Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents July Summer Holler Salon

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is pleased to announce the guests for our July 2022 Summer Holler Salon. This event will take place on July 30th from 4 to 6PM at 195 Tobby Hollow Ln. Knoxville, TN. The event will feature six artists and include literary readings, comedy, and music. Carpooling to the event is greatly encouraged, as there will be very limited space for parking.

Summer Awad is a Palestinian-American poet, playwright, and essayist, born and raised in Knoxville. She is a second-year student in the MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University. Her work has appeared at The New York International Fringe Festival and has been published by Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Writers Resist, and Exposition Review. Themes of her work include place, migration, race, gender, ethnicity, US politics, and family. She writes alongside her beloved calico, Sappho.

Martin Cossio, a first-generation Mexican American, is an award-winning poet from San Bernardino — a recently bankrupt city an hour east of L.A. — where he grew up skateboarding and getting into trouble and currently works full-time as a guest teacher. He is a graduate of University of California, Riverside-Palm Desert’s MFA program and a former poetry editor and the lead copy editor of The Coachella Review. He has received an honorable mention from Academy of American Poets and been published in three countries: the US, England, and Hungary. His debut collection, BUD LIGHT Blues, will be published by someone sometime.  

Jane Morton is a poet based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. They recently completed their MFA at the University of Alabama, where they were Online Editor for Black Warrior Review. Their poems are published or forthcoming in Boulevard, Passages North, Ninth Letter, Poetry Northwest, Muzzle Magazine, Booth, and Meridian, among other journals. They will complete a poetry residency with Sundress Publications later this year.

Angela Qian is a writer from California. She received her MFA in fiction from NYU and BA from the University of Chicago. Her writing, including fiction, poetry, and essays, has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Pleiades, Shenandoah, The Guardian Long Read, Witness, The Common, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Zocalo Public Square, and several other outlets. Previously, she co-curated The Sweet & Sour Readings in Manhattan Chinatown; currently, she is on the editorial board for Hyphen. She is also a member of the rotating poetry and performance collective 85 Dessert Spoons. By day, she works at a nonprofit think tank.

Clinton Ricks is from Nashville, TN. He enjoys baking a good pie whenever he has the time and reading old books because interesting stories often have a little dust on them.

Music will be provided by Melanie Lafoy!

This month our community partner for July is Mountain Access Brigade, an abortion doula collective and abortion fund. We provide accurate information about abortion options, non judgmental emotional support, and logistical and financial assistance. We currently fund people getting abortions at the two independent clinics here in East Tennessee. Post-Roe, we plan to fund Tennesseeans leaving the state for care. We serve our clients through a secure phone and text platform, each client getting connected to an abortion doula who assesses their needs and helps make a plan to support them. Find out more about the essential work they do at https://mountainaccessbrigade.org/

Sundress Reads Review Series is Looking for Recently Published Small Press Titles

As part of Sundress Publications’ ongoing commitment to service and the importance of highlighting work from our community of small presses, we are now accepting submissions for consideration for inclusion in our review series, Sundress Reads. We’re looking to write featured reviews for any books published or to be published in 2022. We at Sundress hope to champion writers whose work highlights human struggle and challenges misconceptions.

Authors or publishers of books published within this date range are invited to submit books, chapbooks, or anthologies in any genre for consideration by our reviewers who are standing by. Books must be published by independent presses, university presses, or small presses; we do not accept submissions from “the Big 5” or self-published collections. Submissions will be considered on a rolling basis.

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

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

Meet Our New Intern: Eden Stiger

A picture of Eden Middleton. She has long blondish-brown hair and blue eyes. She is wearing a white turtle neck sweater with a green lanyard and a necklace with the Deathly Hallows symbol around her neck.

Someone pinch me.

I’ve dreamed about becoming an editor since my senior year in high school. I’d only fantasized about writing my own stories—not helping others craft their own—but just before graduation, one English professor pulled me aside and uttered the words that set me on this path: “Have you ever considered a career in editing?” I hadn’t, but as the question circulated in my mind , the more I realized how much I enjoyed marking up other students’ papers with red ink. Running the risk of sounding like some grammar warrior, I mean that helping others on their path to better writing fills me with a sense of usefulness and purpose. I’ve only wielded these skills to help my former classmates and myself, but now it’s time I help authors create amazing work, so here I am!

Backstory

I currently live near the creepiest of the Great Lakes, but you’ll find my roots stretch back to a small Kentucky town called Middlesboro. Although it sounds as classy as the English city it was named after, it’s anything but. Unconsciously trying to avoid all the skeletons and vampires roaming its streets and a toxic relationship just outside my bedroom door, I discovered my escape into the colorful world of black and white. At 12 years old, I became obsessed with reading every historical romance novel Mom had piled on her bookshelf and then gradually selected YA novels as I grew older. (Ironic, I know. On the plus side, spicy language has never scandalized me; it only made me want it more.) When senior year was almost upon us, my plan had been to pursue a BA at either the University of Kentucky or Stephens College in Missouri. Neither of those happened. Instead, I met my wonderful boyfriend-turned-fiancé of nine years through an online dating app, moved to northern Ohio shortly after, and later on graduated from Terra State Community College and the University of Findlay.

Hobbies

I will literally go out and do anything—except skydiving. You won’t find me outside
an airplane unless I’m about to meet God. Oh, and traveling to Australia or South America. Big, scary bugs that are the size of rats and with bites that can kill you in a matter of hours? Harddd pass. I’ll stick with reading a good novel or manga by the poolside, staying up into the AM trying to figure out how to plan the murder of my Sims, and watching anime with my two loves (fiancé and kitty).

Future plans?

I’m getting married to my best friend in less than a month, so I want to laugh, scream, cry, all the above. I’m hoping to start a new day job (current Shift Supervisor of Rite Aid) after and then move this fall. Oh, and visiting Japan is in the works somewhere…

__________

Eden Stiger obtained her Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from the University of Findlay in 2022. She currently resides in Findlay, Ohio, where she assists with the literary magazine Slippery Elm as poetry editor and layout editor.

Interview with Matthew E. Henry, Author of the Colored page

With the release of his debut full-length poetry collection the Colored page, Matthew E. Henry (MEH) spoke with Sundress Publications editorial intern Neha Peri about Langston Hughes, the role of style in creating meaning, and the ways anti-Blackness permeates educational environments.

Neha Peri: Can you speak about the epigraphs? / What does Hughes’ “Theme for English B” mean to this collection?

Matthew E. Henry: In high school, one of the only poems I ever saw myself in was “Theme for English B.” So, as the poems in this collection move chronologically from first grade through the present, each section begins with a quote from the poem making a connection to that time in my life. Like the speaker, I have often been “the only colored [person] in my class,” regardless of whether I am at a desk or at the front of the room. I have always been acutely aware of how this impacts a classroom. The color of my skin, as well as the history and experiences that come along with it, is a difference that is only ignored when at least one person is lying. So, answering Langston’s question: yes, the pages that I write are “colored” by all those factors. 

NP: You touch on visibility quite a bit throughout these poems. How do the themes of hypervisibility and invisibility as a Black person intersect in this collection?

MEH: In teacher jargon we talk about the dangers of “spotlighting” and “ignoring” students in the classroom. How some kids know what it is to become a blackhole, feeling the light of all the eyes in the room sucked into them. Or the opposite, when every eye turns as far away as possible, pretending they aren’t there. Either way, at best, it’s awkward as hell for the kid. In predominantly white schools, Black kids anticipate one or the other happening on a regular basis. In social studies classes when the topic turns to the Civil War or Civil Rights. In English classes during the baffling and on-going conversations around who can read/say “the n-word” aloud. Hell, I was at a conference where an art teacher from another school, who I did not know, came up to me, apropos of nothing, to tell me how she uses “Black art” with her students and makes sure all the Black kids know that it’s “for them.” Obviously, representation matters, but I bet this was done in a way where every student in class was more focused on the Black kids getting “their lesson,” than appreciating the merit of the art. And of course, there is the aftermath of all school assemblies and emails following the latest round of “someone did something racist, again, but this doesn’t reflect our values.” In each of these moments, eyes bore into or away from any Black kid (or teacher) in the area, and we are very aware of it. But this reality stretches outside of the school halls. Driving while Black, interracial dating, riding the train, submitting poetry to journals: the white gaze is always watching or pretending not to. By addressing these themes, the Colored page shows my growth and change in attitude when this happens to me. Moving from my embarrassment in younger grades, to embarrassing others for doing these things in later grades, to my current attempts to educate people (well-meaning and otherwise) in a nicer way. I sometimes fail at the nicer part (sorry mom). 

NP: Can you talk about your use of color in “Western Heritage”? Lines like “suddenly I’m sprinting down sepia halls, / through pastel classroom doors […] to see who stands in front of the black / then green then white board.” place color at the forefront, which I find fascinating.

MEH: This was mostly about memory. The hallways of my elementary school were partially covered in sepia tiles, while my middle school was a little more colorful. However, the change in the color of the boards show that I’m of a certain age. When I was in elementary school the chalkboards were still the old-fashioned blackboards. By the time I hit middle school, the district I attended had made the transition to greenboards. In high school and college, dry erase whiteboards were in use. Nerd that I am, I recently read an article about how and why school districts made these changes. It’s not fascinating reading unless you’re into that sort of thing. 

NP: The lack of capitalization besides proper nouns in the collection is really striking. Even in the title, “Colored” is the only word capitalized. What was the thought process behind this and your use of style and form throughout the collection?

MEH: Like many beginning poets, I was overly enamored with e.e. cummings in college. He was one of the first poets I fell in love with. So when I started writing poetry, I didn’t capitalize anything, including “I,” even at the beginning of sentences or lines. I wanted capitalization to highlight words I thought were important in my works. Elements of this remain, like “Colored” being the only capitalized word in the title, as well as which proper nouns receive capitalization in my poems and which don’t. For example, the klan gets no capitalization because fuck them. However, an element of this drastically shifted after the publication of my first chapbook Teaching While Black. 

Last year, during a class activity, I anonymously used one of my poems from that collection. My kids were to read and annotate “the surprising thing,” and prepare a series of questions they would ask the author if they could. The next day I revealed that I was the author and answered their questions (By the way, this is a humbling experience I don’t recommend for the faint of heart). One thing I learned was that they think I use too much alliteration, a note I’ve taken to heart, sort of. However, one of the questions quite a few students had was about the lack of capitalization, especially in regard to “I.” More than this, they assumed the reason was because the Black speaker of the poem felt that he was inferior to the white people he interacts with, so the author used a lowercase “i” in order to convey a sense of racial hierarchy. Once the abject horror of what they were telling me passed, I completely changed the practice of not capitalizing “I” in any poem that has racial themes (They know I tell this story and take pride in it. And they still mock my alliteration). An exception to this is the poem “an open letter from the boy i was to the Man you’ve become,” where the lowercase “i” is maintained out of my guilt over the incident, rather than anything racial.

NP: Themes of institutional racism are central to this collection, particularly through anecdotes and discussions of microaggression. Can you speak about the importance of anecdotes, or, in other words, the use of lived experience, in your work?

MEH: I’m a storyteller who happens to be a poet. The vast majority of my poetry simply tells stories from my life and others, as well as those borrowed from history and works of literature. I believe storytelling is primarily about bringing others into our experiences, having them see what we saw, feel what we felt. This collection is composed of stories from my life, and racism in all its forms, is a central part of that story. 

While studying Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview, my sophomores dissect “The Lived Experience of the Black Man,” the famed chapter from Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. While I do not agree with all of his thoughts on the relationship between Black ontology and the “white gaze,” I believe that to understand what it is to be Black in the United States, one must hear the stories of how Blacks are viewed by white people. Microaggressions (and outright aggressions) are a large part of this reality. 

My lived experience, as a student, an educator, a writer, is largely shaped by the fact that white teachers, professors, students, and colleagues have treated me differently because of how the color of my skin, and their associations with it, color their perceptions of me. White educators assumed things about my parents, my neighborhood, my raw intelligence, my knowledge base. White colleagues and classmates have presumed my interests and limited experiences. White students have switched out of my class on the first day upon seeing a Black man standing at the whiteboard. White editors have asked me to revise poems because some turn of phrase, while true to my experience, made them uncomfortable. I bring all of these perceptions and actions into my writing, so my poetry reflects my attitude: I like to subvert expectations and make people eat their biased assumptions. Or as one of my recent graduates lovingly wrote in her final paper, “he’s prepared to mentally fuck you up anytime he can, it’s his favorite pastime.” I laughed out loud reading this, and it accurately reflects how I want my poetry to land on those who need to hear it most. 

NP: In poems such as “an open letter to the white feminists holding a literary panel on Toni Morrison” and “conversation with a white girl,” you discuss white feminism and its impact as a function of racism. What frameworks can we use to unpack structural and institutional racism?

MEH: Well, I don’t know if I am as qualified as others to speak on “frameworks” as such, but I think a simple starting point is white people, especially white women, recognizing their privilege. Not only as white people, but also inhabiting a demographic that has been used, and has used, their positionality to harm people of color. For example, the power of white women’s tears has a long history in this country as a weapon against Black men. Christian Cooper was threatened with police intervention for telling a white woman to leash her dog. Anthony Broadwater was sentenced to 16 years for a rape he didn’t commit because he smiled at a white woman. Emmett Till, we now know, didn’t actually do anything. 

I was literally in a conversation yesterday with some of my kids, mostly young white women, about the importance of feminism in the world. But within the conversation they were using terms like “intersectionality” and “Womanist” without knowing that they were coined by Black women to speak of the experiences of Black women, and were currently being co-opted by white women like 90% of the dances on TikTok (…and now I must go write that poem). They were cognitively aware that Black women, and other women of color, can be double (or triple or quadruple) minorities, but in practice often forget that they are talking about and fighting for women’s rights in ways that privilege themselves and/or ignore those who don’t share their shade. To that end, a number of the poems in this collection try to shed light on how well-intentioned, good-hearted white people will focus on a shared human struggle, but comfortably forget that said struggle is made more difficult if you aren’t white. Like how my trans kids have it rough, and anyone who comes for them with a rude comment will catch these hands, but my Black trans brother is routinely assaulted by the cops. 

All that to say, a starting point might be white people listening to, paying attention to other voices without defensiveness or fragility. But I think it is generally hard for people, all people, to not be competitive, even when it comes to the oppression olympics.

NP: Some titles seem to function as a first line, a lead up, into the poem. What was your thought process behind titling each poem, and what did you hope to accomplish?

MEH: Process? Poets have processes?! 

Titles are very fluid for me. Sometimes the first line of a draft gets a promotion. Sometimes—especially with the “when asked…” and “open letter…” poems—a person, a thought, or an event comes first, and I write the poem to fit the title. Sometimes I finish a poem and then stare at it, cursing the sky until an appropriate title comes to me. Regardless of the genesis, I want titles that the poem cannot function well without. 

When we’re reading poetry in class, my kids learn very quickly what happens if they jump into the first line of the poem, skipping the title. I usually scream and then roll around on the ground. Or slam my head into the whiteboard. Then they roll their eyes and read the title. Whenever this happens, after we have worked through our thoughts on the text, I ask them if the insights they have drawn out work without the title. They always say “no” and then explain the importance of the title to the piece. That’s what I aim for. I want titles that not only set up the poem, but allow the reader to learn something about the poem, be that the intent, the setting, the mood, a historical or literary connection, or some other flight of my ADHD brain. They should always be accessible, but you might have to Google something. 

NP: Tell me about your choice of language and syntax in “when asked why I don’t volunteer,” particularly in lines like “unpaid labor, shackled in the red-faced sun / of small groups, whipped to explain everything” and “auction-blocked, forced to open my mouth, / show my teeth for all the assembled / after speaking simple, uncomfortable truths.”

MEH: This poem was born from a real conversation on why I don’t volunteer to be on any more diversity/inclusion/equity/multicultural/[fill in the buzzword blank] committees at my current place of work. I have been on them in the past, many times at different institutions, and I’m pretty done. The conversation was with the only other Black educator in the school, who is on almost every single one of those types of committees in the building and throughout the district. It’s always volunteer work and she doesn’t get paid any extra money for the hours upon hours upon hours of work she puts into this. However she is passive aggressively undermined, has her ideas co-opted by less intelligent people, or is just ignored when doing the wonderful work some people pay lip-service to doing (You’re amazing La Toya!). I made a quip to her about it being “unpaid labor” akin to slavery and started drafting this poem in my head.

The images in this poem fuse the auction block and cotton/tobacco fields with the professional developments in every predominately white school system I’ve worked in over the past 20 years. Literally being forced to speak up and “share my truth” when the people really don’t want to hear it. A quick example. While discussing Ibram X Kendi’s definitions of antiracist, assimilationist, and segregationist mentalities in school settings, I was asked in a small group to share whether I had any white teachers who were antiracist in my formative years. I said no. My colleagues lost their minds. Couldn’t believe it. Kept bringing it up over the course of the hour. They were offended as if they themselves were my elementary school teachers. I assume they were terrified that the students of color they’ve actually taught over the years would say the same thing about them. 

So, as a matter of self-care, I limit the amount of such interactions in my life. Especially for free. I’m still waiting on my 40 acres and a mule. At this point I’ll settle for my mortgage paid off and a pet squirrel. 

NP: “an open letter to my well-intentioned white educators: past, present, and future” speaks directly to the audience about the unintentional harm white supremacy and anti-Blackness perpetuate. I’m curious about the decision, throughout this collection, for the speaker to speak directly to the audience. How did this choice shift the meaning of these poems? 

MEH: At first, this wasn’t a conscious choice. I was processing certain events and writing poems. But when I noticed that the poems coalescing into this collection were all in the first person, I doubled down on it, culling or changing any poems that weren’t “me” speaking directly to the reader. To my mind, personal addresses hit home more. When the speaker is talking directly to me, I can be challenged, indicted, called to task, or asked to investigate myself in some way. Obviously, some people are not a fan of this, but I love when a writer punches me in the gut, making me question all of my life choices. I’m also a teacher whose students refer to his classes as “existential crisis 101,” so I have issues. 

When I was a college professor, I taught excerpts from the book Metaphors We Teach By. Among the various metaphors for the different aspects of teaching and learning, I personally resonate with the idea of teaching as catalyst. We light a fire, add an irritant, move things around, shake things up, all for the purpose of helping our kids move themselves from where they are to where they could be. I like to think that my poetry functions in the same way, or at least that’s what I’m aiming for. Direct addresses make it more personal, adds a little bit of pain. Makes it harder to look away, so hopefully change can take place. 

Order your copy of the Colored page today!


Matthew E. Henry (MEH) is the author of Teaching While Black (Main Street Rag, 2020) and Dust and Ashes (Californios Press, 2020) and editor-in-chief of The Weight Journal. MEH received his MFA from Seattle Pacific University, and an MA in theology and PhD in education from other institutions. You can find him at MEHPoeting.com writing about education, race, religion, and burning oppressive systems to the ground.

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 Now Accepting Fall 2021 Writers Coop Residency Applications

Sundress Academy for the Arts

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

  • August 15-21
  • September 26-October 2
  • November 14-20
  • November 21-27
  • December 19-25

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

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

Cost for the residency is $150/week. Application fees for the Writers Coop are waived.
The application deadline for these dates for the fall residency period is rolling. Find out more about the application process at www.sundressacademyforthearts.com.

Sundress Reads: Review of The Eden of Perhaps

In her reflective poetry collection, Agnes Vojta breaks down the role of the domestic woman, coping with small town life while existing outside of its expectations. The Eden of Perhaps (Spartan Press, 2020) is a role-shattering exploration into the intimate world of suburban women. Vojta invites reader to embark on a journey of self-discovery through the eyes of a woman who finally finds the strength to question heteronormativity in the face of patriarchal culture. 

The collection appropriately begins with an invocation of the muse. However, Vojta’s invocation subverts the traditional role of the muse in Ancient Greek literature. The muse’s purpose is typically to provide a prologue for an epic centered around manhood. In Homer’s The Odyssey, the muse tells readers of “the man of twists and turns,” who the Western canon has decidedly crowned a literary hero. Vojta instead turns the concept of the feminine mouthpiece on its head—her collection speaks of “a fierce, fiery muse / of the get-their-attention squad,” who demands to know: “what are you waiting for?” The muse prompts the speaker and the reader to ask themselves the same question while acknowledging the potential for transformation within both figures. Vojta further rejects romantic tropes of “…wispy muses / who whisper in the trees,” and “…cerebral muses / who linger in libraries.” The Eden of Perhaps ignores the historically male protagonist, confidently declaring that the muse’s own story is equally as valuable, equally as interesting, and equally as worthy of being told. In this way, Vojta’s lyrical critique of gender conformity is large in scope, drawing from similarities in both the mythological and domestic spheres. 

Similarly, natural imagery recurs throughout the collection, suggesting an ethereal form of beauty in the sublime and an aversion to man-made, societal expectations. Vojta’s imagery builds from the narrator’s clear struggle between conforming to small-town gender norms and breaking free from their constraints. The collection’s poems constantly switch back and forth between tangible, household spaces to more ephemeral, transcendental spaces. “Seeds of No Return,” from which the collection derives its name, describes a bountiful feast reminiscent of a cornucopia table—her words suggest a sense of responsibility: an inescapable pressure to remain tethered to domestic life. Despite knowing how fruitful it is to explore expressions of identity, the speaker is hesitant. 

In “Questioning,” and “The Cage,” Vojta highlights claustrophobic feelings that small town life evokes, retelling the story of a woman who must sneak away to read in her local library, in fear that she might be reprimanded for pursuing knowledge. Of course, like all of Vojta’s brilliant yet subtle critiques, her literary references aren’t without purpose. The feminine pursuit of knowledge, as a poetic trope, has its roots in man’s fall from grace. The speaker admits, “at home, she hides [her books] / under piles of paper / or on the shelves, / spines facing the wall.” The reversal of knowledge as a source of toxicity for women, to a source of self-discovery, is another way that Vojta rejects traditionally feminine roles. 

The speaker further expresses comfort in the sublime when she asserts, “I am the needle that points / wherever the magnet is / you cannot use my orientation / to define north.” Vojta’s poems capture wilderness stills—flowing streams, mountain ranges, and even a winged phoenix—to call for a return to our natural states, which the collection implies is an embrace of gender inclusivity. The speaker’s “orientation,” she demands, can’t be co-opted by people who want to speak for her. 

In fact, the poems here argue against a one-size-fits-all solution to gender-based issues. Vojta regards coming to terms with one’s gender expression as a long process that can happen later in life and is defined by hesitance, acceptance, and questioning. Her collection recognizes exploration as a long journey, made evident by its calls back to classical literature. Unapologetically feminist, in “We Live in a World of Right Angles,” the speaker admits her desire to “…dissolve / the man-made melt / into the in-between.” The Eden of Perhaps validates the twists and turns that often come with self-discovery, rather than the kind that only give depth to historically heroic male protagonists. Vojta’s “Eden” isn’t necessarily a place. It is the in-between—the worthwhile journey that allows individuals to feel comfortable in their skin regardless of gender norms. 

The Eden of Perhaps is available at Spartan 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.

Doubleback Books 2022 Open Reading Period for Previously Published Poetry & Prose Books

Doubleback Books is open for submissions for previously published poetry and prose books. All eligible previously published authors are welcome to submit their manuscripts during our reading period from July 15-August 31, 2022.

If you are the author of a book that has recently gone out of print since 2000 because the press closed, we want to read it. Authors of works that have gone out of print due to the closure of the original press may submit full-length or short books, including novels, novellas, chapbooks, short story collections, poetry collections, essay collections, and memoirs. Editors may also submit out of print manuscripts their presses published before closing.

Submit your manuscript(s) in a .PDF or .DOC format to doublebackbooks2014@gmail.com and include the name of the manuscript’s original publisher, the name and contact information of the publisher’s former editor-in-chief (if available), and a brief cover letter in the body of the email telling us about your work and yourself, noting the genre of the manuscript.

Accepted manuscripts will be turned into downloadable e-books available for free. We do not republish translated work or previously self-published work. We occasionally open briefly at other times for reading periods; please follow Sundress for more information. Please view previously published titles at https://doublebackbooks.wordpress.com/titles.

Doubleback Books is an imprint of Sundress Publications. More information can be found here.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents July Poetry Xfit

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present Poetry Xfit hosted by Erin Elizabeth Smith. This generative workshop event will take place on Sunday, July 17th, 2022 from 2 to 4 pm EST via Zoom. Join us at the link tiny.utk.edu/sundress with password “safta”.

Poetry Xfit isn’t about throwing tires or heavy ropes, but the idea of confusing 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 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 of Sundress Publications and the Sundress Academy for the Arts. She is the author of three full-length collections, most recently DOWN, which was released by Stephen F. Austin State University Press in 2020. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Guernica, Ecotone, Mid-American, Crab Orchard Review, Waxwing, and Willow Springs, among others. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi and teaches in the English Department at the University of Tennessee. She currently serves as the inaugural Poet Laureate of Oak Ridge, TN.

While this is a free event, donations can be made to the Sundress Academy for the Arts here: https://sundress-publications.square.site/product/donate-to-sundress/107?cs=true

Each month we split any Xfit donations with our community partner. This month our community partner for July is Mountain Access Brigade, an abortion doula collective and abortion fund. We provide accurate information about abortion options, non judgmental emotional support, and logistical and financial assistance. We currently fund people getting abortions at the two independent clinics here in East Tennessee. Post-Roe, we plan to fund Tennesseans leaving the state for care. We serve our clients through a secure phone and text platform, each client getting connected to an abortion doula who assesses their needs and helps make a plan to support them. Find out more about the essential work they do at https://mountainaccessbrigade.org/ 

To donate to Mountain Access Brigade, please check out https://secure.actblue.com/donate/mountainaccessbrigade

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “The Elegiac Hybrid”

Sundress Academy for the Arts

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “The Elegiac Hybrid,” a workshop led by Mary Leauna Christensen on July 13, 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).

This workshop will reflect on the poetic tradition of elegy, while experimenting with what it means to elegize. The subject of an elegy might be a concrete person or thing, or the loss of language, ancestral land, or even personal agency. Reading the work of poets such as Layli Long Solider, Jake Skeets, and Donika Kelly, we will give attention to historically silenced voices, while discussing how experimentation with genre, form, and the use of the blank page allows more avenues for elegizing and the processing of grief. 

Grief is, of course, non-linear. By considering elegy as a possible experimental or hybrid form, we will consider the importance of writing at the line level. We will discover ways individual lines interact with each other as well as how what we write interacts with the page itself. Using guiding prompts and example poems, participants will generate new work.

While there is no fee to participate in this workshop, those who are able and appreciative may make donations directly to Mary Leauna Christensen via Venmo at @Mleauna or via PayPal to mleauna@hotmail.com.

Mary Leauna Christensen, an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is a PhD student at the University of Southern Mississippi. Mary is Managing Editor of The Swamp Literary Magazine. Her work can be found in New Ohio Review, Puerto del Sol, Cream City Review, The Laurel Review, Southern Humanities Review, and Denver Quarterly. She has also recently been named an Indigenous Nations Poets fellow for the inaugural In-Na-Po retreat.

Sundress Reads: Review of She Has Dreamt Again of Water

Stephanie Niu’s chapbook, She Has Dreamt Again of Water

Stephanie Niu’s chapbook, She Has Dreamt Again of Water (Diode Editions, 2022), conjures both a dreamer’s perspective and longing for freedom, as well as a clear-eyed understanding of how it can be restricted. She searches for some balance between nourishing other people and relationships, and self-preservation. No answer to that question could be straightforward, and Niu’s thoughtful exploration of it ensures its emotional dimensions remain intact. 

The first two poems of the collection (following a mythic sort of prologue) immediately set up some essential themes, with the motif of water carrying particular weight. “Water Dreams” pulls the central mother-daughter connection in and out of focus, like a tide. “Her relief that I can conjure, / even in sleep, what she cannot give me—good rest, / good luck, an ocean to dream in.” This care, as well as the discomfort of it at times, is evident throughout the chapbook, with the speaker frequently drawn in and away from the mother’s gravity. “She is always in motion, urgent for something / she cannot name.”

Both qualities of the relationship become more apparent in “Midden / Appetite,” the first of many poems that center less around water and more around themes of food and, more significantly, “trash” or “garbage,” as the mother identifies herself. These more potent metaphors reappear throughout the poems. Love is intertwined in what is consumed, as when the speaker notes the mother “eats what we won’t,” despite her complaint that “no one wants to be garbage.” Later, the mother wishes, “If someone loved me more, / maybe I wouldn’t gain weight.

Finding a connection between the mystic ocean themes and the more mundane question of nourishment, Niu draws a sketch of a dead whale’s remains becoming an “ecosystem,” contradicting her mother’s wish not to “become food”—illustrating a fear that love means being consumed. What power do we have, or do we not have, to choose to linger in the lives of others? To sustain our loved ones in whatever way they may need?

In the next poem, “Garbage Boogie,” the speaker notes that she has “trash guilt” and will “discard what [she] can’t carry”—a stark contrast. More crucially, she believes that “the system / can’t need us to be superhuman” as she watches “the ways we still overflow / with hunger, so much hunger / with nowhere to go.” It doesn’t feel quite like a judgment on the mother, but perhaps a rejection of that model for herself after witnessing the wear on her bones.

Later, in “Before Desire,” the speaker makes this conflict a bit clearer. She uses the metaphor of pelicans filling their mouths with fish, accepting that “our way of being in the world / was the only one we wanted,” knowing that “we had no dreams.” The reader can’t help but think of the collection’s title, however, and the speaker’s insistence on dreaming, even if it’s almost apologetic.

In later poems, the speaker’s father appears to be the opposite, somehow: struggling to find the right way to nourish those in his care, misfeeding parakeets who don’t know to “keep their bellies full” like chickens do—an apparent metaphor for himself. In the next poem, however, the speaker reconsiders, noting that “he has learned to fly,” thoughtfully providing her two pears for travel; they have the “sharp crunch of water” and nourish her more fully, while being more acceptable on a plane than liquids.

The narrative of her father is clearer than that of the mother, perhaps. But maybe painting such a clear portrait of each of them is enough.

Through the three parts of “Diver Walks into the Sea and Stays,” the speaker finally creates a narrative for herself, slowly “learn[ing] to clear [her] ears,” and then beginning to explore, finding “everything […] worthy of devotion.” She concludes, “I need / nothing. I survive” in the image of an angler fish. Then, in the collection’s titular poem, she longs for exile, for the moon (“What better home / for her lonely body than another lonely, / celestial body?”)

One of the chapbook’s highlights, “Migration,” carries the reader from that longing and exploration into the collection’s final quiet moments. The poem is a sestina, using the end-words of each line to pull together many thematic elements and details that have flowed like driftwood through the collection, like “mother” and “free” and “swell.” 

In one stanza, the speaker’s mother seems to accept her “early desire to be free,” at which the mother “swell[s]/with pride;” later, that acceptance is reciprocated, when the speaker realizes, “I wish I could say what I needed to be free/from, what thing. Not any particular, even my mother.” She promises to “show [her] mother the swells” of the ocean someday.

Clear, cleansing prose runs through these poems like a river. They are not simple or transparent, yet the reader’s mind doesn’t stumble over the words. They are musical, but also purer than that, spoken with a clear throat yet an exploring mind. The language invites us to spend time with it, inside of it, like opening our eyes underwater and examining an unknown landscape. The vision is sharp, translucent. 

Much of this language is used to create the ethereal atmosphere of many poems, a similar magic to the title. At other times, though, it finds other purposes, even play. “Garbage boogie,” for instance, is aptly named after its musical qualities: “the sound of hollow boxes” dancing with “and old bottles of booze / lulls me, confused, into its groove”; “culpable” ricocheting off of “compost” and “recyclables”—all this just in the first few moments of the poem.

Although the ocean metaphors were unsurprising, I didn’t anticipate the themes centered around food and remains. At times, there is emptiness and hunger, while at others, fullness and the act of consuming. There is a clear contrast in these themes, the mysticism of water and the practical care of feeding. Yet, moments of connection are scattered throughout, such as the whale’s corpse becoming sustenance. In other cases, food and water act as both sources of life and nourishment (literal food, and metaphorical spiritual freedom of the ocean) as well as, perhaps, suffocation (consumed and being consumed; dreams being put to rest).

The final poem, “I Drive As My Family Sleeps,” offers some resolution of these themes. The images of this poem are quiet, nearly still, except for the lullaby hum of the road beneath the words. Something intangible lingers there, in the space this family creates for each other. “But for now, /this quiet mile is the only thing on earth that is ours.”

She Has Dreamt Again of Water is available at Diode Editions


Laurel Elizabeth is a writing tutor and success coach for Kennebec Valley Community College’s TRIO program, where she recently earned an associate degree in liberal arts. Additionally, she is a graduate of Vassar College’s Exploring Transfer summer program, and aims to begin a BA in English this fall. An emerging writer and aspiring English teacher, she has a special interest in the role of creative empowerment in education.