Dancing at the Devil's Party

Essays on Poetry, Politics, and the Erotic
Alicia Suskin Ostriker
Essays that explore the meaning of politics, love, and spiritual life in American poetry from Whitman to the present


This volume of essays celebrates poetry that aims to change the world, whether through engagement with political issues, reimagining the meanings of love, recasting our relationship with nature; or through new relationships with our spiritual traditions. Alicia Ostriker's opening essay, defining the difference between poetry and propaganda, surveys the artistic accomplishments of the women's poetry movement. Succeeding essays explore the meaning of politics, love, and the spiritual life in the work of Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Bishop, Sharon Olds, Maxine Kumin, Lucille Clifton, and Allen Ginsberg.

In her work, Ostriker can be controversial, as when she attacks the academic establishment for rejecting the erotic dimension of poetry, or when she meditates on the significance of the black poet Lucille Clifton to herself as a reader, or when she argues that Allen Ginsberg's "Howl"—famous as the primary poem of the Beat Generation—is also a profoundly Jewish poem. Yet her writing is always lively and readable, free of academic jargon, inviting the reader to enjoy a wide range of poetic styles and experiences.

Ostriker's criticism, like her poetry, is both feminist and deeply humane. These essays on American poetry will appeal to students of poetry, scholars of American literature, and anyone who enjoys the work of the poets discussed in the book.

Alicia Ostriker is the author of nine books of poetry, including The Imaginary Lover, which won the William Carlos Williams Award and The Crack in Everything, which was a National Book award finalist in 1996, and which received the Paterson Prize in 1997 and the San Fransisco State Poetry Center Award in 1998. She is Distinguished Professor of English at Rutgers University.

Praise / Awards

  • "These essays are a joy to read because Ostriker is widely read, a genuine intellectual, a compleat woman of letters for our time, and an exceptionally graceful prose writer."
    ---Diana Hume George, Penn State at Erie, Spoon River Poetry Review, Summer-Fall 2000
  • "The book succeeds through its insistence on the aesthetic validity of poetry that makes erotic, spiritual, or political feeling and understanding happen across conventional boundaries."
    ---Estella Lauter, Univ. of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature, Fall 2000
  • "I read Dancing at the Devil's Party the first time straight through, late into the night and up again early the next morning, as gripped as anyone is by a great novel. . . . Ostriker writes in the tradition, now neglected, of what used to be called the 'engaged' critic, the critic who is alive to social and political issues as well as purely aesthetic ones. . . . For Ostriker, reading, like living, is first a physical act. Starting with her own body, the act of reading, like life, leads her out into connection with t he world. And so from art to politics. . . . I would still recommend this book, and unhesitatingly, as one of the finest I have ever read."
    ---Adrian Oktenberg, Women's Review of Books, July 2000

News, Reviews, Interviews

Listen: Commonplace conversation with Alicia Ostriker Link | 12/15/16

Review Rattle | 6/30/2009

Product Details

  • 5.25 x 8.
  • 136pp.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2000
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-09696-1

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  • $74.95 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2000
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-06696-4

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  • $20.95 U.S.