The reasons to be enamored of the late poet Frank Stanford are endless. Stanford, who was born in Mississippi, lived in Memphis, and settled in western Arkansas (as much as he could ever “settle”), became a poet’s poet, a writer whose prolific output never penetrated beyond the small stable of writers and critics who wildly admired him. John Berryman, Alan Dugan, Allen Ginsberg, and Gordon Lish were fans. Given up by his biological mother at birth (in 1948), adopted by the first single woman authorized to adopt a child in Mississippi (Dorothy Gildart), and a frequent denizen of the levee camps where his later adoptive father (Albert Franklin Stanford in 1952) worked as an engineer, Stanford merged memory and fantasy to develop an iconic style that, as he published routinely throughout the 1970s, is best grasped in his defining The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You. When his editor, Michael Cuddihy, first read this manuscript, he recalled, “It was endless, shot through with brilliant passages echoing Beowulf, Dante, the Troubadours, and others.” Stanford said he started writing it when he was 13. More… “What about That

James McWilliams is a writer based in Austin, Texas. His work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly ReviewThe New Yorkerand The Paris ReviewHe’s currently writing a book on the art and expression of the American South.

Sylvia Plath has a way of showing up in everything I do. I find her in the essays I write, the things I say, the movies I watch — even the clothing I choose to wear. She is ever-present, ever-changing, working her way into my writing and conversations. I spoke with Emily Van Duyne, a writer, scholar, and feminist, who has also been heavily influenced and shaped by Plath, an American writer and poet best known for her novel The Bell Jar and poetry collections such as Ariel and The Colossus and Other Poems. Emily Van Duyne is an assistant professor of writing at Stockton University in New Jersey, where she is also affiliated with faculty in Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Harvard Review, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Meridian, and Literary Hub, among others. She has written many essays about Plath and is currently at work on a critical memoir called Loving Sylvia Plath. You can tweet her @emilyvanduyne.

More… “Pondering Plath”

Camille DiBenedetto is a staff writer for The Smart Set and an English major at Drexel University. In her free time, you can find her watching romantic comedies, listening to slam poetry, or rereading The Summer I Turned Pretty for the 27th time.


“Hey,” I say, and pause for a moment, slinging my tennis bag over my shoulder and closing the car door. I start down the grassy slope toward the tennis court. It is my opponent I have called out to, inside the fence. I swing the gate open and let it clang behind me. Now, I shuffle a little on the court, to hear the clay beneath my shoes. The court waits for us, swept of any previous play. We are ready to begin.

The way I imagine it, we are at the Highland courts, a short drive from my home. The Highland courts are a set of four natural red clay courts at the edge of a forested town park, right next to a somewhat secluded neighborhood of Victorian houses from the town’s factory heyday. We are alone, he and I, perhaps in the early morning. He has something of a blank look on his face, dressed not a little uncomfortably in a set of what looks like Wimbledon whites, except not so bright, rumpled even. But he has on his trademark head rag, tying back his hair.

Maybe there is small talk, as we unpack our bags. The weather, or when was the last time each of us played. Does he want to warm up short, standing on the service line and trading easy half volleys? In the kind of tennis I play, the adult recreational kind, there is a certain unease to begin, a mix of friendly get-to-know-you banter with an overlay of the what-sort-of-opponent-will-you-be subtle interrogation. Perhaps this is not unlike sizing up a new book, or maybe even moreso for a book whose reputation, at this point, certainly precedes it. More… “The Other Side of the Net”

Andrew Varnon lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts, with his wife Lynette and two children. A winner of the 92nd St. Y/The Nation “Discovery” award in poetry, Varnon teaches a course called “Beer, Baseball & the Bible” at Western New England University and coaches high school tennis at Greenfield High School. You can find him on Twitter at @SachemHead.


I’m what’s left of when we
swam under the moon
-Mitski, “I Don’t Smoke

In the summer following my completion of grad school, my boyfriend Jonathan and I moved into an apartment in East Vancouver. Our search for a home had been an exhausting dead end until the final days of June. We were driving around the city, windshield wipers on to clear the summer rain, a sense of hopelessness sweeping us forward, when we saw the vacancy sign.

That’s always how it goes — you wait in a constant state of impatience for something to happen, and then suddenly everything turns on its head. A couple had already signed for the apartment and were meant to move in the following day, but they’d had to break the lease — a domestic dispute, the landlord whispers as he hands us the papers to sign.

The apartment is on the top floor of a three-story walk-up. There are ten apartments in the whole building, all of which are empty, because the landlord says that they’ve been renovating the building for the last year. More… “Ghosts Live Forever”

Gena Ellett’s writing has appeared in literary magazines across North America, including Slice, The Malahat Review, EVENT, and Gulf Coast. She lives and writes in Vancouver, BC. @HeyGenaJay


For a long time, most academic studies of metal were as dark and foreboding as the songs appeared to be. With titles containing phrases like “heavy metal music and adolescent alienation” (1996) and “delinquent friends, social control, and delinquency” (1993), these works looked at whether being a metalhead was associated with a higher likelihood of depression, suicide, violence, and a particular kind of adolescent male aggression.
More… “The Positive Psychology of Metal Music”

Christine Ro’s writing about books, music, and other topics is collected at


Being cool is mostly about posture. It is a way of holding your body. It is a certain expression on your face. It’s the way you handle a cigarette, but not the way you smoke it. Maybe you never even take a puff; you just let the thing dangle in your right hand, smoldering, until it burns out.

Morgan Meis has a PhD in Philosophy and is a founding member of Flux Factory, an arts collective in New York. He has written for n+1, The Believer, Harper’s Magazine, and The Virginia Quarterly Review. He won the Whiting Award in 2013. Morgan is also an editor at 3 Quarks Daily, and a winner of a Creative Capital | Warhol Foundation Arts Writers grant. A book of Morgan’s selected essays can be found here. He can be reached at

The difference between the person who has considered suicide and the one who actually commits it is small. You could say the difference is conditional, accidental even. Committing an act of suicide is just the culmination of a journey, a journey of dangerous ideas that, once allowed into the mind, can never be fully shaken off. This does not mean that suicidal thoughts lead inevitably to suicide. The world’s population would be much smaller if that were the case. What it does mean is that a person who has considered suicide lives, thereafter, with a sort of seductive madness. To entertain suicide is to imagine that the most uncontrollable fact of life — other than birth — can be controlled, taken into one’s own hands, wrested from the chaos that dominates all life on Earth. We can’t escape death. But if we are to die, then why not make death… More…

What makes up the history of a city? Is it the linear timeline — the who invaded when; the who led which group into victory or destruction; the list of intellectuals, emperors, madmen, musicians, scientists, orators who came through and left their mark? Maybe it’s the physical landscape, the rivers that create trade and wealth, the mountains that provide security and shelter. And what does that history add up to — if you learn enough about a city’s history, will you finally understand what makes the city what it is, will you capture its essence on the page?

Mumbai Fables by Gyan Prakash. 424 pages. Princeton University Press. $29.95. Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin by Alexandra Richie. 1,168 pages. Basic Books. George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I by Miranda Carter. 528 pages. Knopf…. More…

Why do so many poets commit suicide? My daughter’s away at college and planning to be a poet. Needless to say, I’m worried. Can you say anything to discourage this trend? — R. D.


I once dressed up as Sylvia Plath for a “Dress as Your Favorite Poet” festival. I wore a box painted as an oven over my head. Funny, right? Plath’s dramatic exit from this world has made her the poster child for poets who have committed suicide: John Berryman, Anne Sexton, and more recently, Sarah Hannah — professor at Emerson College, where I received my MFA. Those are only three names swimming in the sea of dead tortured artists — we always use that term, don’t we? We hide the agent by using the passive case, suggesting a flawed psychosis or something else so private… More…

A friend was relaying his fears for his niece, a 16-year-old trapped in the Slough of Despond. He wasn’t sure how to reassure her. I don’t really remember the problem or situation — with 16-year-old girls, it could be just about anything. When I asked what he eventually ended up telling her, he shrugged and told me, “I just said it gets better.”

On Balance by Adam Phillips. 336 pages. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $26.

This was months before the web campaign of the same name. Started by Dan Savage after a string of news reports about teen suicides, gay men and women posted personal videos on YouTube; its goal is to reassure terrified teens with stories of how survival ultimately transforms into a flourishing life. Celebrities and non-celebrities discussed their own despair and isolation, and… More…