Sundress Reads: A Review of Escape of Light

In Escape of Light, Deborah Kahan Kolb merges modern contemplations with grounding visuals to persuade the reader into a state of ever-present attention. While Kobe’s collection collides concepts such as identity, personal exploration, social issues, and inherent connection, she allows for intermittent moments of air between her stanzas: a place for careful breaths of introspection as her speaker explores the depth of the world surrounding them.

Carefully and with genuine precision, Kolb’s Escape of Light unearths a world forged from moments of unraveling. A world of striving to find answers within its own questioning: what is emergence? Where are the limitations of exploration, of breaking open? And are we allowed inside them? Grief and contemplation, rage and loss, are all balanced to form a staple connection between each poem, linking the thesis of exploration on each page. Escape of Light is a collection of revealing consequences just as it is one of action; each of Kolb’s poems are movement, action backed by vivid scenery that beckons their reader closer to ask: what, in all of this, is coming through? Questions of what remains are molded within the perspective of the speaker’s strength, positing that, in wake of the violence done, there is still connection: there is still hope.

Kolb’s collection opens with an emergence, an action of revealing a personhood apart from a sense of finality. Emergence, Kolb argues, is a process of creation: collected moments of driven action that do not end in a simply packaged result. Escape of Lights first poem begins the collection with a center of continuous evolution, allowing the reader to take a breath just as strong as the speaker themself: “What must the torpid caterpillar do to emerge / from its glistening chrysalis a laurel-crowned monarch?” Here, the speaker directs the reader’s attention to the pained practice of emergence. Again, the process of becoming is presented as a pathway to creation. Emergence becomes not a pathway to an end result but rather a focus on the continuous process and its varying details: “Self-immolation, it seems, is a requirement / for emerging.”

Awareness of the self, of gaining a self, is also something Kolb’s collection manifests well. The “bleeding knuckles” and “tamped / down spirit” become noted costs of this self-actualization within the process of “emerging.” What then, Kolb’s speaker poses, makes the process worth it? Well, in a collection that thrives from its ability to find an answer already in its question, the next stanza presents the daunting answer: “be prepared to extinguish / yourself in a phoenix fire before you can emerge. / Established.” The cost, Kolb’s speaker states, is a heavy burden, but one that the speaker strives to redefine and exhibit in all its trials. “Emerging, Art of,” is a poem that not only succeeds in setting a tone for the collection but one that captures the hefty process of unearthing. This process of becoming allows for a connection to be made between speaker and reader; a tether spanning the gap between desire and action, with the speaker beckoning from the other side.

There were multiple instances where Kolb’s collection left me speechless. Witnessing her ability to evoke carefully crafted images, ones that welcomed as well as educated the reader, was an enthralling experience. Kolb does not shy away from difficult concepts or experiences; rather, she faces them in ways that allow her speaker spaces for grief and reclamation. Poems like “Psalm for a Son’s Burial” and “Showering at the Swiss Hotel” address difficult concepts in the form of complex poetics. They allow the speaker to emerge from the confines enforced on them and to speak and feel the injustices and horrific experiences imposed upon them: “You understand, dear guest, neutral is no more. / We are obliged to prevent / your / stain / from / spreading.”

Kolb’s ability to condense these moments of horrific injustice into potent stanzas enthralled me as I read along. I was heartsick; I was furious. Escape of Light’s speaker embraced humanity in its full view, revealing its naked face and offering its readers the opportunity to behold it. Kolb’s speaker seems to tell us: Look. What I have seen, you must also face. And who are we to look away? See what I have seen, Kolb’s speaker argues, and be aware. It is, after all, the least we can pay as readers: to both engage and learn from the consumed work. In this way, Escape of Light is both a warning and a revelation of emergence; perhaps what strengthens the collection further is the blend of these aspects. As readers, we are left to wonder whether the speaker is sharing these moments of introspection to warn of these great griefs or to welcome the potential of a changed, more humane future. Kolb ensures this everlasting presence of thought in her linkage between poems, between the personal and the collective. Whatever the “correct” answer may be is relative in comparison to the collection’s lasting image, arguing that, regardless of this answer, one aspect of Escape of Light is for certain: no one who enters the collection is left untouched. 

Escape of Light is available at Finishing Line Press

Mary Sims is an undergraduate senior at Kennesaw State University working towards her BA in English. She is a poetry editor at Waymark Literary Magazine and has been published in Josephine Quarterly, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Poetry Annals, and more. Currently, she splits her time between working as a student editor, piling her shelves with poetry collections, and laughing over raspberry cappuccinos with friends.

Sundress Reads: A Review of Every Possible Thing

Every Possible Thing - Kindle edition by Poppy, Karen. Literature & Fiction  Kindle eBooks @

Karen Poppy’s stunning collection Every Possible Thing begins with an opening of offerings. Proposed by imagery dominated exchanges, her use of themes such as sacrifice, transformation, and renewal offer her readers an immediate sense of connection to her work. Her collection’s first poem “Every Possible Thing” begins with this same sense of sacrifice and renewal by immersing her audience in the imaginative and hypnotic exchange between the speaker and their subject.

The collection’s opening line sets a tone of intention throughout, displaying a sense of coated devotion unique to the poem’s own movement: “What I promised, I gave you: / Silver-skinned gloves, my hands / Loosened from life became twin fish.” From there, the speaker catalogues devotion through their physical actions and movements. Throughout her collection, Poppy continues to employ this same precise movement to embrace the action within each of her poems. No poem, Poppy assures us early-on, is ever stagnant. 

Every Possible Thing is never still. The collection begins in motion and continues to guide its reader by cataloging the duality of action and movement. This use of movement throughout her work offers insight into the depth of implication. Poppy’s poem “Your Words” is an opening to the collection’s themes, but it is also a record of just how carefully emotion channels through action.

When communicating with the reader, the speaker offers more than physical objects or images to converse. In fact, the speaker’s sense of dedication is painted behind the physical action of each offering, a new unique twist behind every new image displayed: “I want you / To speak to me, / In fact, / As you would speak / To your animals.” “Your Words” is a poem of communication as much as it is of desire. There is a need to be seen, to be regarded as gravely as can be allowed. The speaker directs us to see her, and who are we to turn away?

As I read Poppy’s collection, I found myself immersed in her use of mythology. Even more so in her use of it in creating reclamation narratives. Her poem “Badass Mermaid” explores the complexities and empowerment of transformation through the lens of a mythological mermaid within Odysseus’s tale. The speaker reclaims her narrative outside of Odysseus’s story and establishes the idea that her agency does not stem from being an ‘accessory’ to a hero’s quest but rather her own power outside of it: “Homer’s / Odysseus / Told it wrong, / Or his men / Told it, / Innocent.” It is here that we see the speaker reclaim her own identity within Odysseus’ story after being alienated from the tale. 

The speaker retells her story by crafting her own narrative in wake of the chaos left by Odysseus, thus attaching a sense of authority to her own lost story. Agency, Poppy tells her audience, is more than a necessity; rather, it is a value that cannot afford to be overlooked. The speaker’s narrative is one of power, of danger, and more than ready to peel out of the confines of her established erasure. 

Poppy’s use of line breaks within the poem further add to these implications of power. Every moment is calculated; every space, line break, and punctuation are brimming with not only intention but with assurance that truth is lurking around the corner, waiting for an opening to break into.

In addition to mythology and reclamation narratives, connection is a vital theme within Every Possible Thing. The ability to join together, to meld ideas and images, is not only a powerful device Poppy employs. Rather, it is also the basis of understanding in a place where the mere idea seems impossible. Her poem “What We Find” exemplifies this concept openly: “Our own voice, / Each other. / To sing uniquely, but not alone. / Eerie electricity. Connection. / Through the song: / Everything is the right choice.” The poem, like her collection, becomes a moment of connection, reaching out to include the reader in this narrative of understanding. 

Through her collection, Karen Poppy draws in her audience by the speaker’s ability to not only connect but their desire to understand. Searches for understanding, the power of reclamation, and the concept of connection litter the pages, leaving the reader haunted even after the collection has been finished. There is something warm and vulnerable within Poppy’s use of connection. Her poem “I Like When You Speak” perhaps displays this best as the speaker weaves a moment of pure humanity: “I like when you speak / When you are here / Saying all that you want to say, and nothing more.” There is an ever-present ache buried between the lines, a moment so openly human we cannot turn ourselves away from the carefulness of the moment. 

Where Every Possible Thing is a collection of connection and understanding, it is also a journey of being human. Reclamation narratives, paths of renewal, and movements shaped in the form of devotion collide to create a bond so intricate it becomes innate. All of these multitudes and more, Every Possible Thing is a conversation between speaker and reader– an opening made just small enough for the reader to want to join, without having to be invited directly. Poppy’s collection is a meticulous warmth. More than anything, it is an invitation into the experiences of humanity and an exploration to all of the crushing and beautiful depth they offer.

Karen Poppy’s Every Possible Thing can be found for purchase here.

Mary Sims is an undergraduate senior at Kennesaw State University working towards her BA in English. She is a poetry editor at Waymark Literary Magazine and has been published in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Poetry Annals, Peach Mag, Kingdoms of the Wild, Rising Phoenix Review, and more. Currently, she splits her time between working as a student editor, piling her shelves with poetry collections, and laughing over raspberry cappuccinos with friends.

Interview with syan jay, Author of Bury Me in Thunder

Ahead of the release, Sundress author syan jay sat down to discuss their forthcoming collection, Bury Me in Thunder (Sundress Publications, 2020) with editorial intern Kimberly Ann Priest. In the discussion they touched on writing through trauma, moving against colonial notions of research, landscapes as memory, and the ways we carry our homes with us wherever we go.

Kimberly Ann Priest: The book covers topics on abuse, confusion, intimacy, and pain. Were there ever moments when you felt like you were saying too much on these topics? Too little?

syan jay: Bury Me in Thunder was put together with care and thoughtful intention. Yes, it explores intergenerational trauma, illness, and pain. It also celebrates love, kinships, and the ways in which we learn to heal. To call back to my interview with Frontier Poetry, prioritizing my boundaries with writing is key. Every word, image, and piece, I reviewed to be mindful of what I was saying and how I was saying those things. I only felt the manuscript was completely finished when I felt fully in control of my narrative.

KAP: How do you make aesthetic choices and know where to break lines in a poem? Why the winding nature of these poems?

sj: I am a visual learner, and in understanding that landscapes are not linear, neither is my writing. Some pieces call for such breath, to expand and move as a river. Others call for structure. The poems tell me how they want to be made by how I write. Most of it comes through experimentation and trust in the process of self-editing.

KAP: Tell me, what research went into writing these poems?

sj: Quite a few of these poems are from personal or invented places. I remember Kaveh Akbar discussing Zbigniew Herbert and how there are cat writers and ox writers. Cat writers may wait for extended periods of time before being “hit” by inspiration and suddenly burst into writing. A majority of these pieces were written during these moments of spontaneity. Even the ones that did involve subsequent research, such as my poem “The Infant Machine”, were written without planning. I was listening to a podcast and the topic fit into scraps I had kept of other poems to work into a larger, final piece.

At the same time, I think the idea of research within poems is often within a colonial, Westernized framework. It carries the idea that there must be a source cited or be verified by some “objective” truth. This does not allow for Indigenous knowledge to exist on the same plane. Oral storytelling is research; how I carry the culture of my people through connections and sharing of knowledge is research. This process of Indigenous research was at the core of this book.

KAP: Do you feel it is important to draw attention to how traumas from our past and past generations inform our present and our future as individuals?

sj: Of course—we do not exist as singularities. Trauma is carried in our DNA, through memory, and in the body. BMIT seeks to draw on my own experiences. I don’t want to try and think that I can understand or claim the narratives of other people and their trauma. I do not experience the same violence and struggles that are faced by Brown and Black Indigenous people. BMIT was a reckoning toward my own healing, and being able to find clarity in what my ancestors, my family, and myself have experienced.

KAP: Talk about the women in your life. How have they formed and shaped you? How have they influenced you as a writer? And why do you think it is so important to write about the lives of women?

sj: Well, to start, I am not a woman but I was raised in girlhood. This book wasn’t looking to only discuss the lives of women. Much of it discusses my grandfather. I talk about missing and murdered Indigenous women because it is ongoing. Settler colonialism is a continuous project.

I dedicated this book to my mother, who has survived abuse and other traumas. She was the one who taught me how to write poetry as a way to show others my world and how I describe it. It helped me navigate the frightening experiences I was going through and to find another connection to land, beauty, and love. Even if the writing was filled with pain, it ultimately comes from a place of love and acceptance. She raised me with my siblings, most of whom are women.

My culture is matrilineal. Perhaps the work can be read as maternal and about women, but it is for myself and the generations that came before me. My priority will always be to my transgender and gender non-conforming kinships.

KAP: Talk about landscapes. I see a strong desert motif in the poems, but you also mention other places such as Nebraska and Oregon. Tell us about your relationship with landscapes; specifically, as home or lack of home and how it relates to your ancestors in this book.

sj: Deserts are not exclusive to the Southwest. My homelands have forests, mountains, and beautiful rivers too. Oregon has deserts, green valleys, and long coastlines. There is so much space to know and be with, and I wanted to acknowledge all of these places.

BMIT tells stories of all the places I’ve lived or where my loved ones lived, or even as I was on a plane flying over Nebraska writing a poem that one day became the title for this book. I am of the land and connected to it. I have a responsibility for its care because it takes care of me. This is how I was raised. It felt natural, then, while writing these poems to call to the land.

We are always tied to place, even if we leave it, because it exists in our memory. How we remember, what we remember, they inform our relationships to a place. I was not raised on my ancestral homelands, but it will always be a part of me because it is where my ancestors lived, it is near where my mother grew up. Home is a place you always carry with you, even as you create new homes and find new places.

KAP: What is significant about “teeth” in these poems? What do they represent or allude to?

sj: Our teeth provide evidence of where we are from. The land and what we have access to during childhood will influence how our bones grow. Scientists use isotope chemistry to look at tooth enamel and bone in order to measure geochemical signatures that carry evidence of where a person lived as a child. We can tell how someone lived, what they ate, and their access or barriers to nutritional food and clean water. The body carries so much and yet, we do not think of what we can find beyond what we say. What can the body say? What can teeth tell us about intergenerational trauma, legacies of forced malnourishment through cutting off access to traditional diets?

KAP: Tell us how you came to name your book and what this title means for you as an overall statement of the book’s content.

sj: Bury Me in Thunder was originally the title of a poem included in this book. I had been considering which of my poems could tie together all of the themes. The first versions of the manuscript were titled Mother Warhorse, from another poem. Eventually, I decided upon BMIT as I wanted to utilize the storm to frame these complex issues and stories. Thunderstorms are integral to my culture for many reasons, and it serves as an anchor to who I am. BMIT honors the legacies of where I come from and the process by which we heal. There will be ruptures and storms, but eventually, clear skies follow.

Pre-order Bury Me in Thunder today.

syan jay is an agender, Dził Łigai Si’an N’dee (White Mountain Apache) poet who resides in Massachusett/Nipmuc/Wampanoag land. They are the winner of the 2018 Pacific Spirit Poetry Prize and are Frontier Poetry’s 2019 Frontier New Voices Fellow. Their work is published/upcoming with The Shallow Ends, WILDNESS, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Black Warrior Review. You can find more of their work at

Kimberly Ann Priest is the author of Still Life (PANK, forthcoming 2020), Parrot Flower (Glass Poetry Press, forthcoming 2020) and White Goat Black Sheep (FLP, 2018). Her work has appeared in several journals, including The Laurel Review, The Berkeley Poetry Review, and The New Delta Review. You can find her work at

Interview with Ruth Foley, Author of Dead Man’s Float

Ahead of the publication of Dead Man’s Float, author Ruth Foley talked to Sundress editorial intern Erica Hoffmeister. They discussed the ocean, grieving, and the order of the book, among other things.

Erica Hoffmeister: Did you set out to write poems about the ocean? Is that something inherent in your writer’s identity?

Ruth Foley: If anything, I try to avoid writing poems about the ocean. It doesn’t work. I grew up spending summers at my grandparents’ house on the south coast of Rhode Island, as much time as I could, anyway. My cousin Turquoise was there, and my brother, and the rest of my cousins—every summer, my grandparents would have us all there for a week. That time with my cousins built all sorts of aspects of my personality—from my sense of humor to my relationship with the water. In a long, agonizing process, we lost my grandmother, and the house, and Turquoise, among others, and the ocean stopped being a place of solace for me.

I have tried extremely hard to break up with the ocean, with that particular piece of the Atlantic, and I can’t do it. And with all of the writing I’ve done about the landscape there, I’m still not done, even though I also find myself writing poems about the woods and fresh water. I haven’t yet found a way through it all. Maybe I never will. Part of me thinks—maybe knows—that I could go to Wyoming and write in its vast expanse for the rest of my life and somehow the ocean would still be there.

EH: What is the relationship between this book and your chapbook, Dear Turquoise?

RF: Dear Turquoise tells a less-complete version of the story. I wrote the vast majority of the poems titled “Dear Turquoise” in a rush, during the last two months of her life—she had held off on telling me how serious her condition was, and I don’t know if I could have been prepared for her death anyway. She decided to stop treatment, and my brother and I made plans to see her in California in May, as soon as my classes had ended for the semester. We didn’t know if we’d get there in time, and I spent that April writing poems. I couldn’t stop writing poems for her, to her. In all that, I still haven’t written much about her—they’re all about me, essentially, and the process of me trying to wrap my mind around losing someone who was so entwined in my life that I knew I wouldn’t understand a world without her in it.

As I write this, seven and a half years after her death, I still don’t understand the world without her. I have reached the point where thoughts of her usually make me laugh (there will never be a funnier person on the planet than Turquoise Taylor Grant, I promise you) instead of cry, but something reminds me of her every day, no exaggeration. She lived long enough for my brother and me to spend a few days with her, and she was awake and engaged for most of that visit, but it was clear she had very little time left. She died a couple of weeks after we went home. I am endlessly grateful that we had that time, that Turquoise’s brother was also there, and that my brother went with me. The four of us have a lot of our childhood woven into each other, and it was a gift to have that time to be that quartet again.

The chapbook was really an exploration of my pre-grief, for lack of a better way to put it. It contains a handful of the “Dear Turquoise” poems, and it came out after her death, but it’s very much situated in the days before she died. It ends with “Dear Ocean” while Dead Man’s Float begins there, backs up a little bit, and then moves through. I put the chapbook together fairly soon after her death, when everything was still unmoored and surreal, and it sits in the unknowing a bit more than Dead Man’s Float does—though I couldn’t have put together the full-length collection without the chapbook. Dear Turquoise also taught me about how I wanted to present that larger experience, not just in terms of ordering the poems or creating a narrative line, but in the exploration of grief as a testament to love.

EH: Can you speak to the ordering of these poems, and what each section hopes to accomplish?

RF: There’s a narrative arc, certainly, though it’s very low-slung, I think; it starts in anticipation of grief and ends with only the tiniest lightening of it.

I came to the bulk of the order during a retreat in Connecticut with some of my dearest poet friends, who were all very patient with me both in the aftermath of Turquoise’s death and the following year, when I spread bits of the manuscript all over every surface of my room. I had printed out pretty much every poem I’d ever written and I brought this giant pile of paper with me in the hopes of sorting it all out. I knew I wanted about twenty of the “Dear Turquoise” poems but the rest of the book hadn’t revealed itself yet.

Most of the rooms at the retreat have both a double and a single bed, and I had poems fanned out and stacked up across both of the beds, the dresser, the desk, and parts of the floor. I had to be careful to keep the poems in order when I moved them off my bed every night, and in the morning I’d put them back where they had been. When I got home, my husband and I put one of the leaves into the dining room table and I color-coded the poems I had decided were contenders, making notes of themes and recurring motifs. When I ran out of colors in my pack of markers, I opened up a 64-count box of Crayolas. That’s how I finished the first cut of the work, which changed a bit in subsequent drafts, but not a lot. If I showed you the first cut and you compared it to this final version, you’d absolutely recognize it as the same collection.

All this to say it felt huge to me, the ordering process. It was important to me that I did the poems justice. I wanted them in an arc that would make sense in terms of the impact of her death, because of how important she was to me, but also because I was creating a monument to grief itself. I’ve known people who have given copies of Dear Turquoise to other grieving people—one of my friends gave her copy to a stranger on an airplane—in an attempt to let them know they weren’t alone. Grief is monumental. I wanted a through-line that reflected and honored that.

The poems in the second section have changed and grown by the way they’re included here, in my mind at least. The infidelity poems were originally born of my fascination with the ways in which people can be terrible to each other, but here they are an examination of a different kind of loss and hopelessness than the poems in the other two sections—the speaker in these poems moves fairly quickly from one sort of abandonment to another, finding no real comfort or ease. The speaker in these poems isn’t Turquoise or me, but in order to use them in this way, I had to come to terms with the idea that readers might see her as one of us. I don’t think she would have minded. Section three is the path to the very faint beginnings of hope, of the life we leave when we’re deep in grief, one we might feel like we can never get back to.
In the simplest terms, section one is about the anticipation of grief and the early stages. Section two explores a very different kind of betrayal and abandonment and the total emptiness of that sort of false promise. Section three is where we begin to claw our way out.

EH: What is the meaning between the use of first or second person, and why does it change throughout the book? Is there a certain emotion or connection that leads you to this decision with each poem, or was/is it strictly intuitive?

RF: Generally, if I’m using the second person in a poem, it’s because of direct address. The “Dear Turquoise” poems are very much addressed to Turquoise, and so are some of the other poems. Many of the “you”s in the infidelity poems are addressed to the specific male character involved. Other times, the second person is meant to reflect the way we speak to ourselves when we’re giving ourselves a pep talk or maybe if we’re unhappy with our decisions or actions (or maybe that’s just me doing that!). “One More for Your Baby” and “The Rules” are both examples of that kind of voice. I rarely if ever use “you” to mean “people in general,” and while “I” is often literally me, sometimes it’s just the speaker.

As with formal decisions, I try to let the poem tell me what it wants to be. Any choice of person (third person, too) can help create closeness or distance, but the level of distance doesn’t hang exclusively on that one choice. In any poem, success in creating the desired response in a reader is a combination of many of these kinds of decisions—diction, syntax, line breaks, rhythm, verb tense, and any number of other aspects of language.

EH: What is the meaning behind the title, Dead Man’s Float?

RF: Learning the dead man’s float was part of learning to swim when I was a kid. It means lying face down in the water and relaxing, despite the fact that it’s impossible to breathe. The dead man’s float requires loose muscles: if you’re going to try one, you need to let your arms and legs do what they will, which for most people means something halfway between sinking and floating. It’s about giving in and finding stasis—that place which is neither swimming nor drowning nor simply standing up and walking out of the water. It only works for a brief time before the need to breathe takes over.

For me, Turquoise’s death felt a lot like doing the dead man’s float, but it also was about not being able to do it—I wanted a moment to rest, and a moment where I was able to simply let things be, while simultaneously being desperate to come up for air or, really, control anything at all. It was all the terrifying aspects of floating combined with all the helpless aspects of sinking, and I lived in that in-between for a long time.

EH: There are several poems that begin with a salutation. How did you decide what parts of the earth or of experience to address specific poems to?

RF: They’re deliberately epistolary poems, and they started with the “Dear Turquoise” poems. Turquoise and I grew up in the days of long-distance charges, long before the internet, so even though she lived only about 45 minutes from me, we couldn’t usually talk to each other unless we were in the same place (or arranging a visit). We wrote letters, countless letters. They were filled with jokes and stories and drawings and benign lies. Once we had cell phones and the internet, we moved to texts and emails. She told me about her diagnosis over Facebook messenger. We had long since stopped using an epistolary form of address, but when the poems started coming, there was never a question of how I was going to title them. In many ways, I didn’t title them.

The first poem I drafted, the one that opens, “Not with everything I do,” titled itself and the rest followed. What would I tell Turquoise if I weren’t worried about upsetting her, if I didn’t want to impose my grief on her dying process? I wrote those letters. I never showed her.

The other epistolary poems come from those same roots, in that I was desperate to establish connections and understanding in a world that no longer felt like my own. I wrote very few poems in the year or so after Turquoise died, and those I did write felt extruded as if the words were forced through my teeth under immense pressure. And I suppose they were. I did find I was able to revise, sometimes, and when I knew I was putting together a manuscript for her, I revised towards that impulse of seeking connection and communication. I was trying to break up with the ocean, as I say above, but I needed something to take its place, something that would speak to me the way the Atlantic does.

EH: Do you consider these poems elegiac?

RF: I couldn’t go to Turquoise’s funeral for a variety of reasons. Friends and relatives wrote pieces for her—elegies, eulogies, stories of shared love—and I couldn’t. I couldn’t do her justice or do my feelings for her justice, and I couldn’t bear the thought of struggling to do so publicly. Even if all other obstacles had been erased, I don’t know if I would have been able to go. I needed time to come to an understanding of what the rest of my life was going to look like without her. It was selfish of me, but it felt like survival, and at that level everything we do is selfish. The poems aren’t elegies in the sense that they’re much more about me than about her, but she was three years older than I was; not only could I not remember a life before her, there literally was no life for me before her. I suppose they’re elegies to the places in me where she once lived, which are forever changed because of her absence.

EH: Poetry is often felt as a healing tool for both reader and writer – how much was this true for you in this process?

RF: My initial impulse is to say, “Not at all,” but that’s not exactly true. For one thing, I firmly believe grief needs to be experienced. It’s not healthy for me to pretend I don’t have the feelings I do, so I’m not going to just suck it up and push forward. I have to live through it, and I often don’t feel like I’ve processed a major event until I’ve written about it. It’s possible they were healing for me in that way, though it certainly didn’t feel like it at the time. The most important thing the poems did for me, though, was allow me to focus on Turquoise when I went to see her shortly before she died. I wasn’t distracted by things I wanted to say, because I had said many of them in the poems. It helped me to focus on my love for her instead of my grief, which freed me to take those last few days with her almost entirely on their own terms, without dwelling on what was soon to come.

Order your copy here!

Ruth Foley lives in Massachusetts, where she teaches English for Wheaton College. Her work appears in numerous web and print journals, including Adroit, Sou’wester, Threepenny Review, and Valparaiso Poetry Review. Her poems can also be found in several anthologies, including the Best Indie Lit New England anthology. She is the author of the chapbooks Sink and Drift, Creature Feature, and Dear Turquoise, and the forthcoming full-length Abandon.

Erica Hoffmeister holds an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing, Poetry from Chapman University, and teaches college writing across the Denver Metro area. 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). She’s obsessed with pop culture, cross country road trips, and her two daughters, Scout and Lux.

Shitty First Drafts Episode 4, Featuring Lance Dyzak, is Live!

Picture1Sundress Publications announces the fourth episode of the podcast, Shitty First Drafts. A podcast made for and by writers, the show playfully investigates the creative processes of different artists to determine how a finished draft gets its polish.

Lance Dyzak joins Brynn Martin and Stephanie Phillips to discuss his short story “Extra Innings,” based on a bizarre event he witnessed at a park while walking his dog, and the various forms it went through before reaching its completion.

lance-dyzak-headshot.jpgIn the end, though the event helped Dyzak write a good story, he took it out and cautions writers against “injecting weirdness for the sake of weirdness” they are afraid to write something that feels like it’s been done before. He says, “A lot of writers are afraid of writing a boring story [but] it’s all in the details.”

In this episode, we also discuss the enneagram test (he’s a 5w4), baseball puns, killing your darlings (or filing them away for another time), and the world of online forums.

Lance Dyzak is a Ph.D. student in fiction at the University of Tennessee, where he is writing his first novel. His work has previously appeared in Southwest Review, Southern Indiana ReviewNew Limestone Review, and Per Contra. He is also the co-director of the Only-Tenn-I-See Reading Series, set to kick off in September.


Sundress Releases Chickenhawks and Goldilocks by Grey Vild

Sundress Releases Chickenhawks & Goldilocks by Grey Vild

Sundress Publications announces the release of Grey Vilds new chapbook, Chickenhawks & Goldilocks. Vilds chapbook looks at the trans suicide epidemic. Vild explodes the topic with loss, rage, reverberating anguish, and fusions of love.

The honesty of Chickenhawks & Goldilocks washes in like a wild tide on griefs jagged shoreline, embracing the confusion and complexity that accompanies losing a loved one to suicide. Instead of a one-note lament, this chapbook recognizes confusion and examines how that confusion can make a person and a relationship seem improved through absence. Chickenhawks & Goldilocks reveals how a love can fill in our cracks and seams and make us feel whole. By juxtaposing poems that acknowledge this feeling with poems that delve into flawed relationships and the abandonment the speaker cannot help but feel, Vild portrays a more complete grief. Thoughts and feelings are intertwined, wrapped in each other such that they cannot be separated. Betrayal, love, rage, anguish, and guilt all bleed toward each other, trapped in the cage of our chests.

Chickenhawks & Goldilocks adroitly renders the liminal experience of grief, with notes of tender specificity dovetailing expressive and purposeful abstraction, each poem a shout against the silence absence carves into our lives. But make no mistake, Grey Vild doesnt wallow in these poems, nor allow us to do so; here we, poet and reader, overcome the loss that would have us lose ourselvesa loss all too present for those in and aside the Trans communityand find resolve to carry forward in the beautiful project of living, to make the choice every day while still honoring those who felt they couldnt, hiding nothing about how difficult, at times, the living is and will be.” —Cortney Lamar Charleston                                 
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Grey Vild is a goddamned transsexual. A recent graduate of the MFA at Rutgers-Newark, his work can be found at Them, Vetch, EOAGH, Harriet: The Blog and elsewhere.

The chapbook is available here.


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.

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Interview with Eloisa Amezcua


Eloisa Amezcua sat down with our editorial intern, Grace Prial, to discuss her debut collection, From the Inside Quietly,(Sundress Publications, 2018). Amezcua touches on the gendered experience of restraint, the literary expression of silence, and the act of loving oneself in all its various forms.

Grace Prial: Silence seems to be a particularly important concept in your book, from being willfully silent, placing an emphasis on the inner self, to being silenced, whether by an exploitative partner (as in “On Not Screaming”) or by your own body (as in the poems on fainting). Yet the title, as the book itself, insists on voicing the interior, not hesitantly, but “quietly.” How did you come to this title?

Eloisa Amezcua: The title for the collection was pulled from a poem in the book, “Mission Bay.” When I was revising the manuscript, I sat down and made a list of potential titles using both poem titles and lines within the poems. It was important to me that the title of the collection speak to as many of the themes or poems, to give readers an idea of what they’re going to encounter before diving into the work. I wanted a title that considered silence as an opening, a way into language.

GP: The poetic speaker “I” is, of course, not always meant to indicate the author themselves. However, you have such clarity of voice and certainty of point of view throughout the book that I can’t help but ask, to what degree are your poems autobiographical?

EA: I’m not sure it’s my job as a poet to say how much of the work is or isn’t autobiographical. Have my mother and I driven to Mexico alone together? Yes. Do I have an older sister with whom I’d play house? Yes. What I will say, is that the emotions and feelings in the poems are real, were/are experienced by me as the author of them.

GP: There are four sections to the book. My read is that the poems mount to an interrogation of pain and an adamant assertion of self-preservation. The focus seems to be on things broken, while the presence of the mother becomes more pronounced as both a safety net and someone in pain. How would you describe the organization and development of your book?

EA: Originally, the book didn’t have section breaks but the more I revised and edited, the more I realized that the “E” poems could be anchors for the reader and I wanted to ground the reader a bit before diving into the narrative of the collection and the shifts in the narrative that happen from the first poem to the last.

GP: In “She” and “Self Portrait” (I and II) the speaker is negatively brought into being––they are built out of that which they are not. In your view, does this paradox reflect a restraint of language or of life (or neither)?

EA: Restraint is a kind of silence. Or perhaps it’s the other way around. Silence is a kind of restraint. I’m very interested in exploring the ways I as a writer and as a woman have internalized both of those things as necessary to live in this world, to survive. I think I often find myself describing myself not as what I am, but rather what I am not or what I am lacking. It’s a learned behavior of course and so in writing these poems, I tried to do bring awareness to this habit in the hopes of undoing, unlearning it.

GP: Bodies are central to this book. It seems that whether ill or malfunctioning, familiar or strange, sexual, vulnerable, phenotypically or racially identified, or experiencing pain or pleasure, the experience of the body is linked throughout your poems to the experience of family and heritage (for example, the juxtaposition of “On Not Screaming,” “My Mother’s Been Trying to Kill Me Since the Day I Was Born,” and “Boy,”). Could you elaborate on this connection?

EA: I experience the world through my body and the kinds of experiences I had, and continue to have, are informed by the body I live in (as a woman, as a woman of color, etc.) so it is hard for me to imagine poems about certain experiences or emotions, particularly those connected to family or heritage, without a body attached to them—if that makes sense.

GP: Part of the process of this book, I believe, is falling in love with yourself. Would you agree?

EA: Oh, definitely! This book is sprawling in terms of both themes and time, and so it is made up of poems from very distinct and varied iterations of myself as the writer of them. The earliest poem in the book was written in 2011/2012 and the last two I snuck in were from the spring of 2017. A lot changed in my life over those 6-ish years. I changed. And I think when the manuscript was completed, I was able to love all of those iterations of myself for getting me to the finish line.

GP: What poets, authors or artists inspire you most?

EA: There are truly too many people that inspire me to name (and I find myself most inspired by my peers and friends on a daily basis). But if I were to name a “Trinity” of poetry books that have shaped me as a writer, it’d be Ararat by Louise Glück, Cortege by Carl Phillips, and Poems New and Collected by Wislawa Szymborska translated by Stanislaw Baraczak and Clare Cavanagh.

Eloisa Amezcua is from Arizona. Her debut collection, From the Inside Quietly, is the inaugural winner of the Shelterbelt Poetry Prize selected by Ada Limón. A MacDowell fellow, she is the author of three chapbooks and founder/editor-in-chief of The Shallow Ends: A Journal of Poetry. Her poems and translations are published or forthcoming in Poetry Magazine, Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, and others. Eloisa lives in Columbus, OH, and is the founder of Costura Creative.

Amezcua’s collection, From the Inside Quietly, can be ordered directly from Sundress Publications.

Grace Prial is a graduate of Rutgers University-Newark with a BA in English. She lives in New Jersey and is passionate about her studies on the reflection of political movements in literature.

Sundress Releases Marvels by MR Sheffield

Sundress Releases Marvels by MR Sheffield

Marvels by MR Sheffield

Sundress Publications announces the pre-release of MR Sheffield’s new collection, Marvels. An “irreducible kind of book that pivots on every page, refuses to be pinned down” says Julie Marie Wade, author of Catechism: A Love Story and SIX, cautioning that “this book will wild you, Reader, gently.”

MR Sheffield’s Marvels is a séance; a chant of snake bites, wrens, and spiders, nesting and untangling; the instinct of a mother disoriented by her grief; a daughter finding her way in sex and obsession; a family broken and searching for something to pull it back together. Sheffield utilizes H.D. Northrop’s found poems, which describe various creatures, to reveal the wild, instinctive nature of human emotion by repurposing Northrop’s descriptions and applying them to a family. Sheffield couples the poems with manipulated original images from Northrop’s text to drive the skepticism of the poems. Multiplied spiders in the wrong color, transposed boa constrictors, and streaked antelope eyes are juxtaposed with poems about familial grief and resentment, alerting the reader to her instincts. This is the collection that steps back and reveals that instead of visiting an exhibit, admiring the lifelike animals from the soft fur to the magnetizing eyes, we are the exhibit, propped up and trapped behind the glass.

“When the narrator of MR Sheffield’s collection imagines “making a nest of you,” we are invited to make a nest back. Each word and image in this text builds a found and invented structure, layer by layer, for us to writhe around inside of. This multimodal work aims to enthrall us with a nontraditional, visual magic, both human and animal.”

— Nicole Oquendo, author of Telomeres and some prophets

“‘…there is no grief like this and no name for it,’ Sheffield’s speaker confesses in ‘the boa-constrictor,’ which, like all poems inside Marvels, uncoils to reveal monstrous truths about love and loss in a wilderness haunted by the familial. I have yet to find my way out of Sheffield’s collection, months after entering—I don’t believe I’ll ever want to. Between admiring the partnering images and found language from H.D. Northrop’s book of the same name, this collection asks readers—no, dares them—to put their face close to its glass and tap.”

— James A.H. White

MR Sheffield’s work has been published in Black Warrior Review, Hayden’s FerryReview, The Florida Review, and other publications. This is her first book.

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Charlie Bondhus’ Divining Bones Now Available!


Charlie Bondhus’ Divining Bones Now Available!

Divining Bones

Sundress Publications is pleased to announce the publication of Charlie Bondhus’ new book, Divining Bones.

Boys become crones; baked bread becomes a baby; electricity turns out to be Jesus; a first grade class stages Oedipus Rex. At the center of it all stands Baba Yaga, the child-eating forest witch and earth goddess of Russian folklore. Under her tutelage, Charlie Bondhus uses the occult and the magical to explore the fluidity of age, gender, and self-perception in this radical and playful book.

CAConrad, author of While Standing in Line for Death, had this to say about Bondhus’ book:

“Where divination meets poetry in extraordinary fashion!  After awhile you can look to this book for answers, opening and closing it nine times with a question in mind, the poet Charlie Bondhus leading the way.  Magic spells and paranormal experiences abound among beautifully written lines by a poet we will all want to share and know.  I love this book!”

Charlie Bondhus

Charlie Bondhus is the author of All the Heat We Could Carry, winner of the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. His work has appeared in Poetry, The Missouri Review, Columbia Journal, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Nimrod, and Copper Nickel. He has received fellowships from the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, the Sundress Academy for the Arts, and the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers. He is associate professor of English at Raritan Valley Community College (NJ).

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Passing Through Humansville Now Available for Pre-order!

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Karen Craigo’s Passing Through Humansville
Now Available for Pre-Order

Sundress Publications is excited to announce Karen Craigo’s new full-length poetry collection Passing Through Humansville is available for pre-order.

Tania Runyan, author of What Will Soon Take Place, had this to say about Craigo’s book:


“I’ve been reading Passing Through Humansville during a time of despair, and they are among the few written words that have comforted me. Emboldened me. Spoken. These poems explore marriage and family, nature and politics, and faith and doubt from a wellspring of compassionate wisdom and grace—a still, small (but not timid) voice of a life lived and loved with intention. ‘There are so many / ways to move across Earth’s face and I / would just as gladly move or sit with you,’ Craigo writes. I feel the same way about this book. It’s a companion whose side I won’t leave for long.”

Karen Craigo is the author of two Sundress 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.

Pre-order your copy here! And now through August 15th, your pre-order also allows you to submit a manuscript to our open reading period for free!