Lyric Essentials: Bradley Trumpfheller Reads C.D. Wright

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, we hear from Bradley Trumpfheller, who reads poems from C.D. Wright and discusses identity, influence, and questioning categorization of poets. Thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read C.D. Wright for Lyric Essentials?

Bradley Trumpfheller: C.D. Wright is among that pantheon of writers that I just wouldn’t be the person or poet I am without. For me, any conversation about influence or the traditions I might be working within has to invoke her and her incredible oeuvre. There’s not a lot of dimensions of my writing that don’t owe some debt to Wright: how I approach the page, the sequence and its relation to the book-as-form, punctuation and sound, collage, and on and on. Too, I think her work does what may be my favorite thing that a writer can do, which is point to her influences and debts in a way that opens those writers and artists to the reader. In the back of One Big Self, maybe my favorite of her books, there’s a catalog of all the books she “cites” in the poem. I love finding things like this in books, because it’s so tuned to the way I read: beginning in one place, and if I really like it, finding the texts that influenced it and then reading those, perpetually expanding outward and backward. So, through Wright, I was able to find Jean Valentine, Raul Zurita, Viktor Shklovsky, Frank Stanford, and so many others to whom I am indebted. Wright never really aligned herself with a “school” of poetry (thankfully) as so many American poets did (and weirdly, sometimes, still do), but she made it clear that she was speaking from a certain tradition: contextual, personal but not private, and international in its orientation. Tradition-making is something I’m very invested in, particularly when it’s against canon-making. Wright was a real exemplar of this while she was with us, and I think that’s well worth honoring. 

Bradley Trumpfheller reads from Deepstep Come Shining by C.D. Wright

EH: From Wright’s expansive catalog of books, is there any particular reason you chose to read from Deepstep Come Shining?

BT: Deepstep Come Shining was the first book of Wright’s that I ever read as an undergraduate. I had read a few loose poems before that, and was aware of her as a popular contemporary poet that had died about 8 months prior. I feel like so often I come to the writers who affect me the most immediately after they pass away. I remember vividly being in my cousin’s house in Alabama the morning that Lucie Brock Broido died, reading poem after poem and having that same feeling. And Sean Bonney, last November, may he rest in power. As for Deepstep, though, it was the first one: it’s one of Wright’s books in that period of her life where she became really interested in the book as a form unto itself: Just Whistle, One Big Self, One With Others, from the mid 90’s into the 2000’s. Deepstep is a book length poem, as with those other works, that effectively is an account of a road trip through the South. Locations transmute, images are recorded; the obsession at the heart of the book is with looking, what it means to fix something (and to fail to fix something) in your gaze. Wright didn’t invent the idea of bringing in citation into the poem the way that she does in that book, but it was the first time I had encountered something like that, and was baffling to me at the time. Reading what you think is a lyric poem and then there’s a Kurosawa quote in the middle of the page, and then there’s a car dealership, and then there’s a sign that says “birthplace of John Coltrane”. The page, and I love this so much, becomes a field of relation. Wright looms so large over my own writing partially because when I first read her, I was so confused. The texts that stay with me are the ones that ask a lot of me as a reader, that have a surface tension. Not impenetrable, per se, though that has a value as well, but you have to spend time with them to get the scent, to catch the tune.

EH: Do you draw any inspiration from Wright’s work in your own, as a fellow “socially conscious, Southern” poet?

BT: When I was a younger poet (I say, as if I am not only twenty three), I think I was a little bit more attached to the idea of a “contemporary Southern poetics,” of which I would have counted Wright’s work as a grundnorm. But, I’m not sure how invested I am in that now, for a few reasons. On the subject of Wright, she was certainly a poet whose work returned to the landscapes of the South quite a bit, especially in Deepstep and One With Others, but I’m unsure of there being some quality of irreducible Southern-ness about her work. Or what that would mean for any writer, beyond the realm of images and a particular embedded topography. Wright spent the last half of her life living in California, Mexico, and Rhode Island: her time in Mexico was probably as important to her work as her time in Arkansas and Memphis. None of this is to say, you know, that it’s not an interesting hermeneutic to look at where a writer is from and what role that place has in their writing. That can be generative, has been generative for me in certain ways. I’m just a little more suspicious, for now, of that kind of sub-categorization in American literature, what differences it might be erasing, what assumptions underpin it. What does it mean to be a Southern poet—does the region need to be present in the work? We can go further, too: what does it mean to be Southern in the 21st century? Who says what is or is not Southern? I ask because I genuinely am not sure.

Also, it elides something really important about the work that Wright was doing in Deepstep and especially in One Big Self. My favorite thing about her, I think, is her intransigent commitment to self-criticism, even when it makes for a more confusing or hesitant poem. In both of those books, part of that criticism is emerging from her position as an outsider. Wright returned throughout her career to James Agee’s book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; Agee was himself an “ex-Southerner” who had moved North. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is saturated with his own suspicion of himself, of why he’s writing about these working-class tenant farmers, of his inability to put the real into language. What comes from that particularly anxious relation, in both Agee and Wright’s work, is what you could call an apophatic poetics, a poetry of the unsayable. And I think that gets at about what I’ve come to believe is an essence of writing: that it, like all language-work, is a project of already-failing. And committing to fail more rigorously anyways.

Bradley Trumpfheller reads “Crescent” by C.D. Wright

EH: Lastly, is there anything in particular you are working on right now that you’d like to share with our readers?

BT: Well, I think I’m sort of increasingly superstitious. There’s that old Yiddish joke, “How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.” So, I can’t say too much about specific dimensions of projects I’m working on. I’ve just started in the MFA program at the University of Texas in Austin, which I’m very grateful for, and is giving me an immense amount of quiet time to listen and read. Right now, I’m reading through all of Susan Howe’s work, who’s really phenomenal, and instructive in presenting a pretty singularly contumacious mode of reading-as-writing. Also Anna Kavan’s Ice, Catherie Keller’s body of work on negative theology, re-reading some Marx, China Mieville’s novella This Census Taker; poetry-wise, Johannes Goransson’s translations of Aase Berg are holding me captive in a really wonderful way, plus works by Sean Bonney, Kevin Lattimer, Harmony Holiday, Joanna Klink, and Zaina Alsous’ totally underrated debut Theory of Birds, which was maybe my favorite book of poems I read last year. I mention all of this so as not to duck the question entirely, but because I think whatever work ends up emerging out of this period of time will inevitably be inflected by all these other writers and luminaries.


Carolyn D. Wright was a Southern poet from the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas who received a MacArthur Fellow, A Guggenheim Fellow, and acted as Poet Laureate of Rhode Island from 1994-1999. She published twelve books of poetry, two state literary maps, and a collection of essays. She earned several awards and accolades in her lifetime, including the 2011 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for One With Others (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), the 2009 International Griffin Poetry Prize for Rising, Falling, Hovering( Copper Canyon Press, 2008), the Lange-Taylor Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University for One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana (Copper Canyon Press, 2003), and was elected as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2013. Wright taught at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and worked as the former coeditor of Lost Roads Publishers. She died in her sleep on January 12, 2016, at the age of 67.

Further reading:

Purchase Deepstep Come Shining by C.D. Wright from Copper Canyon Press.
Read this feature on Wright from NPR.
Listen to Wright read poems from her book Steal Away in The Paris Review.

Bradley Trumpfheller (they/them) is a trans writer and student. They are the author of the chapbook Reconstructions (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2020) and the co-editor of the website Divedapper. They’ve received fellowships from MacDowell and the University of Texas, and currently live in Austin.

Further reading:

Purchase Bradley’s debut collection Reconstructions from Sibling Rivalry Press.
Read a recent interview with Bradley in The Adroit Journal.
Follow Bradley on Twitter @bradtrumpfh.

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

Poets in Pajamas 2021 Call for Readers

Poets in Pajamas (PiP), a Sundress Publications reading series is putting together the slate of readers for 2021 and would like to invite you to apply to read. 

Poets in Pajamas is a live-feed online reading series, hosted by Sundress Publications on Facebook Live. We pride ourselves on producing high-quality poetry readings for an online audience. Readers read from their own work for fifteen minutes and then field questions for an additional ten or fifteen.

We will be prioritizing readers with new or forthcoming books that will be impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We are interested in hearing from ALL writers (we accept both poetry and prose readers) but we also particularly want to welcome writers who identify as being a part of disenfranchised communities (such as but not limited to, Black, Indigenous, and people of color, migrants, LGBTQAI+ people, D/deaf, Disabled, and neurodiverse people, members of non-dominant religious groups, both cis and trans women, Dreamers, formerly incarcerated people, and more). We want to host you and promote your work. 

To apply, send three poems or up to five pages of prose and a short video clip of you reading (NOT a recorded reading in front of a crowd), please send a new video of you reading at home or in your garden, in front of your computer, or in your living room. This is NOT a call for produced sessions). Read for no more than 1 to 3 minutes (less is more), and please also attach a bio and author photo in one email, sent here. Submissions close November 1st, 2020.

Note: We are NOT concerned with audio/video quality here, nor your appearance—don’t stress, just use your phone and show us that you have a good audio/video presence and a good sense of a digital audience. We are NOT judging you based on your weight or what you’re wearing or whether you did your hair. We are looking for that magical combination wherein the poet writes wonderful words we want to hear AND is willing to engage with a camera AND knows how to give a good reading. Really, one to three minutes, read as you would at any reading, one poem, or one paragraph, don’t overthink. Please apply!

Have you ever considered how many people either really miss getting out to readings because they don’t live near a literary city/don’t have time/can’t get to them? These are the people who will rarely be at your readings but want to see you read, want to know your work better, and want to love you. PiP would like to help you and they find one another.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: You Do Not Have To Be Good by Madeleine Barnes

INCIDENT ON THE TRAM

The girl on the tram without a ticket
is forced off the car between stations.
The officer has different colored eyebrows.
He speaks harshly and spits at her shoes.

Seven hundred crowns, he says to her in English.
She shows him her wallet, five American dollars,
a medical card. A large yellow leaf is stuck
below her heel. When he twists her arm,

her shoes make no utterance. Two hundred
hours from now, four thousand miles overseas,
her mother will drop the phone. In three hundred hours,
the news will air. They will have found her clothes.

The tram doors open and he pulls her off.
The passengers stare in different directions
while the fields change color, full of testimonies.
Something about the way he struck her head

to wake her—did he have a badge? A pin drops.
The tram makes its way through the mountains.
She is walking at night on the path
beside the river. Cables shudder overhead,

making their secret violent connections,
her voice a wire so thin
it cannot be traced to a body.


This selection comes from the book, You Do Not Have To Be Good, available from Trio House Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Krista Cox.

 Madeleine Barnes is a poet, visual artist, Mellon Foundation Humanities Public Fellow, and English PhD student at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She serves as Poetry Editor at Cordella Magazine, a publication that showcases the work of women and non-binary writers and artists. Her debut poetry collection, You Do Not Have To Be Good, is forthcoming from Trio House Press in July 2020. She is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Women’s Work, forthcoming from Tolsun Books. She’s the recipient of two Academy of American Poets poetry prizes, the Princeton Poetry Prize, the Gertrude Gordon Journalism Prize, and the Three Rivers Review Poetry Prize. Visit her at madeleinebarnes.com.

For money, Krista Cox is a paralegal at an environmental and insurance coverage firm. For joy, she’s an Associate Poetry Editor at Stirring: A Literary Collection and Executive Director of Lit Literary Collective, a nonprofit serving her local literary community. She serves on the board of the Feminist Humanist Alliance. Her poetry has appeared in Columbia JournalCrab Fat MagazineThe Humanist, and elsewhere. Her internet hangout is http://kristacox.me.

 

Sundress Reads: A Review of Flourish by Dora Malech

Dora Malech’s fourth poetry collection, Flourish (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2020), deconstructs the world piece by piece. Flourish interrogates, unravels, and reenvisions the materials, symbols, and language that uphold our ecological and political systems. Malech traverses nature and nuances of the lived experience through allusions and homage to poetic lineage, with pieces thick with melodic language that echoes throughout your body long after finishing them.

The book commences with “Party Games” where a girl is blindfolded, spun around, and engages in a violent dance with a donkey-shaped pinata. As the Democratic party symbol, the piñata taunts its opponent “staring straight ahead with conviction inherent to its kind at the horizon.” As the poem concludes with “how it good it feels to play at this, / violence and darkness, / the best / that harbors something sweet,” we are left with a sweetness that is only attainable when the people engage in violence and take it by force.

Malech continually threads political commentary through pieces like “Lake Roland Park” where the speaker proclaims “ I don’t want Robert E. Lee Park to be this pretty.” The reverence of the American flag’s symbolism is a recurring motif  that is often undercut like in” Uprising” when a “dead man alone lies out in the light” and he is “not at all moved by the stars.”  The living and the man killed in war become indistinguishable that “if two lie together / the air between still holds a charge, / but only the air,” thus interrogating what it means to die for a country and a symbol that is inherently deadly and violent. 

We observe similar questionings of America and the American flag’s in “America: That Feeling When” where we encounter pious diction and phrases like “white plastic chalice,” “heaven’s fluorescent,” “syrup’s sacrament,” “gulp runneth over,” and “ascendant in the straw.” However, the piece intertwines religious symbols with symbols of  patriotism like “flags [that] wave two different flavors of anger / flapping simulacra of the stars above.” What begins as the speaker’s pit stop, ends with the exposure of a more realistic, dark depiction of what America stands for: “you bend closer / toward a glint that turns / out to be your / stream shining / a spent shell casing.” Or, in “Maximum Security,” Malech describes the composition of concrete that is used to construct a prison cell and we see how humans physically and politically build spaces and institutions that are oppressive and harmful. 

The second section of Flourish opens with an epigraph from Saeed Jones’ “Kudzu”  where  “pry them open,” “flourish” offer themes of movement, oscillation, exposing, and temporality. In “Nominal Nocturne,” humans preserve their love for another in “benches” and “stall walls.” However, a raccoon goes “down the creek to wash his hands us of,” ignorant of the temporary declares of love that humans hold so dearly. In poems such as “The Aquarium,” “Euscorpius italicus,” “Rats,” and “Running in Autumn,” animals not only become the central focus, but Malech bridges the distance between humans, wild animals, and arachnids with moments that are tender, funny, and intimate:”[the rat] from whom we recoil without acknowledging / our own  geometries of need and claim anathema / slips through our chain-link symmetries–cases / our foundations traces where our walls meet / with the rub of its body’s grease and each night / reveals itself in us as too close to the furthest / thing from what we think we want our want to be.” Malech’s poems forefront the environments and eco-systems that are operating simultaneously as ours, even if we don’t take the time to acknowledge their importance or existence. 

Through poetic devices like slant rhymes, puns, and alliteration, Malech creates a linguistic landscape that twists and turns at every line. In “With Distinctions,” readers are presented with Malech’s style eclectic style: “commuted sentience: gentian’s sleepy sentry / née anon: paramour’s parameters / who razed roses raised: prophylactic mandala.” Malech’s neologisms and wordplay are a trademark we observe in pieces like “Peter Piper Speaks and Spells” where we are entranced in tongue-twisting lines: “still, seek / it between back-of-the-myth of bitter and tip-of-the-myth of sweet, splash, pinch, bit / of taste (blood), last laugh lathed lath (roof of the mouth).” The collection’s final poem, “Flourish,” highlights how words and their formations are boundless: “sweet alyssum, / sweet asylum,” “ reaching toward / its own reward, / sweet re-aching might redeem,” and “a frail unfurling to refuge / instead re-fugue.” Malech showcases how the confines of the written word can be dismantled and made anew.


Dora Malech’s poetry collection Flourish is a “floodlit stage” that exposes the nuances of the human experience, the politics that seep into every corner of our lives, and the power of language to be fractured and sewn back together to create newness. Flourish is both soft and stinging, singing a song of rebellion, sentimentality, and the “bloody lullabies [that] soothe the centuries.”

Flourish is available at The University of Chicago Press Books


Zakiya M. Cowan holds a bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish from Lewis University. She is a former editor for Jet Fuel Review, a 2019 Wolny Writing Residency fellow, and a 2020 Brooklyn Poets Fellowship recipient. Her work is published or forthcoming in Hobart, Split Lip Magazine, Windows Fine Arts Magazine, Spoon River Poetry Review, and You Flower/You Feast: A Harry Styles Anthology.

SAFTA Presents “Dis/ability: A Writing Workshop”

The Sundress Academy for the Arts Workshop Series is proud to present “Dis/ability: A Writing Workshop.” Throughout history, disability has commonly been associated with restriction, pain, and fear. For many people, however, disabilities have also been a source of strength, empowerment, and creativity. 

In this workshop, we’ll examine several pieces of writing that address disability from a variety of perspectives. Participants will have the opportunity to write in any genre, either to respond to one of the pieces or to generate original work around the topic.

Whether you are disabled yourself, have experienced a temporary disability in the past, care for someone with a disability, or simply want to deepen your empathy for people with physical, sensory, mental, or cognitive differences, this workshop will challenge you to think and write about the human body, its abilities, and its limitations in new ways. 

The event will take place on Wednesday, September 9th, 2020, from 6:00-7:30 EST via Zoom. Join us at http://tiny.utk.edu/sundress with password safta.

This event is free and open to the public, although donations are encouraged via Venmo @Stacy-Estep or via Paypal (stacyjestep@gmail.com). Thanks to the Tennessee Arts Commission for making this event possible.

Stacy Estep is a fiction and nonfiction writer whose work has appeared in Atticus Review, bluemilk, and California Quarterly, among others. She has a background in indie publishing, web content creation, and public relations. For her fiction, she has been awarded a writing residency at the Vermont Studio Center. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her artist husband and two cats.

Interview with féi hernandez, Author of Hood Criatura

Ahead of the release of their debut poetry collection Hood Criatura, féi hernandez spoke with Sundress Publications editorial intern Kanika Lawton. Here, they discussed ways of radically imagining better futures, transforming pain into myth and power, and the necessary work of creating intersectional frameworks of being, belonging, and existing.

Kanika Lawton: What does it mean to be a criatura? That is, what does it mean to be a criatura that exists—and thrives—outside of binaries, boundaries, and borders?

féi hernandez: To be a criatura is to be myth and wailing truth all at once. It is having the innocence and authenticity of a child, but the bite and grit of truth-tellers that are not afraid to shatter illusions. To be a criatura is to have wings that lift you above your own body where you can bear witness to your liberated self, the old world, the lies, the new world, and your captive self simultaneously. To be a criatura is to defy all things and choose your joy, your liberation, regardless of the uncomfortability of others. To be a criatura is to be all parts of yourself, out loud or in silence (as long as YOU claim YOU and all intersections), because it is through that how we become a torch in the darkness, a guide, for how we enter the new world.

A criatura has the answer inside and all it takes for them to light the path is for them to wear their answer on their lips, to shout their calling, or be more at home with themselves. Like a child and a beast, a criatura breaks into a smile when it learns to run untethered, no longer looking for a mother’s arms or validation from an antiquated world. It means running, it means open meadow and blue sky just for you. It means bringing the new world into your heart and scribbling it on every wall.

KL: How can we radically imagine living as our fullest selves with all of our intersecting identities? 

fh: It starts by placing everything we are on the table. If we can name our intersections, we can begin to understand what conditions are necessary to ensure the aliveness of said individual and their intersecting identities.

While decolonizing our imagination is imperative to envisioning the new world, I believe it also takes seeds to give breadth to its manifestation. The way to radically re-imagine a new world is to live it, to construct it every day, to believe in it and ourselves amidst the violence of murders and discrimination––amidst the chaos of bigotry and inhumanity. To radically imagine, we (collectively) need to constantly practice radical optimism responsibly and in an accountable way.

To many of us (Black, Indigenous, POC undocumented, disabled trans, intersex, gender non-conforming folks), radical optimism is out of reach (at times), due to the pessimism of our realities. This means that our counterparts need to establish the conditions for us to be able to dream without considering our mortality. It takes hard work to create a new world where intersecting identities can run free. We ALL have our part in the revolution. To muster a radical imagining requires that we live. Thrive. Have the resources to live through the revolution and not be killed for it. We need to make it through to the other side.

KL: Can you speak about the use of the speculative and the mythical within these poems?

fh: Black writers Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison gave me permission to invite my spirits and their origin stories into my work. They helped me trace my own ancestry, call forth my lineage of folklore and my spirituality to ensnare my work with its smoke.

The revolution, although grounded in our terrestrial experience, has a soul. A question I asked myself a lot as I wrote Hood Criatura was: how can I transform my suffering? How can this book be an invitation for others to find their own soul as they explore their place in the revolution? As we all know, the personal is political, so let’s get really personal.

Through my manuscript I summon spirits, I summon all parts of myself, I summon El Chupacabra, La Llorona, and The Devil because as I mentioned before, to be a criatura is to light the way, which means we need to know what stories, myths, and speculations we come from. Through myth and speculation, I was able to go deep into the blue cave within me and lead my family and our stories out. Consider my speculative poem “Lala the Origin or Futuristic Magical Realist Text Sample” where I envision a post-apocalyptic world where Lala, a curandera, (the spiritual revolution), prepares ALL immigrants (including “you”) for their (continual) survival in the United States.

This poem takes us away from my present terrestrial context and gives the reader a personalized invitation to see the themes of Hood Criatura in a different world. These are the kind of mental gymnastics we need in order to exercise our re-imagining a new world.

KL: Tell me more about your choice of language, dialogue, and syntax, especially in poems such as “dontcomeformyhood” and “Brunch”?

fh: My immigrant Mexican family and my acculturation in Inglewood are extremely important in my formation. Anyone who knows me and reads “dontcomeformyhood” and “Brunch” knows that I speak in those ways verbatim. To take my authentic voice and deem it literary is not only radical in the sense that I’m debunking traditional ways of poetry and language (I’m definitely not the first), but because I’m creating space for my people. Accessibility is central to all the work I do.

If I can model, in my own way, what it means to be my authentic self, then I hope my people take their voice seriously and write. We are constantly shamed for our language. How can we deem ourselves “worthy” or “excellent” writers when the literary canon is white? For so long I have been judged, belittled, made an example of for what writing shouldn’t be. But let me proclaim in this moment, I am everything writing should be. “dontcomeformyhood” specifically accentuates my rapid-fire, sassy flow that emerges when I’m provoked by ignorant folk. “Brunch,” one of my favorite poems, captures my constant fury, the conversations that I have daily, the way my mundane is radical, whether it’s calling out someone for misgendering me or addressing anti-Blackness. I don’t have the luxury of a careless “brunch” not contextualized in my identity as a trans person that centralizes the Black experience.

KL: In “Please Sing Along,” the speaker declares allegiance to “a new world” against one that silences Black and Brown voices; namely, America. With this “new world” in mind, how can we envision our freedom away from the myth of America?

fh: James Baldwin says, “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” We must know The United States for what it is––a country-beast with its many paws all over the world wreaking havoc with its flailing tail and poisonous breath.

It is only by naming and suppressing the racist, transmisogynist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic country-beast that we live in, that we can strip it of its ignorant hysteria and let it rest. We need to know the myth of America. We need to reveal the Native and Black peoples whose land this belongs to, who have always been here.

To envision a new world means we do what The Tower tarot card would tell us to do if drawn: let it burn to the ground. From the ground we raise what North America was before its taking and let Black and Native and Immigrant and Trans peoples in leadership of this country decide what becomes of a flimsy United States. This is when we listen and envision.

KL: Tell me about the importance of finding ways of belonging, whether in the hood, our people, or ourselves. 

fh: Belonging keeps animals alive. If a young wolf is separated from the pack, it’ll survive, but its sense would be confused. Demented. It would be likely to take a winding path down to doom. The young wolf could give in and unravel into bone in days.

To have representation, to have a place where you know your people are self-aware and know how to show up for one another, saves lives. For many years I struggled with belonging to myself, which is the flip side to the support we can have (or not) from the people or spaces around us. I couldn’t love myself from all of the socialized, internalized fatphobia, homophobia, transphobia. If I didn’t belong to myself, then I belonged to the opinions of others.

If I could not be of service to others, which was my way of coping, then I would feel the looming emptiness inside. Without finding a way to belong firstly to myself, then my community and spaces I occupy, then I would not be writing this interview response. Without the constant process of loving myself I was lost. Without the constant process of believing people could be there for me, I would be crushed bone marrow and flesh.

After trauma, hurt and pain, it’s hard to relate to anyone, even when the conditions are (finally) safe and comforting. Society is divisive, in the way it was constructed, a capitalistic tool to instill shame and lovelessness. It is by carving spaces, people, belonging, that we get by. It is through belonging that you find the revolution, the people you’ll march with, the people you’ll laugh with and let your guard down with, it’s where you feel normal. These are the people and spaces that you will protect and that will protect you back.

KL: Throughout Hood Criatura, the speaker carries many names—My Little Son, My Little Dog, My Sister, My Love. How does naming (and renaming) our bodies shift how we live within ourselves and the world? 

fh: Just like a single Pokémon may have up to three different names along its evolution trajectory, while always having the option of changing its assigned name, one should also be able to evolve and be addressed however they choose.

I have gone from one nickname to a million attempting to find home in just one. Fabian Alberto Hernandez Lorenzana, my legal name, at one point was my reference, it was how I related to myself (even if it was always so burdensome and long), to my family, to my friends, to my Inglewood. Until I realized I’m not Fabian. I have always been féi.

The agency to choose my name, like my pronouns, much like how I choose to live my life, is my power. Adults, I’ve noted, are the strict name and pronoun police, whereas my students and children have been so easy to comprehend me having a “new” name.

When I was a middle school teacher in Inglewood, I introduced myself as Mx. Hernandez. My students had questions, but once they were answered they never mispronounced my title as Mx. Hernandez. Beautifully, my students had educated their Black and immigrant moms to address me accordingly during parent-teacher conferences.

Names are what build communities. It is the first thing we utter after meeting someone for the first time. It is our legacy and we get to decide what that means for ourselves. No one can take that away from us. When we discover our names and pronouns, not as things imposed on us, we start building the new world right before our eyes: through every interaction. We can taste the freedom that we’re seeking to envision for everyone right on the other side of the river where the new world exists.

KL: You write “everyone has their place in the revolution / my place is in the liminal / intersectional spaces of belonging / bridging and dismantling.” Speak about the necessity of an intersectional framework in better understanding ourselves and how we relate to others. 

fh: When you can see the myriad complexity of your own identity––the intricacies of your experiences, the “good” and “bad,” and all that has informed your understanding of self–– then you can begin the work to deeply understand the myriad complexity in others. Unlearning and relearning who we NEED to be for the betterment of ourselves, the world, and our individual and global communities is what follows this work. 

We ALL have intersecting identities. The problem lies in negating the complexity of them and focusing on a narrow framework that seeks to blur us into a mass. Our individuality, our unique experiences are ALL necessary for building the new world. We are not meant to be monolithic beings or live in a monolithic society. Which means we need to SEE difference and stop with niceties.

With all this in mind, the most important questions regarding intersectionality in the context of how we relate to others is: how are we complicit in utilizing our privileged identities to oppress others, consciously or not? How are we turning a blind eye or dismissing the complexities of others because we are UNCOMFORTABLE with acknowledging our own positionality in the context of others’ experiences?

We have become too accustomed to a black and white world. Folks have forgotten what it’s like to experience the full spectrum of existing, of identity, of loving, therefore our empathy is broken. This is the millionth wake up call to check your privileges, acknowledge where you come from, put in the work to make the world a better place by reinventing yourself.

Don’t be a threat to the world by holding on to antiquated beliefs. Don’t cause more harm by being unaware of your positionality. It’s time to centralize intersectionality so that we can make this world better, while we construct the new world. 

Preorder your copy of Hood Criatura today


féi hernandez (b. 1993 Chihuahua, Chihuahua, Mexico) is an Inglewood-raised immigrant trans non-binary visual artist, writer, and healer. féi is an Advisory Board Member of Gender Justice Los Angeles and was one of the artists for Forward Together’s 2019 Trans Day of Resilience Campaign. They are a Co-Founder of ING Fellowship and was a femmetor for the 2019-2020 Seeds of Liberación (SOL) leadership development program for young transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGI) people in Los Angeles.

Kanika Lawton is a Toronto-based writer and editor. She holds a BA in Psychology with a Minor in Film Studies from the University of British Columbia and an MA from the University of Toronto’s Cinema Studies Institute. A multiple Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, she is the Editor-In-Chief of L’Éphémère Review, a 2018 Pink Door Fellow, and a 2020 BOAAT Writer’s Retreat Poetry Fellow. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper MagazineVagabond City Literary Journal, Longleaf Review, and Cosmonauts Avenue, among others. She is the author of four micro-chapbooks, most recently Theories on Wreckage (Ghost City Press, 2020)

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: You Do Not Have To Be Good by Madeleine Barnes

SURROUND her WITH COLORS

Step one: Andromeda. Step two: dark eyelashes.
Step three: adulthood with faint traces of childhood.
Stabilizer: On. Auto-focus: off. Love
how she touches you. Think: the stars are planning
the erasure of two-hundred-year-old silences,
so let her try to reach you. Step five: look at her
without expressing fear. Draw a tarot card
and let her tell you what it means.
Give her a crown of almonds and wet grass.
Frame something teal, something velvet,
something worthy. Give her a cathedral,
an amber glove, remix raspberry and neon.
Give her a lilac cube, enamored hi-shine,
avalanche of electric violet.
Cover her in changeable taffeta and ginger root.
Love her vices, her moss and copper.
Bring your relics. Step seven: sing.


This selection comes from the book, You Do Not Have To Be Good, available from Trio House Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Krista Cox.

 Madeleine Barnes is a poet, visual artist, Mellon Foundation Humanities Public Fellow, and English PhD student at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She serves as Poetry Editor at Cordella Magazine, a publication that showcases the work of women and non-binary writers and artists. Her debut poetry collection, You Do Not Have To Be Good, is forthcoming from Trio House Press in July 2020. She is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Women’s Work, forthcoming from Tolsun Books. She’s the recipient of two Academy of American Poets poetry prizes, the Princeton Poetry Prize, the Gertrude Gordon Journalism Prize, and the Three Rivers Review Poetry Prize. Visit her at madeleinebarnes.com.

For money, Krista Cox is a paralegal at an environmental and insurance coverage firm. For joy, she’s an Associate Poetry Editor at Stirring: A Literary Collection and Executive Director of Lit Literary Collective, a nonprofit serving her local literary community. She serves on the board of the Feminist Humanist Alliance. Her poetry has appeared in Columbia JournalCrab Fat MagazineThe Humanist, and elsewhere. Her internet hangout is http://kristacox.me.

 

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: You Do Not Have To Be Good by Madeleine Barnes

Forty Black Ships 

I was dressing her in armor for the war.
I guided her feet into bronze socks,

helped her step into netted yellow pants,
tied her shins with quilted grids of gold.

Crinet, grangaurd, shoulder plates.
It was almost time, but I didn’t know.

And when the nurse knocked I helped her
rise from the violet bed. And when I

dispatched her into the battlefield, I said:
take my spears and black-tipped arrows.

Run toward your mother, and her mother.
I will follow soon when I find the right plates

to cover my trembling breastbone.
I’ll come when I cannot see you anymore

but for now, my shield, my daggers,
forty black ships in the sea offshore.

I was sure that she could not hear me weeping
as I lowered the helmet over her curls
and kissed the heavy visor.


This selection comes from the book, You Do Not Have To Be Good, available from Trio House Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Krista Cox.

 Madeleine Barnes is a poet, visual artist, Mellon Foundation Humanities Public Fellow, and English PhD student at The Graduate Center, CUNY. She serves as Poetry Editor at Cordella Magazine, a publication that showcases the work of women and non-binary writers and artists. Her debut poetry collection, You Do Not Have To Be Good, is forthcoming from Trio House Press in July 2020. She is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Women’s Work, forthcoming from Tolsun Books. She’s the recipient of two Academy of American Poets poetry prizes, the Princeton Poetry Prize, the Gertrude Gordon Journalism Prize, and the Three Rivers Review Poetry Prize. Visit her at madeleinebarnes.com.

For money, Krista Cox is a paralegal at an environmental and insurance coverage firm. For joy, she’s an Associate Poetry Editor at Stirring: A Literary Collection and Executive Director of Lit Literary Collective, a nonprofit serving her local literary community. She serves on the board of the Feminist Humanist Alliance. Her poetry has appeared in Columbia JournalCrab Fat MagazineThe Humanist, and elsewhere. Her internet hangout is http://kristacox.me.

 

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Rat Queen by Katie Jean Shinkle


This selection comes from the book, Rat Queen, available from Bloof Books.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Krista Cox.

This is Katie Jean Shinkle’s fifth chapbook. She is an Assistant Professor in the MFA Program for Creative Writing, Editing, and Publishing at Sam Houston State University. She is the author of three full-length works, most recently Ruination (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018). Her poetry, prose, and criticisms can be found in Flaunt Magazine, the Georgia Review, Denver Quarterly, New South, the Collagist, Washington Square Review, and elsewhere. She serves as associate fiction editor of ANMLY, co-poetry editor of DIAGRAM.

For money, Krista Cox is a paralegal at an environmental and insurance coverage firm. For joy, she’s an Associate Poetry Editor at Stirring: A Literary Collection and Executive Director of Lit Literary Collective, a nonprofit serving her local literary community. She serves on the board of the Feminist Humanist Alliance. Her poetry has appeared in Columbia JournalCrab Fat MagazineThe Humanist, and elsewhere. Her internet hangout is http://kristacox.me.

 

Sundress Reads: What Is Empathy: A Bullying Storybook for Kids

What Is Empathy? A Bullying Storybook for Kids is a children’s picture book about social and verbal bullying, which many children encounter every school year.

Author Amanda Morin states a clear intention for her book before introducing a highly relatable tale told, alternatively, from the perspectives of Sofia and Ava. She aims to “help prevent kids from bullying by teaching them to approach the world with a more empathetic lens[,]” and “show your child the power of understanding another’s person’s point of view.”  

In Morin’s preface to caregivers and parents, she provides discussion points adults can utilize when reading What is Empathy? with a child. She also briefly distinguishes tattling from talking to a trusted adult, comments on an adult’s ability to stop bullying, and remarks that you can more effectively convey feelings using the phrase “I feel” rather than the more accusatory “you made me feel.”

In a separate preface to readers, Morin encourages readers to be curious about each other’s feelings and to ask questions kindly to gain a better understanding of another’s perspective. She describes being empathetic as acting like an investigator seeking to understand others.

Primed by these prefatory letters, I expected a story about bullying, told from the different perspectives of two girls, resolved through a powerful tool: empathy. In that regard, the book met my expectations. What is Empathy? provides a springboard for a robust discussion about overcoming bullying with empathy, and Sofia unquestionably learns the power of being empathetic.

That said, I found myself wishing that Morin had incorporated more of the points she made in her introductory letters into the story.

What is Empathy? is the story of Sofia and Ava, who are neighbors and best friends before Sofia’s family moves. Family circumstances prevent them from seeing each other over summer break, but Sofia is confident they will pick up where they left off when school resumes. When Sofia boards the bus on the first day, she finds Ava seated with Madison, a girl who moved into Ava’s neighborhood after Sofia moved away. From the three girls’ first encounter, it’s clear that Madison doesn’t want to befriend Sofia and will disrupt Sofia’s and Ava’s friendship.

Madison is a bully that kids will recognize. Morin uses Ava’s character to illustrate another type of bully – someone who silently acquiesces to bullying behavior, fostering an environment in which bullying thrives.

Telling Sofia’s perspective, Morin conveys how Sofia feels when Madison prevents Sofia from sitting with her and Ava on the school bus and at lunch, excludes Sofia from recess play, and embarrasses her in front of her classmates. Throughout, Ava remains silent, confounding Sofia and causing her to wonder why Ava – the friend she trusted with her most private family secret – no longer likes her.

When Morin switches to Ava’s perspective, the reader learns about Ava’s struggle with feeling insecure about the status of her relationship with Sofia, anger with Sofia for moving, and shameful about how she treats Sofia.

Ultimately, both girls turn to their mothers, who teach the girls about empathy and identify emotions that might be motivating Madison’s and Ava’s conduct.

Morin is successful in showing the girls’ perspectives in a way that makes readers feel empathetic for both girls. But I wanted more guidance from the adult characters and for the kids to communicate more about their feelings. Morin’s prefatory letters prepared me to expect inquisitive characters that not only wonder, but ask, about others’ feelings. When Sofia and Ava were guessing whether certain feelings were motivating theirs and Madison’s behavior, I wondered: If Morin is trying to encourage readers to ask questions, why not use the characters to demonstrate that desired behavior?

I also questioned Morin’s decision to make Sofia the most empathetic character in the book. My spidey-sense warned: tread carefully here. Certainly, empathy can help a child better understand a bully and diffuse the impact of bullying. And, I worried that a young reader might think that the onus is on the bullied to question what is motivating the person mistreating her and to tolerate hurtful behavior. As Morin notes in her Letter to Readers, bullying is never okay, and being kind to someone does not mean you should let them bully you.

A quick review of Morin’s introductory letters reminded me that Morin intends an adult to read and discuss this book with a child. A thoughtful adult can easily address the issues Morin raises in her preface — but omits from the story — by asking listeners how the characters could have handled the situation differently and what questions they could have asked one another. Perhaps most importantly, an adult can restate that talking with a trusted adult is always a good idea.

If you are looking for a relatable story about bullying that will engage a younger audience, What is Empathy? belongs on your reading list.

What is Empathy? A Bullying Storybook for Kids can be found here.


Natalie Metropulos is working concurrently on a middle-grade fiction chapter book and a nonfiction picture book series about wildlife photography. She holds a B.A. in English from the Pennsylvania State University and a J.D. from Duquesne University and is pursuing an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Chatham University. Metropulos has been published (nee Natalie Rieland) in Kalliope, Research/Penn State Magazine, and Pitt Magazine.