Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “Writing the Grotesque: A Generative Poetry Event” with Hannah V. Warren

Knoxville, TN—Sundress Academy for the Arts is honored to present, “Writing the Grotesque: A Generative Poetry Event,”’ a workshop led by Hannah V. Warren on October 11, 2023, from 6:00-7:30pm. This workshop will take place over Zoom. Participants can access the workshop at (case-sensitive password: safta).

This generative writing event and short included lecture aim to encourage writers to explore the joys of incorporating traditionally displeasing aesthetics into their poetry. How can we beautify the non-beautiful? When should we let it remain hideous? Famously, aesthetician Wolfgang Kayser defines the grotesque as the “monstrous fusion of human and nonhuman elements.” With poets such as M. NourbeSe Philip, Danielle Pafunda, Selah Saterstrom, and Frank Stanford as models, this workshop offers composing methods to poets who seek to develop their use of bodily imagery.

Rather than viewing poetry as a genre with one lineage, participants will consider a variety of grotesque, abject, and sublime texts—including monster theory, art-horror, and fairy tales—as tools in poetry-writing. We’ll determine how a body can find power and reclamation in grotesquery. Participants will leave with written drafts and an expanded knowledge about what it means to embody and embrace the grotesque.

Photo of Hannah V. Warren

Hannah V. Warren is the author of Slaughterhouse for Old Wives Tales (Sundress, Winter 2023) and two chapbooks. Her works appear in Gulf Coast, Passages North, Crazyhorse, THRUSH, and Fairy Tale Review, among others. Currently a PhD candidate at the University of Georgia and a Fulbright scholar, Hannah’s writing and research interests center monstrous aesthetics, post/apocalypse literature, and representations of alterity.

While there is no fee to participate in this workshop, those who are able and appreciative may make donations directly to the workshop leader, Hannah V. Warren—Venmo: @hannahvwarren; PayPal:

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

Lyric Essentials: Subhaga Crystal Bacon Reads Ely Shipley

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite authors to share the work of their favorite poets. This month, Subhaga Crystal Bacon joins us to discuss the work of Ely Shipley, blending lyric with narrative, and the political power of poetry. As always, we hope you enjoy as much as we did.

Ryleigh Wann: Why did you choose to read these poems specifically?

Subhaga Crystal Bacon: “Boy with Flowers” is such a poignant story of early recognition of one’s gendered self apart or aside from one’s birth sex and family expectations around that. It felt very—literally—familiar to me. The same is true of his poem “Six, which illustrates the way external forces—teachers, “the recess lady,” suppress what in us must find release. “Night around Me” leaps forward into young adulthood, navigating the secret pleasures of the queer night. It’s about queer desire, and it’s so deeply felt. 

RW: How has Ely Shipley’s writing inspired your own?

SCB: Writing my new collection, Transitory, I was delving into the life stories of trans people murdered in 2020, and it touched on my own experiences with homophobia, threats of violence, and the ways our families and society shape how we experience ourselves. Eli’s work spoke to the wounded parts of me that are finding voice and healing through writing from my own gender queerness.

Subhaga Crystal Bacon reads “Boy with Flowers” by Ely Shipley

RW: When was the first time you read Shipley’s work? Why did it stand out to you then?

SCB: I first read Shipley’s work in the wonderful and essential anthology, Troubling the Line. There are so many beautiful and important voices in that collection, torrin a. greathouse, Eileen Myles, CA Conrad. Eli’s work stood out to me because of its lyricism, his way of telling a story through image and metaphor. It’s to me a perfect blending of lyric and narrative.

Subhaga Crystal Bacon reads “Night Around Me” by Ely Shipley

RW: Who else have you been reading lately and who has been inspiring you in your craft? 

SCB: I read a LOT. Diane Seuss, Maggie Smith, Paisley Rekdal, Jennifer Martelli, Eduardo C. Corral, K Iver, Paul Tran, Eugenia Leigh. I return again and again to Plath, Hopkins, Stafford. I find reading to be very generative. I think most poets would say the same thing. If you’re having a block, just read. Seuss’s frank: sonnets has really shaped me. When I draft a poem, it’s often a ramble to try to get down the sound and the feeling. I often try to shape it into the American Sonnett—seventeen syllables per line. Seuss says in frank “the sonnet, like poverty, teaches you what you can do/without.” Hitting those syllabics requires rethinking wording and phrasing, and then sometimes after I get it into the form, I undo it and see if a different form will suit. It’s a process of shaping, though I do recently have a lot of new sonnets! Doing the Sealey Challenge every August is a great way for me to expose myself to poets whose work is new to me, and I often find myself turning back to the blank page to digest what I’ve read and see what it resonates with inside me that wants to come out. Poetry inspires poetry.

Read more from this interview at our Patreon

Ely Shipley is the author of Some Animal (Nightboat Books), winner of the Publishing Triangle’s Trans and Gender Variant Literature Award and finalist for a Lambda Literary Award; Boy with Flowers, winner of the Barrow Street Press book prize judged by Carl Phillips, the Thom Gunn Award, and finalist for a Lambda Literary Award; and On Beards: A Memoir of Passing, a letterpress chapbook from speCt! Books. His poems and cross-genre work also appear in the Western Humanities Review, Prairie Schooner, Crazyhorse, Interim, Greensboro Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Witness, Diagram, Gulf Coast, Fugue, Third Coast, and elsewhere.

Puchase Some Animal.

Subhaga Crystal Bacon (she/they) is a Queer poet living in rural northcentral Washington on unceded Methow land. She is the author of four collections of poetry. Her latest book, Transitory is the recipient of the Isabella Gardner Award for Poetry, from BOA Editions, and was listed in the Library Journal’s list of Books to Read in 2023. She’s the author of Surrender of Water in Hidden Places, 2023, winner of the Red Flag Poetry Chapbook Prize, Blue Hunger, Methow Press, 2020, and Elegy with a Glass of Whiskey, winner of the A. Poulin New Poetry America Prize, BOA Editions, 2004.  A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, she’s a teaching artist working in schools and libraries with youth and adults, as well as private students. Her work appears in a variety of print and online journals including the Bellevue Literary ReviewDiode Poetry Journal, Indianapolis ReviewRise Up ReviewGhost City Review, and others. 

Pre-order Transitory.

Ryleigh Wann (she/her) hails from Michigan and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. She earned an MFA from UNC Wilmington where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in The McNeese ReviewLongleaf ReviewThe Shore, and elsewhere. You can visit her website at

Sundress Reads: Review of No Spare People

In No Spare People (Black Lawrence Press, 2023), Erin Hoover immerses us readers in two different worlds—the intimately familial mother-daughter relationship and the external society of American reality. Within the walls of the home, “there are only two, no / spare people” (Hoover 78). Through this collection, however, we see the many ways patriarchal norms make some people feel “spare.”

Hoover widely explores what it means to be a woman in America, specifically the American South. In “White woman” she describes a reality where “some days, I’m the pioneer wife, / keeper of the homestead, but others / I’m absurdly educated for a uterus” (Hoover 43). I feel the impact of living in a post-Roe world through these poems. There is a frank portrayal of the ways in which a woman’s value, in many places, feels like it is measured by her reproductive potential. Hoover writes, “a woman / pregnant is a farm animal / only caring to alternate between trough / and pen. Treated as such / by doctors. How easily they could put away / a mother thought dangerous. For the baby” (46). As a woman of childbearing age, and as someone who has fielded frequent questions around my own hesitation to have children, I find Hoover’s frustration familiar. In sharing this speaker’s experience, women who hold their own fears around pregnancy can feel justified.

There is danger and violence lurking within these poems. For example, “Three weeks” is about the impact of the O.J Simpson trial on a fifteen year old speaker watching the verdict. Hoover writes, “I’d like to say I learned that day / about men who don’t think women / are people at all, / but I already knew, all over the country, / girls like me knew” (19). We live in a world where we read news story after story about violence against women. Additionally, a recent poll reported 64% of OBGYNs say the Dobbs ruling has increased pregnancy related mortality. As women in America, it is easy to feel that our safety is deprioritized; Hoover gives voice to this inequity.

Many of the poems from No Spare People hint at men being a primary cause of the danger women face. In “Forms and materials,” this blame is more explicitly stated. “Perhaps, in the shadow / of Dobbs v. Jackson, / I could use some distance from men” (Hoover 72). The distance the speaker craves seems to be a way for them to seek safety. This poem clearly states the potential consequences of interacting with men: “Dear sweet, please fit neatly / into our shared hetero void and behave / wife-like or we will fucking kill you / with celluloid and forced birth / and a fetus made into a god” (Hoover 72). In this sweeping eleven page poem, Hoover goes on to say:

“There is too much sperm in America, 

America is run by sperm, 

but the vial I bought sprung me 

from the Romance-Industrial Complex 

that kept me docile for many years, 

and as an exit fee, it worked” (73).

The speaker pays this exit fee in order to freely raise her child on her own, and many poems within No Spare People explore the life of a solo-parent. In “To be a mother in this economy,” the speaker is “not always home, / department store suit creased / into my luggage, phone jacked into an airport / wall, all those hotel stays hopeful for the job / on the horizon” (Hoover 58). We’ve heard of “mom guilt,” but Hoover distills these vague and overused ideas into a heartbreaking image. The poem ends with, “I wonder if my absence lives inside / her, if the babies are about that, / they are everything to her, these beloveds, / until she walks away” (Hoover 59). Mothers are expected to make their children their “everything,” and this poem expertly grapples with the struggle of being financially unable to fulfill the expectation as a single mother.

It would be far too neat to say Hoover paints the outside world as dangerous and the inside as a soft, safe haven. “But for the hours I didn’t care if I lived” is a poem about alcohol abuse and the impact it has on a parent’s ability to care for their child. Hoover writes, “I’ve not yet / told my daughter / to fear my nights, that while / she sleeps I disappear / into a grave I create, / evening by evening, / cover myself / with punishing dirt, / laugh like a sorceress, / and the next day climb out” (53). Yes, the speaker too can be a danger to her family, and she questions how parenting is often sold as a cure for our ailments: “Do we have children as a kind / of insurance, to guard / our minds like this, stop us / from ruining ourselves?” (Hoover 54). Hoover’s writing implies that even the noble act of parenting can’t save us from ourselves.

Throughout No Spare People, Hoover brings to light many unflattering truths about the maddening hypocrisy of our world. In “Death parade,” Hoover writes, “At first the pandemic was all of the things we couldn’t / have. Then, it just was. A cough was a harbinger of death. / Then, it was a cough” (22). Hoover brilliantly sheds light on all we have accepted as normal, the parts of life that have become what just is—parts that, when explored, are revealed to be anything but normal.

There is power in agency and in creating an authentic life, one that may be far from expectation. There is also so much pressure put on women to exist in a way that often includes a stereotypical family. As Hoover writes: “A perfect circle is hard to imagine / (except if you have imagination), / but it’s obvious: my daughter and I are / complete by ourselves.” (75). These poems seem to suggest that a sense of wholeness is possible once this societal pressure is shed.

No Spare People will be published by Black Lawrence Press in October 2023.

Jen Gayda Gupta is a poet, educator, and wanderer. She earned her BA in English at the University of Connecticut and her MA in Teaching English from New York University. Jen lives, writes, and travels across the U.S. in a tiny camper with her husband and their dog. Her work has been published in Up the Staircase, Rattle, Jellyfish Review, Sky Island Journal, The Shore, and others. You can find her @jengaydagupta and

Nominations Are Now Open for 2024 Best of the Net Anthology

Nominations are now open for Best of the Net, an awards-based anthology designed to grant a platform to a diverse and ever-growing collection of writers and publishers who are building an online literary landscape that seeks to break free of traditional print publishing. In addition to poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, we will also be accepting art nominations.

Nominations must have originally been published or appeared online between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023. Submissions will close on September 30, 2023 at midnight.

For a comprehensive list of our submission guidelines, please click here.

This year’s judges include C.T. Salazar for poetry, Kristen Arnett for fiction, Leslie Contreras Schwartz for nonfiction, and Astri Snodgrass for art. 

C.T. Salazar is a Latinx poet and librarian from Mississippi. His debut collection, Headless John the Baptist Hitchhiking, is now available from Acre Books. He’s the author of three chapbooks, most recently American Cavewall Sonnets (Bull City Press, 2021). He’s the 2020 recipient of the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Award in poetry. His poems have appeared in The Rumpus, Beloit Poetry Journal, Cincinnati Review, 32 Poems, RHINO, and elsewhere.

Kristen Arnett is the queer author of With Teeth: A Novel (Riverhead Books, 2021) which was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in fiction, and the New York Times bestselling debut novel Mostly Dead Things (Tin House, 2019), which was also a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in fiction and was shortlisted for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. She was awarded a Shearing Fellowship at Black Mountain Institute, has held residencies at Ragdale Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, and the Millay Colony, and was shortlisted for the Joyce Carol Oates Prize recognizing mid-career writers of fiction. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, TIME, The Cut, Oprah Magazine, Guernica, Buzzfeed, McSweeneys, PBS Newshour, The Guardian, Salon, and elsewhere. Her next book (an untitled collection of short stories) will be published by Riverhead Books (Penguin Random House). She has a Masters in Library and Information Science from Florida State University and lives in Orlando, Florida.

Leslie Contreras Schwartz is a multi-genre writer, a 2021 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow, and the 2019-2021 Houston Poet Laureate. She is the winner of the 2022 C&R Press Nonfiction Prize for From the Womb of Sky and Earth, a lyrical memoir (Fall, 2023). She is the author of five collections of poetry, including The Body Cosmos (Mouthfeel Press, 2024) and Black Dove / Paloma Negra (FlowerSong Press, 2020). Contreras Schwartz is currently a poetry and nonfiction faculty member at Alma College’s MFA low residency program in creative writing.

Astri Snodgrass is a visual artist and educator based in Boise, Idaho. She holds an MFA in Studio Art from the University of Alabama and a BA in Art and Spanish from Luther College. Studies in Norway and Argentina helped shape her interests in language, light, and perception. Her work has been exhibited nationally in solo and group shows at COOP Gallery, Mild Climate, and Channel to Channel in Nashville, Tennessee, the Fuel and Lumber Company in Birmingham, Alabama, The University of North Carolina Asheville, the Art Museum of Eastern Idaho, Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the University of West Georgia. She has been an Artist-in-Residence at Studios Midwest, Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, VCCA, and Vermont Studio Center. Snodgrass is an Assistant Professor of Drawing and Painting at Boise State University.

Meet Our New Intern: Halsey Hyer

Photo by Elwyn Brooks (2022)

I didn’t know I grew up in Appalachia. 

Or that I could even begin to consider myself Appalachian at all.

Everyone learns to play “Smoke on the Water” on a lap dulcimer to pass fifth grade. “Crick” and “crans” (“creek” and “crayons”) were just how you said it.  Pittsburgh is the place only ever referred to as the city, and if you live there, as I do, that means you made it (out). 

I’m from Mars. Pennsylvania, not the planet.

I’ve always said It would make more sense if it were the latter. I’ve always thought myself to be simply alien(ated).  

I couldn’t read until I was seven. Everyone else could. Not me.

Numbers and letters might as well have been the same. I got by with sheer memorization of words or phrases. My parents required I read to them—my mother Goodnight Moon, my father Good Night, Gorilla. Slow speech curling from tongue & teeth in tandem with the drag of my mother & father’s fingers beneath sentence fragments. I stop when they stop. I start when they start. 

Kindergarten had one Y2K Apple desktop & two CD-ROMs, Oregon Trail and Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?, and the teachers instituted a two-book reading mandate in order to play. Games were the only thing motivating me through the drum of childhood.

I was strategic—I was sure to gun for the books when it was time to choose so I’d make it to the shelves first, select whichever we read during story time because they were fresh in my mind. 

I performed for my teachers.

I took my time. 

Dragging my pointer finger along the bottom of each sentence, lingering on the cliff of it, & I knew if they quizzed me, I’d be able to make them believe I read the two books required. I’d do anything to button mash my way from Paris to Minnesota to Australia searching for Carmen, or to risk dying of dysentery on the way to some new frontier home.

Anything but learn to read.

I’d have chosen to scour a pixelated world for pictures for images for clues as to what life was like for others who weren’t from Pennsylvania like I was. I wanted to know anyone who wasn’t like me. I learned young that who I was wasn’t someone I was supposed to like. I knew the world was kept from me, & I wanted to know. 

I didn’t know the empowerment of words. I didn’t know books other than the Bible could send me to ethereal worlds not otherwise known.

My mother became so desperate for my literacy that she took me to the next town over to peruse the library’s shelves in the hopes I’d delve into a book beyond my disapproving look of the front and back cover. The library was the only place she didn’t censor me.

There I found books about betrayal and vengeance, secrets and alienation, love without adverse consequence.

There was where words became worlds.

There I became empowered to explore word-worlds and build my own world of words.

Here I must invoke a quote from Audre Lorde—the writer whose words I rehearse in my head as I lie in bed at night and look at this Justseeds Artist Cooperative Celebrate Peoples History poster:

“and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.”

“Litany for Survival.” The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde by Audre Lorde

Without words, I have no worlds.

Halsey Hyer (they/them) is the author forthcoming full-length hybrid collection, Divorce Garter (Main Street Rag, 2024). Their microchapbook of micropoems, Everything Becomes Bananas (Rinky Dink Press, 2022), was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2023, and their debut chapbook, [deadname] (Anhinga Press, 2022), won the 2022 Rick Campbell Chapbook Prize. Based in Pittsburgh, PA they’re a collective member of The Big Idea Bookstore and the 2022-2024 Margaret L. Whitford Fellow in Chatham University’s MFA in Creative Writing. Find out more on their website—

Sundress Reads: Review of The Bisexual Lighting Makes Everyone Beautiful and A Playdough Symposium

Former Sundress Editorial Interns Jillian A. Fantin and Max Stone were messaging on Instagram and realized they both have micro-chapbooks being released by Ghost City Press in their 2023 Summer Series. They decided it would be fun to review each other’s micro-chapbooks. Though seemingly dissonant in content and form, Stone and Fantin’s micro-chapbooks support each other with their complementary takes on queerness.

Max Stone’s The Bisexual Lighting Makes Everyone Beautiful

‘Oh my God, look.’ … [He] show[ed] them something in his hands…a handful of dust. ‘There’s glitter in it!’ he said. A man Fiona didn’t know peered over Yale’s shoulder. ‘That’s not glitter. Where?’ It just looked like dust.” —Rebecca Makkai, The Great Believers

In The Bisexual Lighting Makes Everyone Beautiful, Max Stone worldbuilds their queer experience through the words of a speaker sculpting their human and planetary body. Through personal, intimate experiences with moment(s) of anti-queer political and social violence, Stone’s speaker fleshes themselves into a queer corpus containing the delicate anxiety and the search for kinship that is the human experience. As the collection continues, so does the speaker’s development into an active, wise, and nearly eternal observer of the beings and bodies within their orbit, akin to the experience of a planet’s moon.

Max Stone opens his chapbook concretely by establishing the speaker’s queer identity and physical presence(s) within their world. In “Coming Out Ad Infinitum,” the speaker’s words in the coming out cycle disrupt their oral communication before forming their body: “Throat all choked up, / too much bread, something” becomes “Tight corset chest. Heartbeat extra violent” (Stone 3). Stone’s recalling tense, painful moments is especially masterful because of the way the “you” directly speaks to the “I” of their same body. Coming out is repetition in a world where you “can’t be open… / Not yet” (Stone 3). Meeting “a new person” or “a new doctor” implies the queer speaker’s ceaseless sculpting of their physical body (Stone 3). The intensity of this repetition is driven home with a final disruption of any created rhythm: “Again and again and again… / You’ll come out and come out / And come out and—” (Stone 4). Stone continues building solid ground with an explication of a public tragedy in “Waking up to News of a Mass Shooting at Club Q on Trans Day of Remembrance” and “Beaux,” which features a figure both grounded in human reality and elevated to nearly-unattainable ideal of transmasculinity. In just three poems, Stone establishes a distinct speaker while also leaving room for further self-transformation.

By the time we reach the micro-chapbook’s end, the speaker completes their aforementioned transfiguration to a body that is both fully man and fully moon. Like our moon, the speaker remains bound to the tides of a planetary body’s unique orbit and thus may only observe, act, and experience within those orbital boundaries. To be a moon is to contain billions of years, to be cratered with time and knowledge.

Nevertheless, the titular poem, “The Bisexual Lighting Makes Everyone Beautiful,” is the true moment of corporeal and cosmic transformation. In a final scene, the speaker and their queer friends move from the domestic party sphere into the memory of a woody naturescape:           

Everyone else was in the river,

I was on the bank, watching

the moon reflecting on the water,

watching their limbs stir

up the light. (Stone 10)  

The speaker leaves us to consider their queer duality and the implications of that existence. Stone’s speaker seems to reside on the fringes of their community, a lonely existence of distance and observation. Still, The Bisexual Lighting Makes Everyone Beautiful is nuanced in a final depiction of its speaker who refuses to stay in shadows. “Watching” becomes an act of love, like the dependable orbit of “the moon reflecting on the water” (Stone 16). Further, Stone’s speaker isin the water within everyone else. Their human body may be on the bank, but their planetary body is clearly reflected in the water and, thus, illuminated by the same titular beautifying light. And unlike “everyone else,” Stone’s speaker can see the light that reveals everyone’s beauty! Ultimately, Max Stone’s The Bisexual Lighting Makes Everyone Beautiful ends with a speaker’s self-made dual existence as fully human and fully moon, allowing them to balance experiences of queer oppression and systemic bigotry while still knowing and hoping for the beauty inherent within the true queer experience.

At the start of this review, I quoted a scene from The Great Believers, wherein a woman watches a video featuring Yale Tishman, a gay man who died decades earlier from AIDS-related complications, eagerly showing the camera and his onlookers the glitter in the dust. Max Stone sees the glitter in the dust. He knows beauty because he is beautiful. He sees beauty because everything this bisexual lighting touches is beautiful. And he writes the beauty of the queer experience while still delving into public and personal pain and oppression because he knows the true queer experience is inherently, definitionally, and fundamentally beautiful. Stone and his micro-chapbook do not ignore the existence of the dust. By identifying the dustier aspects of his worlds and treating his work with formal and thematic care, Stone makes the glitter that is queer beauty and queer experience sparkle even more.

I remain shocked at how consistently buoyed I felt upon starting and finishing The Bisexual Lighting Makes Everyone Beautiful. Very rarely does feeling “beautiful” elicit positivity given imposed cisheteronormative connotations of appearance and identity. Stone, though, makes me and my poetry feel beautiful—that is, “masculine but in the peacock way” (8)—and I truly believe that every queer reader will shine a little brighter after basking in the light of Max Stone’s queer poetics.

The Bisexual Lighting Makes Everyone Beautiful is available from Ghost City Press

Jillian A. Fantin (they/them) is a poet with roots in the American South and north central England. They are a 2021 Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Poet Fellow, a 2020 Jefferson County Memorial Project Research Fellow, and the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of RENESME LITERARY. Jillian received an MFA in Poetry with a minor in Gender Studies from the University of Notre Dame. Their writing appears in American Journal of Poetry, Spectra Poets, Barrelhouse, and

Jillian A. Fantin’s A Playdough Symposium

Jillian A. Fantin’s micro-chapbook Playdough Symposium (Ghost City Press, 2023) is a queer, contemporary re-imagining of Plato’s dialogues through a series of prose poems. The collection features two main characters that appear in each poem and engage in conversation, sissyfist (a play on words of Sisyphus) and two-piece suitor, who are based on Socrates and Phaedrus from Plato’s dialogues combined with Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O of the Jackass franchise. Sounds weird, right? Well, it is weird—in the best way. With two epigraphs, Fantin sets up a dichotomy between Ancient Greek philosophy and modern pop culture, the first being a quote from Plato’s dialogues and the second from Steve-O. The epigraphs set the stage and tone for the symposium, which is a delightful intermingling of so-called high and low culture as complicated philosophical concepts are superimposed on contemporary culture.

Each poem’s title is a concept from Greek philosophy, such as “Xenia,” the Ancient Greek concept of hospitality; “Eudaimonia,” the condition of human flourishing; and “Kleos,” which means eternal glory. Beneath the framework of these ancient philosophical concepts, sissyfist and two-piece suitor engage in strange, stimulating, and often crass dialogues.

Playdough Symposium is an apt title, as the world and characters are highly malleable and mercurial—nothing is stable. The reality of a liminal world both timeless and of the present day is constantly created, shaped, and re-shaped through the dialogue between two-piece suitor and sissyfist. For example, in this world, “AD means After Diane that is After Diane Keaton’s Bowler Hat,” (Fantin 5) which weirdly makes sense. Fantin’s work is deeply intelligent and sharply funny, packed with clever turns of phrase such as “so Medusa just made men rock hard?”, “hydraplaning,” and “Ice capades” (9). Nouns are used as verbs like “embryoing;” familiar phrases and cultural markers like brands are turned on their head, including when “sissyfist sucks two-piece suitor’s tootsies like he rolls his pop,” (Fantin 7). So much is packed into this short collection: misheard David Bowie lyrics, Jessica Rabbit, Zeus eating pita chips, and Buffalo Bill protesting no shirt no shoes no service.

sissyfist and two-piece suitor are hilarious and crude and their personalities leap of the page. A distinct undercurrent of sexual tension and homoeroticism courses through the poems: “a long soft kiss in the business district, two-piece suitor profiteroles back down the curve of sissyfist’s spine oh scoliosis groans two-piece suitor make me in your image” (Fantin 11). It’s unclear what sissyfist and two-piece suitor’s relationship is exactly, but it’s definitely queer-coded. sissyfist and two-piece suitor both use he/him pronouns yet neither seems to fit distinctly in the male category, which is exemplified when “two-piece suitor strokes the cervix in the hole in his thigh postpartum depression sissyfist nestles within that musculature,” (Fantin 8). That slightly unsettling image presents two-piece suitor as being both male and female or neither. sissyfist’s name alone is very queer, and his actions match as he “hissyfits” and “sissyshrieks.” Playdough Symposium also troubles and blurs the lines of gender. Above all, this work is deeply original. I can confidently say I have never read anything like it. Playdough Symposium is a delicacy of language, pop culture, philosophy, queerness, and mythology.  Each poem is layered with jewels of sound, word play, and genius turns of phrase. Each sentence is surprising—you’ll never guess one that begins with “ostrich egged,” will lead to two-piece suitor plaiting “pinkies into radishes,” (9). This collection may be playful, sexy, and funny, but there is also a poignant emotional depth. Fantin proves that Jackass can be philosophical and that the Ancient Greeks have a certain jackass-ness beneath the historical veneer of intelligence and sophistication. This is the micro-chapbook you never knew you wanted but definitely need to read. Right now!

A Playdough Symposium is available from Ghost City Press

Max Stone is a queer poet from Reno, Nevada. He holds an MFA in poetry and a BA in English
with a minor in Book Arts and Publication from the University of Nevada, Reno. He played
soccer at Queens College. Max is the author of two chapbooks: The Bisexual Lighting Makes
Everyone Beautiful
 (Ghost City Press) and Temporary Preparations (Bottlecap Press).

Sundress Reads: Review of The Bisexual Lighting Makes Everyone Beautiful and A Playdough Symposium

Meet Our New Intern: Annie Fay Meitchik

A black and white photo of a woman, the author of this post.

On a farm in southern California, I grew up learning and teaching alongside a community of working artists, which ignited my passion for arts advocacy. Since adolescence, when I wasn’t working as a visual artist, I was writing, and the two mediums formed an everlasting symbiotic relationship. My work has always been unconventional, breaking barriers between mediums and blending different methods of narrative. After launching my own blog, which served as a platform to synthesize my own life experiences while amplifying the voices of other creatives, and having my work published by places such as 12th Street Literary Journal and UNiDAYS, I discovered that I find great satisfaction in collaborating with a team to provide editorial support.

I’m always discovering work that informs my goals as an editor and keep an evolving list of book recommendations on the homepage of my portfolio website—I am happy to talk about Patti Smith or Haruki Murakami with anyone. 

Always an avid reader, writer, and lover of creative problem-solving, I realized after graduating with my BA in Creative Writing from The New School that a career in publishing was where my passions intersected. With increasing anti-critical race theory laws, book bans, and even burnings, I feel incredibly drawn towards empowering readers of all ages with books centered around diversity and inclusion. As an editor, I want to help illuminate perspectives that are often left in the dark and advocate for the underrepresented storytellers our world needs to hear from today. 

While clarity is a tremendous first step, I know the path to a career in publishing is a long and winding one—often full of unexpected chapters and interesting characters—and I am honored to weave this editorial internship with Sundress Publications into my own origin story.

Annie Fay Meitchik is a writer and visual artist with her BA in Creative Writing from The New School and a Certificate in Children’s Book Writing from UC San Diego. Through a career in publishing, Annie aims to amplify the voices of marginalized identities while advocating for equality and inclusivity in art/educational spaces. Her work has been published by 12th Street Literary Journal and UNiDAYS. To learn more, please visit:

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents September Poetry Xfit

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

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

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

Thank you to the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry for making this event possible. Find out more about the important work that they do here.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is an Iranian-American multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. Her writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Passages North, The Cortland Review, Salamander, RHINO, Salt Hill, and The Journal, among others. She is the Co-Editor-in-Chief at Mud Season Review and a contributing writer and critic at MovieWeb. She is a six-time Best of the Net nominee, two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, and runner-up for the Arthur Flowers Flash Fiction Prize.

Our community partner for September is the YWCA Victim Advocacy Program. Founded in 1988, the YWCA Victim Advocacy Program (VAP) is the only community-based non-shelter program in Knox County, the only program with advocates in both criminal and civil courts, and the only program with bilingual/bicultural advocates (Spanish, English, Arabic, and French). The YWCA is an onsite partner at the Knoxville Family Justice Center. YWCA advocates are stationed at the Family Justice Center, in court, and out in the community. In 2015, the YWCA expanded services to offer community based advocacy in Anderson County. In 2018, services expanded to Roane and Loudon counties.

YWCA offers culturally-specific advocates for immigrant, refugee, LGBTQ+, Latinx, and African-American populations, as well as support groups in English, Spanish, and Arabic to women who have experienced domestic violence and to female family members. Although every domestic violence situation is different, victims/survivors may find it beneficial to talk about their feelings with others who are going through similar experiences. Led by trained facilitators, confidential support groups meet weekly and address a variety of issues related to domestic violence in a caring, nurturing environment. Find out more about YWCA’s Victim Advocacy Program here!

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents September Reading Series

Knoxville, TN—The Sundress Academy for the Arts is pleased to announce the guests for the September installment of our reading series, poets Liz Chang and Maya Williams. Join us on Thursday, September 21st  at Pretentious Beer Co. from 7:00-9:00 PM for a reading followed by an open mic hosted by Shlagha Borah. Sign-up for the open mic begins at 7PM sharp and is limited to 10-12 readers.

Photo of Liz Chang

Liz Chang’s poetry has recently appeared in Verse Daily, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Rock & Sling, Exit 7, Breakwater Review and Stoneboat Literary Journal, among others. Chang was 2012 Montgomery County Poet Laureate and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her fourth published collection, Museum of Things, is available now from Finishing Line Press. Chang’s translation of Claude de Burine’s poetry is anthologized in Paris in Our View from l’Association des Amis de Shakespeare & Company. She is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Moravian University.

Photo of Maya Williams

Maya Williams (ey/they/she) is a Black multiracial nonbinary suicide survivor who is currently the poet laureate of Portland, Maine. Eir debut collection Judas & Suicide was released in May 2023 by Game Over Books; eir second collection Refused a Second Date will be released in October 2023 by Harbor Editions. Judas & Suicide was selected as a finalist for the New England Book Award in July 2023. Maya was one of three artists of color selected to represent Maine in The Kennedy Center’s Arts Across America series in 2020. Maya was also selected as one of The Advocate’s Champions of Pride in 2022. You can follow more of their work at

This event is brought to you in part by a grant provided by the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry. Find out about the important work they do here.

Our community partner for September iis the YWCA Victim Advocacy Program. Founded in 1988, the YWCA Victim Advocacy Program (VAP) is the only community-based non-shelter program in Knox County, the only program with advocates in both criminal and civil courts, and the only program with bilingual/bicultural advocates (Spanish, English, Arabic, and French). The YWCA is an onsite partner at the Knoxville Family Justice Center. YWCA advocates are stationed at the Family Justice Center, in court, and out in the community. In 2015, the YWCA expanded services to offer community based advocacy in Anderson County. In 2018, services expanded to Roane and Loudon counties.

YWCA offers culturally-specific advocates for immigrant, refugee, LGBTQ+, Latinx, and African-American populations, as well as support groups in English, Spanish, and Arabic to women who have experienced domestic violence and to female family members. Although every domestic violence situation is different, victims/survivors may find it beneficial to talk about their feelings with others who are going through similar experiences. Led by trained facilitators, confidential support groups meet weekly and address a variety of issues related to domestic violence in a caring, nurturing environment. Find out more about YWCA’s Victim Advocacy Program here!

Sundress Reads: Review of Made Man

Jendi Reiter’s third poetry collection, Made Man (Little Red Tree Publishing, 2022), skillfully explores the transmasculine identity through the lens of capitalist America and small town mentalities. Inherently a political text, Reiter dissects their own gender journey along with the state of our consumerist world today, such as asking the titular transfag in “Transfag Semiotics,” “Want to be understood? What are you, a beer commercial?” (116).

Reiter compares their gender journey to the everyday, beginning with one of the many “self-portraits” throughout the collection: “Self-Portrait as Pastry Box.” The stunning language of, “…see the red smash where tiered berries kissed the jostled lid” introduces readers to Reiter’s mind, transporting us to this pastry box home where knives are not taken in vain. The smallest of objects are turned into a playground of metaphors with their words. The last line of “Take the cannoli, broken for you” (3), as a reference to Communion, sets up a recurring theme of religion for the rest of the book, as well. While the author clearly has a complicated relationship to the church, the religion itself, and the imagery and verbiage from it, have stuck with them.

This is best seen subtly in poems like “Whistler’s The White Girl.” Lines like, “your red hair, that made your papa suspicious, that your mother pulled in pin-curls and bleached with lemon juice, is finally necessary for the composition” (23), evoke recognition in others who grew up in the church, especially from queer kids who didn’t quite fit the mold. While this poem is based on the painting of the same name by James McNeill Whistler, Reiter’s language is restricting in a way that rings true with a transgender boy being primped and posed by his family, a doll for Sunday morning church service. 

In the very next poem, “psalm 55.21,” Reiter also tackles the feminist struggle within the Christian faith. The first line is a rewording of the actual psalm 55:21, changing the pronouns to feminine ones, written as, “her speech is softer than butter, but war is in her heart” (25). This original verse describes one’s two-faced nature— saying pretty words to your face, then later stabbing you in the back. This poem lists out creature after creature, gifted protections by god, then ends with,  “But to the woman, only a tongue, like a cat licking her newborn into breathing, like a cat rasping the meat from a bone” (26). While this may seem like a resigned response to a sexism ingrained into women’s bodies, the poem’s opening verse alludes to the more hopeful view that something as simple as a tongue is capable of holding immense power. With just their words, women are capable of more than first expected. 

Much of the collection seems to take on a more pessimistic tone, such as the most explicitly political poem in the book, “President Obama Gives a Tape Measure to the Admiral Who Killed Bin Laden.” The title alone tells a whole story, something Reiter proves themselves quite good at through the book. While the poem is a heavy criticism of the military, the scope feels very human. Pessimistic, yes—convinced that the military is such a part of America’s nature, the poem recognizes the humans at the heart of it all. The final line of the poem is a quote from Admiral William McRaven: “It had been a good night, and just for a moment we could laugh about it” (89). This quote elicits a mixed response, as on one hand, it can be seen as a bonding of this group that is forced to do such horrible things, coming together in a moment of joy. On the other, thinking of these people laughing after committing such atrocities makes readers have to sit with the reality of our present day, and let it horrify us as it has Reiter. 

Made Man is not lacking in light, however, as moments of levity are interspersed throughout, such as in “93 Minutes of Darkness.” Readers are introduced to mundane “flour and mayonnaise kitchens” moments before dropping references to the “official sunshades” (69) schoolchildren use to cover their faces, or “the democratic maw of omnivorous Dagon” (71). While referencing the climate crisis and the end of our world as we know it, Reiter manages to create an image of a town that is still surviving, through it all. This sense of community is strong enough to dissuade the citizens in this piece from dread, and Reiter’s humor can’t help but do the same. 

“Dreaming of Top Surgery at the Vince Lombardi Rest Stop”’s title proves Reiter’s skill with titles again, feeling like a text you could receive from a friend. The poem stems from a moment so simple, perhaps even disheartening, for one’s gender expression. What makes the message so heartwarming is Reiter’s word choice, granting readers with the image of “Walt Whitman unbuckles his big-‘n’-tall Levis at his eponymous urinal” (65). It all feels so hopeful, these references to “manlier” men, the masculine ritual of “mighty men drenching you in Gatorade that shocks you breathless like love?” (66).

Maybe hopeful is the singular best word to describe Reiter’s collection. While prone to believing the worst in mankind, stuck in torrid political spirals that nothing can get better, there is a heart in the middle of it all that hopes desperately it somehow can. Just maybe, with neighborly bonds and the cultivation of the next generation so often referenced in the form of Reiter’s own son, there could be a better future out there. 

Made Man is available from Little Red Tree Publishing

Izzy Astuto (he/they) is a writer majoring in Creative Writing at Emerson College, with a specific interest in screenwriting. When not in Boston for college, they live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His work has previously been published by Hearth and Coffin, Sage Cigarettes, and Renesme Literary, amongst others. He currently works as an intern for Sundress Publications, and a reader for journals such as hand picked poetry, PRISM international, and Alien Magazine. You can find more of their work on their website, at Their Instagram is izzyastuto2.0 and Twitter is adivine_tragedy.