Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “Poetry of Stillness: A Writing Workshop”

The Sundress Academy for the Arts workshop series is proud to present “Poetry of Stillness.” This workshop will be led by Danielle Hanson on Wednesday July 8, 2020, from 6:00 to 7:30pm ET via Zoom. This workshop is free and open to the public, and you can join us at http://tiny.utk.edu/sundress with password sundress.

A writing experience for people who have been affected by COVID either through work or personal connections, this workshop is designed to focus on a quiet moment and find beauty and peace in something small. Workshop participants will read several peaceful, beautiful poems, and then be guided through writing a poem of their own. No previous writing experience is needed, but even experienced writers should enjoy the time of focus and meditation.

Danielle Hanson is the author of Fraying Edge of Sky (Codhill Press Poetry Prize) and Ambushing Water (Finalist for Georgia Author of the Year Award). She is Poetry Editor for Doubleback Books, and is on the staff of the Atlanta Review. Danielle enjoys gardening and hiking. More about her at daniellejhanson.com.

Sundress Academy for the Arts is a writers residency and arts collective that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers in all genres including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, journalism, academic writing, playwriting, and more. 

Sundress Roundtable: So You Want to Start a Literary Journal, Part 2

Sundress Publications has given space for writers to discuss important topics impacting the literary community. We have hosted roundtables on plagiarism and accountability and, today, we are glad to offer space for a roundtable on publishing.

In this two-part series, editors Sarah Clark (ANMLY, beestung, and Bettering American Poetry), Sarah Feng (COUNTERCLOCK Journal),  Luther Hughes (Shade Literary Arts), Iris A. Law (Lantern Review), and Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello (Print-Oriented Bastards) discuss the ins and outs of online publication and running your own literary journal. While we at Sundress may individually agree (or disagree) in whole or in part with any or all of the participants, the views expressed in these roundtables are not necessarily representative of Sundress Publications, Sundress Academy for the Arts, or any other part of the collective.

We’d also like to thank Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello for her work in organizing this roundtable.

What follows is part 2 in this two-part series. Part 1 can be found here


PARTICIPANTS:

Sarah Clark (SC), ANMLY, beestung, Bettering American Poetry: (they/she)

Sarah Feng (SF), COUNTERCLOCK Journal (Editor-in-Chief, 2019): (she/her)

Luther Hughes (LH), Shade Literary Arts: (he/him)

Iris A. Law (IL), Lantern Review: (she/her)

Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello (Print-Oriented Bastards): (she/her)

What kind of obstacles have you encountered along the way? 

IL: Probably the biggest one has been life! When we were in grad school, we had so much more capacity to pour ourselves into the magazine. But the shape of one’s personal life changes as one gets older—at various points, we’ve both had demanding day jobs, gotten married, moved around, been busy promoting our own writing (as when my chapbook came out in 2013 and Mia’s book came out in 2018). Mia has two beautiful kids. And with these things have come many more obligations, limited energy, and resources.

I’m in my thirties now, and I can no longer do a string of all-nighters without significant cost to my health. (I still, admittedly, sacrifice a lot of sleep in order to keep up with the work—but it’s a lot harder now than it was eight or ten years ago.) Our solution to this has been to fit LR into whatever shapes our lives are taking at the moment rather than to structure our lives around it. We’ve taken more than one extended hiatus at points when keeping up with the magazine, blog, and/or both felt impossible. We’ve experimented with shifting focus back-and-forth between the blog and magazine. Inevitably, things will change again at some point in the future, and we’ll just have to be ready to pivot and do what we can.

Another obstacle has always been a lack of resources. For example, running LR as a side gig for ten years has meant that we’ve never had the time, contacts, and/or financial resources to develop it into either an actual business or a small nonprofit where we could afford to do things like fundraise, sell merch, and provide volunteers and contributors with some monetary compensation (though we’d love to do all of these things in an ideal world!). So far, we’ve survived by choosing to operate on a shoestring budget (our operating costs consist primarily of web hosting and Submittable fees) and keeping everything very small in scale. But it’s not easy. 

LH: Some obstacles I’ve faced along the way deal mostly with finances. Because I’m not necessarily a fundraiser and know little to nothing about stewardship, 90% of everything is paid for out of my own pocket. So if I don’t have the funds to renew the website, the website will go down and has before. Hopefully, since we’re running the Queer Writers of Color Relief Fund, I can cultivate recurring donors, but we’ll see. Fingers crossed.

SF: Like Luther said, finances are difficult, since COUNTERCLOCK is published online for free, and we provide mini-grants to Arts Collective fellows, and we pay for our online hosting. This is covered by donations from our contributors, our expedited feedback service, and our Feedback Corner, and I’m grateful to all the donors, as well as to the editors who have stepped up to help out with the Corner. 

SC: Not being able to pay our contributors more is the most frustrating challenge I’ve faced at every project that I’m involved in. So much of the funding just isn’t there. And some of the funding that does exist poses ethical questions. Amazon has been offering some very generous grants, lately. But they’ve also been selling facial recognition software to ICE. Target offers some good money, but has previously funded anti-gay hate groups. Target and Amazon have both been cited for not providing personal protective equipment and other protection during the coronavirus pandemic.

I’ve also made the decision to take down contributors’ work when it came out that they were abusers. I won’t say for which projects, because these aren’t my stories to tell. But I don’t want to support the work of people who hurt other people. I recently asked the editor at DIAGRAM if he had any plans to take down work by a man known for sexually harassing dozens of women, who even had a restraining order taken out against him. This editor was baffled by the very concept of taking down work that’s been published online, and went so far as to say that his magazine was just like a print magazine, so he couldn’t take the work down. He absolutely could have, and DIAGRAM shouldn’t have decided to give publicity to a known predator.

MCCB: We didn’t realize what a huge time commitment this would be. As Iris mentioned, we had much more time and energy to dedicate to this in college, and later in our respective MFA programs. However, we found that POB was also taking a lot of time away from our own writing to dedicate to POB. We finally made the difficult decision that, after 5 years, our 10th issue would be our last. Inés and I were at specific points in our lives where we had to realign our focus and energy. So many other journals have popped up online that we weren’t worried about filling a gap anymore. We can celebrate others’ work in such different ways now because of how the literary world has developed. It felt right to end it cleanly at 10 issues. Sometimes I wish we were still going, but I’ve also learned that we can’t balance everything all the time without it costing us something else. 

What have been some of your greatest joys as a lit mag editor?

IL: I love following our contributors’ careers! For example, way back in one of our earliest issues, we published a small piece by Ocean Vuong. And, though we’ve had absolutely nothing to do with his success, it’s been amazing to watch his star rise over the last few years. It’s also been so cool to watch contributors whom we published early on in their careers—like Michelle Peñaloza, Rajiv Mohabir, Eugenia Leigh—go on to win awards and publish books. Equally as awesome is seeing a poem that we published pop up in a contributor’s book. It’s often a complete surprise. I’ll just be reading the book and then suddenly come upon a poem we’ve published before—or sometimes the contributor graciously reaches out to let me know. But it’s always a thrill every time it happens.

I’m just so grateful to be even a small part of a vehicle that is enabling APA poets’ work to be heard on the literary stage. Providing an opportunity for representation—for our contributors to be read on their own terms—is a task that feels absolutely vital to us. It’s why we restarted the magazine in 2019 after having shifted our focus to the blog and newsletter for a few years. Young poets were coming to us at events, asking us when we were going to start taking submissions again, and Mia and I realized that, in some ways, the magazine is even more important than the blog—because it’s a space in which we can highlight new and emerging writers’ work alongside more well-known writers. It’s a question of carving out and protecting a space for them to be heard. It’s a lot of work, but it’s so rewarding and humbling to get to see what happens when we continue to keep that space open. 

LH: My greatest joy as an editor is the writer getting the love they deserve from the greater literary community. Nothing makes me happier to see than people sharing work that was published in Shade, and seeing the writer exclaim their happiness. One particular example that comes to mind is when Tracy K. Smith shared Julian Randall’s poem, “The Space Between Skin is Called a Wound,” on her podcast The Slowdown. Or when K-Ming Chang’s poem, “Yilan,” was awarded a Pushcart Prize. Things like that, getting public and widespread love and support, always reminds me why I love doing what I do and why I started it. It truly puts a smile on my face.

SF: Like Luther and Iris said above, seeing creatives succeed and receive love is so beautiful! When past contributor Khaty Xiong was selected for inclusion in Best of the Net, or when Jamal Michel kickstarted his comic book project IDRISS, or when John Sibley Williams published a new book—these were moments that we cherish. 

What makes me the most excited is working with individual writers, conversing with them, and hearing their rationale between different images and structures, asking them to push it further or rework a scene—and seeing a beautiful, living work re-emerge on the other side, slightly different and still shining, alongside my fellow editors. Having conversations with editors, contributors, and staff members is the highlight of my day, since everyone is able to address facets that are the most impactful for them and suggest new improvements.

I hope it’s alright that I’m bending the rules a little bit to say two favorite parts, as the second relates to the Collective, our affiliated fellowship! In the summer, it is so exciting to help lead cohort discussions in the Arts Collective, where I listen in and occasionally guide conversations between the most creative and intellectual interdisciplinary artists who, last year, discussed climate change, the Notre Dame Cathedral’s destruction, Roman gladiators, and everything in-between through the lens of sculptural art, lo-fi music, and more. They may not know it, but I learn so much from them, and I’m thrilled with what they create during the program. The people whom I meet through COUNTERCLOCK are one-of-a-kind, and interacting with them is definitely my favorite part of editing the journal and directing the Collective. 

Finally, I would love to include a few notes from my co-editors, since their answers to this question resonate with the heart of COUNTERCLOCK as much as mine do, and their passion and collaboration mean the world to me. From Rachel, our managing editor: “I truly feel privileged and grateful to be able to view everyone’s work as an editor—I know just how personal a piece can be to its writer.” From Ernest, assistant editor: “In providing these fine writers with a platform to sing, to be heard, my joy is unquantifiable.” From Sophie, prose editor: “COUNTERCLOCK submissions are by and large diverse and unique, and the opportunity to work with writers who are all coming from different points in their lives is a thrill.” From Woody, blog editor: “The greatest joy has been empowering and platforming voices besides mine and intentionally shaping the space into an intersectional conversation between myself, other editors, and other writers.”

SC: Lately, it’s been the emails coming into beestung. Not just from young, emerging writers but from all over, at all stages of their careers, thanking me for making a space where they finally felt seen—a space explicitly for them. I have difficulty accepting praise (I can barely take a compliment) but being able to have a journal where writers don’t feel tokenized for their gender and don’t feel shut out for not fitting into a neat compartment? This is one of the best feelings imaginable. Writers and editors often talk about finding a home for their work, and being able to provide that home means everything.

MCCB: Seeing how authors we’ve published years ago have come into their own! We’ve been lucky to have kept in touch with many of them, and to see them win awards and publish books. I remember the joy and validation of those first publication acceptances myself, and would like to think that POB was able to offer that same kind of joy and support to our writers, whether they were fully confident or doubting themselves.

What did you wish you had known when you were starting out?

IL: I wish I’d known how much of a long-term endeavor I was getting myself into! I don’t regret one moment of it, but when we started LR, we had no long-term vision because we were just jumping on an idea that felt urgent and exciting. We sprinted for our first several years of existence, and then we realized we didn’t have the energy to keep up that pace and had to adapt. We’re lucky that our audience has been understanding and gracious every time we’ve needed to switch things up or scale back, and they’ve stuck with us even through long silences and periods of inactivity. I wish I’d known, too, how heavy it can feel when you’re representing a community but aren’t able to give everyone the airtime you wish you could. It’s so, so hard when we have to say “no” to people. This is their work; this is their livelihood—and our mission is to promote their work in a literary landscape that so often marginalizes it. I feel guilty every single time I have to say “no.” But we can only publish issues that are so long and write so many blog write-ups if we are to sleep, make a living, be involved in our family’s and friends’ lives, and write our own poetry. How do you find that balance between your responsibility to your readers/contributors and your responsibility to your own life and work? I’ve gotten a little better at setting healthy boundaries over the years, but I’m still figuring it out.

SC: To bite when a senior editor tried to stick his tongue in my mouth.

Don’t be afraid to hold people accountable when it comes to sexual harassment in publishing. Just because you’re new to publishing or younger doesn’t mean you need to tolerate abuse, ever.

SF: This is a note from Claire: “A growth mindset is important. When I first began working at COUNTERCLOCK, I could not have imagined it to grow as much as it has with Sarah’s work over the past year. Whether it’s investing in different website platforms, expanding the staff, or creating new initiatives, I think it’s important to have an open mind on how the magazine can change and improve in the future.” 

MCCB: We didn’t realize what a huge time commitment this would be. As Iris mentioned, we had much more time and energy to dedicate to this in college, and later in our respective MFA programs. However, we found that POB was also taking a lot of time away from our own writing to dedicate to POB. We finally made the difficult decision that, after 5 years, our 10th issue would be our last. Inés and I were at specific points in our lives where we had to realign our focus and energy. It felt right to end it cleanly at 10 issues.

What advice would you give someone looking to start their own lit mag?

IL: Be kind to yourself! It isn’t easy. But also: don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Start by figuring out what tools and networks are already available to you and how you can make use of them. Plan with a long-term vision in mind at the beginning, but also be flexible. The literary landscape, technology, and even the way your readers are engaging with your publication will change as time goes on, and you’ll need to be able to adapt. Lastly, be conscious of whom you’re featuring and how inclusive you are being. What does your contributor page look like? Is it largely homogenous? Are you intentionally seeking out work from marginalized communities—disabled voices, queer and trans voices, immigrant and refugee voices, female-identified voices, racial minority voices, religious minority voices, working-class voices? Equally as important to consider is how inclusive the experience of submitting to and reading your magazine is.

If you are charging submissions fees, how much are you charging, and are there ways to make it more affordable for students or low-income writers to send you their work? Are you coding the work in your issues as screen reader–parsable text and including alt text and/or image descriptions? Can a visually impaired or dyslexic reader still enjoy your issues if they have their browser set to a different default font? Are you providing captions for videos, transcripts for audio? When you hold readings and events, are you providing printed notes, using a mic, and making the room physically accessible? There’s lots to consider, but I promise that it’s very much worth your time to do so.

LH: I agree with a lot of what Iris said above. I will also add if you want to start your own lit mag just do it. Truly, what’s stopping you, right? But logistically, I’d say take a few weeks to write up your mission, plan the submission cycle, think of the color scheme, the fonts, the overall feel and aesthetic, all of it. Like, yes, just do it, but you want to make sure it’s done right and exactly how you want others to see it in the world. 

SF: I think Luther and Iris said it really well. Adding on to their thoughts, I just wanted to note that the very start is one of the most exciting parts, and I would recommend that you consider bringing on like-minded co-editors to help you develop your journal and expand its reach. Since the founding is so integral, I would say be really special about the people you choose to be with you at the start of the journey.

SC: Ask yourself how you can make your journal sustainable. A lot of new outlets get off to an amazing start, but begin to experience a strain after a year or two. Whether it’s giving yourself permission to take a hiatus if you start to experience burnout, making plans for funding beyond an initial Kickstarter, or making sure you’re biting off the right amount to chew—always think of the future and make sure you’ve found time and bandwidth to take care of yourself along the way.

MCCB: You are a gatekeeper. However small or grand the gate might feel, it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to hold that door open, and to whom. As you brainstorm and plan, sustain and expand, remember who you’re making space for, and why. Be kind to yourself because even if you have a lot of experience, you will still learn a lot as you go. Be kind to those who are trusting you with their work. It takes a lot of courage for many writers to even think about submitting their work to a journal. 

However, I also second what Sarah Clark said about not tolerating abuse and harassment. Some writers will feel entitled, like they’re doing you a favor by mistreating you. Others may not take rejection well, and will come for you. Make editorial decisions thoughtfully and conduct yourself in ways that reflect what you believe in, so you can be proud of and stand by the work you’re doing.

Are there any questions you’d like to ask your fellow roundtable participants?

IL: Is there a project you’ve done through your magazine that you’re most proud of? If so, what is it and why?

LH: We did a spotlight issue of poets who haven’t yet published a first book, with an interview alongside their poem(s) about community and their idea of “emerging.” I was proud of this particular issue because oftentimes writers without first books aren’t platformed seriously enough, and especially if they haven’t published in “top-tier” journals. A few poets in this issue were published for the very first time.

MCCB: Before I was poetry editor at Hyphen, I collaborated with them to curate a special folio of adoptee writers for National Adoption Awareness Month in November. Since joining their editorial team, we’ve been able to curate two other poetry folios to run during National Poetry Month. One featured 10 high school poets, and the other featured APIA fellows in collaboration with UndocuPoets. I’m so grateful to Hyphen for the space to highlight these writers. 


THANK YOU TO OUR ROUNDTABLE PARTICIPANTS:

Sarah Clark (they/she) is a disabled two-spirit Nanticoke editor, writer, and cultural consultant. They are Editor-in-Chief of Anomaly, EIC of beestung, Co-Editor of The Queer Movement Anthology (Seagull Books, 2021) and the Bettering American Poetry series, a reader at The Atlas Review and Doubleback Books, and an Editorial Board member at Sundress Press. She has edited folios for publications, including the GLITTERBRAIN folio and a folio on Indigenous & Decolonial Futures & Futurisms at Anomaly, and co-edited Apogee Journal’s #NoDAPL #Still Here folio and their series WE OUTLAST EMPIRE and Place[meant]. Sarah is a former Executive Board member at VIDA and former Editor-in-Chief of VIDA Review, where they curated a series of essays by writers outside of the binary, Body of a Poem, and the interview series, Voices of Bettering American Poetry. Sarah is on Twitter @petitobjetb.

Sarah Feng is a rising freshman at Yale University from the San Francisco Bay Area. She has been recognized by the Poetry Society of the United Kingdom, the Academy of American Poets, the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the Adroit Prizes in Prose & Poetry, NCTE, The Critical Pass Review, Teen Vogue, and The New York Times. She plays piano and dabbles in charcoals, and she thinks rhythm and light and lyric pulse in every field of the creative arts—if you can call them distinct fields at all. In other words, she has faith in the power of the interdisciplinary arts and their persistence in our memories and minds. Her work is published or forthcoming in The Adroit Journal, Gigantic Sequins, DIALOGIST, and Indianapolis Review. 

Luther Hughes is from Seattle and author of Touched (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018). He is the Founder of Shade Literary Arts and Executive Editor for The Offing. Along with Gabrielle Bates and Dujie Tahat, he co-hosts The Poet Salon podcast. He has been featured in Poetry, Forbes, The Seattle Times, The Rumpus, and others. Luther received his MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. You can follow him on Twitter @lutherxhughes. He thinks you are beautiful.

Iris A. Law is a poet, editor, and educator living in the San Francisco Bay Area. A Kundiman fellow and two-time Pushcart nominee whose poems have appeared in journals such as wildness, Waxwing, Dusie, and the Collagist (now the Rupture), she is also founding co-editor of the online literary magazine Lantern Review. Her chapbook, Periodicity, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013.

Marci Calabretta Cancio-Bello is the author of Hour of the Ox (University of Pittsburgh, 2016), which won the AWP Donald Hall Prize for Poetry, and was a finalist for the Florida Book Award and Milt Kessler Award. She has received fellowships from Kundiman, the Knight Foundation, and the American Literary Translators Association, and her work has appeared in The New York Times, Best New Poets, Best Small Fictions, and more. She co-founded Print-Oriented Bastards (2011-2017). She currently serves on the editorial board for the Sundress Academy for the Arts, as poetry editor for Hyphen, and as a program coordinator for Miami Book Fair.


A 501(c)(3) non-profit literary press collective founded in 2000, Sundress Publications is an entirely volunteer-run press that publishes chapbooks and full-length collections in both print and digital formats, and hosts numerous literary journals, an online reading series, and the Best of the Net Anthology.

Website: www.sundresspublications.com Facebook: sundresspublications
Email: sundresspublications@gmail.com Twitter: @SundressPub

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: On Becoming a Role Model by Lynne Schmidt

On Becoming a Role Model

There was a day in the history of the world
when my niece stole my glasses,
stole my winter hat,
and put them on.
With a smile that could swallow oceans
she said,
“Look Auntie, I’m you!”
And I remembered my mother’s words when I told her I wanted to grow up
and be
just
like
her.
“Don’t ever turn out like me,” she’d hissed,
a slap in the face to a small child.
I didn’t understand then.
I understand now.
I am not my mother,
and my niece is not me.
Instead, I pulled her into my arms.
I cannot point to that day on the calendar,
because at the time I didn’t realize it was important.
Scholars will not write about the great battle that took place within her words
because they won’t care about it.
But on that day
in the history of the world
I decided
that I would become someone
that my niece could look up to


In honor of PTSD Awareness day of June 27, this selection comes from the book, On Becoming a Role Model, available from Thirty West Publishing.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Ada Rivera.

Lynne Schmidt is a mental health professional and an award winning poet and memoir author. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks, Gravity (Nightingale and Sparrow Press), and On Becoming a Role Model (Thirty West). Her work has received the Maine Nonfiction Award, Editor’s Choice Award, and was a 2018 and 2019 PNWA finalist for memoir and poetry respectively. Lynne was a five time 2019 Best of the Net Nominee, and has received honorable mention for the Charles Bukowski Poetry Award, the Doug Draime Prize for Poetry, and Joy of the Pen. In 2012 she started the project, AbortionChat, which aims to lessen the stigma around abortion. When given the choice, Lynne prefers the company of her three dogs and one cat to humans.

Nilsa Ada Rivera writes about gender and diversity issues. She’s the Managing Editor of The Wardrobe for Sundress Publications. She’s an MFA candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work appeared in the Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens Literary Journal, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, and Selkie Literary Magazine. She lives in Riverview, Florida with her multi-species family.

 

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: On Becoming a Role Model by Lynne Schmidt

Swallowing Feelings

Please do not make me swallow my feelings,
because, while they may taste like chocolate and strawberries for some people,
my feelings go down like battery acid,
and my mother spent enough money
on braces that I rather like my teeth.
When he had custody,
my father demanded that we stop crying,
Right now,
or he’ll
Give you a reason to cry.
And so I swallowed
and swallowed
until a cavernous hole formed itself in my throat;
until my chest froze over like trees in winter.
I have felt snow.
I have had no leaves to marvel at.
Because when you choke down your feelings,
the leaves don’t grow back in the spring.
Branches snap off if the wind blows too hard.
And so my teeth that once resembled a vampire’s
show now, some days because words and stories are hilarious.
And the cavern has filled with beach sand and salt water
and it’s enough for me to drown you.


In honor of PTSD Awareness day of June 27, this selection comes from the book, On Becoming a Role Model, available from Thirty West Publishing.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Ada Rivera.

Lynne Schmidt is a mental health professional and an award winning poet and memoir author. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks, Gravity (Nightingale and Sparrow Press), and On Becoming a Role Model (Thirty West). Her work has received the Maine Nonfiction Award, Editor’s Choice Award, and was a 2018 and 2019 PNWA finalist for memoir and poetry respectively. Lynne was a five time 2019 Best of the Net Nominee, and has received honorable mention for the Charles Bukowski Poetry Award, the Doug Draime Prize for Poetry, and Joy of the Pen. In 2012 she started the project, AbortionChat, which aims to lessen the stigma around abortion. When given the choice, Lynne prefers the company of her three dogs and one cat to humans.

Nilsa Ada Rivera writes about gender and diversity issues. She’s the Managing Editor of The Wardrobe for Sundress Publications. She’s an MFA candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work appeared in the Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens Literary Journal, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, and Selkie Literary Magazine. She lives in Riverview, Florida with her multi-species family.

 

Sundress Reads: A Review of The Machinery of Grace

As part of our effort to promote writers who have been impacted by COVID-19 and all of the other challenges that 2020 has wrought, we’ve invited writers to submit their books for review. Here, Sundress Editorial Intern Ada Wofford reviews Patrice Boyer Claeys’ The Machinery of Grace:

The Machinery of Grace is a collection of cento poems named, not after Richard Brautigan’s “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace,” a title referenced frequently, but after a line in Michael Donaghy’s poem “Machines.” The complete line is, “The machinery of grace is always simple,” though Claeys’ poems are anything but simple, making the title a somewhat ironic nod of what’s to come.

This is my first foray into the world of cento poetry, a form sometimes referred to as collage poetry as it consists solely of lines taken from other poems. It’s an idea that immediately intrigued me, reminding me of the method known as sampling in music production. Most sampling functions as either a hook or a nod so, it’s very obvious to the listener that what they’re hearing has been appropriated. Even classical composers such as Charles Ives would include snippets of other pieces into their compositions and for the same reason. What makes Claeys’ cento poems so special is how seamlessly they are constructed. If I didn’t know these were collage poems, I never would have guessed it.

Intimate pieces such as, “If My Mother Had Spoken of Her Childhood” and “The First Autumn Following Her Death” sound personal and immediate; not at all like an amalgamation of several disparate pieces. Claeys masterfully weaves together myriad lines of other poems into something wholly unique that possesses a singular and unique voice. It’s a truly amazing feat of patience and research. The author’s bio at the back speaks of Claeys’ love for puzzles and it certainly comes through in the impressive construction of these poems.

My favorite poems are the ones that focus on objects and things. “Jazzed” explores the music of everyday sounds and “Drinking It In” celebrates the various liquids that become integral parts of our everyday lives in ways both odd and profound. “Life Lesson,” which is perhaps my favorite poem in the collection, is a short little meditation on the importance of remembering. It’s a poem that, like the work of William Carlos Williams, manages to say so much with so little.

The Machinery of Grace is not just impressive because of the method with which it was constructed but because of the beauty of the language used throughout the poems. Observations from life to death, from the grandeur of nature to a cup of coffee, are lovingly pieced together from the fragments of other thoughts and other worlds. Scholar and writer James Longenbach says that a poem should make the reader feel as if through the act of reading it they have written it. Not only is Claeys’ entire method a take on that philosophy, but these poems leave the reader with that same thrill or as Longenbach states in his Art of the Poetic Line, “An experience we need to have more than once, an act of discovery.”

Claeys’ cento poems are a true act of discovery and The Machinery of Grace is certainly an experience we need to have more than once.

The Machinery of Grace is available at Kelsay Books


Ada Wofford is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Library and Information Science and was recently accepted to the University of Rochester to earn an MA in English. They graduated Summa Cum Laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a BA in English Literature and their work has been featured in a number of publications including McSweeney’s and Literary Heist. They are also a Contributing Editor for The Blue Nib and the founding editor of My Little Underground, a music review site written exclusively by musicians. You can follow them on Twitter @AdaWofford.

Interview with Hannah V Warren, Author of [re]construction of the necromancer

Winner of Sundress Publications’ eight annual chapbook competition, Hannah V Warren’s,[re]construction of the necromancer, is a haunting reimagining of Hansel and Gretel that explores the themes of transformation, motherhood and creating our own fate. Editorial Intern, Ada Wofford discusses these themes with the author, as well as the significance of reimagining Hansel and Gretel today.

Ada Wofford: What can you tell us about the book’s inscription, “To the girls with the moss in their hair”?

Hannah V Warren: I’m thinking about women who had their own experiences with abandonment in their childhood, but that word means something different for everyone. In the forest, Gretel felt no more alone than in her home. This collection is for those women, the ones who felt lingering instability, no matter where they were—the ones who would have embraced Gretel’s forest and the ability to transform their bodies into something new if they could. 

AW: What is the significance of reimagining Hansel and Gretel today, in 2020?

HVW: We’re currently living in a moment where people are returning to fairy tale, to legend and lore, more frequently than ever. Funnily enough, a movie about Hansel and Gretel came out the same week this chapbook released. (I haven’t seen it, but I hope people revel.)

I think we all find comfort in these stories, the ones we’ve heard again and again. There’s an entrenched familiarity. At least for me, reinventions investigate the troubling aspects of fairy tales we take for granted. In the Grimms’ “Hansel and Gretel,” the tale ends with riches and forgiveness. Although their father supported their demise, the children are easy to forget all trespasses: “Now all their cares were at an end, and they lived happily together.” I wanted to write a new Gretel, someone who doesn’t need to end on forgiveness but instead focuses on her own recovery, realizing she owes nothing to her birth family, especially not absolution of emotional and physical traumas.

AW: Can you talk about the recurring theme of “forgetting” in the book?

HVW: I played with memory a bit in this collection, considering how we process traumatic events. It’s easy to go days, or even a week, without thinking about anything that happened over a decade ago. Then, you’ll smell menthol. Or you’ll hear someone humming. Or a man will brush against your arm. Suddenly, hot stones brim your gut. As Gretel grows older, her childhood memories become fuzzier, but there are moments that haunt her, that she can’t forget. The “forgetting” poems contain many of these specific memories for Gretel, those moments that always return.

AW: Can you speak about the use of spaces and line breaks throughout the book and what their function is to the overall story?

HVW: [re]construction of the necromancer is concerned with the blueprints of our bodies; how we put things back together when they fall apart. I love white space in a poem. Those blanks and breaks are almost as important to me as the words. I imagine them as instructions that guide Gretel, but she doesn’t quite understand how to follow along because she’s never transformed her body before. It’s like putting together a human skeleton when you don’t know where any of the bones go. In these poems, the spaces are sometimes jarring, pulling the language apart like stretched taffy. I think that’s what it would be like to grow a completely new body, to abandon the parts that no longer belong.

AW: What is the significance of the shifting perspective, from first-person to third?

HVW: In these poems, I wanted to create something immersive, atmospheric. In film, it’s really easy to shift perspectives, to show the audience something the main character doesn’t know. I thought a great deal about what the reader needs to know versus what Gretel needs to know, and I quickly realized that Gretel, after her transformation, wouldn’t care a lick about how her birth mother was getting along. Regardless, it was important to me that the reader know how the forest continued interacting with the mother, how this sentience cared for Gretel quietly. In the “Guide for” poems that come at the collection’s beginning and end, I hope the first-, second-, and third-person perspectives join together. The reader is not watching Gretel but instead becomes Gretel in a fractional way. The reader learns to transform.

AW: Can you speak about the themes of eating and consumption found throughout the book?

HVW: The generally unquestioned cannibalism in fairy tales is always so fascinating to me. In lore, eating other folks is a representation of evil, and that’s that. In this collection, one of my goals was to up the ante on every aspect of the Grimms’ tale. What we consume is such an important part of our identities. I’m from south Mississippi, and I felt like part of me melted when I lived in the Midwest for a few years. Where was the crawfish bisque, the okra, the fried catfish, the Cajun seasoning? I wanted [re]construction of the necromancer to be indulgent, gluttonous even. You can’t think of Gretel without thinking of cannibalism, so I twisted that part of the story to empower Gretel. Does that make Gretel a representation of evil, as well? Probably yes, but also maybe no. Throughout the poems, Gretel shifts from starvation to indulging whenever she wants.

AW: Can you talk about the theme of transformation in the book?

HVW: I love writing within the feminine grotesque. In fairy tales, women’s bodies are consistently changing in mimetic and non-mimetic ways, often to reveal something crucial about the narrative’s moral. I hoped to do something similar with Gretel. Children aren’t helpless, per se, but they are small and relatively defenseless, which the normalization of trauma only exacerbates. Gretel’s transformations are her body’s response to her inability to forget and escape the memories that haunt her. The animal and forest parts of her new form cannot remember abandonment or violation, and they help her attain a semblance of stability as she processes her experiences.

AW: Can you talk about the significance of motherhood in the book and how does it connect to the forest?

HVW: When I first started cobbling together this collection, I knew I wanted Gretel to escape the ills that plague her, which includes her birth mother, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it happen. Slowly, the poems I added revealed other mother figures. The candy witch from the Grimms’ story is the mother Gretel never had; she teaches Gretel to care for herself, to cook, to change her body. The forest, as well, acts as a semi-motherly figure in the tender slips where they interact, brushing away debris from Gretel’s skin, feeding her encouragement and dried meats. Throughout her time in the forest, Gretel realizes she can rely on others, but she must find a balance, relying on herself, as well, before she can rejoin the world.

Read [re]construction of the necromancer here.



Hannah V Warren is a Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia where she studies poetry and speculative narratives. Her poems have haunted or will soon appear in Mid-American Review, Moon City Review, and Redivider, among others. Follow her at @hannahvwarren and learn more at hannahvwarren.com.

Ada Wofford is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Library and Information Science. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a BA in English Literature. She is a Contributing Editor for The Blue Nib literary magazine, the Founding Editor of My Little Underground, and has been published by McSweeney’s, Fudoki Magazine, Burial Day Books, and more.

Lyric Essentials: Amorak Huey Reads Traci Brimhall

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, we welcome Sundress author, Amorak Huey to read poems by Traci Brimhall and talk about the craft and hidden influences of our favorite poetry. Thank you for reading!

Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read these poems by Traci Brimhall?

Amorak Huey: When people ask me my favorite poet, I always say Traci Brimhall. I first became aware of her work at an AWP offsite reading in Washington. I was there to support my friend Todd Kaneko, who was reading, and Traci was reading as well. I found out she was doing her PhD at Western Michigan, where I’d done my MFA—and then she read poems from Rookery, her first book. They blew me away. I bought the book that night, and I’ve read it dozens of times, and I’ve taught it in my advanced undergraduate workshop many times. All of her subsequent books have been similarly important to me, and her newest, Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod, is incredible. So, she’s a super important poet to me, and these poems I think are great examples of what I love about her work—the intertwining of love, intimacy, tenderness, violence, and vulnerability—and on a craft level, the language is immaculate.

Amorak Huey reads “Self-Portrait as Milk Hare in Active Shooter Alert” by Traci Brimhall

EH: On the surface, these poems from Brimhall are strikingly different than your latest poetry collection Boom Box. Are there any influences or similarities that you’ve drawn from Brimhall’s work when writing your own poetry?

AH: Her work I think probably has a kind of hidden influence on my writing. Like, maybe not one that a reader would pick up on, but that’s there for me. I mean, I revisit her poetry all the time, and I will read a poem and sit with it, just trying to wrap my mind around how she uses language, how she puts lines and images together. When I’m stuck in my own head and struggling to make language work on the page, I’ll go back to Traci’s books. I think her influence might be more visible in, say, my first collection, Ha Ha Ha Thump, and possibly in my forthcoming book, than it is in Boom Box, which differs from her poems so much in subject matter, and definitely leans into nostalgia more than most of her work does. Her poems tend to be more urgent and more present than mine are, I think, and that’s something I try to use to push myself. I would never claim my work is similar to hers, but I aspire to do what she does. I would love for something I write to land in a reader’s body the way her work lands in mine.   

Amorak Huey reads “Ars Poetica” by Traci Brimhall

EH: Everyone has a personal relationship with reading poetry aloud. Would you like to share your experience when reading and recording Brimhall’s poems for Lyric Essentials?

AH: Like many people, I hate the sound of my own recorded voice, so I certainly feel a bit awkward recording anything. I also felt pressure to do the poems justice. I love them so much. But I do love reading poems out loud, whether my own poems or someone else’s. I read to my students a lot, and I have gotten more comfortable with it over the years. Robert Pinsky says the medium of a poem is the breath and body of the reader, and I believe that–so reading a poem I love out loud is a great way to experience it.

Amorak Huey reads “Fledgling” by Traci Brimhall

EH:  Is there anything you are working on now that you’d like to share with readers?

AH: I haven’t been writing a lot of poetry this year. But, not entirely coincidentally, I’m taking a 24 Pearl Street workshop led by Traci on poetry and the body, and her prompts and discussions (and having deadlines!) have helped me draft some new poems. But my next big thing is that my fourth full-length collection, Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy, comes out in 2021 from Sundress.


Traci Brimhall is a lyric poet and author of four poetry collections including Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod (2020) and Saudade (2017). Her book Our Lady of the Ruins was selected for the Barnard women’s poetry prize in 2012, and her first collection, Rookery, was the 2010 winner of a Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award and a finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year Award. Brimhall’s work has been published in The New Yorker, Poetry, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, and has also been featured on Poetry Daily, PBS Newshour, and Best American Poetry. Originally from Minnesota, Brimhall earned her MFA from Sarah Lawrence and her PhD from Western Michigan and now teaches creative writing at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, where she lives.

Further reading:

Read Brimhall’s latest collection, Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod.
Listen to Brimhall read and discuss her poem “Resistance” on The Poetry Magazine Podcast.
Get to know more about Traci Brimhall at her website.

Amorak Huey is the author of the poetry collections Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy (Sundress Publications, forthcoming in 2021), Boom Box (Sundress Publications, 2019), Seducing the Asparagus Queen (Cloudbank, 2018), and Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress Publications, 2015), as well as two chapbooks. Co-author with W. Todd Kaneko of the textbook Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury, 2018). Huey teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

Further reading:

Purchase Boom Box by Huey from Sundress Publications.
Read this interview with Huey from The Kenyon Review on Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology.
Follow Amorak Huey on Twitter.

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at http://ericahoffmeister.com/

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: On Becoming a Role Model by Lynne Schmidt

Safety in Laughter

My therapist encouraged me
to be more vulnerable.
To take my heart from my chest
from time to time,
like shoes from their box,
and see if someone would fill in the empty space.
She challenged me to stop laughing
in places like my uncle’s funeral
because I couldn’t stand to see his hands resting across his body.
It’s not funny,
She said.
But my sister laughed, too.
My therapist challenged me enough
that I sat beside you on a park bench,
minimized my jokes, and explained
that, if you wanted, I could wait for you.
In return,
you filled the space in my chest
with broken glass
that I’m still trying to peel out


In honor of PTSD Awareness day of June 27, this selection comes from the book, On Becoming a Role Model, available from Thirty West Publishing.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Ada Rivera.

Lynne Schmidt is a mental health professional and an award winning poet and memoir author. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks, Gravity (Nightingale and Sparrow Press), and On Becoming a Role Model (Thirty West). Her work has received the Maine Nonfiction Award, Editor’s Choice Award, and was a 2018 and 2019 PNWA finalist for memoir and poetry respectively. Lynne was a five time 2019 Best of the Net Nominee, and has received honorable mention for the Charles Bukowski Poetry Award, the Doug Draime Prize for Poetry, and Joy of the Pen. In 2012 she started the project, AbortionChat, which aims to lessen the stigma around abortion. When given the choice, Lynne prefers the company of her three dogs and one cat to humans.

Nilsa Ada Rivera writes about gender and diversity issues. She’s the Managing Editor of The Wardrobe for Sundress Publications. She’s an MFA candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work appeared in the Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens Literary Journal, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, and Selkie Literary Magazine. She lives in Riverview, Florida with her multi-species family.

 

Sundress Academy for the Arts presents: A Virtual Reading Series

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is proud to present “A Virtual Reading Series” on June 24th, 2020 from 7-8PM EST on Zoom with Ashley Elizabeth, Ever Jones, and Cy Ozgood! Access the event at tiny.utk.edu/sundress. The password is sundress.

Ashley Elizabeth is a writing consultant, teacher, and poet. Her works have appeared in Rigorous, yell/shout/scream, and SWWIM, among others. Her chapbook, you were supposed to be a friend, is now available from Nightingale & Sparrow. When Ashley isn’t serving as assistant editor at Sundress Publications, teaching, or freelancing, she habitually posts on Twitter and Instagram (@ae_thepoet), watching way too many dog and food videos. She lives with her partner in Baltimore, MD.

Ever Jones (they/them) is a queer/trans writer, artist, & instructor based in Seattle. They are the author of three poetry collections, nightsong (Sundress Publications), Wilderness Lessons (FutureCycle Press), & Primitive Elegy (alice blue books). They were a finalist for terrain.org’s 2013 poetry contest and the grand prize winner of the Eco-Arts Awards in 2014. Ever is a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Washington in Tacoma & teaches at Richard Hugo House. Their most recent publications include work in POETRY Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, About Place Journal, & other places. Please visit everjones.com to view some art.

Cy Ozgood is a queer poet and witch living in Wisconsin. They are the author of several chapbooks including Cynthia (forthcoming from The Magnificent Field, 2020) and Girl Tramp (Horse Less Press, 2016). Their work has been featured or is forthcoming in Twang, baest, Gritty Silk, and The Operating System. Find them at www.silencemerryroads.com.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: On Becoming a Role Model by Lynne Schmidt

On My Disability

After several minutes
of stalemate silence,
the man who reeks of alcohol,
who causes his wife to flinch when he storms
in before scurrying away,
evaluates my body and asks in disbelief,
“You are disabled? How?”

I want to have him pull up a chair,
light up a cigarette,
open up a beer,
and brace himself for the long haul,
because most of my therapists can’t even stomach it.

In the span of thirteen seconds
I want to crack apart my skull
and allow these memories to float like the Milky Way
from my brain to his.

I want him to see my father,
my mother,
my brother,
my sister running away,
my dog’s blood in the driveway,
the bed of a purple truck,
the first boy to show me around school trapped in a car in flames,
my sister’s best friend in a casket,
my best friend in a casket,
several more friends,
a near-stranger’s bed,
the standoff with the mirror,
the razor blades,
the nights I wake up screaming,
the inability to tell my partner
I love him
because the words form a sock in my throat
that is so thick I can barely breathe through.

Instead,
the hurricane stays inside me
because I want to win a fight
I know his wife will lose.
I bite my teeth together and

narrow my eyes and
straighten up my spine in a way she will never be able to and say,

“Yes. Would you like to see my paperwork?”


In honor of PTSD Awareness day of June 27, this selection comes from the book, On Becoming a Role Model, available from Thirty West Publishing.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Ada Rivera.

Lynne Schmidt is a mental health professional and an award winning poet and memoir author. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks, Gravity (Nightingale and Sparrow Press), and On Becoming a Role Model (Thirty West). Her work has received the Maine Nonfiction Award, Editor’s Choice Award, and was a 2018 and 2019 PNWA finalist for memoir and poetry respectively. Lynne was a five time 2019 Best of the Net Nominee, and has received honorable mention for the Charles Bukowski Poetry Award, the Doug Draime Prize for Poetry, and Joy of the Pen. In 2012 she started the project, AbortionChat, which aims to lessen the stigma around abortion. When given the choice, Lynne prefers the company of her three dogs and one cat to humans.

Nilsa Ada Rivera writes about gender and diversity issues. She’s the Managing Editor of The Wardrobe for Sundress Publications. She’s an MFA candidate at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her work appeared in the Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens Literary Journal, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, and Selkie Literary Magazine. She lives in Riverview, Florida with her multi-species family.