Doubleback Books Interviews the Author of TREASON

Doubleback Books Poetry Editor Danielle Hanson asked Terese Svoboda, author of Treason to participate in an interview about this poetry—sometimes funny, sometimes strange, always hard-hitting, they cover motherhood, the toll of the 2002 civil war in Sudan, the Rodney King protests in L.A., and much more. Svoboda’s poems shine a torch on injustice and betrayal inside our public and intimate institutions. Treason’s topics are unfortunately timeless, the poems themselves worthy of mythology.

Danielle Hanson: It’s been 18 years since Treason was published by Zoo Press. Why did you submit this book for republication?

Terese Svoboda: Few had read Treason as a result of Zoo Press’ collapse, making it a fourteen year wait between Mere Mortals‘ publication in 1995 and Weapons Grade in 2009, so I felt the conversation between myself and my readers had stopped. Now, not only is the subject matter current with Treason—or maybe bad politics never goes away – but also the strange direction I veered toward in the third section I’ve taken up again in Theatrix: Play Poems that Anhinga will publish this coming March. More play, with a poetics that tries to shrug off the voice-driven and tune up the poem as its own performance.

DH: How has the book, and your view of the book, evolved during a second publication?

TS: I am very grateful to editor Danielle Hanson for her insightful introduction. Having the chance to re-think those long ago poems was very generous, but for the most part, I ended up supporting the choices I’d made. We had very happy discussions over the cover and a new designer.

DH: I hear you used to work as a magicians assistant and a disk jockey? I’m a big fan of random experiences for writers. Is there any way these experiences informed your work over the years?

TS: Cannibal and A Drink Called Paradise, my first two novels, were a direct result of anthropological filmmaking in Sudan and the Cook Islands. “Sally Rides,” a story about being a disk jockey in Nebraska, appears in my latest book of prose, Great American Desert, and one about being the magician’s assistant in Boston, “The Ta-Da Girl,” was published in Brooklyn Rail. “Angel Face” (Brooklyn Rail 2010), ”Zip Drive” (Blackbird 2003), “The Movie Business” (Fourteen Hills 2009) and “Frangipani” (Guernica 2017) were stories from my years as a producer/writer. Oh, yes, and I published a story about working in a bank under an assumed name –  “Royal Bank of Canada” (Witness 2011.) I tend to go deeper in poetry and seldom write directly about a job, but I do occasionally write about subjects I come across researching. Writing’s work too, right?

DH: What other odd experiences didn’t make your bio?

TS: I haven’t written about selling cigarettes from a hole-in-the-wall in Times Square, nor cleaning hotel rooms, nor being a legal secretary, but I have recently drafted a story about being a nineteen-year-old rare manuscript curator for McGill while selling roses at night in Old Montreal wearing a black cape.

DH: You’ve done work in opera and film-making too. I’d love to hear more about those projects, how they came about, and how you think they relate to your writing.

TS: Writing a libretto seems to me a natural adjunct to thinking about poetry in public. Having to key speech to song rhythms and the occasional rhyme helped me think about everyday speech performance. Having singers take on my actual words was very thrilling, even more than actors. After all, you’re always reading your work out loud, you’ve heard it, but never sung! I’ve now got a commission to write a libretto about Josephine Baker that I’m quite excited about. With regard to filmmaking, I learned the basics as an undergraduate, having earned a double major in studio art and creative writing. A career of sorts gradually evolved because I was good at grantwriting (now there’s a job that’s hard to make interesting in a short story!) mostly in anthropological filmmaking, and then, while producing the Voices & Visions PBS series, I discovered video art. I love having control of the whole production and have made fifteen shorts that have won awards. I am looking forward to making one for Treason.

DH: What does a life of quarantine on a houseboat look like? It seems so different from my inner-city lock-down life. I’m fascinated.

TS: When we first arrived in Canada, we were confined to the houseboat’s 600 square feet. We had no backyard where we could run in place, or city streets to prowl at night. Anyone caught out of quarantine here is liable for a $750,000 fine. Believe me, when you live on a wharf, everybody knows where you are. So there was a lot of pacing  (10 paces one way, 10 back) inside for two solid weeks. Remind me not to be convicted of anything that could land me in solitary.

DH: What advice do you have for writers starting out their careers? What about those of us mid-career writers?

TS: Grace Paley gave me an important tip at the beginning of my career, when I was wearing a Snuggli stuffed with my firstborn: Low rent. 

What is mid-career? My age was mid-career for Stanley Kunitz! Anyway, buck up. The process is what you get out of it. Those moments of a dopamine high when you are deeply engaged are the best.

DH: What is a favorite writing assignment for students?

TS: Ten minutes of free-writing. So simple, so effective. It’s like those worry dolls you are supposed to confess to, then put under your pillow to solve the problems you’ve told it. Just put your choice of obtuse character or fragment of stuck poem at the top of the page and free associate for the full ten minutes. Something good will arrive. Everything you will ever deeply know is already in your head.

DH: What poets would you recommend for us?

TS: Oy vey, as they say in my lower east side neighborhood. What a question. Okay, so Caroline Knox, Maureen Seaton, Stephanie Strickland are my three contemporary Musketeers, but I adore the work of Latasha Nevada Diggs and Rodrigo Toscano. John Beer and Virginia Konchan are also very interesting. I’ve just read Karla Kelsey’s wonderful book-about-to-come-out, Blood Feather. The New Zealander Tusiata Avia. I was just part of the terrific James River Writers Conference and Porsha Olayiwola was extraordinary.


The author of 19 books of poetry, fiction, memoir, biography, and translation, Terese Svoboda will publish her eighth book of poetry, Theatrix: Play Poems (Anhinga Press) in 2021. Anything That Burns You: A Portrait of Lola Ridge, Radical Poet appeared in paper in 2018, and Great American Desert, a book of stories, in 2019. A Guggenheim fellow, she has been awarded the Bobst Prize in fiction, the Iowa Prize for poetry, and NEH grant for translation, the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, a Jerome Foundation prize for video, the O. Henry Award for the short story, and a Pushcart Prize for the essay. Her opera WET premiered at L.A.’s Disney Hall. “Terese Svoboda is one of those writers you would be tempted to read regardless of the setting or the period or the plot or even the genre.”—Bloomsbury Review.

Danielle Hanson is the author of Fraying Edge of Sky (Codhill Press Poetry Prize, 2018) and Ambushing Water (Brick Road Poetry Press, 2017). Her work has appeared in over 80 journals, won the Vi Gale Award from Hubbub, was Finalist for 2018 Georgia Author of the Year Award and was nominated for several Pushcarts and Best of the Nets. She is Poetry Editor for Doubleback Books, and is on the staff of the Atlanta Review. Her poetry has been the basis for visual art included in the exhibit EVERLASTING BLOOM at the Hambidge Center Art Gallery, and Haunting the Wrong House, a puppet show at the Center for Puppetry Arts. More about her at daniellejhanson.com.

Sundress Reads: A Review of The Long Way Home

In this remarkable full-length collection of stories, The Long Way Home, Michael Chin gives us an almost phone-gallery-like glimpse into the world of professional wrestling. These stories describe violence and love in the same breath, debunking the myths of masculinity around these spaces, and unveil a whole world of possibilities (or not) for the reader. There is a humanization, almost, of the world that seems to deny it to its occupants.

Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and currently serves as Assistant Professor in Residence for the Honors College of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas where he teaches courses in creative writing, rhetoric and composition, fragmented narratives and popular culture. He has been writing about the wrestling space over the last decade or so, both as a weekly pro wrestling columnist for 411mania.com and as a regular contributor of lists and opinion pieces to TheSportster and Sportskeeda. He is also the author of two wrestling-centric hybrid chapbooks, Autopsy and Everything After and The Leo Burke Finish and two full-length books, Circus Folk and You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue. His debut novel My Grandfather’s an Immigrant and So Is Yours is forthcoming in 2021 from Cowboy Jamboree Press. His writing has been published and is forthcoming in around 200 publications including The Normal School, Passages North, Barrelhouse, Hobart, Hot Metal Bridge, Iron Horse Literary Review, Front Porch Journal, Bellevue Literary Review, Prairie Schooner online, Waccamaw, and Word Riot.

This book is a peek into the elements that chart and construct the space of a professional wrestler, diving deep, even with its short pieces, into understanding and uncovering the emotional and often hidden/unseen aspects of professional wrestling. Its three parts combine fact and fiction to carefully explore a human and sensitive reading of the violence and the awe that the image of wrestling is often assigned. The intricate details force the reader head-on into the universe and witness their lives, almost like a behind-the-scenes telling. Through its masterful articulation, it brings the reader very close to the characters in the book, especially with the usage of the I in the first and the third part, and the theme of competing against one’s own parent in the space of your work in the second. The stories themselves are not more than two to three pages, and yet they both set up the excitement of what’s coming next and give off the aroma of a larger narrative that binds these stories together. 

In this light, it is also interesting to note that Chin chooses not to explore the art of wrestling, but the artists—the wrestlers—themselves. The stories focus very closely on character building, and that is also indeed what takes the story forward, in all three sections of the book, staying true to the genre of literary fiction. It juxtaposes multiple spaces together to construct a single story: home, love, sex, art and the politics of identity as one navigates these complexities, something most narratives of professional wrestling miss out on. The close exploration also prompts one to move beyond the toxic gender attributes assigned to wrestlers, and allows for the space to examine (and perhaps debunk) these traits in the characters. It complicates, in a new and good way, the identity of a professional wrestler.

The usage of the personal in the stories, both through the “I” and the story of Emma who is up against her legendary mother in the second part, is also what politicizes the theme of violence in this book. The book urges us to look closer at the violence and discover the vast sea of other factors that underlie the construction of these spaces. What it does here is two-fold: one, it makes accessible a space that is not talked about in the rawness that Chin does, and two, offers a lesson that perhaps, one should always take a step back and carefully assess something before painting a picture of it. In a world of social media where one can get easily swayed, and in a world where politicians use pathos to draw in millions of people to their fascist policies, Chin encourages the reader with his own prose to unlearn and look deeply into themselves beyond their privilege. His text, therefore, is representative not just of professional wrestling, but of ways to understand the world. 

The Long Way Home is therefore a must read, especially those who are looking for something new and inspiring.


Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.

Interview with Rebeca C. Rivera-Robayo

Sundress Publications is excited to announce that Rebeca C. Rivera-Robayo has joined our Editorial Board as an Assistant Editor. Editorial intern Emmalee Hagarman sat down with Rivera-Robayo to discuss her hopes and plans for the new role.

Emmalee Hagarman: What are you most looking forward to in your new role at Sundress?

Rebecca C. Rivera-Robayo: When I was offered my role at Sundress, the first thought that came to mind was that I would get to read poetry, which I find very exciting. I am always searching for different writers and pieces to show my students and hoard for myself.

EH: Can you speak a little bit about your book, City Doodles, and the type of poetry you write?

RRR: This collection was inspired primarily by my travels in New York City. I religiously used the city’s public transportation and used the time traveling to write, read, listen to music, or observe. I wanted to put together all of the pieces written in the dark tunnels of the city or were inspired by the experiences I had. Quite frankly, this was during a time in my career in which I felt in-tune with poetry. That was an even more excellent motivator to publish a collection that I enjoyed writing and that I had ultimate ownership over.

EH: What was the most interesting part about working for New York Minute Magazine?

RRR: New York Minute Magazine is a volunteer-run online publication that is centered on city living. During my time there, I enjoyed writing their book reviews. I felt like I could introduce readers to different writers and subject-matters, and it gave me an outlet to read more books, which I never get tired of doing.

EH: As an English professor, do you have a favorite writing prompt that you’ve assigned to your students?

RRR: Writing prompts are tricky; some semesters students love them, and other times students find them dreadful. However, the one assignment that I always give towards the end of the semester is a research assignment that requires students to write on one topic they see as socially relevant. This kind of thinking helps students assess what is happening in their geographical locations or even investigate a branch of their major or career. Over the years, I have been privileged to read papers from students who are genuinely passionate about making some kind of change in their communities, which is the best part of being a teacher.

EH: Do you have any current projects that you’re working on?

RRR: This year, my main goal is to finish my dissertation; it’s the cloud over my parade, so to say. Aside from that, for a few years now, I have been writing pieces of a memoir. Writing a collection of recollections and experiences will be a long and incredible experience; I can’t wait.

EH: When did your interest in photography and journalism begin?

RRR: My interest in photography did not start until I met my husband, who is a photographer. Early on in our relationship, he would drag me to exhibits, conventions, events, or anything that had an image on display. A lot of what I know about capturing a moment is taken from his teachings and my observations. As for journalism, I can’t say that I ever considered writing for a newspaper until I wrote my first piece, a little story about a race in the Bronx. When my family moved to Sullivan County, NY, and I started writing for the local paper, my interests peeked because local news is vital to small and rural communities. Sadly, many people do not get involved or care to know what is happening in their towns, villages, or hamlets. Writing stories and attending events and meetings helped me to be more engaged.

EH: As an editor, what will you be looking for in manuscripts submitted to Sundress?

RRR: Emotions and thought processes generally move the gauge that I rule by. I regularly ask, “Why?” It’s a question that forces me to analyze what is in front of me. This question is followed by other questions, more thoughts, and a deeper connection. As a result, I hope that when I read a manuscript and through a lengthy self-induced Q&A session, I can provide an assessment that is both honest and trustworthy.

EH: How do you balance your different roles as a professor, editor, writer, reporter, etc.?

RRR: This morning, a student asked me this very question, and it made me chuckle. I rarely see myself as being able to balance things. I prefer to see it as managing things day-by-day. The pandemic has really uprooted all sense of normalcy, and our home is no different. My husband and I are still adapting and have tried to be flexible and forgiving towards ourselves and each other. Every morning, I make a mental note of all the things that need to be done within that day, fully aware that not everything will be done and accept that fact. However, the one thing that has helped us remember when things are due is a shared calendar.


Rebeca C. Rivera-Robayo is a writer and poet living in upstate New York. She graduated in 2008 with a B.A. in Creative Writing from Hunter College and in 2014 with an M.A. in Literature from Brooklyn College. Her first chapbook, City Doodles, was published in 2011. She was lead editor and contributing writer at New York Minute Magazine and a freelance journalist for The Bronx Times and the Sullivan County Democrat. She is currently a full-time faculty member at SUNY Orange and is completing her doctoral degree at Drew University.

Emmalee Hagarman earned her MFA in poetry at The Ohio State University, where she served as poetry editor of The Journal. Recently her work was selected by Kenyatta Rogers to receive the Academy of American Poets Award/The Arthur Rense Prize, and also selected by Ruth Awad to receive the Helen Earnhart Harley Fellowship in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Waxwing, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Laurel Review, among others.

Lyric Essentials: Madeleine Barnes Reads Michelle Maher

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week Madeleine Barnes reads poetry from Michelle Maher and discusses maternal lineage, relationships, and inspiration. Thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: You were eager for the opportunity to share Michelle Maher’s poetry with our readers. Can you share why that is?

Madeleine Barnes: Michelle Maher is my mother! It’s a privilege to know her through her poems. I admire her as a person and an artist. In the poem “For My Mother,” May Sarton writes: “Today I remember / The creator, / The lion-hearted.” Sarton honors her mother as creator, committing her artistry and courage to memory. My mother is the lion-hearted woman who gave my sisters and me life, andthe author of an incredible debut poetry collection, Bright Air Settling Around Us (Main Street Rag, April 2020). When I was growing up, I don’t think I appreciated how much creative energy goes into motherhood, and how difficult it is to make time for writing while raising kids and working full-time. I don’t know how she ever slept. So it was really exciting when our first books were picked up for publication around the same time last year.

She’s not on social media and she’s averse to self-promotion, but her writing makes an impact on people. I want her work to reach as many people as possible because there’s so much we can learn from it. A few years ago, Toi Derricotte selected one of her poems as the winner of the Patricia Dobler Poetry Award. At the award reading, I had this experience where I both could and couldn’t believe the reader was my mother—her poems are a heartbeat. Her voice is the first poem I ever heard. In her work, I recognize the marker of poetry: a life not only lived, but deeply felt. She taught me that our legacy is who we love, who we support, and the meaning we make out of our lives.

Madeleine Barnes reads “To Return is to Carry” by Michelle Maher

EH: In our emails, you expressed the difficulty in choosing just a few poems of Maher’s to read for us–how and why did you end up reading the poems that you did?

MB: In the end I chose poems that ask difficult questions and address topics like grief. Her poems have the power to help a lot of people. “What would it mean to see with the eyes / of a woman recently returned from the dead?” she writes in “To Return is to Carry.” The speaker’s vision is a “flame that sears away everything inconsequential.” When we’re confronted with mortality, what truly matters rises to the surface. “To return is to carry a thirst so deep it seems like grief,” she writes. This line helps me recognize how loving life and loving the world is similar to complicated grief. What will outlast us? What would it be like to come back from the dead? A man walks past the woman and ignores her, assuming that she has nothing to offer him. My mother’s poetry honors people who are overlooked, and people who can’t do anything for us. The poem closes with the repeated question, “What lasts? What lasts?” It’s a question that all of us have to face, and the answer depends on the individual.

“Deep Blue Bowl” is a lesson in grief. After someone we love dies, we still feel their presence everywhere. This poem does something important—it addresses an incredulousness that can accompany grief. When the speaker sees an image of her mother, she senses that she’s is happy in the afterlife, and this feels upsetting. “Really? I want to say. / You left me with boxes of photos / and no one to call who will be interested / in my day, down to its tiniest detail. / I want to be somebody’s child again.” I feel anguish reading these lines. She captures how hard it is to feel left behind after someone so integral to your life dies. How could they leave us? Don’t they know how much we miss them? Even if we sense that they’re okay, we might selfishly wish they were still with us. I’ve read a lot of wonderful poems about grief, but to me, this one is stands out because it captures a moment in the grieving process that we don’t talk about enough, and it’s related to anger. The pain we feel over someone’s absence is directly proportionate to the amount of love we feel for them. The image of the deep blue bowl, and the feeling of being under something cosmic and heavenly, is so powerful.

Madeleine Barnes reads “Deep Blue Bowl” by Michelle Maher

EH: You and your mother write, collaborate and create together – even writing about each other and connecting familial threads throughout one another’s poetry. What positive impact do you think you and your mother have on the writing community as a writer’s family of women?

MB:
My relationship with my mother as a poet is one that is founded on love and joy in each other’s accomplishments. She always rejoiced in my successes, and this showed me how to celebrate others. Now that I’m an adult, we’re artistic peers and collaborators. We’ve gone through hard times, and we’re not perfect in any way, but there’s a fundamental love and respect that seeps through. Our first community is our immediate family, and hopefully we carry collaboration and support into the wider world. We made a decision a long time ago to always have each other’s backs and support one another no matter what, because living any other way would be intolerable. It’s not a rivalry or a zero-sum game where “whatever you have takes away from what I have.” That mindset is extremely destructive. She says it would be strange to compete with me—she doesn’t see that as her role as a parent. We both had graduate school experiences where writers tried to tear each other down, and that competitive mindset is toxic. It destroys mutual health and friendships and support systems and love. So, we make the choice to continually lift each other up, knowing that support, encouragement, and community is what lasts.

She recently told me that she’s never been to a funeral where people say, “Oh, this person won this and that prestigious award.” What they remember is what that person contributed, who they loved, who they supported, and what meaning they made from their life. I think there’s sometimes a valorization of selfishness in art—we’re taught that it’s commendable if you put your art above how you treat people, and selfishness is somehow complex and admirable—she and I are both tired of that, especially under our current administration. We prioritize art and how we treat others, and we don’t buy into the scarcity mindset. We don’t agree on everything, but we never look at each other in a way that’s disappointed or stressed out. A win for her is a win for me. We want to lift other people up, too!

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

MB: We’re mulling over the idea of a collaborative chapbook—poems in response to each other, and in response to the urgencies of this extraordinary time that we’re living through. Our goal is to have it ready to submit by summer 2021.


Michelle Maher is is a professor of English at La Roche College and the author of the poetry collection Bright Air Settling Around Us. Her work has appeared in the journals Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Chautauqua Literary JournalThe Georgetown ReviewAtlanta ReviewU.S. 1 Worksheets, and others. Her poem, “At the Brera, Milan” won the 2012 Patricia Dobler Poetry Award, a national contest sponsored by Carlow University.

Further reading:

Purchase Maher’s debut poetry collection Bright Air Settling Around Us from Main Street Rag.
Read more of Maher’s poetry featured in Cordella Magazine.
Read this interview with Maher in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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

Further reading:

Purchase Barnes’ collection You Do Not Have to Be Good.
Read an interview with Barnes and Maher in The Brooklyn Review.
Check out Barnes’ feature in Sundress Publications’ The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed series.

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


Project Bookshelf with SAFTA Intern Nora Walsh-Battle

I don’t own a physical bookshelf. Not even a cluster of milk crates stacked together, or one of those cheap wire monstrosities that warp spines and dent pages so thoroughly you might as well have just sent your books through the dryer. No bookshelf, no windowsill where even a perpetually closed pane will still lead to some water damage. And I can’t see myself changing that any time soon, so target someone else with your ads, IKEA–except the oversized stuffed animals, particularly the DJUNGELSKOG. I would like very much to keep seeing those ads, thank you.

Books have always been an essential part of my life, from my childhood where I spent hours tied up in titles I had no intention of buying in the cafe of my local, now-defunct Borders Bookstore to my college years, where I majored in English but more often than not found myself ignoring assigned coursework for the delights of the campus library’s ‘New Releases’ shelf. My main rebellion of undergrad was beginning to acquire books that I had only read once or sometimes hadn’t read at all, judging by cover blurbs or word of mouth alone. Textbooks were a sterling exception to this tendency and I’m proud to say I made it four years only purchasing two, renting less than a dozen. 

When I explain to people the strict criteria my parents had enforced for acquiring books, they assume this minimalism extends to all aspects of their consumption. This is not the case at all and in almost all other circumstances, my parents could be classified as hoarders. Middle-aged when they had me, their only child, our relationship has always been more like that of a landlord and tenant. My parents had packed our house to the brim by the time I was old enough to want for things and, aware of the impediments this want had caused them, they tried their best to curtail it by limiting my possessions and insisting they stay confined to my bedroom. Avid readers themselves, this aversion to accumulating books seems poignant to me. Like they recognized the escape reading provided and refused to risk it becoming tainted by the very thing I would need to escape from. 

In the years since I’ve been out in the world, my collection of books has grown considerably. Currently, they live against one wall of my room, stacked in two rows that rotate regularly with no variation asserting any aesthetic value that would suggest anything other than laziness on my end. The frontmost contains fresh reads, the books which I acquired unread, and pressing re-reads, the books I keep coming back to. The back row contains volumes I’ve read so many times I don’t find myself needing to reach for them, as well as those I’m hoping to trade in at my local used bookstore. Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex stands as a pillar of the back row, once comfortably in the former category as one of the first books I read upon my exodus from the YA section, but seemingly more and more like the latter following the increasing criticism of its portrayal of intersexuality and the accusations of sexual misconduct against its author. The front row is also home to: the classic Middlemarch which I have many times feigned familiarity with, Spinning, Tillie Walden’s graphic memoir, not one, not two, but three copies of Crush by Richard Siken, all annotated differently with my own marks and those of borrowers, the latest Ottessa Moshfegh novel, and the behemoth Infinite Jest, which after years of derision I aspire to revisit, although it keeps finding its way back to the bottom of the stack every time I unearth it. 

To further complicate this already haphazard system, lately copies of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon (a perennial favorite that catapulted me out of the YA section in the first place and shaped my reading sensibilities for years after), They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us by Hanif Abdurraqib, and Long Live The Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden hopscotch between these subjective designations without objectively, as actual objects, landing in either place, instead waiting dog-eared on my bedside table or splayed open at my workspace, ready to be picked up and penciled with abandon. If this admission has made you raise a hand to your heart in disbelief or concern, I’m sorry! Despite their novelty, I can’t bring myself to regard the books I own with any preciousness. My logic is that I won’t ever be the same as I did in the moment I acquired them or the same as I was before reading, regardless of the impact of the book, so why try to maintain that illusion as far as the pages themselves? 

It’s for this same reason that I’m reluctant to acquire an actual bookshelf. Reluctant to commit myself to owning one more thing I’ll have to be responsible for, and likely fail at, maintaining. As long as my books remain unshelved, I feel like I’m still engaged with them, like my reading list is less like a catalogue and more like a creed, a statement of my belief in the written word’s importance. 

Nora Walsh-Battle is a recovering stand-up comedian currently living and working on an organic farm outside of Asheville while she plans her next move. She is endlessly enraptured by the poetry of Richard Siken, considers Wikipedia to be a primary source, and is a certified Excel pro.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents: October Virtual Reading Series

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is proud to present “A Virtual Reading Series” on October 28th, 2020 from 7-8PM EST on Zoom. Access the event at tiny.utk.edu/sundress. The password is safta.

Tamara J. Madison is a writer, poet, instructor, and editor.  Her critical and creative works have been published in various journals and anthologies. Madison earned a BA from Purdue University and MFA from New England College. She also studied at the University of Strasbourg (France). She is a professor of English and Creative Writing at Valencia College, Orlando, Florida and contributing editor for aaduna, an online adventure with words and images. Madison is the author of Kentucky Curdled(poetry and essay) and Collard County,(fiction).  Her most recent poetry collection is Threed, This Road Not Damascus, published by Trio House Press

Julie Marie Wade teaches in the creative writing program at Florida International University in Miami. She has published 12 collections of poetry and prose, most recently the book-length lyric essay, Just an Ordinary Woman Breathing (The Ohio State University Press, 2020) and the hybrid-forms chapbook, P*R*I*D*E(VCFA/Hunger Mountain, 2020). A winner of the Marie Alexander Poetry Series and the Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir, Wade makes her home in Dania Beach with her spouse Angie Griffin and their two cats.

Robin Gow is a trans poet and young adult author from rural Pennsylvania. They are the author of Our Lady of Perpetual Degeneracy (Tolsun Books) and the chapbook Honeysuckle (Finishing Line Press). Their first young adult novel, A Million Quiet Revolutions is forthcoming in 2022 with FSG. Gow’s poetry has recently been published in POETRY, New Delta Review, and Washington Square Review. Gow received their MFA from Adelphi University where they were also an adjunct instructor. Gow is a managing editor at The Nasiona and MAYDAY magazine.

Project Bookshelf with Social Media Intern Sydney Peay

Photo of a small black bookshelf filled with items and a large mirror on tops

Because I live in a small apartment in Fort Sanders, my bookshelves work to house more than just books. My favorite bookshelf in my apartment is the small black bookshelf that sits in my bedroom, which is approximately 25 percent books, 25 percent altar space, and 50 percent miscellaneous storage.

On the top of the shelf is my altar space. I practice witchcraft, so this space is dedicated to my practice. Most of the items on are symbols of Aphrodite, who I worshipped for the majority of the last year. My witchcraft practice has changed quite a bit with the major changes to my daily life over the past few months, so I plan on redesigning this space soon. My favorite pieces of my altar are this gorgeous mirror that I got for just 8 dollars on Facebook Marketplace, as well as the books I have placed on my altar: The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler, Black Feminist Thought by Patricia Hill Collins, Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown, and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Each of these books has been incredibly formative to my worldview, and I see these women as teachers in many ways, so I gave them a special place on my altar.

Photo of a single shelf of books

Beneath my altar space is the only actual shelf of books in my room. While most of my school books reside in my living room, these are (mostly) books that I was using for my former thesis project, which was interested in the intersection between science fiction depictions of fascism and fascism in American politics. There’s also a few witchy books, as well as my favorite young adult novel series, The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness, which sits on my shelf in hopes of being reread one day soon.

These days, most of my reading is for class. As it turns out, when studying literature is your major, it makes it difficult to read for pleasure. When I do find time for pleasure reading, most of what I read is nonfiction. I started reading nonfiction because I could no longer see myself in the young adult novels that dominate my bookshelf at my parents’ house, but I still can’t quite see myself in fiction for “grown-ups” yet either. Now, I genuinely enjoy reading nonfiction, particularly about social topics such as race, class, and gender, and I hope to one day be able to write my own work of nonfiction if I ever get a handle on my writing style and research interests which are, currently, extremely scattered.

Most of the other items on this shelf are simply things I couldn’t find a better space for on my dedicated storage shelf. However, if the goal of this post is to get to know me, I think it is important to share the massive stack of sketchbooks that resides on the bottom shelf. Back at my parents’ house, I have a box with about eight times more sketchbooks ranging back to my first real sketchbook that I must have gotten around age eight or nine. Art has always been an important part of my life, especially in dark times as it became a meditative practice to illustrate my emotions and cope with stress. I’ve been having trouble finding the motivation to draw since the pandemic started.

The rest of my books reside in my living room, split between a few different shelves and interspersed with my girlfriend’s books. These are mostly school books, but there are a few that I bought for myself back when I could still go to McKay’s every other weekend. They aren’t organized any particular way, which is probably why I can never find my books when I’m looking for them.

I worry that my bookshelves highlight more about the kinds of classes I take than the kind of person I am, but I hope that by sharing the multipurpose space that is my bookshelf, you are able to better understand who I am as a person.


Photo of Sydney Peay

Sydney Peay is a senior studying sociology and English literature at the University of Tennessee. In addition to interning at Sundress Publications, they serve as the social media coordinator for the Voices Out Loud Project, an LGBTQ+ archive of East Tennessee. They are also a student library assistant at Hodges Library, and they hope to pursue a masters of library sciences after they graduate.

Sundress Reads: Magnolia Canopy Otherworld

Erin Carlyle’s debut book of poetry, Magnolia Canopy Otherworld, compels readers to ask themselves where the line between animalistic and humanistic lies. This book shows the blurred lines between human and inhuman, especially in relation to young girls and the objectification of their bodies. 

Carlyle’s poetry beautifully presents growing up as a young girl in the impoverished South during the opioid crisis. These poems, shown through an animalistic and naturalistic lense, seamlessly presents themes of death, womanhood, motherhood, sexuality, and nature. 

The book opens with the quote “Family is family, but even love can’t keep people from eating eachother” by Dorothy Allison. It perfectly sets the tone of the book and constantly floats in the back of the reader’s mind. There are multiple poems within the book about watching parents struggle with  alcohol and opioid addiction as well as connecting with their children. 

The collection consists of three parts, the first one showing the overall themes that will be present in the parts that follow. The majority of them are about the problems women face for simply being women. Carlyle writes “you are on a bed/ he made of other women’s bodies. He tells you not/ to look, but you can’t/ shut your eyes” in her poem titled “Tales.” 

The second part opens with the poem “On the Horizon of Recollection” and shows the reader a soothing image of women in white skirts raising you up from the water, almost like a baptism, but it’s not. “This is not a baptism,/ but a call back to your life after you crawled out of the cave of your mother,/ that old danger.” This is also where the reader’s are introduced to “The Animal” which is a representation of the narrator herself, however the pronouns for The Animal is it/its. The Animal is trying to navigate life and dealing with things such as first blood, sexual awakening, and family trauma.

The majority of part three is about the search of a girl who the narrator had a connection with. This part is the most haunting; the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness reaches out from the page. The book ends with the narrator standing among the dead in the poem “The Afterlife of Women” and they can “smell the oldest/ danger in the air– magnolia on the wind” but their mother calls them home. This theme of motherhood opens the book and closes it. The circularity of motherhood is embraced in this book as well as the hardships and comforts that comes with it. 

These poems are based on the stories of Carlyle, the stories of women Carlyle has known in her life, and the stories of women Carlyle has seen on the news. Carlyle’s poetry of these women, including herself, are raw, uncensored, and unapologetic. It’s real, they’re real, and they need to be heard. They need to be felt. 

Magnolia Canopy Otherworld magnificently shows the importance of place. The poetry is sharp in the right places, always ready to strike and expose the gory interior when necessary. The collection is a delightful and impactful read, the beauty of the poems perfectly juxtaposes with the darkness of the content. I highly recommend this book, especially to those who understand the animalistic tendencies of men. 

Magnolia Canopy Otherworld is available at Driftwood Press


Bethany Milholland is a senior at The University of Evansville majoring in Creative Writing. She is the former Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Evansville Review. She is also a former intern for her University’s magazine The Crescent. In her spare time, she enjoys earning a cat’s love and shopping at every thrift store within a thirty-mile radius.

Meet Our New Intern: Mary Sims

There’s something to be said for the lasting impact of childhood fascination. When I was fifteen, my fascination led me to the purchase of my first poetry collection.

Kay Ryan’s The Best of It sat on my lap in my local Barnes & Nobel, cracked open as I scanned through the pages. I still don’t remember exactly what I was looking for when I picked up her collection. I think I had wanted something new—some revolutionary concept I had not found in the marketable fiction I was the target of. I wanted something different yet familiar; I wanted something I didn’t know how to want. And in traveling down that pathway, Ryan’s collection was just the beginning. 

Before this, I hadn’t invested much of my own time into poetry. Instead, I associated the genre with the fond memories I had with my grandmother when she would read Emily Dickinson to me. But even then, I didn’t enjoy Dickinson for her poems so much as the time I could spend together with my grandmother, lying in her bedroom and listening to her read in the Tennessee heat. I was too intimidated by the line breaks and condensed language to read poetry on my own, even if I found it striking. I would sit, soaking up the sun and watching shadows of trees on the walls, and think, what makes poetry so different? I couldn’t put my intrigue into words. 

At fifteen, I still didn’t have the answer. I don’t remember if I was even conscious of that same question when I picked up Ryan’s collection. I was simply struck by the want of something new, the denied childhood closure of understanding that I still hadn’t found. I spent a week reading through her collection before something clicked and my spiral into poetry began.

Ryan led into Mary Oliver who led into Jamaica Kincaid, leading then into other contemporary poets like Franny Choi and Kaveh Akbar. I spent the rest of high school consuming any collections I could get my hands on; I thrived off of local second-hand bookshops and their mixed collections of renown and local poets. I read so much I felt I had to start writing just to have a place to put it all down. 

At eighteen, I entered college and became involved in my local literary community. I joined literary clubs and attended public readings. I got involved with book festivals to promote others as well as present my own work; I took a poetry workshop class that changed my life for the better.

I started submitting to journals and applying to open editor positions for magazines. Currently, I co-run a poetry club and work as a poetry editor for Waymark Literary Magazine, a magazine I joined with my friends. My fascination with poetry as a child, the intimidation I felt from the genre, manifested into one of my favorite things. The opportunities and the friends I have gained from my impulsive decision to pick up Kay Ryan’s book is rooted in my unanswered childhood fascination. 

At the very beginning of 2020—years after I had picked up my copy of The Best of It—I would get the privilege of attending one of Kaveh Akbar’s lectures, during which my childhood question would once again come up: What makes poetry so different? I would realize, through the opportunities and events that had led me here, that there is no single, solid answer. That the “difference” I had always associated with the genre was just another way of alienating an art form that seeks to understand as well as communicate.

Poetry is not something that begs a consistent understanding of itself but rather a genre that thrives off its ability to empathize and to feel, a form that is remarkable because it surpasses the barriers of language instead of adhering to them. I would listen, learn, and speak with the poets around me, and I would find that poetry is not a method of intimidation but a gift of communication attempting to bridge the ever-present gap between each of us.

This gift has led me down many wonderful pathways, but I am especially thankful to have been directed to this one: where I am more than happy to work for Sundress Publications and to contribute back to the community that has kindly given so much to me.


Mary Sims is an undergraduate writer working toward her BA in English at Kennesaw State University. She is currently a poetry editor for Waymark Literary Magazine and a former student editor for the Atlanta based magazine Muse/A. Her work has appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Poetry Annals, Peach Mag, and more. She can often be found filling her shelves with poetry collections, roaming antique stores, or laughing over raspberry cappuccinos with friends.

Sundress Publications Staff to Present at The Plot Summit: Escape the Plot Forest

Sundress Publications’ own Megan Cass, Samantha Edmonds, and Saba Syed Razvi will present Surprise, Strangeness, and Story on October 24, 2020 at 3:30 pm EST during The Plot Summit: Escape the Plot Forrest, a virtual fiction writing conference. 

Meagan Cass is Assistant Editor at Sundress Publications and Associate Professor of English at the University of Illinois, Springfield. She won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction for her story, “AcitvAmerica.” Some of her other stories were published in Joyland, DIAGRAM, andMississippi Review, among others. Cass holds an MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College.

Samantha Edmonds, a PhD student in creative writing at the University of Missouri, is Assistant Editor at Sundress Publications. She is the author of the chapbooks Pretty to Think Soand The Space Poet. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in The New York TimesGay MagazineNinth LetterMichigan Quarterly Review, and The Rumpus.

Saba Syed Razvi is Associate Fiction Editor at Sundress Publications and Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Houston. She holds aPhD in Literature & Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. Razvi is the author of In the Crocodile Gardens and heliophobia and several chapbooks, including Limerence & Lux, and Beyond the Harem’s Veil

The Plot Summit is centered around staying confident while writing your first draft, building mystery, developing characters, structuring your tale around revelations, and earning your ending. The final day will include sessions on how to build your audience and market your book. 

Register by Wednesday for a chance to win a FREE all-access pass!

Free registration includes full workshop attendance and replay access for 24 hours. Registrants can purchase a Plot Pass for unlimited replay access.