The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: All We Knew But Couldn’t Say by Joanne Vannicola

“We have received a complaint about you both,” said the director of the program at George Brown College. Elia and I were taking some courses together and had both been summoned.
“You’re kidding, right?” Elia asked as if she already knew why.
“What for?” I asked.
“There was a complaint about your kissing in front of the school.”
“Are you serious?” Elia asked.
I didn’t say anything. For the first time in my life I had a girlfriend who was demonstrative, who didn’t hide her lesbianism and did not care what other people thought. Fuck them. I had a right to kiss outside like other young lovers did. Being gay was no longer a crime under the law. If we wanted to kiss, that was our choice.
The meeting with the director didn’t last long. She knew she had no right to ask us to hide.
“Let’s have a kiss-in,” Elia said when we were outside again,
looking around at all the other students who shared programs with us. “I wonder who the homophobes are?” Elia and I looked for straight couples. Were other people kissing, holding each other?
Was someone looking at us with a scowl on his or her face?
“Kiss me now,” I said to Elia, making sure we were as close to each other as possible, facing each other on the steps in front of the main doors with our hands reaching out to one another. We kissed as if it were our wedding day.
After a long kiss we walked back inside the school and went to class.
We made it a rule to kiss as often as we could on campus. Other people would just have to deal with it. We hadn’t committed any crime, and unless kissing was going to be regulated for all students in love, straight and gay, then we would kiss every chance we had.


In honor of National Women’s History Month, this selection comes from the book, All We Knew But Couldn’t Say, available from DunDurn Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

Joanne Vannicola is an Emmy award-winning actor, author, and advocate. Vannicola is the chair of outACTRAto, the LGBTQ+ committee at ACTRA Toronto, and sits on the sexual assault ad-hoc committee for women in film and television. Vannicola is the recipient of the Leslie Yeo award for volunteerism (2019), and the recipient of The Margaret Trudeau Advocacy Award (2020). Joanne founded the non-profit organization, Youth Out Loud, raising awareness about child abuse, sexual violence, youth rights, and LGBTQ+ equality. http://www.youthoutloud.ca All We Knew But Couldn’t Say, was released in June, 2019, and has been featured as the Top 21 memoirs to read in summer by Bustle magazine, and was featured on The Next Chapter by Shelagh Rogers, the Toronto Star, the Globe, CTV mornings, NOW Magazine, The Girly Club, and the Lambda Literary Reviews. They are currently co-developing a new series, and working on their second book, exploring themes of LGBTQI homelessness. You can learn more at: http://www.joannevannicola.com. Or on Twitter or Instragram: @joannevannicola

Nilsa Rivera Castro writes about women with a socio-economic disadvantage and the effect of trauma, hearing loss, homelessness, and violence in their lives. Her work has been featured in Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens, The Selkie Literary Magazine, LipServices Miami, Writing Class Radio, and The Cream Literary Alliance. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram at @nilsawrites.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: All We Knew But Couldn’t Say by Joanne Vannicola

I had thought that once I’d escaped my mother and my past, once I’d found independence, that somehow all my fantasies and dreams would come true. It was all a lie, all a bunch of false information that we ingested from television shows, news, and school, the fallacy of a
better tomorrow. Lies.
There would be nothing better, nothing to look forward to. I knew too much. I believed I knew everything there was to know. I believed that kids like me, from violent or broken homes, couldn’t buy in to societal norms. They were lies, imposed concepts — marriage and children, houses, nine-to-five jobs — designed to keep us in line. Lines I had no use for. I lived outside of them. I wanted nothing to do with them. With anything.

I was fifteen and no longer satisfied with just starving.


In honor of National Women’s History Month, this selection comes from the book, All We Knew But Couldn’t Say, available from DunDurn Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

Joanne Vannicola is an Emmy award-winning actor, author, and advocate. Vannicola is the chair of outACTRAto, the LGBTQ+ committee at ACTRA Toronto, and sits on the sexual assault ad-hoc committee for women in film and television. Vannicola is the recipient of the Leslie Yeo award for volunteerism (2019), and the recipient of The Margaret Trudeau Advocacy Award (2020). Joanne founded the non-profit organization, Youth Out Loud, raising awareness about child abuse, sexual violence, youth rights, and LGBTQ+ equality. http://www.youthoutloud.ca All We Knew But Couldn’t Say, was released in June, 2019, and has been featured as the Top 21 memoirs to read in summer by Bustle magazine, and was featured on The Next Chapter by Shelagh Rogers, the Toronto Star, the Globe, CTV mornings, NOW Magazine, The Girly Club, and the Lambda Literary Reviews. They are currently co-developing a new series, and working on their second book, exploring themes of LGBTQI homelessness. You can learn more at: http://www.joannevannicola.com. Or on Twitter or Instragram: @joannevannicola

Nilsa Rivera Castro writes about women with a socio-economic disadvantage and the effect of trauma, hearing loss, homelessness, and violence in their lives. Her work has been featured in Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens, The Selkie Literary Magazine, LipServices Miami, Writing Class Radio, and The Cream Literary Alliance. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram at @nilsawrites.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: All We Knew But Couldn’t Say by Joanne Vannicola

I stuck my head out the window to get away from the moving walls. I stared at a tree, but it was breathing too. Everything was breathing in and out — the night sky, the leaves, parked cars, even the moon. Why hadn’t I seen the moon breathe before? I held myself and rocked back and forth to the rhythm of breath all around me. I looked at the moon again and wondered if it were possible for the moon and sun to collide, to explode and scatter fallen ashes around the Earth like dust.


In honor of National Women’s History Month, this selection comes from the book, All We Knew But Couldn’t Say, available from DunDurn Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

Joanne Vannicola is an Emmy award-winning actor, author, and advocate. Vannicola is the chair of outACTRAto, the LGBTQ+ committee at ACTRA Toronto, and sits on the sexual assault ad-hoc committee for women in film and television. Vannicola is the recipient of the Leslie Yeo award for volunteerism (2019), and the recipient of The Margaret Trudeau Advocacy Award (2020). Joanne founded the non-profit organization, Youth Out Loud, raising awareness about child abuse, sexual violence, youth rights, and LGBTQ+ equality. http://www.youthoutloud.ca All We Knew But Couldn’t Say, was released in June, 2019, and has been featured as the Top 21 memoirs to read in summer by Bustle magazine, and was featured on The Next Chapter by Shelagh Rogers, the Toronto Star, the Globe, CTV mornings, NOW Magazine, The Girly Club, and the Lambda Literary Reviews. They are currently co-developing a new series, and working on their second book, exploring themes of LGBTQI homelessness. You can learn more at: http://www.joannevannicola.com. Or on Twitter or Instragram: @joannevannicola

Nilsa Rivera Castro writes about women with a socio-economic disadvantage and the effect of trauma, hearing loss, homelessness, and violence in their lives. Her work has been featured in Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens, The Selkie Literary Magazine, LipServices Miami, Writing Class Radio, and The Cream Literary Alliance. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram at @nilsawrites.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Them Gone by Akua Lezli Hope

my mother is an indictment

i am fettered by the genes

limited before beginning

i cry against her

that she was not more

than second generation running

from that tropic tongue

too chastised to be fast

too whipped to be hip

not bold enough to embrace

heartrhythm’s wilderness

spice nights of peas ’n rice

the lingolilt of her people

persisting after backs dry

and green ripen

like banana like guava

like mango comesome

gingerbeer burn in mouth

little blackgirl runningfasthard breathless

beyond sweat her braids loosening in flight

running (monkee monkee monkee chaser)

hurled wordspears falling short

of flailing black legs monkee chaser

tribe silver on her arm marking her

as sure as cheekscars monkeechaser she stop

hard turns shescared shefight flailing arms

of fear fight strong with fear fatigue she fight

she strong shechange shebecome

yankeegirl accentless

Harlemcool and homegrownsweet

she nocookhot this second generation

she no jibe-jive with elders

in accented imitation no

she run fast she run fast

slicing off edges cutting her mythical tail
collecting menstrual blood

offerings for the melting pot

idol of her parent’s new religion

multistoried monstrosity with fool’s

gold pasties on witch’s marquee

beautiful at the distance

unbridgeable gap


why-o why-o why-o she can’t crossover ?

This selection comes from the book, Them Gone, available from Word Works.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

A third generation New Yorker, firstborn, Akua Lezli Hope has won two Artists Fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, a Ragdale U.S.-Africa Fellowship, and a Creative Writing Fellowship from The National Endowment for The Arts. She’s won scholarships for the Hurston Wright writers’ program and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She is a Cave Canem fellow. She received an Artists Crossroads Grant from The Arts of the Southern Finger Lakes for her project “Words in Motion,” which placed poetry on the buses of New York’s Chemung and Steuben counties. She was the guest poet at the Steele Memorial Library’s 2003 Festival. UNPACKING, her collaboration with dancer choreographer, Lois Welk, was presented in 2003 at 171 Cedar Arts Center. She was a poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institute where she read her poetry, lectured on jazz poetry, and conducted a workshop entitled “Writing Poetry as Mythmaking.”
Her poem “Metis Emits” won the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s short poem award for 2015. Her first collection, EMBOUCHURE, Poems on Jazz and Other Musics, won the Writer’s Digest book award for poetry. Her poems, Montserrat and AwaIting Your Return (for Jamal Kashoggi) were nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. Her manuscript, Them Gone, a finalist in the 2015 Word Works Washington Prize competition, was selected for Red Paint Hill Publishing’s Bryant Lysembee Editor’s Prize and published in December, 2018 by The Word Works.
She is published in numerous literary magazines and national anthologies including: 50 over 50, Minerva Rising, Strange Horizons, Eye to the Telescope, Breath and Shadow, The Crafty Poet II, The Cossack Review, Silver Blade, Tiny Text, The 100 Best African American Poems (2010); Killens Review, Breath and Shadow, Stone Canoe, Three Coyotes, The Year’s Best Writing, Writer’s Digest Guides, 2003; DARK MATTER, (the first!) anthology of African American Science Fiction, Time Warner Books, 2000; THE BLUELIGHT CORNER, black women writing on passion, sex, and romantic love, Three Rivers Press, 1999; Will Work For Peace: New Political Poems, 1999; MASKS, Earth’s Daughters 52, 1998; CHAIN, 1995; SISTERFIRE, an anthology of Black Womanist Fiction and Poetry, ed. by Charlotte Watson-Sherman, HarperPerennial, 1994; WHAT IS FOUND THERE, NOTEBOOKS ON POETRY AND POLITICS by Adrienne Rich, W.W. Norton, 1993; WRITING FROM THE NEW COAST: TECHNIQUE, Buffalo University, 1993; EROTIQUE NOIRE, (the first!) AN ANTHOLOGY OF BLACK EROTICA, Doubleday/Anchor, 1992; POETS MARKET, 1992, ed. by Judson Jerome, Writers Digest Books; CONFIRMATION, an anthology of Afrikan American Women Writers, 1983; EXTENDED OUTLOOKS, the Iowa Review Collection of Contemporary Women Writers, 1983; and Eyeball, 1995; Obsidian II, 1996, 1994, 1992, 1991; Blue Cage, 1993 (England); Hambone, 1992; African American Review, 1992; Catalyst 1992; and Contact II, 1989; among many others.
She holds a B.A. in psychology from Williams College, a M.B.A. in marketing from Columbia University Graduate School of Business, and a M.S.J. in broadcast journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is a founding section leader in the Poetry Forum on Compuserve. She served as a founding section leader of African American Resource Forum and in the Books and Writers section of the African American Culture Forum (American Visions) on Compuserve. She also served as a trainer, area coordinator, and group founder and leader for Amnesty International, U.S.A., in the southern tier of New York. She co-authored a biweekly column on social, political, and cultural issues for the Star Gazette in 1995.
She was a finalist in the 1991 Open Voice competition, in the 1990 Barnard New Women Poets Series with her manuscript Fuel for Beginners, and in the MacDonald’s Black literary competition for 1989. Her manuscript, The Prize is the Journey, was a finalist in the 1983 Walt Whitman contest. She is a founding member of the Black Writers Union and the New Renaissance Writers Guild whose alumni include Arthur Flowers, Walter Dean Myers and Terri McMillan.
She led the Voices of Fire Reading Choir from 1987 to 1999, performing her work and that of other African American poets. Akua has given hundreds of readings to audiences in colleges, prisons, parks, museums, libraries and bars. Akua bears an exile’s desire for work close to home, and a writer’s yearning for a galvanizing mythos.
She also creates sculpture, objects, and jewelry in glass, metal and handmade paper; designs crochet patterns, plays with her cat and the soprano saxophone, sings, and makes good manifest.

Nilsa Rivera Castro writes about women with a socio-economic disadvantage and the effect of trauma, hearing loss, homelessness, and violence in their lives. Her work has been featured in Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens, The Selkie Literary Magazine, LipServices Miami, Writing Class Radio, and The Cream Literary Alliance. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @nilsawrites.

New Review Series Looking for Recently Published Books

As part of Sundress Publications’ ongoing commitment to service, we recognizing that COVID-19 is causing hardship by canceling readings, launches, tours, and other needed promotional efforts. To combat this, Sundress Publications is now accepting submissions for consideration for inclusion in our new review series, Sundress Reads. We’re looking to write featured reviews for books with release dates from February 1-April 30, 2020. We at Sundress hope to champion writers whose work highlights human struggle and challenges misconceptions. 

Authors or publishers of books published within this date range are invited to submit books, chapbooks, or anthologies in any genre for consideration by our reviewers who are standing by. Submissions will be considered on a rolling basis. For immediate consideration, please forward an electronic copy of the book (PDFs preferred), author bio, photo of the cover, and a link to the publisher’s website to sundresspubications@gmail.com with “Sundress Reads: Title” as the subject line. In addition, we request that one print copy be mailed to Sundress Academy for the Arts, ATTN: Sundress Reads, 195 Tobby Hollow Lane, Knoxville, TN 37931. 

Submissions to Sundress Reads will remain eligible for selection for one year. Hard copies will become a permanent part of the Sundress Academy for the Arts library and will be made available to SAFTA fellows and staff as well as by request to affiliate journals for further reviews.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Them Gone by Akua Lezli Hope

The Them Gone

I had not been home since her funeral

Her husband, my father, alone for seven months

was already dating and that Fathers’ Day weekend

he was overexcited

asking me ten times what he should cook.

As if he had not cooked for me a million times before:

when he had the night shift, undertook the domestic

with varying degrees of palatable

not like her cuisine, always manna:

his liver, bacon, onions,

ketchup for everything, steak-blood gravies

spurred me to cook at 12.

As if he had to do anything.

But this was our first time alone together

our first time without mommy

just out of ear shot, at her sewing machine

shopping in the city, on her way

she, whom I only grudgingly shared.

She was the one I wanted to remain.

Maybe he was afraid of me, their first experiment. He was Igor without his scientist, the one who kept control

and knew all the formulas for regeneration. So lonely here, he said he could feel her sometimes.


I couldn’t.

He was the sudden widower with “those damn bitches

who didn’t wait till she was cold in the grave before calling”

a wacky misstatement since she was cremated

not what she wanted

but who could argue

with this wild man ripped from his moorings

bereft of his beloved after 44 faithful years

of growing, settling, nurturing the kind of passion

that made old boyfriends bring their new women

to witness the unbelievable tender of their joy:

rubbing her hurt feet unashamedly in public.

Songs he could no longer sing to her or us

my blue heaven, when I move on the outskirts of town

words he would no longer say: moosh, moosh, moosh, Hopie, dahlink her name his happy shout up the stairs: HOPE.


Retired from his steep 35-year ascent

in this small Queens A-frame house she never wanted

but made home, with brilliant buys gathered one by one

the mirrored oak armoire, those plush gold

velvet high-back chairs.

Left with their first hatchling on Fathers’ Day

who broke their wedded bliss into family

who as a teen pecked his super hero shell to see

suddenly just a man, a father, next time I’ll have wombats

and like Twain, I rethink him brilliant again.

Facing him in bright glare of kitchen light

feeling the enormity of his loss of the love of his life

his best friend, companion, beloved wife

something I have yet to have and hold.

Learning what was her, what was him, what was

us, what was them.

My own gut whacking yawp of mother-robbed grief swallowed shut as together we

chopped the onions

found tamari to marinate the fish

shredded Boston bibb, grated ginger, c

hopped carrots,

touched all her spices, made a meal.

This selection comes from the book, Them Gone, available from Word Works.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

A third generation New Yorker, firstborn, Akua Lezli Hope has won two Artists Fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, a Ragdale U.S.-Africa Fellowship, and a Creative Writing Fellowship from The National Endowment for The Arts. She’s won scholarships for the Hurston Wright writers’ program and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She is a Cave Canem fellow. She received an Artists Crossroads Grant from The Arts of the Southern Finger Lakes for her project “Words in Motion,” which placed poetry on the buses of New York’s Chemung and Steuben counties. She was the guest poet at the Steele Memorial Library’s 2003 Festival. UNPACKING, her collaboration with dancer choreographer, Lois Welk, was presented in 2003 at 171 Cedar Arts Center. She was a poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institute where she read her poetry, lectured on jazz poetry, and conducted a workshop entitled “Writing Poetry as Mythmaking.”
Her poem “Metis Emits” won the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s short poem award for 2015. Her first collection, EMBOUCHURE, Poems on Jazz and Other Musics, won the Writer’s Digest book award for poetry. Her poems, Montserrat and AwaIting Your Return (for Jamal Kashoggi) were nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. Her manuscript, Them Gone, a finalist in the 2015 Word Works Washington Prize competition, was selected for Red Paint Hill Publishing’s Bryant Lysembee Editor’s Prize and published in December, 2018 by The Word Works.
She is published in numerous literary magazines and national anthologies including: 50 over 50, Minerva Rising, Strange Horizons, Eye to the Telescope, Breath and Shadow, The Crafty Poet II, The Cossack Review, Silver Blade, Tiny Text, The 100 Best African American Poems (2010); Killens Review, Breath and Shadow, Stone Canoe, Three Coyotes, The Year’s Best Writing, Writer’s Digest Guides, 2003; DARK MATTER, (the first!) anthology of African American Science Fiction, Time Warner Books, 2000; THE BLUELIGHT CORNER, black women writing on passion, sex, and romantic love, Three Rivers Press, 1999; Will Work For Peace: New Political Poems, 1999; MASKS, Earth’s Daughters 52, 1998; CHAIN, 1995; SISTERFIRE, an anthology of Black Womanist Fiction and Poetry, ed. by Charlotte Watson-Sherman, HarperPerennial, 1994; WHAT IS FOUND THERE, NOTEBOOKS ON POETRY AND POLITICS by Adrienne Rich, W.W. Norton, 1993; WRITING FROM THE NEW COAST: TECHNIQUE, Buffalo University, 1993; EROTIQUE NOIRE, (the first!) AN ANTHOLOGY OF BLACK EROTICA, Doubleday/Anchor, 1992; POETS MARKET, 1992, ed. by Judson Jerome, Writers Digest Books; CONFIRMATION, an anthology of Afrikan American Women Writers, 1983; EXTENDED OUTLOOKS, the Iowa Review Collection of Contemporary Women Writers, 1983; and Eyeball, 1995; Obsidian II, 1996, 1994, 1992, 1991; Blue Cage, 1993 (England); Hambone, 1992; African American Review, 1992; Catalyst 1992; and Contact II, 1989; among many others.
She holds a B.A. in psychology from Williams College, a M.B.A. in marketing from Columbia University Graduate School of Business, and a M.S.J. in broadcast journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is a founding section leader in the Poetry Forum on Compuserve. She served as a founding section leader of African American Resource Forum and in the Books and Writers section of the African American Culture Forum (American Visions) on Compuserve. She also served as a trainer, area coordinator, and group founder and leader for Amnesty International, U.S.A., in the southern tier of New York. She co-authored a biweekly column on social, political, and cultural issues for the Star Gazette in 1995.
She was a finalist in the 1991 Open Voice competition, in the 1990 Barnard New Women Poets Series with her manuscript Fuel for Beginners, and in the MacDonald’s Black literary competition for 1989. Her manuscript, The Prize is the Journey, was a finalist in the 1983 Walt Whitman contest. She is a founding member of the Black Writers Union and the New Renaissance Writers Guild whose alumni include Arthur Flowers, Walter Dean Myers and Terri McMillan.
She led the Voices of Fire Reading Choir from 1987 to 1999, performing her work and that of other African American poets. Akua has given hundreds of readings to audiences in colleges, prisons, parks, museums, libraries and bars. Akua bears an exile’s desire for work close to home, and a writer’s yearning for a galvanizing mythos.
She also creates sculpture, objects, and jewelry in glass, metal and handmade paper; designs crochet patterns, plays with her cat and the soprano saxophone, sings, and makes good manifest.

Nilsa Rivera Castro writes about women with a socio-economic disadvantage and the effect of trauma, hearing loss, homelessness, and violence in their lives. Her work has been featured in Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens, The Selkie Literary Magazine, LipServices Miami, Writing Class Radio, and The Cream Literary Alliance. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @nilsawrites.

Lyric Essentials: Tara Shea Burke Reads Judith Barrington and Donika Kelly

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! In our latest installment, Tara Shea Burke reads poems from two different poets and discusses the connectivity of lesbian poetry, somatic poetry, animalistic poetry, and how important it is for everyone to hear about it all. Thanks for listening!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to break the rules and read two poems by two different poets for Lyric Essentials? 

Photo credit: Rae Thweatt

Tara Shea Burke: Well, for a few practical, radical, and metaphorical reasons. Because this trine of things is perhaps how I do everything. When I was thinking about what poems to read, I scanned my shelves and all the poets I love. I could have read from Tim Seibles, Jericho Brown, Mary Oliver, Megan Falley—so many poets and so many poems. But because this was about reading poems I love, I sat and breathed and got deep into my body. The first poem I think about reading aloud when we talk about poems that influence is always, always for me, Why Young Girls Like to Ride Bareback by Judith Barrington. I heard her read this poem at an AWP years and years ago, when I was either still in or just finishing my MFA and realizing how much I needed and responded to poems about the body, the lesbian body, the thrust of us.

I recorded that poem right away, then read the rest of the book “Horses and the Human Soul”, which I haven’t read fully in a while, though I return to my favorite poem often. I love so much of the book, but I was looking for another poem that really rode the wave of my body as I read it in the same way, and I came up short. So, I looked on the Lyric Essentials page and read back through what other poets had done. I was just going to break the rules, like I do, but also wanted to feel in community with other poets that may have gone outside the boundaries, and I found some writers that shared different poets. I break rules and look for shared experiences simultaneously—in life, in poetry, in spirit. I sat for a while again, and asked myself to remember, bodily, what other poems I love feel the same to me in rhythm and texture like this poem. Donika Kelly’s every poem. I immediately wanted to read “The moon rose over the bay. I had a lot of feelings.” So, I read it aloud and felt that ride of body of lesbian body of love of queerness and animal and the rhythm and felt at home, which is what I look for, always. 

Tara Shea Burke reads “Why Young Girls Like to Ride Bareback” by Judith Barrington

EH: How do you feel these two poems or two poets are connected, so that they can be read together?

TSB: I mentioned a little of this above, but when I was first coming out, first writing, first finding my voice in literature and as a student, as a young queer writer full of animal feelings all over the place, embodied writers saved my life. I will always want to place two or more lesbian and queer writers together who bring in animals and animalistic urges, who can write about sex while not writing about sex (I fail at this and speak literally of sex) and what love feels like for oneself, and for another, as a queer body in this dominant culture that strangles everything deeply divine about our bodies and all we crave. Barrington’s poem is a perfect poem to me. Its language matches its form matches its sound and tone and experience as I read, and to me every single poem truly should be an embodied, felt, experience on the tongue aloud as well as on the page. Lesbian and queer writers do this best for me. They have been my teachers. I love so much writing people create, but I want to feel something, you know?

Barrington’s poem is about a young girl riding bareback, and not a single word is about sex and early sexuality, and yet every single word choice, every straddle and whole body singing is about the dance of the body waking up in tune with nature, the whole other world between a young girl’s legs. And that queers the hell out of it, too—so unapologetically inviting us to consider what is unsaid, what we’ve all barebacked before. Wow, this is the power of bringing the unsaid, particularly about young queerness, to life on the page. Some may say this poem is about the joy of riding a horse. I say read it aloud, again.

And Kelly’s poem is about feelings in this very frank and unapologetic way, too. About falling in love with a woman and seeing sex and love and lust and death everywhere, in sea creatures and the water and the sand and the tide. And about naming oneself in the poem! Whew. Most of her poems embrace the animal of us, which has taught me so much about my body, about what is possible when I let my love of things, of women, of creatures into my work despite all the damn rules we think we must adhere to in order to write well. Screw them all, sing the body one with the love that wakes us up, the bodies alive and alive, again. 

Tara Shea Burke reads “The moon rose over the bay. I had a lot of feelings.” by Donika Kelly

EH: What roles have these poems acted as in influencing your own writing? Do you find one more influential than the other, or one poet more impactful to your writer’s identity than the other? 

TSB: I seem to be bleeding one answer into the other before the next question, which feels like me and all the poets I love. I don’t want to compare here, but man, every time I read Barrington’s poem, I stomp my feet on the floor and rock my body and feel alive in a way I can’t quite name, for worry of killing it. The ride that poem takes reminds me what I’m here for in spirit and in relationship to language and queerness and sex and myself and this body I am loving fiercely as a big giant FU to all the powers that be, no matter how hard it is. And it reminds me how little we’ve written about the young girl’s body and how hard it is to name what we straddle. I mean, really. Kelly’s work is influential as hell for me, but in a way that reminds me to embrace deep metaphor, shorter poems that reveal and hold back just enough to make you hungry for more. 

EH: I love how much we can hear your emotional connection to these poems when you’re reading! Who do you imagine is your audience when reading these poems aloud? As in, who do you imagine needs or wants to hear you read these poems by these poets? 

TSB: Um, everyone. We’ve lost so much of aurality in language, at least in the way poetry asks us to consider words and feelings together. But, I know what’s happening there when we hear the same kind of reading over and over. I get it’s hard to read out loud, but really, what the crap are we doing? I feel like it is my job, when reading a poem, to practice it and read both like myself, and also in a way that honors the poem. Each poem has its own tone (I wrote town first) and music, or lack of, and subject matter, and desire. Every poem is a conversation with an audience, and I want us to read even MORE in poet voice. But I want poet voice to be something we can’t pin down anymore because we’re actually reading like ourselves, to people we truly care about reaching, and in a way that honors each poem as it is.

I love these poems. They light me up and turn me on. Why wouldn’t I read them in that way? I have spent a lot of my life wasting my words, and I aim to not do that anymore. What a waste to read these as if they aren’t magical, love-giving, life-giving, climax-giving poems? I’d read these to anyone. And, I think I’ve read the Bareback poem to children. 


Judith Barrington has published four poetry collections, two chapbooks, and the award-winning memoir Lifesaving: A Memoir. She is also a creative writing teacher who has taught in Britain, Spain, and the U.S. and currently teaches literary memoir at The University of Alaska, Anchorage’s MFA program, and is the author of the bestselling book on craft, Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art. She is a recipient of many awards, including the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize, the Lambda Book Award, and runner-up for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award.

Further reading:

Purchase Judith Barrington’s collection of poetry, Horses and the Human Soul
Read this interview with Judith Barrington about crafting memoir into literature
Read Barrington’s essay Poems From the Body

Donika Kelly is an assistant professor of English at St. Bonaventure University where she teaches Creative Writing. She is the author of the chapbook Aviarium, and the full-length collection Bestiary, which was the winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for poetry and the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and long-listed for the National Book Award and finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

Further reading:

Visit Donika Kelly’s personal website
Listen to Kelly discuss How to Bring Physicality Into Your Work
Read a review of Kelly’s book Bestiary

Tara Shea Burke is is a queer poet and teacher from the Blue Ridge Mountains and Hampton Roads, Virginia. She’s a writing instructor, editor, creative coach, and yoga teacher who has taught and lived in Virginia, New Mexico, and Colorado. Her writing will appear in Erase the Patriarchy, a book of sexual assault and rape erasures, edited by Isobel O’Hare and University of Hell Press, and was featured in Reading Queer, Poetry in the Time of Chaos, edited by Neil de la Flor and Maureen Seaton from Anhinga Press, as well as many journals and anthologies. She is a board member for Sinister Wisdom, the longest running multicultural, lesbian literary and arts journal. She believes in community building and radical support for any human that wants to tell their stories, and has edited and coached writers through creative work, dissertations, personal projects, and movement-based writing for healing and growth. To find more about her writing and work visit www.tarasheaburke.com

Erica Hoffmeister is is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently living in Denver, she teaches college writing across the Denver metro area and is an editor for the 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) and writes across genres.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Them Gone by Akua Lezli Hope

The Wall Beyond Rage

that certitude is a death

does not dissuade the frantic search of many

does not deter donning its blind veil, gagging shroud or

coffin-armor before promise is recognized or decoded

that certitude is the real opiate

routine is syringe and anarchy is not antidote

only a holding pattern against a landing submission

then surges rage as dim-eyed, hungered and weary

we clutch the fragile myths to fragment.

the litter cannot bear the restless

agony of labor swelling – dancing, pumping, knifing, rising

kicking screaming cursing shouting shouting to the wall.

the cunning intellectuals congratulate arrival

carve a doctrine of dogma: the tenets of arrival

that arrival is a death

does not defuse its fervent celebration

does not disrobe its priests, unravel mystique

or alarm spent anger to awaken

the terrain beyond each temporal truth we crave, beckons

yet craven, we fashion walls against the perilous country

only one moment beyond this, we live. cessation is

surrender. the only prize the journey.

This selection comes from the book, Them Gone, available from Word Works.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

A third generation New Yorker, firstborn, Akua Lezli Hope has won two Artists Fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, a Ragdale U.S.-Africa Fellowship, and a Creative Writing Fellowship from The National Endowment for The Arts. She’s won scholarships for the Hurston Wright writers’ program and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She is a Cave Canem fellow. She received an Artists Crossroads Grant from The Arts of the Southern Finger Lakes for her project “Words in Motion,” which placed poetry on the buses of New York’s Chemung and Steuben counties. She was the guest poet at the Steele Memorial Library’s 2003 Festival. UNPACKING, her collaboration with dancer choreographer, Lois Welk, was presented in 2003 at 171 Cedar Arts Center. She was a poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institute where she read her poetry, lectured on jazz poetry, and conducted a workshop entitled “Writing Poetry as Mythmaking.”
Her poem “Metis Emits” won the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s short poem award for 2015. Her first collection, EMBOUCHURE, Poems on Jazz and Other Musics, won the Writer’s Digest book award for poetry. Her poems, Montserrat and AwaIting Your Return (for Jamal Kashoggi) were nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. Her manuscript, Them Gone, a finalist in the 2015 Word Works Washington Prize competition, was selected for Red Paint Hill Publishing’s Bryant Lysembee Editor’s Prize and published in December, 2018 by The Word Works.
She is published in numerous literary magazines and national anthologies including: 50 over 50, Minerva Rising, Strange Horizons, Eye to the Telescope, Breath and Shadow, The Crafty Poet II, The Cossack Review, Silver Blade, Tiny Text, The 100 Best African American Poems (2010); Killens Review, Breath and Shadow, Stone Canoe, Three Coyotes, The Year’s Best Writing, Writer’s Digest Guides, 2003; DARK MATTER, (the first!) anthology of African American Science Fiction, Time Warner Books, 2000; THE BLUELIGHT CORNER, black women writing on passion, sex, and romantic love, Three Rivers Press, 1999; Will Work For Peace: New Political Poems, 1999; MASKS, Earth’s Daughters 52, 1998; CHAIN, 1995; SISTERFIRE, an anthology of Black Womanist Fiction and Poetry, ed. by Charlotte Watson-Sherman, HarperPerennial, 1994; WHAT IS FOUND THERE, NOTEBOOKS ON POETRY AND POLITICS by Adrienne Rich, W.W. Norton, 1993; WRITING FROM THE NEW COAST: TECHNIQUE, Buffalo University, 1993; EROTIQUE NOIRE, (the first!) AN ANTHOLOGY OF BLACK EROTICA, Doubleday/Anchor, 1992; POETS MARKET, 1992, ed. by Judson Jerome, Writers Digest Books; CONFIRMATION, an anthology of Afrikan American Women Writers, 1983; EXTENDED OUTLOOKS, the Iowa Review Collection of Contemporary Women Writers, 1983; and Eyeball, 1995; Obsidian II, 1996, 1994, 1992, 1991; Blue Cage, 1993 (England); Hambone, 1992; African American Review, 1992; Catalyst 1992; and Contact II, 1989; among many others.
She holds a B.A. in psychology from Williams College, a M.B.A. in marketing from Columbia University Graduate School of Business, and a M.S.J. in broadcast journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is a founding section leader in the Poetry Forum on Compuserve. She served as a founding section leader of African American Resource Forum and in the Books and Writers section of the African American Culture Forum (American Visions) on Compuserve. She also served as a trainer, area coordinator, and group founder and leader for Amnesty International, U.S.A., in the southern tier of New York. She co-authored a biweekly column on social, political, and cultural issues for the Star Gazette in 1995.
She was a finalist in the 1991 Open Voice competition, in the 1990 Barnard New Women Poets Series with her manuscript Fuel for Beginners, and in the MacDonald’s Black literary competition for 1989. Her manuscript, The Prize is the Journey, was a finalist in the 1983 Walt Whitman contest. She is a founding member of the Black Writers Union and the New Renaissance Writers Guild whose alumni include Arthur Flowers, Walter Dean Myers and Terri McMillan.
She led the Voices of Fire Reading Choir from 1987 to 1999, performing her work and that of other African American poets. Akua has given hundreds of readings to audiences in colleges, prisons, parks, museums, libraries and bars. Akua bears an exile’s desire for work close to home, and a writer’s yearning for a galvanizing mythos.
She also creates sculpture, objects, and jewelry in glass, metal and handmade paper; designs crochet patterns, plays with her cat and the soprano saxophone, sings, and makes good manifest.

Nilsa Rivera Castro writes about women with a socio-economic disadvantage and the effect of trauma, hearing loss, homelessness, and violence in their lives. Her work has been featured in Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens, The Selkie Literary Magazine, LipServices Miami, Writing Class Radio, and The Cream Literary Alliance. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @nilsawrites.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Them Gone by Akua Lezli Hope

Being Here

De Kock’s father beat him,

was an alcoholic, though his

murderous son says “big, strong, strict.”

We see how a stick was bent to life-snuffing sick,

stuck in a culture blinded to its colonial perdition.

In democratic purgatory,

I work to see monsters as human,

that next-door neighbor threatening harm

just an ill-bred girl.

I save money for expensive fences,

cast sea salt along the narrow border.


I pray, moments before a class of fledgling raptors

and grendahls, that my transitory presence makes them rethink

the drone of hate and fear they return to each afternoon,

that by showing them their power to create,

boys won’t make mine an automatic target,

girls might write their way to strength,

and not repeat their mothers

and not make more evil sons.

This selection comes from the book, Them Gone, available from Word Works.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

A third generation New Yorker, firstborn, Akua Lezli Hope has won two Artists Fellowships from the New York Foundation for the Arts, a Ragdale U.S.-Africa Fellowship, and a Creative Writing Fellowship from The National Endowment for The Arts. She’s won scholarships for the Hurston Wright writers’ program and the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. She is a Cave Canem fellow. She received an Artists Crossroads Grant from The Arts of the Southern Finger Lakes for her project “Words in Motion,” which placed poetry on the buses of New York’s Chemung and Steuben counties. She was the guest poet at the Steele Memorial Library’s 2003 Festival. UNPACKING, her collaboration with dancer choreographer, Lois Welk, was presented in 2003 at 171 Cedar Arts Center. She was a poet-in-residence at the Chautauqua Institute where she read her poetry, lectured on jazz poetry, and conducted a workshop entitled “Writing Poetry as Mythmaking.”
Her poem “Metis Emits” won the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s short poem award for 2015. Her first collection, EMBOUCHURE, Poems on Jazz and Other Musics, won the Writer’s Digest book award for poetry. Her poems, Montserrat and AwaIting Your Return (for Jamal Kashoggi) were nominated for a 2019 Pushcart Prize. Her manuscript, Them Gone, a finalist in the 2015 Word Works Washington Prize competition, was selected for Red Paint Hill Publishing’s Bryant Lysembee Editor’s Prize and published in December, 2018 by The Word Works.
She is published in numerous literary magazines and national anthologies including: 50 over 50, Minerva Rising, Strange Horizons, Eye to the Telescope, Breath and Shadow, The Crafty Poet II, The Cossack Review, Silver Blade, Tiny Text, The 100 Best African American Poems (2010); Killens Review, Breath and Shadow, Stone Canoe, Three Coyotes, The Year’s Best Writing, Writer’s Digest Guides, 2003; DARK MATTER, (the first!) anthology of African American Science Fiction, Time Warner Books, 2000; THE BLUELIGHT CORNER, black women writing on passion, sex, and romantic love, Three Rivers Press, 1999; Will Work For Peace: New Political Poems, 1999; MASKS, Earth’s Daughters 52, 1998; CHAIN, 1995; SISTERFIRE, an anthology of Black Womanist Fiction and Poetry, ed. by Charlotte Watson-Sherman, HarperPerennial, 1994; WHAT IS FOUND THERE, NOTEBOOKS ON POETRY AND POLITICS by Adrienne Rich, W.W. Norton, 1993; WRITING FROM THE NEW COAST: TECHNIQUE, Buffalo University, 1993; EROTIQUE NOIRE, (the first!) AN ANTHOLOGY OF BLACK EROTICA, Doubleday/Anchor, 1992; POETS MARKET, 1992, ed. by Judson Jerome, Writers Digest Books; CONFIRMATION, an anthology of Afrikan American Women Writers, 1983; EXTENDED OUTLOOKS, the Iowa Review Collection of Contemporary Women Writers, 1983; and Eyeball, 1995; Obsidian II, 1996, 1994, 1992, 1991; Blue Cage, 1993 (England); Hambone, 1992; African American Review, 1992; Catalyst 1992; and Contact II, 1989; among many others.
She holds a B.A. in psychology from Williams College, a M.B.A. in marketing from Columbia University Graduate School of Business, and a M.S.J. in broadcast journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She is a founding section leader in the Poetry Forum on Compuserve. She served as a founding section leader of African American Resource Forum and in the Books and Writers section of the African American Culture Forum (American Visions) on Compuserve. She also served as a trainer, area coordinator, and group founder and leader for Amnesty International, U.S.A., in the southern tier of New York. She co-authored a biweekly column on social, political, and cultural issues for the Star Gazette in 1995.
She was a finalist in the 1991 Open Voice competition, in the 1990 Barnard New Women Poets Series with her manuscript Fuel for Beginners, and in the MacDonald’s Black literary competition for 1989. Her manuscript, The Prize is the Journey, was a finalist in the 1983 Walt Whitman contest. She is a founding member of the Black Writers Union and the New Renaissance Writers Guild whose alumni include Arthur Flowers, Walter Dean Myers and Terri McMillan.
She led the Voices of Fire Reading Choir from 1987 to 1999, performing her work and that of other African American poets. Akua has given hundreds of readings to audiences in colleges, prisons, parks, museums, libraries and bars. Akua bears an exile’s desire for work close to home, and a writer’s yearning for a galvanizing mythos.
She also creates sculpture, objects, and jewelry in glass, metal and handmade paper; designs crochet patterns, plays with her cat and the soprano saxophone, sings, and makes good manifest.

Nilsa Rivera Castro writes about women with a socio-economic disadvantage and the effect of trauma, hearing loss, homelessness, and violence in their lives. Her work has been featured in Huffington Post, 50 GS Magazine, Six Hens, The Selkie Literary Magazine, LipServices Miami, Writing Class Radio, and The Cream Literary Alliance. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @nilsawrites.

Seeking Canceled AWP Panels for Online Roundtable

Sundress Publications is excited to announce that we will continue our tradition of hosting roundtables on our official blog by featuring some of the amazing AWP panels that were not able to appear at AWP 2020 through initial rejection or cancellation of the panel due to COVID-19. We’d like to focus especially on panels that will not be going to Kansas City in 2021. If your panel did not make the final cut this year, or you had to cancel running it and won’t be re-pitching for AWP 2021, we’d like to talk to you!

Now more than ever, your voices are necessary. We know that many important discussions won’t make it to AWP next year. That’s why we want to make them accessible in order to build an archive of diverse, engaging voices. We’re looking for topics that are driven by passion, inclusivity, forward-thinking, collaboration, and hybridity — all things fresh and unexpected. Let’s have more conversations — the world needs them.

Past panels posted to our blog include a wide variety of topics such as using a reporter’s techniques for fiction writing, a fresh look at the cultural conversations started by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and women at war. You can see some of our previous conversations at: https://sundresspublications.wordpress.com/tag/awp/.

Please send us your proposal for consideration at submit@sundresspublications.com by April 1, 2020.