Sundress Announces the Release of Mackenzie Berry’s Slack Tongue City

Sundress Publications announces the release of Mackenzie Berry’s Slack Tongue City, an ode to Berry’s hometown—Louisville, Kentucky. This debut poetry collection acts as a love letter, paying homage while also tracing the joys and dangers of nostalgia for place. Glasses of bourbon in summer, jug bands, disco balls, and homemade pools quenched from the mouth of a garden hose populate the poems with memories and longing. Slack Tongue City says Louisville is the South because it says it is while simultaneously inviting you to join for supper and see what the syrupy, Kentucky heat is all about. Forget what you think you know about this city—or if you know little, then here is the place to see it through the eyes of someone who loves it dearly. These poems will show you what hides behind the rolling hills. Beyond one city or one region, Slack Tongue City also draws the reader through poems that include the rituals of girlhood via a speaker who, even though they may leave, will never fully be removed from their hometown.

Joy Priest, Louisville, Kentucky native and author of Horsepower, writes that, “Slack Tongue City is an archive of a city, fast-changing due to a growing tourist industry and the arrival of gentrification—and this voice from the interior is a precious repository of memory. In these poems, the ways we talk and the ways we tradition—the ways we myth and memory, eat and escape, pass jokes and parade—live forever.”

Amaud Jamaul Johnson, author of Imperial Liquor and Red Summer, writes that, “Berry makes the case that Louisville serves as our shadow capital…As vital as the liver or the spleen, and equally unacknowledged or abused, until one is at the edge of catastrophe, Kentucky is central to our American body politic. Like Komunyakaa’s Bogalusa and Levine’s Detroit, Berry masterfully sketches the anatomy of a city. This debut is an invitation, but the keys to this world are carefully hidden.”

Quan Barry, author of Loose Strife, calls it, “Lyrical in its hard-won authority, clear-eyed in its portrayal of Southern life…A percussive debut.”

Pre-order your copy of Slack Tongue City on the Sundress website: https://sundress-publications.square.site/

Mackenzie Berry is the author of Slack Tongue City, which traces her hometown—Louisville, Kentucky—the South, place, girlhood, and belonging. Her poetry has been published in Vinyl, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Hobart, and Blood Orange Review, among others. She is pursuing an MFA in Poetry at Cornell University.

Interview with Manuela Williams, Author of Ghost in Girl Costume

For the release of Ghost in Girl Costume, Manuela Williams spoke with Doubleback Books poetry editor Bethany Milholland about the writing process, mental health, and advice to writers.

Bethany Milholland: What is your story?

Manuela Williams: I haven’t always been a poet. However, I will say that I’ve always loved storytelling. I started writing short stories at a young age. My mom was very encouraging of this and often printed out my stories to frame and hang around the house (she’d also email them out to friends and family, which is a bit embarrassing for me now!) Creativity, art, and reading were celebrated and encouraged throughout my childhood, and I often dreamt about writing and publishing a novel of my own.

I didn’t start writing poetry until around 2015. I was struggling with clinical depression and couldn’t seem to write the stories that once brought me joy. So, I turned to poetry as a way to express emotions that I didn’t feel capable of expressing through my fiction writing. As I’ve learned more about poetry and my place within the poetry world, I am now mostly interested in the ways poetry can be used to work through trauma, and am a firm believer in the healing power of art.

BM: What was the process like to write Ghost in Girl Costume?

MW: Many of the drafts that would later become Ghost in Girl Costume were written
in 2015 and 2016. This was before I decided to pursue an MFA in Poetry and I had
attended maybe one or two poetry workshops before that. It’s been both strange and
illuminating reading back through my older work and comparing it to what I’m
writing now. I tended to experiment a lot more with the way words, lines, and stanzas
appeared on the page. Coming from a fiction writing background, the thought that I
could use the page as a sort of canvas really excited me, and I think that shows
throughout Ghost in Girl Costume.

In the process of writing Ghost in Girl Costume, I found myself relying a lot on my
intuition regarding the poem order in the manuscript, as well as the form each poem
took. At that point in my writing career, I hadn’t read a lot of poetry and couldn’t
point to any specific influences on my work. Mainly, I did what felt right to me, or
what I thought looked and sounded interesting at the time. Now, my process is a lot
different. I’m much more aware of the stylistic choices that I make, and I try to be
very deliberate with those choices.

BM: How do you overcome writer’s block?

MW: For me, writer’s block goes hand-in-hand with anxiety. If I find myself unable
to write, it’s usually because I’m anxious about how a particular piece will be
received. For instance, what if no one likes what I write? Are these images interesting
enough? Am I actually a terrible poet? These are some of the questions that I’ve asked
myself while writing. I’ve had to work hard to re-train my brain to block out those
voices when I’m in the process of creating something. Usually, it’s enough to tell
myself that no one has to read my work unless I want them to, and that art goes
beyond publication or what other people think. Sometimes, art is just for me, and
that’s okay! Another thing that helps me through writer’s block is to simply take a
break from writing. If I force myself to try and write through the block, I end up
feeling worse in the long run.

I would describe myself as a hesitant writer. Sometimes, it takes me a full week to
finish a draft of a poem that I’m happy with. I’ve had to tell myself there’s no rush
when it comes to art. There is no hard and fast rule telling me that I must write every
single day, or else I’m not a “real” writer. If that means I need to take a month off
from whatever project I’m working on, so be it. I think it’s important to take breaks
because it’s during these breaks that we are able to re-fill our creative wells, so-to-
speak.

BM: What advice would you give to fellow writers?

MW: When I was starting out, I was so anxious to be published that I tried to write as
quickly as possible and submit to as many literary journals as I could find. Now, I’ve
slowed down my publication efforts considerably and I’m much more selective in the
poems I choose to send out. I’ve also stopped equating publication with my worth or
capabilities as a writer. Of course, I’m proud of my publications, but I think it’s
important to view them as a nice benefit, and not the entire point of why I write. I
write to express myself, to heal, and because it brings me joy. If I get to a point where
I’m writing just so I can get published, I think that means I’ve lost sight of what drew
me to poetry in the first place.

So, my advice to fellow writers—and especially writers who are just starting
out—would be to not worry so much about publication, at least when starting out.
Focus on developing your own style, write good poems, write bad poems, and, most
importantly, remember why you started writing in the first place.

BM: Who are your favorite authors and poetry collections?

MW: I’m going to focus on poets and poetry volumes for this question because if I
included all my favorite fiction writers, I’m afraid this interview would go on for at
least twenty more pages!

Kaveh Akbar, Calling a Wolf a Wolf
Ariana Reines, A Sand Book
Tommy Pico, IRL
Cate Marvin, Fragment of the Head of a Queen
Natasha Trethewey, Native Guard
Louise Glück, Ararat
Some of my other favorite poets include Sharon Olds, Alice Notley, and CAConrad.

Download your copy of Ghost in Girl Costume for free on the Doubleback website!


Manuela Williams is the author of two poetry chapbooks: Witch (dancing girl press) and Ghost in Girl Costume (Doubleback Books). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Night Music Journal, Bear Review, Thimble, The Mantle Poetry, Bone Bouquet, and other places. She is a regular contributor for DIY MFA and is the author of “The Poet’s Toolbox” column.

Bethany Milholland resides in Southern Indiana and is a research analyst assistant at a global law firm. She has a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of Evansville and loves thrift shopping and petting cats.

Sundress Publications Social Media Internship Open Call

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 also publishes the annual Best of the Net Anthology, celebrating the best work published online, runs Poets in Pajamas, an online reading series, and the Sundress Workshop Series which offers free virtual writers workshops.

The social media internship position will run from July 1 to December 31, 2022. The intern’s responsibilities include scheduling and posting promotional materials on our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram), maintaining our newsletter, and promoting our various open reading periods, workshops, readings, and catalog of titles. This will also include creating promotional graphics, digital flyers, logos, and social media images. Applicants for this internship must be self-motivated and be able to work on a strict deadline.

Preferred qualifications include:

  • Familiarity with Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and/or Canva
  • Familiarity with social media scheduling tools
  • Ability to work under a deadline and multitask
  • Strong written communication skills
  • Knowledge of and interest in contemporary literature a plus

This is a REMOTE internship with the team communicating primarily via email and text messages and is therefore not restricted to applicants living in any particular geographic area. Interns are asked to devote up to 10 hours per week to their assignments.

While this is an unpaid internship, all interns will gain real-world experience of the ins and outs of independent publishing with a nationally recognized press while creating a portfolio of work for future employment opportunities. Interns will also be able to attend all retreats and residencies at the Sundress Academy for the Arts at a significantly discounted cost.

We welcome, encourage, and are enthusiastic to see a diverse array of applicants in all areas, including race, ethnicity, disability, gender, class, religion, education, immigration status, age, and more.

To apply, please send a resume and cover letter detailing your interest in the position to Staff Director Kanika Lawton at sundressstaffdirector@gmail.com by May 20, 2021.

For more information, please read our internship guidebook at: http://www.sundresspublications.com/internshipguide.pdf

Project Bookshelf: Finnegan Angelos

I am anti-bookshelf. 

Just kidding, but it’s true that I don’t really have one. I’m not sure what kind of writer that makes me, or what it says about my reading habits, but what’re you gonna do? I actually did buy a bookshelf a couple of years ago, in an effort to change my ways, but it has been overtaken by an impenetrable army of personal wellness and YA—neither belonging to me. Only a few of my older books stay mixed in with my family’s collections on the shelves, whereas my more recent additions find themselves sporadically tossed around my mom’s house. As backwards as it is, that’s how you know I really love them. 

Crowded single bookshelf, all books leaning to the right and barely fitting.

I was, as a lot of us were, one of those kids who read roughly eight books a month. I have no idea how I managed to do that, but I’m surely not at that sort of peak level anymore. My biggest reading-for-pleasure periods are my breaks from academia, summer, and post-Christmas, where I basically only consume fiction. I’m not entirely sure why that is. Listen, I’m a nonfiction writer. I should own more essay collections, at least one Sedaris book, but I consider the score balanced with my New Yorker subscription and all of my birdwatching guides. Not to mention an impressive amount of Glennon Doyle-adjacent memoir.

Unfortunately, my most beloved books go without photo evidence, as I keep them on the puja table in my dorm. Expect a ton of Mary Oliver and Walt Whitman, Jenny Slate’s Little Weirds, The Bhagavad-Gita, Be Here Now, and a handful of other books centered around self-actualization and/or the general premise of wonder. That little collection of mine has become a scrapbook bible. 

A short stack of books on a side table. Featuring "Small Things Like These" by Claire Keegan, "Oh William!" by Elizabeth Strout, "Detransition, Baby" Torrey Peters, "Memorial" by Bryan Washington, and "Birdfeeder Guide" by Robert Burton and Stephen W. Kress.

In my room, about twenty books are arranged in perfect alignment—Jenga style—all resting and leaning together with a fairly out-of-tune mandolin seated right on top. The whole thing hasn’t tumbled once. This genius creation was, of course, the doing of my partner, who took what was previously a single five-foot stack on the floor and dispersed it atop the record player that, at sixteen, I was sure I would use. I was wrong. 

It’s crazy I know, and incredibly telling, but I kind of like the mess I’ve created; I don’t think passions are supposed to be tidy things. In fact, all of my passions come with a little disaster, free of charge. When I cook, I need an eight-person team to help me get the kitchen all clean again. When I write, all of the pages of my once-blank notebook get covered in illegible strings of black pen, then subsequently scratched-out black pen. I leave instruments all over the house, on every surface. Everyone is “mad” at me all of the time because when I create, with unthinkable love—it can’t be contained.

Trust me, I’ve tried.


Young white man with curly hair and mustache looks into the sun in front of a lush forested background.

Finnegan Angelos is a self-proclaimed east-coast-love-struck-queer-awakening poet and essayist originally from northern Baltimore County, Maryland. His work has been published in the Beyond Queer Words Anthology, Thistle Magazine, and FRANCES, among others. He loves his dog, hibiscus tea, and the banjo.

Sundress Reads: Review of mouth

The title of Jo Reyes-Boitel’s chapbook (though not their first book overall) mouth (Neon Hemlock, 2021) fits the work perfectly since the poems within not only have a taste—yes, they leave you with sensations, and not always pleasurable ones (that would be too simple)—but, in a sense, this work is a warm and welcoming darkness; something not-quite-formed that both ingests and expels and is slippery to get hold of. Something hot. 

The book begins with two quotations, one from the iconic American lesbian poet Adrienne Rich and one from brilliant queer and Chicana theorist, Gloria Anzaldúa—who, like Reyes-Boitel, was born in the American Southwest. The quotations talk about women, monsters, and magic, which is exactly what follows. The poems in mouth exist like compatriots, standing side-by-side on facing pages, as if sheltering the narrator from the outside. They stress that this is a work about queer love, self-love, but also about queer intimate partner violence. In “what you say in your own head,” the peacefulness of a domestic setting is shattered not just by violence but by the narrator’s ambivalence: “her hand, wrapped tight around the back of your neck, is for your own safety,” they say. Like the narrator of the latter poem, the poems in this book oscillate between silence and screams, reflection and action. In “what is required in survival,” the narrator urges: “find the gentle within you. circle it with a fire. then molten glass. chains. a moat. that dream you had of a quiet moment.” You can feel the tension in the speaker, coiled like a spring, raw nerves ready to jump at any action or word except their own. They take us into the tension familiar to so many survivors of domestic violence, between being silent and alone or speaking and constantly measuring the words you say.

In the middle of the book, the poems expand to prose poetry before once again becoming slender. The center of this expansion is the understated, quietly heartbreaking “The Contradictive Nature of a Queer Mother Trying to Get Laid.” While this is the collection’s most straightforward narrative, it is also the most deeply personal, weaving together the pain of displacement—whether because one is queer, an immigrant, or displaced from the self they used to be and the community they inhabited. “I deserve it and need to be silent because I’m the mother and so I should be the one who takes it all. That is what every mother does. That is what every queer femme does. We soothe. We acquiesce,” explains the narrator. At this point in the book, the narrator is still tamping down their own needs for those of others’ and struggling with how to reconcile being an empty, needless creature with the visceral, desiring person they feel themselves to be. 

In Queer Phenomenology, Sara Ahmed asks readers to rethink queer in terms of spatial orientation. According to her, “bodies take shape through tending toward objects that are reachable, which are available within the bodily horizon.” That is, bodies orient themselves towards what they desire. But Ahmed’s title has another inflection: what if queerness was a way to shift dominant perspectives and hegemonic narratives into new, joyful orientations? Desire is a prevailing theme in mouth, which the narrator explores using commonly embodied experience like hunger, cold, and descriptions of food being eaten and made: peanut butter and jelly, and particularly figs. Desire is complex, and the narrator is surprised at their own experience of an inversion of food from sensual and nurturing to threatening, tasteless, a metaphor for dreams lost or maybe for the encroachment of reality: “each word a wasp becoming a flower. A death drum leading the wasp on. A cadence that must be released or it risks becoming anger. The child to hunger, to anger. A parent who begins to fear they cannot hold this thing back. A parent now filled with their own fear of desire.” 

In one poem, the narrator asks, “what will the moon be called after the last conqueror has died?” Yet in the next poem, “attachment style,” they assert that “the moon will never belong to anyone but herself.” The burdens and scars created by both men and mankind cut through both a narrated literal landscape and the topography of the narrator’s body, crossed by many overlapping histories. “And that one chance room where you made me mounted deer to your huntered heart.” To escape the narrator remakes themselves into a deer, a dead woman, a swipe of lipstick… but reminds us in the bloated middle that they always remain a mother, a queer person, a person at the borderlands. Ultimately, the narrator comes out victorious, the sole inhabitant of their body and their stories, against those who would gaslight, hurt, and erase both. The mouth in mouth takes panicky breaths, is full of blisters, learns to live in uncomfortable silence, is not willing, smiles, stretches, and ultimately sings and transcends or maybe burrows deeper into its rooted body.

mouth is available at Neon Hemlock


Anna Mirzayan is an arts writer, poet, researcher, and doctoral candidate in Theory and Criticism. She is currently based in Pittsburgh, where she is the editor-in-chief of the Bunker Review at Bunker Projects. Her poetry chapbook, Donkey-girl and Other Hybrids, was published in 2021 by Really Serious Literature. You can find some of her writing at art-agendaSquare Cylinder, and Hyperallergic. She is the current social media/graphic design intern at Sundress Publications.

Call for Applications: Sundress Academy for the Arts Editorial Internship

The Sundress Academy for the Arts at Firefly Farms, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is seeking editorial interns. The position’s responsibilities include the preparation of documents necessary to run an independent writer’s residency, as well as online participation in literary events including readings and workshops. This part-time internship would consist of approximately 5-10 hours of work per week and run from July 1st 2022 to January 5th 2023. Applicants must be local to the greater Knoxville area.

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is an entirely volunteer-run organization that hosts residencies, workshops, and retreats centered on creative writing in all genres. Located on a 45-acre farm twenty minutes from downtown Knoxville, SAFTA’s mission is to give writers of all levels a chance to work with nationally renowned professionals in their field as well as uninterrupted time to focus on their creative work.

The editorial intern’s responsibilities will include writing press releases, composing blogs, proofreading, working with social media (Facebook, WordPress, etc.), collating editorial and residency data, research, and more.  The intern will also be needed to help facilitate Zoom and in-person readings and events.

Preferred qualifications include:

      •        A keen eye for proof-reading

      •        Strong written communication skills

      •        Experience with WordPress, Zoom, and other online mediums

      •        Knowledge of contemporary literature a plus

While this is an unpaid internship, all interns will gain real-world experience in working with online and in-person event planning, nonprofit management, running a residency, communications, and more while creating a portfolio of work for future employment opportunities. Interns will get to work alongside members of both the local and national literary community through SAFTA workshops and readings, which interns are able to attend for free during their tenure with the organization.

To apply, please send a resume and a brief cover letter detailing your interest in the position to the Executive Director, Erin Elizabeth Smith, at erin@sundresspublications.com. Applications are due by May 31st, 2022.

For more information, visit our website at www.sundressacademyforthearts.com

Sundress Reads: Review of Corner Shrine

Chloe Martinez’s chapbook Corner Shrine (Backbone Press, 2020) is a poetry collection that plots a vibrant historical timeline, inviting readers to embark on a journey across South Asia while focusing on the ephemerality of life. As the winner of the 2020 Backbone Press Chapbook Contest, Corner Shrine evokes existential questions, challenging grandiose perceptions of human civilizations by drawing upon imagery of ancient shrines and nature’s transience. At its heart, Martinez’s collection acts as a dialogue between tourists and the places they travel to as she complicates modern conceptions of spatial history.

This collection of poems finds its strength by fabricating a tangible world marked by Kabul’s gardens, monkey-filled train stations, and the sounds of India’s fishermen toiling away as tourists rest on balconies overhead. Martinez touches on unspoken aspects of tourism against beautiful portraits of South Asian realism. Through an intrinsic link between this foreign place and its history, an overarching narrative drives Corner Shrine by plotting the tourist’s development from self-interested to self-aware. By the end of the collection, the tourist contextualizes their place in history. In the first poem, the narrator addresses the reader as a tourist who takes a photo—”Not a story. Not an image. It is a map. At the end of the hallway, / a balcony” (“The Mirror Room, Mehranagarh Fort”). The image of the balcony reoccurs throughout the collection, referring to biases tourists often hold when they visit a country for the first time. Moreover, through class privilege, the tourist is physically “above” India’s fishermen and working class.

The narrator goes on, “[the] Mirror Palace… it wants an audience. / Here you are, alone with your ten thousand selves” (“The Mirror Room, Mehranagarh Fort”). The mirror, like the image of Sheeh Mahal, is a map that will lead the tourist to self-realization. In fact, Martinez exposes a paradox in her collection: the tourist, too, is a spectacle. When the tourist is alone and standing against the historical backdrop of the places they visit, they must face all the parts of themselves, including their biases and class privilege. In the collection’s first section, the tourist is not just an unreachable spectator, which is an idea that Martinez plays with in “Learning Experience.” Here, the narrator retells the moment she first interacts with the Indian landscape—she falls from a train, which is perhaps a nod to the collection’s second section, appropriately titled “Disorientation,” and represents the tourist’s journey to self-awareness.

 Although each poem stands alone, the collection is divided into three sections. The first section, “Ten Thousand Selves,” humanizes the founders of ancient empires by reimagining the creation of architectural marvels. Here, Martinez weaves together poems from the imagined perspective of Babur and Shah Jahan with the tourist’s perspective. In this way, the narrator both minimizes and aggrandizes the tourist’s presence by contrasting their perspective with that of royalty. In “Babur at Agra,” the narrator imagines that he “walked the fragrant pathways, / thinking of where he slept in the open air.” Similarly, the narrator describes that the reader “[arrives] at night. The road snakes up the mountain / to cool air” (“Reaching Hills Station in Late August in Rajasthan”). Martinez masterfully shifts the sentence subjects to complicate power dynamics between the tourist and their landscape. In the previously stated line, the narrator grants Babur agency as the subject. However, the road—i.e., a part of the South Asian landscape—becomes the subject when the narrator tells of the tourist’s arrival. This shift suggests that, although the tourist previously possessed a sense of hubris, a country’s natural history always acts with agency, preceding the present.   

The second section, “Disorientation,” engages with the Indian landscape more intimately, reflecting the beginning of deep cultural recognition. She writes, “It’s Diwali… / …the strange light makes / bicycles, poster-gods and me look ethereal and cheap” (“Diwali”). Here, Martinez makes an interesting link between the bicycle, perhaps a symbol of modernist progression, false poster-idols, and the tourists themselves—compared to the elegant tradition of Diwali, these objects lose their value. Similarly, in “Eight Past Lives, As I Recall Them,” we see a radical shift toward transcendentalism. The tourist finally contextualizes, not only themselves, but the many who comprise the South Asian landscape, into its grand history. This section romanticizes the labour of the many by making them subjects of poems: the thief, the killer, and the painter, to name a few. The narrator compares themselves to the woman in Rilke’s Die Gazelle, who “stood in a lake, naked. Her face / gewendeten: turned back to look at you” (“The Poem”). Naked, stripped of material security, the tourist finally sees themselves belonging to the landscape.

Chloe Martinez’s Corner Shrine paints a vibrant picture of South Asia’s most historic sites, nestling travelogue-style poems between reminscences of its colourful landscape. A poignant analysis of the tourism industry informs her command of language and imagery, made up of India’s “gorgeous ruins” diffused by dynamic wordplay. Stressing the importance of belonging—that even the most minute details have a purpose—the narrator memorializes color while using homophones to add layers of meaning: “Red a ring I stole / from a gift shop in high school,” later continuing, “Red the sandstone palace, / even under whitewash. I never stole anything else” (“Palace Gate”). The narrator suggests here that once they “read” or perceive India’s beauty, they experience a radical change in values. Like the tourist’s journey from indulgence to awareness, this collection will inspire readers to reflect on their own spiritual journey. 

Corner Shrine is available at Backbone Press


Crysta Montiel is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto in Canada, where she studies English Literature and Philosophy. She previously worked as an editorial intern at Ayesha Pande Literary Agency. When Crysta’s not digging through treasure troves of queries, she’s completing her Criterion Collection bucket list and playing with her cat.

Interview with Mackenzie Berry, Author of Slack Tongue City

With the recent publication of her debut poetry collection, Slack Tongue City, Sundress Publications author Mackenzie Berry sat down with our intern, Katherine DeCoste, to discuss how her Southern roots, food, and regionality inform her writing. This collection of poetry explores sensory manifestations of longing, transforming ideas of the “homeland” from a physical place to a place of memory.

Katherine DeCoste: The poems in this collection frequently returns to food—grits, coffee, mac & cheese. Can you speak to how food informs identity and community in your work?

Mackenzie Berry: To know any place, I think you have to taste it. And it feels especially important when talking about the U.S. South. So, I had to talk about it when talking about Louisville. At every church potluck, it was all on the table—who made what, hurrying up to get something before it’s gone. Food is so transitory and still so important. Food feels like the concrete manifestation of nostalgia and longing, and my writing has a lot of longing.

KD: You use a wide range of forms here, from prose poem to ghazal, sestina, and pantoum. How did you arrive at these specific forms, and how did they shape these poems?

MB: Honestly, the form poems came out of assignments to write specific form poems in college, when I wrote most of the manuscript. I used the space of form as a means to have musicality or give direction to particular content I wanted to write about. The jug band poem felt like it had to be a sestina because the repeating six words could tell a long story but remain with emphasis. The ghazal is my favorite form, because it’s so musical, so there are a couple of them. It has a chorus built in—something to return to and anchor the poem. The forms also gave the poems a direction to arrive at by the end of a line, something to write toward, so that helped the poems come into being. Writing some of them was writing a puzzle, which felt accurate to the content.

KD: Can you tell me more about the “after” poems in this collection, and how other creatives influenced your work?

MB: Sure—the “after” poems here are citations. A few gesture to some poets I’ve read and their work—John Murillo, Frank X Walker, Brigit Pegeen Kelly. A couple others reference an event as a starting point, as a head of the poem, and don’t return to it in the body of the poem. I’ve drawn from so many poets for their music, for their song. Joy Priest was the first Louisville poet I read on the page, and her work Horsepower has the hum and the engine, as the title suggests.

KD: In “Mama Said Louisville’s not the South Because it Dresses Grits Fancy,” you tease out tension around regionality, especially concerning the South and Midwest. Can you speak more to this?

MB: Louisville’s always been in a geographic struggle with which region it belongs to, and with its relationship with Kentucky as a whole, so I wanted to play that out in this poem with some humor and with specificity. It was funny to me that my mom’s singular and unequivocal criteria for why Louisville is not the South is on account of grits. And yet, of course it is.

KD: Tell me about the book’s three sections. What moved you to structure the collection this way? 

MB: I saw three clear groupings of poems—Louisville poems, childhood/upbringing poems, and grief/heartbreak poems. I tried weaving them all together so that the collection wouldn’t read as disconnected, then tried sections, then returned to no sections, but once my editor Tennison suggested putting them into sections to see how it read, it felt like each one built on the last and that the collection had a clear arc.

KD: You write “if a city is a body it’s redrawing its anatomy” in “Three Truths & A Lie.” How do you see Louisville as a character, as well as a place or setting, in these poems?

MB: I see Louisville as a sky, as an overlook, as an underground, as actually an arbitrary thing—a defined city with borders—as another place which only exists from displacing Indigenous peoples, and that is where I come from. It has many people acting upon it and stretching it into something else, and all it can do is watch it happen in some instances, but in other instances other actors refuse that.

KD: “On Being From Nobody” details a violent encounter between the speaker and “the boy who is almost a man.” Can you tell me how you see femininity and masculinity at play in this poem, as well as throughout the collection?

MB: I don’t see masculinity in this poem but a caricature of it. This caricature is used by “the body who is almost a man” as leverage and as a threat, as something that rages and laughs about it. In the collection as a whole, girlhood and womanhood is something that multiplies and becomes abundant the more it feeds itself. It makes itself, in the absence of and in the howling for. 

KD: Slack Tongue City is as concerned with history as it is with location and place. With that in mind, how do you see these poems engaging with the notion of being “from” a place?

MB: Yes. I’m caught up with archives, and I felt such a need to archive this place as I’ve known it and put my finger on the map, knowing it will never return back there. I think these poems live at the tension of simultaneously being from a place and being beyond it. Of being attached to a physical place as a reference point, as a landing ground, and knowing that ground is ever shaking. I’ve always thought that the best way to read history is to read the poets of the time. Because poetry will bring you into the house, into the kitchen, whereas other depictions may stop at the street, or only go as far as the front door. I’ve always thought of poets as historians from the first collection I ever read, which was Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney.

KD: The collection’s second section presents several recollections from the speaker’s childhood, like their mother’s cookies and purchasing a bike at a garage sale. What is poetry’s role in engaging with these kinds of memories?

MB: Poetry can be used as an archive of the personal. I certainly use it for that. It’s great for memory because by genre it can be incoherent and jarring and parsed and jumpy, which memories often are. Poetry is good for making a quilt. 

Order your copy of Slack Tongue City today!


Mackenzie Berry’s poetry is inspired by Louisville, Kentucky, her hometown and subject of her debut poetry collection, Slack Tongue City. Her poetry has been published in Vinyl, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Hobart, and Blood Orange Review, among others. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry at Cornell University.

Katherine DeCoste is an MA student at the University of Victoria, on the stolen lands of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples and the WSANEC peoples. Their poems have appeared in Grain MagazineThe Antigonish ReviewContemporary Verse 2, and elsewhere, and their play “many hollow mercies” won the 2020 Alberta Playwriting Competition Novitiate Prize. When not writing, reading, or answering emails, you can find them baking vegan snacks and forcing their friends to play Dungeons and Dragons.

Project Bookshelf: Neha Peri

After spending the past four years as a broke college student, my collection is a little small. Growing up, I utilized the library more than I frequented the local Barnes and Noble. There was just something so freeing about borrowing as many books as I wanted at no cost to me that made me gravitate toward it. As an adult, I still feel that sort of connection to the library. If there’s a book I am sure I’m going to love or one that I feel the urge to annotate, I’ll purchase it, but most of what I read nowadays comes from the library.

My collection is a little all over the place, so organizing it has been quite the experience. It’s pretty small, and there are quite a few gaps in it. Admittedly, I’ve been dealing with some mental health issues for the past few years that have really caused a dip in my motivation to read, furthering my inactivity with buying books. I’m trying to get back into things for the new year, so here’s hoping for a much more well-rounded collection in 2022!

For a long time, this shelf was known as my thesis shelf. I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis on Beloved, focusing on its positioning as a novel of the incoherent and the unique space it occupied amongst the work of numerous Black women writers during the latter half of the twentieth century. For that reason, you’ll see Octavia Butler’s Kindred and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, alongside Toni Morrison’s work of literary criticism, Playing in the Dark. The black books on the right contain hundreds of pages of notes for my thesis, things I don’t have much use for anymore but cannot bring myself to remove from this shelf. My thesis is close to my heart, as it was borne from both reading Beloved in high school, and the subsequent Black literature courses I took in college, where I read more of Morrison’s work along with Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Octavia Butler. The way these writers conceptualized and discussed race, specifically Blackness, in America resonated with me in a way I had never felt before. I accredit my desire to research, read, and write academically to them. As a woman of color, the words of many Black women writers have helped me to reflect on my own identity and history, and I treasure them for being the gateway into that work.

Also, yes, I have two copies of Beloved. The one on the left is the original copy I bought for my 12th grade English class, full of frantic annotations from class discussions. When I decided on my thesis topic, I knew I needed to get a brand new copy, as not to confuse thoughts I had at 17 with thoughts I would have while rereading the book at 21.

This second shelf is a little more of a mixed bag. There’s some YA, some more Toni Morrison, and a couple of library books I’m working on at the moment. I just finished reading Neel Patel’s Tell Me How to Be, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Additionally, you’ll see my well-worn copy of Hamlet, my favorite Shakespeare play, and a copy of Saidiya Hartman’s latest work, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments. I was introduced to Hartman through one of my professors, and I have found myself resonating with her words and her thought processes in complicating the non-fiction genre to bring silenced voices to light.

What I love so much about this shelf is its representation of my journey back into reading. Throughout college, I struggled to read more than what was required for my coursework. I was not in a great place mentally, and this severely impacted my reading. As time went on and graduation neared, I started picking up some YA books that I’d missed out on over those years. As a series, Six of Crows is special to me because it marks my renewed interest in fantasy. As a child, I loved the escapism of fantasy universes but lost touch with it through the end of high school and into college. I picked up the Six of Crows duology during my senior year of college and flew through it. It brought back all of the fervor with which I remember reading the newest Rick Riordan book in middle school, flashlight in hand, trying not to wake up my parents, and for that reason, I’ll always treasure it. I hold this shelf so close to my heart because it is a reminder of how far I’ve come over the past few years.


Neha Peri holds a BA in English from Rutgers University. In her senior year, she was appointed editor-in-chief of the university’s oldest literary magazine, The Anthologist. While at Rutgers, she also tutored for the Rutgers Writing Program, completed internships with the Rutgers English Department and the University of Mississippi Press, and wrote an honors thesis. Her work has been featured in The Anthologist. Currently, she works as an intern at the Princeton University Press.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “You Really Got A Hold On Me: A Generative Pop Culture Poetry Workshop”

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “You Really Got a Hold on Me”: A Generative Pop Culture Poetry Workshop, led by Shannon Wolf on May 11, 2022, from 6-7:30 PM. This event will be held over Zoom. Participants can access the event at tiny.utk.edu/sundress (password: safta).

The Sopranos brought about a generation filled with fans who found themselves inexplicably drawn to Tony Soprano’s heavy breathing and violent leadership. Fans of the show Killing Eve are consistently torn between troubled MI5 officer Eve Polastri and the object of her detection, the dastardly but captivating Villanelle. What is it about these characters that compels us to talk about them, to think about them, and to write about them? In looking outward to these characters, we look inward.

In this 90-minute generative poetry workshop, you’ll drill down on a character from popular culture who fascinates you in some way. You’ll look at examples of pop culture poetry from writers including Morgan Parker, and Hanif Abdurraquib, and with two short writing periods, you’ll begin drafting work, and even share a line or two. Come along, make sense of your interior life and get an excuse to re-binge your favorite show.

While there is no fee for this workshop, those who are able and appreciative can make direct donations via Venmo @helloshanwolf.

Shannon Wolf is a British writer and teacher, living in Denver, Colorado. Her debut full-length poetry collection Green Card Girl is forthcoming from Fernwood Press. 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 Co-Curator of the Poets in Pajamas Reading Series. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction (which can also be found under the name Shannon Bushby) have appeared in The Forge, No Contact Mag, and HAD among others. You can find her on social media @helloshanwolf.


The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is a writers residency and arts collective that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers in all genres including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, journalism, academic writing, playwriting, and more.