Lyric Essentials: Wendy Videlock Reads Virginia Hamilton Adair

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, Wendy Videlock is joining us to share the work of the poet Virginia Hamilton Adair and discuss the natural world around us, the vivacious language and choices made in these poems, and experimentation. Thank you for reading, and we hope to see you next time!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: Why did you choose these poems?

Wendy Videlock: I think they really represent Virginia Hamilton-Adair’s style, range and thematic interests. And of course they’re some of my favorites of hers. She really knows how to surprise the reader, how to pace a poem, how to pack a punch, how to avert our expectation. In “Keyring,” those first two lines, “My grandfather, when he was very old, / to one small room confined,/ gave me a bunch of his keys to hold.” assure us we are in good hands — the syntax, compression, and sonic interests alert us to that right away. Though she chooses a common subject, (one’s grandfather) she treats the subject uniquely, rendering the rather common subject uncommon indeed. And that close! Perfection. She embodies in this piece the diction, tone, and wonder of a child, and that “chuckling sound” the keys make is just a brilliant touch. She seems to work with what Frost called ‘the ghost of meter’ and often ends her poems on a note of mystery that widens, rather than closes off, or confirms our view. I think this little poem really exemplifies that.

“Yea Though I Walk” is a potent little piece with three discernible turns. I’m very drawn to a poetic that’s interested in pacing, that can equally surprise, delight, and devastate. She begins by lulling us into a pastoral scene, with sweet little lambs bobbing along and rather romantic perceptions of shepherding —then leads us to a stark reminder of efficiency, hunger, even cruelty: a wounded lamb unable to keep up, is left by the road we are told, its hooves wired together. The speaker imagines the shepherd returning that evening to collect his dinner. She then switches register again, panning out to a wider view, reflecting more meditatively, “The good shepherd of myths, psalms, and parable/ have always made me uneasy. / Something wrong there, leading me / however gently, to the slaughter”. This describes not only the shepherd and the lamb of course, but also how the poem leads us along with its shifting registers and perceptions — adding yet another layer of engagement to this devastating little poem.

Wendy Videlock Reads “Keyring” by Virginia Hamilton Adair

AH: What was your first experience with this poet’s work?

WV: I was given an anthology by a friend a few years ago called Poets of the American West, edited by Robert Mezey, and discovered one slim and wily little poem of hers called “Mojave Evening.” In it she closes the poem by describing coyotes at dusk this way: “their eyes coming out to hunt/ like all the other stars’. Again a common subject given remarkably uncommon treatment. I was hooked.

Wendy Videlock Reads “Yea Though I Walk” by Virginia Hamilton Adair

AH: Adair’s work is often inspired by the world that was around her. What has been inspiring you lately?

WV: Yes, I’m invested in the natural world as well, the character of the landscape, the wildlife, the changing skies, the cosmos. I’ve been experimenting a lot with prose lately, and testing the boundaries of genre bending, of specialty blending, of literary integrations and the imagination. So many marvelous opportunities for metaphor, intimacy, wordplay and surprising new insights. A writer never has enough time. One of my disappointments in the modern poetic is that it often goes straight for the cerebral, the hyper-ironic, the center stage “I” and the poet’s intention being its central purpose —very often neglecting the enchantment of song, the natural world, the elements, the very facts and shared understandings of our existence. Adair reminds us that poetry’s roots are in song, and that none of those things need be sacrificed in service of the poem.

AH: What have you been up to lately? Got any news to share?

WV: My upcoming book, The Poetic Imagination: A Worthy Difficulty is a collection of new and previously published essays, reviews, and prosimetrum (known in eastern tradition as haibun) on the elusive nature of language, landscape, the imagination, and the often misunderstood nature of verse craft or prosody. I’ve also got a new book of poems I’m readying for publication. I think both should be out by the end of the year or early in 2022.


Wendy Videlock lives in a small agricultural town on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies.  Her work appears in Hudson Review, Poetry, Dark Horse, The New York Times, Best American Poetry, and other venues.  Her books are available from Able Muse Press. Her upcoming collection of essays, The Poetic Imaginarium: A Worthy Difficulty, will appear in the fall of 2021. To see more of Wendy’s work, please visit: www.wendyvidelock.com, or tune in to this recent webinar she did with Tim Green, editor of Rattlehttps://youtu.be/OheIJ9Gg3C8

Read some of Wendy’s work at Poetry here.

Discover her full-length collection Slingshots and Love Plums at Able Muse Press.

Virginia Hamilton Adair was an American poet. Originally, she published a few pieces from the 1930s to 1950s, but then took a break that spanned fifty years. After this break, she found acclaim with her poetry during the last decade of her life. At eighty-three years old and after she had gone blind, her first poetry collection Ants on the Melon: A Collection of Poems was published in 1996. Over her lifetime, she had written over a thousand poems.

Read her poem “Buckroe, After the Season, 1942” here.

Find her poetry collection “Beliefs and Blasphemies” here.

Read more of her work at The New Yorker.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Into the Void Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads for Mud Season Review and EX/POST Magazine, is the Playwriting & Director’s Apprentice at New Perspectives Theatre Company, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Rachel Stempel Reads Joshua Clover

Welcome back to this edition of Lyric Essentials! Rachel Stempel has joined us today to read poems by the poet Joshua Clover. Join us for a discussion about poetic origins, searching for meaning, and artistic responsibility. Thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: Why did you pick Joshua Clover? 

Rachel Stempel: I tell my creative writing students that poetry (writing in general) is storytelling, and storytelling is the most fundamental mode of communication. I think it helps demystify what poetry is. Storytelling implies a narrator and narratee—a contract between writer and reader and text. The existence of those relationships require work, and I love poetry that makes me work for meaning. Image-heavy, allusive, disjunctive, and somewhat comical.

Rachel Stempel Reads “Orchid & Eurydice” by Joshua Clover

AH: Is there a story behind how you discovered Clover’s work? 

RS: I majored in geology in undergrad, so it wasn’t until my junior year I even took an introductory poetry class, and I’m truly blessed to have taken one under a poet I admire—and whose work I’ve tattooed on my body—Crystal Curry. Whatever she told me to read, I’d read. She assigned “The map room” in class but it wasn’t until I was lurking around my MFA’s lounge for books to steal that I found the collection in which it appears—Madonna Anno Domini—that I really took notice of Clover.  

Rachel Stempel Reads “The map room” by Joshua Clover

AH: Do you find your writing relating to Clover’s in any way? If so, how? 

RS: I think poetry takes on a weird classification that most feel all art is exempt from—i.e., responsible vs. irresponsible—when the reality is the opposite. Nothing is apolitical. The motivation to apoliticize is like an act of erasure—more nuanced, but in what ways, I’m not sure I can articulate. So, Clover’s critical background—not necessarily academic—crafts his work.

In his Verso Books author bio, Clover states he’s a communist before any other identifying information. As a white, neurotypical passing, able bodied, AFAB person, I’m constantly questioning whether what I have to say—the art I have to make—is responsible. A lot of my work deals in my identity intersections—genderqueer, immigrant, Jewish—but what part of my thematic leanings are performance for the dominant narrative? For me, Clover’s work is driven by this one-sided panic as a subject of capitalist empire and seeks to unpack it through critically-informed strangeness. That’s what I want my work to do, too—serve as an archive of my panic.

Also, I self-identity as a middle-aged white man with tiny glasses.

AH: What have you been up to lately? Any exciting projects you’d like to share? 

RS: I’m grateful that my microchapbook, Craigslist Is A Place On Earth, will be a part of Ghost City Press’s 2021 Summer Series along with my friend, Robin Gow’s work (and yours!). I’m currently finishing up my MFA thesis—a YA novel in verse that contemporizes Slavic folklore. 


Rachel Stempel is a genderqueer Ukrainian-Jewish poet and educator. They are a staff writer for Up the Staircase Quarterly and EX/POST MAGAZINE and a poetry editor for MAYDAY Magazine. They are the author of the microchapbook Craigslist Is A Place On Earth (Ghost City Press, 2021) and the chapbook BEFORE THE DESIRE TO EAT (Finishing Line Press, 2022). Their work has appeared in or is forthcoming from New Delta ReviewInto the Void, Boxcar Poetry ReviewPenn ReviewHypertext MagazineSHARKPACK Annual, and elsewhere. They currently live in New York with their rabbit, Diego. Find them simping for Aase Berg on Twitter @failedcaptcha.

Click on the colored text in their bio to find samples of their work.

Joshua Clover is a writer and scholar originally from Northern California. He is the author of the poetry collections Red Epic (2015), The Totality for Kids (2006), and Madonna anno domini (1997), and has had three more books about cultural history and political theory published. He received the Walt Whitman Award and an NEA grant for his work. He currently teaches English literature and critical theory at UC Berkeley.

Read more of his poems here.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and poet. She has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Into the Void Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads for Mud Season Review and EX/POST Magazine, is the Playwriting & Director’s Apprentice at New Perspectives Theatre Company, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Anna Meister Reads Diannely Antigua

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week Anna Meister will be reading Diannely Antigua’s work and discussing the act of reading a poem verbally, admirations, and future plans. Thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: Why did you choose Diannely Antigua? 

Anna Meister: I wanted to speak about Diannely’s poetry because I so appreciate and admire the frank, unapologetic way her work wrangles mental illness as subject matter. I almost wrote that her poems embody a fearlessness, but I think it’s more that the poet allows fear (of stigma, of succumbing, of survival) to be in the poems, and I find that honesty very brave and refreshing.

Anna Meister reads “Variations on a Theme” by Diannely Antigua

AH: Throughout the poems, there seems to be this theme of hunger for something. As a poet yourself, would you say you feel a connection to this concept of wanting something more in your writing? 

AM: Yeah, I certainly feel like my poems tend to come from a place of not knowing, searching for answers. And in that vein, the feeling of longing or unsatiated hunger propels me forward, which I do feel moving through Antigua’s work. It also makes me think about the biblical references and imagery in Ugly Music, how the speaker’s religious history and questioning/speaking to god are connected to an erotic hunger and understanding of her own sexuality.

Anna Meister Reads “Equinox” by Diannely Antigua

AH: Listening to you read these poems and actually reading them on the page was a completely different experience. How was the act of verbally reading these poems? Did it change anything for you?

I always like to hear things aloud as I’m reading; there’s such joy in how differently a poem’s music comes through when read versus on the page. And yes, her book is titled Ugly Music, but Antigua really does have such a musical ear and there’s a lot that’s just sonically delightful about these poems. Something else I noticed in reading them aloud is that, due in part to all of the poems being in first person, their vulnerability (and mine as the reader) felt amplified. The term “confessional poetry” can get a bad rap (which is pretty sexist), but I think Diannely is absolutely showcasing the power of the poem as a space for confession and saying the “unsayable” thing.

AH: Your poetry collection recently came out with Sundress. Got any exciting plans coming up in the near future? 

AM: While this isn’t related to What Nothing, I was just able to get a vaccination appointment for the end of the month and I’m pretty excited about that! I’m looking forward to the ways in which life will feel easier in the months to come, as more and more people get vaccinated and are able to be together again. I miss experiencing poetry with other people! To have my first book released during quarantine/a pandemic has been different than I’d imagined, though I have enjoyed partaking in virtual events and I’m grateful for the accessibility and connection they’ve provided. I’m hoping to travel a bit later this year to see friends, do some readings, and celebrate What Nothing more widely. I’m really proud that it’s finally out in the world!

Diannely Antigua is the author of Ugly Music (YesYes Books, 2019), which won the Pamet River Prize. Previously nominated for the Pushcart Prize and selected for Best of the Net, her poems can be found in The Adroit Journal, Bennington Review, and Washington Square Review. She received her MFA from New York University.

Anna Meister is the author of the poetry collection What Nothing (Sundress Publications, 2021), as well as two chapbooks. Meister received an MFA in Poetry from New York University, where she was a Goldwater Writing Fellow. Her poems have appeared in The Rumpus, Redivider, The Adroit Journal, BOAAT, and elsewhere. She lives in Des Moines, Iowa with her wife and son.

Find her at:

www.annameisterpoet.com

Twitter: @annameisterpoet

https://therumpus.net/2020/09/rumpus-original-poetry-two-poems-by-anna-meister/

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Into the Void Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads for Mud Season Review and EX/POST Magazine, is the Playwriting & Director’s Apprentice at New Perspectives Theatre Company, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Esteban Rodríguez Reads Jay Wright

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, poet Esteban Rodríguez is joining us to discuss Jay Wright and the complexity and inspiration behind both Wright’s and his own poetry.


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: What inspired you to choose Jay Wright for today’s feature?

Esteban Rodríguez: Jay Wright has always been fascinating to me for a number of reasons. His work (that is his work after his debut collection The Homecoming Singer) is considered quite complex, and he seems to be overlooked when we discuss contemporary American poetry, despite the fact that he has won numerous awards and fellowships (the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, a Fellowship of the Academy of American Poets, the American Book Award Lifetime Achievement Award, a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship). No doubt there is still conversation around his work, but enthusiasm seems to be absent, or at least minimal. I am enthused with Wright’s work precisely because of its difficulty and because I believe his poetry, in more ways than one, extends into philosophy, myth, and history, and brings its readers closer to the sublime. Any chance I get, I reread Wright’s work, and I recommend it to writers and readers.

Esteban Rodríguez reads “The Lake in Central Park” by Jay Wright

AH: At times, in the poems you’ve chosen, there seems to be snapshots of moments that are quietly intimate. During the past year, I’m sure we’ve all had a moment like this. Are there any specific moments from your life that have inspired you?

ER: I am always looking for the moments that upon reflection were actually much more meaningful than I had originally thought, and that show up in my poetry, especially in The Valley: Playing in a plastic pool in the middle of summer (“Recuerdo: Summer, 1996”), microwaving leftover food (“Recuerdo: Nuked”), or watching my uncles work on customizing their cars because of the promise those cars offered (“Recuerdo: Lowrider”). I don’t think the mundane is uninteresting, rather, I think it hasn’t had a chance to be looked at thoroughly, and I’m constantly referring back to these moments for inspiration.

Esteban Rodríguez reads “The Healing Improvisation of Hair” by Jay Wright

AH: The poems here are both from the same collection, Transfigurations: Collected Poems. Transfiguration means a metamorphosis, typically into something more beautiful or in a spiritual sense. So, to follow-up on the previous question, do you think these poems exemplify the idea of transformation, or, perhaps, the idea of beauty in the mundane?

ER: I think they do, especially over time. Rereading “The Lake in Central Park” now from when I first read it (back in 2018) has been a completely different experience. I’ve obviously changed and grown as a person and writer, so maybe I am seeing a transformation within them that doesn’t necessarily exist. Nevertheless, the best poems don’t try to be portraits a person, event, or moment, but rather they attempt to transform an idea into another, and I believe Wright’s work does exactly that.

In “The Healing Improvisation of Hair,” the speaker gives the following account:

How like joy to come upon me
in remembering a head of hair
and the way water would caress
it, and stress beauty in the flair
and cut of the only witness
to my dance under sorrow’s tree.
This swift darkness is spring’s first hour.


Wright takes what appears on the surface to be mundane (washing hair and viewing the way water caresses it) and he makes it meaningful, tying it in to spring’s first hour and a new phase in the speaker’s life. This is what makes Wright great, revealing how the ordinary is actually extraordinary.

AH: If it has, how has Wright’s work inspired you?

ER: Wright’s work has inspired me in the way that I approach not just a poem, but an overall manuscript in progress. There has been some debate in recent years about the book project versus the book of poems, and while I appreciate the latter, my work always veers toward the project. I don’t want to leave poems abandoned, and in my early days, when I was writing my first book, I left a lot of poems behind. Wright reinforced the idea of cohesion in a book, as well as the idea that poetry can incorporate various other elements, such as history, philosophy, surrealism, myth, and folklore, while still focusing on the complexity of the human condition. If I can do some of that in my work, then what more can I ask for?


Jay Wright is a poet hailing from the Southwestern United States. He has published fifteen poetry collections since the start of his career, and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, the Academy of American Poets, Princeton University, and the National Endowment for the Arts. His most recent collection of poems is Disorientations: Groundings (2013).

Read more of Wright’s work here.

Purchase Transfigurations: Collected Poems here.

Esteban Rodríguez is the author of five poetry collections, most recently The Valley (Sundress Publications, 2021). His debut essay collection Before the Earth Devours Us will be published by Split/Lip Press in late 2021. He is the Interviews Editor for the EcoTheo Review, an Assistant Poetry Editor for AGNI, and a regular reviews contributor for Heavy Feather Review. He lives in Austin, Texas.

Purchase Rodríguez’s newest collection The Valley here.

Stay updated with Rodríguez on Twitter.

Read three of Rodríguez’s poems on The Rumpus.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Into the Void Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads for Mud Season Review and EX/POST Magazine, is the Playwriting & Director’s Apprentice at New Perspectives Theatre Company, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Sarah Lilius reads Anne Sexton

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week poet Sarah Lilius joined us to read poems written by Anne Sexton, and discuss the nature of confessional poetry and how there is an intense intimacy when being open in your work. Thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: During our correspondence, you’ve mentioned that Anne Sexton is your favorite poet. As you’ve grown as both a poet and an individual how has Anne Sexton influenced you? 

Sarah Lilius: When I was younger, I was always struck by how confessional Sexton’s poetry is. I’m sure that her work has definitely influenced mine over the years. I find myself writing from my own experiences and it’s often therapeutic, much like hers was intended to be at first. Much of my work is drawn from my experiences as a woman and as someone who has faced mental health struggles. I think of Anne Sexton as my favorite poet not only because I love her work, but because I always come back to it for inspiration. I think
Sexton’s poetry is refreshing not off putting because it’s confessional.

Sarah Lilius reads “Her Kind” by Anne Sexton.

AH: On a similar vein to the previous question, as you’ve grown older or more experienced, has your view of Anne Sexton and her work shifted?

SL: Some of my viewpoints towards Sexton changed after I read her daughter’s memoir (Searching for Mercy Street: My Journal Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton by Linda Gray Sexton). On the one hand, the book strengthened the argument for me that mental illness should be taken seriously and treated adequately. The stigma of mental illness is a dangerous societal problem that ruins lives. I think access to education about mental health issues and mental health care is crucial to help the situation. Despite the negative allegations surrounding Sexton, I think her work is important to the poetry canon because it still adds a strong female voice. On the other hand, I’m torn by the viewpointof Sexton painted by her daughter. Should we revere someone that harms their children? I think I need time to process how I feel about this issue.

Sarah Lilius reads “Wanting to Die” by Anne Sexton.

AH: What compelled you to choose these specific poems? 

SL: I chose “Her Kind” because I know what it feels like to be a “different” kind of woman. When I was growing up, especially as a teenager and young woman, I often had different ways of looking at things, of understanding the world. I’m still like that today; it could be the poetry life inside my mind. Also, I like the tone of the poem which is confident and haunting. In general, it’s easy to be misunderstood when you’re a woman. Others tend to pigeonhole women into categories or to stereotype us and then treat us how they think is appropriate. I like the language and imagery that Sexton uses, such as, the witch in the neighborhood, the cave stanza which reminds me of a woman in a kitchen, and the last stanza which shows a woman being drove around in a cart. The last stanza has a feeling of escape and freedom and then she writes, “a woman like that is not ashamed to die,” and I think this line leads into the other poem I picked, “Wanting to Die.” Sexton owns the very idea of death and is unafraid what others will think of her when she does take her own life.

I chose “Wanting to Die” because of the frank, specific nature of the language and how the idea of wanting to die is taboo in our culture. The lust of wanting to commit suicide is something that consumed Sexton and ultimately destroyed her. She lost the struggle, but I like to think of myself and hopefully many others as being able to resist that incredible feeling, to get the help we need and live out our lives. The fact that Sexton started writing poems as a form of therapy is interesting and poignant to this matter. Poetry is an important art form used to express oneself and to interpret the world. Poetry couldn’t save Anne Sexton and I think we, as poets, can learn from that.

AH: What do you admire most in Sexton’s poems? 

SL: I most admire Sexton’s unabashed sense of self in her work and also the images she chooses. Often her poems seem just commonplace but then she will hit the reader with an obscure image or great sound, and I love that. My favorite Anne Sexton poem is “The Truth the Dead Know” because the grief she expresses feels concrete and almost like a living thing. I think grief poems are the hardest to write and this poem always hits it for me especially after my father died. “I am tired of being brave” she writes. This sentiment feels perfect.

Sarah Lilius is the author of five chapbooks including GIRL (dancing girl press, 2017) and Traffic Girl (Ghost City Press, 2020). Her first full-length poetry collection is forthcoming from Indie Blu(e) Publishing. Some of her publication credits include the Denver Quarterly, Court GreenFourteen Hills, Boulevard, and forthcoming in the Massachusetts Review and New South. She has also been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a Best of the Net Prize. She lives in Arlington, VA with her husband and two sons. Her website is sarahlilius.com.

Further reading:

neil young gives me heart palpitations in the living room,” published in perhappened

Ode to COVID-19,” published in Global Poemic

Hominidae or Homo Sapiens,” published in Willawaw Journal

Anne Sexton was born in Massachusetts and is seen as a face of the confessional poetry movement. She was a trailblazer who was seen as very autobiographical in nature, as she wrote about intimate details of her life, such as depression, her interpersonal relationships, and thoughts of suicide. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for her collection Live or Die.

Read her work here.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi has had work appear in Into the Void Magazine, Mud Season Review, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads for Mud Season Review and EX/POST Magazine, is the Playwriting & Director’s Apprentice at New Perspectives Theatre Company, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. She can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Brice Maiurro reads James Tate

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, poet, editor and community organizer Brice Maiurro joins us to read James Tate and explore the often overlooked world of the strange and whimsical within poetry. As always, thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read James Tate for Lyric Essentials?

Brice Maiurro: Tate, for being a writer who has received a lot of accolades, is not someone that I hear people reference very often, and he’s been a very important poet to me. I remember being in a bookstore, picking up a copy of Return to the City of White Donkeys and the first poem I read was “The Memories of Fish”. I loved it. What a strange and whimsical idea for this man to make fun of these fish, only to feel deep regret the next day for his behavior. The ending is the kicker too “he had mocked their very fishiness, for which there can be no forgiveness.” His work has a magic to it. There’s something punk rock to this attitude of “fuck it, I’m gonna write about a guy who is mean to fish.” 

He often dismantles the ideas of poetry needing lyricism, needing stark imagery, needing a noticeable cadence or rhythm. Tate’s poetry puts you in the poem where you have to find the poetry of the situation. Not in beautiful words but in beautiful magical situations. He uses narrative prose to take you out of your day.

Brice Maiurro reads “The Memories of Fish” by James Tate

EH:  Do you have a particular connection to Tate’s collection City of White Donkeys where these two poems are found?

BM: It’s the first collection I ever read by Tate, I mostly read it on the light rail on my way to and from work. I was working at my Mom’s cupcake shop on 16th Street at the time. I think of James Tate as being a hall pass for me into being strange, especially to find the strange, and thus at times the divine, in mundane everyday situations. 

I grew up in the suburbs of Denver, in Lakewood. Went to T.J. Maxx and King Soopers with my Mom and sister on the weekends. Took girls on dates at Southwest Plaza mall. I spent a lot of time counting ceiling tiles and daydreaming. My Dad ran a shoe store called “Just For Feet” where I’d be stuck in his office for hours with nothing to do, so I wrote poems. I guess my poetry comes a lot out of waiting and boredom, and that’s something I see in James Tate. He seems like he’s just entertaining his shower thoughts.

I tend to tell people I see poetry as a math equation. Where you create a strange problem and then solve it. For example, in “Beautiful Shoeshine”, Tate seems to have asked himself “what if I had an airport entirely to myself?” He drops himself into this airport all alone, then he finds a shoeshine man, then he realizes he’s not alone, but the people around him are moving too fast to be seen, then in the poem he says, again with the good ending lines “I must not be traveling enough these days.” So here we have the problem of being alone in an airport, and Tate somehow manages to solve the equation by finding in the situation a commentary on a culture that moves so quickly, maybe doesn’t take enough time to rest and relax and breathe, all the hypercapitalism we’re so familiar with, but in a sad moment, our narrator in the poem decides not that the culture is broken, but that he must not be doing enough. I love this.

Brice Maiurro reads “The Beautiful Shoeshine” by James Tate

EH: City of White Donkeys is a peculiar journey into surrealism poetry—something Tate is known for. Your work also contains narrative forms, often playfully as well—do you ever draw inspiration or connection from Tate into your own writing in particular?

BM: I absolutely draw inspiration from Tate, going back to the idea that he gave me permission to bring surrealism into everyday scenarios. I have a poem where I talk to God at a Denny’s over a cup of coffee, I have a poem where I’m doing the dishes and all of a sudden I am taken into the astral plane, I have a poem where a man cuts off one of his fingers accidentally while chopping carrots and the first thing he decides to do is play his piano. Tate’s work resonates deeply with my own experience. Specifically the idea that while we’re in the muck of our everyday lives, we are so many other people and places and things. Also the humor. Humor is not as simple as just laughing. I find humor as a sense of solidarity, sometimes a way of honoring the absurdity of life, sometimes a way to process trauma, including our collective trauma. I believe humor is as valuable a tool in a poem as any other literary device.

EH: And lastly, is there anything you are currently working on that you’d like to share with our readers?

BM: I’m working on a manuscript. The working title is “and i open another door and”. Same weirdo poems as always. Finding myself influenced now though by the softness of Ocean Vuong and the syntax and visual elements of e.e. cummings’ poems. With the poems, I’ve been considering liminal space a lot, and the acknowledgment of not having the answers. I’ve been reacting to the tenets of white supremacy as well and challenging the ways I might embody some of those identities and how I can work through that. One of the tenets of white supremacy is either/or thinking. The poems in my new collection don’t claim to have answers as much as capture my feelings and thoughts around not knowing. The title itself kinda leans into the idea of being between moments, and in a limbo, which I know during COVID is a very real experience for a lot of people, myself included. 

The press I work with, South Broadway Press, is doing a lot of plotting and scheming too. We have a March edition on the theme of Language of the Earth. Our editor Chloë Thompson created the concept, which we’ll also be exploring in our February and March open mic series. We’re also looking into publishing a full-length poetry manuscript and launching a chapbook contest. We have a big team now, seven of us, and it’s been great to see our minds and hearts come together to create an identity for this very new press.


James Tate is an American Pulitzer Prize winning poet known for his whimsical, surrealist, and well-loved absurdist poetry. He is the author of over twenty poetry collections, including The Government Lake (2018), The Ghost Soldiers (2008), Worshipful Company of Fletchers (1994) which won the National Book Award, Selected Poems (1991), which won the Pulitzer Prize and the William Carlos Williams Award, Distance from Loved Ones (1990), Constant Defender (1983), Viper Jazz (1976), and The Oblivion Ha-Ha (1970). His many accolades include an Academy of American Poets chancellorship, a National Institute of Arts and Letters Award for Poetry, the Wallace Stevens Award, the Tanning Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. He taught at University of Massachusetts in Amherst for five decades, and died in 2015.

Further reading:

Purchase Return to the City of White Donkeys by James Tate.
Read this in-depth interview with Tate in the Paris Review.
Watch Tate read a selection of his poetry in 2013 in Poets & Writers.

Brice Maiurro is Brice Maiurro is a poet from Earth. He is the Editor-in-Chief of South Broadway Press. His work has been compiled into two collections, Stupid Flowers and Hero Victim Villain. He has been featured by the BBC, NPR, The Denver Post, Boulder Weekly, Suspect Press, and Poets Reading the News.

Further reading:

Stay updated with Maiurro on his website.
Read this interview with Maiurro featured in Westword Magazine, honoring him as a Colorado Creative.
Check out Maiurro’s indie press, South Broadway Press.

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 advocates for media literacy and digital citizenship. She is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society and 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/

Lyric Essentials: féi hernandez Reads Natalie Diaz

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, Sundress author féi hernandez reads Natalie Diaz for us while reflecting beautifully how it feels to experience, write, read, and become poetry. Thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read Natalie Diaz for Lyric Essentials?

féi hernandez: When I finished reading Natalie Diaz’ “When My Brother was an Aztec” I had an otherworldly impulse to turn back to the title page and two inches beneath the title write: “Natalie Diaz is God and I’m dead in her heaven.” I went to my room from the living room and put my sneakers on and went out for a run, I wanted to fly. With the statement I wrote didn’t mean to aggrandize or over sensationalize a fellow spell casting poet, nor do I not see the God in myself or in other writers that have changed me like Danez Smith or Patricia Smith or Ocean Vuong, but it was heavenly to find a place to rest, one where I could always be safe and be clearly seen. Every poem struck my bones like precise lightning, electrifying my spirit to write. I had finally found tracks that could teach me to be a better hunter and simultaneously prey. Natalie Diaz unfurls, demystifies a lot of the usually tangled or overgeneralized notions of identity, which is what my work is determined to do. Specificity. Through Natalie Diaz’ work I felt closer to my ancestors, I felt my voice more capable of bringing them to life through my written word. Every poet, new and old, needs to experience the work of Natalie Diaz.

féi hernandez reads “Blood Light” by Natalie Diaz

EH: What connection do you have to the particular poems that you chose to read?

fh: “Blood-Light” reminded me of internal and external turmoil I’ve experienced with my own family and interestingly, with myself. I am “brother” to myself in this poem as much as I am the narrator whose words/ alacranes, “In them is what stings in me – / it brings my brother to the ground,” in this case “brother” is my family. The way light and darkness works in this piece reminds me of the flick-of-the-light combustion that erupts in these moments of contention where, “The only light left is in the scorpions – / there is a small light left in the knife too.” This flash of war happens in 14 couplets. Couplets: love, family, ties, commitment, and togetherness all amidst the falling apart, the violence, the hurt. The last couplet destroys me: “One way to open a body to the stars, with a knife. / One way to love a sister, help her bleed light.”

As for “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation” all I will state are two very long things: 1. Aside from the title taking up its well deserved smarts and space, the first line sets up the poem perfectly: “ Angels don’t come to the reservation.” 2. The dichotomy of the reservation/ native land and the outsider, intrusive Anglican colonizers are pit against against each other over and over. For example: Saint Gabriel and Gabe, an Indian who stays in the reservation after a POWOW who “Sure he had wings, / jailbird that he was. He flies around in stolen cars. / Wherever he stops, / kids grow like gourds from women’s bellies.” What matters here is Gabe, his life, and not some “white god”/ angel who was part of the history of destruction bestowed upon the world, but in this case the reservation. My favorite line of the poem is “You better hope you never see angels on the rez. If you do, / they’ll be marching you off to / Zion or Oklahoma, or some other hell they’ve mapped out / for us.” Clearly tying this all back to violent histories in the United States and warning their people to avoid any “angels,” the colonizers they are. This poem specifically grounds me in the work I aspire to create which can capture the historical tensions not just in content, but in the decisions I make in the writing, like foiling concepts and characters and what they represent.

féi hernandez reads “Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation” by Natalie Diaz

EH: Diaz’ has said that myth, to her, is—in contrast to written histories—“the truest of truths.” You too, write about myth and identity, particular to your nonbinary, non-white, radical immigrant experience. Can you speak to your relationship with myth and truth in this vein?

fh: The spiritual blends right in with myth. I grew up with so many stories that were supposed to instill fear in me like La Llorona, or highway spirits, or tales of the devil, but to me they felt the closest to my own truth: being trans, non-binary, being a childhood arrival from Chihuahua, México, growing up in Inglewood, Spanish my first tongue, and being displaced from so much: first the land and people I was born from (Pi’ma, Tarahumara, and trans-Atlantic ancestors), a nationalistic identity of Mexicanness, and being loudly queer growing up in the hood. I am La Llorona, wailing for all that’s been lost even if it’s been from my own volition. I am the devil: misunderstood, demonized, ostracized, a snake. I am a highway spirit begging someone to take me home, wherever that is. My truth is the biggest folklorist, makeshift truth for many people that may not understand how I’m “trans” if I have a full beard and my transition doesn’t look like the trans that’s traditionally accepted as demonizable. I agree with Natalie Diaz that the truest of truths are the stories, myths, left behind. I am, in that way, made of things that can fly, are magical and glow in the dark, things that can transmutate, disappear and appear, and I’ve never been more close to the truth of life. Myths are my favorite dance and where most of my ancestor-unearthing work with my family has begun.

EH: Lastly, your debut poetry collection from Sundress, Hood Criatura was recently released. Is there
anything else you are working on right now (in relation to that book or not) that you’d like to share with readers?

fh: I am currently working on a book of illustrations that will follow the chronological trajectory of Hood Criatura (Sundress Publications, 2020)! I’m really excited to bring to life my poems visually!
I am also working on a book of personal essays and my second full length poetry manuscript, but
shhhhhh, don’t tell anyone!


Natalie Diaz is a queer, Mojave poet, activist, and educator, born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California. She is the author of When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon Press, 2012) and Postcolonial Love Poem (Graywolf Press, 2020). She has earned several accolades, including the 2018 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, a Lannan Literary Fellow, a Native Arts Council Foundation Artist Fellow, a Bread Loaf Fellowship, the Holmes National Poetry Prize, a Hodder Fellowship, a PEN/Civitella Ranieri Foundation Residency, as well as being awarded a US Artists Ford Fellowship. She is an enrolled member in the Gila River Indian Tribe and currently teaches at the Arizona State University Creative Writing Program.

Further reading:

Purchase When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz, from Copper Canyon Press.
Read a recent interview with Diaz from PEN America.
Watch this reading and conversation with Diaz about “Postcolonial Love Poem” from The Greene Space.

féi hernandez (they/them) was born in Chihuahua, México and raised in Inglewood, CA. They are a trans non-binary visual artist, writer, and healer. féi is the author of Hood Criatura, published by Sundress Publications, 2020. Their writing has been featured in Poetry, Oxford Review of Books, Frontier, NPR’s Code Switch, Immigrant Report, Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity (Columbia University Press, 2019), Hayden’s Ferry Review Issue 64, BreakBeat Poets Volume 4: LatiNEXT, and PANK Magazine. féi is a certified Reiki and Akashic Records practitioner who utilizes a decolonial approach to ancestral energetic healing. They collect Pokémon plushies. féi is the Board President of Gender Justice Los Angeles and is a Co-Founder of the ING Fellowship. 

Further reading:

Purchase Hood Criatura from Sundress Publications.
Read more about Hernandez in this interview with VoyageLA.
Stay updated with Hernandez and their work by following them on Twitter.

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 advocates for media literacy and digital citizenship. She is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society and 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/

Lyric Essentials: Donna Vorreyer reads Katie Ford

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, Donna Vorreyer reads us Katie Ford and discusses the tender, reverent nature of her poetry and why she considers Ford one of the greats. Thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read Katie Ford for Lyric Essentials?

Donna Vorreyer: Katie Ford, for me, is simply one of our best poets, a touchstone poet for me. But she works quietly. Although she is well-respected and praised, she isn’t on social media, and she’s not an “it” poet in the sense that you hear people talk about her all the time. Her poems reveal a reverence for the physical and the spiritual worlds, but also a willingness to question and challenge the wisdom of both. Her astute attention to the longings of the heart and her deft use of space and inquiry bring me back to her work again and again.

EH: You chose poems all published in different collections of Ford’s – what drew you to these specifically?

DV: Each of her collections is very different. Deposition, which includes “Last Breath Deposition” is deeply rooted in Christian iconography and story while being incredibly personal. The book begins with a definition of “deposition” that gives the reader a full picture of what is being addressed. Not simply the legal statement of testimony, but the other meanings: the action of putting down, laying aside, or putting away, as of burdens; and the taking down of the body of Christ from the cross, or a representation of such in art. The spiritual and the personal. I never get tired of reading these poems, their long sentences all running together to resemble a voice tumbling headlong into both prayer and confusion. “Last Breath Deposition” is one of many “last breath” titles in the collection, which has as its centerpiece 14 poems that accompany the stations of the cross. This particular poem’s first utterance “Please I am forthright” knocks me off my feet every time I read it. It’s a plea to be believed, to be judged as worthy of believing. Then the declaration in the middle – “I knew then there was knowledge in me” – brings Eve to mind, which is reinforced by the “he” at the poem’s end throwing “what came/from on high far from us.” And whether that he is a beloved, or Adam, or God, the speaker is left with her knowledge, her loneliness, an emptiness like the quarry.

Donna Vorreyer reads “Last Breath Deposition” by Katie Ford

“Song of Sadness” from Blood Lyrics performs a similar seemingly impossible marriage of concerns: the struggle to find peace and faith while caring for a fragile newborn and living in a violent world where in another famous poem from this book “Foreign Song,” she begins “To bomb them, / we mustn’t have heard their music…” These poems are very different in form from Deposition (and the book that came between them, Colosseum). Ford has traded long, unpunctuated lines for shorter ones, most poems only a page in length, some with a sort of postscript on a facing page that serves both the larger body of a poem and stands on its own. Her constant reinvention of form, suiting it to the function of the poem, is admirable and something that I marvel at in all of her work. “Song of Sadness” links despair to the body in its first line, then the body to the water from which it is made, tells the reader to serve only this salt in the body of a beloved, of a child before listing all of the things in the world that kneel in praise of something. To me, this poem seems like an ars poetica – the last lines – “Don’t say it’s the beautiful / I praise. I praise the human, / gutted and rising” describes how I feel when I read all of her poems.

Donna Vorreyer reads “Song of Sadness” by Katie Ford

EH: Both your poetry and Ford’s have an honest and tender quality to approaching topics of truth and grief. Do you find yourself inspired or influenced by Ford’s writing with your own?

DV: I am honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as Katie Ford, honestly. I can say that she has been a big influence on me in two ways. First, I was very lucky to have taken a class with Katie in 2006 while she was writing Colosseum. At the time, I had never published a poem, and I didn’t know whether or not it was something I should continue pursuing. Katie’s gracious teaching gave me confidence, and her openness about her own process gave me an insight into the world of a “real” poet’s mind. I vividly remember hearing her share lines from the poem that would be “Colosseum” with our class, and it inspired me. Second, I admire that she is unafraid to write from a place of tenderness and spirituality and doubt. In a poetry world where people are always looking for the “next thing,” her masterful explorations of both societal and personal tragedy teach me to write what speaks to my heart. 

EH: Lastly, you just released another collection from Sundress in 2020 – To Everything There Is – congratulations! Is there anything else you are currently working on that you’d like to share with readers?

DV: Thank you! I’m pleased that the new book is finding readers, but I am writing new work. It was difficult to be mired in elegy for so long. Though grief doesn’t go away, the need to write it down in order to accept it thankfully diminishes. My newer poems seem to be addressing the different aspects of aging, especially as a woman. Issues of the body, of isolation, of changing relationships, of usefulness are all finding their way in. 


Katie Ford is an American poet and professor of English at University of California, Riverside. She is the author of the collections Deposition (Graywolf Press, 2002), Storm (Marick Press, 2007), Colosseum (Graywolf Press, 2008), Blood Lyrics (Graywolf Press, 2014), and If You Have to Go (Graywold Press, 2018). She received the Lannan Foundation Fellowship in 2008.

Further Reading:

Purchase Ford’s Deposition from Graywolf Press.
Watch Ford read from her collection Blood Lyrics for Public Poetry.
Learn more about Ford on her page at Poets.org.

Donna Vorreyer is the author of To Everything There Is (2020), Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (2016) and A House of Many Windows (2013), all from Sundress Publications, as well as eight chapbooks. Her work has appeared in Rhino, Tinderbox Poetry, Poet Lore, Sugar House Review, Waxwing, and other journals, and she serves as an associate editor for Rhino Poetry. Recently retired from 36 years in public education, she can’t wait to see what happens next.

Further Reading:

Purchase Vorreyer’s newest collection To Everything There Is from Sundress Publications.
Learn more about Vorreyer in her recent interview with Entropy.
Read three poems by Vorreyer in Split Lip Magazine.

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 advocates for media literacy and digital citizenship. She is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society and 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/

Lyric Essentials: Hayley Mitchell Haugen Reads Kari Gunter-Seymour

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week we have Hayley Mitchell Haugen reading poems from Kari Gunter-Seymour while diving deep into the Ohio poet laureate’s most recent book, A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen. As always, thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read Kari Gunter-Seymour for Lyric Essentials?  What in particular drew you to choose these poems from Gunter-Seymour’s collection, A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen?

Hayley Mitchell Haugen: This year I was honored to publish Kari Gunter-Seymour’s collection, A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen through my press, Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, creating a wonderful opportunity for me to engage with Kari’s work. Before I published the book, poet George Franklin selected her poem “Trigger Warning” as the prize-winning poem for Sheila-Na-Gig online’s spring 2020 poetry competition.

To me, this poem is indicative of Kari’s work and represents everything I am looking for as an editor and reader of poetry.

Hayley Mitchell Haugen Reads “Trigger Warning” by Kari Gunter Seymour”

First, voice is very important to me. I like to know up front in a poem who is speaking, but I am also drawn into a poem when that voice has a sense of urgency, not just that the speaker has a story to share, but that she must tell her story. In “Trigger Warning,” a mother is struggling to come to terms with her son’s experiences at war and his subsequent PTSD:

November is the month my son dreads.
Too many dead in November, he says.
When they come to him now, it’s as
full body experiences, rapid-fire,
built of muscle memory, bile in his mouth,
propellant fumes, exit wounds, zippered bags.
I cradled them, until
there was just nothing there.

As the poem begins, I am immediately moved by the pain of the son, for which the mother has a limited “frame of reference” outside of her own loss of her father or beloved dogs. As the speaker looks out her window and finds a brief moment of comfort in the images of nature, the deer “dappled / by light as they forage for acorns, / capped confections, hidden / beneath tapestries of coppered leaves,” as a reader I am not simply being told of an experience, but I am living this moment with the speaker. To me, these moments depict a poet at the height of her craft, fully engaging me in the physical environment of the poem, but also leading me smoothly into the emotions that follow. What I appreciate most about Gunter-Seymour’s work is that these emotions are always well-earned by her speakers. In “Trigger Warning,” the mother confesses,

What I am afraid of, is never finding
the brave heart my son had been,
the farm boy, the quipster,
the Ren & Stimpy impersonator
who boarded the plane, now camouflaged
in anxiety meds and a skeletal body.

I cannot read these lines without feeling the mother’s unique yearnings, and these feelings gain depth and meaning through Gunter-Seymour’s exquisite craft of poem, as the remaining stanzas continue to weave images of loss, nature, and memory, all “triggered,” the final moment of the poem argues, in the same manner as the speaker’s unspoken guilt, “unreeling from our darkest places, / the awful wait for the agonal breath.”

Hayley Mitchell Haugen Reads “Planting by the Signs” by Kari Gunter-Seymour

“Planting by the Signs,” though differing in content and themes, is another of Gunter-Seymour’s poems that highlights her skillfulness as a poet. As a poetry professor, I constantly encourage my students to embrace universal themes through the personal experiences expressed in their work. Sometimes they understand this concept, but often they do not, and I see this lack of reach in many of the submissions I receive as an editor as well. “Planting by the Signs” illustrates this skill beautifully. The poem begins in reflection, the speaker recalling her grandmother’s wisdom for planting potatoes “‘cause the signs is right.” Through her own connection with the land, the speaker comes to “respect her [grandmother’s] study of the stars, / the astrological systems she relied upon” for many of her agricultural, domestic, and motherly duties. Expressing this appreciation through its rich imagery of the first five stanzas, the poem works well as a personal piece and could probably end on that note of memory. Gunter-Seymour, however, pushes beyond the personal when she brings in Michael Bloomberg’s ignorant comments about farming and the “stunted corn stalks” that are “saturated in GMO’s and fusty air.” The land, whether we understand the signs or not, is at the mercy of all of us.

EH: As a fellow Ohioan, do you find a personal connection between your own poetry and Gunter-Seymour’s?

HMH: My connection to Ohio, where I teach for Ohio University, and north-eastern Kentucky, where I live, comes via Los Angeles, where I came of age as a poet, so I do not feel a personal connection to Kari’s poetry due to any shared sense of place. I certainly connect to Kari’s work as a woman and a mother, however, and through knowing Kari I have been introduced to the work of many Ohioan and Appalachian writers through her Women of Appalachia Project and Women Speak anthologies. I credit Kari for expanding my appreciation of the many talented writers in our region.

EH: Lastly, is there anything you are currently working on that you’d like to share with our readers?

HMH: I have two collections in the works. The first is a chapbook titled The Little Book of Being. These A-Z titled poems are what I think of as occasional poems. They are inspired by the interesting experiences of others or by those little moments in life where the poems just jump out and beg to be written. My larger collection, The Blue Wife Poems, explores depression in women from both an historical and personal perspective. In addition to writing and teaching, I am currently putting together a special book for Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, titled Pandemic Evolution, featuring poets’ responses to the diorama art of Matthew Wolfe. Matthew photographed his art for the first 100 days of the Covid-19 pandemic. The book will be published in March, a full year from the start of the pandemic in the United States.


Kari Gunter-Seymour is the current Poet Laureate of Ohio and works as the founder/executive director of the “Women of Appalachia Project,” an arts organization she created to address discrimination directed at women from the Appalachian region. A ninth generation Appalachian, she is also the editor of the anthologies “Women Speak,” volumes 1-6 and “Essentially Athens Ohio.” A retired instructor in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, she holds a B.F.A. in graphic design and an M.A. in commercial photography, with her award winning photography has been published nationally. Her poetry appears in several publications including, The NY TimesPBS American PortraitVerse Daily, Rattle, Crab Orchard Review, Stirring, Still, CALYX , The LA Times. She is also a Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee.

Further reading:

Purchase A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen from Shelia-Na-Gig.
Read Gunter-Seymour’s announcement as Ohio’s new poet-laureate.
Watch Gunter-Seymour read for Sundress Publication’s Poets in Pajamas series.

Hayley Mitchell Haugen holds a PhD in English from Ohio University and an MFA in poetry from the University of Washington; she is Professor of English at Ohio University Southern in southeastern Ohio. Light & Shadow, Shadow & Light from Main Street Rag Publishing Company (2018) is her first full-length poetry collection, and her chapbook, What the Grimm Girl Looks Forward To is from Finishing Line Press (2016). She edits Sheila-Na-Gig online (https://sheilanagigblog.com/) and Sheila-Na-Gig Editions.

Further reading:

Visit Haugen’s literary journal, Sheila-Na-Gig.
Purchase Haugen’s collection What the Grimm Girl Looks Forward To from Finishing Line Press.
Read four poems of Haugen’s here.

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 advocates for media literacy and digital citizenship. She is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society and 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/

Lyric Essentials: Amy Haddad Reads Anya Krygovoy Silver

Thank you for joining us for Lyric Essentials! This week, we welcome nurse and poet Amy Haddad, who reads Anya Silver for us and discusses the intersections of poetry and healthcare, and of writing about illness. Thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: What drew you to reading Anya Krygovoy Silver for Lyric Essentials?

Amy Haddad: I only recently discovered Anya Silver’s work in the Spring 2020 edition of Ploughshares as I was thumbing through the poetry in that issue. The title of her poem, “Being Ill” caught me eye because of the similar themes that I write about. I read the poem and immediately fell in love with her words about illness. I was so smitten that I decided to write to her, let her know the metaphor she chose for the turn in the poem was spot on—a sock in a dog’s mouth? Perfect! I looked at the contributor’s section for contact information and found this: “The poem in this issue is from Saint Agnostica, which is forthcoming in the fall of 2021 from LSU Press. Silver completed the manuscript just before she died in August 2018 of metastatic breast cancer.” I was too late to tell her that I literally gasped when I read her poem.  Also, she and I had end-stage breast cancer. She was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer, a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer, in 2004 at the age of 35. I was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer in 2016 following 15 years of being “cancer free” after bilateral mastectomies and chemotherapy for Stage IIA cancer. No chance now to share with her what it is like to ferry between remission and recurrence, carrying the baggage of cancer or how hard it is to write about.

I wanted to read more of her work besides this one poem and learned that she published four poetry collections with the fifth, Saint Agnostica in production. Her obituary in the New York Times on August 10, 2018 stated, “When she received a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation this year, the foundation said that her work ‘engages with the trauma of chronic and terminal illness, and with religious faith and mystery, storytelling, memory, and the risks and rewards of being human.’ Ms. Silver was not worried about making readers uncomfortable. It was, she said, her mission to be honest. And if the truth stung, so be it.” I thought, “My mission too.” I strive for honesty in my own writing about my illness experiences as well as my work as a nurse. I was reading her collections when the opportunity arose to read for Lyric Essentials. It seemed like a small way to honor her work that explores much more than her experiences as a person with cancer.

Amy Haddad reads “Strawberries in Snow” by Anya Silver

EH: Was there a particular reason you chose these poems to read?

AH: I have an abiding concern about the way this sort of personal, illness-focused poetry is viewed in the literary community. The subject matter is so close to the bone that people are wary of approaching it with the same critical eye as they would any other poetry. During a sabbatical at the University of Minnesota, a poet I met in a workshop told me I should meet poet Richard Solly who lived and taught at The Loft in Minneapolis because, “he writes about what you do.” He agreed to meet me and after he looked at my work, he said he knew why our mutual friend had suggested we meet. He said, “I write about my colostomy and you write about your experiences with breast cancer. No one wants to touch poems like this because when they criticize the work, it feels like they are attacking you, the person who is chronically ill, or worse, dying.” However, writing about the human condition with its suffering, pain, and other vulnerabilities is the stuff that great art and literature are made of, so I have not let it stop me. When I find a kindred spirit who writes about these themes, I am drawn to it to see how they use these first-hand experiences with frailty and mortality and where they take the reader.

I wanted to choose poems from her collections that spoke to other aspects of life like aging, sexuality, notions of being good, the randomness of suffering, the beauty in the mundane and commonplace. I think these two poems show her range and creativity as well as her craft. These two poems only indirectly address her illness. I really liked her use of fairy tales that speak to the magic and despair of life. Many of the poems with fairy tale sources are short and have a lyric quality. She packs a lot of emotion in “Strawberries in Snow,” and relies on our understanding of the way these stories usually go, that is, goodness is rewarded in the end. Here we are left with the unfairness of life -no strawberries for the sister. By the way, I love learning new words and I had to look up “rime,” so see what it meant and how to pronounce it as I had not heard it before. What a lovely word choice that adds to the music of the poem for me.

I chose the second poem, “To the Man Who Yelled ‘Hey, Baby’ At Me!” because of the humor in it. We understand that this is a bittersweet moment for the narrator in the poem. She is too old to be hooted at from a moving car, and yet, that kind of attention especially for a woman who has been through treatment that can literally strip away feminine identity and sexuality, is oddly welcomed.

Amy Haddad reads “To the Man Who Yelled Hey Baby! At Me” by Anya Silver

EH: As a nurse, do you find a particular connection to Silver’s exploration of illness and diagnosis in her poetry?

AH: I think because I am a nurse, I pay attention to the everyday concerns of patients and families. Because I am also a patient, I see how health care professionals diminish or ignore the realities of patients and families. No health professional means to be disrespectful or demeaning to patients, but it happens all the time. I started seriously writing poetry in a grant-supported writing group of women health professionals in 1992 although I had always written some poems even in grade school. We were focused on using literature to explore ethical issues in health care. The poems I wrote then were largely taken from my experiences as a nurse and how we often missed so much about what was going on in a patient’s life. This really came to light for me when I worked in high-tech home care where it was up close and personal with families struggling to care for loved ones who were dependent on complicated technology to survive.  While in the writing group, I got my first diagnosis with breast cancer, so my writing began to reflect my experiences as a patient. Since then,  I have been weaving these strands of my life along with my roles as a caregiver for my own family members into my creative work over the years.

EH: Lastly, is there anything else you are working on that you would like to share with readers?

AH: My first poetry collection, An Otherwise Healthy Woman, will be published by Backwaters Press, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press in early 2022 and my first chapbook, The Geography of Kitchens, has just been accepted for publication by Finishing Line Press in Georgetown, Kentucky. I am now working on poems for a chapbook or a hybrid book that narrates and reflects on photographs from the Durham Museum’s photo archives of the Visiting Nurse Association in Omaha in the 1920s and 30s when there was huge influx of immigrants to the city to find work at the stockyards and packing plants. The photos appear to be part of a plan to educate the community on the work that the visiting nurses did in the community. The photographs are amazing but there is very little information about the people in the pictures, just a few penciled notes on the back here and there, maybe a date.  There is so much to work with here, I am really enjoying the process.


Anya Krygovoy Silver is the author of four poetry collections: Second Bloom (Cascade Press, 2017), From Nothing (Louisiana State University Press, 2014), I Watched You Disappear (Louisiana State University Press, 2014), and The Ninety-Third Name of God (Louisiana State University Press, 2010). An educator and scholar, Silver taught at Mercer University was named a Guggenheim Fellow in 2018. She wrote often of illness after an inflammatory breast cancer diagnosis in 2004, and died of breast cancer in 2018 at the age of 49 in Macron, Georgia, survived by her husband and son.

Further reading:

Purchase Silver’s most recent collection, Second Bloom.
Listen to Silver’s dedication from Grant Blankenship following her death.
Watch Silver read at the 2014 Burlington Book Festival.

Amy Haddad is a nurse, ethicist and poet who taught in the health sciences at Creighton University in Omaha, NE from 1988-2018. Her poetry and short stories have been published in the American Journal of Nursing, Janus Head, Journal of Medical Humanities, Touch, Bellevue Literary Review, Persimmon Tree, Annals of Internal Medicine, Aji Magazine, DASH, Oberon Poetry Magazine and the
anthologies Between the Heart Beats and Intensive Care: More Poetry and Prose by Nurses, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City, Iowa and Stories of Illness and Healing: Women Write Their Bodies, Kent State University Press, Kent, Ohio. She is the winner of the Annals of Internal Medicine poetry prize for “Families Like This” for the best poem published in the journal in 2019. She won third-place for the 2019 Kalanithi Writing Awards from Stanford University for her poem “Dark Rides.” Her first poetry collection An Otherwise Healthy Woman will be published by Backwaters Press, an imprint of the University of Nebraska Press in early 2022.

Further reading:

Read Haddad’s manuscript announcement in the Creighton University press.
Check the Backwaters Press website for publication information about Haddad’s collection, An Otherwise Healthy Woman forthcoming 2022.
Read some more of Haddad’s poetry: “Primping for Tests in Radiology and Nuclear Medicine” in Aji Magazine and “At Rehab” in Journal of the Humanities in Rehabilitation.

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 advocates for media literacy and digital citizenship. She is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society and 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/