Interview with Kimberly Ann Priest, Author of Slaughter the One Bird

Ahead of the release of Slaughter the One Bird, her debut full-length collection of poems, Kimberly Ann Priest spoke with editorial intern Eliza Browning. Here, they discussed the complicated legacy of trauma, living with memory and grief, religious myths and parables, and cycles of abuse and healing.

Eliza Browning: Tell me about the title Slaughter the One Bird from Leviticus 14:50. How and why did you choose this verse as the title?

Kimberly Ann Priest: That’s an excellent question Eliza. Thank you so much for asking.

To answer this question well, I’m going to give you more context from Leviticus 14, quoting from the English Standard Version of the Bible:

1 The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the leprous person for the day of his cleansing. He shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look. Then, if the case of leprous disease is healed in the leprous person, the priest shall command them to take for him who is to be cleansed two live clean birds and cedarwood and scarlet yarn and hyssop. And the priest shall command them to kill one of the birds in an earthenware vessel over fresh water. He shall take the live bird with the cedarwood and the scarlet yarn and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the fresh water. And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed of the leprous disease. Then he shall pronounce him clean and shall let the living bird go into the open field. And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe himself in water, and he shall be clean. And after that he may come into the camp but live outside his tent seven days.”

As you can see in the passage, someone is sick with an incurable disease and the proposed healing ritual is a juxtaposition of death and life. One bird is killed; the other bird is dipped in its murder and set free.

On a metaphorical level, this death/life paradigm as cure is incredible when related to abusive situations where some sort of traumatic pain is festering. In my book, according to the mandate of unrequited pain, someone has to die—a bird must be slaughtered so that another can go free. This can take a variety of forms in relationship, but essentially, an individual demonstrating abusive behavior due to their own pain, their own “slaughtering,” will relieve suffering by creating a situation in which another individual is “sacrificed” to pain. It’s an ugly cycle, as is the nature of ritual sacrifice in the Biblical Old Testament.

EB: How does this collection navigate the complicated intersection of tragedy and grief?

KAP: There’s a line in one of the poems titled “Preparing the Body” that reads “She… / wants to be the hero of this story / for at least this would exonerate her doubts.” As I was writing this poem in its first draft, this line came from somewhere in my psyche. Like, it was just there; I had no idea what it meant. But, of course, since these poems were written as I was working through the grieving process, I felt the importance of this line and just left it in the poem.

Later—quite literally in the last several weeks—I took some time to work through the weight of this line with another poet friend. I wanted to know what it meant. He and I went back and forth and finally, I realized that this line was expressing quest to redeem something from my personal tragedies so that I would feel less shame for how I may have been complicit in their lived realities. I think that when we are blindsided by evil, afterward, we abide with questions like “What did I do to cause this?” or maybe “What could I have done to prevent this?” Those questions tend to be answerable as well as unanswerable. In other words, we can often look back and examine the few adjustments we could have made to influence circumstances, but in the end, we can never be certain those adjustments would have changed everything.

In my own story, I carried a question concerning my childhood trauma. I did not remember the trauma until my 30s and, by then, I was living with a violent spouse. Suddenly, I began to wonder if somehow my past trauma has contributed to the reasons my ex-husband abused me. It took me so long to work through that and realize that abuse is not something we earn due to our own dysfunctions. This collection, in particular, does the work of noticing how one cannot grieve well in the midst of tragedy, how tragedy consumes all of this space, and how our psyches grapple to understand our roll in the tragic drama.

EB: How do you think the abuse of religious principles manifests itself as evil? How has this impacted your own religious beliefs?

KAP:  Wonderful question. Deep breath. Well…

I grew up in church, in evangelical Christian faith. To be honest, there was so much about it that I loved…but also so much I detested, or that I simply found nonsensical. My core values have been deeply formed by Christian faith and I have taken some concepts like “love your enemies,” “your sins are forgiven” and “judge not” at face value. [And, of course, I could have a whole conversation on the misuse of the word “sin.” But I digress.] Understanding that all of humanity is guiltless, including myself, gives me grounds to never shame, accuse, judge, retaliate or expect retributions…it gives me grounds to let all the birds go free. Though, I will also add that coming around to this guilt-free attitude is always a process of working through my desire to do and be otherwise. Loving my enemies is extraordinarily difficult because “enemy” is often perceptual, and sometimes my enemy is my very self. So, in my opinion, love all around is sanity. Day by day we can become offended, and then not offended, with anyone. We are fickle beings. Best to get lost in acts of love, recognizing that offense is just going to happen in this world, and what I’m offended by today might be cause for celebration tomorrow. Again, let all the birds go free.

All of that said to also say that a great deal of what I have experienced in Christianity has been a far cry from values like these. Christian communities can be some of the most guilt-ridden communities, using guilt, shame, and blame to enslave others mentally, emotionally, and ritualistically. My deepest wounds have been inflicted in Christian circles and it’s taken me years to come back around to embracing any kind of faith again. I’ve wandered a long time through questions [still wandering!!] and am fully aware that embracing faith is not equal to opening myself to people “of faith” that I can’t trust. I will never be able to return to religious sects that devalue certain groups of people or use religious principles as an excuse to wield power over vulnerable souls. Clearly, in my book, this is the way religion is wielded. And, my goodness, I could tell you so many horror stories about such happenings.

Honestly, religion or no religion, any system lends itself to being a tool of illegitimate control. The best thing that I can do, after all of these tragedies, is keep asking my questions into the very heart of my faith and keep myself free from needing control over anything more than my own self-life. I’d rather live in this space of uncertainty about what I believe and, thereby, never assume I know how others should think, feel, or live. Perhaps I should say that I will always be a person “of doubt” rather than a person “of faith.” If you saw my bookshelves, you’d see that I have all sorts of books on various religious perspectives, my favorite being anything written by Abraham Joshua Heschel. I think it’s incredibly important to explore spirituality of all sorts with curiosity, expecting each to offer some clarity and wisdom concerning the practical concerns of everyday life.

Personally, I have no real desire to step back into religious arenas; I experience “god” [and I prefer to use other names for that entity—whatever I need “god” to be at the time] best in nature, among trees; and I embrace a more holistic spirituality than faith circles typically offer. But I also see incredible value in finding people to share life with, life informed by acts of love and kindness and a sense of the divine. But, if love isn’t the program, skip it.

EB: How did you navigate the shift between past and present throughout this collection?

KAP: Painstakingly. Like every other poet building a manuscript (I assume), these poems went through a multitude of orderings. With this final version, there’s a sense of chronology, but also a sense of flashing backward and forward throughout. I wanted the book to feel as though the past was intruding into every present moment. This required sectioning; for instance, “the house” is a set of “my pedophile” poems to help the reader get into the traumatized body of the abused woman after much of her story had been told.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I accomplished this, but I can say it was with a lot of help from Dennis Hinrichsen (a poet friend) and Erin Elizabeth Smith (my illustrious editor).

EB: What was the inspiration behind the use of deer as an ongoing motif?

KAP: Michigan. I live in Michigan. We have too many deer. They are everywhere. Roadkill deer is part of the charm of winter. And I lived in a trailer in the woods for a good portion of the drama in this book where we were frequented by lots and lots of deer.

EB: Tell me more about your choice of language, imagery, and syntax. What words or images did you find yourself returning to?

KAP: Obviously, the deer and birds show up frequently. Again, Michigan is abundant with both. The trailer is re-occurring because I spent years living in a trailer. Even though it was actually quite nice compared to most, it was still a trailer and felt like a long box with cheap walls in the middle of nowhere—a nowhere that entrapped me. Strawberries make appearances—sort of my Garden of Eden forbidden fruit in this drama. I used to do a lot of strawberry picking here in Michigan. I feel like tongue, hand, teeth, kiss, meat, trailer, sex, crave, ammunition, and corn show up a lot. I’m not sure on syntax. I mostly write first person narrative poems, but my formal imagination is all over the place. I let the lines lead me in terms of what they want to be.

EB: What was the intent behind the thematic subset of the “my pedophile” poems? What impact do you believe this has on the collection?

KAP: As I stated earlier, I wanted to get the reader inside the mind/body of the abused woman, to feel the past drama happening in her present like a parallel story line. The subset is titled “the house” and she is “the house” that needs to be cleansed according to the passage from a Matthew Henry commentary on Leviticus 14 quoted at the beginning of the book:

“…but now sin, where that reigns in a house, is a plague there, as it is in a heart.”

And the quote continues. In the book, the woman isthe bird that must be slaughtered and the house that must be cleansed, because she is the one who reveals a past contamination. This is used against her—which is part of my true story. Once I had memories that I had been molested in childhood, my spouse often stated that my trauma was the reason I needed to be “controlled.” Thus, the commentary quote continues:

“Masters of families should be aware, and afraid of the first appearance of sin in their families, and put it away, whatever it is.

…the infected part must be taken out. If it remains in the house, the whole must be pulled down. The owner had better be without a dwelling, than live in one that was infected

…sin ruins families and churches. Thus, sin is so interwoven with the human body that it must be taken down by death.”

There it is…slaughter the one, infected bird. Take down the house. Religion becomes license to isolate and destroy.

EB: Several of these poems mention your children. What do you think is the generational impact of this collection, and what may younger generations take away from it?

KAP: Mostly I think of the impact this situation has had on my kids. All of our lives were thrown into chaos, and it’s taken years to rebuild and reorder. Every day, I have to trust that I’ve modeled an openness, resilience, and courage that inspires them to honor their pain while embracing a new story. I am very close to my kids; we foster good ongoing communication. Healing from this sort of abuse takes time, but we are all getting there.

If anything, I hope a collection like mine encourages others to unmask and write through trauma, to not feel ashamed for becoming prey to evil’s intrusion; to recognize that evil is in the world and all we can do sometimes is try to breathe through its happening; and that it’s enough to be human, to not have what it takes, and live in a troubled body. No shame.

But this book is also about the art of inhumanity. It has so much to say as a warning of what we become when we use guilt, violence, and economic/biological leverage to control another human being. Every generation needs to look back at the inhuman practices of past generations and take time to examine the relational self as well as communal practices to see if there is any temptation to repeat inhumanities.

EB: Tell me more about how Slaughter the One Bird navigates the process of healing. How does language inform this process?

KAP: Ha! I avoided the word “healing” for a very long time. It was too “Christian” and smacked with programming—so many Biblical catch phrases used to dismiss real pain and teach a listener to mask over that pain with religious positivity. This kind of stuff turns my stomach.

Our pain needs to be honored. All the hurting parts of ourselves need to be listened to, attended, fought for, and offered a cup of cold water when thirsty (to use a Matthew 25:35-36 example of love). The darkest regions of our psyches and emotions don’t need flashlights swung in their eyes; they need slow introduction to candlelight, then moonlight, then streetlight, then sunlight. They need nourishment and awakenings. But not too much too fast with too much demand for “healing” to happen. Writing the poems in this book, I wasn’t at all thinking about healing. I was trying to survive my own mind. It was reliving memories it could not remember at an episodic pace. So, I wrote through them and decided that poetry was the best medium for capturing the disordered involuntary mess I was experiencing. Intuitively, I knew that if I didn’t let each part of my broken soul have voice, I would have to reckon with that part of self sometime in the future in a potentially unhealthy way. It turns out that, embracing this process is a true healing. I’ve been writing steadily for eight years now, and the writing is finally slowing down. A clear indication, I think, that there’s been a lot of “healing.”

But the book itself is NOT navigating healing. It’s navigating slaughter. Like a normal bird, the speaker is trying to flap away from the knife of her lived experience. The book ends with some hope, but mostly in the throes of cyclical trauma.

EB: How did you choose to organize the poems in this collection, either chronologically or thematically?

KAP: A little of both. There’s a chronology from childhood trauma to divorce, but it is also interrupted by disorder. Each section is headed by part of the Leviticus passage and that part informs the drama in that section. So, there’s some thematic work as well. It’s incredibly challenges to satisfy the linear needs of a reader while telling a cyclical story of abuse and trauma. I hope this book succeeds.

Order your copy of Slaughter the One Bird today!


Kimberly Ann Priest is the author of three chapbooks, Parrot Flower from Glass Poetry Press, still life from PANK Press, and White Goat Black Sheep from Finishing Line Press. Her poems have appeared in North Dakota Quarterly, Salamander, Borderlands, RELIEF, RiverSedge, The Meadow, Ruminate Magazine, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. Priest received an MFA in Creative Writing from New England College and an MA in English Language & Literature from Central Michigan University. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and is a winner of the 2019 Heartland Poetry Prize in New Poetry from the Midwest. She lives in Michigan and teaches at Michigan State University.

Eliza Browning is a student at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, where she studies English and art history. Her work has previously appeared in Rust + MothVagabond City LitContrary Magazine, and Up the Staircase Quarterly, among others. She is a poetry editor for EX/POST Magazine and reads poetry for COUNTERCLOCK Journal.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Now Accepting 
Residency Applications for Spring 2022

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is now accepting applications for short-term writing residencies in all genres—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, playwriting, screenwriting, journalism, academic writing, and more—for their spring residency period which runs from January 3 to May 15, 2022. These residencies are designed to give artists time and space to complete their creative projects in a quiet and productive environment.

Each farmhouse residency costs $300/week, which includes a room of one’s own, as well as access to our communal kitchen, bathroom, office, and living space, plus wireless internet.

Residencies in the Writers Coop are $150/week and include your own private dry cabin as well as access to the farmhouse amenities. Because of the low cost, we are rarely able to offer scholarships for Writers Coop residents.

Residents will stay at the SAFTA farmhouse, located on a working farm on a 45-acre wooded plot in a Tennessee “holler” perfect for hiking, camping, and nature walks. The farmhouse is also just a half-hour from downtown Knoxville, an exciting and creative city that is home to a thriving artistic community. SAFTA is ideal for writers looking for a rural retreat with urban amenities. 

SAFTA’s residencies, which also include free access to workshops, readings, and events, offer a unique and engaging experience. Residents can participate in local writing workshops, lead their own workshops, and even have the opportunity to learn life skills like gardening and animal care.

As part of our commitment to anti-racist work, we are now also using a reparations payment model for our farmhouse residencies which consists of the following:

  1. 3 reparations weeks of equally divided payments for Black and/or Indigenous identifying writers at $150/week
  2. 3 discounted weeks of equally divided payments for BIPOC writers at $250/week
  3. 6 equitable weeks of equally divided payments at $300/week

Black and/or Indigenous identifying writers are also invited to apply for a $350 support grant to help cover the costs of food, travel, childcare, and/or any other needs while they are at the residency. We are currently able to offer two of these grants per residency period (spring/summer/fall). If you would like to donate to expand this funding, you may do so here.

For the Spring 2022 residency period, SAFTA will be offering the following fellowships only: 

  • LGBTQIA+ Fellowship: one full and one 50% fellowship for writers who identify as LGBTQIA+
  • Dr. Kristi Larkin Havens Memorial Fellowship for Service to the Community
  • Black & Indigenous Writers Fellowships: one full fellowship for Black and/or Indigenous identifying writers

LGBTQIA+ Fellowship (Spring 2022): This year’s judge for the LGBTQIA fellowships is Nicole Shawan Junior, a counter-storyteller who was bred in the bass-heavy beat and scratch of Brooklyn, where the cool of beautiful inner-city life barely survived crack cocaine’s burn. Her work appears in The RumpusSLICE MagazineKweli JournalCURAZORAGay MagThe Feminist Wire, and elsewhere. Nicole has received residencies and fellowships from Hedgebrook, PERIPLUS, New York Foundation for the Arts, Lambda Literary, RADAR Productions and the San Francisco Public Library’s James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center, and more. Her work has received support from Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship, Hurston/Wright Writers Week, Tin House Summer Workshop, VONA, Carnegie Hall, Sundress Academy for the Arts, and others. Nicole is the founder of Roots. Wounds. Words. (a literary arts revolution that serves BIPOC storytellers), editor in chief of Black Femme Collective, has guest edited for The Rumpus, and serves on the editorial board at Sundress Publications.

Dr. Kristi Larkin Havens Memorial Fellowship for Service to the Community (Spring 2022 or Fall 2022): Dr. Kristi Larkin Havens served as the Community Outreach Director for Sundress Academy for the Arts and then as the Vice President of the Board of Directors for Sundress Publications for over six years. She earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where she was a Lecturer and the Assistant Director of Undergraduate Studies. She was a photographer who served as a producer on films for several local competitions including The Knoxville 24-Hour Film Festival and the Grindhouse Grind-out. For many years she served as a coordinator for the Knoxville Girls Rock Camp, an organization dedicated to fostering inclusivity and creativity. For her, the arts were a natural venue for pursuing the aims of social justice. 

This fellowship will be awarded to a writer who has shown exceptional service to their own community through any of the following: volunteering, organizing, fundraising, board membership, etc. Fellowship winners will receive a one-week fully-funded residency the Sundress Academy for the Arts at Firefly Farms in Knoxville, TN for either the spring or fall of 2022. The spring residency period runs from January 3 to May 15, 2022, and the fall period runs from August 23-January 2, 2023.

The application deadline for the spring residency period is September 15, 2021. Find out more about the application process at www.sundressacademyforthearts.com.

The application fee is waived for all BIPOC identifying writers. For all fellowship applications, the application fee will also be waived for those who demonstrate financial need; please state this in your application under the financial need section. Limited partial scholarships are also available to any applicant with financial need. 

Sundress Reads Review Series Looking for Recently Published Books

As part of Sundress Publications’ ongoing commitment to service, we recognize that COVID-19 has caused hardship by cancelling readings, launches, tours, and other needed promotional efforts. To combat this, Sundress Publications continues to accept submissions for consideration for inclusion in our new review series, Sundress Reads. We’re looking to write featured reviews for any books published or to be published in 2021. We at Sundress hope to champion writers whose work highlights human struggle and challenges misconceptions.

Authors or publishers of books published within this date range are invited to submit books, chapbooks, or anthologies in any genre for consideration by our reviewers who are standing by. Submissions will be considered on a rolling basis.

For immediate consideration, please forward an electronic copy of the book (PDFs preferred), author bio, photo of the cover, and a link to the publisher’s website to sundresspubications@gmail.com with “Sundress Reads: Title” as the subject line. In addition, we request that one print copy be mailed to Sundress Academy for the Arts, ATTN: Sundress Reads, 195 Tobby Hollow Lane, Knoxville, TN 37931. 

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

Sundress Reads: Women’s Work

A book cover featuring fabric embroidered with flowers. There is an embroidery hoop in the center of the image. Inside the embroidery hoop, the words "Women's Work" are stitched. In the bottom right, the words "Madeleine Barnes" are cut out of newspaper clippings and pasted in.

How to even start explaining Madeleine Barnes’ poetry chapbook, Women’s Work? It’s certainly a challenge, considering the unique nature of the collection. All of the words are taken from sewing manuals and advertisements, rearranged into cut-up poetry that often seems to span multiple pages. However, the words are far from the only important part of the poetry on display here; each page features a scanned image of the author’s own embroidery, sometimes along with superimposed images from other sources. The embroidered patterns on each page, alongside the words taken from other sources, combine to give further meaning to both the patterns and the words.

The very first page of the book sets some precedents right away. Instead of seeing the full embroidered image, the author has chosen to scan the backs of the pattern, showing us the stitches most viewers of the physical embroidery would never see. This continues throughout the chapbook, with almost every embroidered image being the back of a pattern, and leaving the reader to guess at what each pattern represents. The first cut-out phrase is one of the longer ones, reading “The long winter evenings give a woman a splendid chance for sewing or embroidery; but her eyes suffer from the strain unless she has a good light.” This sets a tone immediately: this collection is not interested in the beautiful visual splendor of an embroidered pattern, but in the difficult work behind it—the titular “Women’s Work.”

This is immediately followed up by a page featuring images of women modeling plain white dresses, but one is turned away from the camera and the other is posing with her head tilted and her hands on her hips. The text reads “we’re disobedient”, and is followed on the next page by an image of fabric almost fully covered in stitches in a circular pattern with the words “and durable.” Building on the idea of the book, we see women beyond the boxes tradition forced them into, not obedient and fragile, but disobedient and durable.

A later page features a pattern that almost looks like a finished image in itself despite being the back of a pattern; the threads are sewn into thick, heavy shapes and lines, almost giving the appearance of a pair of flowers on grass and all in warm, sunset colors. The text on this page reads, “What a wealth of warm hospitality this picture reveals.” Ironically, the text that was almost certainly once describing the front pattern of an embroidery now describes the back: the meaning of the warm hospitality changes to represent the care put into the structure of the pattern.

Among the second half of the chapbook is an underlying theme of anatomy. Patterns are overlaid with images from what seem to be very old medical diagrams of the hands and arms, and in one case a (rather outdated and inaccurate) drawing of the stomach and womb. The most striking example of this is a page with a pattern of red and yellow threads with a superimposed image of the ligaments and tendons in the human hand. The threads follow the path of said ligaments, curving through the wrist from the arm, up through the thumb, and transitioning from yellow to red thread at the tip of the thumb as it leaves the hand entirely and spills out onto the other hand in the image, as if the thumb was bleeding. The words here are from three different cut-outs: the first reads “Pattern repeated on formal lines”, the second “Gathering stitches irregular”, and the third “If the thread breaks short, open a few stitches.” The message seems to be about injury and strain, the bleeding thumb and the in-text visual of formal lines becoming irregular and breaking stitches all conveying that message. The anatomy theme also fits the whole chapbook; we see the “anatomy” of the embroidery (the backs of the patterns) compared to the exterior and interior images of the female body.

Finishing the chapbook is a black fabric with white stitches, alongside an uplifting message: “Come along, I’ve” “had dangerous” “adventures”. This feels like a sign-off from the author and creator of the patterns we’ve been seeing, an acknowledgment of the experience of creating the chapbook, and I’m happy to say that this incredible project lives up to that sign-off entirely. Women’s Work is a work of visual art as much as a work of poetry, and I’m happy to highly recommend it.

Women’s Work is available at Tolsun Books.

Gray Flint-Vrettos is an aspiring author and a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University with a BA in English and Creative Writing, and minors in Theater Arts and Film. He has a long history with theater, having appeared in multiple productions both on stage and behind the curtain. Currently, she’s focusing on getting involved with publishing and writing her first book.

Sundress Reads: Review of Sisyphusina

Sisyphusina by Shira Dentz ([PANK] Books, 2020) spirals through several concentric circles in 96 pages, each rotation getting closer to the question of what happens when a woman is deemed no longer socially “useful.” Between the normal aging process, never marrying or having children, and not meeting standards of conventional attractiveness, layers of this normative deviation begin to stack. Troubling social acceptability involves stepping outside of our own personal boundaries into the realm of the new, watching the speaker (revealed to be Dentz herself) embrace her own features: “Even, straight, white teeth are a sign of class. Why do I cover my gray then? Is gray a different kind of mark? // Tiny white hairs on my chin, fish bones. Lined up in a row, like teeth” (61). Sisyphusina uses unique, intertwined forms—such as visual art, copier scans of hands, and a QR code that links to an instrumental composition—to try and answer the question of what happens when the world decides it is done with us. Ultimately, it arrives at the answer that there is no answer and the best we can do is carry on.

Sisyphusina’s engagement with form is the most immediately recognizable aspect of the text. Directly following the acknowledgements, Dentz writes a letter to her readers explaining that her formal decisions are guided by “consistency not in terms of uniformity, evenness, and constancy; but consistency in terms of texture.” (ix) Punctuation and stylistic conventions are subverted in order to engage a sense of volume and voice; text is placed around the page to emphasize the breath between them. After all, it is about the “relationship between plasticity and order, spurred by the muse/lyric impulse of what [Dentz] seeks to give expression;” that “form is sculptural.” (ix) This sculptural tendency is abundantly clear after the first poem, which begins with different fonts for the title and body but is otherwise relatively standard in form. However, the second poem ratchets in intensity—and it only increases from there. At this point, the words become stream-of-consciousness, large-blocked prose poems with shifting capitalization. In particular, the pronoun “I” is capitalized inconsistently in “Eva 1,” leading to textural lulls and a misplacement of subject, which becomes a common theme throughout the book.                              

Once a norm has been introduced—whether textual or metatextual—it dances, weaving and wavering around, becoming more visible and repeated within a few poems, before dipping away and then returning. This orbital dance helps to create the circular movement around Dentz’s commentary, particularly her integration of visual art and music into the book itself. Lines arrive around and within the poems by page 7, drawing the eye to what would otherwise be white space around explications and poems-within-poems, quickly becoming as much a part of the text as the words themselves by showing physical movement and the beginning of the collection’s elliptical movement. Pages 10 and 11 feature the same image of a photocopied left hand with two rings on the middle and ring finger; the first iteration is the hand alone but the second is accompanied by a poem titled “copy.” The poetry and images work together to create textures and repetition, imparting meaning through visceral feeling, much like abstract visual art, which makes particular sense when considering Dentz’s inclusions of lines, shapes, and visual art pieces within and around the writing—after all, what are words if not lines and shapes on a page? The poem “FLOUNDERS,” for example, dissects the same scene nine times in nine different ways using the same words, like kaleidoscopic blackout prose poetry that never touches color.

While the formal elements of Sisyphusina are one of its strongest suits, there are repeated images and concepts that circle around. The feeling of isolation permeates both the use of color—grays and greens in particular, referencing both age in terms of “graying hair” and “iridescent gray branches preserved”—and female hair, especially chin hair. The speaker plucks chin hair because she wants “skin soft and smooth so that when my imaginary lover touches it’s baby soft.” (4) There are dissertations referencing women’s relationships to facial hair, newspaper clippings about Ancient Egyptians’ relationships to hair (dying with henna, shaving it, braiding it) and how they considered hair “a supreme form of self-expression.” (13) Parallel on the page, the speaker lists every expression she can think of relating to hair: “isn’t there anything else on your mind besides food and hair?” she asks.

Aside from the introduction and firm separations from norms and what is considered “acceptable,” Dentz suggests a metadiscussion on writing and how form contributes to what is acceptable to say about writing as an art. After being told that people like to read about the body and finding that this was the case in the 1970s (and is a trend that has resurfaced and circled back in popularity): “I usually don’t include these kinds of sentences because it’s not good form to write about writing, except in metafiction. One’s supposed to act like the voice is disembodied. There is no author here. Thing is, no one will even know that these words exist except if they’re read. So why pretend someone isn’t reading (you) / writing this?” (24) These forms of standardization and silence—that writers aren’t supposed to discuss ourselves in our writing, even when the writing itself is intrinsically personal—parallel the collection’s exploration of women’s beauty standards. In order for either to be considered classically beautiful, it must appear as if the person behind it all does not exist.

With regards to both the death of the author and falling in line with social norms for the sake of doing so, Dentz poses the question: “why pretend someone isn’t right for the colors.” (21) The disruption of these classical beauty ideas and inherent “correctness” of art, as seen through the mediums of writing, visual art, composition, and the human body, lies at the heart of Sisyphusina. In compiling this multimedia and cross-genre collection, each genre’s work lies just a hair beyond what some may view as “correct” for the style (the audience in “Aging Music” may be aware of the score, and microphones may be placed near windows to pick up sounds of the natural environment, for example), but it remains art. The beauty of art is something intrinsic, beyond what is deemed socially acceptable as beautiful. Sisyphusina is a beautiful piece; it asks its audience to work for its meanings, parsing through pages of stream-of-consciousness writing and swirling images to reach its impressive, rich core. As the female version of Sisyphus, constantly rolling the boulder up the hill to no avail, Dentz creates a lush landscape in order to question the rules and roles of acceptable women, and implies women are art that may never be framed.

Sisyphusina is available at [PANK]


Lee Anderson is a nonbinary writer from the American -west with an MFA from Northern Arizona University. They have been published sporadically but with zest, appearing or forthcoming in places such as The Rumpus, Columbia Journal, and Unstamatic Magazine.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “Queering Ekphrasis”: A Writers Workshop

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “Queering Ekphrasis,” a workshop led by Marina Carreira on July 14, 2021 from 6-7:30 PM. This event will be held over Zoom. Participants can access the event at tiny.utk.edu/sundress (password: safta).

Ekphrasis allows for a deeper look at art, an examination of the work via the (imaginative) act of narrating and reflecting on the subjects or “action” of a painting, photograph, collage, or sculpture. The ekphrastic poem, in turn, amplifies and expands the artwork’s meaning. This generative workshop asks poets to look at works by contemporary LGBTQ+ artists like Shoog McDaniel, Doron Lanberg, Hernan Bas, Gisela McDaniel, and Catherine Opie, and compose ekphrastic poetry in response to the work, all the while considering what makes the art queer exploring the ways it “captures” the queer experience.

While there is no fee for this workshop, those who are able and appreciative can make direct donations to Marina via Venmo @Marina-Carreira or PayPal @marinacarreira282.

Marina Carreira (she/her/hers) is a queer socialist Luso-American poet artist from Newark, NJ. She is the author of tantotanto (Cavankerry Press, forthcoming 2022), Save the Bathwater (Get Fresh Books, 2018) and I Sing to That Bird Knowing It Won’t Sing Back (Finishing Line Press, 2017). She has exhibited her art at Morris Museum, ArtFront Galleries, West Orange Arts Council, Monmouth University Center for the Arts, among others. Her work investigates identity as it relates to gender, urban, queer, and bicultural first-generation spaces. Keep up with her at hellomarinacarreira.com.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Now Accepting Fall 2021 Writers Coop Residency Applications

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is now accepting applications for short-term writing residencies in all genres—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, playwriting, screenwriting, journalism, academic writing, and more—for our fall residency period. These residencies are designed to give artists time and space to complete their creative projects in a quiet and productive environment. Open dates for this period are as follows: 

  • August 23rd-29th
  • September 20th-26th 
  • December 20th-26th

Residents will stay at the SAFTA farmhouse, located on a working farm on a 45-acre wooded plot in a Tennessee “holler” perfect for hiking, camping, and nature walks. The farmhouse is also just a half-hour from downtown Knoxville, an exciting and creative city that is home to a thriving artistic community. SAFTA is ideal for writers looking for a rural retreat with urban amenities. 

The SAFTA Writers Coop is a 10×10′ dry cabin approximately a fourth of a mile from the SAFTA farmhouse. This tiny house is furnished with a twin bed, a desk, a wood-burning stove, a deck that looks over the pasture and pond, as well as a personal detached outhouse. While the cabin has neither electricity nor running water, residents will have full access to the amenities at farmhouse as well as solitude from other residents to write in the rolling hills of East Tennessee. Cost for the residency is $150/week. Application fees for the Writers Coop are waived.


The application deadline for these dates for the fall residency period is rolling. Find out more about the application process at www.sundressacademyforthearts.com.

Sundress Reads: Review of Capable Monsters

In a work of queer Black boyhood and manhood, Capable Monsters (Bull City Press, 2020), a chapbook by Minnesota-based poet Marlin M. Jenkins, directly engages with the Pokémon franchise. This collection interrogates what it means to be drawn as a monster, bringing a fresh and animated perspective to the Black experience in America. It is playful and familiar, especially for fans of the Poké-world, whether that’s the movies, the games, or even the television show, yet it stands on its own merit, too. While Jenkins’ love for these creatures shines through (he names Umbreon as his favorite Pokémon in his bio), the Pokémon are merely a cultural touchstone that serves to open up this movement from boyhood to entry into a harsher, more ruthless environment where all must learn to evolve.

Yes, the Pokémon act as a framework, a backbone, a spine of this work, all while examining class and race structures. A handful of these poems bear regular titles, like “Tall Grass” and “Evolution”, but all of the others are labeled by their Pokédex names, i.e. “Pokédex Entry #1: Bulbasaur”. Following these titles, each creature is introduced by what characterizes them, not merely their color or power but a larger description that gives room for reader curiosity and edifying ambiguity. For Lapras: “People have driven Lapras almost to the point of extinction” (19). For Jigglypuff: “When this Pokémon sings, it never pauses to breathe. If it is in a battle against an /opponent that does not easily fall asleep, Jigglypuff cannot breathe, endangering its life” (20). The allusions to Black adversity are subtle yet deep-rooted—Jigglypuff’s description recalls the dying words of Eric Garner, Elijah McClain, and George Floyd.

Early on, Jenkins sets the stage with markers of class that serve to link childhood to adulthood:

Boy-man proclaimed man
of the house—with second-hand clothes
from black garbage bag, used copy
of Pokémon Blue Version (4).

This game and all of its characters act as a key for the speaker(s) of these poems to make sense of memory and trauma. Much of the language is informal, and Jenkins does not shy away from contemporary references—one poem speaks to Kendrick Lamar and the death of Michael Brown, pushed up against the disconcerting experience of being “the only Black person in the room” at a party (19).

Forms are varied throughout—Jenkins makes use of white space in some pieces, and works creatively with the use of obliques that splinter and conjure thought-provoking line breaks. In “All The Better”, Jenkins alludes to Red Riding Hood:

Boy with TV screens
for eyes / with
pixeled frown / What big holes
there are
in your memory / (17)

To place a young Black boy in the position of prey reveals a deep measure of vulnerability, and this clever back-and-forth and undercutting of expected syntax is complicated and richly rewarding—it feels as if the reader and Jenkins are developing inside jokes together on the page.

A concrete poem bears Squirtle’s shape, its two stanzas forming the sleek curve of a shell, without feeling gimmicky or forced. The shell acts as a comment on the poem’s content—Jenkins’ speaker is self-indicting and fearful, learning to craft protection from his own physicality. This poem (and many others) must have been created to be read aloud—there is quick word play, smart cuts, and tight language to bolster a rhythm that feels reminiscent of spoken word poetry. His sense of cadence is enviable.

Like all remarkable first chapbooks, this work is not just a collection of poems with a good hook, but drills down much deeper. Jenkins flawlessly braids aspects of the Poké-world with the bitter realities and small joys of his speaker’s real world. In the final piece, which takes its name from Generation I Pokémon, Clefairy, we see that same bearing-down on language and rhythm, with a searingly sharp, and somehow hopeful, outlook:

they want to hear
our cries, keep us
owned and docile,
but they can’t
follow us home.
We have learned (35)

In Capable Monsters, the monsters are all around us, and they are us. The Pokémon embody the speaker’s multifaceted life and the way he is able or forced to adapt, whether it is social convergence at a party lacking diversity or watching gas stations in Milwaukee go up in flames. Being a Pokémon fan is certainly not a requirement to read and enjoy this collection, but it does feel like Jenkins has written the book he wanted to read himself—anyone who has loved Pokémon will find a kinship with the figures in these pages, and remember too, how they recognized themselves in the softly drawn lines of monsters on the screen of a handheld Game Boy.

Capable Monsters is available at Bull City Press


Shannon Wolf is a British writer living in Denver, Colorado. She received a joint MA-MFA in Poetry at McNeese State University and also has degrees from Lancaster University and the University of Chichester. She is the Non-Fiction Editor of The McNeese Review, and Social Media Intern for Sundress Publications. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction (which can also be found under the name Shannon Bushby) have appeared in The Forge, Great Weather for MEDIA, and No Contact Mag, among others. You can find her on social media @helloshanwolf.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Announces Our June Reading Series

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is pleased to announce the guests for the June installment of our virtual reading series. This event will take place on Wednesday, June 30, 2021 on Zoom (http://tiny.utk.edu/sundress, password: safta) from 7-8PM EST.

Kendra DeColo is the author of three poetry collections, I Am Not Trying to Hide My Hungers From the World (BOA Editions, 2021), My Dinner with Ron Jeremy (Third Man Books, 2016), and Thieves in the Afterlife (Saturnalia Books, 2014), selected by Yusef Komunyakaa for the 2013 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize. She is also co-author of Low Budget Movie (Diode, 2021) written with Tyler Mills. She has received awards and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, MacDowell, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Millay Colony, and has performed at the Newport Folk Festival. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee. 

 

Khalisa Rae is an award-winning poet and journalist based in Durham, NC. She is the author of Ghost in a Black Girl’s Throat (Red Hen Press 2021). Her essays are featured in Autostraddle, Catapult, LitHub, as well as articles in B*tch Media, NBC-BLK, and others. Her poetry appears in Frontier Poetry, Florida Review, Rust & Moth, PANK, Hellebore, Sundog Lit, HOBART, among countless others. Currently, she serves as Assistant Editor for Glass Poetry and co-founder of Think in Ink and the Women of Color Speak reading series. Her second collection, Unlearning Eden, is forthcoming from White Stag Publishing in 2022. 

Dani Putney is a queer, non-binary, mixed-race Filipinx, & neurodivergent writer originally from Sacramento, California. Their poems appear in outlets such as Empty Mirror, Ghost City Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Juke Joint Magazine, and trampset, among others, while their personal essays can be found in journals such as Cold Mountain Review and Glassworks Magazine, among others. They received their MFA in Creative Writing from Mississippi University for Women & are presently an English PhD student at Oklahoma State University. While not always (physically) there, they permanently reside in the middle of the Nevada desert. 

Call for Application: Director of Prospect Research

Sundress Publications is an entirely volunteer-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit publishing collective founded in 2000 that hosts a variety of online journals and publishes chapbooks, full-length collections, and literary anthologies in both print and digital formats. Sundress is also home to the Sundress Academy for the Arts, a writer’s residency and arts collective in Knoxville, TN.

The Director of Prospect Research will work directly with our Development Director to research, review, and propose grant opportunities, perform web-based research, keep grant tracking spreadsheets and calendars up to date, draft general grant language, and meet monthly with our team.

Qualifications include:

  • Experience with web-based research
  • Strong organizational, creative, problem-solving, and written communication skills
  • A keen eye for grammar, punctuation, and syntax
  • A passion for contemporary literature and community arts programs
  • Knowledge of arts administration and/or grant writing a plus, but not required

Applicants are welcome to telecommunicate, and, therefore, are not restricted to living in the Knoxville area. Depending on grant cycles, the weekly time commitment for this position will fall between 2 to 10 hours. This position will run from late July through December, 2021 with a chance to be renewed.

While this is a volunteer position, all staff members receive mentorship and gain real-world experience with a nationally recognized press and arts organization, creating a portfolio of work for future employment opportunities.

To apply, please send a resume and brief cover letter detailing your interest in the position to the Development Director, Korrin Bishop, at korrin.bishop@gmail.com. Applications are due by July 5th, 2021.

For more information, visit us at www.sundresspublications.com and www.sundressacademyforthearts.com. You may also check us out on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and more.