The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Geographies of the Heart by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

This selection, chosen by Managing Editor Krista Cox, is from Geographies of the Heart by Caitlin Hamilton Summie, released by Fomite Press in 2022.

Whole New Worlds
December 1995


My grandfather saw the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution. He stared from the deck of the U.S.S. Greenlet toward the thin strip of land that was the shore, and he thinks he saw puffs of smoke, the distant beginnings of a new war as the other died. His ship was outside Vladivostok. He was 15, and now, at 92, he isn’t sure he remembers what happened in Vladivostok correctly. His memory slips. He calls me by my mother’s name. He lies in his bed in the nursing home, voice thin as paper, and whispers pieces of stories. I try to catch them. I catch what I can. I create our history out of the pieces, pick them up, fit them together. Puffs of smoke.

I’m sitting in the gray half-light of early morning, alone. Just like Grandpa, I can’t think clearly. He’s looking back; me, forward. Try not to look at the borders, at the possibilities, I tell myself. They are boundaries into whole new worlds.

Grandpa lied about his age to get into WWI, running down to enlist with his buddy Jimmy Kantor before either of their mothers could stop them. Later, he insisted the Navy find him a place in WWII, even though he was considered too old. In my own life, I have never known such courage, and rarely such clarity.

The kitchen is cold, and I’m wearing my favorite wool sweater and a long flannel nightgown, the same outfit I wore yesterday, and the day before. I couldn’t sleep, and I slid out from underneath the heavy weight of Al’s arm and came downstairs. I stole his fuzzy bear paw slippers to wear, and each step I made on the hardwood floors sounded like I was being hushed, from restlessness to calm. Upstairs, Al snores softly. He’s sound asleep, head under his pillow, arm thrown over mine.

“I can’t believe you two planned a vacation in Iowa,” Mom had said. I called her last week to let her know we’d be out of town, to ask her to feed the cat. Alber hates to be alone. If somebody doesn’t come over and lavish him with praise on a regular basis, he’ll take revenge on the plants.

“We’re staying in an old farmhouse,” I said.

“Where else would you be staying?” Mom paused. “Whose idea was this?”

“Al’s.” I felt the conversation degenerating. “Mom,” I said. “We just want to get away for a while.”

“Oh, trust me, you will.”

We rented the house for the days before New Year’s, hoping to escape into a quiet and calm that the previous months had not allowed. I had a feeling then, in the way planning the trip made Al more buoyant, in the way he crossed days off on his calendar, that for him the vacation meant more than escaping a trying three or four months. Last week, when I wasn’t looking, the box with my grandmother’s wedding ring disappeared from the top of my dresser, and now, almost through our vacation, packing to leave, I wait for him to give it back to me.

The Realtor reminded us the amenities were few, just before we signed the rental contract for one of the few properties that fit his budget.

“No coffee pot,” she said, raising a penciled brown eyebrow, gauging our response. Her name was Mrs. Swenson, and she had an office right down the road from Al’s office at the university. Mrs. Swenson wore a bright red jacket and gold earrings. She smoked thin cigarettes.

“No coffee pot?” she said, and her voice rose at the end. We stared at her blankly.

“No washer and dryer.” Again, the eyebrow went up, and again, we were silent. “No shower,” Mrs. Swenson continued, “only a bathtub.”

Al leaned forward. He smiled. He said, “Does it have toilet?” The eyebrow stayed up. “Yes,” she said.



“Then we’re dandy.”

I had watched Al sign the contract, his hand gliding over the page.

It seemed so easy, being definite.

This morning, when I put a kettle on, blue flame hissed and sprang from the burner, and there was something beautiful about it in the darkness. Outside, for miles, the view is of snow and trees. There are no lights lining any highway, no garbage truck that thunders past, flashing yellow lights across the ceiling, nobody telling me that what my ads really need are borders to give them a little pep. Out here, lost in the long land that is farmland, I sit at a kitchen table of solid maple, and drink tea that is hot and strong. Later, I’ll drive down a dirt road, bump along until I reach pavement, and then glide past field after field, just for the fun of it, just to feel open space, wide open space, like I haven’t felt for a long time.

“Will you feed Alber?” I finally asked my mother when we spoke on the phone last week. Lately, we’ve communicated by telephone, sending ourselves from one side of Minneapolis to the other, over the snowy roads we refuse to traverse, over the long gray landscape of winter.

“I’ll even take him for walks,” she had said.

I doubted Alber could make it more than two yards, but I didn’t say so. Alber could use exercise, like Al. They’re a pair. They stretch out on the couch together and watch college football on fall Saturdays. On occasion, I’ve even seen Al slip Alber a victory potato chip when the Gophers scored.

“What’s happening?” Mom asked. “You’re planning to quit your job, now you’re enamored of Iowa.”

I knew she was joking, but underneath the joke, she didn’t under- stand. For months now, Al has been like a signal man on a Navy ship who waves flags at boats on the horizon. The signals are sometimes subtle, sometimes not and then must be decoded, but the message is clear. Where will we spend the holidays next year? How do I feel about the ring my grandmother gave me, her ring, the ring she has slipped off her finger already, for me, now? That’s what he asked me when I brought it home and showed it to him in October, placed on a white cloth in a small white box. He asked, “Is that the one you want?” I think, being honest with myself, which sometimes is hard for me to do, that Al was willing to wait for me until he started hanging out with my Grandpa. Al’s signaling started with Grandpa, who has decided I need to hurry up so he can be here to see it all. Al’s signals are like the smoke in Vladivostok that warned Grandpa at age fifteen that something was beginning, something big.

Caitlin Hamilton Summie founded Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, LLC, an independent book publicity and marketing firm, in 2003. Over the course of her career, in-house and solo, she has launched Susan Vreeland, Emily St. John Mandel, William Gay, Kim Church, Bren McClain, and many more. Her short story collection, To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts (Fomite Press, 2017) won The Phillip H. MacMath Post-Publication Book Award, Silver in the Foreword INDIES Books of the Year Awards in Short Stories, and was a June 2018 Pulpwood Queen Book Club Bonus Book. Her first novel, Geographies of the Heart, (Fomite Press, 2022) was a Pulpwood Queen Book Club Bonus Book in January 2022 and a finalist in the Indie Next Generation Book Award for General Fiction.

Interview with Alexa White, SAFTA Writer in Residence

Sundress Academy for the Arts Grant Manager and current farmhouse Writer-in-Residence, Alexa White, spoke with SAFTA intern, Kyle Wente, about her writing and residency.

Kyle Wente: Why is art important for you to create right now? What’s been inspiring you lately?

Alexa White: What I’ve been writing lately has been pretty introspective and, paradoxically, I’ve been inspired to explore it through my surroundings and the landscapes I’m coming into contact with— it’s very setting-driven. In fact, the holler and spaces in the vicinity of Firefly Farms have been very inspirational!

However, with all the terrible things going on globally right now (and always), it feels weird to write about my own problems when such overt oppression and violence take place daily, hourly even. I don’t know the best way to talk about it in a creative mode at this point, so I’m hoping what I’m writing can connect with at least a few people in the meantime.

KW: You’ve said in the past that Knoxville is your “semi-hometown.” Where else do you call home, and how do you think your writing manifests both sides?

AW: I was born in Chesapeake, Virginia and lived there until I was 10. I’ve only visited once since leaving so I feel pretty disconnected from it, physically and mentally, despite all my memories. While I’ve connected more to Knoxville creatively and think of it as my home, having previously lived somewhere very different has given me an ability to examine and appreciate this area that I wouldn’t have if I was born here. I’ve been here almost 15 years and am still finding new ways to look at it and write about it.

KW: What excites you the most about your writing and writing experience during the SAFTA residency?

AW: Definitely the other residents! I’ve met so many amazing people from all over and had some great connections, conversations, and shared experiences. As for my own writing, being around other writers makes me want to write more. As an introvert, I was pretty nervous coming in, but the environment here is instantly communal; often we’ll all be writing and doing our thing in the same room right after meeting. I especially love sharing work and hearing what other people have been working on. 

KW: What are you working on right now?

AW: I’ve noticed in the past year or so that most of my poetry often revolves around driving or cars, so I’ve been leaning into that obsession and trying to understand where the urge is coming from. I like the idea of exploring my experiences with isolation, escapism, and depression through the lens of a driver moving through landscapes while being detached, alienated or even threatened by them. I’m hoping these poems could become a chapbook at some point.

KW: What forms are you interested in working with at the moment? What’s a form or style you want to write in?

AW: Along with fiction, I’ve been wanting to experiment with screenwriting for a while now. I’ve always loved film and, after taking a great screenwriting class during my last semester at UTK, really came to enjoy and appreciate it as a form. For me, it’s almost a bridge between fiction and poetry because, in addition to being narrative, scripts rely on imagery and attention to visual details. Every description should be there for a specific reason. I’ve started writing a few scenes for a little project I’ve been working on— right now I’m just seeing where it takes me. 

KW: What has been your favorite part of your SAFTA residency?

AW: After the human residents, my favorite things are the animals and space. As someone who gravitates towards chaos rather than routine, it’s been nice to have an immediate responsibility to jumpstart my day. The furry ones gotta eat, and once that’s done I’ll go from there. I’ve really come to love the holler and its lovely quirks too. It’s serene and quiet but very alive and sometimes bustling. It’s become a home away from home but only 25 minutes from home.

KW: What’s something you want everyone to know about your upcoming work?

AW: That it may take some time and is probably going to be pretty weird!

Alexa White is a mixed-race, neurodivergent writer and graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she earned her BA in creative writing and studio art. While attending, she won the 2022 Bain-Swiggett prize for traditional poetry forms and her poetry and art has appeared in The Phoenix, the school’s literary and arts magazine. Alexa lives in Knoxville, her semi-hometown, and is the Grants Manager at Sundress Academy for the Arts. She takes delight in backroads, quarries, and the last few seconds of sunset and redefines her bedtime nightly.

Kyle J. Wente (he/him) graduated from the University of Tennessee, where he studied English and Creative Writing. He has served as Editor of Poetry for Sequoya Review in Chattanooga, TN. He loves nature, playing bass, and co-parenting his partner’s ten-year-old beagle, Marlowe Eugene.

Project Bookshelf: Kenli Doss

A shelf of actor-edition plays, arranged by color.

I consider myself a professional word consumer. I consume news articles with my morning coffee. I snack on books and poems and stories throughout the day. I spend most of my working hours with my nose pressed firmly in the crease between two pages. I’m also a collector. I forage for these sweet things. I catch my favorite parcels with words and pages and spines, and I store them in my home like jarred prototypes: physical reminders of the metaphysical worlds I’ve visited.

So, naturally, when Sundress prompted me to write about what’s on my bookshelf, the first thought was, “Which shelf?” I bumbled from one bookcase to another looking for inspiration, and, when I eventually found my answer, it wasn’t tucked between Frankenstein and 10 Minute Einstein on a shelf of paper and ink. No, I found the inspiration I was seeking, my panacea, my muse incarnate in the form of a small plastic disk dusted with decades of memories, not a book but a DVD.

Pagemaster (1994) was the film that launched my obsession with all things books. From reading to writing to dreaming of swallowing whole pages, this film sparked the interest that created that proverbial itch for words I hope I never outgrow.

“Are you fiction or non-fiction?”

Adventure, Pagemaster

Unlike Pagemaster‘s tiny hero Richard Tyler (Macaulay Culkin) who faces horror, adventure, and fantasy on the shelf, I have non-fiction to contend with, and a lot of it. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the odd fantasy novel here and there, but the real-life science, art, and philosophy? That’s where my collection really shines.

A cluttered black bookshelf. A hanging plant in a blue pot can be seen in the corner, and a disco ball hangs from the pot to the lower left, where more books, a green vase, and a lipstick plant sit.

The non-fiction writers generally invited to my shelf include your typical bunch of scientists and philosophers: Marx, Camus, Sartre, Einstein, Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Okay, that last one is new, but his book Astrophysics for People in a Hurry got me through twelve-hour days in college theatre. Besides the scholarly books and baubles, there is also a handful of 19th century gardening books found at an estate sale in Tuscaloosa. Then, there’s the inevitable section for the betterment of my soul, including such editions as Under the Skin: The Hidden Toll of Racism on Health in America by Linda Villarosa and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Each of these books has served as a drop of paint in the mural of my imagination, and I hope the trove only grows.

“You really are a classic.”

Fantasy, Pagemaster

Much like Long John Silver in his search for Treasure Island, I am on my own adventure: a search for something sweeter, shinier, and more impressive. And, like Richard Tyler, I found my gold in the books that beckoned from the shelf, specifically the so-called “classics.”

Jane Austen wrote my soul with edits made by the Brontë sisters. Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is as integral to my heart as any blood vessel, and it would be wrong not to mention such a testament to my mind as a romantic. On my shelf, she’s surrounded by Vonnegut, Poe, Gaskell, Alcott, and Shakespeare. Beside Pride and Prejudice sits my copy of the First Folio of Shakespeare as ruler of my soul. These are my treasures. This is my gold.

“Are you sure that swizzle stick of yours is working right?”

Adventure, Pagemaster

Consuming books isn’t all about reading, and I dedicate a large portion of my study time to annotations. In my head, a book gains more value when a reader scribbles down their thoughts, concerns, and objections in the margins. I would much rather receive any old, used copy with pen marks and highlights and penciled-in exclamations than a stiff-spined, fresh-paged edition. Where’s the soul? Thus, I scribble and encourage others to scribble. The world would be a happier place with more scribblers.

A black bookshelf filled with books. In the foreground, a purple copy of Little Women is stacked on The Gilded Years, also purple. A pumpkin figurine occupies the bottom right.

Toward the end of Pagemaster, after Richard Tyler escapes the murderous dragon and makes it safely to the exit sign, he wants to know what’s going on. He knows the Pagemaster is in control, and he demands an explanation. The Pagemaster explains to young Richard Tyler that if he’d never stepped foot in the library he “never would have found the courage to face [his] own fears.”

“In this very room waiting to strike are forces of evil.”

Dr. Jeckel, Pagemaster

My fears are the feelings of anxiety around what I call the four horsemen of the failed career: Plagiarism, Failure, Dullness, and Rejection. I, too, slay dragons. Only my proverbial fire-breathing monster takes the form of anxiety-induced writer’s block. So, when I find myself glued to the keyboard, fingers stiff and unmoving, brain backfiring, I look to the shelf. Those flimsy pieces of cardstock inked in words and phrases and ideas, they hold the cure. Like Richard Tyler, these treasures offer me a ride out of the beast’s gigantic belly: out of the writer’s block stupor, and onto the page.

Which, at last, brings me to my answer, or as precise an answer as I can give, anyway. What’s on my bookshelf? Hundreds of years of ink and words and treasures of all shapes, sizes, and genres. What’s on my shelf? A glowing lightbulb: my secret to slaying dragons.

A white woman with blonde hair wearing a black turtleneck stands before a blurred background of trees.

Kenli Doss holds a BA in English and a BA in Theatre-Performance from Jacksonville State University. She is a freelance writer and actress based out of Alabama, and she spends her free time painting scenes from nature or writing poetry for her mom. Ken’s works appear in Something Else (a JSU literary arts journal), Bonemilk II by Gutslut Press, Snowflake Magazine, The Shakespeare Project’s Romeo and Juliet Study Guide and A Midsummer Night’s Dream Study Guide, and The White Cresset Arts Journal.

Poets in Pajamas Call for Readers

Poets in Pajamas (PiP), a Sundress Publications reading series, is organizing a cohort of readers for 2024 and invites you to apply! 

Poets in Pajamas is an online reading series which prides itself on producing high-quality poetry readings for an online audience. Hosted on Zoom and live-streamed to Facebook, two readers are paired together per reading to perform for twenty minutes each and answer audience questions for an additional fifteen minutes. 

We are interested in hearing from all writers around the globe, but we particularly welcome writers that identify as being a part of disenfranchised communities (such as, but not limited to: persons of color, those from immigrant populations, native and indigenous people, LGBTQ+, d/Deaf and Disabled, non-binary folks, members of non-dominant religious groups, all women, Dreamers, the formerly incarcerated, and more). We want to promote you and your work. 

This year, we are pleased to offer a $250 honorarium to each of our readers by way of the Poetry Foundation’s generous “Poetry Programs, Partners, and Innovations” grant! 

To apply, submit three (3) poems or up to six (6) pages of flash fiction or micro fiction. Also submit a short video of you reading your work (note: please send a new video of you reading in a quiet place, such as at home, in your garden, in front of your computer, or in your living room). Read for no more than 1 to 2 minutes. Include in your submission a bio, a brief cover letter, and an author photo. Submissions must be addressed to: Submissions close December 18, 2023. 

Note: We’re NOT concerned with audio/video quality, nor your appearance. We are looking to get to know your reading style as a means of connecting your magical words with your personal flair! Don’t overthink, please apply! We would be honored to consider your work. 

Sundress Reads: Review of Babe

In Dorothy Chan’s poetry collection, Babe (Diode Editions 2021), readers are transported into a vibrant and alluring world where pleasure reigns supreme. Through her masterful use of language and vivid imagery, Chan invites the audience to indulge in her inner world, one filled with movie star glamour, iconic beauty marks reminiscent of Marilyn Monroe, and a faux blue fur coat that serves as a shield against exploitation while radiating both excess and fun. In this realm, the senses are tantalized by the allure of delicious food, evoking nostalgia and delight in the present moment—a mouthwatering burger with a caramel shake, kimchi pancakes, and egg-shaped jello—each culinary creation a testament to the pleasures of the senses.

At its core, Babe searches for connection through pleasure while delving into Chan’s complex identity as a Chinese woman subjected to fetishization. The collection unearths the predatory relationships she has experienced with older men in her past, shedding light on the intricacies of power, desire, and vulnerability.

Another major theme within the collection is the resistance of queerphobia; Chan details her reality as a bisexual woman navigating her queerphobic family.  Chan is a larger-than-life movie star outright denying the script of heteronormatity, the primetime TV reality show of life has laid before her. In “Triple Sonnet, Because You Are Not My Home, You Are Not My Home, You Are Not My Family,” Chan writes: “Hello, Primetime, your formula’s / so straight, it’s stale, but what would you know? / Basic cable you have no idea what you’re missing” (22). Throughout the collection, Chan skillfully intertwines themes of pleasure and identity with her exploration of family dynamics. Babe exposes the queerphobia and misogyny present within her familial relationships, adding depth to her narrative. The raw and candid portrayal of these experiences lends authenticity to the poems, allowing readers to empathize with Chan’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance.

In “Dear Lady Stop Gifting Me Lip Balm and Handcream,” Chan recounts a time an in-law speculates on her sexuality: 

“Lady it none of your business

what I do in my spare time

and my sexuality is not yours to dissect

not yours to straighten up…

But I’ll gladly build a rocketship

ride a rocketship orgasm a rocketship

if that will shut you up and fly you out of here.” (27) 

Chan at no point denies herself within the text, yet queerphobia constantly pushes back against her expression; forcing conflict over and over. She reminds the reader that to be authentically yourself is the ultimate freedom, but social structures in place, especially those within the most intimate spaces, mean that the battle to find and maintain your authentic self is lifelong. 

Chan’s poetic prowess shines through not only in her exploration of pleasure and identity but also in her innovative use of form. She introduces readers to her invented Triple Sonnet, showcasing her technical brilliance. The line breaks of these three connected sonnets are built around the sawtooth margin, with indents for every other line. These indentations build the tension in the reading of the poem. If the words of the poem are the food, the sawtooth margin is how your teeth should chew over them. It slows you down, makes you chew a little longer so the taste of the words linger over your tongue. This form becomes a vessel for her lyrical expressions, allowing her words to flow seamlessly and captivating readers with their rhythm and cadence.

In addition to her captivating descriptions of sex and pleasure, Chan creates an intimate connection with her readers through the lens of food. Food becomes a symbol of love and acceptance, fostering a sense of comfort and belonging. We see this on full display in her poem, “Love Letter to Jello Salad, Time Travel. And My Mother:” “ .. oh so colorful, and isn’t  it such a wonder / how different shapes can enhance the taste of food, like / the flower-shaped donuts in Japan, preferably in / matcha or strawberry, or how the heart-shaped / chocolates in the  Valentines Day selection always / taste the best” (12). The rich imagery of culinary delights further enhances the sensory experience of the collection, evoking a profound emotional response from the readers. 

Babe challenges societal norms and celebrates the complexities of identity, pleasure, and love. Dorothy Chan’s poetic voice is unapologetic, bold, and empowering. Her exploration of the human experience, intertwined with themes of pleasure, desire, and acceptance, resonates deeply with readers, leaving a lasting impression. Through her eloquent verses and inventive form, Chan invites readers to embrace their desires, confront societal barriers, and revel in the freedom of being true to oneself. “Babe” is a testament to the transformative power of poetry, reminding us of the importance of embracing our authentic selves and finding joy in the pleasures of life.

Babe is available at Diode Editions

Zora Satchel (she/they) is a Black and Chinese American queer poet and cinephile who writes about mental illness, film, family, and friendship. She holds a degree in Ethnic Studies from Colorado State University and was awarded the Brooklyn Poets fellowship for winter/spring 2021. She lives on the border of Brooklyn and Queens

An Interview with Tatiana Johnson-Boria, Author of Nocturne in Joy

In the wake of the release of her full-length poetry collection, Nocture in Joy, Tatiana Johnson-Boria spoke with Sundress Publication’s editorial intern K Slade about Black Womexhood, generational trauma, and the beauty of unrestricted Black joy.

K Slade: The speaker recollects their time during childhood, sharing intimate and loaded moments with their close family. Was it hard to transport yourself back in time to a place where the world was so big but you were so small? Or were these moments the speaker reflects on ingrained in you, something you could innately write about?

Tatiana Johnson-Boria: I currently live with PTSD, and I think that I needed to care for myself while also allowing myself to speak the truth of my experience in this book. The process was difficult, and these moments will always be prominent because they are the core of my own survival. I am not thankful for these moments, yet I’m not afraid of them. I am mostly in earnest care for the versions of myself who endured the things I discuss in this book.

KS: How did you navigate the separation between the male characterization in your poems (particularly in “My Brother Outruns a Dog on W. Concord St.” and “My Father Hums in the Kitchen and for the First Time This is Art”) and the characterization of your women?

TJB: I really wanted to center the Black womxnhood/womanhood in this collection. I don’t see the male characters as separate but as in connection with the speaker. Some of these connections are harmful, yet some of them are loving and full of care. I also think there is a moment where tenderness is central to the male figures in this collection. Yet, this isn’t an overarching characterization of males in general. I tried not to make overt generalizations and focus on the humanity of all the people in this collection while also being truthful to my own experiences.

KS: You’ve dedicated your poetry collection to “Black Womxn” of any and all embodiments. How do Black Womxn shape your unfolding narrative? What pieces of Black womxnhood mean the most to you within your collection?

TJB: There’s this famous quote by Toni Morrison that says: “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” As a writer, this is something I’m always doing. As a Black woman who comes from Black womxn, of all origins, it felt organic to dedicate this book to them and to the versions of myself that desperately needed to read this book. There are also so many parts of my healing journey that center Black feminist teachings and for me, I would not have survived without the ecosystems created for me by Black womxn.

KS: In “Ars Poetica,” you write “A walk through a field carrying my mother’s wounds // The glorious gap in my grandmother’s teeth // The iron swallowing the wrinkles from my sister’s dress // My stubborn brothers throw their heads back in laughter I marvel the harvest of their uncombed kinks //A phantom of a father the tremor of his voice.” What does it mean to carry all these lives on such tiny shoulders?

TJB: I think a lot about generational trauma, and I find it surreal to know our lives stem from lives lived before us. All of these things are embedded in who we are, from the smallest detail to the most immense memory. I focused on the things from my past that I only saw glimpses of but that tell such a big story about my lineage. I got so much inspiration from Joy Harjo’s poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here” and the way she uses a kitchen table to weave through time, memory, and ancestral experiences.

I wanted to emulate the way a poem can do that, and I found an avenue through fragmented mages. These fragments, to me, feel easier to hold onto, and because of this more possible to hold.

KS: Many of your poems center on the weight of generational trauma, such as the opening stanzas of “Ars Poetica” and “Another Death.” How do you think the uniqueness of the Black experience contextualizes generational trauma? How does it impact the speaker in your collection?

TJB: The Black experience is rich and vast, and racism, in the United States, actively violates the depth and beauty of Blackness. I recently visited the Simone Leigh exhibit entitled “Sovereignty.” The art was created in an examination of Black femme identity and the state of being sovereign. Simone Leigh writes: “To be sovereign is to not be subject to another’s authority, another’s desires, or another’s gaze, but rather to be the author of one’s own history.”

I saw this exhibit after writing this book but couldn’t help but see the connection. Simone Leigh is examining Blackness and I’m examining Blackness, and there’s a thread of “being the author of one’s story” that binds us. This is something I see as a unique aspect of Black identity. We are learning to love, care, and be ourselves in a society that actively violates us.

Blackness is infinite and sacred. It’s not only the relationship between Blackness and white supremacy that echoes into the life of the speaker, it’s the relationship between the speaker and their own Blackness that encourages the writing of their own story and existence. This is core to the speaker’s survival.

KS: “Add Half & Half for Sweetness” embodies what it’s like being a Black girl in the South. You write “The woman whose hair is as unruly as mine says there is something wrong when the cake is too dry to always add creamer to please the palate. My hair is burning in her kitchen an iron close hissing my scalp the static of my hair bakes knots smooth.” How do the female relationships within your collection speak to the trauma of growing up as a Black girl?

TJB: There’s a line in the poem “Nocturne in Joy: where the speaker states: “I am old enough to know that no man has ever come to save me//the way a woman has.” This line encompasses much of the core of how crucial Black women, womxn, and femme relationships are. These relationships are crucial not just for survival, but in being seen. In being seen, we can be heard, and being seen in a community of Black people upends what has historically and what is currently occurring (violence, neglect, etc.) for Black women, womxn, and femmes in our society. In archiving these moments of care between Black people, we are tending and caring for Black people to thrive.

Nocturne in Joy is available to order on the Sundress website

Tatiana Johnson-Boria (she/her) is a writer, artist, and educator. Her writing explores identity,  trauma, especially inherited trauma, and what it means to heal. Her work has been selected as a  finalist for the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, the Black Warrior Review Poetry Contest (2020),  and others. She is a recipient of the 2021 MacDowell Fellowship and the 2021 Brother Thomas  Fellowship. Johnson-Boria completed her MFA in Creative Writing at Emerson College and is a  2021 Tin House Scholar. Find her work in or forthcoming at Ploughshares, Kenyon ReviewPleiades, and others.

K Slade (she/her) is a Black gothic and speculative fiction writer pursuing a BS in Digital Journalism and a Japanese minor at Appalachian State University. She currently serves as Visual Managing Editor for The Appalachian, her collegiate newspaper, and specializes in multimedia journalism. Horror media deeply inspired her love for the craft and in the future, K wants to write a script for a horror game. After undergrad, she hopes to move to New York and pursue an MFA in Creative Writing. 

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Geographies of the Heart by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

This selection, chosen by Managing Editor Krista Cox, is from Geographies of the Heart by Caitlin Hamilton Summie, released by Fomite Press in 2022.

Cleaning House
October 1995


“You need to learn to accept a few things,” Grandma says to me now. “I need to accept some things, too. One of them is that I’m here. You need to accept that we are going to die.”

She catches me unprepared. “I know that,” I say, and my voice sounds light, surprised.

“No, you don’t.”

“Grandma, I understand.”

Grandma shakes her head. She slumps back into her chair. “If you knew that, you’d listen.”

I’m afraid to reply, so I sit and wait for her to speak. Grandpa’s hands still spasm, and I stare at them, wanting them to stop, afraid that they will. Grandma seems to know where my gaze falls.

“You do what he does,” Grandma says. “You turn off when you don’t want to talk. You turn away.”

Grandma lifts herself out of her chair part way, pauses, then sits back down. I try to help, but she’s too heavy. I press the call button.

She swats Grandpa’s feet. “Wake him up.”

I hesitate.

“Wake him up.” She raises her voice, and I lean over and tap Grandpa awake, tap until his eyes open slowly, and he looks at me.

“Tell him I’m giving you the gift now. Tell him not to turn off.”

“What gift?”

“The gift we’re giving you. Don’t argue.”

She presses a buzzer near her chair. Soon Kirsten knocks on the door, then comes inside. Without a word, she lifts Grandma from the chair and sets her walker in front of her. Grandma leans heavily on it. After Kirsten leaves, Grandma walks slowly over to her dresser drawer and pulls out a box.

Grandpa shakes his head. “I told her you wouldn’t want this,” he says. “I don’t want her to do it.”

Grandma grips the box in her hand, turns, and I’m shocked that she lets me guide her.

I think about ritual, about the passing on of china, of linen, of antique furniture. To me, family history is made up of stories more than material goods, and the thought of wanting something, of saying, yes, I’d like the china, seems crude. I want the stories. I want connec- tions, and the rituals that forged them, like Grandpa and Grandma’s October favorite anniversary meal (beef stew and biscuits), Dad playing Santa each Christmas, my annual snow fight with Glennie. I want only to remember. I can’t believe that one day she’ll be gone; that Grandpa will be gone; that I’ll turn from the stove on Thanksgiving, turn from stirring the gravy, and not see them waiting at the table to taste; that I’ll walk down the aisle, one day, far away, and they will not be sitting in the front pews; that their stories are ones soon I will tell, and never as well.

“Here,” Grandma says, having returned to her seat and taken a breath. She thrusts the box at me, and when I hesitate to take it, she nudges my hand with it. “This is for you.”

I take the box. It’s made of a rough, hard material, and the white has yellowed.

“I’m not giving you the china.”

I stare at her.

“I’m giving it to Glennie. She likes it. She might use it. You won’t.” I smile, but I don’t feel much like laughing. Grandma smiles at me, too, and her smile is a steady one, determined. “I’m also giving you my tea towels,” she said. “You make more messes.”

I laugh, and the laugh is like a bubble, and it lets the tears loose.

“Just keep one or two nice,” Grandma says. “Keep the ones with my good embroidery for nice.”

Grandpa clasps his hands together as if he’s praying, and his hands still shake. Grandma waits for me to open my box. Inside, on a piece of soft, old white rag, is her wedding band. It’s dark in spots and needs a good rubbing clean, but it is there, with sixty-one years of marriage wound around it, slightly tarnished, but still holding firm.

I can’t touch it. I just stare at it. I raise the box in the air, hoping Grandpa will see the motion, and he does. His eyes follow my hands. He takes a deep breath.

“That,” Grandma says, sounding triumphant, “you will use.”

I give Grandma a kiss, then Grandpa. He holds my hand and whispers in dulcet tones, “I didn’t want her to do this yet. I wanted her to have it all her life.”

I say thank you, but my voice cracks, and I’m not sure he hears. “Whenever you’re ready, you use that,” Grandma says. “He’s mad,

but I want you to have it now, when we’re able to give it. He’ll talk to me soon. He’ll talk to me.”

I leave the ring in the box and slide the cover back down. I sit with them silently for a long time in the room that is not their home, in the place that is temporary and cold, and watch as the last light slips in a breath from the sky and the deep darkness seeps in, as winter takes over. Grandma eases herself back into her chair, and Grandpa, wide awake in the growing darkness, trembles. I tremble, too. Only Grandma is calm. Only Grandma is at peace. Only she is ready.

Caitlin Hamilton Summie founded Caitlin Hamilton Marketing & Publicity, LLC, an independent book publicity and marketing firm, in 2003. Over the course of her career, in-house and solo, she has launched Susan Vreeland, Emily St. John Mandel, William Gay, Kim Church, Bren McClain, and many more. Her short story collection, To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts (Fomite Press, 2017) won The Phillip H. MacMath Post-Publication Book Award, Silver in the Foreword INDIES Books of the Year Awards in Short Stories, and was a June 2018 Pulpwood Queen Book Club Bonus Book. Her first novel, Geographies of the Heart, (Fomite Press, 2022) was a Pulpwood Queen Book Club Bonus Book in January 2022 and a finalist in the Indie Next Generation Book Award for General Fiction.

Sundress Academy for the Arts and The Bottom Present Poet-Tea Community Reading

Knoxville, TN—The Sundress Academy for the Arts is pleased to announce Poet-Tea Community Reading with The Bottom, featuring Joe Tolbert Jr., Jazmin Witherspoon, Felecia Outsey, a.k.a. “Sistah Felecity Luv,” and Asante Knowles. Join us on Saturday, December 9th at Pretentious Beer Co. from 2:00-4:00 PM for Sundress’ special tea blend, a reading, and open mic!

Joe T. is a minister, scholar, writer and cultural organizer whose work is at the intersections of art, culture, spirituality and social justice. He received his B.S. in Communications from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and completed his M.Div. with a concentration in Social Ethics from Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York.

Jazmin Witherspoon is a poet from Saint Louis, MO, though she has spent all her adult life thriving in the mountains of East Tennessee.  She received a BS in Communication from the University of Tennessee in 2017.  In 2020, she accepted a fellowship with the 5th Woman Poetry Collective.  Her poem “Roots of Revolution” was featured in the first issue of Pigeon Parade Quarterly. Jazmin is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing Poetry (‘24).  In her free time, Jazmin enjoys reading, singing, and cooking, and she dreams of combining her love of literature and travel into a television show.

Felecia Outsey, a.k.a. “Sistah Felecity Luv,” a native of Birmingham, AL and Graduate of Berea College is a Dancer, Instructor, Cultural Organizer, Community and Youth Advocate, and Artist. As Artistic Director of Divine Urban eXpressions Cultural Arts N Dance Productions, she founded the program in 2007 for talented yet underserved youth and young adults in Knoxville, TN. She aims to spread Faith, Hope, and Love in the community through Poetry and Dance alongside all the youth and young adults she serves. She is Motivated to Overcome Violence through Expression and truly believes that Love is the Answer.

Asante Knowles is a UTK grad student, creative artist, poet, musician, and philosopher. He aims to seek truth, find peace, and spread love through artistry. He’s the author of ebook titled “10 Dimensions of You” which gives a perspective of how looking at the space within can bring us into the space beyond. How your very essence in entangled with the essence of the universe. In the depths of nothing you are there expanding and growing into everything. Come take a look at this perspective to see where you can go beyond where you have ever been

This event is brought to you in part by grants provided by the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry and the Tennessee Arts Commission.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents December Poetry Xfit

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present Poetry Xfit hosted by Emory Night. This generative workshop event will take place on Saturday, December 17th from 2 to 4 pm EST via Zoom. Join us at the link with the password “safta”. 

Poetry Xfit isn’t about throwing tires or heavy ropes, but the idea of confusing our muscles is the same. You will receive ideas, guidelines, and more as part of this generative workshop series in order to complete three poems in two hours. A new set of prompts will be provided after the writers have written collaboratively for thirty minutes. The goal is to create material that can be later modified and transformed into artwork rather than producing flawless final versions. The event is open to prose authors as well!

Emory Night is a queer author from East Tennessee. They are currently a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and are working on getting their bachelor’s in creative writing. They have worked as an intern for both Sundress Publications and SAFTA. They have been published in The Phoenix, a literary magazine at the University of Tennessee.

This event is brought to you in part by grants provided by the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry and the Tennessee Arts Commission

While this is a free event, donations can be made to the Sundress Academy for the Arts here.

Each month we split any Xfit donations with our community partner. Our community partner for December is The Bottom. To learn more visit 

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “A(n) (Un)holy Alliance: Braiding the Sacred and the Profane”

Knoxville, TN— The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “A(n) (Un)holy Alliance: Braiding the Sacred and the Profane,” a workshop led by Donna Vorreyer on December 13th, 2023, from 6:00-7:30 PM. This event will be held over Zoom. Participants can access the event at (password: safta).

The word profane refers to the secular world, the parts of a life that are not directly related to spiritual or religious practice. However you may define the spiritual in your own life, what might happen in our writing if we blend the sacred and the profane to make a liminal world where these two things coexist? 

Looking at poems by Kaveh Akbar, Danez Smith, Li Young Lee, Katie Manning and others, we will discuss how writers use sensory image, ritual description, prayer structure, giving of thanks, reframing traditional stories, and borrowing language to braid their memory or experience of the divine into the everyday. After a discussion of model poems, we will complete a generative exercise that will lead to communal, quiet writing time to consider these things in a new draft. Time for questions and to share work will be provided.

While there is no fee to participate in this workshop, those who are able and appreciative may make donations directly to Donna Vorreyer via PayPal through

Donna Vorreyer is the author of To Everything There Is (2020), Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (2016) and A House of Many Windows (2013), all from Sundress Publications. She lives in the Chicago suburbs where she hosts the monthly online reading series A Hundred Pitchers of Honey.

This event is brought to you in part by grants provided by the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry and the Tennessee Arts Commission.