Villainous Villanelle

by: Denise Duhamel

My id spits and licks his lips, trips my conscience,
my ego, Miss Goody Two Shoes.
Her neon pink laces make him nauseous.

Read More

On Being Asked to Contribute to the Villains Feature

by: Richard Cecil

I searched ten years of word files
looking for titles with names of politicians who
enrich the rich while trampling down the poor
and corporate criminal CEOs who screw
employees out of wages, rape the Earth,
and hide their stolen billions far offshore,
and drew a blank. I also found a dearth
of killer clowns and warlords steeped in gore,
religious rabble rousers, nasty nuns,
child-abusing Catholic priests—zero.
No bought congressmen who vote pro-gun;
no homicidal patriotic heroes.
What’s blinded me to monsters all those years?
The Frankenstein inside. It’s him I fear.


Read More

Milton’s Satan and the Grammar of Evil

By Kimberly Johnson

In the long tradition of literary villains, no figure towers with such gleeful, scene- chomping menace as the character of Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Satan the arch-fiend, the über-villain, elaborated out of the bare-bones narrative of Genesis by New Testament writers into a primeval malevolence that Milton combined with epically heroic qualities. Satan the dauntless, who in the first book of Milton’s opus strides imperiously across the lake of burning marl, rallying his vanquished followers to a brave resurgence against God’s favorite creation. Satan the guileful, who seduces Eve into humanity’s “First Disobedience” (1.1). The plot of Paradise Lost offers plenty of opportunity for Satan to scheme, beguile, attack, and otherwise subvert the designs of Milton’s God. But I’d suggest that such narrative exploits are mere caricatures of evil, and distract from Satan’s most damnable offense, which inheres not in any particular action in his own interest or against God’s. Rather, Satan falls under the text’s greatest condemnation for his refusal to act as a morally self-determined agent. In Milton’s poem, Satan exposes his deepest villainy in his denial of his own agency. 

Read More

The Pleasure of Browning’s Villains

By Robert Cording

As an undergraduate in a state college, I read an essay by Howard Moss, a poet I admired and the poetry editor of The New Yorker  at that time. Though   his advice was of the usual “learn the tradition” school, what Moss said about writing poems struck my insecure hyperconscious-of my-poorly-educated self hard—he said, unless a poet knew the poems of the past, that poet was bound to repeat what another poet had already done better. Solid, but obvious advice that, nevertheless, I took deeply to heart. And so I went off to graduate school in English in 1972, closeting, like many of my fellow graduate students, my desire to be a writer inside the more mainline pursuit of a doctoral degree. In an early Victorian literature class, I first read Robert Browning. I was writing persona poems, trying to find my own voice by assuming the guise of others. Struck by the energy of Browning’s dramatic monologues, I began to think about the way he appropriated first-person narration and about the way his poems worked dramatically, through their plots.

Read More