The word review traces a long and winding history back to the French revoir, as in au revoir. May we see each other again. To review is to see again, with experienced eyes. The contestation of power between the seen and the see-r (as in ekphrasis, as in film) plays out in the review, with artists of all kinds eager to co-opt, to please, refute, lambast their reviewers in turn. The example of Michio Kakutani of The New York Times comes to mind. In a triptych of poems from my chapbook, I quote famous authors who took on the task of critiquing this critic:


“The stupidest person in New York” —Jonathan Franzen
“Princess of the cookie cutters!” —Norman Mailer
“Seems to feel the need to alternately praise and spank” —Salman Rushdie


At the tail end of 2011, Kakutani, known to be a social media hermit, appeared on twitter in response to a fake account created in her name. Whether it really was her is not quite as interesting as imagining the discomfiture of a reviewer reading, as it were, unflattering reviews of her character, or parodies of her style. It bespeaks a certain delight at revenge on the part of writers. After all, just like how those who can’t do, teach, reviewers can be seen as second-rate, knockoff writers. They should not have the power to make or break a writer. And all this is merely giving Ms. Kakutani a taste of her own medicine.


Lana Bella also writes about doppelgängers, but with one crucial difference. Where the writer-reviewer relationship is fraught with animosity and power struggles, in her poem Bella’s she and it desire a sort of synthesis: “Twin bones. Twin fates. Forging into one.” The person looking into the mirror recognises the shape of her reflection, neither fearing nor loving it. At the end, the slow awakening of she mirrors this recognition, and her reflection, the it, is rendered as a miracle of light.


The entirely unscientific but wholly poetic theory of the mirror stage seeks to answer the question of growth. How does a child grow, psychically, into an adult? Jacques Lacan famously suggested that children have an immature sense of self. They feel themselves a part of their mothers, not independent creatures. The mirror stage, then, is the moment which they realise that they are in fact fully—if incompletely—formed. Their mirror image is a sort of fantasy of perfection that they, us, seek to achieve throughout our lives.

In her poem, Bella has written of a fulfillment of that fantasy which eludes even the best of us. No surprise, then, that the relationship between writer and reviewer is invested with all kinds of psychic tensions. Unless it is a good review, my reviewer hasn’t accurately reflected my work, has misunderstood its intentions, has sold out, hates me. Perhaps we need a bit more of that recognition, that unintuitive acceptance of the critic as the other side of the coin of being a writer.

In this issue of OF ZOOS, we present reviews as art, art as review, poetic prose, prose poetry, erasure, doubling, self-reflexivity, fake reviewers, and above all, a joy for the written word. We have paired Singaporean poets with American reviewers, and vice-versa. We have humour and high seriousness, new and established voices. We hope this issue contributes to a blurring of the distinctions between creative and critical writing, an interest in collaborative poetics, and a little bit more love for Michiko Kakutani. We hope you will view, and re-view this new issue. We hope to see you again.