Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “The Poetry of First Date Impressions”

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “The Poetry of First Date Impressions,” a workshop led by Maya Williams on September 13, 2023, from 6-7:30 PM. This event will be held over Zoom. Participants can access the event at (password: safta).

First impressions are fun to observe for their embodiment of awkwardness, the effect of imagery of first sights, and the setting of location that could either help or hurt a first meeting. This can especially be true in first date impressions whether you have experienced them, know you’re about to experience them, or heard of a person’s Bumble/Tinder/Hinge related befuddlement. This goes for romantic and platonic dates. Maya Williams will be using poems from their second collection Refused a Second Date, Khadijah Queen’s I’m So Fine, and Chen Chen’s Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency to encourage participants to write and discuss the poetic devices of displaying first date impressions.

While there is no fee to participate in this workshop, those who are able and appreciative may make donations directly to Maya Williams via Venmo @MayaWilliams16, PayPal through, or CashApp at $williamsmay13.

A person smiling at camera

Description automatically generated

Maya Williams (ey/they/she) is a religious Black multiracial nonbinary suicide survivor who is currently the seventh poet laureate of Portland, Maine. Eir debut collection Judas & Suicide is available now via Game Over Books. Maya was one of three artists of color selected to represent Maine in The Kennedy Center’s Arts Across America series in 2020. Maya was also selected as one of The Advocate‘s Champions of Pride in 2022. You can follow more of their work at

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.

Meet Our New Intern: Heather Domenicis

Writer/editor Heather Domenicis speaks into a microphone at Niagara Bar. She has brown hair, is wearing a blue denim dress with white sneakers, and is holding a sheet of paper.

A lot of writers start these intros by saying they’ve been passionate about writing forever, penning stories since they were little. And I did author one serialized ghost story in the sixth grade, passing new chapters scrawled in my black-and-white composition notebook off to fellow classmates and even my teacher (who had no idea I was writing most of it under my desk during science and math.) But writing was never really a part of my life again until college.

I had room for an elective to put towards my English major and jumped at the chance to take Intro to Creative Writing. I started writing mediocre short stories about girls with missing fathers they still loved, abandoning mothers they never knew, and rollercoaster romantic relationships. I gave my leading ladies cool names with “main-character energy,” like Lou, Leila, Lyra, and Jo. And many of them smoked cigarettes, though I had never touched nicotine. I wanted them to be edgier. 

But it was all a fraud. Every one of my characters could have easily been named Heather, letting myself bleed onto the page more honestly. My stories got decent feedback, but nothing remarkable. Then, I wrote an essay about my father—who, at that point, I hadn’t spoken to in a couple of years—and it was selected for publication in my college’s literary magazine. Several of my professors read it and told me that while my fiction was “good,” my non-fiction was better; I needed to tell my story. 

I switched gears entirely, writing openly about a past I’d pushed deep, deep down to make room for the “normal” self I was trying to build at my elite undergraduate institution. I began writing about being born in a jail to a meth-addicted mother, spending years as the subject of an intense custody battle, visiting my dad in prison, and missing him all the time. 

The next summer, I interned in criminal court in Manhattan because I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. Court was riveting, but most days I sat impatiently in those pew-like benches, eager to later splay out on a blanket in Washington Square Park with my notebook and a pen. I longed to be like Eileen Myles in Chelsea Girls or Patti Smith in Just Kids: cool, edgy, and pursuing an artistic dream. That summer, I decided that I wanted to be a writer and live in New York.

After graduating in 2019, I landed a sales job at an early-stage tech startup, reckoning it would be a stable way to sustain myself in my dream city. I traded Washington Square Park for Washington Heights.  

A couple of years, a few small publications, and several Catapult (RIP) workshops later, I ended up at The New School, where I continued writing my own story and completed my MFA in Creative Non-Fiction in 2023. Still working at the tech startup, I’m finishing my memoir manuscript in my free time. Having recently served as a Non-Fiction Editor at LIT Magazine, I’ve fallen in love with the editorial side of the writing world too, and am so grateful for this opportunity to keep growing my editorial skillset at Sundress Publications.

Heather Domenicis (she/her) is an Upper Manhattan based writer and editor moonlighting at a tech startup. She holds an MFA from The New School in Creative Non-Fiction and her words appear in Hobart, JAKE, and [sub]liminal. Born in a jail, she is writing a memoir about all that comes with that. She sometimes tweets @heatherlynnd11.

Sundress Reads: Review of Cartography of Trauma

Book cover with white background and sillouette of a woman depicted with green lines like a topigraphical map. On the top, the title Cartography of Trauma appears. At the bottom is the author's name, Ashley Hajimirsadeghi.

It isn’t every day I’m offered the chance to discover a new favorite book, and I am pleased to say I have found exactly that in Ashley Hajimirsadeghi’s Cartography of Trauma. Published by Dancing Girl Press in 2021, the collection has a handsome cover featuring a feminine silhouette mapped out in green lines in the topographical style. What’s on the inside captured my attention even further.

Cartography of Trauma depicts the way all generations of people, specifically women, navigate traumatic situations. Through metaphor, Hajimirsadeghi reveals common coping mechanisms to find where those experiences fit into everyday. Conceptually, the chapbook can be organized into three categories: Stranger poems (the subject of the poem does not appear to be related to the speaker in any way), Family poems (what it looks like when families are purged from their homes, uprooted in violence), and Self poems (snapshots of each speaker at one moment in time). These separate storytelling methods combine flawlessly in Cartography of Trauma to reflect the reader’s own hurt disguised as the trauma of a stranger. 

One of the Stranger poems, “His mother was strange,” reveals a mother’s sorrow in one tight column. Grief permeates the air around this poem like Chanel No.5 wafting from the poem’s subject – “Mad Molly” – who has a moment of inspiration. Hajimirsadeghi writes, “She says a mother’s / grief rings with the clamor of the / rusting church bells in the square / but no one listens” (5). It’s almost as if the reader experiences this silence like a thick cloud of perfume, strong and invasive and completely invisible. 

The poem “Diorama,” focuses readers’ attention onto the ills born into a family hardened by the violence of men. Hajimirsadeghi explores an imagined life where the speaker takes the place of family members wronged, a past where “Grandmother is alive and healthy, three-dimensional” and “Grandfather, too, isn’t an old revolutionary haunt” (8). Probably the most haunting line of this poem is just after the speaker imagines taking Grandfather’s place, saying, “I am bleeding in 1978 Iran,” and “I am bleeding in 2020 America” (8). The speaker compares this trauma, this fear and resentment which springs from the violence of men’s decisions, to life in America with just two lines.

“Encoded” features an American tradition, the “how are you” greeting which many know to be rhetorical, and the speaker’s response, both internal and external. In the poem, the greeting (“how are you?”) and the answer (“I’m fine,”) are separated by the speaker’s real truth: “I think I’m splintering” (Hajimirsadeghi 13). Hajimirsadeghi continues, “if Sylvia were alive she’d laugh… I think I’m eroding, dying to throw myself into the incinerator, end this hunger–” (13). To the speaker, “I’m fine” includes all of these hurts and wants and givings up, but all that a stranger hears is that “I’m fine.” This is sometimes how we cope, by lying to the world and pretending we are okay; Hajimirsadeghi’s poem captures this innocent need to appear okay even when we’re burning inside.

“Self-portrait in youth” is presented “in Technicolor” that is colored after the fact. When the reader imagines scenes depicting youthful romance, it is through the goggles of Technicolor; the past looks brighter and more colorful. “Self-portrait as lady vengeance” is directly opposite “in black & white.” It is stark, honest, simply representative. There is no romance, no fantasy. The speaker is dark and smudged and real. The last line hits the reader like a freight: “stop filming me. I don’t want you to see me cry” (Hajimirsadeghi 26). There is a lost fantasy here which leads to a crippling vulnerability. Nothing hides in black and white, so we use Technicolor to escape, to cope with reality.

The final Self poem, “Self-portrait as erasure,” is possibly the most brutally powerful of them all. The speaker describes “[bleeding] blue out on the patio, barefoot & dancing in the rainstorm” (27), a scene conflicted. A generally joyful activity such as dancing is depicted simultaneously with precious and dangerous loss, and this is the truth of Cartography of Trauma. This poem is the anthem of the world, especially the world of women, a world in which women dance in the storms we did not create and bleed black and blue for a sliver of joy in life’s great tempest. 

Cartography of Trauma uses accessible language and creative formatting to tell the story of women by a woman for women. And what an anthem it is. The last line of “Self-portrait as erasure” (and the entire book) sticks with me even in my sleep: “Ma, you wouldn’t // believe me if I set this place on fire tonight… just wait–” (27). The reader is left to wait in violent anticipation for the flames of this book to catch the world. 

Cartography of Trauma is avalible through Dancing Girl Press.

A white woman in a black turtleneck stares into the camera. The background is a blurred scene of trees and sun.

Kenli Doss holds a BA in English and a BA in Theatre-Performance from Jacksonville State University. She is a freelance writer and actress based out of Alabama, and she spends her free time painting scenes from nature or writing poetry for her mom. Ken’s works appear in Something Else (a JSU literary arts journal), Bonemilk II by Gutslut Press, Snowflake Magazine, The Shakespeare Project’s Romeo and Juliet Study Guide and A Midsummer Night’s Dream Study Guide, and The White Cresset Arts Journal.

We Call Upon the Author to Explain—Leah Falk

“Here, in the squint/ of my uterus, I see double: the body’s / will to live and before the brain / is big enough to want / And its twin: / the code to flush this new light/ into the chill of the space” (17-18). Within Falk’s Other Customs and Practices, readers discover how doubling can seep into a body, how both pregnancy and dwindle, faith, and inquiry can coexist. The result is astounding.

It is a special, yet peculiar task to compose an interview about a collection that thrills readers with the infinance of questions and the faultiness of answers. I have not been disheartened by it. Often, when authors find they cannot answer one of my questions, I find more delight in their responses, the nebulosity of them. It’s like I can feel them thinking. They don’t have a solution, but they still offer something—a luminous unanswer.

Other Customs and Practices exposes pregnancy as a kind of luminous unanswer. I hope that this interview depicts how the art of writing can be similar—mortal hands tinkering with disproportionate light.

Marah Hoffman: The collection’s organization into three sections—Inside, Outside, and a second Inside—is masterful. How did you decide on it?

Leah Falk: Three is a perennially satisfying number, I think: it offers stability and shape, the start of a narrative. I actually find three sections in collections of poetry to be so common that it can feel like a cliche, and at first I tried to pull away from it with this book, but it won out in the end. With the section titles, I was thinking of the shifting perspectives of both the pandemic and pregnancy: a child’s development within the parent’s body, then outside; our collective consciousness forced indoors, within a crisis, and then emerging from it. And then I guess to come out of one place is always to find yourself within another.

MH: Your poems’ many forms—tkhine, test, instruction, questionnaire—propel your themes. What advice would you give to poets seeking to find new vessels for their themes?

LF: I’m strongly influenced by history, biography, and forms I stumble upon in non-poetic genres. I think especially for writers who have many competing roles and responsibilities in their lives, poems tend to take the shape of their containers. For poets looking for new forms, I would suggest looking at the genres in their lives that seem completely unrelated to poetry and trying to define or describe those forms: a letter from the parking department, a notification from an app on your phone. What rhetorical purpose does each serve? What else might those containers hold? I also love to turn to the visual/physical: taking existing texts that are significant to me, such as song lyrics, and writing them out by hand, cutting out each word, and scrambling to produce new lines. Or using drawing, painting, or singing to generate a refreshed engagement with language, to disrupt habit.

MH: One of my favorite phrases from the collection is, “Finally, a rehearsal / for a past that appeared without warning” (15). Did you have any specific goals for characterizing time in your collection?

LF: Ah, I’m glad you asked this question. Beginning as I did with An-sky’s questionnaire, I felt strongly that I didn’t want to write a “history in poems,” or just enliven the world of the questionnaire with poetic language. Instead, I wanted to create a sense of being in conversation with these questions, especially those concerning pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting, across both time and geography. I felt quite compelled by the idea that I, as a contemporary American Jew, could be responding to questions that could have been posed to people like my ancestors more than a century ago. That difference in space and time meant to me that the answers couldn’t quite meet the questions head-on; they had to be refracted, so to speak.

MH: The collection’s structure lends itself well to commentary on the idea of units as well as answers. For example, some of your titles comprise part of your poems’ first lines, communicating that they are not supplemental; they are essential. How was the process of playing with your poems’ structures? Do you have a philosophy on line breaks?

LF: As I mentioned above, in the poems whose titles are drawn from An-sky’s questionnaire, I wanted to be in a kind of oblique conversation with the original questions. Usually, that meant picking up on an idea within the question that was wholly separate from the actual request for information (you’ll notice that some of those questions are yes or no questions). In terms of structure, I’m a poet who tends to be extremely driven by rhythm—I have a very easy time composing an iambic line, for example—and I wanted to create forms that resisted that aesthetically pleasing habit in the service of something else. I often think of something I read about Charles Wright years ago, that he tried to give each of his lines an odd number of syllables(again to resist the heartbeat-like tendencies of poetic English, to make his lines a little strange). I don’t think I have a ‘philosophy’ on line breaks, but I do often live in this tension between the drive to make beautifully rhythmic lines and the desire to interrupt that.

MH: One question from the collection that seems to consider craft is, “Who am I to translate light / into color, un-fluent now / in both languages?” (16). As all writers know, translating experience onto the page is a compelling and near-impossible task. Do you have any desire to elaborate on this question—what it says about ethos and resilience?

LF: With this line, I was thinking less about craft—though you’re right that it expresses something about the doubt artists can have about enacting a vision—and more about how much of the history of my family and ancestors I feel I’ve lost, and how inadequate I feel engaging with materials from a past that is both my birthright and simultaneously completely disconnected from the way I live. I both feel that I don’t have the right to engage with this history and that it’s impossible not to.

MH: What are some lessons you are taking away from this collection? They could be personal or more related to the writing process.

LF: It is always gratifying, as an artist, to have one’s experiments and obsessions received well. I began this book as a way of experimenting, of engaging differently with material that I was curious about, but I often wondered whether it wandered too far from certain rules I internalized long ago about how to make poems, or whether my engagement felt contrived or forced. I think that where I’ve settled is that when I’m not sure I recognize what I’m making, or what rules it is following, that is a sign that my work is driven by my own curiosity rather than a desire to please. The result is usually much more interesting to me in the long term than anything I could have made that fit into a more recognizable container.

Other Customs and Practices is available from Glass Lyre Press

Leah Falk (she/her) is the author of Other Customs and Practices(Glass Lyre Press) and To Look After and Use (Finishing Line Press). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Kenyon ReviewFIELDGulf CoastBest New PoetsVerse Daily, and elsewhere. She has received support for her writing from the Sundress Academy for the Arts, the Yiddish Book Center, Asylum Arts, and the Vermont Studio Center. She lives in Philadelphia, where she is Director of Education and Engagement at Penn Live Arts, the performing arts center at the University of Pennsylvania.

Marah Hoffman grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania. Since graduating with her bachelors in English and creative writing in 2022, she has lived in Tennessee, Michigan, and now North Carolina. She is an MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and the Creative Director of Sundress Academy for the Arts. She enjoys genre fluidity, whimsicality, cats, coffee, distance running, travel, and adding to her personal lexicon. Her list of favorite words grows every week.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “The Poetry of First Date Impressions”

Knoxville, TN— The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “The Poetry of First Date Impressions,” a workshop led by Maya Williams on September 13, 2023, from 6-7:30 PM.  This event will be held over Zoom. Participants can access the event at (password: safta).

First impressions are fun to observe for their embodiment of awkwardness, the effect of imagery of first sights, and the setting of location that could either help or hurt a first meeting. This can especially be true in first date impressions whether you have experienced them, know you’re about to experience them, or heard of a person’s Bumble/Tinder/Hinge related befuddlement. This goes for romantic and platonic dates. Maya Williams will be using poems from their second collection Refused a Second Date, Khadijah Queen’s I’m So Fine, and Chen Chen’s Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency to encourage participants to write and discuss the poetic devices of displaying first date impressions.

While there is no fee to participate in this workshop, those who are able and appreciative may make donations directly to Maya Williams via Venmo @MayaWilliams16, PayPal through, or CashApp at $williamsmay13.

Photo of Maya Williams

Maya Williams (ey/they/she) is a religious Black multiracial nonbinary suicide survivor who is currently the seventh poet laureate of Portland, Maine. Eir debut collection Judas & Suicide is available now via Game Over Books. Maya was one of three artists of color selected to represent Maine in The Kennedy Center’s Arts Across America series in 2020. Maya was also selected as one of The Advocate’s Champions of Pride in 2022. You can follow more of their work at

This workshop is brought to you in part by a grant provided by the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry. Find out about the important work that they do here.

Meet Our New Intern: Jen Gayda Gupta

Though I have always been a writer (filling composition notebooks full of silly stories as a kid, writing novels through college) poetry was not something I loved. Rather, poetry was something I actively claimed to dislike. 

I remember completing a poetry analysis in tenth grade English on Robert Frost’s “Nothing Gold Can Stay” where we had to identify, line by line, the most accurate description of the meaning. This was a computerized test, and as I selected each answer, the screen would flash red—INCORRECT. INCORRECT. INCORRECT. I earned a D and was asked to retake the test. I decided right then, I wasn’t smart enough for poetry.

In college, I was required to take a poetry class for my English degree. I thought, can’t I just stick to fiction? That’s my thing! I went on to learn about a few other famous poets (ones that weren’t all white men, but were certainly all dead). While I enjoyed this class a little more, I still left thinking poetry wasn’t my thing. 

It wasn’t until four years after I graduated that I found contemporary poetry—poetry about things I could relate to, in words I could mostly understand. I was intrigued. I kept reading. Over time, I came to understand what I wasn’t taught in school, that poetry is so much more than meter and rhyme, so much more than can be captured in a few widely regarded poems. I have sat in many workshops discussing the definition of poetry, questioning if there is one at all. The freedom and play I have found while writing poetry is unmatched. 

As much as I now appreciate some of the classics, starting with them made me feel like I was trying to enter a secret club and I didn’t have the password. When I became a teacher, I knew I wanted a different experience for my students. I wanted them to believe they were welcome. I wanted them to read poems written by writers they could relate to, and ones that presented an entirely new worldview. I wanted them to express themselves in whatever way felt right. I always told my students, there is no wrong way to read or write a poem. If a poem left you a little bit different than it found you, that is the magic of poetry.

I left the classroom two years ago for a life on the road and have since had to find new, creative ways to spread this magic. I began teaching my own workshops and challenging people to write more freely and authentically. I want to support poetry (something I believe is largely undervalued in our society) in any way I can. I am thrilled for this opportunity to work with Sundress Publications, to help spread the words of those who are generously sharing their stories with the world.

Jen Gayda Gupta is a poet, educator, and wanderer. She earned her BA in English at the University of Connecticut and her MA in Teaching English from New York University. Jen lives, writes, and travels across the U.S. in a tiny camper with her husband and their dog. Her work has been published in Up the Staircase, Rattle, Jellyfish Review, Sky Island Journal, The Shore, and others. You can find her @jengaydagupta and

Sundress Reads: Review of In the Cosmic Fugue

Jocelyn Heath’s debut poetry collection, In the Cosmic Fugue (Kelsey Books, 2022), travels beyond Earth’s atmosphere and deep into memory to explore queerness and identity. Using macrocosmic settings like black holes and personal locals like a neighborhood cul-de-sac or a T.G.I. Friday’s, Heath tells a story of self-discovery and, perhaps even more bravely, acknowledges that much is still unknown.  

“Out of Chaos,” the opening poem of the collection, hosts the vast and the minute side by side, exemplified by metaphor in the first line “meteors are sugar” (Heath 15). Play with spacial reasoning performs a large role in the origin story for the speaker’s journey. She even “walk[s] over multitudes” (Heath 15), a moment directly combining the physical and the metaphysical. The first-person singular pronoun “I” grows into the plural “we” in later lines. Heath cleverly pulls readers into a collective unit to witnesses the cosmic and the possible all in one.  

Grounded geographically in the unique landscape of central Australia, “Syzygy” awes at the mystery of the universe. While drawn to look up into a starry night sky, the speaker wonders what is possible:  

What do I think I’ll find here?
When star and crescent align
over Uluru, when I can’t look away,
do I think that here I’ll find
some truth? Far from home, in the night sky
over Uluru? I can’t look away. (Heath 39)

Poetry of witness bears immense responsibility, and Heath’s speaker is humbled. She recognizes that she has much to discover in an unfamiliar place. In the poem, “Evolution,” Heath adds a layer of self-reflection to this search for meaning. She writes, as instructions for herself, “Chart those who walk / the periphery of the universe— / find who I am to seek them out” (Heath 40). Here, Heath commends those who are brave, who live on the edge of their comfort zones. This can relate to other queer folks who live authentically from a young age, and/or despite societal obstacles. As a queer writer who came into my identity as an adult, I know seeking community can be intimidating. Heath recognizes her path is her own, and while there is knowledge to gain about what’s beyond, what’s in the outer edges of what’s possible, there is also significance to looking inward, to understanding her place within the world in order to decide where to go next.

In the Cosmic Fugue includes many poems that examine memory, an expanse often equally as inexplicable as outer space. For example, Heath smartly structures “That Other Girl” as a list poem in order to hold a plethora of rich detail with ease. Some lines focus on the corporeal, including “has just a toss of freckles on her nose” and “rubs on fruit punch lip balm after lunch” ( Heath 23), to provide readers with image. The poem then spirals inward, to position the subject in relation to the speaker: “sits in my orbit if I take a wide loop / doesn’t know I am her satellite” (Heath 23). These last lines add depth and story to a seemingly straightforward poem. Heath inspires readers to wonder about their relationship past, present, and future.

A variety of poetic forms appear throughout the collection, indicating Heath’s attentiveness to readers’ experiences. While “Self-Portrait as a Black Hole” and “Self-Portrait as a Supernova” appear consecutively, they call to each other in both title and structure across the white space between two different sections of the collection. The first poem is an abecedarian, emulating the suction of a black hole by tumbling down the alphabet. The latter, inspired by its titular subject, instead explodes outwards. “Self-Portrait as a Supernova” is a reverse abecedarian, undoing what was previously done and starting with Z.

Heath’s poetry is both search and meditation, both conversation and observation. Throughout the pages of In the Cosmic Fugue, she aims to name what is unnamable, ultimately learning that the most reliable aspect of the universe is its ability to change. In the title poem, Heath writes, “in a wild search for constellations, / I find no fixed stars” (48).  Placed in the center of the collection, these lines embody what it means to be human, as well as what it means to be queer—an identity that is fluid, impossible to define. And yet, there is courage and beauty in such intimate self-reflection. Though so many queer youth aren’t supported with knowledge or guidance of what’s possible, we continue to find ourselves, and each other, every day.

Order In the Cosmic Fugue from Kelsey Books.

Livia Meneghin (she/her) is the author of Honey in My Hair and the Sundress Publications Reads Editor. She won Breakwater Review‘s 2022 Peseroff Prize and earned a 2022-2023 Poetry Fellowship from The Writers’ Room of Boston. Her writing has found homes in Gasher, Solstice Lit, Thrush, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. She earned her MFA from Emerson College, where she now teaches writing and literature. She is a cancer survivor.

Interview with Sarah Renee Beach, Author of Impact

Front cover of "Impact" by Sarah Renee Beach—a photo of a shattered window.

On the release of her debut chapbook Impact, Sundress intern Annie Fay Meitchik and writer Sarah Renee Beach discuss themes such as forgiveness and grief. Here, Beach shares her insights about poetry as catharsis after tragedy.

Annie Fay Meitchik: Can you speak to the use of erasure throughout Impact?

Sarah Renee Beach: Excavating the past is tricky under any circumstances, but when you add traumatic memory to the mix, it’s an entirely different beast. It’s difficult to rely on your own account of what happened, so you go looking for corroboration where you can find it. I turned to documents to help ground myself—or to provide a fact from which to work—but the documents themselves present a challenge in that they can complicate, contradict, obscure, or compound what little memory you have. My hope is that the erasures throughout the collection mirror this process of excavation both its illuminations and its failures.

AFM: When dealing with traumatic content, were there instances of self-censorship beyond the stylistic use of erasure?

SRB: I’m not sure self-censorship is the term I would use. In any event, there’s a multitude of perspectives and experiences, which makes silences, retractions, and obfuscations necessary aspects of any writing and editing process. A complete and accurate account will always elude us. Poetry gives us the ability to point to these voids and to give them texture, rather than smoothing over them and delivering a polished point of view. I think it was important for me to incorporate that texture, because—while this was a collective experience that could have been told from many different angles—I have only my perspective to draw from. And even that is a flawed, warped, and biased thing.

AFM: What does an epistolary form allow you to achieve or explore that you wouldn’t have with a different form of writing?

SRB: I find that the epistolary form points to the relational aspect of writing and allows for a level of intimacy that can be harder to tap into when the intended audience is less specific. It highlights what knowledge is shared, what can be offered, and what one wishes to receive. In Impact, the epistolary form gives voice to a perpetually unmet desire to connect, to share knowledge, to give and receive, showing how traumatic events both create and sever connections between the survivors as well as the deceased. I’m sure there are other ways to communicate this, but I chose the form of letters and that seemed to fit.

AFM: Can you share the intention behind writing “New Normal” in two columns?

SRB: I wrote this one many years ago, so it’s tough to remember exactly. I know I liked how the physicality of the two columns mirrored the kind of schism being discussed in the poem. It also creates a kind of hallway down the middle, your eyes darting side to side as you make your way down the poem. I think all of that was accidental, though. I believe I set out to write a contrapuntal and that’s how it eventually ended up.

AFM: In the poem, “Lucky,” there is the line: “Her name means God’s Princess,” which subtly recognizes yourself in the third person. Could you speak to what informed this choice and who the “I” is in the final line: “The heart quivered each time I escaped over the sill and under the pane”?

SRB: This poem speaks to dissociation, so the third person narration hopefully highlights that kind of unembodied experience of trying to escape yourself and your surroundings. Even in the throes of this kind of self-destructive propulsion, though, there are moments of return. The “I” in the last line is indicative of a return to the present and the body and making a conscious decision to keep fleeing rather than turning back.

AFM: Impact explores forgiveness and grief—do you see these things as being distinct from one another or overlapping?

SRB: For me, they were not only overlapping but intertwined. Sudden and tragic loss triggers very complicated emotional combinations, all of which are compounded when the experience is collective. The lack of discreteness and the way blame and anger get absorbed into the communal grieving process necessitates a movement towards forgiveness as well as acceptance—the fifth and final stage of grief. I don’t see Impact as making it to this destination so much as gesturing towards it on an individual level, grasping for a resolution perpetually out of reach.

AFM: With the incorporation of legal questioning, do you see your book contributing to a larger conversation about the way people are treated in the legal system?

SRB: Our legal apparatus, the way it operates out of sight and out of mind for so many people, is fascinating to me. None of us really knows how impersonal and indifferent it is to human complexity and emotion until we are embedded into it. Your story, your memory, your pain all become useful in this necessarily dispassionate way. With this book, I only hoped to shed some light on that experience. In the aftermath of a tragedy like the one my book explores, this is just one of the many processes set into motion, a kind of churning survivors are pulled into and spit out of. Not the whole story, but certainly part of it.

AFM: Can you speak to the recurring references to Frida Kahlo’s work? How do they relate to the goals of your collection?

SRB: I’d been looking for a touchstone, for an example of an artist making art from tragedy in a way that resonated with my experience of it. What struck me most about Frida Kahlo—and what has me turning to her art and writing again and again—is that she isn’t translating an experience or telling a story so that an outside observer can understand it. Her art, to me, shows the incorporation of a tragedy into a lived life, one that has not been overcome but endured. That felt revelatory to me as someone who for many years felt rushed through processing and pressured to package the event as something I’d learned and grown from, a story I could quickly and succinctly recite. Frida helped me to resist the pull towards narrative reduction and to honor the complexity. As Hayden Herrera noted in her biography of the artist in the quote that serves as Impact’s epigraph: …the accident was too ‘complicated’ and ‘important’ to reduce to a single comprehensible image. I couldn’t agree more.

AFM: Who do you hope your collection reaches?

SRB: If not ourselves, we all know someone who has experienced tragedy, or we’ve read about something tragic that happened to someone somewhere. I hope Impact speaks to what we like to call “unimaginable.” Because, really, what’s more conceivable than human and mechanical error, violence, a fatal crash? It’s living in the aftermath that we fail to imagine and, thus, reimagine. In that way, I hope it reaches anyone who might otherwise struggle to behold another’s pain, to resist the urge to transform it into something beautiful or useful or meaningful.

Impact is available to download for free on the Sundress website.

A photo of the author of "Impact," Sarah Renee Beach, standing in front of some greenery.

Originally from Southeast Texas, Sarah Renee Beach completed her MFA at The New School. Her poetry can be found in White Wall ReviewRust + Moth, and anthologized in Host Publications’ I Scream Social Anthology Vol. 2. She currently lives in Austin, TX. More information about her work may be found at

A black and white photo of Sundress Intern, Annie Fay Meitchik.

Annie Fay Meitchik is a writer and visual artist with her BA in Creative Writing from The New School and a Certificate in Children’s Book Writing from UC San Diego. Through a career in publishing, Annie aims to amplify the voices of marginalized identities while advocating for equality and inclusivity in art/educational spaces. Her work has been published by Matter Press, 12th Street Literary Journal, and UNiDAYS. To learn more, please visit:

Call for Workshop Proposals for Retreat for Survival and Healing

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA)  and the Poet Laureate program in Oak Ridge, TN welcomes proposals from writers, therapists, narrative medicine practitioners, and more for our fourth Retreat for Survival and Healing.

This two-day retreat for sexual assault survivors will be a safe space for creativity, generative writing exercises, discussions on ways to write trauma, advice on publishing, and more. This event will be open to writers of all backgrounds and experience levels and provide an opportunity to work with talented writers from across the country who use trauma-informed teaching techniques to guide workshops that will focus on mutual support for a weekend of writing time centered on healing, safety, and comfort.  

These workshops should be designed with an eye toward forging connections and making creative writing accessible to beginners and experienced writers alike. Proposals in all writing genres, as well as hybrid genres, will be considered. Each workshop will be approximately 90-minutes in length and will be conducted twice. Workshop leaders may also be asked to work with writers in one-on-one conferences or as part of group exercises.

This retreat will take place in Oak Ridge, TN, which is 25 miles outside of Knoxville, during the weekend of March 23-24, 2024. Workshop leaders will receive a $1,000 honorarium to cover travel, housing, and teaching fees. These honorariums are supported by a grant from the Academy for American Poets.

Proposals should be no longer than 250 words and include information on the type of workshop you’d like to hold, what writers you may be looking at as examples, and goals of the workshop itself in regards to the retreat’s stated goals. Previous workshops included topics such as “Writing Trauma through Fabulism,” “The Hero’s Journey: Reclaiming Your Narrative by Embracing the Impossible,” “Reclaiming Truth: Owning Your Personal Story in the Public #MeToo Moment,” and “Self-Care as Self Preservation.”

Submit proposals by no later than August 31, 2023.

Lyric Essentials: Matthew Johnson Reads E. Ethelbert Miller

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite authors to share the work of their favorite poets. This month, Matthew Johnson joins us to discuss the work of E Ethelbert Miller, place-based writing, and baseball in poetry and how surprising topics and discuss much broader themes. As always, we hope you enjoy as much as we did.

Ryleigh Wann: When was the first time you read E. Ethelbert Miller’s work? Why did it stand out to you then?

 Matthew Johnson: I first came across E. Ethelbert Miller’s work while I was a graduate student at UNC-Greensboro, so around 2018-2019. I don’t remember how exactly I first saw his name, but I was immediately drawn to his poetry collection by the title itself, If God Invented Baseball; I found it to be creative, as well as his choice for a cover photo, which featured a picture of the legendary Negro League pitcher, Satchel Paige, who is one of my favorite all-time athletes and individuals to have studied and read about. Years later I bought the book, but I initially read it through an inter-library loan; I remember the librarian kinda having this puzzled look when I told them the title of the book, as well as the title of the movie I was checking out at the same time, The Last Black Man in San Francisco. I was really struck by the fact that here was a poet using the sport of baseball to talk about childhood, home, race, politics, and place. Since the ancient Olympics, sports have not just been purely about sports, and at the time, I had seen and read countless articles, documentaries, and non-fiction books about sports mixing with other topics, but not in a poetry book, so to go this collection for the first time was a vastly different experience from the literature I was reading and studying at the time.

RW: How has his writing inspired your own? 

MJ: I was fairly new to the publishing world when I came across Miller’s work. Prior to reading If God Invented Baseball, while I had written poems with a focus on different topics around sports, I had yet to come across an author who dedicated a whole collection of poems based on these similar topics. After reading Miller’s work, it instilled in me a spirit that, ‘yeah, people would be interested in reading about these types of topics if you write about it.’ But, while he talks about these athletes who a lot of people know about, Miller personalizes it to his upbringing and background, which I think is important and allows a writer’s voice to come out. I don’t think it can just be about the athlete or sport; the writer needs to be in there somehow, and Miller does a great job at that. It also stirred in me to go out and research and find like-minded readers and writers. There are a bunch of great magazines out there where athletics and literature blend together (e.g, The Sport Literate, The Under Review, Clinch, The Twin Bill, Words & Sports Quarterly, Aethlon).

RW: Where would you recommend new readers of E. Ethelbert Miller’s work start out? What other similar poets do you recommend? 

MJ: Several poems by E. Ethelbert Miller can be found on Poetry Foundation and, so I think that would be a good place for readers to get started with his work and style. I greatly enjoyed, If God Invented Baseball, and even if you’re not a baseball fan, readers could still take pleasure within it. Two poetry collections I read within the past several years that are a little similar would be, Joe DiMaggio Moves Like Liquid Lightning by Loren Broaddus and Aisle 228 by Sandra Marchetti. These poetry collections, like the work of Miller, use baseball to discuss broader themes that don’t just pertain to sports. I especially enjoyed the aspect of place in their works as they are both writers from the Midwest. I thought each presents that part of the country in an intriguing light to someone who is very unfamiliar with it, as I have only lived on the East Coast.

Matthew Johnson reads “Before Ball Four” by E. Ethelbert Miller

RW: You’re the author of the recent publication, Far From New York State (New York Quarterly Press, 2023). What was the process of creating this collection like? How did you reflect on place, history, and your own experience while writing these poems?

MJ: Having moved around a bit, I have always been fascinated by the idea of regionalism. In the final semester of my graduate career, I was in an early American Literature class and for the final presentation, my topic focused on the works of Washington Irving. I had heard of his famed characters, Rip Van Winkle, Ichabod Crane, and the Headless Horseman, but I never really read his work until then, and I greatly enjoyed reading his Sketch Book. And it was through research, I kinda went down a wormhole and was inspired by artists and writers of New York, and not from the city, but from the rest of the state. Even though New York City is wonderful, there’s a whole bunch of state and experience and beauty north of it, including the parts where I am originally from (New Rochelle in Westchester County). I wanted to write about these experiences, and I looked inward as well as outward, specifically to my parents, who spent the majority of their lives in Westchester County (New Rochelle and Mount Vernon) and have told me countless stories of their childhood and early adulthood. And though my experience wasn’t as vast as theirs, I did have some, including when I returned to New York in adulthood to work in journalism in Oneonta (between Albany and Binghamton). So I wanted to talk about these histories, as well as the histories of the people who inspired me, including in the form of literature, music, and sports.

Read more from this interview at our Patreon

E. Ethelbert Miller was born in the Bronx, New York. A self-described “literary activist,” Miller is on the board of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive multi-issue think tank, and has served as director of the African American Studies Resource Center at Howard University since 1974. His collections of poetry include Andromeda (1974) and How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love (2004), among others. The mayor of Baltimore made Miller an honorary citizen of the city in 1994. He received a Columbia Merit Award in 1993 and was honored by First Lady Laura Bush at the White House in 2003. Miller has held positions as scholar-in-residence at George Mason University and as the Jessie Ball DuPont Scholar at Emory & Henry College. He has conducted writing workshops for soldiers and the families of soldiers through Operation Homecoming and is the founder and director of the Ascension Poetry Reading Series, one of the oldest literary series in the Washington area.

Purchase If God Invented Baseball here.

Matthew Johnson is the author of Shadow Folks and Soul Songs (Kelsay Books) and Far from New York State (New York Quarterly Press). His forthcoming chapbook, Too Short to Box with God, is scheduled for a November 2024 release through Finishing Line Press. His work has appeared in Front Porch Review, Roanoke Review, Northern New England Review, South Florida Poetry Journal Up the Staircase Quarterly, and elsewhere. A former sports journalist and editor (The USA Today College, The Daily Star in Oneonta, NY), he has also been a Sundress Publications Residency recipient and a multi-time Best of the Net nominee. An M.A. graduate of UNC-Greensboro, Matthew is currently the managing editor of The Portrait of New England and the poetry editor of The Twin Bill. You can view more of his work and his social media platforms at his website:

Purchase Far from New York State here.

Ryleigh Wann (she/her) hails from Michigan and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. She earned an MFA from UNC Wilmington where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in The McNeese ReviewLongleaf ReviewThe Shore, and elsewhere. You can visit her website at