Sundress Reads: A Review of ‘Goldenrod’

Everything about Maggie Smith’s Goldenrod (One Signal Publishers, 2021) feels warm. Seeped in floral and faunal language and set against the arcadian landscapes of Smith’s native Ohio, even frigid aspects of the human condition (death, aging, divorce, sickness, motherly fears) feel more approachable and easy to dissect. In her three-part collection of poems, Smith contemplates such universal and confounding concepts as birth, death, motherhood, loneliness, and perseverance: “I’ve started calling the hum / the soul. Today I have to hold / my breath to hear it,” (“The Hum”) “If you feel yourself receding, receding, / and don’t tell anyone until you’re gone,” (“Poem Beginning with a Retweet”) “We birth the new citizens / & answer their bodies with our bodies,” (“Interrogators of Orchids”).

Upon first reading, we can effortlessly and vividly envision Smith interacting with the personifications of her familiar midwestern environment like they are wordless, wisened friends who, quite possibly, hold all great secrets of the universe. In “Starlings,” Smith writes: “Near the river’s edge, one birch holds a knot so much / like an eye, you think it sees you.” In “Junk Trees”: “False spring, too, is junk, not science. It serves us right / for asking trees to tell us the time.” Smith seamlessly blends her own body with the environment, sometimes unsure where the former ends and the latter begins– from “Poor Sheep”: “I’m reading too much / into the landscape again … My skin, / all forest and manifestation / of the interior. You can see / the mountains through me.”

Smith’s three “Marriage/Divorce” poems, which chronicle her divorce and its effects on her children, are sprinkled throughout the collection as brief musings on absence, renewal, and letting go. In the first, she likens her waning marriage to an overgrown backyard: “Late in the season, we sit ankle-deep / in weeds and flowers. In weeds we call flowers.” It is the kind of poem that can be appreciated by divorced parents and their children alike.

Recurring animals, plants, people, and places are diffused throughout Smith’s collection like increasingly familiar, charming characters. However, nothing appears more frequently than her two children; we see them grow, navigate, and “love by questioning” all while unknowingly informing their mother’s craft. Despite their differences in age, each individual seeks to understand their flawed, cruel, and mystifying world. Nonetheless, Smith includes the pain of knowing she cannot always protect them from it. In ”Half Staff” she asks: “Why don’t we leave / the flags at half-staff / & save ourselves / the trouble?”

Undoubtedly, Smith understands the importance of questioning and not knowing. “So often / the mind whispers / to the body, I am not / safe here, & the body / never bothers / to answer. Because / what could it say?” she she ponders in “Half Staff.” In “Poem Beginning with a Line from Bashō,” she asks: “How can something stand / for years, and then–? Just like that? / Where the roof was, all this night.”

By the final pages, instead of answers and conclusions, we find little solaces in how Smith has made peace with her anxieties and herself. In “Bride,” we find Smith “Married less / to the man than to the woman / silvering in the mirror.” Goldenrod offers a view of a mother’s mind with a refreshing dose of uncertainty, though not necessarily without the warmth of optimism.

Goldenrod is available through IndieBound.

Alexa White is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the city where she grew up, and is pursuing a BA in Creative Writing with a Studio Art minor. She has enjoyed reading and writing, especially poetry, for most of her life and has had both art and poetry published in UTK’s Phoenix literary magazine.

Meet Our New Intern: Iqra Abid

When I was younger, I would follow my older sisters around all day, copying everything they did. Part of this was watching all the same shows they did, reading their books, listening to the music they listened to. In many ways, this formed my taste in media. Shows and books where the main characters worked at magazines or dedicated their entire lives to writing books or were starting their careers as journalists— those were my favourite stories to watch or read. They kept diaries so I did, too. I started writing stories in them, usually horror for some reason. My best ones would have crazy twist endings like the protagonist waking up from a nightmare. Of course, I thought I was a genius.

Then, in middle school, I joined a club where one of the perks was getting free magazines and reading stacks of them during our lunch breaks. My friends and I would often argue over the free posters that came out of them. Years later, my oldest sister would give me a giant pile of magazines to throw away for her before we moved out of our childhood home. I would spend hours scouring each one before I finally threw them away, ripping my favourite pages out of them to make collages with one day. I still have some of those pages saved today, waiting to be cut up and stuck somewhere.

In high school, I started to art journal and write poetry. I made friends who loved all the nerdy, artsy things I did. We went through all the same phases together, hung out after school to make collages out of those old magazine pages, shared and read books together like an informal book club. I edited everybody’s English essays and creative writing pieces. I thought it was fun and it made me happy. It sounds totally lame but I still enjoy it now. What does that say about me?

In the summer after my first year of university, I felt deprived of art and the freedom to creatively express myself. I didn’t get to see my friends as much anymore, so we had less time to create things together. I was also fed up with the lack of mainstream representation that artists from marginalized identities received. When I want to consume art that speaks to my experiences, why do I have to dig so deep for a morsel of relatable or accurate content? I thought that there needed to be more platforms dedicated to uplifting marginalized artists, to foster a safe space that allows them to create content with other artists from similar backgrounds. I thought, why not do it myself?

So, I started Kiwi Collective Magazine, a digital arts publication for marginalized creators of all mediums. I was able to combine my passion for writing, art, and editing to give something back to the creative communities I love. It wasn’t until I started the magazine that I looked back at my childhood and noticed everything that led me to this point. I realized that I have always wanted to be an editor, I just didn’t always know it. Now, I am lucky enough to be with Sundress Publications, expanding my horizons and honing my skills so I can continue to give back to underrepresented creators in the art and literary scenes.

Iqra Abid (she/her) is a young, Pakistani, Muslim writer based in Canada. She is currently a student at McMaster University studying Psychology Neuroscience, and Behaviour. She is also the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Kiwi Collective Magazine. Her work can be found in various publications such as Stone Fruit Magazine, Tiny Spoon Lit Magazine, Scorpion Magazine, and more.

Meet Our New Intern: Alexa White

I think I was nine or ten when I wrote my first legitimate poem. I was distressed at the thought of having to leave everyone and everything I knew on the Virginia coast where I was born and move with my family to Knoxville, Tennessee, where I have lived ever since. It’s easy to look (or cringe) back at that poem as a silly, painfully melodramatic list of beach-themed cliches, but I know that it began what will likely be a lifelong artistic experiment with emotions, words, and speculations.

In the years since, I have continued to use writing, along with visual art, as a tool of exploration and recognition. I use them to understand and connect to the world I live in both externally and internally.

As someone who has struggled with anxiety and ADHD since childhood, I often struggle to maintain a calm and confident headspace. I am almost always worried or uncomfortably unsure about several things at any given time. Early on, my disorder contributed to a distaste for school and learning in general. Nevertheless, the older I got, the more time I spent with words. As my passion for the literary arts grew, I came to love writing not only as an effective and satisfying process of channeling negative energy but also as a way to connect with people and understand the complexities in my life. In my early teens, I read works by icons like Oscar Wilde, John Keats, Chinua Achebe, and Sylvia Plath and felt seen (by dead people but seen nonetheless). To compose something that connects with even a handful of people, in any century, became a goal for me as an artist.  

To this day I am trying to figure out what exactly an ‘artist’ is and how I can best demonstrate it within my life. In addition to my literary interests, I have always had a strong affinity for visual arts, namely drawing, painting, and photography. Going into my freshman year at the University of Tennessee, I felt pressured to choose between a degree in English and the Fine Arts. Eventually, much like everybody’s favorite Old El Paso girl, I asked: Why don’t we have both? With feet in two distinct areas of study, I realized that art and poetry share more similarities than differences. 

Maybe the most infuriating yet comforting commonality is that there is no right or wrong way to create. Yes, there are techniques, precedents, and a few unspoken rules, but ultimately an artist has total authority over their craft. It’s terrifying.

While I have many doubts about my own future and artistry, I keep an open mind and try to make peace with my own ambiguity. This year I am very excited and honored to be part of the Sundress team and look forward to forming new connections, gaining experience, and contributing to a thriving creative community.

Alexa White is a senior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, the city where she grew up, and is pursuing a BA in Creative Writing with a Studio Art minor. She has enjoyed reading and writing, especially poetry, for most of her life and has had both art and poetry published in UTK’s Phoenix literary magazine.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents: September Poetry Xfit

Knoxville, TN — The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present our September Poetry Xfit, hosted by Erin Elizabeth Smith. This generative workshop event will take place on Sunday, September 19th, 2021 from 2 to 4 pm EST via Zoom. Join us at the link with password “safta”.

Poetry Xfit isn’t about throwing tires or heavy ropes, but the idea of challenging our muscles is the same. This generative workshop series will give you prompts, rules, obstructions, and more to write three poems in two hours. Writers will write together for thirty minutes, be invited to share new work, and then be given a new set of prompts. The idea isn’t that we are writing perfect final drafts, but instead creating clay that can then be edited and turned into art later. Prose writers are also welcome to attend!

Erin Elizabeth Smith is the Executive Director for Sundress Publications and the Sundress Academy for the Arts. She is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, most recently DOWN (SFASU 2020), and her work has appeared in Guernica, Ecotone, Crab Orchard, and Mid-American, among others. Smith is a Distinguished Lecturer in the English Department at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.

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

Each month, half of our Xfit donations are shared with a community partner. Our community partner for September is Southerners on New Ground (SONG). SONG has been a home for LGBTQ liberation since 1993 and reaches across racial, class, and cultural lines in the South to transform the region through strategic planning, organizing, and fellowship. SONG works towards building through alliances and coalitions with other organizations that challenge systemic oppression. For more info or to donate to support LGBTQ and Trans liberation, find them at here.

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. 


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Sundress Publications’ Open Call for Poetry Broadside Contest

Sundress Publications is pleased to announce that we are now open for submissions for our annual poetry broadside contest. The contest will be open for submission between September 1st to November 30th, 2021.

The winner’s poem will be letterpress-printed as an 8.5” x 11” broadside complete with custom art and made available for sale on our online store. The winner will receive $200 and 20 copies of their broadside.

To submit, send up to three poems, no longer than 28 lines each (line limit includes stanza breaks but not the title), in one Word or PDF document to by November 30, 2021. Be sure to include a copy of your payment receipt or purchase order number (see below for payment of fees). Please make sure that no identifying information is included in the submitted poems.

The reading fee is $10 per batch of three poems, though the fee will be waived for entrants who purchase or pre-order any Sundress title. Entrants can place book orders or pay submission fees at our store, Once the purchase is made, the store will send a receipt with a purchase code. This code should be included in the submission, or you may forward the email receipt at the same time as you send the submission. This fee is waived for all BIPOC writers.

Previously published material is welcome so long as you maintain the rights to the work. Let us know in your cover letter if any of your submitted poems have been previously published.

Poems 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; poems accepted for publication are still qualified provided the author retains the rights to the work.

This contest will be judged by Sarah Clark, a disabled two-spirit Nanticoke editor, writer, and cultural consultant. They are Editor-in-Chief and Poetry Editor at Anomaly, Editor of beestung, Co-Editor of The Queer Movement Anthology (Seagull Books, 2021) and the Bettering American Poetry series, a reader at The Atlas Review and Doubleback Books, and an Editorial Board member at Sundress Press. She’s edited folios for publications, including Anomaly’s GLITTERBRAIN folio and a folio on Indigenous & Decolonial Futures & Futurisms, Drunken Boat’s folios on Sound Art, “Desire & Interaction,” and a collection of global indigenous art and literature, First Peoples, Plural. Sarah freelances and has worked with several literary and arts publications and organizations, including the Best of the Net anthology, contemptorary, Curious Specimens, #PoetsResist at Glass Poetry, Apogee Journal, Blackbird, and The Paris Review.

Sundress Announces the Release of Ugochukwu Damian Okpara’s I Know the Origin of My Tremor

Sundress Publications announces the release of Ugochukwu Damian Okpara’s I Know the Origin of My Tremor, an elegiac collection that tugs at the nerves of our deepest yearnings. These poems explore the types and shades of loss that humankind can experience and the vibrant sorrow that loss can elicit. They dig through grief, the body, loneliness, longing, and gender dysphoria, making this collection unforgettable in its haunting vulnerability. Here, you will find a father’s ghost hovering, tremors earthquaking the page, and a narrator searching to untangle themselves from the in-between.

A striking testament to survival, I Know the Origin of My Tremor reminds us how boldly a body can long for something.

Lannie Stabile, author of Good Morning to Everyone Except Men Who Name Their Dogs Zeus, says, “I Know the Origin of My Tremor tries again and again to be a collection of queer joy, but joy is not often found in a world that wishes you dead. So, you learn to hide the body of desire, to dig a hole and bury it deep. After all, as Damian writes, ‘Fear is the language that saves us.’”

Jake Sheff, author of Looting Versailles and A Kiss to Betray the Universe, writes that this collection “weaves the personal and universal into a world at once both familiar and strange. This collection makes the line come true: You will rejoice at remembering how “joy falls like freshwater,” and that desire really can “dance like fire.” To rephrase this terrifically talented poet, grief and forgetting have nothing on these poems.”

I Know the Origin of My Tremor is available to download for free on the Sundress website, here.

Ugochukwu Damian Okpara, Nigerian writer & poet, is an alumnus of the SprinNG Fellowship, and Purple Hibiscus Trust Creative Writing Workshop held annually by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. His works appear in African Writer, Barren Magazine, The Penn Review, 20.35 Africa, The Masters Review, and elsewhere. In 2019, Okpara was the 1st runner-up in the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize. He was also a contributing interviewer for Poetry at Africa in Dialogue.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “Exploring Wilderness Through Writing”: A Writers Workshop

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “Exploring Wilderness Through Writing,” a workshop led by Korrin Bishop on September 26, 2021 from 1-7:30PM. This event will be held in-person. Please note that there are only 10 spots available for this event, and it is restricted to only vaccinated people (must show vaccination card in advance.) Also, parking is limited at Firefly Farms, so please carpool. Those interested in this event can register at

Novelists, memoirists, poets, screenwriters, and more have long been inspired by time spent in the great outdoors. In this hands-on workshop, we’ll gather at Firefly Farms in Knoxville—home of Sundress Academy for the Arts—to take our own walk in the woods. We’ll use our five senses, some foraging, and a few writing prompts to explore our inner and outer wildernesses. We’ll try to define what exactly makes something nature writing and discuss why these works carry importance.

This workshop will take an expansive view of the genre to challenge outdated narratives that outdoor adventure stories are reserved for White, male perspectives—or even that one must go on a grueling physical adventure to appreciate nature. It will focus on sharing poetry and creative nonfiction by women, LGBTQ, and BIPOC writers to explore the richness of wilderness writing that takes place beyond the boundaries set by tales of man versus wild.

Make sure to bring comfortable walking shoes, a pen, notebook, water, and whatever else you need to feel safe and inspired in a woodsy outdoor environment. This workshop is for everyone—from seasoned backcountry campers to individuals who staunchly declare they are not “outdoorsy”—so, if you’re wondering if you belong here, please know that you do.

While there is no fee for this workshop, those who are able and appreciative can make direct donations to Korrin via Venmo @KorrinLBishop or PayPal

Korrin Bishop is a writer and editor with passions for mission-driven work and the great outdoors. She co-founded the outdoor group Wild Wilderness Women in 2014 to empower women to get outside, skill share, and build a more inclusive wilderness community. Her writing is heavily influenced by a sense of place, as over time she has found home amongst California’s redwoods, Washington, D.C.’s cherry blossoms, Oregon’s caves, South Dakota’s badlands, Florida’s Everglades, and Appalachia’s Smoky Mountains. Korrin has written for the National Park Service, Misadventures Magazine, Sierra Magazine, Smokies Life, She Explores, and Fodor’s Travel, among others. She is currently on a quest to hike every trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park—when not getting distracted by her kayak.

Sundress Reading Series Seeks Readers for 2021-2022

From December 2021 to March 2022, the Sundress Reading Series will continue online via Zoom. Readers will receive publicity across Sundress Publications’ social media channels in the lead up to their event, and, thanks to a grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission, Sundress is now able to compensate readers $100 for their services.

The Sundress Reading Series is an award-winning literary reading series previously hosted on-ground in Knoxville, TN. An extension of Sundress Publications and the Sundress Academy for the Arts, the Sundress Reading Series features nationally-recognized writers in all genres from around the US while also supporting local and regional nonprofits. 
Our readings take place the last Wednesday of every month from 7-8PM EST. The spring series will stream December 29, January 26, February 23, and March 30.
We are currently seeking readers with books recently released or to be released in 2022, with an emphasis on marginalized voices. Please note in your cover letter if you identify as a BIPOC writer, a trans and/or nonbinary writer, and/or a writer with a disability. To apply to read for the spring, send 6-8 pages of poetry or 8-15 pages of prose, a 50-100 word bio, CV (optional), and a ranking of preferred reading dates to Please make sure the subject line reads “Reading Series Application – Your Name.” 
Applications to participate as a reader are open and the deadline to apply is October 1, 2021. Those selected will be notified by November 1, 2021.
Find our more or to view some of our past readers and schedules, visit us at:

Sundress Reads: Review of Skinny Vanilla Crisis

When your marriage is suddenly on the line and you are forced to start over, what do you do? Colleen Alles addresses this question in her debut novel Skinny Vanilla Crisis (Atmosphere Press, 2020), which follows Holden Averett as he struggles to navigate life while on a trial-run separation with his wife of eighteen years. When Sophia asks Holden to move out for the summer so they can reevaluate their marriage, Holden has no choice but to take up temporary residence at a questionable hotel and start working at a local coffee shop for some extra money. While the position eases some of his financial stress, Holden’s already-complicated situation gets even more confusing when he meets his new coworker, Lila, a former student of his ten years prior. Both Holden and Sophia begin to doubt their relationship as concerns are brought to question, and the two must choose between working through their differences for their family or moving on with other people.

Skinny Vanilla Crisis is both witty and real, focusing on deep topics such as marital problems with authenticity and humor interwoven with more serious moments. Since the story is primarily character driven, the tone of Alles’ writing reflects Holden’s personality and mentality. Holden’s thoughts start off as self-deprecating, with sarcastic, dry jokes included in emotional scenes to mirror his tendency to deflect responsibility. However, the more Holden grows as a character, the more mature and deep the tone becomes, which Alles uses as a way to further establish Holden’s character, as well as subtly depict the growth that he experiences.

The first half of the novel focuses on Holden’s struggle to adapt to his new life while apart from his wife for the first time in decades. While men are oftentimes written as strong or unemotional characters in literature, Alles highlights Holden’s vulnerability. Her realistic portrayal of human emotion through Holden’s character is a refreshing perspective to read from since it opposes the traditional tropes of the romance genre. Alles also does not shy away from focusing on Holden’s negative feelings and how his emotions affect his actions, giving his character more depth. The showcasing of Holden’s hurt makes him more real, his blindsided confusion written so clearly that it can resonate with any reader regardless of whether they can relate or not.

Alles balances this vulnerability with additional focus on Holden’s weaknesses and flaws in the second half of the story. Alles does not establish a “right” or “wrong” person in this situation; instead she gives equal responsibility to both Holden and Sophia. Alles does not paint them as perfect characters; both Holden and Sophia have their own flaws that affect the relationship in different ways. One of the strongest passages in the novel is when Holden acknowledges his own fault in the relationship and what he needs to say to Sophia, stating: “I had what felt like a million things rattling around in my brain that I wanted to tell her. I think you’re right, Soph, I wanted to say. We got way off track. I’m sorry I made you feel so alone for so long. Let’s start rebuilding. Okay? From where we are today” (223). The shift in his mindset from the beginning of the novel to the end shows that his way of approaching the situation has changed. This growth reflects a struggle that many people experience when in a similar situation, which is what makes Alles’ novel so impactful. The reality of their inevitable marital problems encourages readers to put their actions into perspective and even evaluate their own relationship dynamics.

Skinny Vanilla Crisis is not only a story of two people coming back together and resolving to overcome their problems, but also of Holden’s self-discovery. The journey that Holden goes on is eye-opening, inspiring readers to consider their relationships with those that matter most to them. While the novel does not wrap up with a perfect bow like other books with a romance plotline do, it ends on an optimistic note that is fitting for both the story and the situation. The ending emphasizes the message behind Holden’s story, which is that you should never give up fighting for those you love, and that sometimes additional work and self-reflection is necessary to keep relationships healthy. An enjoyable read with an important theme, Skinny Vanilla Crisis is sure to leave a long-lasting impact on any reader as they are inspired to examine the role they play in their relationships.

Skinny Vanilla Crisis is available at Atmosphere Press

Victoria Carrubba is a senior English Publishing Studies student at Hofstra University. She is currently a tutor at her university’s Writing Center and a copyeditor for The Hofstra Chronicle. She has also worked on her university’s literary magazines, Font and Growl, and was previously a fiction editor for Windmill Journal. Outside of work, she can be found reading, dancing, or drinking chai.

Meet Our New Intern: Saoirse

A brown femme person with shoulder length black har sitting at a table. They have a drink in their hand and a butterfly tattoo in pride colors is visible on their wrist.

I grew up in a family of six people and four languages. We also moved around quite a lot. Between code switching at home and learning a new dialect with every move to a different city, I learned the power of language pretty quickly. So it was no surprise when I started poking my nose in my parents’ book collection as a child. Always being the new kid in school and being bullied constantly only made me retreat into my books even more.

Not the best idea—according to my teachers, at least. Books can plant the darnedest ideas in your head. They can suggest your school textbooks are sexist and problematic. They can tell you it’s okay—gasp—even healthy, to be your full queer self. They can instill in you a revolutionary zeal. My books got me in quite a lot of trouble—trouble I took as a sign that I was doing something right.

Though I had a habit of juggling languages based on my mood in both my reading and writing, English held a mysterious allure for me. It was the language where I found my identity as a queer nonbinary woman and it was also a legacy of the colonial violence that separated by grandparents from their ancestral lands. I was proud to be articulate in a language that could never articulate its own violence upon my lived reality. It was to understand this fraught relationship that I found myself majoring in English at Washington College on the eastern shore of Maryland.

Washington College, particularly the pedagogical brilliance of Drs. Kimberly Andrews and Alisha Knight, allowed me to come into my own as a writer and a thinker. It was also where I discovered my passion for editing. Over the years, I’ve harnessed that passion into working with emerging writers who don’t necessarily have access to a creative writing workshop. To that end, I founded Palimpsest—a writers collective focused on honing our craft in community with each other. I also serve as a Guest Editor at Oyster River Pages, where I inaugurated the Emerging Voices in Poetry program as well as ORP Schools— our creative writing workshops. These are all an attempt to create spaces that center the creativity of historically excluded folks.

Language is power harnessed through story. There is no ecstasy greater than finding a story that disrupts, enhances, and challenges the trends at any given time and place. And no honor greater than working with the writer to help them achieve precise muscularity of language as they tell their story. That is why I am so very honored to join Sundress Publications in the curation of a diverse and vibrant literary landscape.

Saoirse’s name and passion are the same: freedom. As an exophonic writer, their academic interests revolve around linguistic power dynamics, especially in connection to the land. They are always trying to write, and find, poetry that breaks the English language into articulating its own colonial violence. They are a freelance editor and serve as the Guest Editor for Emerging Voices in Poetry at Oyster River Pages. They are a 2021 Brooklyn Poets Fellow and a finalist for the Sophie Kerr Prize. They find excitement in travel, comfort in a good cup of coffee, and love in their newly adopted puppy, Malaika. Find them at or on Twitter @saoirseedits.