Sundress editorial intern Kimberly Ann Priest sat down with Sarah Clark to discuss their thoughts on beestung, the magazine for which Clark is the editor. Topics ranged from aesthetics to diversity tokenism to bees.
Kimberly Ann Priest: What is your overall goal for the journal? How would you like audiences, a few years from now, to feel after connecting with the work represented in this journal over a period of time?
Sarah Clark: Overall, I want to create a space for two-spirit writers and writers under the non-binary umbrella to thrive in, and feel at home in. My focus is, and will always be, these writers and readers. Of course, I hope that in the future, audiences will wonder why more spaces like this didn’t exist before! I’m not the first editor to create a space for two-spirit and writers outside of the binary — there are a lot of places doing really good work in this regard. But I hope that more and more readers will gravitate toward our publications, as easily as they gravitate toward any other publication.
Over the years, I’ve had some really good conversations with other marginalized writers about how there can be a feedback loop that’s created when we carve spaces for ourselves. Only Native writers reading Native publications, only queer writers reading queer publications, only disabled writers reading disabled publications. And while this is already a success — getting read at all is a success! — I do hope that quote-unquote general audiences will come to us and will come to find merit in our work. And maybe understand both our aesthetics and ourselves as human beings more and more.
This is also part of why I wanted to make our issues short — 7 writers or artists per issue. I hoped that beestung would be bite-size, something to read on a commute. A taste that will cultivate a hunger.
KAP: The phrase “historically underrepresented writers” has become commonplace in the literary world. I see it everywhere, on calls for submissions specifically. Every time I read it, I am reminded that there is still a lot of work to do in terms of recognizing individuals who fall into this category and who do not feel like their voice is honored in the literary world. Can you speak a bit about this? What work do you still see as left undone and how will this journal contribute to doing that work?
SC: You’re very right, there’s a lot of work to do to bring historically underrepresented writers to the fore. There’s been progress in recent years, though some of it has reeked of tokenism. No one should ever be publishing someone simply to “diversify” their publications. And this was part of my goal with beestung. To hopefully create a safer place where writers beyond the binary can feel respected, without worrying about whether they’re being looked at for their identity first, and the merits of their work second.
One of the major pitfalls that I hope to avoid is to create what’s called a parallel canon. That is to say, if the canon is a monolith of what one is “supposed” to read, that a parallel canon is an addendum to this, but a canon nonetheless. I strongly disagree with the idea that there even is such a thing as “The Best Indigenous Writing” or “The Best Non-Binary Writing.” Instead, I believe we all need to read more widely. I hope that beestung can provide a taste of what we create.
One aspect of this is that there must not only be a push for marginalized writers, but for marginalized editors to deeply and truly read their work. And with that, there must be support for marginalized and multiply-marginalized editors. We can’t simply exist as “check-boxes.” We have to be given a chance to curate and create worlds and works outside of that which exists in the dominant literary palate.
KAP: I love the title of your journal, specifically that you’ve taken a noun and verb and combined the two to create an adjective. How did you come up with this title? What was your inspiration?
SC: Thank you! beestung is a nesting doll of puns and meanings. We are honey and we are sting — we don’t seek to showcase pain alone as a sideshow, and we can just as easily revel in the sweetness and euphoria of who we are. The title is also a pun, playing off of the slang term “enby” and the word “tongue.” Enby’s tongue, get it? It’s a pronouncement of our voices (our tongues). Bees, in general, fascinate me, too. We come together to create structures and communities that are a miracle. Bees can be fierce, but also so communal in their societies. And bees — like us — help make the world itself thrive. We’ve both existed side-by-side for millennia.
KAP: What sort of work are you looking for? I’d love to hear about some of your favorite published pieces — poems, stories — and why these resonate with you.
SC: This is a tricky one, because I’m always waiting to be surprised. As I said before, I’m not looking to simply showcase pain. Nor am I looking to produce bubblegum pop work with the purpose of alleviating our oppressors. Whatever phenomenon a writer or artist can create is something that I absolutely want to read, see, and obsess over.
Since we only publish 7 writers or artists per quarter, it’s also hard to narrow down just what’s my favorite. I was so pleasantly surprised when moira j. sent me a poem in the form of a Venn diagram.
The microhybrids and photography of S*an D/ Henry-Smith reminded me a lot of the balance between seemingly-simple structures, and the meticulous work that goes into them — something akin to a spider’s web.
Eleanor Eli Moss sent in a hybrid that I hadn’t been expecting at all — I highly recommend that everyone reads more of their ongoing work on SubStack to check out more of what they’re doing, because it’s truly revolutionary — so urgent! so nuanced!
Elliot Rose Winter’s poems balance the raw with the cerebral, nature and the interior.
Lyrik Courtney. Oh, god. When I first read their poem, I took a sharp inhale, and immediately showed their piece to my partner. Their piece is an excellent example of conveying pain and realness without catering to an audience of fetishistic gawkers (“it is nothing new. ‘slut’ one closed circuit”).
Briar Ripley Page wrote about the body, what we do to the body to feel at home, what we can imagine for the non-binary body. Another truly singular piece.
Lastly, Joanna C. Valente gifted us with two poems. They were the first person who I solicited, a little selfishly. When I was first coming out as non-binary and two-spirit, they were already writing about their gender presentation and their right to belong. At the time, I had felt that I was either a fraud or not good enough for wanting to keep wearing makeup and for keeping my long hair. I’ve learned a lot from Joanna, and I owe them a debt. Two debts, I suppose, as their poetry about love, the self, and will itself sings from the page.
Each of the writers and artists in the first issue of beestung has brought something crucial to us, and I’m eternally grateful.
For those folks out there who are neither binary men nor binary women? Please send us your work. You’ll never know until you try. And even if your work doesn’t make it into an issue of beestung, I know your work will find its place. Whether that’s in a publication or passed around to a group of trusted friends. What you create matters, and is making a difference, no matter what.
Sarah Clark is Editor-in-Chief and Poetry Editor at Anomaly, Co-Editor of The Queer Movement Anthology (Seagull Books, 2021), a reader at The Atlas Review and Doubleback Books, and an Editorial Board member at Sundress Press. She’s edited folios for publications, including Anomaly‘s GLITTERBRAIN folio and a folio on Indigenous & Decolonial Futures & Futurisms, Drunken Boat’s folios on Sound Art, “Desire & Interaction,” and a collection of global indigenous art and literature, First Peoples, Plural. Sarah freelances, and has worked with a number of literary and arts publications and organizations.
Kimberly Ann Priest is the author of Still Life (PANK, forthcoming 2020), Parrot Flower (Glass Poetry Press, forthcoming 2020) and White Goat Black Sheep (FLP, 2018). Her work has appeared in several journals including The Laurel Review, The Berkeley Poetry Review and The New Delta Review. You can find her work at kimberlyannpriest.com.