted to touch.
    Probably under her scorn she is sick
    that she can’t do better by it. As I am,
    at the dreary in me, such as the disparity
    between all the tenderness I’ve received
    and the amount I’ve given, and the way
    I used to shrug off the imbalance
    simply as how things are

    But as she plays, and as he watches, she becomes more confident and more passionately connected to her own music, until

    At last she lifts off the bow and sits back.
    Her face shines with the unselfconsciousness of a cat
    screaming at night and the teary radiance of one
    who gives everything no matter what has been given.

    I love this ending, and this poem, and Kinnell’s poetic voice. For more of the second, you can read the rest of “The Cellist” here. And for more of the last, you can read “Everyone Was in Love,” from our September 2006 issue, here.

  • Poem of the Week: ‘Wants’ by Edith Wharton

    New York Public Library / The Atlantic

    Before she was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Edith Wharton was unpublished and unmarried Edith Jones, a young writer still developing the “sharp eye” that British novelist Margaret Drabble praised in her short stories and the “empathy and ambivalence” that our own Ta-Nehisi Coates found, and loved, in The Age of Innocence.

    Wharton’s transformation from teenage poet to acclaimed novelist can be charted in our archives, beginning with writing from the very start of her career. Her work first appeared in The Atlantic in 1880, when she was just 18, after a family friend sent some of her poems to our co-founder Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Accordingly, Longfellow sent them to William Dean Howells, the editor at the time, who ultimately published five of them.

    In one of these poems, titled “Wants,” Wharton describes the evolution, and continual disappointment, of women’s desires over the course of their lives. “We women want so many things,” she begins: happiness, companionship, romance. “But,” she continues,

         when both love and friendship fail,
        We cry for duty, work to do;
    Some end to gain beyond the pale
        Of self, some height to journey to.       

    And then, before our task is done,
        With sudden weariness oppressed,
    We leave the shining goal unwon,
        And only ask for rest.

  • Poem of the Week: ‘Beauty and the Shoe Sluts’ by Mary Karr

    Vincent Kessler / Reuters

    Last year, Mary Karr criticized high heels in an acerbically funny New Yorker piece, concluding with an appeal to women to shed their uncomfortable shoes:

    Oh, womenfolk, as we once burned our bras could we not torch the footwear crucifying us? … Our feet and spines will unknot, and high heels will fade from consciousness along with foot-binding and rib removal to shrink your waist. The species may stop reproducing, but who the hell cares.

    Our staff writer Megan Garber cited that essay in her own engaging discussion of heels, which considers the style in the context of the shoe-design firm Thesis Couture’s effort to produce stilettos with the height, but not the accompanying discomfort, of a typical pair. As Megan wrote, “Heels do—heels are—so much more than mere footwear”:

    Heels at once lift women up and hold them—hold us—back. And, of course: We choose, day by day and week by week and Special Occasion by Special Occasion, to let them do it. Heels are both a claim of femininity and a test of it. They are the bindings of the willfully bound.

    In that sense, while Thesis’s comfortable heel represents a small feat, so to speak, it also represents a very large one: a counterargument to a longstanding assumption—rendered in fashion as well as in many other areas of the culture—that womanhood is defined, in part, by the ability to bear pain. Not just in the sense of “suffering for beauty,” as the saying goes, but in the deeper sense that the collision of those two things is integral to feminine experience.

    Karr explored these collisions—between style and suffering, femininity and restriction—in “Beauty and the Shoe Sluts.” The poem, from our January 1998 issue, comprises an intimate familial scene and powerful frankness reminiscent of her best-selling memoirs. As she watches her mother search through a closet of well-worn dancing shoes, Karr recalls the Greek tragedy of The Bacchae, in which the god Dionysus lures the women of Thebes out of civilization and into an ecstatic frenzy of pleasure and violence—until

               dawn spills light

    on their blood-sticky mouths,
    and it’s like every party you ever stayed
    too late at. In chorus they sing and grieve:

    “Will they come to me ever again,
    the long, long dances?”
    And Mother holding a black-patent ankle strap

    like a shackle on a spike heel
    it must’ve been teetering hell to wear glances
    sidewise from her cloudy hazel eyes and says, “No,

    praise God and menopause, they won’t.”

    You can read the full poem here and find some of Karr’s other verse in our archives for more of her wry—and often affecting—insight.

  • Poem of the Week: ‘Bored’ by Margaret Atwood

    Enrique Catro-Mendivil / Reuters

    Whether because of the political events currently unfolding in America, the debut of the much-discussed Hulu adaptation in April, or a combination of the two, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, first published in 1985, has recently climbed back to the top of bestseller lists. Set in a dystopian future in which a totalitarian theocracy has taken over the United States, the novel, and the show it inspired, focus on the women subjugated under the new regime. The plot centers on these women’s bodies: their fertility, their mutilation, their subjection to physical discipline and sexual violation.

    In a 2014 discussion of the language in the book, novelist Edan Lepucki observed a broader trend in Atwood’s writing:

    Human beings like to forget their own bodies, and it takes being ill or turned on, or being threatened by the Supreme Court, to remember them. In fiction, there aren’t enough bodies: breathing, eating, having sex, breaking down. Unlike a lot of other writers, Margaret Atwood reasserts the corporeal in all of her work. In an email today, a poet friend of mine wrote, “Then we walked to the public library, where we both took incredibly satisfying dumps.” Let’s not forget what makes us human, everyone. Atwood never does.

    In our December 1994 issue, for instance, Atwood described being “Bored” not so much as a mental state as a series of mundane physical tasks, sensations, and observations:

    wasn’t even boredom, it was looking,
    looking hard and up close at the small
    details. Myopia. The worn gunwales,
    the intricate twill of the seat
    cover. The acid crumbs of loam, the granular
    pink rock, its igneous veins, the sea-fans
    of dry moss, the blackish and then the graying
    bristles on the back of his neck.
    Sometimes he would whistle, sometimes
    I would. The boring rhythm of doing
    things over and over, carrying
    the wood, drying
    the dishes. Such minutiae.

    You can read the full poem here and find more pieces by Atwood in our archives.

  • Poem of the Week: ‘Castles in Spain’ by Amy Lowell

    Eric Gaillard / Reuters

    Amy Lowell’s legacy, as represented in the pages of The Atlantic and in the broader poetic landscape, is a spare and neglected one. Though she was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1926, she never quite reached the heights of literary acclaim or recognition that her relatives James Russell Lowell and Robert Lowell did. And her poetry hasn’t attracted the same level of praise or popular readership as that of some of her contemporaries, like Ezra Pound, who both influenced and criticized her work, or Robert Frost, who she supported and encouraged in the early years of his career.

    But in “Castles in Spain,” published in our August 1918 issue—just months before the end of World War I—she spoke powerfully to the resilience of her own work in the face of war, violence, and the passage of time:

    Bombs and bullets cannot menace me,
    Who have no substance to be overthrown.
    Cathedrals crash to rubbish, but my towers,
    Carved in the whirling and enduring brain,
    Fade, and persist, and rise again, like flowers.

    Many of Lowell’s towers endure, beautiful and evocative, in our archives, a testament to that resilience. You can find some of them—including her very first published workhere.

  • Poem of the Week: ‘The Word’ by Maxine Kumin

    Philippe Wojazer / Reuters

    This time of year always reminds me of days spent hiking in the California mountains with my family when I was younger—something about the sunlight and the sudden, abundant greenness of everything, about the way the natural world feels more present and alive even in the middle of the city.

    Though it was written about a place thousands of miles distant from the ones I explored as a child, Maxine Kumin’s “The Word” reminds me of those days, too. In the poem, Kumin captures a familiar quiet wonder and the feeling of being close to, but not quite a part of, nature as she describes interacting with wildlife around her New Hampshire home. Here are the first few lines:

    We ride up softly to the hidden
    oval in the woods, a plateau rimmed
    with wavy stands of gray birch and white pine,
    my horse thinking his thoughts, happy
    in the October dapple, and I thinking
    mine-and-his, which is my prerogative,

    both of us just in time to see a big doe
    loft up over the four-foot fence

    Read the full poem here, and find more of Kumin’s work for The Atlantic here.

  • Poem of the Week: ‘Birches’ by Robert Frost

    Ints Kalnins / Reuters

    Since Mother’s Day is right around the corner, this week I’ll share some verse by a poet my mom loves: Robert Frost. Here’s a bit of Frost’s “Birches:”

    I’d like to get away from earth awhile
    And then come back to it and begin over.
    May no fate willfully misunderstand me
    And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
    Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
    I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.
    I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
    And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
    Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
    But dipped its top and set me down again.

    This poem, along with two others which appeared in the same issue, marked the first time Frost published his writing in The Atlantic. But it was not the first time he’d tried; that attempt, as Peter Davison recalled, occurred three years earlier:

    Sometime in 1912, before Robert Frost made his famous leap to “live under thatch” in England, where he would become known as a poet, he sent some of his poems to Ellery Sedgwick, the editor of The Atlantic Monthly, and in due course received a personal reply that read, “We are sorry that we have no place in The Atlantic Monthly for your vigorous verse.” Frost’s submission included some of his finest early poems—“Reluctance,” for example.

    It was only after Frost published his first two books of poetry in England and began attracting acclaim as “a new American voice” that Sedgwick reconsidered, and offered to purchase several of Frost’s poems sight unseen. And so “Birches,” “The Road Not Taken,” and “The Sound of Trees” were published in our August 1915 issue.

  • Poem of the Week: ‘Sixty’ by Philip Booth

    Jamal Saidi / Reuters

    Shortly after New England poet Philip Booth passed away a decade ago, our poetry editor David Barber remembered his work:

    Booth published ten collections of laconic, scrupulously crafted lyric verse notable for its spare colloquial language and contemplative presence of mind. Much of his work drew on his intimate local knowledge of the Down East Maine coast in and around his ancestral summer home in Castine, which he portrayed with an exacting nautical eye and a down-to-earth affinity for its flinty vernacular culture.

    Booth’s love poem “Sixty,” from our March 1988 issue, is neither nautical nor particularly “flinty.” But it is characteristically spare, contemplative, and brief.

    Here’s the poem in its entirety:

    Spring hills, dark contraries:
    a glade in a fall valley,
    its one flower steeped with sun.

    The there and here of her.
    The soft where.
    The sweet closeness when.

    From dreams awake to turn her.
    Remembering, remembering.
    And now again. Again.

    For more of Booth’s verse, read “Ox Pull: Canaan Fair,” from our August 1954 issue.

  • Poem of the Day: ‘Mockingbirds’ by Mary Oliver

    Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

    Today marks the end of National Poetry Month, so I’ll leave you with some verse from one of my favorite poets. From our February 1994 issue, here’s a bit of Mary Oliver’s “Mockingbirds”:

    This morning
    two mockingbirds
    in the green field
    were spinning and tossing

    the white ribbons
    of their songs
    into the air.
    I had nothing

    better to do
    than listen.

    This poem is beautiful in a quiet way: the short lines, the plain language, the simple, lovely images. Oliver excels at writing these idyllic natural scenes, conjuring forests or rivers, summer days or snowy nights, with just a few compact stanzas.

    My favorite Oliver poems are the ones that don’t just describe those landscapes, but also draw sincere wisdom from them. At her best, Oliver is full of concise but profound insights: about survival, about goodness, about mortality and purpose—and, in “Mockingbirds,” about the essential act of listening.

    In a broader sense, that’s what I love about all good poetry: its ability to get at the heartbeat of the world, at the beauty and emotion and significance that thrums at the very core of things, and put it into words.

    Our archives are full of poems like that. Luckily for me, this month I had nothing better to do than listen.

  • Poem of the Day: ‘The Dream’ by David Solway

    From our December 1997 issue, here are the opening lines of David Solway’s “The Dream”:

    I dreamed that you had ceased to love me —
    not that you had come from other beds
    back to mine, or gone from mine to others,
    just that something in your heart had stopped.

    “The Dream” has stuck with me since I first stumbled across it in our archives. I love the dream-like quality of the poem itself—its haziness and abstraction, the way the beloved woman appears only as a heart, a pair of eyes, and an empty space in the speaker’s bed. And I love the poignant futility of the fear it expresses, of losing a love that’s already lost.

    Read the full poem here, and then take a look at some of Solway’s other work in our archives.

  • Poem of the Day: ‘The Bone Ring’ by Donald Hall

    In his spare and lovely poem “The Bone Ring,” from our October 2010 issue, Donald Hall contemplates memory and inheritance in the ever-present shadow of war. Here are the first few lines:

    The summer when I saw the Trylon and Perisphere,
    I sat on the farm porch with my Great-Uncle Luther
    who told me that when he was nine he watched
    the soldier boys walking back home from Virginia.

    See the full poem here, and go here to read more of Hall’s work for The Atlantic.

  • Poem of the Day: ‘Song and Story’ by Ellen Bryant Voigt

    Adnan Abidi / Reuters

    Ellen Bryant Voigt’s “Song and Story,” from our May 1992 issue, begins with a poignant scene between a mother and her infant daughter:

    The girl strapped in the bare mechanical crib
    does not open her eyes, does not cry out.
    The glottal tube is taped into her face;
    bereft of sound, she seems so far away.
    But a box on the stucco wall, wired to her chest,
    televises the flutter of her heart—

    news from the pit—her pulse rapid and shallow,
    a rising line, except when her mother sings

    Voigt returns to this moment again at the conclusion of the poem. But in the intervening stanzas she moves back and away from it, instead describing the mythical figure of Orpheus and his attempts to bring back his lost love with music. She links the two stories with a repeated refrain of

        old woman by the cradle, stringing beads
        old woman by the cradle, stringing beads

    Voigt discussed the process of writing the poem in a November 1999 interview with The Atlantic:

    “Song and Story” … began as a fragment—just the poem’s refrain … Then the refrain connected itself to a couple of those concentrated narrative “summaries”—the stanzas about Orpheus. And those concentrated narrative summaries occur inside a dramatic frame: the child in the hospital, in a crib, with a tube down her throat so she cannot speak. That frames the whole poem, which then tries to explore that occasion, but in neither a strictly narrative nor a strictly lyric way. A lyric would put the mother by the crib and have the mother speak. I have written such a poem. The narrative structure would follow how the child got there. It would bring the child to the hospital, raise the possibilities, then resolve them. And that would happen in time. What I wanted to do in “Song and Story” was some new third thing.

    The result is a poem that’s emotionally and formally complex, a union of different and apparently contradictory elements—lyric and narrative styles, familial and mythic moments—that is more than the sum of its parts.

    That impulse to break out of familiar forms and create something new has distinguished Voigt’s poetry throughout her long and variable literary career. Go here to find more of her poems in our archives.

  • Poem of the Day: ‘King of the River’ by Stanley Kunitz

    Russell Cheyne / Reuters

    The late Stanley Kunitz began his second tenure as U.S. poet laureate in 2000 at the age of 95. He remains the oldest person ever appointed to the role.

    Five years before the appointment, our poetry editor, David Barber, praised Kunitz for continuing to produce remarkable work over the course of decades:

    Stanley Kunitz … not only has continued to write poems of a startling richness at an advanced age but has arguably saved his best for last. …

    Neither radical nor reactionary, answering to no mandarin aesthetic or modernist insurrection, Kunitz’s poetry has kept its own lonely counsels, austere of bearing and constrained in form, yet uninhibited in its depth of human sympathy and tragic feeling. What has emerged from this monkish discipline is poetry rooted in the American meditative vernacular and at the same time reaching back to an Old World oracular tradition of incantation and lamentation—that, and an unnerving strain of astringent grandeur that is entirely Kunitz's own.

    One of my favorite Kunitz poems, “King of the River,” dates from roughly the middle of his long and extraordinary career. It exemplifies both the lonely austerity and the deep human sympathy that Barber identified in Kunitz’s work. In the poem, Kunitz grapples with the aging process as he watches a king salmon struggle against the current of a river. Here are a few lines:

    If the power were granted you
    to break out of your cells,
    but the imagination fails
    and the doors of the senses close
    on the child within,
    you would dare to be changed,
    as you are changing now,
    into the shape you dread
    beyond the merely human.

    Read the full poem from our July 1970 issue here. Or, to get a full sense of its incantatory rhythms and that “astringent grandeur,” listen to Kunitz read it to below.

  • Poem of the Day: ‘Ode Recited at the Harvard Commemoration, July 21, 1865’ by James Russell Lowell

    In a eulogy for James Russell Lowell, novelist Henry James wrote:

    He is one of the happy figures of literature. He had his trammels and his sorrows, but he drank deep of the full, sweet cup, and he will long count as an erect fighting figure on the side of optimism and beauty. He was strong without bitterness and bright without folly.

    J. A. J. Wilcox and S. W. Rouse / Library of Congress

    This bright optimism suffused Lowell’s writing, even as he confronted the violent, divided state of American politics and life in the middle of the 19th century.

    In the summer of 1865, just months after both the conclusion of the Civil War and the assassination of President Lincoln, Lowell recited an ode at Harvard in memory of alumni who had died in the conflict. Despite the sad occasion and the darkness of the national atmosphere, he spoke of an essential goodness that would endure:

                Ah, there is something here
            Unfathomed by the cynic’s sneer,
            Something that gives our feeble light
            A high immunity from Night,
            Something that leaps life’s narrow bars
            To claim its birthright with the hosts of heaven;
              A seed of sunshine that doth leaven
            Our earthly dulness with the beams of stars
  • Poem of the Day: ‘The Body Mutinies’ by Lucia Perillo

    When the doctor runs out of words and still
    I won’t leave, he latches my shoulder and
    steers me out doors.

    So begins Lucia Perillo’s “The Body Mutinies,” from our February 1996 issue. Perillo passed away last October after decades of living with and writing about multiple sclerosis. She was diagnosed with the disease at the age of 30, and her awareness of her mortality and struggles with her failing body shaped her often humorous, often heartbreaking verse in the years that followed.

    In “The Body Mutinies,” Perillo deals with the dazed realization of a new kind of life in the immediate aftermath of diagnosis with affecting simplicity and clarity. Here are a few more lines:

    & me not griefstruck yet but still amazed: how
    words and names—medicine’s blunt instruments—
    undid me

    Read the full poem here. Then, take a look at Perillo’s more metaphysical “Pharaoh,” from our October 2010 issue.

  • Poem of the Day: ‘Gabardine’ by Ted Kooser

    From our October 2009 issue, here’s Ted Kooser’s “Gabardine” in its entirety:

    To sit in sunlight with other old men,
    none with his legs crossed, our feet in loose shoes
    hot and flat on the earth, hands curled in our laps
    or on our knees, like birds that now and then
    fly up with our words and settle again
    in a slightly different way, casting a slightly
    different shadow over our pants legs, gabardine,
    blue, gray, or brown, warmed by the passing sun.

    This poem exemplifies the conversational style for which the former poet laureate is known—and which seems perfectly suited to a lazy Sunday afternoon. For more, you can read Kooser’s “Two,” from our May 2013 issue.

  • Poem of the Day: ‘Projection’ by Howard Nemerov

    In “Projection,” from our May 1967 issue, two-time poet laureate Howard Nemerov muses about map-making and artistic possibility:

    They were so amply beautiful, the maps,
    With their blue rivers winding to the sea,
    So calmly beautiful, who could have blamed
    Us for believing, bowed to our drawing boards,
    In a large and ultimate equivalence,
    One map that challenged and replaced the world?

    Read through some of Nemerov’s other poems in our archives to hear more of his thoughtful and often witty voice.

  • Poem of the Day: ‘Waterborne’ by Linda Gregerson

    Linda Gregerson’s “Waterborne,” from our May 2000 issue, captures many of the distinctive features of her verse. It’s subtly, hauntingly beautiful and suffused with a creeping sense of horror cut through with poignant wonder. With associative sleights of pen, it connects a varied collection of stories, places, and emotions. And it’s built from the helical stanzas—with their short, central middle lines acting as narrow waists to the longer first and last—that Gregerson invented, and that she once said “saved my life.”

    Here are a few lines of the poem:

                                … When Gordon was a boy
                            they used to load
                  the frozen river on a sledge here and

    in August eat the heavenly reward—sweet
                  of winter’s work. A piece of moonlight saved

    against the day, he thought. And this is where
                            the Muir boy
                  drowned. And this is where I didn’t.

    Read the rest here. Then, explore some of Gregerson’s other work for The Atlantic and see what Garth Greenwell had to say about her latest poetry collection.