Transgender & Nonbinary Workshop

For many in the queer and trans community, we wrestle with the idea of ‘self’ on an almost existential level. When you have to question things like sexual/romantic orientation, gender, your childhood, and your name, it can lead one to wonder how much of the “you” is expressed and how much is hidden. It also opens us up to the questions of how that has changed over time and how it may change again since one’s sense of self can be heavily impacted by the queer experience. Even memes and social media posts delve into this kind of search for self and ways to exist outside of social bonds and boundaries.

As many queer folk are drifting farther outward, away from rigidly-defined roles and into a more nebulous sense of being, we want to explore the ways that this search can manifest in writing, whether in telling our own stories or using our story to influence the ways in which we tell others. In this open genre workshop, we will explore the trans and nonbinary identity and the ways in which it can inform our creative writing.

This workshop will be led by Gene Jeter and Nik Buhler on January 22nd, 6-7PM in Hodges Library Room 252 on the campus of the University of Tennessee. This event is free and welcome to the public.

Gene Jeter is a writer and photographer in Knoxville, TN. You’ll usually find him by a campfire with a beer in hand. (Pronouns: he/him or they/them)

Nik Buhler is a queer, Appalachian native living in Knoxville, Tennessee. Their work has been featured in Phoenix Literary Arts Magazine, Crab    Fat Magazine, and Apogee Journal. As Writer-in-Residence at the Sundress Academy for the Arts, Buhler can be always be found writing new poems and chasing chickens around the coop.

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is writers residency that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers in all genres including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, journalism, academic writing, playwriting, and more. All are guided by experienced  instructors from a variety of creative disciplines who are dedicated to cultivating the literary arts in East Tennessee.

Interview with Karen Craigo, Poet Laureate of Missouri

Missouri’s new Poet Laureate and Sundress Publications author Karen Craigo took out some time to talk with Sundress Editorial Intern, Jacquelyn Scott about the meaning of literary citizenship, the next steps for literacy, and the value of aiming high.

Jacquelyn Scott: What does it mean to you to be the Poet Laureate of Missouri?

Karen Craigo: I am over-the-moon delighted to be named to this position. A poet laureate is sort of a cheerleader, or maybe even an evangelist, for poetry, and that’s something I’ve always done anyway as a writer, teacher, and editor. This recognition, though? It’s big. I’ve been unabashedly telling everybody. The bank teller may not be excited that I’m a poet, but when I explain that I’m sort of the official poet of Missouri, well … OK, she’s not excited about that, either, but it feels good to crow about it.

JS: What aspect of being the Poet Laureate are you most looking forward to and why?

KC: In order to be selected as Poet Laureate, I submitted a batch of poems, but I also described a project I would pursue during my two years in office — a period that overlaps the start of our bicentennial year in the state, as it turns out! My project is called “The News From Poetry,” and it comes from those famous lines from the William Carlos Williams poem, “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”:

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
 yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

I’m a newsperson — specifically, I’m the editor and general manager of a small Missouri weekly newspaper, The Marshfield Mail, and this verse has always meant a great deal to me. At any rate, my plan is to get the news from every section of Missouri — all 114 counties, plus St. Louis, which is its own thing, so 115 entities — and publish them weekly on a blog. Some counties are no-brainers — I’m in the mid-sized city of Springfield, in Greene County, Missouri, and we have a lot of poets, as does Jackson County, where Kansas City, Missouri, is located, or Boone County, which is home to Columbia and the University of Missouri. But what’s the scene like in, say Daviess or Grundy County? I have no idea … yet. My plan is to find the poets, and if I can’t find them, I’ll go there myself and train them up. This is going to be the best adventure.

JS: You once said that even though it’s important, writing sucks at a person’s energy, spirit, and happiness. What keeps you writing?

KC: You’re referring to writing, which completely sucks eggs. But what keeps me in the game is having written. There is absolutely no finer feeling than looking at a poem that says exactly what you wanted to express, or that says something you didn’t have the good sense to want to express, but that the process of writing just offered up as a gift, as it does sometimes.

Writing is a spiritual activity for me. It’s meditation. It clarifies and fulfills me. Cranking out the words can really hurt sometimes, though.

JS: Do you think someone should have to work to “solve” a poem?

KC: That’s a fascinating question, and I don’t quite know what to think about it. I’ve had writing challenges that required solutions — how to link one idea to another, how to get the lineation or the sonics where I want them to be. I’m going to say no, though — poems are not problems, and even when you’re puzzling over a compositional matter — say, how to get a repetition to fit in the third line of the fourth stanza of a sestina, I wouldn’t say we’re solving the poem.

Now, with that being said, I think all poems are arguments, and arguments are similar to problems — if we don’t solve them, we at least try to resolve them. But poetry itself is a solution for me. It helps me to work things out; it gives me comfort when I need it. I often find that poems communicate with me in a very intimate way, and a very literal one, too. If I come to the page with trouble, I leave with a kind of peace. You could say that my difficulty (or pain, or muddled thinking) dissolves, so maybe there’s that kind of solution — what I’m puzzling over is taken in, dissolved into the hot soup of the larger world.

JS: Do you want each of your publications to stand alone, or do you want to build a bigger opus for your work that yields connections between books?

KC: I’m not quite that calculated in my work — or I’m not entirely conscious of how I feel about this. I would be happy if people knew that each book was from the same consciousness, but it’s good when we allow ourselves to change and grow, too. As for an exact link, where one book leads into another — wouldn’t that be a fascinating way to work? But I don’t think I have the right kind of attention span for that.

JS: In an interview for Passing Through Humansville (Sundress Publications, 2018), you mentioned this idea of authors “serving the reader.” Could you speak to that a little more? Is this connection of service related to your new position as Poet Laureate?

 KC: Although all of my answers so far have revealed that writing is very personal for me, the fact is, I don’t think a piece of writing is fully done until it has an audience. Along those lines, I don’t think that as the poet I’m the sole authority on the work I make. It’s a circuit that isn’t complete until a connection is made. Maybe poetry keeps me grounded (if we’re to continue the electrical metaphor), but these utterances sort of ask for an audience. In connecting with readers, we offer our way of looking at things, and we have a chance of expanding their view or helping them to see that they’re not alone in feeling as they do. This connection is how we serve.

The laureate position is about service. I’m most interested in reaching those people who don’t have a relationship with poetry at all (or don’t realize that they do). I would like to demonstrate to people how reading and writing poetry can make for a more empathetic and loving citizen. We can use that no matter where we are — Missouri, Tennessee, the moon ….

JS: How has your writing changed since your first publication?

KC: I think it’s getting tighter. Poetry used to happen for me at the revision stage; I would recopy a poem over and over, and each time I did, it would improve, until it didn’t — and that’s when I would stop revising. So much of that happens during the initial draft now. I work things out as I go now. My poems tend to be small, so sometimes they need very little revision at all. (I don’t mean every reader will automatically love them, of course — I mean that they say what I want them to say in the best way I can say it.)

I used to worry that I covered repetitive themes — motherhood, money, the spirit, these were kind of my beat — but then I realized that it was OK to have small obsessions, and that the change in my thinking over the years will result in different sorts of poems. Honestly, I’m just easier on myself these days. I like who I am, and that includes who I am as a poet. I continue to write what comes and do my best with it, and that’s all anyone can ask me to do.

JS: How has your literary citizenship shaped who you are as a writer?

KC: Hmm. Again, it’s such a great question. These are drinks-at-the-bar-with-friends questions, though — the kind you debate all through the evening and change positions on four times as your appreciation for the whole writing world deepens. As an interview for publication, I’m mindful that the answer I give right now might be different on a different day, but I’m going to take a stab at it.

Citizenship implies a nation of some sort, doesn’t it? I picture a whole hidden country for writers — like Wakanda, but with the Starbucks Okoye envisioned. Citizenship — coming together with civility and common purpose — has benefits. It builds community, it reminds us to be civil, it sparks friendly competition. But writing happens alone. Even if we go to a coffee shop, we’re really not in the coffee shop if we’re deep in our own mind. That’s an untouchable space.

But for some reason, I’ve always been drawn to the community of writers, and as I’ve advanced in my craft, I’ve felt even more like reaching out — being a sounding board or even a mentor to those who want one, encouraging emerging voices, holding publishers to accountability standards.

I don’t think community has shaped my writing much, but I do think it has shaped me in my humanness. It’s nice not to be in this alone, and it’s especially nice to introduce newcomers to the writing I love so much.

JS: Once the US has reached the ideal of 100% literacy, do we redefine what we’re reaching for? Do we (or should we) redefine literacy to something more than just the ability to read?

KC: I do think literacy encompasses more than reading. There’s the idea of cultural literacy, of course; when we stare stupidly at the mention of some musician we’ve never heard of — Lil Tjay or Filmore (rising stars I’ve never heard of, in rap and country, respectively, but TOTALLY just Googled) — we’re failing in that area, aren’t we? There’s something missing from our education. We can’t know everything but knowing a little helps us to relate to one another.

The U.S. won’t reach 100 percent literacy, because some people can’t learn to read — babies, for instance. People with dementia. People with severe processing disorders. Or, hell, people who don’t want to learn to read. For me, literacy is important; books are a source of joy. But I’m much more interested in human connection, and that requires a broader literacy than just sounding out letters.

JS: What advice do you have for poets who are looking to publish for the first time?

KC: I think it’s really great to start close to home — your campus literary journal, a local micropress, that kind of thing. This builds that community we were talking about before. I also think it’s important not to publish before you have a body of work you can be permanently proud of. If you’re going to look at today’s work in 10 years and want to change your name to distance yourself from it, that’s probably an indication that publishing is premature. (The thing is, we don’t know what’s going to trigger our gag reflex IN THE YEAR 2030 … so, that’s a tough call.)

Some nuts-and-bolts suggestions: Aim high, even aim above your head a few times, just to get the lay of the land. You can start at prestigious journals and then adjust downward after some rejections, but don’t start at the bottom. If you know they’ll accept your work, where’s the fun in that?

Also, when you’re starting out, simultaneously submit a lot (taking care to aim for similar publications and to go with the first acceptance to reach you, while swiftly withdrawing work that finds a home). As you being to find homes for your work, continue to simultaneously submit, but send poems to three journals, maybe, instead of a dozen. Once you do really well, you won’t want to simultaneously submit any longer, I’ll bet — it’s good incentive to write more, which is where your energy should be anyway.

Most importantly? Don’t let publishing break you. The writing is the important part. I work on publishing activities when I’m feeling a little stuck.

JS: What advice do you have for poets who are struggling with complicated or difficult-to-write images?

KC: Maybe just to plug on through? Sometimes I remind myself that no one else ever has to see the things I’m writing, so it gives me permission to be really honest and raw. Spoiler alert: Once I like a poem, I’m sharing, even if it contains my Gmail password, my debit card PIN, my Social Security number, my secret meatloaf recipe, a confession of that thing I did ….

JS: What books or authors have you read that you think are important?

KC: Everything you read has value. This is a foundational belief that everyone in my family shares. It doesn’t matter what you pick up — shampoo bottle, pornographic magazine, children’s picture book, Moby-Dick; that text is going to teach you something. This is something my parents always said, and stuck to, no matter how much I challenged them.

I love the poetry collection The Wild Iris by Louise Glück. If you read it, it has a narrative arc delivered in the voices of flowers interspersed with prayers. I aspire to such vision, but it seems a ways off. I could name a lot of other influential poetry books, but one of my habits is to go on reading jags where I finish a poetry book a day (and often blog about it or review it somewhere). That’s important — exposing yourself to a lot of different voices. What I’m reading right now (any right now) exerts the most influence on me, like a magnet.

JS: What are you working on right now?

KC: I recently lost my ex-husband to suicide. We were extremely close friends, though he lived in Maine; we talked every day, and he just delighted me. I miss him so much, and I’m working through that with poetry a little bit. It’s odd work for me. It sort of lacks artifice, and the lineation is very chaotic and different. Incidentally, I had written the saddest, loneliest portraits of him a couple of months before he died. I think I’ve stumbled into a collection, or I’m stumbling still.

Grief
by Karen Craigo

Don’t worry—I still move
through the world. At first
I doubted I could stir,
could raise myself up
on an elbow to sip
a bit of broth.
But I’m fine. I go
to the store, read the back
of the cereal box, notice
each time the furnace kicks on.
What I mean is
I take things in. Just today
I saw where some species of bat
hibernate through the cold,
but others migrate. That’s right.
You figure you’re looking
at birds in flight,
but they’re so much darker,
so much more upside-down.

Purchase your copy of Passing Through Humansville and No More Milk
at the Sundress store!


Karen Craigo is the author of two Sundress Publications titles, No More Milk (2016) and Passing Through Humansville (2018). She is also the author of Escaped Housewife Tries Hard to Blend In (forthcoming from Tolson Books, 2018), and three chapbooks. She is the editor of a weekly newspaper, The Marshfield (Missouri) Mail, and she maintains Better View of the Moon, a blog on writing and creativity. She lives in Springfield, Missouri.

Jacquelyn Scott is a current MFA candidate at The University of Tennessee. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Blue Mountain Review, december mag, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and The Write Launch. Find her on a hiking trail or on Twitter @JacquelynLScott.


Sundress Announces the Eleventh Episode of Shitty First Drafts

In episode 11 of Shitty First Drafts, Stephanie and Brynn talk with poet and PhD candidate Chloe Hanson about her poems “Drowning” and “Collected,” both of which deal with literary metaphor and darker subject matter.

Chloe discusses how her dissertation draws upon mythic tradition to talk about eco-feminism, and how prompts have helped her continue to generate work for the project, though she constantly gets excited and distracted by new poem ideas. They chat about what eyeshadow choices are appropriate as a goth kid, the draw of Broadway, and why schools in Kansas have basements. You can find Chloe live-tweeting bad Christmas movies as well as writing and performing music with her husband in her spare time.

Link: https://sfdpodcast.podbean.com/e/episode-011-chloe-hanson/

Chloe Hanson is a PhD candidate at the University of Tennessee. Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Contemporary Verse 2, Pretty OwlArsenic Lobster, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, and Calamus. When she has time, she also loves to write and perform music, drink beer, and play with her dogs.


January Sundress Reading Series

The Sundress Academy for the Arts will be hosting our January reading featuring poets Darren C. Demaree, Erika Eckart, and Nik Buhler. Come enjoy the new year with beer, pretzels, and great poety from these fine readers at 1PM on January 19th at Hexagon Brewing!

Darren C. Demaree is the author of eleven poetry collections, most recently “Emily As Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire”, (June 2019, Harpoon Books).  He is the recipient of a 2018 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, the Louis Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and the Nancy Dew Taylor Award from Emrys Journal.  He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry.  He is currently living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.

“i told my children those junk plums left at the bottom of the grocery bag were not perfect when we put them in the bag but they were on sale and good enough for a family that doesn’t get many plums so now that they are mangled and losing their juice to the bottom of the thin green bag i struggled so mightily to remove from the dispenser” –from [those junk plums]:

Erika Eckart is a mom, writer and high school English teacher, who lives and works just outside Chicago. Her prose poems blur the line between prose and poetry and have appeared in Double Room, Quarter After Eight, Quick Fiction, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Nano Fiction and Quiditty, among others. In 2018, her book of prose poems “the tyranny of heirlooms” was released by Sundress Publications. She is currently writing a novel about a Shire horse based amusement park, a truck stop and a race riot.

Sample: From “The River”

A tumor like melted taffy has soaked into her brain. Little niblets of steel-colored cottage cheese, the hardened ends of old gray play dough. At first her syntax remains, but all the nouns have been replaced by more magical material.  Planet and alien replace house and car. “Did you push the red on the map, for the lemon aliens?” We sit and interpret, trying to gather whatever bits of information we already know. Cancer is river. “Can’t they get this river out of me?” she begs.

Nik Buhler is a queer, Appalachian native living in Knoxville, Tennessee. Their work has appeared in Phoenix Literary Arts Magazine and Crab Fat Magazine. When they are not writing new poems and essays with the help of their cat, Nik can be found at Firefly Farms annoying chicken and sheep into loving them back.

“Well, you’re either a boy or a girl.

You can’t be neither.

I am bound

by elastic wrapped ribs.

I disappear my breasts

when I know the world does not believe

in magic or women

who don’t want to be

Sundress Publications CLOSING for Full-Length Prose Manuscripts

Sundress Publications has been open for submissions of full-length prose manuscripts in all genres. All authors have been invited to submit manuscripts during our reading period, which will soon close on January 15, 2020.

Sundress is particularly interested in prose collections that value genre hybridization, the lyric, flash, strange or fractured narratives, new fiction, experimental work, or work with strong attention to lyricism and language. These collections may be short stories, novellas, essays, memoir, or a mixture thereof.

We are looking for manuscripts of 125-165 double-spaced pages of prose; front matter is not included toward the page count. Individual stories may have been previously published in anthologies, chapbooks, print journals, online journals, etc., but cannot have appeared in any full-length collection, including self-published collections. Manuscripts translated from another language will not be accepted. Simultaneous submissions are fine, but we ask that authors notify us immediately if their work has been accepted elsewhere.

The reading fee is $15 per manuscript, though the fee will be waived for entrants who purchase or pre-order any Sundress title or broadside. Authors may submit as many manuscripts as they would like, provided that each is accompanied by a separate reading fee or purchase/pre-order. We will also accept nominations for entrants, provided the nominating person either pays the reading fee or makes a qualifying purchase. Entrants and nominators can place book orders or pay submission fees in our store.

All manuscripts will be read by members of our editorial board, and we will choose one manuscript for publication in late 2020. We strive to further our commitment to diversity and seek to encounter as many unique and important voices as possible. We are actively seeking collections from writers of color, trans and nonbinary writers, writers with disabilities, and others whose voices are underrepresented in literary publishing. Selected manuscripts will be offered a standard publication contract, which includes 25 copies of the published book, as well as any additional copies at cost.

To submit, forward the qualifying Sundress store receipt for submission fee or book purchase to sundresspublications@gmail.com, and attach a 20-35 page sample of the manuscript (DOC, DOCX, or PDF). The sample should include the author’s name and an acknowledgments page. The sample may include one story or a number of shorter stories. After our initial selection process, semi-finalists will be asked to send the full collection.

Be sure to note both the author’s name and the title of the manuscript in the subject line of the email. For those nominating others, please include the name of the nominee as well as an email address where we can reach the nominee and we will solicit the manuscript directly.


A 501(c)3 non-profit literary press collective founded in 2000, Sundress Publications is an entirely volunteer-run press that publishes chapbooks and full-length collections in both print and digital formats, and hosts numerous literary journals, an online reading series, and the Best of the Net Anthology.

Website: www.sundresspublications.com  Facebook: sundresspublications
Email: sundresspublications@gmail.com  Twitter: @SundressPub

Sundress Announcement: CookBook is Back!

On the first relaunched episode of CookBook, airing December 31st, poet Barbara Fant visits CookBook host Darren C. Demaree to make oatmeal raisin cookies and talk poetry.

An Ohio native who has been writing and performing for 13 years. Barbara Fant integrates poetry and activism, and works at The Columbus Foundation while teaching poetry at Transit Arts and in correctional institutions.

While baking her favorite kind of cookie, Fant touches base on her belief in the transformative power of art and poetry as her ministry. Her and Darren chat about the healing power of writing for the writer, how wrong Hemingway was about the writing process, what it means to be from Ohio, and the power of performance poetry.

Watch the episode here!

Barbara Fant is the author of four poetry collections: Paint, Inside Out (2010), two chapbooks RibCaged and Them Brilliant Suns (both in 2017), and Aligning Water and Bearing Stars (2019). She is also the co-author of two stage productions, Black Staccato (2015) and Inside the Riot (2016). Fant has been commissioned by over ten organizations and has received residencies in Idyllwild, California and Havana, Cuba. She has represented Columbus, OH in 9 National Poetry Slam competitions and placed 8th out of 96 poets in the 2017 Women of the World Poetry Slam. She is a TEDx speaker and is featured in the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s Columbus Makes Art Campaign, the 2017 Columbus Alive People to Watch issue, and 614 Magazine’s 2019 Interview issue. She holds a BA in Literature, a Masters in Theological Studies, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry.

Host Darren C. Demaree is the author of eleven poetry collections, most recently “Emily As Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire”, (June 2019, Harpoon Books). He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry.



A 501(c)3 non-profit literary press collective founded in 2000, Sundress Publications is an entirely volunteer-run press that publishes chapbooks and full-length collections in both print and digital formats, and hosts numerous literary journals, an online reading series, and the Best of the Net Anthology.

Website: sundresspublications.com  Facebook: sundresspublications
Email: sundresspublications@gmail.com  Twitter: @SundressPub

The Wardrobe is Looking for Published Books by Women & Nonbinary Authors

As a part of Sundress Publications’ ongoing commitment to providing a platform for underrepresented voices, The Wardrobe is accepting submissions that honor the following holidays:

  • Jan. 15: Martin Luther King’s Birthday
  • Jan. 27: International Holocaust Remembrance Day
  • February: Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month
  • Feb. 4: World Cancer Day
  • March: National Women’s History Month
  • March 8: International Women’s Day
  • March 21: International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
  • March 21: World Poetry Day

We at Sundress hope to champion writers whose work highlights human struggle and challenges misconceptions. We are looking for work to shed some light on the various topics encompassed above.

Authors or publishers of books published in the past twelve months may submit to The Wardrobe. To do so, 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 wardrobe@sundresspublications.com with the holiday of your choosing in the subject line. In addition, we request that one print copy be mailed to Sundress Academy for the Arts, ATTN: The Wardrobe, 195 Tobby Hollow Lane,Knoxville, TN 37931. 

Submissions to The Wardrobe will remain eligible for our “Best Dressed” selection for one year. Hard copies will become a permanent part of the Sundress Academy for the Arts library and be made available for review by our editors and/or affiliate journals.

For the complete details and rules, please see The Wardrobe.

Summer 2020 Residency Call!

Sundress Academy for the Arts Now Accepting
Residency Applications for Summer 2020

Farmhouse image courtesy of former resident Christina Elia.

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 summer residency period which runs from May 25 to August 23, 2020. These residencies are designed to give artists time and space to complete their creative projects in a quiet and productive environment.

Each residency costs $250/week, which includes a room of one’s own, access to our communal kitchen, bathroom, office, and living space, plus wireless internet access.

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.

For the 2020 summer residency period, SAFTA will be offering the following fellowships:

  • Women Who Submit Fellowship: one full fellowship plus $250 stipend for a writer who is parenting children under 18 and/or serving as full-time caregiver to an ailing family member
  • Writers of Color Fellowships: one full and one 50% fellowship for writers of color
  • Center for Writers Scholarship for Mississippi Graduate Students : one full fellowship which will go to a current and incoming graduate students at any college or university in Mississippi
  • Misty Upham Fellowship: one full fellowship for a survivor of sexual assault.

Please note in your application if you are applying for one of these fellowships. For all fellowship applications, the application fee will 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.

The application deadline for the summer residency period is February 1, 2020. Find out more about the application process at www.sundressacademyforthearts.com.

Project Bookshelf: Graphic Design Intern Steve Sampson

I hope I’m not the only one guilty of only having read half of the books on my shelf. I heard somewhere (on twitter, maybe) that a bookshelf is more representative of what a person wants to be rather than who they really are.

Regardless, my shelf right now is at a fun place because I just moved into a new apartment and got rid of 3-4 reusable shopping bags worth of books. I was excited to trim down and start over. I love this nifty shelf built-in under the kitchen counter. 

Most of the books I find myself drawn to are ones that remind me of friends (and some that still belong to friends, oops). There are recommendations by teachers & those found through favorite author’s favorites — and the special ones that mark moments of time in my life.

Hemingway’s Snows of Kilimanjaro still has a menu from my favorite Vietnamese restaurant shoved in as a bookmark. The Old Man and the Sea once lived by my bathtub at my parent’s house — a fun, though short-lived, nightly ritual.

In high school, I really didn’t read that much, but somehow, I still identified with literature. My English classes and teachers were so special to me. Me and Ms. Bouldin were like this *Fingers crossed Emoji.* And the books that stuck, really stuck. So much so, that I really thought I was Holden Caulfield for a while.

One day in my drawing class, my professor read Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainier Marie Rilke, from start to finish, while we drew freely for three hours. Soon after, I bought what I could find of Rilke’s and now read it in my professor’s voice.

 In another class, we made our own personas inspired by Fernando Pessoa and made work through those characters. So, I was ecstatic when I just recently found a copy of The Book of Disquiet in the totally wrong section at a used book store in Knoxville. 

I love bookshelves in general, though. They always become like little shrines to me — and I am forever peeping on other peoples’ shelves. The one in my studio at school is a little more cluttered with non-book objects, as pictured.

Among the knick-knacks and soup cans are various art books and some favorites like Flannery O’Connor and J.D. Salinger, along with more recent poetry obsessions like Sylvia Plath, Fred Moten, and Cameron Awkward Rich. I love it when there is a story or context behind how I came to find a particular work or author, and I can’t wait for that next special one to grab me.


Steve Sampson is pursuing his BFA at the University of Tennessee, in the department of Painting & Drawing. When he is not hiding in the art building, he can be found writing, hiking and playing music with friends.

2019 Poetry Books We Loved

Looking for that perfect poetry book to gift your friend (or yourself)? Wondering what you, or they, missed in 2019? Look no further. We’ve pinned down our writers and staff and asked for their 2019 favorites.

Danielle Hanson, Poetry Editor at Doubleback Review
Hard Damage by Aria Aber
The Book of Ruin by Rigoberto Gonzalez
Hemlock by Emilia Phillips
Boom Box by Amorak Huey
Arabilis by Leah Silvieus


Stacey Balkun, Chapbook Series Editor at Sundress Publications
To Those Who Were Our First Gods by Nickole Brown
tsunami vs. the fukushima 50 by Lee Ann Roripaugh

Annie McIntosh, Curatorial Assistant at Sundress Publications
The Tradition by Jericho Brown
LOOK LOOK LOOK by Callista Buchen
Gender Flytrap by Zoë Estelle Hitzel
Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky
Space Struck by Paige Lewis

Jeremy Michael Reed, Associate Poetry Editor
The Many Names for Mother by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach
An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo
Grief Sequence by Prageeta Sharma
Casting Deep Shade by C.D. Wright
The Tradition by Jericho Brown

Anna Black, Staff Director, Associate Editor, & Chapbook Series Co-Editor
Dead Man’s Float by Ruth Foley
Is, Is Not by Tess Gallagher
Robert Schuman is Mad Again by Norman Dubie
An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo

Jacquelyn Scott, Sundress Publications Editorial Intern
Afakasi | Half-Caste by Hali Sofala-Jones

Erin Elizabeth Smith, Managing Editor, Sundress Publications

Blood Box, Zefyr Lisowski
Battle Dress, Karen Skolfield
I Will Tell This Story to the Sun Until You Remember That You Are the Sun, Erin Slaughter
Soft Science, Franny Choi