Sundress Academy for the Arts Announces Winners of Summer Residencies

Sundress Academy for the Arts Announces Winners of Summer Residencies

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is pleased to announce Marina Carreira, Jung Hae Chae, Joshua Nguyen, Cy Ozgood, and JM Wong as the winners of their five summer residency scholarships. These residencies are designed to give writers time and space to complete their creative projects in a quiet and productive environment. 

Marina Carreira is a queer Luso-American writer and multimedia artist from Newark, NJ. She is the author of Save the Bathwater (Get Fresh Books, 2018) and I Sing to That Bird Knowing It Won’t Sing Back (Finishing Line Press, 2017). She has work featured in Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Paterson Literary Review, The Acentos Review, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, Green Mountain Review, Hinchas de Poesia, wildness journal, and Harpoon Review. Marina has exhibited her visual art in group exhibitions and festivals at ArtFront Galleries, West Orange Arts Council, Hahne & Co., Gallery 211, and Living Incubator Performance Space {LIPS} in the Gateway Project Spaces in Newark, NJ. She is a founding member of Brick City Collective, a Newark-based multicultural, multimedia group working for social change through the arts. She lives in Union, NJ with her partner and kids.

Jung Hae Chae is a writer based in New Jersey. Her work has been published in AGNI, Ploughshares, Calyx Journal, Crab Orchard Review, Third Coast, and elsewhere, as well as anthologized in the 2019 Pushcart Prize XIII: Best of the Small Presses. Most recently, she won Ploughshares‘ 2019 Emerging Writers’ Contest in nonfiction.   

Joshua Nguyen is Vietnamese-American, a collegiate national poetry slam champion (CUPSI), and a native Houstonian. He has received fellowships from Kundiman and the Vermont Studio Center. He has been published in The Offing, The Acentos Review, Rambutan Literary, Button Poetry, The Texas Review, Auburn Avenue, Crab Orchard Review, Gulf Coast, and Hot Metal Bridge. He is currently an MFA candidate at The University of Mississippi. He is a bubble tea connoisseur and works in a kitchen.

Cy Ozgood is a queer poet and witch with a degree in text and media arts from The Evergreen State College. They are the author of several chapbooks including Girl Tramp (Horse Less Press, 2016) and Day (MOLD Editions, 2018). Their work has been featured or is forthcoming in Twang Anthology, baest journal, Gritty Silk, The Operating System, and Horse Less Review. They are a tarot reader, astrologer, farmer, educator, and a seasoned performer who has shared their poetry, music and performance art in basements, living rooms, storefronts, puppet theaters, coffee shops, repurposed churches, wineries, county fairs, riverside docks and clearings in the woods since 2011.

JM Wong (they/them) is a queer child of the Chinese diaspora living on Duwamish lands (Seattle) via Malaysia/Singapore and many cities in between. They write about movements, desire, and longings across distances and bordered spaces. Of diaspora, of the logistical supply chain stretching over ocean waters, of connections transcending prison walls, of crossings over to the ancestral realms. What we each journey through matters, and the futures we imagine begin from now. 

Finalists for this year’s fellowships were Bailey Moorhead, Stacey Balkun, Rachel Holbrook, Kathry Leland, Stephen Hundley, Mary Leauna Christensen, Sabrina Sarro, Maya Williams, and Heather Leigh Maher.

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is now accepting applications for our fall writers residencies. Find out more at our website.

Pretty Owl Poetry Joins Prototype PGH’s 2020 Incubator

Pittsburgh, PA –– Pretty Owl Poetry (POP), an online feminist literary journal based in Pittsburgh, is one of ten newly selected organizations that will participate in Prototype PGH’s 2020 Incubator. Prototype PGH is a nonprofit devoted to promoting gender and racial equity in technology and entrepreneurship. It will provide resources, workshops, and consultation to assist in the growth of the journal, which seeks to establish a chapbook press called Pretty Owl Press.

POP will begin publishing two chapbooks a year in conjunction with the quarterly journal issues starting in 2021. Like the literary journal, Pretty Owl Press will also publish socially conscious work from marginalized voices; however, this new venture will also help build authors’ careers through online advertisements, book launch celebrations, and sales facilitation. POP is excited to continue giving back to the literary community by joining the Prototype incubator cohort, the range of which—according to Prototype founder Erin Gatz—“underscores the true richness of Pittsburgh’s communities and cultures.”

Founded in 2013, POP is dedicated to uplifting underrepresented voices, especially those belonging to people of color, LGBTQIA+, neurodiverse individuals, as well as womxn, non-binary folx, and trans folx. POP publishes poetry, flash fiction, and art on a quarterly basis. Over the past seven years, POP has become an integral part of the Pittsburgh literary scene by hosting readings with established authors on tour as well as local Pittsburgh writers on a regular basis.

Additionally, the journal runs a bi-weekly writing prompt series inspired by the mystery and magic of the tarot called POPcraft, and it also produces POPcast, a podcast centered around publishing and the world of writers. In its monthly newsletter and social media feeds, POP promotes its sister Sundress publications and past contributors—affectionately referred to as “Pretty Owlers.” Because the contributors make the journal possible, POP seeks to expand its support for writers and grow its audience through the creation of Pretty Owl Press.

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A 501(c)(3) non-profit literary 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.

An interview with New Poets in Pajamas Curator, Jacquelyn Scott

Sundress editorial intern Sabrina Sarro asked new Poets in Pajamas (PiP) curator, Jacquelyn Scott, to discuss her thoughts on the new role she’s taking over from Sundress Staff Director, Anna Black. Topics ranged from how Scott’s personal identities will inform her to work to how her journey has brought her to Sundress via this position.

SS: What brings you to Poets in Pajamas?

JS: I love the accessibility of PiP. In-person readings are great, but there’s a location aspect to them. You have to be available at that certain time and present in that certain space. This is challenging for people who want to go, but who live in a different state or have to work or have a disability that precludes them from attending. I love that PiP fills in this gap and gives people the opportunity to attend readings from the comfort of their home, whenever it is convenient for them.

SS: What do you think PiP’s role in the community is?

JS: I think our role is to fill in that accessibility gap and to set up a platform for the poets to garner a bigger audience. The poets that read for us are so amazing, and for their work to be able to reach people on the other side of the world is just incredible. We’ve only had two readings this year so far, and already there are readers who have been introduced to new poets and work. They send us emails and Facebook messages asking us where they can get more of that person’s work, and that, to me, is fulfilling our role in this community.

SS: How did you become PiP’s new curator?

JS: I came to PiP through my editorial internship with Sundress Publications. As an intern, I was lucky enough to be able to help Anna Black, the Staff Director and (phenomenal) former curator, with reader submissions and see the selection process for the line-up, and through my time there, I learned the ins and outs of the PiP program. At the end of my internship, Anna asked if I would like to take over, and I, of course, said absolutely.

SS: What is something unique you are going to bring to this position?

JS: I don’t come from a poetry background. Before Sundress, I was pretty entrenched in nonfiction and fiction work, so I think I bring a fresh ear to this position.

SS:  What challenges do you anticipate about this new position?

JS: It may not seem like it when people attend readings, but there is a ton of behind the scenes work to put on a live event. I guess a challenge for me will be keeping up with everything, but Anna did a great job explaining things. I also have checklists and spreadsheets to work with, so I feel prepared.

SS: What are some things you are most looking forward to about this position?

JS: The readings! I love watching the poets read their work and listening to them answer smart questions from their audience. I look forward to our readings every other Sunday. 

SS: How do some of your own personal identities inform how you will approach this position?

JS: I’m a pretty big ecofeminist, so I imagine I’ll be keeping my ear out for this kind of work. That’s not to say that it is the only kind of work I get excited about because it certainly isn’t. That’s just to say that ecofeminism work is what hypes me up when I come across it. I also try to be conscientious, though I suppose that’s more personality than positionality. I did read somewhere that personality is a new positionality, whether you believe that or not, I don’t know. But for this position, I think my conscientiousness plays a big factor in seeking out diverse voices. I’m not interested in the same old, same old. I’m interested in those stories that have been silenced or pushed in the background.

SS: What qualities do you think a new PiP creator should possess?

JS: Organization and a willingness to serve. As I said earlier, there’s a ton of behind the scenes work, so organization is huge.

SS: What do you love most about this role? 

JS: Beyond the readings, I really love communicating with the authors. They’re so smart, and I’ve already met so many amazing people because of this position. I look forward to meeting many, many more.

Find out more about Poets in Pajamas and their 2020 line-up here!


Jacquelyn Scott is the curator of Poets in Pajamas. She is an MFA candidate at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in december magBlue Mountain ReviewThe Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and The Write Launch. Find her on a hiking trail or on Twitter @jacquelynlscott.


Sabrina Sarro is a current social worker in the state of NY. They hold an LMSW from Columbia University and are currently pursuing an MFA from the City College of New York—CUNY. As a queer non-binary writer of color, they are most interested in investigating the intersectionalities of life and engaging in self-reflection and introspection. They are an alumnus of the LAMBDA Literary Emerging Voices for LGBTQIA* Writers Retreat, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Yale Writers’ Workshop, and many others. They have received scholarships from The Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.

Summer 2020 Poetry Writing Retreat

Sundress Academy for the Arts Announces
2020 Summer Poetry Writing Retreat

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is thrilled to announce its Summer Poetry Writing Retreat, which runs from Friday, May 29th to Sunday, May 31st, 2020.  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 break-out sessions on: writing about writing the self; kicking writer’s block; publishing; and more.

A weekend pass includes one-on-one and group instruction, writing supplies, food, drinks, transportation to and from the airport, 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, 2020.

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 Amorak Huey and Hali F. Sofala-Jones.

Amorak Huey is author of the poetry collections Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy (Sundress, forthcoming in 2021), Boom Box (Sundress, 2019), Seducing the Asparagus Queen (Cloudbank, 2018), and Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress, 2015), as well as the chapbooks The Insomniac Circus (Hyacinth Girl, 2014) and A Map of the Farm Three Miles from the End of Happy Hollow Road (Porkbelly, 2016). A 2017 NEA Fellowship recipient, he is co-author with W. Todd Kaneko of the textbook Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury, 2018) and teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. 

Hali F. Sofala-Jones is a Samoan American writer. Her debut poetry collection, Afakasi | Half-Caste, was published in March 2019 from Sundress Publications. She holds an MFA in Poetry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Her poems appear in Nimrod International Journal, The Bitter Oleander, CALYX, Blue Mesa ReviewThe Missouri Review, and her poem “Fractured” was featured in the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day series in October 2019. She is the recipient of the Vreeland Prize in poetry, two Academy of American Poets prizes, a Pushcart Prize nomination, and several other honors and awards. 

We have one full scholarship available for the retreat 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 erin@sundresspublications.com no later than March 15, 2020. Winners will be announced in early April.

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

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is an artists’ residency that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers, actors, filmmakers, and visual artists. All are guided by experienced, professional instructors from a variety of creative disciplines who are dedicated to cultivating the arts in East Tennessee. 

Shitty First Drafts Release 12th Episode with Black Atticus

Sundress Publications announces the twelfth episode of the podcast, Shitty First Drafts.  A podcast made for and by writers, this show playfully investigates the creative processes of different artists to determine how a finished draft gets its polish.

In the twelfth episode of the Shitty First Drafts podcast, Brynn and Stephanie chat with Knoxville spoken-word legend, Black Atticus. 

He tells Brynn and Stephanie about his many names, how his love of retro comic books and hip hop lead him to poetry, and the audacity and vulnerability of slam.

Listen to hear two original spoken word poems as well as one of Black Atticus’ songs! Find him performing in and around Knoxville, TN with a show that rocks, raps, flows, & vibrates with every principal of Hip Hop culture: peace, fun, love, and unity.

Listen to Episode 12 here.

Black Atticus hails from Knoxville, TN with a show that rocks, raps, flows, & vibrates with every principal of Hip Hop culture: peace, fun, love, and unity.  His songs and lyrics are geared to heal and connect, and his poetry provides thoughtful insight and inspiration for all who listen.

Sundress Releases Wolf Daughter

Sundress announces the release of Wolf Daughter by Amy Watkins. These narrative poems tell the story of a wolf-mother traversing the challenges and wonders of raising her wolf-daughter in a human world.

While personal and specific, the poems look hard at who we are, collectively: a society that continually reinforces who belongs and who doesn’t, a society of humans who easily become hunters. This collection is a lesson on hostility even as it cuddles with you in bed and exudes the warmth of a doting mother. The wolf-girl navigates the usual phases of adolescence with confidence and flair despite frequent cultural reminders of her “otherness.” Through the mother-daughter relationship, Watkins teaches us to look past the exterior and reveals moments of deep honesty, life-affirming love, and true connectivity. This is a book that refuses to be othered as these poems bare their teeth and howl. 

“These poems ask, what does it mean to raise a daughter in a “country of hunters” where it’s unclear if “it’s better to look dangerous or endangered”? Wolf Daughter captures the fears, anxieties, and joys of seeing a child come into her own in an uncertain world.”  
—Stephen S. Mills, author of Not Everything Thrown Starts a Revolution

Download your copy of Wolf Daughter for free today!


Amy Watkins is the author of three poetry chapbooks (Milk & WaterLucky, and Wolf Daughter), a graduate of the Spalding University MFA in Writing, and a parent of a human girl. Find her online at RedLionSq.com or @amykwatkins on Twitter. She lives in Orlando, Florida.

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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.

Website: www.sundresspublications.com    Facebook: sundresspublications
Email: erin@sundresspublications.com       Twitter: @SundressPub

SAFTA & Friends Present: A First Friday Variety Show

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present a First Friday Variety Show on Friday, February 7, 2020 from 7-9PM at The Casual Pint, Downtown. This free event, hosted by JoAnna Brooker, will feature musicians Redd Daugherty and Ryan Dunaway, poets Brynn Martin and Summer Awad, and comedians Ana Tantaris, Clinton Ricks, and Emaleigh Kierstin.

There will be raffle drawings to win a six-pack provided by the Pint, koozies, and Sundress Publications titles, and there will be a donation jar by the bar in support of Sundress. A portion of the sales of Miller Lite drafts during the event will be donated to Sundress Academy for the Arts.

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is a writer’s residency that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers in all genres including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, journalism, academic writing, playwriting, and more. All are guided by experienced instructors from a variety of creative disciplines who are dedicated to cultivating the literary arts in East Tennessee.

So come by and check it out on February 7, 2020 from 7-9PM at The Casual Pint, Downtown

Open Call for Poetry Broadside Contest

Sundress Publications is pleased to announce that we are now open for submissions for our poetry broadside contest. 

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

To submit, send up to three poems, no longer than 30 lines each (line limit includes stanza breaks but not the title), in one Word or PDF document to contest@sundresspublications.com by March 31st, 2020. Be sure to include a copy of your payment receipt or purchase order number (see below for payment of fees). Please make sure that no identifying information is included in the submitted poems.

The reading fee is $10 per batch of three poems, though the fee will be waived for entrants who purchase or pre-order any Sundress title. We will also accept nominations for entrants, provided the nominating person either pays the reading fee or makes a qualifying purchase. Authors may submit and/or nominate as many manuscripts as they would like, so long as each is accompanied by a separate reading fee or purchase/pre-order. Entrants and nominators can place book orders or pay submission fees at our store. Once the purchase is made, the store will send a receipt with a code. This code should be included in the submission.

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

Poems translated from another language will not be accepted. Simultaneous submissions are fine, but we ask that authors notify us immediately if their work has been accepted elsewhere; poems accepted for publication are still qualified provided the author retains the rights to the work.

Transgender & Nonbinary Workshop

For many in the queer and trans community, we wrestle with the idea of ‘self’ on an almost existential level. When you have to question things like sexual/romantic orientation, gender, your childhood, and your name, it can lead one to wonder how much of the “you” is expressed and how much is hidden. It also opens us up to the questions of how that has changed over time and how it may change again since one’s sense of self can be heavily impacted by the queer experience. Even memes and social media posts delve into this kind of search for self and ways to exist outside of social bonds and boundaries.

As many queer folk are drifting farther outward, away from rigidly-defined roles and into a more nebulous sense of being, we want to explore the ways that this search can manifest in writing, whether in telling our own stories or using our story to influence the ways in which we tell others. In this open genre workshop, we will explore the trans and nonbinary identity and the ways in which it can inform our creative writing.

This workshop will be led by Gene Jeter and Nik Buhler on January 22nd, 6-7PM in Hodges Library Room 252 on the campus of the University of Tennessee. This event is free and welcome to the public.

Gene Jeter is a writer and photographer in Knoxville, TN. You’ll usually find him by a campfire with a beer in hand. (Pronouns: he/him or they/them)

Nik Buhler is a queer, Appalachian native living in Knoxville, Tennessee. Their work has been featured in Phoenix Literary Arts Magazine, Crab    Fat Magazine, and Apogee Journal. As Writer-in-Residence at the Sundress Academy for the Arts, Buhler can be always be found writing new poems and chasing chickens around the coop.

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is writers residency that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers in all genres including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, journalism, academic writing, playwriting, and more. All are guided by experienced  instructors from a variety of creative disciplines who are dedicated to cultivating the literary arts in East Tennessee.

Interview with Karen Craigo, Poet Laureate of Missouri

Missouri’s new Poet Laureate and Sundress Publications author Karen Craigo took out some time to talk with Sundress Editorial Intern, Jacquelyn Scott about the meaning of literary citizenship, the next steps for literacy, and the value of aiming high.

Jacquelyn Scott: What does it mean to you to be the Poet Laureate of Missouri?

Karen Craigo: I am over-the-moon delighted to be named to this position. A poet laureate is sort of a cheerleader, or maybe even an evangelist, for poetry, and that’s something I’ve always done anyway as a writer, teacher, and editor. This recognition, though? It’s big. I’ve been unabashedly telling everybody. The bank teller may not be excited that I’m a poet, but when I explain that I’m sort of the official poet of Missouri, well … OK, she’s not excited about that, either, but it feels good to crow about it.

JS: What aspect of being the Poet Laureate are you most looking forward to and why?

KC: In order to be selected as Poet Laureate, I submitted a batch of poems, but I also described a project I would pursue during my two years in office — a period that overlaps the start of our bicentennial year in the state, as it turns out! My project is called “The News From Poetry,” and it comes from those famous lines from the William Carlos Williams poem, “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”:

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
 yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

I’m a newsperson — specifically, I’m the editor and general manager of a small Missouri weekly newspaper, The Marshfield Mail, and this verse has always meant a great deal to me. At any rate, my plan is to get the news from every section of Missouri — all 114 counties, plus St. Louis, which is its own thing, so 115 entities — and publish them weekly on a blog. Some counties are no-brainers — I’m in the mid-sized city of Springfield, in Greene County, Missouri, and we have a lot of poets, as does Jackson County, where Kansas City, Missouri, is located, or Boone County, which is home to Columbia and the University of Missouri. But what’s the scene like in, say Daviess or Grundy County? I have no idea … yet. My plan is to find the poets, and if I can’t find them, I’ll go there myself and train them up. This is going to be the best adventure.

JS: You once said that even though it’s important, writing sucks at a person’s energy, spirit, and happiness. What keeps you writing?

KC: You’re referring to writing, which completely sucks eggs. But what keeps me in the game is having written. There is absolutely no finer feeling than looking at a poem that says exactly what you wanted to express, or that says something you didn’t have the good sense to want to express, but that the process of writing just offered up as a gift, as it does sometimes.

Writing is a spiritual activity for me. It’s meditation. It clarifies and fulfills me. Cranking out the words can really hurt sometimes, though.

JS: Do you think someone should have to work to “solve” a poem?

KC: That’s a fascinating question, and I don’t quite know what to think about it. I’ve had writing challenges that required solutions — how to link one idea to another, how to get the lineation or the sonics where I want them to be. I’m going to say no, though — poems are not problems, and even when you’re puzzling over a compositional matter — say, how to get a repetition to fit in the third line of the fourth stanza of a sestina, I wouldn’t say we’re solving the poem.

Now, with that being said, I think all poems are arguments, and arguments are similar to problems — if we don’t solve them, we at least try to resolve them. But poetry itself is a solution for me. It helps me to work things out; it gives me comfort when I need it. I often find that poems communicate with me in a very intimate way, and a very literal one, too. If I come to the page with trouble, I leave with a kind of peace. You could say that my difficulty (or pain, or muddled thinking) dissolves, so maybe there’s that kind of solution — what I’m puzzling over is taken in, dissolved into the hot soup of the larger world.

JS: Do you want each of your publications to stand alone, or do you want to build a bigger opus for your work that yields connections between books?

KC: I’m not quite that calculated in my work — or I’m not entirely conscious of how I feel about this. I would be happy if people knew that each book was from the same consciousness, but it’s good when we allow ourselves to change and grow, too. As for an exact link, where one book leads into another — wouldn’t that be a fascinating way to work? But I don’t think I have the right kind of attention span for that.

JS: In an interview for Passing Through Humansville (Sundress Publications, 2018), you mentioned this idea of authors “serving the reader.” Could you speak to that a little more? Is this connection of service related to your new position as Poet Laureate?

 KC: Although all of my answers so far have revealed that writing is very personal for me, the fact is, I don’t think a piece of writing is fully done until it has an audience. Along those lines, I don’t think that as the poet I’m the sole authority on the work I make. It’s a circuit that isn’t complete until a connection is made. Maybe poetry keeps me grounded (if we’re to continue the electrical metaphor), but these utterances sort of ask for an audience. In connecting with readers, we offer our way of looking at things, and we have a chance of expanding their view or helping them to see that they’re not alone in feeling as they do. This connection is how we serve.

The laureate position is about service. I’m most interested in reaching those people who don’t have a relationship with poetry at all (or don’t realize that they do). I would like to demonstrate to people how reading and writing poetry can make for a more empathetic and loving citizen. We can use that no matter where we are — Missouri, Tennessee, the moon ….

JS: How has your writing changed since your first publication?

KC: I think it’s getting tighter. Poetry used to happen for me at the revision stage; I would recopy a poem over and over, and each time I did, it would improve, until it didn’t — and that’s when I would stop revising. So much of that happens during the initial draft now. I work things out as I go now. My poems tend to be small, so sometimes they need very little revision at all. (I don’t mean every reader will automatically love them, of course — I mean that they say what I want them to say in the best way I can say it.)

I used to worry that I covered repetitive themes — motherhood, money, the spirit, these were kind of my beat — but then I realized that it was OK to have small obsessions, and that the change in my thinking over the years will result in different sorts of poems. Honestly, I’m just easier on myself these days. I like who I am, and that includes who I am as a poet. I continue to write what comes and do my best with it, and that’s all anyone can ask me to do.

JS: How has your literary citizenship shaped who you are as a writer?

KC: Hmm. Again, it’s such a great question. These are drinks-at-the-bar-with-friends questions, though — the kind you debate all through the evening and change positions on four times as your appreciation for the whole writing world deepens. As an interview for publication, I’m mindful that the answer I give right now might be different on a different day, but I’m going to take a stab at it.

Citizenship implies a nation of some sort, doesn’t it? I picture a whole hidden country for writers — like Wakanda, but with the Starbucks Okoye envisioned. Citizenship — coming together with civility and common purpose — has benefits. It builds community, it reminds us to be civil, it sparks friendly competition. But writing happens alone. Even if we go to a coffee shop, we’re really not in the coffee shop if we’re deep in our own mind. That’s an untouchable space.

But for some reason, I’ve always been drawn to the community of writers, and as I’ve advanced in my craft, I’ve felt even more like reaching out — being a sounding board or even a mentor to those who want one, encouraging emerging voices, holding publishers to accountability standards.

I don’t think community has shaped my writing much, but I do think it has shaped me in my humanness. It’s nice not to be in this alone, and it’s especially nice to introduce newcomers to the writing I love so much.

JS: Once the US has reached the ideal of 100% literacy, do we redefine what we’re reaching for? Do we (or should we) redefine literacy to something more than just the ability to read?

KC: I do think literacy encompasses more than reading. There’s the idea of cultural literacy, of course; when we stare stupidly at the mention of some musician we’ve never heard of — Lil Tjay or Filmore (rising stars I’ve never heard of, in rap and country, respectively, but TOTALLY just Googled) — we’re failing in that area, aren’t we? There’s something missing from our education. We can’t know everything but knowing a little helps us to relate to one another.

The U.S. won’t reach 100 percent literacy, because some people can’t learn to read — babies, for instance. People with dementia. People with severe processing disorders. Or, hell, people who don’t want to learn to read. For me, literacy is important; books are a source of joy. But I’m much more interested in human connection, and that requires a broader literacy than just sounding out letters.

JS: What advice do you have for poets who are looking to publish for the first time?

KC: I think it’s really great to start close to home — your campus literary journal, a local micropress, that kind of thing. This builds that community we were talking about before. I also think it’s important not to publish before you have a body of work you can be permanently proud of. If you’re going to look at today’s work in 10 years and want to change your name to distance yourself from it, that’s probably an indication that publishing is premature. (The thing is, we don’t know what’s going to trigger our gag reflex IN THE YEAR 2030 … so, that’s a tough call.)

Some nuts-and-bolts suggestions: Aim high, even aim above your head a few times, just to get the lay of the land. You can start at prestigious journals and then adjust downward after some rejections, but don’t start at the bottom. If you know they’ll accept your work, where’s the fun in that?

Also, when you’re starting out, simultaneously submit a lot (taking care to aim for similar publications and to go with the first acceptance to reach you, while swiftly withdrawing work that finds a home). As you being to find homes for your work, continue to simultaneously submit, but send poems to three journals, maybe, instead of a dozen. Once you do really well, you won’t want to simultaneously submit any longer, I’ll bet — it’s good incentive to write more, which is where your energy should be anyway.

Most importantly? Don’t let publishing break you. The writing is the important part. I work on publishing activities when I’m feeling a little stuck.

JS: What advice do you have for poets who are struggling with complicated or difficult-to-write images?

KC: Maybe just to plug on through? Sometimes I remind myself that no one else ever has to see the things I’m writing, so it gives me permission to be really honest and raw. Spoiler alert: Once I like a poem, I’m sharing, even if it contains my Gmail password, my debit card PIN, my Social Security number, my secret meatloaf recipe, a confession of that thing I did ….

JS: What books or authors have you read that you think are important?

KC: Everything you read has value. This is a foundational belief that everyone in my family shares. It doesn’t matter what you pick up — shampoo bottle, pornographic magazine, children’s picture book, Moby-Dick; that text is going to teach you something. This is something my parents always said, and stuck to, no matter how much I challenged them.

I love the poetry collection The Wild Iris by Louise Glück. If you read it, it has a narrative arc delivered in the voices of flowers interspersed with prayers. I aspire to such vision, but it seems a ways off. I could name a lot of other influential poetry books, but one of my habits is to go on reading jags where I finish a poetry book a day (and often blog about it or review it somewhere). That’s important — exposing yourself to a lot of different voices. What I’m reading right now (any right now) exerts the most influence on me, like a magnet.

JS: What are you working on right now?

KC: I recently lost my ex-husband to suicide. We were extremely close friends, though he lived in Maine; we talked every day, and he just delighted me. I miss him so much, and I’m working through that with poetry a little bit. It’s odd work for me. It sort of lacks artifice, and the lineation is very chaotic and different. Incidentally, I had written the saddest, loneliest portraits of him a couple of months before he died. I think I’ve stumbled into a collection, or I’m stumbling still.

Grief
by Karen Craigo

Don’t worry—I still move
through the world. At first
I doubted I could stir,
could raise myself up
on an elbow to sip
a bit of broth.
But I’m fine. I go
to the store, read the back
of the cereal box, notice
each time the furnace kicks on.
What I mean is
I take things in. Just today
I saw where some species of bat
hibernate through the cold,
but others migrate. That’s right.
You figure you’re looking
at birds in flight,
but they’re so much darker,
so much more upside-down.

Purchase your copy of Passing Through Humansville and No More Milk
at the Sundress store!


Karen Craigo is the author of two Sundress Publications titles, No More Milk (2016) and Passing Through Humansville (2018). She is also the author of Escaped Housewife Tries Hard to Blend In (forthcoming from Tolson Books, 2018), and three chapbooks. She is the editor of a weekly newspaper, The Marshfield (Missouri) Mail, and she maintains Better View of the Moon, a blog on writing and creativity. She lives in Springfield, Missouri.

Jacquelyn Scott is a current MFA candidate at The University of Tennessee. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Blue Mountain Review, december mag, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and The Write Launch. Find her on a hiking trail or on Twitter @JacquelynLScott.