Sundress Reads: Review of mouth

The title of Jo Reyes-Boitel’s chapbook (though not their first book overall) mouth (Neon Hemlock, 2021) fits the work perfectly since the poems within not only have a taste—yes, they leave you with sensations, and not always pleasurable ones (that would be too simple)—but, in a sense, this work is a warm and welcoming darkness; something not-quite-formed that both ingests and expels and is slippery to get hold of. Something hot. 

The book begins with two quotations, one from the iconic American lesbian poet Adrienne Rich and one from brilliant queer and Chicana theorist, Gloria Anzaldúa—who, like Reyes-Boitel, was born in the American Southwest. The quotations talk about women, monsters, and magic, which is exactly what follows. The poems in mouth exist like compatriots, standing side-by-side on facing pages, as if sheltering the narrator from the outside. They stress that this is a work about queer love, self-love, but also about queer intimate partner violence. In “what you say in your own head,” the peacefulness of a domestic setting is shattered not just by violence but by the narrator’s ambivalence: “her hand, wrapped tight around the back of your neck, is for your own safety,” they say. Like the narrator of the latter poem, the poems in this book oscillate between silence and screams, reflection and action. In “what is required in survival,” the narrator urges: “find the gentle within you. circle it with a fire. then molten glass. chains. a moat. that dream you had of a quiet moment.” You can feel the tension in the speaker, coiled like a spring, raw nerves ready to jump at any action or word except their own. They take us into the tension familiar to so many survivors of domestic violence, between being silent and alone or speaking and constantly measuring the words you say.

In the middle of the book, the poems expand to prose poetry before once again becoming slender. The center of this expansion is the understated, quietly heartbreaking “The Contradictive Nature of a Queer Mother Trying to Get Laid.” While this is the collection’s most straightforward narrative, it is also the most deeply personal, weaving together the pain of displacement—whether because one is queer, an immigrant, or displaced from the self they used to be and the community they inhabited. “I deserve it and need to be silent because I’m the mother and so I should be the one who takes it all. That is what every mother does. That is what every queer femme does. We soothe. We acquiesce,” explains the narrator. At this point in the book, the narrator is still tamping down their own needs for those of others’ and struggling with how to reconcile being an empty, needless creature with the visceral, desiring person they feel themselves to be. 

In Queer Phenomenology, Sara Ahmed asks readers to rethink queer in terms of spatial orientation. According to her, “bodies take shape through tending toward objects that are reachable, which are available within the bodily horizon.” That is, bodies orient themselves towards what they desire. But Ahmed’s title has another inflection: what if queerness was a way to shift dominant perspectives and hegemonic narratives into new, joyful orientations? Desire is a prevailing theme in mouth, which the narrator explores using commonly embodied experience like hunger, cold, and descriptions of food being eaten and made: peanut butter and jelly, and particularly figs. Desire is complex, and the narrator is surprised at their own experience of an inversion of food from sensual and nurturing to threatening, tasteless, a metaphor for dreams lost or maybe for the encroachment of reality: “each word a wasp becoming a flower. A death drum leading the wasp on. A cadence that must be released or it risks becoming anger. The child to hunger, to anger. A parent who begins to fear they cannot hold this thing back. A parent now filled with their own fear of desire.” 

In one poem, the narrator asks, “what will the moon be called after the last conqueror has died?” Yet in the next poem, “attachment style,” they assert that “the moon will never belong to anyone but herself.” The burdens and scars created by both men and mankind cut through both a narrated literal landscape and the topography of the narrator’s body, crossed by many overlapping histories. “And that one chance room where you made me mounted deer to your huntered heart.” To escape the narrator remakes themselves into a deer, a dead woman, a swipe of lipstick… but reminds us in the bloated middle that they always remain a mother, a queer person, a person at the borderlands. Ultimately, the narrator comes out victorious, the sole inhabitant of their body and their stories, against those who would gaslight, hurt, and erase both. The mouth in mouth takes panicky breaths, is full of blisters, learns to live in uncomfortable silence, is not willing, smiles, stretches, and ultimately sings and transcends or maybe burrows deeper into its rooted body.

mouth is available at Neon Hemlock


Anna Mirzayan is an arts writer, poet, researcher, and doctoral candidate in Theory and Criticism. She is currently based in Pittsburgh, where she is the editor-in-chief of the Bunker Review at Bunker Projects. Her poetry chapbook, Donkey-girl and Other Hybrids, was published in 2021 by Really Serious Literature. You can find some of her writing at art-agendaSquare Cylinder, and Hyperallergic. She is the current social media/graphic design intern at Sundress Publications.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante, released by Noemi Press in 2020. 

39

We stand at the front of the chapel, next to the small altar. Our guide at the Juan Bosco Migrant Shelter in Nogales, Sonora thought we (two men and three women from a university an hour to the north) were going to ask questions of the migrants seated in rows of folding chairs before us. But we stand before them silent. A door in the room’s back wall remains open to the sidewalk; a fan vacillates near the altar. After a few awkward seconds, we ask the men and the women if they want to share anything with us. Most have either been deported or arrested on their journey, will be allowed to stay in the shelter until they can find work or another place to go. In the front row, two young girls flip through a blank notebook passing it back and forth between them.

And the men and women begin to call out from their folding chairs.

“The US officials take our documents and don’t give them back,” a woman says.

“They stick their hands in our mouth,” she continues.

“They treat us like criminals,” a man says.

And the men and women say “inhuman.” They say “respect.”

“Think of all the money they spend to pursue and prosecute us,” one man says, “when all we want to do is work.”

No one needs to prod them into speaking. They testify as we stand next to the altar, nodding and translating, holding our notebooks without remembering to write anything down.

And when they stop speaking, we thank them.

Before we leave, one of us pulls a pen out from her bag and hands it to the little girls, holding their own blank notebook in the first row of chapel.

But the story can’t end here.

The pen is not a metaphor for giving voice. The pen is not a metaphor for giving tools. A tool is the flag hung over the water barrel or the coordinates of the barrel written into the code and transmitted to the migrant’s phone or the poem that helps the migrant locate the north star.

Let us think, instead, about the blank notebook passed back and forth as promise, as the space to hear the vibrations of the relational web, to witness the wingflash, to resist the impulse to commodify a history of survival, to remember our place in relation and our potential to recognize

what haunts, what calls, what pecks at our awareness, what sings out or screams through the text of our present.

Let us think about the gift of the pen as a pledge to mark our silence before the stories that are not ours.

The pen is less important than what happens when we walk out of that room with the memory of those children.

To leave the page blank. To lay down. To see in the charged colors. To look directly into the camera. To be connected by more than flows of currencies. To turn our eyes towards the tangle: the webs of capitalism, antiblackness, white supremacy, narrative webs that constitute the veil of a military-prison-industrial-educational-kleptocracy we mistake for our democracy, the veil of silence and myth of voice, the commodity of story. To learn to recognize webs of need and responsibility, veil of the individual, the veil of racism, sexism, imperialism denying our humanity, our web of connections and differences, veils of deception and greed. To find the documents excluded from the archive, the stories in our cards and from our ancestors (what gets passed down or forgotten in the project of healing, who stares out the window and drinks themselves to rag), to remember that our stories do not take up equal space in the “marketplace” or the myth of the nation, that everyone has the right to their opacities, the beautiful eclipses

that both farmer and astrologer read.

Poems, documentaries, performances, (Soma)tics, rituals and divinatory readings can be a map or a code of coordinates. They might shine like guide-stars. And while they might not lead anyone to water, they might help them understand where they are and how they might change what surrounds them.

Our poems, documentaries, performances, (Soma)tics, rituals and divinatory readings might make a space like an empty notebook passed between sisters or friends

upon which they might leave their marks across a page or leave nothing but the space for someone else to write their story

a blank page, where anything is possible.

The bullet holes on the water station sign and the legal threats hurled at the “Desert Survival Series” remind us when our poems counter state sanctioned violence they will be challenged, not made part of the installation at the point of entry.

We must not make the suffering of others a commodity.

We must not seek the approval of the state or its co-conspirators.

We do not need more poems at the port of entry any more than we need the concertina wire that now sparkles like tinsel through Nogales.

We need people to bring the wall down.

.


Susan Briante is the author most recently of Defacing the Monument, a series of essays on immigration, archives, aesthetics and the state, winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism in 2021. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly calls the collection “a superb examination of the ethical issues facing artists who tell others’ stories” and a “dazzlingly inventive and searching text.” Briante is also the author of three books of poetry:  Pioneers in the Study of Motion, Utopia Minus, and The Market Wonders.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.

Call for Applications: Sundress Academy for the Arts Editorial Internship

The Sundress Academy for the Arts at Firefly Farms, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is seeking editorial interns. The position’s responsibilities include the preparation of documents necessary to run an independent writer’s residency, as well as online participation in literary events including readings and workshops. This part-time internship would consist of approximately 5-10 hours of work per week and run from July 1st 2022 to January 5th 2023. Applicants must be local to the greater Knoxville area.

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is an entirely volunteer-run organization that hosts residencies, workshops, and retreats centered on creative writing in all genres. Located on a 45-acre farm twenty minutes from downtown Knoxville, SAFTA’s mission is to give writers of all levels a chance to work with nationally renowned professionals in their field as well as uninterrupted time to focus on their creative work.

The editorial intern’s responsibilities will include writing press releases, composing blogs, proofreading, working with social media (Facebook, WordPress, etc.), collating editorial and residency data, research, and more.  The intern will also be needed to help facilitate Zoom and in-person readings and events.

Preferred qualifications include:

      •        A keen eye for proof-reading

      •        Strong written communication skills

      •        Experience with WordPress, Zoom, and other online mediums

      •        Knowledge of contemporary literature a plus

While this is an unpaid internship, all interns will gain real-world experience in working with online and in-person event planning, nonprofit management, running a residency, communications, and more while creating a portfolio of work for future employment opportunities. Interns will get to work alongside members of both the local and national literary community through SAFTA workshops and readings, which interns are able to attend for free during their tenure with the organization.

To apply, please send a resume and a brief cover letter detailing your interest in the position to the Executive Director, Erin Elizabeth Smith, at erin@sundresspublications.com. Applications are due by May 31st, 2022.

For more information, visit our website at www.sundressacademyforthearts.com

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante, released by Noemi Press in 2020. 

22

In the fifth-floor apartment that serves as a migrant women and children’s shelter in Nogales, Sonora: an 18-year-old girl who wants to see her father, a woman from Central America who left under death threat, a mother who fled an abusive relationship and now needs to make more money to support her children and grandchildren, and an 80-year-old who wants to cross into Nogales, AZ, for the eighth time so she can sell paletas from a pushcart.

A nun prods them into telling their stories to us: four women and one man visiting from a creative writing program at a state university just an hour north of them through an initiative that aims to use literary and documentary arts to diversify the stories about and expand dialogue on issues related to the border.15

The eldest woman stands raising her hand as if testifying or praying. She says when the first President Bush came into office, he tried to make life hard for migrants. But we rose up, she explains, and stopped him. She says as soon as she can, she will go back to the popsicle factory, to her boss. She tells us her boss’s name and address, says her boss will give her a card to help her stay

as soon as she can get back.

And the woman who fled her country under death threat says: “We want peace.” Decades of US policies and interventions in Central America that favor business interests over the majority of the population, that export gang members and failed anti-gang policies, must feel like a long, dirty war.

“Do you feel better when you tell these stories?” one of us asks. And the woman does not answer, just keeps telling her story.

“We are teaching them to make earrings,” the nun explains as she brings us into another room and shows us beaded jewelry: row upon row, each piece a little memorial to every woman who has come through the shelter.

What did the nun tell them about our presence or what we might be able to do for them? Were they told we could help? Were they told we could help before the end of their two-week stay at the woman’s shelter after which they would have to find their way north or back from where they came? Were they told some faulty equation of voice and change, some scrawl of hope like the flight of sparrows, stalling and diving without knowing whose house they alight upon?

What did we think we could do? Every summer for the past three I have gone to Nogales, Mexico, with students from the University of Arizona’s MFA in Creative Writing Southwest Field Studies in Writing Program to witness and write about migration and environment issues unique to southern Arizona. And each summer, as we bear witness to conditions migrants face, we wonder: How can we amplify voices without turning other people’s stories into commodities, without re-affirming the faulty myth of “giving voice”? We do not want to reduce the struggles of the migrants we meet to mere human-interest stories. We know that writing will not be enough.

The change necessary to improve the migrant women’s lives feels utterly available and beyond any single transaction.

“We will work hard,” the women tell us. “Do you have bracelets?” we eventually ask.

15 Since the summer of 2017, I have codirected the University of Arizona’s MFA in Creative Writing Southwest Field Studies in Writing Program. The program sends MFA students to write and research in residency for two weeks on the US-Mexico border. As part of the program, the students also offer creative writing workshops to marginalized youth and partner with community based social justice and environmental organizations. As of this writing, the program is on hiatus because of a lack of funding.


Susan Briante is the author most recently of Defacing the Monument, a series of essays on immigration, archives, aesthetics and the state, winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism in 2021. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly calls the collection “a superb examination of the ethical issues facing artists who tell others’ stories” and a “dazzlingly inventive and searching text.” Briante is also the author of three books of poetry:  Pioneers in the Study of Motion, Utopia Minus, and The Market Wonders.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante, released by Noemi Press in 2020. 

18

In a safe in our bedroom closet in our bank owned house, 72 miles from the US-Mexico border, on traditional lands of the Tohono O’odham Nation, my husband, Farid, keeps his naturalization certificate, a newspaper clipping of his naturalization ceremony, and a letter from then President Bill Clinton.

“I want to congratulate you on reaching the impressive milestone of becoming a citizen of our great nation…” President Clinton writes. “You now share in a great experiment: a nation dedicated to the ideal that all of us are created equal, a nation with profound respect for individual rights.”

Not a “milestone,” Farid calls his naturalization a “defensive measure” at a moment of heightened anti-immigration rhetoric from politicians such as Newt Gingrich, former Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Pete Wilson, former governor of California where Farid and his family were living at the time.

The nation was founded on stolen lands. An ideal is an abstract contract. In an experiment, there is no certainty.

On my laptop, I open a scan of my great-grandmother’s enemy alien identification card, issued in 1942, when she had been living in the United States for 37 years. The US government required the card be carried by Italian-born immigrants (classified as “enemy aliens”) during World War II as part of a series of measures that included travel restrictions, the seizure of personal property, and internment. My great-grandmother signs her name on the card with an “X” beneath which are written the words “her mark,” then “witnessed by” and the name and address of her son. Because of her illiteracy and the war with fascist Italy, she could be deported under the current president’s immigration policy.

But she was not.

And although I live on occupied lands, nobody asks for my papers.

From my great-grandmother’s illiteracy to my place in the middle class might seem a story of American opportunity, where generations appear like steppingstones toward some goal of a mortgage and a 401k. But the documents do not make evident the structures of white supremacy and limited economic expansion that made “progress” possible, what rights my ancestors’ luck, effort, and assimilation have afforded me.

Metaphors make circles of our histories: a Venn diagram of contrast and resemblance.

I do not want my family’s story to be a frame, bent to resemble a human cage.


Susan Briante is the author most recently of Defacing the Monument, a series of essays on immigration, archives, aesthetics and the state, winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism in 2021. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly calls the collection “a superb examination of the ethical issues facing artists who tell others’ stories” and a “dazzlingly inventive and searching text.” Briante is also the author of three books of poetry:  Pioneers in the Study of Motion, Utopia Minus, and The Market Wonders.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Elizabeth Vignali, is from Defacing the Monument by Susan Briante, released by Noemi Press in 2020. 

14

In the final row of the courtroom, with a legal pad and a draft copy of the calendar, I can only glimpse the migrants’ faces when they enter or exit. I lose track of which defendant speaks, can’t hear what their lawyers say.

About Operation Streamline, the poet Brandon Shimoda observes: “It is easy, in a space designed to bleed people of their stories, for the imagination to go dark and stay dark.”8

The court reporter’s face is lit by a screen. The marshal in the back row rubs his eyes, checks his phone. Whatever I show you is a representation, filtered and partial.

“If poetry is an archive, then so too is a poem—or any text—and the writer is a kind of archivist…” writes poet and critic Joseph Harrington. “This issue [is] an especially important one for those who would include documents in poetry. Which documents? And why not include them all?”9

Just as the document elides and erases, so does the poem and the poet.

As witnesses, as researchers, as those who possess an “imagination enlarged by compassion,” (to rewrite Shelley) we need to understand our documents as well as ourselves within the web of power and processes that produce them.

Sometimes it helps to sit inside a building and feverishly recreate what’s beyond its walls, in order discern one’s orientation.

As the poet Kristin Prevallet reminds us: “If poetry (or prose) for that matter is ‘relational[,]’ it is not because it appropriates sources as conquered territories, forcing them into the logic of the new text or subordinating them to some notion of perfection or ‘totality.’”10 Here she references Édouard Glissant’s theories of relational poetics and continues: “Rather, Relational poetics looks at texts as being themselves in a constant state of motion, dispersion, and permeability that is inseparable not only from the shifting social and political context, but from the cycles of the earth and the diversity of nature.”

We cannot use the documents to serve the “logic” of our poems or our world views, but we can use the poem to expand our view of the world. The reading or writing of a poem can help us to reflect on our place within the spheres of power and powerlessness that constitute our world.

Behind each name on each document: a face, a story, an opportunity for complication /connection. That will not be static; that can’t be dependable.

8 Brandon Shimoda, “Operation Streamline,” The New Inquiry, (May 3, 2017): web.
9 Joseph Harrington,“Docupoetry and Archive Desire,” Jacket2, (October 27, 2011): web.
10 Kristin Prevallet, “Writing is Never by Itself Alone: Six Mini-Essays on Relational Investigative Poetics,” Fence, (Spring 2003): 20.


Susan Briante is the author most recently of Defacing the Monument, a series of essays on immigration, archives, aesthetics and the state, winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism in 2021. In a starred review, Publisher’s Weekly calls the collection “a superb examination of the ethical issues facing artists who tell others’ stories” and a “dazzlingly inventive and searching text.” Briante is also the author of three books of poetry:  Pioneers in the Study of Motion, Utopia Minus, and The Market Wonders.

Elizabeth Vignali is the author of the poetry collection House of the Silverfish (Unsolicited Press 2021) and three chapbooks, the most recent of which is Endangered [Animal] (Floating Bridge Press 2019). Her work has appeared in Willow Springs, Poetry Northwest, Cincinnati Review, Mid-American Review, Tinderbox, The Literary Review, and elsewhere. She lives in the Pacific Northwest on the land of the Noxwsʼáʔaq and Xwlemi peoples, where she works as an optician, produces the Bellingham Kitchen Session reading series, and serves as poetry editor of Sweet Tree Review.

Sundress Reads: Review of Corner Shrine

Chloe Martinez’s chapbook Corner Shrine (Backbone Press, 2020) is a poetry collection that plots a vibrant historical timeline, inviting readers to embark on a journey across South Asia while focusing on the ephemerality of life. As the winner of the 2020 Backbone Press Chapbook Contest, Corner Shrine evokes existential questions, challenging grandiose perceptions of human civilizations by drawing upon imagery of ancient shrines and nature’s transience. At its heart, Martinez’s collection acts as a dialogue between tourists and the places they travel to as she complicates modern conceptions of spatial history.

This collection of poems finds its strength by fabricating a tangible world marked by Kabul’s gardens, monkey-filled train stations, and the sounds of India’s fishermen toiling away as tourists rest on balconies overhead. Martinez touches on unspoken aspects of tourism against beautiful portraits of South Asian realism. Through an intrinsic link between this foreign place and its history, an overarching narrative drives Corner Shrine by plotting the tourist’s development from self-interested to self-aware. By the end of the collection, the tourist contextualizes their place in history. In the first poem, the narrator addresses the reader as a tourist who takes a photo—”Not a story. Not an image. It is a map. At the end of the hallway, / a balcony” (“The Mirror Room, Mehranagarh Fort”). The image of the balcony reoccurs throughout the collection, referring to biases tourists often hold when they visit a country for the first time. Moreover, through class privilege, the tourist is physically “above” India’s fishermen and working class.

The narrator goes on, “[the] Mirror Palace… it wants an audience. / Here you are, alone with your ten thousand selves” (“The Mirror Room, Mehranagarh Fort”). The mirror, like the image of Sheeh Mahal, is a map that will lead the tourist to self-realization. In fact, Martinez exposes a paradox in her collection: the tourist, too, is a spectacle. When the tourist is alone and standing against the historical backdrop of the places they visit, they must face all the parts of themselves, including their biases and class privilege. In the collection’s first section, the tourist is not just an unreachable spectator, which is an idea that Martinez plays with in “Learning Experience.” Here, the narrator retells the moment she first interacts with the Indian landscape—she falls from a train, which is perhaps a nod to the collection’s second section, appropriately titled “Disorientation,” and represents the tourist’s journey to self-awareness.

 Although each poem stands alone, the collection is divided into three sections. The first section, “Ten Thousand Selves,” humanizes the founders of ancient empires by reimagining the creation of architectural marvels. Here, Martinez weaves together poems from the imagined perspective of Babur and Shah Jahan with the tourist’s perspective. In this way, the narrator both minimizes and aggrandizes the tourist’s presence by contrasting their perspective with that of royalty. In “Babur at Agra,” the narrator imagines that he “walked the fragrant pathways, / thinking of where he slept in the open air.” Similarly, the narrator describes that the reader “[arrives] at night. The road snakes up the mountain / to cool air” (“Reaching Hills Station in Late August in Rajasthan”). Martinez masterfully shifts the sentence subjects to complicate power dynamics between the tourist and their landscape. In the previously stated line, the narrator grants Babur agency as the subject. However, the road—i.e., a part of the South Asian landscape—becomes the subject when the narrator tells of the tourist’s arrival. This shift suggests that, although the tourist previously possessed a sense of hubris, a country’s natural history always acts with agency, preceding the present.   

The second section, “Disorientation,” engages with the Indian landscape more intimately, reflecting the beginning of deep cultural recognition. She writes, “It’s Diwali… / …the strange light makes / bicycles, poster-gods and me look ethereal and cheap” (“Diwali”). Here, Martinez makes an interesting link between the bicycle, perhaps a symbol of modernist progression, false poster-idols, and the tourists themselves—compared to the elegant tradition of Diwali, these objects lose their value. Similarly, in “Eight Past Lives, As I Recall Them,” we see a radical shift toward transcendentalism. The tourist finally contextualizes, not only themselves, but the many who comprise the South Asian landscape, into its grand history. This section romanticizes the labour of the many by making them subjects of poems: the thief, the killer, and the painter, to name a few. The narrator compares themselves to the woman in Rilke’s Die Gazelle, who “stood in a lake, naked. Her face / gewendeten: turned back to look at you” (“The Poem”). Naked, stripped of material security, the tourist finally sees themselves belonging to the landscape.

Chloe Martinez’s Corner Shrine paints a vibrant picture of South Asia’s most historic sites, nestling travelogue-style poems between reminscences of its colourful landscape. A poignant analysis of the tourism industry informs her command of language and imagery, made up of India’s “gorgeous ruins” diffused by dynamic wordplay. Stressing the importance of belonging—that even the most minute details have a purpose—the narrator memorializes color while using homophones to add layers of meaning: “Red a ring I stole / from a gift shop in high school,” later continuing, “Red the sandstone palace, / even under whitewash. I never stole anything else” (“Palace Gate”). The narrator suggests here that once they “read” or perceive India’s beauty, they experience a radical change in values. Like the tourist’s journey from indulgence to awareness, this collection will inspire readers to reflect on their own spiritual journey. 

Corner Shrine is available at Backbone Press


Crysta Montiel is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto in Canada, where she studies English Literature and Philosophy. She previously worked as an editorial intern at Ayesha Pande Literary Agency. When Crysta’s not digging through treasure troves of queries, she’s completing her Criterion Collection bucket list and playing with her cat.

Interview with Mackenzie Berry, Author of Slack Tongue City

With the recent publication of her debut poetry collection, Slack Tongue City, Sundress Publications author Mackenzie Berry sat down with our intern, Katherine DeCoste, to discuss how her Southern roots, food, and regionality inform her writing. This collection of poetry explores sensory manifestations of longing, transforming ideas of the “homeland” from a physical place to a place of memory.

Katherine DeCoste: The poems in this collection frequently returns to food—grits, coffee, mac & cheese. Can you speak to how food informs identity and community in your work?

Mackenzie Berry: To know any place, I think you have to taste it. And it feels especially important when talking about the U.S. South. So, I had to talk about it when talking about Louisville. At every church potluck, it was all on the table—who made what, hurrying up to get something before it’s gone. Food is so transitory and still so important. Food feels like the concrete manifestation of nostalgia and longing, and my writing has a lot of longing.

KD: You use a wide range of forms here, from prose poem to ghazal, sestina, and pantoum. How did you arrive at these specific forms, and how did they shape these poems?

MB: Honestly, the form poems came out of assignments to write specific form poems in college, when I wrote most of the manuscript. I used the space of form as a means to have musicality or give direction to particular content I wanted to write about. The jug band poem felt like it had to be a sestina because the repeating six words could tell a long story but remain with emphasis. The ghazal is my favorite form, because it’s so musical, so there are a couple of them. It has a chorus built in—something to return to and anchor the poem. The forms also gave the poems a direction to arrive at by the end of a line, something to write toward, so that helped the poems come into being. Writing some of them was writing a puzzle, which felt accurate to the content.

KD: Can you tell me more about the “after” poems in this collection, and how other creatives influenced your work?

MB: Sure—the “after” poems here are citations. A few gesture to some poets I’ve read and their work—John Murillo, Frank X Walker, Brigit Pegeen Kelly. A couple others reference an event as a starting point, as a head of the poem, and don’t return to it in the body of the poem. I’ve drawn from so many poets for their music, for their song. Joy Priest was the first Louisville poet I read on the page, and her work Horsepower has the hum and the engine, as the title suggests.

KD: In “Mama Said Louisville’s not the South Because it Dresses Grits Fancy,” you tease out tension around regionality, especially concerning the South and Midwest. Can you speak more to this?

MB: Louisville’s always been in a geographic struggle with which region it belongs to, and with its relationship with Kentucky as a whole, so I wanted to play that out in this poem with some humor and with specificity. It was funny to me that my mom’s singular and unequivocal criteria for why Louisville is not the South is on account of grits. And yet, of course it is.

KD: Tell me about the book’s three sections. What moved you to structure the collection this way? 

MB: I saw three clear groupings of poems—Louisville poems, childhood/upbringing poems, and grief/heartbreak poems. I tried weaving them all together so that the collection wouldn’t read as disconnected, then tried sections, then returned to no sections, but once my editor Tennison suggested putting them into sections to see how it read, it felt like each one built on the last and that the collection had a clear arc.

KD: You write “if a city is a body it’s redrawing its anatomy” in “Three Truths & A Lie.” How do you see Louisville as a character, as well as a place or setting, in these poems?

MB: I see Louisville as a sky, as an overlook, as an underground, as actually an arbitrary thing—a defined city with borders—as another place which only exists from displacing Indigenous peoples, and that is where I come from. It has many people acting upon it and stretching it into something else, and all it can do is watch it happen in some instances, but in other instances other actors refuse that.

KD: “On Being From Nobody” details a violent encounter between the speaker and “the boy who is almost a man.” Can you tell me how you see femininity and masculinity at play in this poem, as well as throughout the collection?

MB: I don’t see masculinity in this poem but a caricature of it. This caricature is used by “the body who is almost a man” as leverage and as a threat, as something that rages and laughs about it. In the collection as a whole, girlhood and womanhood is something that multiplies and becomes abundant the more it feeds itself. It makes itself, in the absence of and in the howling for. 

KD: Slack Tongue City is as concerned with history as it is with location and place. With that in mind, how do you see these poems engaging with the notion of being “from” a place?

MB: Yes. I’m caught up with archives, and I felt such a need to archive this place as I’ve known it and put my finger on the map, knowing it will never return back there. I think these poems live at the tension of simultaneously being from a place and being beyond it. Of being attached to a physical place as a reference point, as a landing ground, and knowing that ground is ever shaking. I’ve always thought that the best way to read history is to read the poets of the time. Because poetry will bring you into the house, into the kitchen, whereas other depictions may stop at the street, or only go as far as the front door. I’ve always thought of poets as historians from the first collection I ever read, which was Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney.

KD: The collection’s second section presents several recollections from the speaker’s childhood, like their mother’s cookies and purchasing a bike at a garage sale. What is poetry’s role in engaging with these kinds of memories?

MB: Poetry can be used as an archive of the personal. I certainly use it for that. It’s great for memory because by genre it can be incoherent and jarring and parsed and jumpy, which memories often are. Poetry is good for making a quilt. 

Order your copy of Slack Tongue City today!


Mackenzie Berry’s poetry is inspired by Louisville, Kentucky, her hometown and subject of her debut poetry collection, Slack Tongue City. Her poetry has been published in Vinyl, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Hobart, and Blood Orange Review, among others. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry at Cornell University.

Katherine DeCoste is an MA student at the University of Victoria, on the stolen lands of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples and the WSANEC peoples. Their poems have appeared in Grain MagazineThe Antigonish ReviewContemporary Verse 2, and elsewhere, and their play “many hollow mercies” won the 2020 Alberta Playwriting Competition Novitiate Prize. When not writing, reading, or answering emails, you can find them baking vegan snacks and forcing their friends to play Dungeons and Dragons.

Project Bookshelf: Neha Peri

After spending the past four years as a broke college student, my collection is a little small. Growing up, I utilized the library more than I frequented the local Barnes and Noble. There was just something so freeing about borrowing as many books as I wanted at no cost to me that made me gravitate toward it. As an adult, I still feel that sort of connection to the library. If there’s a book I am sure I’m going to love or one that I feel the urge to annotate, I’ll purchase it, but most of what I read nowadays comes from the library.

My collection is a little all over the place, so organizing it has been quite the experience. It’s pretty small, and there are quite a few gaps in it. Admittedly, I’ve been dealing with some mental health issues for the past few years that have really caused a dip in my motivation to read, furthering my inactivity with buying books. I’m trying to get back into things for the new year, so here’s hoping for a much more well-rounded collection in 2022!

For a long time, this shelf was known as my thesis shelf. I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on Beloved, focusing on its positioning as a novel of the incoherent and the unique space it occupied amongst the work of numerous Black women writers during the latter half of the twentieth century. For that reason, you’ll see Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, alongside Toni Morrison’s work of literary criticism, Playing in the Dark. The black books on the right contain hundreds of pages of notes for my thesis, things I don’t have much use for anymore but cannot bring myself to remove from this shelf. My thesis is close to my heart, as it was borne from both reading Beloved in high school, and the subsequent Black literature courses I took in college, where I read more of Morrison’s work along with Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Octavia Butler. The way these writers conceptualized and discussed race, specifically Blackness, in America resonated with me in a way I had never felt before. I accredit my desire to research, read, and write academically to them. As a woman of color, the words of many Black women writers have helped me to reflect on my own identity and history, and I treasure them for being the gateway into that work.

Also, yes, I have two copies of Beloved. The one on the left is the original copy I bought for my 12th grade English class, full of frantic annotations from class discussions. When I decided on my thesis topic, I knew I needed to get a brand new copy, as not to confuse thoughts I had at 17 with thoughts I would have while rereading the book at 21.

This second shelf is a little more of a mixed bag. There’s some YA, some more Toni Morrison, and a couple of library books I’m working on at the moment. I just finished reading Neel Patel’s Tell Me How to Be, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Additionally, you’ll see my well-worn copy of Hamlet, my favorite Shakespeare play, and a copy of Saidiya Hartman’s latest work, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. I was introduced to Hartman through one of my professors, and I have found myself resonating with her words and her thought processes in complicating the non-fiction genre to bring silenced voices to light.

What I love so much about this shelf is its representation of my journey back into reading. Throughout college, I struggled to read more than what was required for my coursework. I was not in a great place mentally, and this severely impacted my reading. As time went on and graduation neared, I started picking up some YA books that I’d missed out on over those years. As a series, Six of Crows is special to me because it marks my renewed interest in fantasy. As a child, I loved the escapism of fantasy universes but lost touch with it through the end of high school and into college. I picked up the Six of Crows duology during my senior year of college and flew through it. It brought back all of the fervor with which I remember reading the newest Rick Riordan book in middle school, flashlight in hand, trying not to wake up my parents, and for that reason, I’ll always treasure it. I hold this shelf so close to my heart because it is a reminder of how far I’ve come over the past few years.


Neha Peri holds a BA in English from Rutgers University. In her senior year, she was appointed editor-in-chief of the university’s oldest literary magazine, The Anthologist. While at Rutgers, she also tutored for the Rutgers Writing Program, completed internships with the Rutgers English Department and the University of Mississippi Press, and wrote an honors thesis. Her work has been featured in The Anthologist. Currently, she works as an intern at the Princeton University Press.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “You Really Got A Hold On Me: A Generative Pop Culture Poetry Workshop”

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “You Really Got a Hold on Me”: A Generative Pop Culture Poetry Workshop, led by Shannon Wolf on May 11, 2022, from 6-7:30 PM. This event will be held over Zoom. Participants can access the event at tiny.utk.edu/sundress (password: safta).

The Sopranos brought about a generation filled with fans who found themselves inexplicably drawn to Tony Soprano’s heavy breathing and violent leadership. Fans of the show Killing Eve are consistently torn between troubled MI5 officer Eve Polastri and the object of her detection, the dastardly but captivating Villanelle. What is it about these characters that compels us to talk about them, to think about them, and to write about them? In looking outward to these characters, we look inward.

In this 90-minute generative poetry workshop, you’ll drill down on a character from popular culture who fascinates you in some way. You’ll look at examples of pop culture poetry from writers including Morgan Parker, and Hanif Abdurraquib, and with two short writing periods, you’ll begin drafting work, and even share a line or two. Come along, make sense of your interior life and get an excuse to re-binge your favorite show.

While there is no fee for this workshop, those who are able and appreciative can make direct donations via Venmo @helloshanwolf.

Shannon Wolf is a British writer and teacher, living in Denver, Colorado. Her debut full-length poetry collection Green Card Girl is forthcoming from Fernwood Press. She received a joint MA-MFA in Poetry at McNeese State University and also has degrees from Lancaster University and the University of Chichester. She is the Co-Curator of the Poets in Pajamas Reading Series. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction (which can also be found under the name Shannon Bushby) have appeared in The Forge, No Contact Mag, and HAD among others. You can find her on social media @helloshanwolf.


The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) 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.