Sundress Interview with Our New Chapbook Editors

Sundress Publications is excited to announce that Anna Black and Brynn Martin will be taking the helm as our new chapbook editors. The two sat down with our editorial intern Nicole Drake to talk about some of the exciting titles and projects ahead of them. Black and Martin discuss their most treasured writing advice, some of their unique passions (natural building, embroidery), and the idea of editing as working toward a shared vision with the author.

Nicole Drake: How did you come on as an editor for the Sundress chapbook series?

Brynn Martin: I’ve worked for SAFTA since 2016 in a couple of different roles but I’ve always expressed to Erin that I’m interested in publishing/editing and the whole process of how a book comes to be. So when the editor position came open for the chapbook series, I jumped on it. 

Anna Black: Sundress brought me on as an intern a long time ago. Since then I have worked as the editor of the Lyric Essentials series, the Poets in Pajamas curator, and now the Staff Director. Not all at once! I’ve been the assistant editor for most of our books over the last couple of years, and Erin knew I loved the editing side so of course when she asked me to, I was happy to be able to take on some chapbooks as an editor.

Drake: Can you give us an introduction to you and what you’re excited to bring to Sundress as an editor?

Black: My favorite works to read (and write) are eco and nature-based blow-your-hair-back-lick-your-neck words that rock with hard-core intersectional feminism and at least some hint of the grisly or magical. I love art and things that are weird — hybridity thrills me to the point of glee. I’m not sure what else there is to know about me. I’m a disabled, bi, animist, vegan Libra married to a Scorpio — we live in the PNW.

As an editor, I like to think that I’m looking not for what’s wrong (though that’s what people think of when they find out you’re an editor) because the book made it through our board and our judges to get selected in the first place (and we’re rigorous) so there’s not much wrong by that point. 

But more that I’m hoping to use whatever vision I may possess by letting the writer look through my eyes. As when you point out new things to visitors in your town — you share with them a bit of the magic you’ve picked up by living there and knowing the space and when you point out the sculpture made by your friend or share the violent histories of your town, you see them shift, come alert, and spark with a connection born through seeing anew. I guess that’s what I hope to do as an editor more than anything — to let our writers see through my eyes and see their work in a new or deeper way. If we make a few changes here and there, together, along the way, then it’s because we shared a vision. So I guess that’s what I’m hoping for above all.

Martin: I’m a poet, Kansan, cat person, emerging foodie, and amateur macaron baker. I find a lot of peace in painting, embroidery, and other creative pursuits as well.

I’d say I bring my sense of humor, my passion for poetry, and my queerness to Sundress. The teams at Sundress and SAFTA are easily the most representative and welcoming that I’ve ever been a part of and it’s been refreshing to find a space that honors who I am while also allowing me to grow into my voice more. 

Drake: What is the difference between a poetry collection and a chapbook?

Martin: The difference is primarily in the length; poetry collections are book-length manuscripts that run about 80+ pages. Chapbooks are often much shorter, between 10-30 pages. Because collections are longer, they will cover several topics and balance many themes, whereas a chapbook typically focuses on one theme or idea.

Black: Primarily the difference is the length. Full-length poetry collections are 45+ pages and chapbooks are “something less than that.” But it’s not as if chapbooks are unfinished collections. A good chapbook works within a shorter length and makes it a strength. A reader shouldn’t feel like the work has been cut short or that something is missing — so I guess rather than focusing on the length alone I would say that a chapbook is a book of poetry (or something else) that is at its best around 20-35 pages.

Drake: What projects are you working on now and what do you have coming up?

Martin: I run the Sh*tty First Drafts podcast with my roommate and friend Stephanie Phillips. We release new episodes about every two weeks, so follow us on social media and/or Spotify/iTunes/Google Play to see when we drop a new episode! 

I’m also working on a manuscript of my own that I hope to send out this summer. Keep your fingers crossed for me. 

Black: We just launched Hannah V Warren’s [re]construction of the necromancer which is an incredible chap that retells the Hansel and Gretel story in a skin-tingling feminist way. It’s witchy and wonderful in every way and Hannah and I made a few changes along the way that were just what I mentioned above: a shared vision. I’m really proud of this book and I know Hannah is, too.

Coming up: I’m still the assistant editor for most of our books so I’m buried right now as we try to get everything out the door for AWP. But if you have the chance, you should also check out Bury Me in Thunder by moira j. which is just — wow — it’s an incredible honor to be a part of this book in whatever role. And we’re about to release The Familiar Wild, an anthology on dogs edited by Rachel Mennies and Ruth Awad. We’re about to release our first fiction title, too, by Robert Long Foreman, I Am Here to Make Friends it has charts. Oh! And Maps of Injury is coming out, too. Chera Hammons’ writing is a pleasure. As a person who deals with chronic illness, this is a collection that will just shatter the ideas most people have of what an ill body is like. 

Personally, I’m working on a few projects including a novel, my second poetry collection, and a couple of visual art and photography projects. I need more sleep.

Drake: Do you have a favorite poetry collection or chapbook from 2019 still rattling around in your head?

Martin: Oh man, so many! I read The Carrying by Ada Limón most recently on a trip to the mountains. I admire her work so much. Franny Choi’s Soft Science is also stunning — no surprise there. I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood by Tiana Clark was also a favorite, though I think it came out at the end of 2018. I could go on. There’s so much kick-ass poetry happening right now.

Black: Ruth Foley’s Dead Man’s Float was a world rocker for me. And Amy Watkins’ Wolf Daughter. Oh and Lessons in Breathing Underwater by HK Hummel. They were so good! I liked all of our 2019 titles, to be honest. This is too hard.

Drake: What book have you reread the most in your life?

Black: Oh um…okay you’re going to laugh. Probably Clan of the Cave Bear—the series up through the Mammoth Hunters. Though I haven’t reread it in many, many years—I’m afraid to. It would probably offend me now. I’d say it probably has the record though given my recollection of my twenties. There’s something about a book that grips you in your early years in a way that never leaves you and changes your view on the world. That’s special. I’d also have to say Mists of Avalon but not in many years and that was before I knew there was a controversy around the writer. In more recent years I turn to Loba, Woman and Nature, Bright Dead Things, The Chronology of Water, Gathering Moss, Object Lessons, We Who Love to Be Astonished—I’d better stop.

Martin: The most honest answer is probably The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I loved that book so much and had it read to me so often as a kiddo that I’d memorized the words and would “read” it to myself before I’d ever learned how to actually read.

In more recent years, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Breaks my heart every time. 

Drake: What do you look for in a chapbook that really sets it apart from the rest?

Black: Well, the chapbooks aren’t chosen by an acquisitions editor at Sundress. They go through readers which include our board and then after the initial winnowing to the finalists, to a judge. So it doesn’t matter much what I like in that sense except that as a board member I do read like everyone else. I guess, though, that I’m always hoping for a chapbook that causes me to make little grunting sounds—which I do when something strikes me as I read. It’s like an “ungh” sound. Something like a person makes when they take the perfect bite of their favorite dessert. Which is to say, I want to be touched. I want to cry. I want to be mad or hurt or surprised as I read. I want to feel for the speaker. I want to feel present and absorbed. I want to hear it breathe in my head. I want to forget I’m reading.

Martin: I appreciate chapbooks that hone in on one thing: whether it’s an exploration of a relationship, or a theme, or even one image. Chapbooks that are focused and feel like one complete unit. Which is not to say that they can’t do weird or experimental things. In fact, I think a narrowed focus allows for more room to play and explore. 

Drake: Do you favor the classically excellent or more innovative, experimental works?

Black: When I make my personal choices for reading it’s probably obvious by now that I bend toward the experimental, the strange, and the things that have been hidden from us all for far too long. But that’s just how I lean personally and not a rule. I’m not usually going to reach for things that aren’t pushing boundaries but when they happen into my life, I’m no less glad to have read them. As an editor, I honestly have no preference. I think there is room for all of the words except the hateful kind. There is incredible joy in an accessible poem. I love those, too. And just as much. 

Martin: It probably sounds wishy-washy, but I have to say both. Innovative and experimental works can be really exciting and captivating, but only if those choices are grounded by craft. Using something like caesura for its own sake, rather than to illuminate or complicate something in the poem, is counterproductive in my opinion.  

Drake: What is the most useful editing/writing advice you have ever received?

Black: Sally Ball taught me to read manuscripts in side-by-side view and I use this every day now for Sundress and with my other work as an editor, and I’m so thankful she taught me that and much more about close reading and pulling things out from the back edges of your brain so you can look at them…about when to fight over a cow, and when to let it go—she really is an incredible editor and one I aspire to be more like. 

Martin: That it’s okay to not be writing all the time. So often advice to young writers is about a schedule and producing as much as possible and all these arbitrary things that you can only really do when you’re in a position of extreme privilege. Letting go of the expectation that I had to sit down and write for two hours every day to be considered a “real” writer was incredibly freeing. Everyone works at their own pace and in their own way.

Drake: If you could live as the villain in any book–across all years and genres–who would you choose?

Martin: Probably someone like Professor Moriarty. Having seemingly unlimited access to money and power is pretty sexy, not to mention getting to mess with and outsmart the hero. Plus, Andrew Scott’s portrayal in the BBC adaptation is spectacular. 

Black: In Griffin’s Woman and Nature there is this horse. While not exactly a villain, it’s being tamed, or rather, some man is trying to tame the horse. And the horse is resistant and full of fight and passion and has these threatening hooves. And I guess it’s not really a villain but it is to the man, right? I want to be that horse. That daring, blasphemous, dangerous, wild horse. Or Medusa. I’m probably already Medusa.


Drake:
As an editor, have you ever experienced regret at a line you absolutely adored but had to cut for the greater good? A literary “one that got away”?

Black: Hmmm, no? Not one that comes to mind anyway. Cutting is a good thing. It should be done when called for, and without compunction when necessary. But the trick is to know when it’s necessary, right? It may seem it, but then you read it back and realize that something was lost. So you put it back in. Cutting is never permanent. It’s like being able to try on any haircut with no regrets. That’s what makes editing fun — it’s not risky unless you’re mean to the author. 

Martin: In my own work, absolutely and all the time, especially as a young(er) writer. I wrote lots of lines (even whole poems) that seemed, at the time, completely genius but were ultimately too saccharine or abstract to work. You have to be willing to be pretty brutal with your own work, in my opinion. Most of the poems that I’m proudest of are ones that were completely overhauled in their structure, form, image systems, etc.

As an editor for Sundress, not so much. Most of the work we accept is polished and more-or-less ready to go. Much of what I do is more about copy-editing, small edits for clarity, and working on ordering.

Drake: Finally, what is one non-editorial, non-bookish thing that you truly enjoy doing?

Martin: I mentioned this before but something I’ve gotten into recently is embroidering. It’s something to keep my hands busy while still allowing me to feel creative. The rhythm of it is really calming, too. I post my pieces up on Instagram @BrynnsieCrafts, if that’s something you’re into.

Black: Non-bookishly I love to kayak. I’m also a photographer. I love boats, natural building (cob, earthships, strawbale, earthbag and anything that equalizes housing). I frequently blast music like I’m still 17, so I must like it. I can easily be convinced to go to art galleries and studio tours, to spend time gardening, and doing anything that involves me getting to hang up my hammock. I can break the bank in an art supplies store. I’m not good at math.


Anna Black

Anna Black‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Collagist, The Seattle Times, Hotel Amerika, 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, SWWIM, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. Black received her MFA at Arizona State University. She works as an editor and web operator based in the PNW as well as the Staff Director and an Associate Editor at Sundress Publications, and the poetry editor for Doubleback Review. More of her work can be seen at http://bylineblack.com.

Brynn Martin is a Kansas native living in Knoxville, where she received her MFA in poetry from the University of Tennessee. She is an Associate Editor for Sundress Publications and co-host of the podcast Shitty First Drafts. Her poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from Contrary Magazine, Rogue Agent, FIVE:2:ONE, and Crab Orchard Review.  

Nicole Drake is a graduate of Florida State University with a BA in Creative Writing. She has served as a reader for the Southeast Review and the Seven Hills Review and currently works as the Social Media Manager for Capital City Tattoo’z. She teaches dance and works her way through her endless “To Read” list in her spare time.

Sundress Releases Maps of Injury by Chera Hammons

Sundress Publications announces the release of Chera Hammons’ Maps of Injury. An unwavering study of the body and earth moved by pain, sorrow, and hope, these poems offer new ways of knowing the intricacies of our interwoven lives and the tender beliefs that keep us going.

Chera Hammons charts a cartographical understanding of the body—one marked with illness, change, and the bone-deep need to survive. Here, hope and sorrow weave between the grasses of the Texas Panhandle, a hard place “where the land is flat and tough and everything is against us.” Yet, memory roots itself firmly, urging us forward because “what we fear may not come to pass.”

Hammons writes with an honest tenor that sits in the throat, guiding us to the places where our hands—and lives—extend beyond our grasps. There is a grace here as wide as a summer sky, a forgiveness that carries you, even when your body cannot. These verses sing through the difficulty of life, making sure “each day leave[s] its own bruise” along the spine of our collected histories.

Sandy Longhorn, author of The Alchemy of My Mortal Form, says Maps of Injury “offers a steady wisdom born from a body and a land under siege. As the speaker confronts chronic illness and the land of the Texas panhandle weathers drought, we are assured that ‘Someone will always teach us how to grieve.’ And these poems do just that with subtle beauty and stunning revelations. Hammons’ lyric narratives sing in the face of difficult times and remind us to ‘let the dangerous world in.’” 

Order your copy on the Sundress website!

Chera Hammons is West Texas A&M University’s Writer-in-Residence. Work appears or is forthcoming in publications such as Beloit Poetry Journal, Foundry, The Penn Review, Ruminate, The Sun, The Texas Observer, and Tupelo Quarterly. She is a winner of the PEN Southwest Book Award. Maps of Injury is her fourth book of poetry. A novel is forthcoming through Torrey House Press.

Meet Our New Intern: Ada Wofford

I’m currently a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Library and Information Science and I will be graduating this spring (maybe in the summer, it depends on my financial situation). I graduated Summa Cum Laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University, where I majored in English literature and minored in psychology. I work part-time as a content writer and I’m looking to make it more of a full-time gig.

I’m a Contributing Editor for The Blue Nib, a literary magazine based out of the UK. I write essays and reviews for them but they have also published my fiction and poetry. My fiction tends to be about working-class women and deals with a lot of ethical and existential concepts but I also write a lot of humor so, go figure. Recently, I’ve been dabbling with screenplay writing—I want to write a queer Seinfeld. For the past several months, all of my analytical writing has been focused on 21st-century poetry. I’ve published an essay on Kaur’s work and an essay on alt-lit, critically examining their literary qualities and attempting to explain both their appeal and their function within literature as a whole. I feel such analysis is important as there is hardly any in existence, despite Kaur being the best selling poet of all time. That being said, I feel I should point out that I do not enjoy or admire Kaur’s work nor any of the alt-lit work I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot) but I believe the works to be culturally significant and therefore deserving of scholarly analysis.

Apart from all that, I’m also a huge music nerd. I play in two bands (Friendo and HoloFerns) and manage a music review site called My Little Underground.

As for the future, I’m still figuring that out. I applied to some PhD programs in the fall and so until I hear back from them, I can’t start planning anything. My main goal though is to write more and publish more—I hope the experience I gain at Sundress will aid me in this pursuit.


Ada Wofford is currently avoiding her 9-5 enslavement by studying library science at UW-Madison. She’s a Contributing Editor for The Blue Nib, has been published in various places such as McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and is currently residing in New Jersey.

Meet Our New Intern: Kanika Lawton

I read voraciously as a child. I imagine anyone would in my position; I had a loving family, but I was teased mercilessly throughout elementary school. I spent most of my time alone: sitting in my favorite corner of the school library thumbing through the bookshelves, wandering into the forest next to my school and imagining being on a daring adventure. I became fast friends with a dog whose owner lived in a house right next to the field; I would tell him that, one day, we’ll explore exciting places far away from here.

My urge to read everything I could get my hands on got me into trouble. I was reprimanded in Grade Six for reading books meant only for Grade Seven students (the highest grade in my school) and scolded for reading Seventeen magazines when I was nowhere close to being in the “appropriate” age range. Still, I held onto books and the small sense of freedom and hope they gave me because, at the time, they were all I had. This world of brave girls and quests and imaginary lands made me feel less alone.

In Grade Five I started writing down the stories I would make up in my head to pass the time. They were strange—one was about a small snake trying to follow a wagon train à la Little House on the Prairie, while another was about a tennis ball who rolled away from his family—but my teachers liked them, so I felt encouraged to keep going. Eventually, I found my way into Honours English and AP English in high school, where I fell in love with Shakespeare’s plays and the Romantic poets and, surprisingly enough, James Joyce’s Dubliners (if you’re reading this Mr. Wallace, thank you for bringing us to so many Bard on the Beach performances and letting us read Dubliners). I read its final short story—”The Dead”—over and over again, struck by the epiphany that nearly brought Gabriel Conroy to his knees. Maybe this story came to me at the right time; on the cusp of graduation, not knowing what I wanted to do while telling everyone I had a plan. I bought a copy while I was in Québec the summer before I started college, holding it close when I made the sudden decision to change my major.

I’ve had a few small epiphanies since then: realizing this is what I’ve always wanted to do while sitting in my honors Arts program, when I decided to go to grad school for cinema studies, the first time someone told me my poetry meant something to them. I’ve been chasing that sudden clarity since, that breathless moment when everything either fits into place or shatter in the most exalting way possible. When I read, watch, or experience something that makes time stop around me, it etches itself into my memories, like it’s a part of me now.

Maybe that’s what drove me to establish my online literary and art journal L’Éphémère Review and dive deeper into writing and editing and becoming a better literary citizen; chasing epiphanies and sharing them with as many people as I can. Stories have intrinsically changed who I am as a person and giving back to the communities that shaped me is the least I can do. This is why I’m grateful I have the opportunity to work for Sundress Publications; we are all made up of stories that deserve to be told, and being able to help others tell their stories is something I feel like I was meant to do.


Kanika Lawton holds a BA in Psychology with a Minor in Film Studies from the University of British Columbia and an MA from the University of Toronto’s Cinema Studies Institute. She is the Editor-In-Chief of L’Éphémère Review, a 2018 Pink Door Fellow, and a 2020 BOAAT Writer’s Retreat Poetry Fellow. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper Magazine, Vagabond City Literary Journal, Glass Poetry, and Cosmonauts Avenue, among others.

Lyric Essentials: Stephen S. Mills Reads Frank O’Hara

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! In this latest installment, Stephen Mills reads us Frank O’Hara and talks about how O’Hara’s poetry has not only helped shape queer spaces in poetry, but has most recently provided comfort while living in New York City during the COVID crisis. Thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read Frank O’Hara for Lyric Essentials – and why these two particular poems?

Stephen Mills: From the moment I first read Frank O’Hara as an undergraduate, he’s been a touchstone for me as a poet as he is for many. I did, however, debate choosing him because he’s such an obvious choice for me. But as I was making my selection and setting about to record poems for this project, things took a turn here in New York where I live. 

As I began to deal with the reality of the COVID-19 health crisis in the city, I felt even more drawn to reading Frank O’Hara. I needed his poems and his New York. It’s hard to separate his poems from the city where he wrote a majority of them. He wrote with such joy and excitement, which was often tinged with darker themes or events. Some of his most famous poems are “walking poems” where he’s moving though New York and capturing everything that makes this city so thrilling and alive (though he often does so by reminding us of death). Due to the current situation, I haven’t really been out for four weeks and counting, so reading O’Hara was a way to reconnect with my own love of this city as well as his work. 

I selected “Steps” because it is one of my favorite poems. There’s a thrill and a speed to it that really captures the excitement of New York but also of love. It’s pretty hard to get away with lines like “oh god it’s wonderful / to get out of bed / and drink too much coffee / and smoke too many cigarettes / and love you so much” but O’Hara makes us feel that and believe it so fully.

“St. Paul and All That” is a different kind of love poem. It’s full of an anxious feeling and an exploration of what it means to be with another person but to also be without them sometimes. In this case, O’Hara is writing about his lover Vincent Warren who was a dancer. I like the contrast between these two pieces which showcase O’Hara’s range. 

Stephen Mills reads “Steps” by Frank O’Hara

EH: Has O’Hara influenced your own writing at all?

SM: Yes, in very profound ways. I am especially influenced by O’Hara ability to combine so many different things together from his own life and friends to history to art to pop culture to open declarations of love for another man. And to know he was doing this in a time when most of those things were very taboo in culture and in poetry, makes him a huge inspiration for me. 

As a gay man who often writes about my own life and relationships, I found a deep connection to his approach. When I read him for the first time, it was like nothing else I had ever read. There wasn’t this secrecy or shame around his sexuality or love or life. There was excitement and joy and the thrill of being alive against a backdrop of the changing world of the mid-20th century (one of my favorite time periods). I’m very drawn to the personal set against the historical. 

In a very clear way, you can see a lot of O’Hara’s influence in my second poetry collection A History of the Unmarried, which explores the concept of marriage within the queer community by examining many of the stereotypes of marriage and family from the 1950s and 60s. The book includes direct references to O’Hara as well as Jackson Pollock, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the tv show Mad Men, which paid its own tribute to O’Hara in season two.  

EH: What is your relationship with reading poetry aloud?

SM: It is a huge part of my process as a writer. I read all of my work aloud over and over again as part of my writing and revision process. I’ve even at times recorded pieces just to hear them played back to me. Poetry is unique in that way. You want pieces that work both on the page but can also come alive when heard. The experiences can be very different. 

Personally, I’ve really grown as a performer of my own work over the years. It has taken me a lot of practice and a lot of public readings, but I now feel more confident in giving my own work a voice. There’s something thrilling about having that immediate response when you are in front of an audience.   

When I’m reading poetry by others, I almost always read it aloud. It’s very hard for me to read poetry silently, which means I normally have to read poetry books in private. 

Stephen Mills reads “St. Paul and All That” by Frank O’Hara

EH: How do you think O’Hara still speaks to readers, after all this time? 

SM: In many ways, O’Hara was ahead of his time, so his work still feels very contemporary. You could replace a few names in his poems with current celebrities or artists and it would feel like the poem was written today. But I think it is more than that. 

O’Hara is so good at walking a fine line between life and death. In the poem “Steps” he writes “and in sense we’re all winning / we’re alive.” O’Hara was well aware of how fragile life was from the deaths of friends and idols to living through World War II. There’s a rush to his work that acknowledges how close we all are to the end. This is magnified by the fact that O’Hara died young in an accident on Fire Island. 

This exploration of our connection to death is something that still resonates with readers. Something we still seek out in the literature we read or the TV shows we watch or movies we go to. And it connects to this very moment as we face a pandemic like nothing most of us have ever seen. 

Particularly for the gay community, O’Hara holds a special place for a lot of us because of the openness within his work. We don’t have to sit and decode all his poems to see his queerness and that is extremely refreshing and something that can still, at times, be hard to come by in mainstream poetry. Queers writers, like myself, are still questioned and sometimes pushed to the side for writers who are less open or direct.

EH: Do you have any current writing projects that you’d like to tell us about?

SM: I’m currently looking for a publisher for a new book manuscript called Shelter in Place that is my own exploration of our connection and fascination with death through a queer lens. The book looks at current events, historical events, personal events as well as TV and true crime documentaries for inspiration. I’ve also been working on playwriting and completed my first play last fall and I’m currently working on my second. 


Frank O’Hara is a celebrated American poet known for his key role as a leader in the New York School of avant-garde poets and artists during the 1950s and 1960s Manhattan. He wrote ninety poems, and his poetry collections were all published posthumously, with the exception of Lunch Poems. O’Hara was involved with the art scene, and incorporated dance, theater, painting and music into his life’s work, and is known for his poetic observations of New York City. He served as a long time art critic, and was long associated with the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as a curator until his tragic death at age forty in 1966.

Further reading:

Read about Frank O’Hara’s New York in The New Yorker
Purchase the most recent collection of O’Hara’s work
Listen to O’Hara read his poetry out loud

Stephen S. Mills is the author of the Lambda Award-winning book He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices (2012)as well as A History of the Unmarried (2014) and Not Everything Thrown Starts a Revolution (2018) all from Sibling Rivalry Press. He earned his MFA from Florida State University. His work has appeared in Columbia Poetry ReviewThe Antioch Review, PANK, The New York Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, The Rumpus, and others. He is also the winner of the 2008 Gival Press Oscar Wilde Poetry Award and the 2014 Christopher Hewitt Award for Fiction. Two of his books have been placed on the Over the Rainbow List compiled yearly by the American Library Association. He lives in New York City with his partner and two schnauzers.

Further reading:

Purchase Stephen’s latest collection Not Everything Thrown Starts a Revolution
Read an interview with Stephen at The Rumpus
Learn more about Stephen at his website

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at http://ericahoffmeister.com/


Doubleback Books Call for Submissions

Doubleback Books, a Sundress Publications imprint, is now open for submissions by authors of out-of-print books. At Doubleback Books, we believe that out of print should not mean out of mind. Although other publishers rescue works that have fallen into the public eye from obscurity, few reprint books from small, independent presses that have folded during the twenty-first century and (often through no fault of their own) left new, exciting books to go out of print before their time. 

If you are the author of a book that has recently gone out of print because of a press closure, we want to read it. We are hosting an open reading period from March to May 2020.  Authors of works that have gone out of print due to their original press folding may submit full-length or short books, including novels, novellas, chapbooks, short story collections, poetry collections, essay collections, and memoirs. Editors may also submit out-of-print manuscripts their presses published before closing. To be eligible, works must have been both published and out of print after the year 2000. 

Accepted manuscripts will be released as free downloadable e-books on the Sundress Publications website. Previous titles include Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s The Opposite of Work, Colleen S Harris’ These Terrible Sacraments, and Virginia Chase Sutton’s What Brings You to Del Amo. 

To submit, email the following to doubleback@sundresspublications.com:

  • Your manuscript(s) in .PDF or .DOC format 
  • A brief cover letter in the body of the email telling us a little bit about your work and yourself and noting the genre of the manuscript
  • The name of the manuscript’s original publisher
  • The name and contact information of the publisher’s former editor-in-chief, if available 

Please note: we do not republish translated work or previously self-published work. 

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

Sundress Reads: A Review of Ghost Dogs

Dion O’Reilly’s debut collection of poetry, Ghost Dogs, is a fascinating portrayal of growth and perspective. The collection is separated into five sections and primarily follows the same nameless narrator. We follow this narrator’s life from childhood to old age and witness their growth as the poetry itself becomes more mature. While early poems are full of pain, regret, and anger, the later poems possess a wry wit and a sense of optimism.

The first two sections primarily regard the narrator’s childhood and teenage years, in which they suffered physical abuse at the hands of both her parents. She calls out her father’s hypocrisy in the poem “Liberal Father,” in which we meet a father who works tirelessly to promote social and political justice while beating his children.

The early poems are teeming with pain and the confusion that comes to a child who does not understand why the one who should love them continues to hurt them. “Ode to High Tea” wonderfully juxtaposes, “Apricot pie, lemon bars, scones, water biscuits…” and an overall idyllic California afternoon with their mother slapping the back of her head with a wet flannel dishcloth before yanking a fine-toothed comb through her matted hair. Suddenly, the rest of the family has joined them in the kitchen and she is left contemplating the origin of her tea.

O’Reilly does an incredible job of portraying the irrationality of young minds; one moment experiencing trauma, the next daydreaming about tea, “…carried on the heads of porters / a hundred miles across mud valleys.”

As the narrator grows, the poems begin to change. The narrator shifts from suffering at the hands of her parents, to suffering at the hands of men. Some are stories of bad relationships and some are of violence. The memories our narrator accounts are still portrayed as things she does not fully understand. There is still confusion in her voice and anger at her misfortune.

By part three, our narrator starts to look outward—Daydreaming about prehistoric man and a man who steals a plane. She begins to speak with more agency than in earlier poems. In the poem “Ex” she sees her ex-boyfriend exit a Trader Joes and unpack his groceries into his car. As she watches, she recounts their sex life and does so without shame or embarrassment but also without any remorse for the relationship being finished, illustrating the narrator’s growth from dwelling on the negative to embracing the positive.

In parts four and five our narrator finds her voice. These poems are more concerned with the present, rather than lost in the past and when they do go back in time, they do so with the wisdom and perspective of old age.

In the early poems you get a sense of the narrator feeling sorry for herself but in the later poems the narrator is poised and in control. She’s learned not to take life too seriously and to live in the moment. In the poem, “At 62” our narrator describes a visit to the doctor where she is told she has the body of an 80-year-old woman but her response to this troubling news is lighthearted, wishing for a physician who would, “list her body’s features / like a used-car-pitch.” Our narrator is no longer interested in victimhood or understanding the irrationality of abuse; she’s past that. She’s looking outside of herself with bravery and honesty. In “Birdman” she admits that her parrot probably doesn’t want to live in a cage in her house and in “Another Happiness” she humorously speaks of her struggle as a poet, “You can’t write like that. / You don’t read enough Virgil and Milton, don’t start”…

It’s almost as if our narrator comes to life in these last two sections, shedding the ghosts of her past and refusing to let them continue to haunt her. Because much like dogs, memories treat us the way we treat them. If you stick your memories in a cage, beat them and starve them, they will be sure to bite. But when we embrace our memories and take ownership of them, however bad their origins have been—when we rescue them and show them kindness, they will not hurt us. Instead, they show us all the good we have inside us; they show us how to be better people. Ghost Dogs shows us how this process unravels and I, as a reader, can’t help but take delight in the bumpy, violent, and beautiful journey.

Ghost Dogs is available at Terrapin Books


In addition to being an Editorial Intern at Sundress Publications, Ada Wofford is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Library and Information Science and was recently accepted to the University of Rochester to earn an MA in English. They graduated Summa Cum Laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a BA in English Literature and have been featured in a number of publications including McSweeney’s and Literary Heist. They are also a Contributing Editor for The Blue Nib and the founding editor of My Little Underground, a music review site written exclusively by musicians. You can follow them on twitter @AdaWofford. 

An Interview with Albert Abonado

Sundress editorial intern Quinn Carver Johnson sat down with Albert Abonado to discuss his new poetry collection, JAW. Albonado talks about food as a source of joy, cultural shame, and connectivity, his personal and family history, Harold and Kumar as affirming representations of Asian identity, and much more.

Quinn Carver Johnson: Several times in the first section of poems there is a repeated image of birds living or existing inside the human body. What is the significance of this recurring visual?

Albert Abonado: I wish I knew why I am drawn to those images. The birds in my poem are a running joke between my wife and I. She’s always waiting for me to put a bird in it. I suppose I’m drawn to tension the image creates. The kinds of images that resonate have this conflict built into them, and the idea of a bird trying to navigate within the body reflects that. I often think of the body as a landscape, an enormous space we inhabit. What happens when we populate it with other living things? What happens when we impose our limitations on others? I want to play with this idea and see what these images reveal.

QCJ: What can you tell me about the title?

AA: I wanted a title that speaks to the hungry poems or the poems wrestling with language or the poems in which someone is being consumed. I love how evocative the word is, too: jawbone, punched in the jaw, to jaw at someone… I wanted the first encounter with the poems in this book to be one that forces the mouth open.

QCJ: What is the significance of national identity in these poems, both internally and as (sometimes incorrectly) perceived by others?

AA: I’m a first-generation son of Filipino immigrants. My experience is neither wholly American nor Filipino. I’ve lived in this limbo, a space between these identities, a hybrid identity, complete with hyphen. So much of my experience is informed by my Filipino heritage, but a heritage adapted for an American life. Once, when I was in the Philippines, my mother pointed out how my brothers and I walk in a way that is very American. In the Philippines, I am foreign. I don’t speak Tagalog or Ilongo. In the United States, I am also seen as foreign. The color of my skin and shape of my eyes will also denote my otherness. How does one account for this?

In a country where the standard for the American identity is white, my biography is always up for interrogation. Rarely have I heard one white person turn to another white person and ask, “What are you?” Rarely have I heard one white person assume another white person’s ethnicity in the same way others have assumed mine. Instead, my identity becomes a game. What kind of brown person is he?

These questions of identity inform so many of the poems in the collection. It’s a collection yearning for a way to resolve this tension when I know no resolution exists.

QCJ: What function does the triptych form have in the poem “Frederick Douglass: A Triptych”?

AA: I was thinking about the figure of Frederick Douglass and the ways in which historical figures can be changed, appropriated, adapted to speak to various conditions. I wanted to explore that and the idea of the portrait. I live in Rochester, NY where the legacy of Frederick Douglass is oft-discussed, but it is a city that continues to struggle with severe segregation. Frederick Douglass has become a figure that can fit into any situation, but the man was vastly more complicated. The triptych form gives me the opportunity to explore different ways of thinking about him, to look at the mythos of Frederick Douglass from different angles.

QCJ: Who is Tito Manuel and how does his story inform the rest of the collection?

AA: Tito Manuel is based on my Uncle Manuel, or Uncle Money as we used to call him. He passed away when I was pretty young, and my parents would tell me all those stories about his life. Coming from a large family, there was a significant age gap between my uncle and my mother. I heard all these stories about my uncle during the Japanese invasion of World War II. I wanted to honor that. I wanted the collection to have historical context, to show how the experiences, the traumas, the stories are inherited.

QCJ: Why did you choose to address Harold and Kumar in the third section of poems?

AA: Growing up, most Asian characters in the movies were quirky sidekicks or stoic martial artists or brilliant scientists. They were always foreign, a curiosity or token thrown into a movie. Harold and Kumar subverted those tropes and featured Asian leads who were goofy and horny and ridiculous, but also conflicted about their identities as Asians. I wanted to write poems to those figures as a way to dig into some concerns that were important to me.

QCJ: Throughout this collection you imagine the speaker as both a fish head and a wisdom tooth and the speaker’s grandfather as a burning kaiju. What drew you to these images in particular?

AA: Fish heads are something I grew up with. I saw them in stews or on grills or in the frying pan. They are representative of my childhood. Once, friends had come over after playing basketball and my parents had left a stew with fish heads on the stove. I remember the looks on their faces when they removed the lid and saw the eyes staring back at them. I didn’t know how to explain this dish to them, as if I also had to explain my family, even feel apologetic that they had to be exposed to that. It was one of my earliest memories of cultural shame.

Wisdom teeth are peculiar. I’m interested in a part of the body that is regularly extracted but can’t help being itself. Is it weird to feel compassion for something like that? Is it stranger still to imagine the self as a wisdom tooth then?

Honestly, I loved watching the Godzilla movies. I would hunker down in front of the TV and consume the Godzilla movie marathons. They were so strange and loud and fun. I think of the ways in which my grandparents can wield the same kind of power, how small I feel in their shadow.

QCJ: What is the role of food in this collection?

AA: I really enjoy eating. I wish it were as simple as that. Food is also history and narrative and magic. As such, food plays an important role as I look into questions of identity and culture. So much of being Filipino revolves around the meals we share, whether that is dinner or birthday parties or during vigil or family reunions. Food is grief and celebration. The food in the collection speaks to the different ways we interact with it. Yes, it is food that I can consume, but it is also food that transforms, food as the self, food as a way to speak to the ineffable, the mysterious.

QCJ: How do the four sections of this collection connect to and inform each other?

AA: I see the first section as the start of the narrative. The poems establish the speaker, set up the themes of family, identity, language, and dislocation, as well as lay out some of the aesthetic concerns, the use of the surreal and the absurd which will play out in later poems. The second section digs a little into the history of the family, persona poems in the voice of my uncle as he talks about his experience during World War II. The third section, the poems to Harold and Kumar, further develops some of the concerns, interrogating the family and the self by appealing to the characters for answers. The poems begin to look towards the future. The final section echoes the poems in the opening section, but in the final section, the poems are more urgent. They are more a meditation on death and loss and sacrifice.

Order your copy of JAW today!


Albert Abonado teaches creative writing. He has received a fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. His poems have appeared in numerous publications, including Boston Review, Colorado Review, The Margins, Zone 3, and others. He hosts Flour City Yawp on WAYO 104.3FM-LP. He lives in Rochester, NY with his wife.

Quinn Carver Johnson was born and raised on the Kansas-Oklahoma border, but now attends Hendrix College and is pursuing degrees in Creative Writing and Performances studies. Johnson’s poetry and other writings have been published in various magazines and journals, both in-print and online, including SLANT, Nebo, Right Hand Pointing, Flint Hills Review, and Route 7 Review.

Project Bookshelf: Quinn Carver Johnson

If we were talking about music, I would seem a lot more organized, my Virgo sun evident from the start. CDs, records, and even cassettes, all collected in one spot, neatly arranged and organized alphabetically by artist, and chronologically within each artist’s discography. Even bootlegs and live albums have their place. 45s have their own stack. The sleeve of whatever record is currently on the turntable is displayed in a special place on the wall.

I wish I could say the same thing about my bookshelf, but I just can’t. In fact, even my sock drawer is more organized than books on most days. The majority of my books find themselves housed in four shelves across two sets of cabinets—the same cabinets that hold my school supplies, my knickknacks, and even the aforementioned sock drawer. Though, some books spill their way into a stack on my night stand, my writing desk, my closet, and anywhere else with a flat surface.

Books go where they fit, without rhyme or reason. Size sometimes plays a role, meaning that occasionally a set of hardcover books will end up next to each other on the shelf or that a collection of novels reprinted by Penguin will fall side by side, but even that isn’t always guaranteed.

Poetry collections, do, often end up in one section on the shelf, partially due to their generally similarities in size but mostly because those are the books I read the most and therefore find themselves in a section of the bookshelf frequented the most often.

And school plays a part in all of this too. In my dorm room, a small selection of favorite books and current to-reads sit nicely on a shelf next to my record player. But trips back home for breaks mean that some books must be returned and new books must be taken with me, a rotating catalogue. Additionally, as each semester comes to an end, there are the select class-required textbooks and novels that have stuck out as worth revisiting and those books, too, must wrestle for their space on the shelf.

The closest I’ve ever come to having a designated section of books in my collection was a stack of signed books—my high school English teacher’s YA novels, books from Barnes & Noble with a “signed by the author” sticker, a book found a garage sale that happened to be penciled in by its author, poetry collections from readings, etc. But even this didn’t escape damage for long. As I rotated between home and college, most of my poetry books—many of which were signed—went with me. And as I was fortunate enough to land more and more print publications in various journals and anthologies, I needed a place to house those books as well. The remnants of this once tidy collection can be seen above, guarded by a plastic velociraptor and Prince Albert in a can—both rusted and suffocating.


Quinn Carver Johnson was born and raised on the Kansas-Oklahoma border, but now attends Hendrix College and is pursuing degrees in Creative Writing and Performances studies. Johnson’s poetry and other writings have been published in various magazines and journals, both in-print and online, including SLANT, Nebo, Right Hand Pointing, Flint Hills Review, and Route7 Review.

Sundress Publications Opens Submissions for 2020 Chapbook Competition

Sundress Publications announces its ninth annual chapbook contest. Authors of all genres are invited to submit qualifying manuscripts during our reading period of April 1st to June 1st, 2020.

Poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and hybrids are welcome. Manuscripts must be between twelve to twenty- six (12-26) pages in length, with a page break between individual pieces. Individual pieces may have been previously published in anthologies, print journals, online journals, etc., but cannot have appeared in any full-length collection, including self-published collections. Both single-author and collaborative dual-author manuscripts will be considered. Manuscripts must be primarily in English; translations are not eligible.

The entry fee is $10 per manuscript, though the fee will be waived for entrants who purchase or pre- order any Sundress title. Nominations for entrants are accepted provided the nominating person either pay the reading fee or makes a qualifying purchase. Authors may submit and/or nominate as many chapbook manuscripts as they 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.

The winner will receive $200, plus publication as a beautiful full-color PDF available exclusively online. Runners-up will also be considered for publication.

Esteban Rodriguez will be judging. Esteban Rodríguez is the author of the poetry collections Dusk & Dust, Crash Course, In Bloom, (Dis)placement, and The Valley. His work has appeared in Boulevard, Shenandoah, The Rum- pus, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. He is the Interviews Editor for the EcoTheo Review, an Assistant Poetry Editor for AGNI, and a regular reviews contribu- tor for [PANK] and Heavy Feather Review. He lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

All manuscripts should include a cover page (with only the title of the manuscript), table of contents, dedication (if applicable), and acknowledgments for previous publications. These pages will not be included in the total page count. Identifying information should not appear in any part of the manuscript. Authors with a significant relationship to the judge (friends, relatives, colleagues, past or present students, etc.) are discouraged from entering.

To submit, attach your manuscript as a DOCX or PDF file along with your order number for either a Sundress title or the entry fee to contest@sundresspublications.com.

Simultaneous submission to other presses is acceptable, but please notify Sundress immediately if the manuscript has been accepted elsewhere. Multiple submissions are allowed, but a separate entry fee must accompany each entry. No revisions will be allowed during the contest judging period. Winners will be announced in Fall 2020.