Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents March Poetry Xfit 

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present Poetry Xfit hosted by Z Eihausen. This generative workshop event will take place on Sunday, March 19 from 2 to 4 pm EST via Zoom. Join us at the link with the password “safta”. 

Poetry Xfit isn’t about throwing tires or heavy ropes, but the idea of confusing our muscles is the same. You will receive ideas, guidelines, and more as part of this generative workshop series in order to complete three poems in two hours. A new set of prompts will be provided after the writers have written collaboratively for thirty minutes. The goal is to create material that can be later modified and transformed into artwork rather than producing flawless final versions. The event is open to prose authors as well!

Z Eihausen is a former SAFTA editorial intern and a student at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville where she studies English and Philosophy. She also likes bees. 

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

Each month we split any Xfit donations with our community partner. Our community partner for March is The Bottom. 

The Bottom is a Black-owned, multi-purpose community space for literary, creative, and educational programming whose mission is to build community, celebrate culture, and engage the creativity of Black people through curated events, ongoing projects, shared resources, and physical space. Our programs are centered around engaging black-centered and affirming arts, and uplifting local artists, authors, and makers. As we continue to share our story we hope to continue building and creating community for East Knoxville. Find out more about The Bottom here.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents March Reading Series

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is pleased to announce the guests for the March installment of our reading series. This event will take place on Sunday, March 26th at Pretentious Beer Co. from 1:00-3:00PM.

Picture of Nisha Atalie

Nisha Atalie is a poet, editor, and doctoral student in literature at University of Wisconsin-Madison. She loves reading and writing about animals, ecology, our relationships to the non-human, and how we can untether these relationships from a worldview imposed by colonialism. Her work has been published in Poem-A-Day, Blood Orange Review, Indianapolis Review, and elsewhere. Her work has received the Eileen Lannan Poetry Prize and placed third for the 2022 Treehouse Climate Action Poem Prize from the Academy of American Poets.

Picture of Audrey Gidman

Audrey Gidman is a queer poet living in Maine. She serves as assistant poetry editor for Gigantic Sequins and chapbooks editor for Newfound. Her poems can be found in The Night Heron Barks, Rust + Moth, Luna Luna, Volume Poetry, The Shore, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, body psalms (Slate Roof Press), was the recipient of the Elyse Wolf Prize.

Picture of Allison Summers

Allison Summers is a stand-up comedian and filmmaker in Nashville, TN. She has performed at Milwaukee Comedy Fest, Out of Bounds, WICF and Bonnaroo. She teaches improv to people in recovery and stand up comedy to women in prison.

Picture of Era Nash

Jessy Easton was raised in the Mojave Desert of California and now lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. She holds a BA in Communications from Vanguard University of Southern California. In 2022, Good River Review nominated her story “The Things We Leave Out” to be included in the nonfiction category of the Best of the Net Anthology. Jessy’s writing has been published in Beacon Quarterly, Entropy Magazine, and Good River Review. She publishes weekly to her Substack and she’s currently querying agents with her memoir.

Era Nash is an Americana, indie folk band founded by singer-songwriter Perry Rhodes. Prior to Era Nash, he was the lead singer of Evaline, an indie rock band signed to Maverick & Riverman Records. His music has been featured in the film You’re Not You starring Hilary Swank.

Our community partner this month is The Bottom. The Bottom is a Black-owned, multi-purpose community space for literary, creative, and educational programming whose mission is to build community, celebrate culture, and engage the creativity of Black people through curated events, ongoing projects, shared resources, and physical space. Our programs are centered around engaging black-centered and affirming arts, and uplifting local artists, authors, and makers. As we continue to share our story we hope to continue building and creating community for East Knoxville. Find out more about The Bottom here!

This event is brought to you in part by a grant provided by the Tennessee Arts Commission. Find out about the important work they do here.

Sundress Publications @ AWP 2023: Tabling and Book-Signing

Sundress Publications will be at AWP 2023! Find us at T500 Thursday, March 9th to Saturday, March 11th from 9AM to 5PM to say hi to our lovely staff, purchase some great books, and get them signed by Sundress authors Donna Vorreyer, Ever Jones, jason b. crawford, Sandra Marchetti, Sunni Wilkinson, Robert Long Foreman, Athena Nassar, Barbara Fant, H.K. Hummel, Kimberly Ann Priest, and Stacey Balkun.

See you in Seattle!

Sundress Publications Announces the Acquisition of Michelle Whittaker’s Spoke the Dark Matter

Sundress Publications is pleased to announce the acquisition of Michelle Whittaker’s Spoke the Dark Matter, which is slated for publication in Summer 2024.

Michelle Whittaker is an American poet of West Indian heritage and the author of Surge, which was awarded a Finalist Medal for the Next Generation Indie Book Awards (Great Weather for Media). She has been published in places such as New York Times Magazine, New Yorker, Shenandoah, Upstreet, and PANK Magazine and received a Pushcart Special Mention, Cave Canem Fellowship, and New York Foundation of Arts Fellowship in Poetry. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stony Brook University.

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

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “Turn! Turn! Turn! Reimagining the Volta”

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents
“Turn! Turn! Turn! Reimagining the Volta”

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “Turn! Turn! Turn! Reimagining the Volta,” a workshop led by Alyse Bensel on March 15, 2023, from 6-7:30 PM. This event will be held over Zoom. Participants can access the event at (password: safta).

The volta is not just for sonnets. Rather, turns abound in all forms and genres, building tension, generating emotional shifts, and sparking energy. Drawing from formalist traditions, we’ll translate the conventions of received forms into free verse poetry and short prose forms such as micro memoir and flash fiction.

The workshop will begin with a brief overview of the volta’s origins, move into a discussion of contemporary writers such as Joan Naviyuk Kane, Sabrina Orah Mark, and Beth Ann Fennelly, and feature generative writing prompts with an emphasis on turns. There will be opportunities for sharing generated work with the workshop group.

While there is no fee to participate in this workshop, those who are able and appreciative may make donations directly to Alyse Bensel via Venmo @AlyseBensel or PayPal @alysebensel.

Alyse Bensel is the author of Rare Wondrous Things: A Poetic Biography of Maria Sibylla Merian (Green Writers Press, 2020) and three chapbooks. Her work has appeared in AGNI, Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Southern Indiana Review, and West Branch. She serves as Poetry Editor for Cherry Tree and teaches at Brevard College, where she directs the Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference.

This workshop is brought to you in part by a grant provided by the Tennessee Arts Commission. Find out about the important work they do here.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Announces 2023 Summer Poetry Writing Retreat

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is thrilled to announce its Summer Poetry Writing Retreat, which runs from June 2nd through June 4th, 2023. The three-day, two-night camping retreat will be held at SAFTA’s own Firefly Farms in Knoxville, Tennessee.  All SAFTA retreats focus on generative poetry writing, and this year’s poetry retreat will also include the following break-out sessions: “The Cascade and the Overflow: The Use and Uselessness of Punctuating Your Poetry” and “Sex and Food: Toward A Poetics of Mess.”

A weekend pass includes one-on-one and group instruction, writing supplies, food, drinks, and all on-site amenities for $250. Tents, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment are available to rent for $25.  Payment plans are available if you reserve by March 31, 2023.

The event will be open to writers of all backgrounds and provide an opportunity to work with many talented, published poets from around the country, including workshop leaders Rita Mookerjee and Darren C. Demaree.


“Sex and Food: Toward A Poetics of Mess”: Rather than prioritizing methods that champion streamlining and productivity, let us celebrate the radical politics of food and mess-making as queer writing methods and joyful learning practices. Since poetry is often a genre of experimentation, the inclusion of queer mess invigorates our understanding of writing as well as how we compose our own work. When using messy modalities, we invoke the mouth as a political tool that adds delightful complexity to our poetry. We will unearth moments of joyful chaos in the works of Audre Lorde, Jose Esteban Muñoz, and Rajiv Mohabir. We will move beyond normative, ethical valuations negatively associated with both queerness and disorderliness in favor of mess-making as an accessible, equitable creative practice.

“The Cascade and the Overflow: The Use and Uselessness of Punctuating Your Poetry”: In this workshop, we will explore the strategy of punctuation in the poetic form, how it can be used, ignored, twisted and turned into what we need it to be or what we need to ignore to write the best possible poetry.

Workshop Leaders

Rita Mookerjee is an Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Worcester State University. She is the author of False Offering (JackLeg Press 2023). She is the co-founder of Honey Literary, Inc. and the Poetry Editor at Split Lip Magazine. Her poems can be found in CALYX, Copper Nickel, the Offing, Poet Lore, and Vassar Review

Picture of Darren C. Demaree

Darren C. Demaree is the author of eighteen poetry collections, most recently the luxury (Glass Lyre 2023).  He is the recipient of an Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, the Louise Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and the Nancy Dew Taylor Award from Emrys Journal.  He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Best of the Net Anthology and the Managing Editor of Ovenbird Poetry.  He is currently living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.


We have two full fellowships available–one for a writer of color and one general one–as well as limited 20% scholarships for those with financial need. To apply for a scholarship, send a packet of no more than (8) pages of poetry along with a brief statement on why you would like to attend this workshop to Erin Elizabeth Smith at no later than March 31, 2023. Winners will be announced in early April. 

All participants must be vaccinated and present a negative COVID test taken within 24 hours of attending the event.

Space at this workshop is limited to 14 writers, so reserve your place today!

Project Bookshelf: Grace Jenkins

The most accurate description of myself that I could give to anyone is that my cats, coffee, and fantasy books are all that matter to me. I would say that that pretty much describes my top reads.

I have to give credit to my first fantasy love, the Harry Potter series. I have read this series three times in my life, and every time it comforts me and excites me at the same time. Perfectly written and set at the perfect pace, my love for this series is neverending. Fun fact, Ginny is the reason I am a redhead! I tend to get attached to my favorite characters, as many avid fantasy readers do.

Another book that I hold near and dear is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I read this for the first time in the fourth grade, and it perfectly fueled my fantastical dreams. Growing up and reading it now, it has become more of a literary masterpiece in my mind rather than a fairytale, which will forever make this book a favorite.

Because I need to break the fantasy pattern at least a little, I must mention my all-time favorite book to annotate. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho is the most insightful and brilliantly thought-up book that I have ever read. I suppose it could be considered a kind of fantasy novel, though, to me, it feels more like a comment on the world and the meaning of life. It was assigned to me as a project in high school, and since then, I have annotated it for a second time and am currently working through a special copy for my fiancé. In one of my favorite lines in any book, Coelho writes, “the most important part of the language that all the world knows– the language that everyone on earth was capable of understanding in their heart. It was love.” This line is beautiful in and out of context and is the reason why this book is one I could talk about for hours.

A tabby kitten is sitting on a copy of Crescent City.

My current fantasy favorites are any of Sarah J. Maas’s books. I devoured the Crescent City series, specifically, purely because of how fast-paced and action-packed the two books are. With turns at every corner and the potential *SPOILER* multiversal crossover, I had the biggest book hangover of my life.

On the topic of Maas’s series, my sweet kitty, Gwyn, was a big fan of the Crescent City series. And, yes, she was named after Gwyn from Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses series (as was my other fur baby, Elain). Clearly, Maas’s works have me in a chokehold.

A girl poses with a the book Outlander held in front of her face.

My current fantasy read is (finally) the Outlander series. I am about halfway through the first book, and though it is not quite as fast-paced as my usual books, has a more mature and intricate writing style that I adore. It was recommended to me by a dear friend who is dying for me to get further ahead so we can gossip about the characters.

I will admit, fantasy and romance novels (more like fantasy romance) have me in a chokehold, but with the school semester starting up, I am turning my focus to my class-assigned books. First up is a re-read of The Great Gatsby (hopefully in tangent reading with Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald). A semester starting signals an end to my personal reading, but, lucky for me, The Great Gatsby is an all-time favorite with an intriguing history.

Grace Jenkins (she/her) is a student at UTK majoring in English and minoring in Religious Studies and Political Science. Her cats, coffee, and fantasy novels are the best things in life.

Meet Our New Intern: Lyra Thomas

I chose my name, Lyra, like I chose this career path. When I heard it, it just felt right. Besides, I’ve always loved the idea of being named after stars and constellations. I’m a black, nonbinary poet from St Louis, and believe me, I never shut up about it. I’ve been writing since I was eight, although my writing started with silly comedy sketches (I grew up watching All That and The Amanda Show in the early 2000s, so there’s no shocker there), it evolved into something more graceful as I grew older and experienced more than fleeting childhood bliss. Between my parents’ divorce and school bullies, I had writing material for years on end. Naturally, in school we read Shakespeare, Beowulf, and the rest of the dead white man works, but beyond those assignments in the depths of the 2010s, I found myself infatuated with the uprising contemporary poetry scene. After school, I submerged myself in spoken word YouTube with Button Poetry’s channel, as well as speakeasynyc’s channel with gems like Phil Kaye’s original reading of “Repetition.” Investing in poetry and hearing about the individual worlds of my favorite poets helped pass the time on the drives between mom and dad’s house, and helped me put my own feelings into better words, even if only for my own ears. 

Grade school through high school, I never really fit in, so my journals heard all the secrets I was too scared to tell anyone else. I often turned diary entries into poems, teaching myself how meter and syntax worked in a way that reads and looks good on the page. Part of the reason I didn’t fit in was because in the majority of STEM studies, I was subpar. However, when it came to English, I was the best in class. I grew to anticipate my peers’ faces when I would read my work in creative writing class—finally awe and not a smirk. I took the only creative writing class McCluer North High School offered my junior year, and I think that’s what sealed the deal for me when it came to choosing it as my college major. The class instructor, Miss Hobin, was often the only reason I managed to get out of bed back then. She was also the first instructor who told me I had genuine talent as a writer, which always stuck with me, even after she passed away in a motorcycle accident. I’ve always known whenever I release my first collection of poems, it will be dedicated to her. 

Naturally, I went on to major in creative writing, but that’s not where life took me after graduating. Instead, I landed in a comfy Human Resources role that ended up propelling me into a three-year career in various big name corporations in the St Louis area. By 24, I was making about as much as my mom did at the peak of her educational career. Despite the financial comfort, the independence, and the beautiful apartment, I knew I wasn’t happy. I knew my life was incomplete without writing, and the burnout from the 8-5 life overpowered every urge in my soul to write. After being laid off and let go and every other wording of that phrase enough times, I decided I was tired of settling for a career I never even felt appreciated in—a field that never truly made me happy. I decided, why not apply to an MFA program? COVID-19 seemed to be making the world fall apart anyway, so that’s exactly what I did. In the Fall of 2021, I came back to my alma mater, Southern Illinois University Carbondale, for an MFA in Poetry.

Now, ten years after that first creative writing class, and two years since leaving what I now call “corporate hell,” poetry is my lifeline. I’ve never once regretted going back to school. I’ve re-dedicated my life to my craft and what I love the most, and I’m incredibly proud of myself for doing so instead of settling for the comfortable path with its too-short weekends and too-long days. Some say they can’t believe I gave it all up for college town pizza parlors and late nights writing through tears. I say I certainly took the road less traveled by.

Lyra Thomas is a black nonbinary poet from the St Louis area, currently residing in Carbondale, IL for their MFA in Poetry from Southern Illinois University, which is also their alma mater. They received their BA in Creative Writing in 2018. Lyra enjoys reading/writing poetry, curating Spotify playlists, and cuddling with their cats Max and Silver.

Winners of Summer 2023 Residency Fellowships

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is pleased to announce Elybeth Sofia Alcantar, Aerik Francis, and Si-Min Chong (Min) as the recipients of our Summer 2023 Residency Fellowships. These residencies are designed to give artists time and space to explore their creative projects in a quiet and productive environment.

Elybeth Sofia Alcantar (she/her/they) is a 2nd year doctoral student in the Department of Geography and the Environment at the University of Texas at Austin. Although born and raised in San Diego, California, Elybeth’s family are Indigenous Mixteco (Ñuu Savi) migrants from a Mixteco municipality in the highlands of Oaxaca, Mexico. As a first-generation scholar, Elybeth became committed to understanding her family’s forced displacement and migration, participation in social movements, and place-making practices in California; eventually, finding the academic discipline of Geography as a profound place to do so. Elybeth uses ethnographic methodologies, story mapping, testimonios, and photography to demonstrate the current political and ecological landscape of the Mixteca region of Oaxaca, Mexico as well as the strong community networks formed across the Western United States. Her projects have been featured in museum installations, such as Arte Américas’s exhibit, “Boom, Oaxaca,” in Fresno, California and a forthcoming manuscript will be published in the journal Latino Studies later this year.

Aerik Francis is a Queer Black & Latinx poet & teaching artist based in Denver, Colorado, USA. Francis is the author of two poetry chapbooks: BODYELECTRONIC (Trouble Department 2022) as well as the forthcoming MISEDUCATION (NDR 2023), winner of the 2022 New Delta Review Chapbook Prize. They have received fellowship support from CantoMundo and The Watering Hole. Francis is a coordinator with Slam Nuba and a reader for Underblong. They have poetry published widely, as well as audio and video poetry, all of which may be found on their website Find them on social media @phaentompoet

Si-Min Chong (Min) grew up in the industrial west of Singapore, where the air smells of cacao. She makes work about vessels: women, trees, and snakes. Her work has received support from University of East Anglia’s British Centre for Literary Translation, Black Warrior Review, [PANK] and Sine Theta Magazine. She is now pursuing an MFA in Literary Arts at Brown University.

Finalists for this year’s fellowships included Tangie Mitchell, Desiree S. Evans, Gisselle Yepes, Cecilia Caballero, Soonest Nathaniel, Zara Jamshed, Javeria Hasnain, Tiffani Ren, and Jalynn Harris.

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.

Applications are now open for Fall 2023 residency applications. For the fall, we have fellowships available for Black and/or Indigenous identifying writers and women and nonbinary writers.

Sundress Reads: Review of I’ll Buy You a Bird Instead

Natalie Easton’s I’ll Buy You a Bird Instead (Femme Salvé Books, 2022) beautifully renders trauma’s all-encompassing confusion of time, place, love, and expressions of love, illuminating the ways this confusion follows us and embeds itself into the folds of our everyday lives. The real world is at once accurately rendered in the minutest of mundane details while at the same time completely reimagined, as the love that underlies all human experience is refracted through the lenses of illness, violence, and the complicated, timeless relationship between mother and daughter. Tenderly, painstakingly, Easton manages to clarify the disorientation of trauma while allowing it to retain its unknowable, inarticulable essence, suggesting that perhaps the same essence that makes pain unbearable is also what makes our love so unspeakably, intensely beautiful.

Throughout the collection, Easton creates a poignant haze of time and space that evokes the natural movement of memory, particularly in a mind that has repeatedly faced upheaval and instability. In “Valentine,” for instance, every stanza moves swiftly and unrelentingly into a different period—beginning in an unspecified Easter, we find ourselves suddenly in February, then in something like the present, though the speaker is uncertain, still situated in the past, watching her “mother, / two years dead now, [look] out the kitchen window.” The collection resists being tethered to any definite place or time, illustrating the way the past palpably and inextricably complicates our view of the present and future, as Easton confesses, “I don’t know which part of the past / to throw away.” Definitions of familial relationships are also obscured, capturing the way relationships between parent and child, sibling and sibling, elude definite boundaries, especially when they may be burdened by past unfulfilled needs. “Anthem I. Driven” addresses the speaker’s mother, remembering, “preparing your sisters’ hair for school, / you learned to braid the way you would for me—.” Here, daughter and sister are blurred into something like a single figure, possibly as a reflection of the mother’s premature shouldering of parental duties for her siblings in the past. This burden does not end with the mother, but is carried on in the speaker through shared memory as she says to her mother, “You must have worried… what part / of your history it was my job to repeat: / we both knew it wasn’t my sibling / I’d come searching for.” Through this recurring thread of shared memory, Easton shows the inexplicable ways our pain might be inherited, rather than originate from identifiable experiences.

As trauma permeates all aspects of life with confusion, it necessarily complicates love and its manifestations as well, as Easton’s carefully selected images demonstrate throughout these poems. The first poem, “Scarlet Fever,” is filled with these charged moments, as Easton recalls to her mother the experience of lying in the school nurse’s office with a fever: “I felt coated in a safe green pill, waiting / for you to come along and pick me up.” The fact that Easton encases herself in this metaphorical pill implies that for her mother to pick her up would mean she would be swallowed, utterly dissolved into her mother—easing her pain, perhaps, but simultaneously losing any sense of herself. Is this relationship good or bad? Easton meaningfully withholds the answer, loading the moment with the ambiguity that necessarily accompanies a complex love. Likewise, the poem concludes with another, similarly ambiguous moment—”You threatened me / to make me eat: you’d have them put / a needle in my vein”—here, Easton reveals that love can be found in unlikely places, such as the emptiness of a threat.

Poems like “Jack Nicholson is a Hypocrite” also show us that this strange form of love can flow both ways, as Easton recalls, “if something on my plate / seemed poison, I’d ask Mom to share it with me.” Such a confession creates an impenetrable tangle of selfish urge with the desire for utter togetherness, of wanting to fall ill with another, to find intimacy in the similarity of your pain. Easton beautifully makes these complex tangles of feeling as clear as possible without simply explaining them, echoing the way in real life we are often so afraid to say out loud what we really mean. The poem “Illinois I. The Bird Bribe,” which describes the speaker’s departure from her mother, contains the collection’s title and illuminates its loaded meaning: “the child in your eyes seemed to mourn and you said / that if I stayed, you would go out, / and you’d buy me the bird / instead.” Again, Easton shows us the profundity of love through what’s left unsaid—how love can exist at such a depth that we cannot bring ourselves to speak it aloud; only skirt around it through meaningful looks, through useless bribes. In this way, all of I’ll Buy You a Bird Instead is electric with the overpowering presence of a love that is never spoken, but felt.

I’ll Buy You a Bird Instead is available at Femme Salvé Books

Kaylee Jeong is a Korean American writer, currently studying English at Columbia University. She edits for Quarto, Columbia’s official undergraduate literary magazine, and serves as a poetry reader for the Columbia Journal’s Incarcerated Writers Initiative. A 2019 Sundress Best of the Net finalist in poetry, her work has been featured in diodeBOAAT, and Hyphen, among others.