NSFW

The essay is unquestionably my favorite form of art, and I'm excited to devote this issue to it. Particularly over the last four years, it's the style I read the most, that I seek out, and that I come back to for a break from reading books I'm not enjoying.

In 2014, two essays were published that forever changed how I view and value literature. The first, published in June on The Toast, was Alice Bolin's A Meditation on Britney’s “…Baby One More Time." I remember thinking during my first reading of the essay, I can't believe how deep this is going. It still blows my mind whenever I dig it back up from the Wayback Machine that the entire piece was only about 2,000 words long.

Growing up as an, um, elder millennial, those of us who were into art used to spend time debating things like "high brow" vs "low brow," and whether or not art could or should be timeless. All that seemed very concerning to the artists of the 70s and 80s, which made those ideas a good target for the ironic humor of writers in the 90s. I actually had phone calls with friends circa 2004 debating whether or not the poems I was writing would matter after my death if I made too specific references to the time and space in which I lived.

But the reason Alice's essay on Britney Spears permanently changed my appreciation for the essay had nothing to do with examining celebrity pop culture through an elevated lens, which was something I was already completely unconflicted about by that point, but the extreme seriousness with which she treated her subject. I mean, jesus, the first Britney Spears lyric I ever committed to memory was My loneliness. Is killing me. My loneliness. Is killing me. How had I not noticed? Why wasn't I listening? Where had I been this whole time?

A few months later, I read Chelsea Hodson's Pity the Animal for the first time, and I still have the scars to prove it. I started reading the chapbook on the subway, which I was only taking for a couple stops before meeting my wife for a work party, and I was so absorbed I missed my stop. Once I realized what had happened, I finished reading the essay on the platform waiting for an uptown train, and when I finally got to the party, I stood outside in the cold reading it from cover to cover again. I tell people Pity the Animal is my Howl. I carried that little chapbook with me everywhere for almost a year, and finally lost it on the beach somewhere the next summer.

Like A Meditation on Britney’s “…Baby One More Time.", I couldn't believe what Pity the Animal accomplished in a handful of pages. Even now, when people ask me what it's about, I have a hard time narrowing it down. I say, it's about the body, and femininity, and capitalism, and sexual abuse, and power, and art, and ethics, and about questioning what you take for granted before I trail off. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent while training for marathons, or sleep training my child, considering the line: How much can a body endure? Almost everything.

This month both of these essays have been published in full length collections. Alice Bolin's Dead Girls and Chelsea Hodson's Tonight I'm Someone Else are collections which continue to show how sharp a tool the essay can be in the trusted hands of an expert.

In this spirit, we asked some of our favorite writers what the essay means to them, and are excited to share lyric, probing writing from Mila Jaroniec, Monika Woods, Libby Burton, and Michelle Lyn King, and we're lucky that each and every post has been blessed with the beautiful dick embroidery of Mira Gonzalez.

Thanks for reading Issue Six.

 

Daughter of Swords: On Elle Nash’s Animals Eat Each Other by Mila Jaroniec

Daughter of Swords: On Elle Nash’s Animals Eat Each Other by Mila Jaroniec