Meet the Intern: Bayleigh Kasper

I remember when a friend of a friend asked me if I was embarrassed because I wanted to go into the arts rather than study something “practical.” I looked down at the shirt I was wearing—which said, “I’m silently correcting your grammar”—and the pendant around my neck—which said, “The book was better.” While that moment says nothing for my fashion choices that day, it does capture my unapologetic fever for reading and writing. To me, passion is more important than practicality. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been gobbling up books and scribbling down stories. My mom likes to say that I practically knew how to read before she even taught me, like my heart was just waiting for someone to give me the letters to unlock the words and stories I had longed for before I even knew. I was the kid in elementary school English class who had to have the full-size pages rather than half pages they offered for the stories we would write for the end of the year—the ones with thick cardstock covers and fruit scented marker pictures on the opposite pages from the writing. I was the one who got scolded for staying up late reading or getting new ideas down and walking slowly behind everyone because I couldn’t lift my head from my book. I remember many late-night car rides, reading books one line at a time as we passed under streetlights. Some of my senior pictures were taken with towers of my books surrounding me. Most of my life has been feeding and being fed on stories. Being part of Sundress—something that feels like a big story buffet for everyone—is an absolutely magical experience to me.


Bayleigh Kasper is a senior creative writing major at the University of Evansville. She dreams of owning a tiny home in Colorado where she can adopt cats, make music, write, and eat very judge-worth amounts of chocolate without actually being judged.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: FROM THE LAKE HOUSE: A Mother’s Odyssey of Loss and Love by Kristen Rademacher


This selection comes from the book, FROM THE LAKE HOUSE: A Mother’s Odyssey of Loss and Love, available from She Writes Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Ada Rivera.

Kristen Rademacher has lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina since 2002, which is when she began writing. FROM THE LAKE HOUSE is her first memoir. With a Master’s Degree in Education and a Professional Coaching Certification, Kristen is an Academic Coach and ADHD Specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also leads trainings and presentations at national conferences on the topic of academic coaching. Find her online at kristenrademacher.com

 

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: FROM THE LAKE HOUSE: A Mother’s Odyssey of Loss and Love by Kristen Rademacher


This selection comes from the book, FROM THE LAKE HOUSE: A Mother’s Odyssey of Loss and Love, available from She Writes Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Ada Rivera.

Kristen Rademacher has lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina since 2002, which is when she began writing. FROM THE LAKE HOUSE is her first memoir. With a Master’s Degree in Education and a Professional Coaching Certification, Kristen is an Academic Coach and ADHD Specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also leads trainings and presentations at national conferences on the topic of academic coaching. Find her online at kristenrademacher.com

 

Project Bookshelf with Emmalee Hagarman

When your twin is your roommate, you share most things, including your bookshelf. Ours was too small, so we each had separate stacks of books in our bedrooms, leaving space for our cat, Basil, to hide on its shelves. My twin sister and I earned our MFAs at OSU at the same time, so our little bookshelf was home to the essay collections that Kelsey, a creative nonfiction writer, had studied and loved, as well as the poetry volumes I’d read ten times over. The top shelf housed stacks of readings that we shared with our creative writing students. Our mom had instilled frugality in us early on, so we did not buy books often, but slowly accrued a tiny, well-loved library.

After earning our MFAs, Kelsey moved to Chicago and I stayed in Columbus. We promised to visit often. We split up our books, and I kept the small bookshelf. When she visited, we traded books, and in-between visits, I set a few aside on the shelf that I thought she would like.

When I celebrated New Year’s Eve this year in Chicago with my sister, we did not know a pandemic would arrive in her city later that month, that we would not see each other for six months after my visit. I’ll move to the present, though, because summer has arrived full-force in Ohio, and Kelsey was finally able to safely visit a few weeks ago. One of the first things she did was unpack the stack of books in her bag that she had been waiting to share, and she told me about each one, and we tried to make up for lost time.


Emmalee Hagarman earned her MFA in poetry at The Ohio State University, where she served as poetry editor of The Journal. Recently her work was selected by Kenyatta Rogers to receive the Academy of American Poets Award/The Arthur Rense Prize, and also selected by Ruth Awad to receive the Helen Earnhart Harley Fellowship in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Waxwing, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Laurel Review, among others.

Meet Our New Intern: Natalie Metropulos

Napa, California

My parents grew up poor. Dad’s situation was such that, on some nights, the only dinner option was a can of pineapples. Mom’s seven-member family lived in a two-bedroom house where she shared a cramped room with her four sisters. When these are your stories, money is everything.

Dad quit high school to support himself. My parents married before they were 20, and Dad worked day and night in the residential building industry to change the course of what would otherwise have been a poverty-stricken future. Mom made sure the money he brought home would get us through the industry’s busy warm months as well as the slower cold ones.

They made an exceptional team, providing a comfortable middle-class life for my three siblings and I. They also instilled in us a strong work ethic, ensured we were college-educated, and impressed upon us the importance of obtaining jobs we could be proud of. And of course, they wanted us to be paid well.

In 1998, when Hearst Publishing offered me an unpaid internship in New York City upon graduation from Penn State, my parents were perplexed. I remember the anger twisting Dad’s clenched jaw. He viewed a college degree as a golden ticket. People with college degrees didn’t work for free.

I turned down the internship. Ultimately, I became a lawyer.

For a long time, I thought that my parent’s unwillingness to support me financially so I could take an unpaid internship prevented me from pursuing a career I would have thrived in and loved. But I’ve come to understand that what I needed wasn’t so much money as it was validation. I needed someone to tell me that the fact that Hearst wasn’t going to pay me didn’t mean that I wouldn’t be doing something of value, or that I wouldn’t be valued. When money is woven into your being from birth as the only legitimate measure of professional success, it’s hard to see how value can be measured in other ways.

It took me more than twenty years to decide that, for me, financial compensation isn’t a reliable measurement for the significance of my experience or contribution. I think I have motherhood to thank for helping me finally come to that realization. I don’t get paid a penny for being a mother, but I see the results of the time and dedication I put into my job, and I’m pretty happy with my compensation package. 

Six months ago, I walked off the partnership path at a highly regarded Big Law firm to find the road I stumbled off of in 1998. I look back to the moment when I turned from that road and realize that I didn’t need money, I needed bravery and ingenuity. Now I’m pursuing a new version of a career I envisioned for myself when I was 20, glad for the opportunity to be an unpaid Editorial Intern at Sundress Publications. At 43, I finally feel brave enough and clever enough to be here.


Natalie Metropulos holds a BA in English from the Pennsylvania State University and a JD from Duquesne University. She is a candidate for an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University. Although it has been a long time since Metropulos’ writing has appeared outside of a legal document, she has been published (nee Natalie Rieland) in Kalliope, Research/Penn State Magazine, and Pitt Magazine. Metropulos writes fiction and narrative non-fiction for children and adults.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: FROM THE LAKE HOUSE: A Mother’s Odyssey of Loss and Love by Kristen Rademacher


This selection comes from the book, FROM THE LAKE HOUSE: A Mother’s Odyssey of Loss and Love, available from She Writes Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Ada Rivera.

Kristen Rademacher has lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina since 2002, which is when she began writing. FROM THE LAKE HOUSE is her first memoir. With a Master’s Degree in Education and a Professional Coaching Certification, Kristen is an Academic Coach and ADHD Specialist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also leads trainings and presentations at national conferences on the topic of academic coaching. Find her online at kristenrademacher.com

 

 

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Un-American by Hafizah Geter

The poet Hafizah Geter (Nigeria/USA), New York, New York, February 7, 2020. Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

TESTIMONY

for tamir rice, 2002–2014

Mr. President,
After they shot me they tackled my sister.
The sound of her knees hitting the sidewalk
made my stomach ache. It was a bad pain.
Like when you love someone
and they lie to you. Or that time Mikaela cried
all through science class and wouldn’t tell anyone why.
This isn’t even my first letter to you,
in the first one I told you about my room
and my favorite basketball team
and asked you to come visit me in Cleveland
or send your autograph. In the second one
I thanked you for your responsible citizenship.
I hope you are proud of me too.
Mom said you made being black beautiful again
but that was before someone killed Trayvon.
After that came a sadness so big it made everyone
look the same. It was a long time before we could
go outside again. Mr. President it took one whole day
for me to die and even though I’m twelve and not afraid of the dark
I didn’t know there could be so much of it
or so many other boys here.


This selection comes from the book, Un-American, available from Wesleyan University Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Ada Rivera.

Born in Zaria, Nigeria, Hafizah Geter is a Nigerian-American poet, writer, and editor. She
received her BA in English and economics from Clemson University and an MFA in poetry from
Columbia College Chicago. Hafizah’s poetry and prose have appeared in THE NEW YORKER, TIN HOUSE, BOSTON REVIEW, LONGREADS, AND MCSWEENEY’S INDELIBLE IN THE HIPPOCAMPUS, among others. An editor for Little A and TOPPLE Books from Amazon Publishing, Hafizah serves on the planning committee for the Brooklyn Book Festival and lives in Brooklyn, New York where she is working on a novel about coming to America and a full-length nonfiction project about the intersection of anti-blackness, climate change, language, borders, and the aftermath of American slavery in daily life.

 

 

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Un-American by Hafizah Geter

The poet Hafizah Geter (Nigeria/USA), New York, New York, February 7, 2020. Photograph © Beowulf Sheehan

HOW TO BRING YOUR CHILDREN TO AMERICA

The mothers became targets.
Hanging on clotheslines, bibs
of the barely fed.
Children, countries born
split in two—firstborns
whose first steps aborted
their sisters, brothers, the fresh bread
of their love language,
children the English
tearing sphincters in two.
The mothers came by boat,
with wings, forgetting

their own mothers’ uteruses, singing
praises to Allah, they came over and over again
until it could not matter that so-and-so had died,
we were the nicknames escaping
their bellies, the translation between
stay and never arrived.
Husbands, uncles, we were
wives, illnesses, pawpaw seeds,
only things that could save them,
sickle cells that knew better
than to touch. Visible
only in their dialect, they spoke to cousins,
wired money, forgave ancestors
we couldn’t trust.

They stopped speaking to us
in our birth language until we became new
dictionaries, became the consonants
of the Constitution they studied,
our first words forgotten
artifacts in our home
countries. They were the ones
whose fathers had died
in the milt of language,
without daughters.
In America, we were memories
without accents or consensus,
lambs that couldn’t be traded
for milk, meal, or honey,

the fact of our bodies
in America their new Quran.
And, oh, how they moaned,
how they starved, sucking their teeth
between King’s English, yelling for us
to stop playing immigrant and go
get naturalized.


This selection comes from the book, Un-American, available from Wesleyan University Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Ada Rivera.

Born in Zaria, Nigeria, Hafizah Geter is a Nigerian-American poet, writer, and editor. She
received her BA in English and economics from Clemson University and an MFA in poetry from
Columbia College Chicago. Hafizah’s poetry and prose have appeared in THE NEW
YORKER, TIN HOUSE, BOSTON REVIEW, LONGREADS, AND MCSWEENEY’S INDELIBLE IN
THE HIPPOCAMPUS, among others.
An editor for Little A and TOPPLE Books from Amazon Publishing, Hafizah serves on the
planning committee for the Brooklyn Book Festival and lives in Brooklyn, New York where she
is working on a novel about coming to America and a full-length nonfiction project about the
intersection of anti-blackness, climate change, language, borders, and the aftermath of American
slavery in daily life.

 

Project Bookshelf with Editorial Intern Ashley Somwaru

I dream of one day having a wall in my home dedicated to shelves of books, books that have journeyed with me across my lifetime and tailored my thinking as a reader and writer. But even with this lovely thought in mind, I know that my ideal storage is impossible when my hands constantly reach out to any book I can get into my grasp. In every corner I settle down to write, there are stacks of books ready to buoy my poetry to safety. I can’t possibly think of placing my collection into one spot when I need it every time I fiddle with my work to get the outcome of a “perfect” line. 

Writer’s block is an illness for me. I almost always sit in my “lucky” chair while the sun starts to warm the room and… just stare at a blank page. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know if what I want to write is good enough to take up the white space taunting me. 

The books I’ve read have been open windows to the dust filled room my mind becomes when unwilling to write. They have been the affirmation that yes, voices representing diverse communities do and can exist in literature. Rajiv Mohabir’s The Cowherd’s Son showed me that poetry could successfully be multilingual and be translatable across different communities. Jake Skeets’ Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers gave me permission to extend my poetry across numerous pages. Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas taught me how to write against a narrative and play with page space. Max Porter’s Grief is The Thing With Feathers teased me into leaning towards strangeness in writing. Eduardo Corral’s Slow Lightening pushed me beyond my dialectic comfort zone, to go word searching and not get stuck in language.

My futuristic “one day” may or may not come to fruition, but I find supporting marginalized voices in the literary world to be more important. My stacks of inspiration will continue to be from these voices so that I can understand their struggles and join in their conversations for justice and recognition. Topics like Islamophobia, mental illness, domestic violence, queerness, discrimination, and immigration are no longer stigmatized like they used to be. They are taking their rightful spotlight and attention in the reading community.

It is heartwarming to see how cultures inspire a difference in writing and also a similarity in a need for being heard. These amazing writers give me the inspiration to find what is invisible but on the tips of my fingers. They encourage me to believe that what I have to put into words are important and worth reading. They are opening many pathways for more writers with silenced backgrounds to come forward and reveal unique perspectives from their experiences that have been ignored (read: buried).

I may not have an actual shelf in my home for books, but the bookshelf I created in my poetry to accumulate all I’ve learned from these narratives (from writing style to content) feels more rewarding.


Ashley Somwaru is an Indo-Caribbean woman who was born and raised in Queens, New York. She is currently pursuing her MFA at Queens College to immerse herself in pride for her mixed tongue, religious upbringings, superstitions, and cultural traditions that have made her into the red hibiscus she is. As a storyteller and poet, her work seeks to magnify the voices of women in her community, who have been silenced and abused, and to rewrite the history of her ancestors, those who were forgotten. She hopes to find them. Somwaru’s work has been published in Asian American Writers’ Workshop, the Spring 2020 issue of A Gathering Together, and will be in the forthcoming FEED issue of No, Dear.

Sundress Reads: A Review of Prime Meridian

Prime Meridian by Connie Post (Glass Lyre Press, 2020) unfolds how traumatic events can transform us down to the bone, how trauma can live in the body for years after it occurs. The narrative is told from the perspective of an adult woman grappling with the childhood abuse she endured at the hands of her father, about which she was made to be silent. We catch her at a moment of reckoning: “You haven’t spoken to your family / in fifteen years / you wonder how much longer / a fault line / can maintain its own silence.” As I read this line, I feel the pressure of all that is unsaid. I feel the pressure that caused the surface to split. These are the closing lines of the first poem in the collection, and this line becomes the axis around which these poems turn, the question that pulses behind each page. What are the costs of staying silent? 

The narrator’s father is introduced as a disruption. The narrator is playing with her cherished pink hula hoop, and the moment becomes marred when he appears, gazing at her body. She describes the scene: “My father walked towards me watching intently, the motion of my hips,” and when she “started practicing in the side yard,” “he found [her] anyway.” It doesn’t seem as if this were the first time he has gazed at her like this, nor will it be the last. When she passes him in the hallways of their home, she hopes he “would not / spill [his] Jack Daniels / down [her] legs,” that his “shirt buttons / were fastened.” There is a sense that she is always watched by him, and always watching him for signs of danger. In their home, there is no escape, and no one to turn to. She describes the hallway outside her bedroom as “motherless.” If her mother knows about the abuse, she can’t or won’t protect her daughter from it. In “Iron Will,” the narrator watches her mother “smooth the history / out of each rumpled seam” of clothing, which becomes a metaphor for how she denies the abuse. She may rather project the image of a perfect family than admit to any “wrinkles.” Or, perhaps it is not safe for her to intervene. Either way, she cannot protect her daughter from it. 

In the same poem, Post writes, “the days bled into years / of beatings / followed by the imperative seance of silence.” This line speaks to the imperative of silence within her own family but also the broader imperative of silence within a society that refuses to believe the word of survivors over the word of men, the patriarchs we have been taught to trust. When the narrator does try to tell family friends what happened, she is not believed. And so she is forced into silence. In “Four Miles from the Center of Town,” the narrator imagines finding her own body buried on the outskirts of town: “You will find… the barely thirteen-year-old / girl lying lifeless / pretending no one will find her / learning to live / in the shallow grave of silence.” As a child, the only way to survive the abuse was to leave her own body, to separate herself from what was happening to her. This is where she finds the body she fled: still hiding, buried in the dirt. In the grave silence made for her.

Later, she describes her “whole body” as “a fugue.” She has cleaved herself from the self that experienced the abuse, or she has tried to. She is still running, still trying to escape, but trapped within the confines of flesh. This is the challenge for survivors of abuse. To find a way to live in the same body that you want to run from. To make the body your own when someone else has tried to claim it as theirs. Or as Post writes: “how to leave a body / and then / how to return.”

How long can a fault line maintain its own silence? Throughout the collection of poems, this tension rises, the fault lines deepen, the walls crack. “Mountains / civilizations / houses / each succumbs to a kind of gravity / a weight which / they can no longer bear,” Post writes in “Crumbling.” And later, in “Daily Worship,” she sees her mother, on the steps of a church, “the confessionals crumbling / behind her / the cathedral folding into itself.” The institutions that the mother clings to, that we are taught to look toward for guidance — the church, the family, the patriarch — can only protect us so much. Eventually, they will crumble, in a terrifying, liberating crash.

And in “For All of Us Who,” we see that crash. The poem is a collective of different voices coming forward about their experiences with abuse. “I knew him, I didn’t know him, he put something in my drink, I was wearing winter clothes, I wasn’t wearing any clothes,” Post writes, creating a chorus of survivors’ voices, each statement beginning with “I,” creating a powerful refrain. The collective of voices provides the narrator a space in which she can tell her story. The repetition in the poem creates a tension that is finally relieved by the final line, which breaks forth from the paragraph with need and urgency. “I / need / to / tell / the / truth.”

And so the truth roars. Telling the truth about her abuse doesn’t make the weight she carries any lighter, but it does provide her with a path to go forward. In the final poem in the collection, “Omen,” the narrator describes a black squirrel who visits her backyard. “It doesn’t look right,” she says, and encourages “the dogs / to run after him.” But one afternoon, when the squirrel is visiting the yard, their eyes meet, and she sees “his small heart pulsing / how a sorrow fills a cavern / and keeps beating.” This is how she will go forward, not by banishing her sorrow, or fleeing from its cavern, but learning to live in it, one heartbeat at a time.

What is, perhaps, the most salient aspect of this collection is the honesty with which the narrator speaks about the darkness that has defined her life since she was abused. The images are sometimes gruesome, and sometimes repetitive, but there is no sanitization of the ways the narrator continues to be haunted. And furthermore, the narrator does not strive to make peace with or forgive her father. When he dies, she skips his funeral. While, culturally, we do seem to be moving away from the insistence that survivors must forgive their abusers in order to move on, this insistence is firmly rooted in the way we often talk about abuse, and, to me, is a way of dismissing survivors’ pain and excusing abusers’ actions. Post writes: “everyone is gathering at the grave site / but me / after all / a black sheep / has her wool to groom in the hour of your death.” There is no forgiveness here, only earned bitterness, and a turn inward, to one’s own wool. Taking this moment to shift away from her father, and toward herself, to groom her own wool, perhaps, as an act of care, and furthermore, as an act of acquaintanceship with the body, the body from which she has wanted to flee, feels, in some ways, like defiance, and a quiet triumph.

Prime Meridian is available at Glass Lyre Press.


Kathleen Gullion is a writer based in Houston. Her work has appeared in the Esthetic Apostle, Coachella ReviewF Newsmagazine, and others. She holds a Master of Fine Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.