Caroline Earleywine Reads Nickole Brown

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, we feature poet and educator, Caroline Earleywine, who reads Nickole Brown for us and discusses writer’s identities in spaces of queerness, gender, and the South.

Erica Hoffmeister: In our emails, you said that despite brainstorming other poets, you still returned to Nickole Brown. What do you think drew you to her poetry that made you feel it was necessary to share her work with our readers?

Caroline Earleywine: What makes me return again and again to Nickole Brown’s work is the way she makes me feel seen. When I was in graduate school, before I ever really wrote about my queer or southern identity, I was lucky enough to have Ada Limón as one of my mentor teachers. She was the one who recommended Fanny Says to me. It was a pivotal moment for me in my writing. 

I so admire the way she writes about the South and about family and those complexities and hard truths that come with both. I also relate to the way she writes about beauty and femmeness in the queer community and its ties to nature, gender, and violence. Underneath even the tough parts, there is a joy and resilience found in her work, which is something I cling to right now. So in addition to hoping her work helps others feel seen in the way it has done for me, I think everyone can benefit from those chutes of joy. 

As an aside, after I started reading her work, I found out she used to teach in Little Rock where I live and has a couple of books published with Sibling Rivalry, which is a local press. I got to meet and hear both her and her wife Jessica Jacobs read in Hot Springs at Wednesday Night Poetry last year.  (And I’m so thankful for being introduced to Jessica Jacob’s work — I aspire to write love poems with the honesty and integrity she does in her book Take Me With You, Wherever You’re Going.)

Caroline Earleywine reads “Fuck” by Nickole Brown

EH: Why did you choose these particular poems of Brown’s to focus on?

CE: I so love the tenderness of “Fuck,” and how it takes a word often seen as crude and raw and inappropriate and turns it into something beautiful. The poem feels like a portrait of Fanny. I don’t necessarily have a person like Fanny in my life, but I feel this familiarity to her. I’m really drawn to this idea of what it means to be a southern woman and how we push up against that conditioning and expectation. There’s such a defiance in those last lines: “My grandmother, who didn’t ask for power, but took it, in full, fuck-it-all-bloom.” I love it for its un-apology and grit. It’s a type of strength that is unladylike as far as tradition, and is typically a type of power reserved for men. I love how Fanny takes up that space, and in writing this poem, it feels that Nickole Brown is occupying that space as well. I also just love how in this poem, and in others in the book, she examines a word that is so specific to a culture. It emphasizes that language is very much alive. It also makes me think of Nate Marshall’s poem, “Finna,” which I’m currently obsessed with. 

“An Invitation for My Grandmother” is a poem that means a lot to me. There is grief, there is beauty, and there is the joy of finally being seen. I love the journey the poem takes, both geographically and emotionally. It honestly chokes me up almost every time I read it or think about it. My grandmother died before I was able to come out to her and before I married my wife, and I often wonder what her reaction would have been. She was a true southern woman who always spoke her mind. In that way, Fanny reminds me of her. I actually wrote a poem that was largely inspired by this poem and concept called, “My Grandmother Gives Me Her Approval Nine Years After Her Death.” 

Caroline Earleywine reads “An Invitation for My Grandmother” by Nickole Brown

EH:  As a fellow queer, southern poet and educator, do you find that Brown has influenced in your own work in certain ways?

CE: I feel like she gave me a permission I didn’t know I needed. I have felt, and still feel, a bit of fear and intimidation at the idea of writing about the South. I worry about falling into stereotypes with my portrayal, or getting too negative, or not giving the unflattering parts enough space. The South is filled with such contradictions and pain and beauty, and I so admire the way Nickole Brown holds all those truths in her hand at the same time. 

I also feel a kinship and a further layering of feeling “seen” by the fact that Nickole Brown is a queer southerner who is a femme woman. There’s this experience of passing as straight, even to yourself. Heteronormativity is so conditioned and learned that it can make it hard to hear the pulse of your own desire. I feel so much of being conditioned as a woman is prioritizing being the object of desire, specifically to men, instead of examining what you yourself desire. This is further complicated with homophobia all around you because even if you did drown out the noise and hear yourself, there’s this knowledge underneath of other people’s disapproval, sometimes coming from those you love dearly.  

A very specific example of this is in Nickole Brown’s poem, “Fanny Asks Me a Question Before I’d Even Ask Myself.” I have one poem that I feel is particularly in conversation with that one, which is “Lesbian Shoes.” Obviously, my work has been very affected by Nickole Brown’s — I held this book closely as I worked on my own manuscript. 

EH: Lastly, is there anything you are currently working on or upcoming publications that you would like to share with our readers?

CE: My debut poetry chapbook is coming out in October with Sibling Rivalry Press! It’s called Lesbian Fashion Struggles. Like the name suggests, the collection is a chapbook that chronicles my experiences as a lesbian, specifically as a lesbian who grew up and resides in the South, with aspects of clothing and identity woven throughout. Much of it is a reframing of my youth through a queer lens. I’m excited and a little nervous to have it out in the world. 

Nickole Brown is a Southern poet with an MFA in fiction from Vermont College who has worked and written in various spaces, including a decade-long position at the nonprofit press Sarabande Books, an editorial assistant for Hunter S. Thompson, and Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and she currently works as Editor for the Marie Alexander Poetry Series and guest teaches for various programs and workshops. Her novel-in-poems Sister (Red Hen Press, 2007), biography-in-poems Fanny Says (BOA Editions, 2015), and essays-in-poems The Donkey Elegies (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2020) are considered groundbreaking cross-genre works and speak to identities in lesbian, Southern, and working class spaces. Brown lives in Asheville, North Carolina with her wife, Jessica Jacobs.

Further reading:

Purchase Brown’s book Fanny Says: A Biography-in-Poems from BOA Editions.
Read this interview with Brown from The Nashville Review.
Listen to Brown’s feature on Rattlecast + Open Mic.

Caroline Earleywine is teaches high school English in Central Arkansas where she tries to convince teenagers that poetry is actually cool. She was a semifinalist for Nimrod’s 2018 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry and for the 2019 Vinyl 45s Chapbook Contest. She was also a finalist for the 2019 Write Bloody Publishing Contest. Her work can be found in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, Barrelhouse, Nailed Magazine, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Queens University in Charlotte and lives in Little Rock with her wife and two dogs. Her chapbook, Lesbian Fashion Struggles, is forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press in October of 2020. It’s now available for preorder.

Further reading:

Preorder Earleywine’s debut chapbook Lesbian Fashion Struggles from Sibling Rivalry Press.
Read poems by Earleywine as featured in Barrelhouse.
Watch Earleywine read poetry in this video for the Write Bloody Finalist Competition.

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

Lyric Essentials: Bradley Trumpfheller Reads C.D. Wright

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, we hear from Bradley Trumpfheller, who reads poems from C.D. Wright and discusses identity, influence, and questioning categorization of poets. Thank you for reading!

Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read C.D. Wright for Lyric Essentials?

Bradley Trumpfheller: C.D. Wright is among that pantheon of writers that I just wouldn’t be the person or poet I am without. For me, any conversation about influence or the traditions I might be working within has to invoke her and her incredible oeuvre. There’s not a lot of dimensions of my writing that don’t owe some debt to Wright: how I approach the page, the sequence and its relation to the book-as-form, punctuation and sound, collage, and on and on. Too, I think her work does what may be my favorite thing that a writer can do, which is point to her influences and debts in a way that opens those writers and artists to the reader. In the back of One Big Self, maybe my favorite of her books, there’s a catalog of all the books she “cites” in the poem. I love finding things like this in books, because it’s so tuned to the way I read: beginning in one place, and if I really like it, finding the texts that influenced it and then reading those, perpetually expanding outward and backward. So, through Wright, I was able to find Jean Valentine, Raul Zurita, Viktor Shklovsky, Frank Stanford, and so many others to whom I am indebted. Wright never really aligned herself with a “school” of poetry (thankfully) as so many American poets did (and weirdly, sometimes, still do), but she made it clear that she was speaking from a certain tradition: contextual, personal but not private, and international in its orientation. Tradition-making is something I’m very invested in, particularly when it’s against canon-making. Wright was a real exemplar of this while she was with us, and I think that’s well worth honoring. 

Bradley Trumpfheller reads from Deepstep Come Shining by C.D. Wright

EH: From Wright’s expansive catalog of books, is there any particular reason you chose to read from Deepstep Come Shining?

BT: Deepstep Come Shining was the first book of Wright’s that I ever read as an undergraduate. I had read a few loose poems before that, and was aware of her as a popular contemporary poet that had died about 8 months prior. I feel like so often I come to the writers who affect me the most immediately after they pass away. I remember vividly being in my cousin’s house in Alabama the morning that Lucie Brock Broido died, reading poem after poem and having that same feeling. And Sean Bonney, last November, may he rest in power. As for Deepstep, though, it was the first one: it’s one of Wright’s books in that period of her life where she became really interested in the book as a form unto itself: Just Whistle, One Big Self, One With Others, from the mid 90’s into the 2000’s. Deepstep is a book length poem, as with those other works, that effectively is an account of a road trip through the South. Locations transmute, images are recorded; the obsession at the heart of the book is with looking, what it means to fix something (and to fail to fix something) in your gaze. Wright didn’t invent the idea of bringing in citation into the poem the way that she does in that book, but it was the first time I had encountered something like that, and was baffling to me at the time. Reading what you think is a lyric poem and then there’s a Kurosawa quote in the middle of the page, and then there’s a car dealership, and then there’s a sign that says “birthplace of John Coltrane”. The page, and I love this so much, becomes a field of relation. Wright looms so large over my own writing partially because when I first read her, I was so confused. The texts that stay with me are the ones that ask a lot of me as a reader, that have a surface tension. Not impenetrable, per se, though that has a value as well, but you have to spend time with them to get the scent, to catch the tune.

EH: Do you draw any inspiration from Wright’s work in your own, as a fellow “socially conscious, Southern” poet?

BT: When I was a younger poet (I say, as if I am not only twenty three), I think I was a little bit more attached to the idea of a “contemporary Southern poetics,” of which I would have counted Wright’s work as a grundnorm. But, I’m not sure how invested I am in that now, for a few reasons. On the subject of Wright, she was certainly a poet whose work returned to the landscapes of the South quite a bit, especially in Deepstep and One With Others, but I’m unsure of there being some quality of irreducible Southern-ness about her work. Or what that would mean for any writer, beyond the realm of images and a particular embedded topography. Wright spent the last half of her life living in California, Mexico, and Rhode Island: her time in Mexico was probably as important to her work as her time in Arkansas and Memphis. None of this is to say, you know, that it’s not an interesting hermeneutic to look at where a writer is from and what role that place has in their writing. That can be generative, has been generative for me in certain ways. I’m just a little more suspicious, for now, of that kind of sub-categorization in American literature, what differences it might be erasing, what assumptions underpin it. What does it mean to be a Southern poet—does the region need to be present in the work? We can go further, too: what does it mean to be Southern in the 21st century? Who says what is or is not Southern? I ask because I genuinely am not sure.

Also, it elides something really important about the work that Wright was doing in Deepstep and especially in One Big Self. My favorite thing about her, I think, is her intransigent commitment to self-criticism, even when it makes for a more confusing or hesitant poem. In both of those books, part of that criticism is emerging from her position as an outsider. Wright returned throughout her career to James Agee’s book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men; Agee was himself an “ex-Southerner” who had moved North. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is saturated with his own suspicion of himself, of why he’s writing about these working-class tenant farmers, of his inability to put the real into language. What comes from that particularly anxious relation, in both Agee and Wright’s work, is what you could call an apophatic poetics, a poetry of the unsayable. And I think that gets at about what I’ve come to believe is an essence of writing: that it, like all language-work, is a project of already-failing. And committing to fail more rigorously anyways.

Bradley Trumpfheller reads “Crescent” by C.D. Wright

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

BT: Well, I think I’m sort of increasingly superstitious. There’s that old Yiddish joke, “How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.” So, I can’t say too much about specific dimensions of projects I’m working on. I’ve just started in the MFA program at the University of Texas in Austin, which I’m very grateful for, and is giving me an immense amount of quiet time to listen and read. Right now, I’m reading through all of Susan Howe’s work, who’s really phenomenal, and instructive in presenting a pretty singularly contumacious mode of reading-as-writing. Also Anna Kavan’s Ice, Catherie Keller’s body of work on negative theology, re-reading some Marx, China Mieville’s novella This Census Taker; poetry-wise, Johannes Goransson’s translations of Aase Berg are holding me captive in a really wonderful way, plus works by Sean Bonney, Kevin Lattimer, Harmony Holiday, Joanna Klink, and Zaina Alsous’ totally underrated debut Theory of Birds, which was maybe my favorite book of poems I read last year. I mention all of this so as not to duck the question entirely, but because I think whatever work ends up emerging out of this period of time will inevitably be inflected by all these other writers and luminaries.

Carolyn D. Wright was a Southern poet from the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas who received a MacArthur Fellow, A Guggenheim Fellow, and acted as Poet Laureate of Rhode Island from 1994-1999. She published twelve books of poetry, two state literary maps, and a collection of essays. She earned several awards and accolades in her lifetime, including the 2011 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for One With Others (Copper Canyon Press, 2010), the 2009 International Griffin Poetry Prize for Rising, Falling, Hovering( Copper Canyon Press, 2008), the Lange-Taylor Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University for One Big Self: Prisoners of Louisiana (Copper Canyon Press, 2003), and was elected as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2013. Wright taught at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island and worked as the former coeditor of Lost Roads Publishers. She died in her sleep on January 12, 2016, at the age of 67.

Further reading:

Purchase Deepstep Come Shining by C.D. Wright from Copper Canyon Press.
Read this feature on Wright from NPR.
Listen to Wright read poems from her book Steal Away in The Paris Review.

Bradley Trumpfheller (they/them) is a trans writer and student. They are the author of the chapbook Reconstructions (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2020) and the co-editor of the website Divedapper. They’ve received fellowships from MacDowell and the University of Texas, and currently live in Austin.

Further reading:

Purchase Bradley’s debut collection Reconstructions from Sibling Rivalry Press.
Read a recent interview with Bradley in The Adroit Journal.
Follow Bradley on Twitter @bradtrumpfh.

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

Lyric Essentials: Caits Meissner Reads Ai

Lyric Essentials is back this week with writer, artist, and PEN America’s Prison & Justice Writing Director, Caits Meissner who reads work from the poet Ai and takes us deep into the human experience through conversation about writing and justice work.

Note: the content of this interview, and Ai’s work, might be triggering for some. It discusses, in part, difficult acts of violence.

Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read the poet Ai for Lyric Essentials?

Photo by Aslan Chalom

Caits Meissner: When I reread Ai’s work in preparation for this feature, the gutting poem “Abortion” drew up the memory of a teenage student on Rikers Island. Years ago now, the student defended a newly incarcerated peer who had been beaten by other girls in the jail, and soaked in their piss. They’d read the paper, which stated the following facts: the new arrival was seventeen and charged with asphyxiating her newborn child after giving birth in a friend’s bathroom. She was caught while shoplifting at Victoria’s Secret. The dead baby was in her bag.

But she loved that baby, even though it was dead, that’s why she carried it with her, so she could stay close to it, my student said.

The paper said otherwise.

This story sat on my heart for weeks—both the girl’s devastating acts, the muddled question of her motivations, and her subsequent treatment. As often required when working in spaces of incarceration, the central activity of my daily life, one is forced to hold conflicting truths that can dizzy the moral compass. Below the sociopolitical conversation I engage in around mass incarceration—my own is ultimately an abolitionist orientation—lives a landmine of the most difficult, generations-long questions of our species. Sometimes, I drown in them.

The newspaper, of course, doesn’t tell us what led the teen to this wrenching act, or who she’ll become after long term incarceration. No—that information might trouble our distance from the act of “monsters,” “convicts” and animals.” It might force us to admit that this horrifying act, too, is not separate from, but squarely a part of the spectrum of human behavior, which is a hard reality to own. And with that knowledge, how do we contend with it and create the proper mechanisms of accountability? With more retribution? With more violence? How do we, then, redeem ourselves?

Ai is often referred to as a poet who works in dramatic monologue, which seems to me an imprecise term. You’ll notice that her poems don’t even bother an attempt at approximating another’s language. Instead, Ai’s characters always sound like Ai. This creates a jarring form of universal consciousness, increasing the terror of each reading, a sense that these characters, in part, might lurk somewhere buried in myself. We are all cut from the same cloth, most of us seeking redemption, even when through profoundly misguided actions—I think this is what the poems are getting at.

In truth, I tried not to choose Ai for this feature—her work is so heavy, and challenging to parse. It felt risky and maybe even unfair to tug readers into my whirlwind of emotional response. But a voice inside me kept pulling me back again and again. For this series, which “pays homage to the poets that have guided us and transformed our work,” it’s the most honest choice of this moment. Ai has transformed me. Her work helps me think through what is most confounding about humanity by facing it, head on, without flinching.

Caits Meissner reads “Conversation” by Ai

EH: Do you have a personal connection to “Cuba, 1962” or “Conversation” that led you to read these particular poems for us?

CM: Frankly speaking, I chose these poems because they are among her least gratuitously violent—a slightly easier entry point, even with their own robust weight. Perhaps I should have been more brave in my selections. Still, the two examples prove Ai’s attention to craft and the emotional life of her subjects are as much guiding forces as the often shocking and tough-to-stomach stories she chooses to enter.

“Cuba, 1962” is a daring, masterful short poem of witness through the voice of a grieving husband. The piece reveals the exploitation of Cuban fieldworkers in the demand for consumerist production—in this case sugarcane—by the United States and Russia during the 1960s.

“Conversation” has always moved me with its rendering of talking to a dead loved one, poet Robert Lowell. Her metaphors are razor sharp in this poem. Ai brings us into the realm of the unimaginable. Having lost my mother this year, I have lots of conversations with the dead, and the poem takes on another layer of personal meaning.

Caits Meissner reads “Cuba, 1962” by Ai

EH: In what way has Ai’s work influenced your own as a creator, writer, and educator?

CM: Though clearly concerned with the social conditions that lead to extreme marginalization, I don’t think Ai was explicitly out for social justice. Many of her subjects are perpetrators of unspeakable cruelty and violence themselves. Ai’s work can sometimes feel closer to the true crime genre than to protest poetry. She takes on the internal landscape of individuals—either living nearly anonymously in assumed poverty or, conversely, infamous historical/celebrity figures—who are the warped human shrapnel of a hyper-capitalist, celebrity-obsessed, violence-obsessed American culture tethered to an origin story of genocide and racial subjugation.

And then, on another level, put plainly, Ai was looking for interesting characters to creatively mine—“scoundrels,” as she called them. She was curious about people who did bad things.

These mixed impulses towards creation, some noble, some sociopolitical, some perhaps even romantic in their curiosity, add up what I find to be a rigorous, polarizing, challenging, and yes, at times sensational body of work. Her approach was honest and brave and flawed and human and layered, as are her subjects. I’ve read as many interviews with Ai as I could find (there aren’t many) and nowhere does she qualify her work as intending to offer any particular service to the world. All of this is what makes her poems cut to the bone with the harrowing, chilling truths of human consequence.

Ai’s approach directly influences a project I’ve been working on for the past 4 years. This series of “ghosted voices” borrow Ai’s hallowed monologue form. For example, “Loving the Enemy” is a poem in the voice of a woman married to a man who commits serial rape, and chooses to remain in love with him.Trapping” is a poem about a woman who locks herself in the bathroom to mirror the experience of her partner’s solitary confinement. I am also often trying to understand how “good people do bad things,” and her form has given me a route in.

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

CM: Despite the intensity of the poems I just pointed to, and my choosing Ai to share, I also take much softer creative approaches! Among those are two recent projects that use illustration as part of the storytelling method.

Returning to the medium of my youth, the self-published, DIY 80+ page Pep Talks For Broke(n) People arrived this past February. The comix-poetry zine chronicles, through short visual narratives, encouraging words exchanged between friends and lovers (and sometimes within my own head) that have helped me to cope with the bizarre and trying act of living.

And throughout 2020, I am publishing a monthly comix vignette series, New York Strange, in Hobart journal that captures unexpected encounters—comical, tender, emotional, sobering—during my 18 year tenure in this wild city.

Ai Ogawa was born Florence Anthony in 1947, adopting the legal name Ai–the Japanese word for “love”–as a way to reshape her personal narrative. She is of mixed race heritage, including Japanese, Choctaw-Chickasaw, Black, Irish, Southern Cheyenne, and Comanche; her feminist politics and identity shaped the dramatic persona poetry and ability, as the Poetry Foundation describes, to “give voice to marginalized, poor and abused speakers” that she is most known for. Before her death due to pneumonia complications and undiagnosed cancer in 2010, she published seven books of poetry, receiving the National Book Award for her book Vice (1999), an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation, for Sin (1986), and the Lamont Poetry Award of the Academy of American Poets for Killing Floor (1979). She was a tenured professor and the vice president of the Native American Faculty and Staff Association at Oklahoma State University until the time of her death.

Further reading:

Purchase The Collected Poems of Ai from W.W. Norton.
Read an interview with Ai from Tomas Q. Morin in AWP Magazine.
Learn more about Ai’s poetry and life in’s feature “Assuming the Mask: Persona and Identity in Ai’s Poetry”

Caits Meissner is the author of the illustrated hybrid poetry book Let It Die Hungry (The Operating System, 2016). Her latest projects include the DIY comix poetry zine Pep Talks For Broke(n) People and a comix vignette series, New York Strange, publishing monthly in Hobart journal throughout 2020. She currently is the inaugural Palette Poetry Second Book Fellow and spends her days as the Prison and Justice Writing Program Director at PEN America.

Further reading:

Follow Meissner’s monthly comix vignette series New York Strange in Hobart.
Purchase Meissner’s debut hybrid poetry book Let It Die Hungry.
Read an interview with Meissner about her justice work in Teachers & Writers 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 is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at

Lyric Essentials: Candice Iloh Reads Sasha Banks

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! For this installment, we chat about righteous anger with writer and performer, Candice Iloh and listen to her read poems by the legendary Sasha Banks.

Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose Sasha Banks’ work to read for Lyric Essentials?

Candice Iloh: I have known about Sasha’s work for a long time and she is a poet I tell everyone about, so her work was an easy choice already at the tip of my tongue. Simply put, she is a Black person writing the kind of poems I want to read right now as this country shifts and implodes on itself. I’ve moved past being satisfied with poems simply working as a witness to our experiences and violent pasts as people Black people in America. I want to read poems that cast knowing spells on the reader and this entire country as a firm reminder of the powerful presence of our ancestors. I want to read Black poems warn this country of the error in harming Black bodies while reminding those of us who are still alive that we are not in this alone. I want to read poems that speak of Black people who have had enough. Sasha Banks does that. 

Candice Iloh reads “america, MINE” by Sasha Banks

EH: america, MINE is not your average poetry collection—there is a sort of narrative arc within the worldbuilding of magical realism and Afrofuturism. Why did you choose these two particular poems read from this book?

CI: I first chose the title poem america, MINE because, for me, it is the gut of what Sasha is getting at with this entire collection. My favorite line “we are not asking anymore” really says it. We are done asking permission for our rights, our freedom, our humanity when it has always been ours to claim.  I chose uhmareka, post collapse: three for it’s very similar quality, but with vivid examples of a society stripped of its oxymoronic symbolism and oppressive structures. This poems is, for once, suggesting a mourning that will follow the destruction of  white supremacy and all that does not serve us. It gave me a lot of pleasure imagining that. 

Candice Iloh reads “uhmareka, post collapse: three” by Sasha Banks

EH: How has Sasha Banks influenced your own work as a writer and community mentor?

CI: Sasha has and will always be a welcome challenge to do the bold thing in my work as a poet. To come to the page with knives and allow my very righteous anger the space to drive my stories. And she is also a poet who is really for our communities along the entire spectrum of black poets/artists. Her loyalty to both the integrity of her work and to the people its for is relentless.

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

CI: My debut YA novel in verse Every Body Looking hits stores nationwide on September 22nd and I’m so excited about it. It’s available for pre-order now.

Sasha Banks is a Pushcart-nominated poet from Brooklyn and the creator of Poets for Ferguson. She has had work featured in RHINOKinfolks QuarterlyPBS NewshourB O D Y Literature, and many others, and has performed in Tulane University’s Vagina Monologues. She holds an MFA from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and currently lives in North Carolina.

Further reading:
Purchase Sasha Banks’ book america, MINE.
Read a feature about Banks from PBS News Hour.
Listen to Banks discuss and read from america, MINE on the podcast Angels and Awakening.

Candice Iloh is a first-generation Nigerian-American writer and performer whose work centers on the body and finding one’s chosen home in the world. Her words have appeared in Fjords Review, So to Speak Journal, For Harriet, Blavity, No Dear Magazine, Glass Poetry Journal, The Felt, and The Black Girl Magic Anthology by Haymarket Books. She is a recipient of fellowships from VONA, Home School via Lambda Literary fellowship, as well as a Rhode Island Writers Colony Writer-in-Residence alum.  She holds an MFA in Writing for Young People from Lesley University, where she completed her forthcoming young adult novel in verse, Every Body Looking (Dutton YA/Penguin Random House, Sept 22 2020). She is a 2018 Hi-ARTS Critical Breaks artist residency recipient where she debuted her first one-woman show, ADA: ON STAGE. When Candice isn’t writing, she dances.

Further reading:
Preorder Candice Iloh’s Every Body Looking from Penguin Random House.
Watch an episode from the docu-series Brooklyn is Masquerading as the World, featuring Iloh.
Read an interview with Iloh from Colored Girls Hustle‘s #growfierce series.

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

Lyric Essentials: Roya Marsh Reads Eve L. Ewing

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, we welcome the very talented Roya Marsh, who reads two poems by Eve L. Ewing and discusses poets’ roles as storytellers, activists, and informers. Thank you for reading!

Erica Hoffmeister: Eve L. Ewing’s poetry is so powerful – how and why did you choose to read these two particular poems for Lyric Essentials?

Roya Marsh: When prompted to read poems for Lyric Essentials my mind immediately centered Black women. When sifting through pieces and poets whose pieces I love, I’d ended up with a list of poets and poems that were in conversation with the work that I create. The Horror Movie Pitch poems by Ewing bring about the exact questions most folks should be asking themselves. The “what ifs” and “how abouts” in these poems beg the readers to consider a fictional world where Black women (the ones the world loves to hate) can choose to retaliate or live their best carefree lives. It brings about the topic of visibility and calls out the folks who so often abuse and take advantage of us and then comes back for more in the second piece.

Roya Marsh reads “Horror Movie Pitch” by Eve Ewing

EH: What is your personal connection to Ewing? Does she influence your writing or activism in any way?

RM: Dr. Eve L. Ewing is an outstanding writer with an incredible body of work that allows the reader to explore the past, present and future of Black experience. Her writing has an incredible impact on my own craft as she uses her everyday life’s work and research to craft intriguing, witty and powerful poems based in truth and historical context. The poems are made to inform, remind and demand change through messages that are accessible to readers of all backgrounds. 

EH: You are an incredibly talented performance poet who always seems to be so comfortable reading poetry for others. Is that an accurate perception of your relationship with reading poetry aloud? How is the experience of reading Ewing’s poems different from reading your own? 

RM: The only difference between reading my own work and Dr. Ewing’s is that I pray I do her poems justice. My reading voice is heavily impacted by the theme of the poems. I never attempt to assume a poet’s intentions, but I am guided by my own interpretations of the piece. I can imagine what it sounds like to pitch an idea, especially one that seems so farfetched, and let my imagination guide my voice. Here, I also considered what it would be like to be one of the Black women that Dr. Ewing is referring to in the lines. Now, that adds another layer to my reading voice. It is less about who I sound like when I read and so much more about doing the tale justice. Paying homage to the lives that would inspire Dr. Ewing to craft such a tale about invisible Black women seeking revenge.

Roya Marsh reads “Horror Movie Pitch 2” by Eve Ewing

EH: Your debut collection dayliGht was released this spring, and has been met with well-deserved praise in working to dismantle white supremacy and center LGBTQIA experiences. Can you speak to how poetry in particular is such an important medium when creating space for your voice and activism?

RM: Poets have become the storytellers. Our work now is to inform the public of what is going on and continue prompting conversations around these subjects. In our current social climate, poetry is a meaningful outlet for the surging thoughts, questions and emotions plaguing our minds. There’s an indescribable feeling that comes along with the craft, when your work is honored and valued you are reminded that people are listening. The platform makes room for countless others to resonate with what you’ve created, and it calls for an audience. The work from today’s poets broadens the genre and builds on the legacies of Audre Lorde, Lucille Clifton, Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez and so many more set the path for. The goal is to dismantle white supremacy and all of its ills. The artists use poems to liberate the marginalized and incarcerated, highlight youth experience, demand rights LGBT+ community and so much more. 

EH: Lastly, is there anything you are working on, whether writing or organizing, that you’d like to share with readers? 

RM: I’m working on so many things at once that it is sometimes hard to center my mind. Luckily, I am never alone. I have a lifestyle brand, Blk Joy (Black Joy) that is giving away a $1,000 book scholarship to a Black scholar pursuing a college degree. We are also launching a fundraiser, which will benefit 4 organizations doing the work to liberate the incarcerated and support with bail funds. That showcase will be livestreamed on Facebook on 7/31. More information can be found at

Dr. Eve Louise Ewing is a poet, essayist, visual artist and sociologist of education, teaching as an assistant professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago, and Faculty Affiliate at UChicago’s Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture and the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality. She is the author of two collections of poetry: Electric Arches, which received awards from the American Library Association and the Poetry Society of America, and most recently, 1919. She has also written the nonfiction work Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side, and co-authored the play No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks with Nate Marshall. She also writes comics for Marvel: Ironheart and Champions. Her first children’s book, Maya and the Robot, is forthcoming in 2020. Ewing’s writing, art, activism, research, and work as an educator centers around racism, social inequality, urban policy, and the effects on the public school system.

Further reading:

Purchase Ewing’s acclaimed debut collection of poetry Electric Arches from Haymarket Books.
Check out Ewing’s comic series from Marvel: Ironheart and Champions.
Listen to Ewing’s podcast, Bughouse Square.

A Bronx, New York native, Roya Marsh is a nationally recognized poet, performer, educator and activist. She is the Poet in Residence at Urban Word NYC and works feverishly toward LGBTQIA justice and dismantling white supremacy. Roya’s work has been featured in Poetry MagazineFlypaper MagazineFrontier Poetry, the Village VoiceNylon MagazineHuffington PostButton Poetry, Def Jam’s All Def DigitalLexus Verses and Flow, NBC, BET and The BreakBeat Poets Vol 2: Black Girl Magic(Haymarket 2018). In Spring 2020, MCD × FSG Originals published Marsh’s dayliGht, a debut collection of experimental poetry exploring themes of sexuality, Blackness, and the prematurity of Black femme death—all through an intersectional feminist lens with a focus on the resilience of the Black woman.  

Further reading:

Purchase dayliGht by Roya Marsh from MCD x FSGO.
Watch Marsh read her poem “Black Joy” featured on All Def Poetry.
Listen to Marsh discuss dayliGht on LitHub’s podcast collaboration, Well-Versed With FSG.

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

Lyric Essentials: Amanda Gomez Reads Miguel Hernández

Hello, and thank you for joining us again for Lyric Essentials! This week, we are pleased to hear from Amanda Gomez, who reads poetry from Miguel Hernández to us and chats about viewing poetry as a tool for hope and teaching literary citizenship through exposure to diverse writers. Thank you for reading!

Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose these two particular poems by Miguel Hernández to read for Lyric Essentials?

Amanda Gomez: Despite the fact that Miguel Hernández is one of the most popular 20th century Spanish poets, I am very new to his work. I purchased The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández, edited by Ted Genoways, last year, but it was not until this spring that I began to read his work. It seems easy to say that I chose to read Hernández work because I have just recently finished reading his work, but I think it is his urgency that compels me. With everything going on around us, the pandemic and the ways in which it has exacerbated the inequities of our systems, police brutality and the murders of innocent Black lives, systems of oppression that continue to exist, I wanted to return to someone who has come before, and Hernández is that person for me at the moment. Hernández fought for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and both of the poems I decided to read were written by him from jail after having been imprisoned by Francisco Franco.

The first poem I chose, “Lullaby of the Onion,” was the very first poem of Hernández’ work that I was introduced to, and it is probably his most well-known poem. Hernández wrote the poem in response to a letter from his wife in which she details how she and their child were starving, and the child was malnourished having only onions and bread to eat. Hernández resists despair throughout this poem. It is not just a love poem, but a political poem: he illustrates the poet’s work is not simply to witness the moment but to reimagine a new future.

The problem with imagination, however, is that it’s rooted in our bodily experiences, and if left unchecked becomes dangerous, which is why I’ve also chosen “The World is as it Appears.” Here, Hernández’ hopeful tone is more restrained. In one line he writes, “[n]o one has seen us. We have seen / no one,” highlighting the ways in which we flatten the identities and experiences of others and conflate them with our own, reducing our capability for compassion and empathy. And while this is human error, I think we could interrogate this idea further as to how power interacts with these moments. For instance, I am reminded of D. L. Hughley who said, “The most dangerous place for Black people to live is in White people’s imagination.” I am fearful that we as a country will continue to remain blind, “blind as we are from seeing,” as Hernández ends the poem. But if there is some consolation, it is that “[i]t takes work and love / to see these things with you.”

In choosing these poems, I wanted hope for the future. Hope for now, but I can’t see that hope being viable without looking back to the past.

Amanda Gomez reads “The World as it Appears” by Miguel Hernández

EH: In our emails, you mention Don Share reading his translation of Miguel Hernández’ poem “Lullaby of the Onion” as your introductory point to Hernández’ work. What about that experience of hearing that poem aloud resonated with you so deeply?

AG: Listening to Don Share read the poem was enthralling for me. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing, which was driving in my car, and just as he began the poem, I was parking in a gravel parking lot outside of a local coffee shop. I could not get out of the car until I had listened to the entire poem on repeat multiple times.

I am drawn to people’s voices. A speaker’s intonations and pauses are just as interesting to me as the words. In the act of listening, I am learning about the writer and the speaker, and sometimes those identities are shared in the same person and sometimes those identities are shared by two different people, but I find listening an erotic act. I can’t imagine anyone reads the same poem the exact same way every time. We linger in places that hold our attention more, and those places speak to us at very finite points in time. So for me, I could hear the nostalgia in Share’s voice in the places his voice warmed, knowing he’d read it many times.

However, I will admit that while listening to the poem was a great moment, reading the poem was a very lackluster experience the first time. It took multiple readings for me to come to my own appreciation and understanding of the poem.

Amanda Gomez reads “Lullaby of the Onion” by Miguel Hernández

EH: Has Hernández’ work influenced your own writing in some way?

AG: I would still say I am new to Hernández’ work, so I can’t exactly say how he has influenced my writing directly. I can say that Hernández’ imagery has stuck with me. He ends his poem “A Photograph,” by saying, “a picture accompanies me,” and I enjoy how much weight he places on the image. In one poem, there are “rustling eyelashes of the canefield,” and in another poem, “there is an orchard of mouths.” It is hard not to walk away from one of his poems without remembering these phrases, reminding me to always continue to invent new ways of seeing everything around me.

EH: How does your teacher-writer relationship impact the poetry that you read and/or teach?

AG: Being a writer has definitely impacted the way I teach and what poetry I teach. It wasn’t until graduate school that I encountered poets outside of the canon, Latinx poets that I could relate to and identify with, and I think that is such a travesty. I don’t want my students having to wait that long to find authors that look like them. I make it a priority to focus on QTBIPOC writers. I want author identity to be important to my students, though I do worry that my students come to the page to reassert their own opinions or biases rather than to confront them. I try to incorporate as many writers as possible to confront this concern and dialogue with them.

I’m also thinking about ways in which to teach my students the importance of literary citizenship. Many of the writers I choose are contemporary writers because I want them to think about the ways in which art serves us and how we can reciprocate. I also try to maintain some sort of balance between books published by large presses and small presses, so students can think about and talk about access to art as well.  

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

AG: Yes! My first chapbook, Wasting Disease, will be available in October through Finishing Line Press, and it is available for pre-order now. I am also working on a hybrid work that could probably best be described as lyrical essay. Growing up, most of my education came through television and movies. My parents were fascinated with American lore, and it was always a bit eerie to me. My dad especially loves Western movies, and so the piece is an exploration of John Wayne and his wives, a characteristic someone once described as the most “un-American” thing about Wayne. My primary focus is his second wife, Esperanza Baur, and I want to think through and reimagine her history as it’s hard to see her clearly past the patriarchal whitewash. At least, that’s my opinion.

Miguel Hernández is an early 20th century Spanish poet and playwright who gained fame as a political figure who wrote and read poetry during the Spanish Civil War. The son of an impoverished goat herder, Hernández was self-taught despite being discouraged and abused by his father for wanting to pursue writing. A member of the Communist Party of Spain, Hernández was arrested several times for his anti-fascist views and wrote many of his works from jail, some poems as love letters for his wife. Hernández’ prison poems which were collected and published posthumosly as Cancionero y romancero de ausencia (Songs and Ballads of Absence). Throughout his lifetime, he wrote five books of poetry and six plays. He died in 1942 in prison, at the age of 31.

Further reading:

Purchase The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández, edited by Ted Genoways.
Read this feature about Hernández in Latino Life magazine.
Learn more about editor and translator Ted Genoways on his website.

Amanda Gomez is a Latinx poet from Norfolk, VA, where she received her MFA in poetry at Old Dominion University. Some of her poems have appeared in Nimrod International Journal, North American Review, PANK, Tupelo Quarterly, and Writers Resist. Her chapbook, Wasting Disease, which was awarded 2nd Honorable Mention in the New Women’s Voices Competition, is now available for pre-order through Finishing Line Press.   

Further reading:

Keep updated about Amanda Gomez by visiting her website.
Read Gomez’ prize winning poem “Grind” in the Academy of American Poets.
Read Gomez’ interview of Azar Nafisi in Barely South Review.

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

Lyric Essentials: Amorak Huey Reads Traci Brimhall

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, we welcome Sundress author, Amorak Huey to read poems by Traci Brimhall and talk about the craft and hidden influences of our favorite poetry. Thank you for reading!

Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read these poems by Traci Brimhall?

Amorak Huey: When people ask me my favorite poet, I always say Traci Brimhall. I first became aware of her work at an AWP offsite reading in Washington. I was there to support my friend Todd Kaneko, who was reading, and Traci was reading as well. I found out she was doing her PhD at Western Michigan, where I’d done my MFA—and then she read poems from Rookery, her first book. They blew me away. I bought the book that night, and I’ve read it dozens of times, and I’ve taught it in my advanced undergraduate workshop many times. All of her subsequent books have been similarly important to me, and her newest, Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod, is incredible. So, she’s a super important poet to me, and these poems I think are great examples of what I love about her work—the intertwining of love, intimacy, tenderness, violence, and vulnerability—and on a craft level, the language is immaculate.

Amorak Huey reads “Self-Portrait as Milk Hare in Active Shooter Alert” by Traci Brimhall

EH: On the surface, these poems from Brimhall are strikingly different than your latest poetry collection Boom Box. Are there any influences or similarities that you’ve drawn from Brimhall’s work when writing your own poetry?

AH: Her work I think probably has a kind of hidden influence on my writing. Like, maybe not one that a reader would pick up on, but that’s there for me. I mean, I revisit her poetry all the time, and I will read a poem and sit with it, just trying to wrap my mind around how she uses language, how she puts lines and images together. When I’m stuck in my own head and struggling to make language work on the page, I’ll go back to Traci’s books. I think her influence might be more visible in, say, my first collection, Ha Ha Ha Thump, and possibly in my forthcoming book, than it is in Boom Box, which differs from her poems so much in subject matter, and definitely leans into nostalgia more than most of her work does. Her poems tend to be more urgent and more present than mine are, I think, and that’s something I try to use to push myself. I would never claim my work is similar to hers, but I aspire to do what she does. I would love for something I write to land in a reader’s body the way her work lands in mine.   

Amorak Huey reads “Ars Poetica” by Traci Brimhall

EH: Everyone has a personal relationship with reading poetry aloud. Would you like to share your experience when reading and recording Brimhall’s poems for Lyric Essentials?

AH: Like many people, I hate the sound of my own recorded voice, so I certainly feel a bit awkward recording anything. I also felt pressure to do the poems justice. I love them so much. But I do love reading poems out loud, whether my own poems or someone else’s. I read to my students a lot, and I have gotten more comfortable with it over the years. Robert Pinsky says the medium of a poem is the breath and body of the reader, and I believe that–so reading a poem I love out loud is a great way to experience it.

Amorak Huey reads “Fledgling” by Traci Brimhall

EH:  Is there anything you are working on now that you’d like to share with readers?

AH: I haven’t been writing a lot of poetry this year. But, not entirely coincidentally, I’m taking a 24 Pearl Street workshop led by Traci on poetry and the body, and her prompts and discussions (and having deadlines!) have helped me draft some new poems. But my next big thing is that my fourth full-length collection, Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy, comes out in 2021 from Sundress.

Traci Brimhall is a lyric poet and author of four poetry collections including Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod (2020) and Saudade (2017). Her book Our Lady of the Ruins was selected for the Barnard women’s poetry prize in 2012, and her first collection, Rookery, was the 2010 winner of a Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award and a finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year Award. Brimhall’s work has been published in The New Yorker, Poetry, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, and has also been featured on Poetry Daily, PBS Newshour, and Best American Poetry. Originally from Minnesota, Brimhall earned her MFA from Sarah Lawrence and her PhD from Western Michigan and now teaches creative writing at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, where she lives.

Further reading:

Read Brimhall’s latest collection, Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod.
Listen to Brimhall read and discuss her poem “Resistance” on The Poetry Magazine Podcast.
Get to know more about Traci Brimhall at her website.

Amorak Huey is the author of the poetry collections Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy (Sundress Publications, forthcoming in 2021), Boom Box (Sundress Publications, 2019), Seducing the Asparagus Queen (Cloudbank, 2018), and Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress Publications, 2015), as well as two chapbooks. Co-author with W. Todd Kaneko of the textbook Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury, 2018). Huey teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

Further reading:

Purchase Boom Box by Huey from Sundress Publications.
Read this interview with Huey from The Kenyon Review on Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology.
Follow Amorak Huey 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 is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at

Lyric Essentials: Susan Lilley Reads Eavan Boland

Thank you for joining us again for the latest installment of Lyric Essentials! This week, Orlando Poet Laureate Susan Lilley joins us to gush all about legendary Irish poet Eavan Boland, who passed this spring. Thank you for reading!

Erica Hoffmeister: What is your personal connection with Eavan Boland?

Susan Lilley: Eavan Boland has become one of the most important poets to me personally over the last two decades. I first discovered her as a teacher while learning about the AP Literature exam, and her knock-out poem “It’s a Woman’s World” was an essay prompt in the late 90s. I teach that poem to this day, and it is a feast for students to delve into feminist ideas and the magic of the poetic line. A spare, gorgeous, timeless piece.

EH: Has Boland’s work influenced your own poetry or poet’s identity?

SL: I developed slowly as a poet while raising kids and making a living. It always seemed that the same creative energy spent in mothering was also the source of my poetry. Not that I only write poems of domestic life, but the energy stems from the same source–deep deep deep. Boland is that poet, for me, who gave permission to bring all of that experience (and, let’s face it, love and anxiety of child-rearing) into my work. I chose to read “Energies” (from her book Night Feed) here because, like “It’s a Woman’s World,” the imagery of daily rhythms and domestic detail taps at something ineffable and transitory under the surface.

Susan Lilley reads “Energies” by Eavan Boland

EH: What is your relationship with Boland’s poetry?

SL: I have to say that Against Love Poetry is the book that I reread the most. A poem that seems to have come from her sifting through the lives of the past is a desperately sad love story set during a famine, “Quarantine.”  The opening lines are unnerving and bold:  “In the worst hour of the worst season/ of the worst year of a whole people/ a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.”  The terrible challenge of trying to escape famine-related death only to succumb “under freezing stars” and be found dead in the morning is wrenching to read, but most moving in the narrative are the two lines in the third stanza, which describe and interpret the couple’s last moments before dying of cold and hunger:

            “But her feet were held against his breastbone.

             The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.”

After the three four-line stanzas tell this stark tale, the last two bring the story into direct connection with the book’s theme and title:

            Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.

                        There is no place here for the inexact

            praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.

            There is only time for this merciless inventory:

The last stanza lists the categorical facts of the couple’s suffering and death in 1847, and ends with a more sober and powerful definition of love than ever attempted by those courtier-songwriters, Wyatt and Raleigh:  “what there is between a man and a woman./ And in which darkness it can best be proved.” I so admire this poem’s leap from narrative to dissection of what love means at “this threshold”—far from the ditties of romantic dalliances at court Boland so obediently studied in her youth. No wonder she’s “against love poetry”!

Susan Lilley reads “Thanked be Fortune” by Eavan Boland

EH: Boland’s identity as an Irish feminist poet has gained a reputation for giving voice to previously unspoken women’s experiences through poetry—and she gives credit to Sylvia Plath for doing the same for her. Do you feel Boland has given voice with poetry for you and your experiences?

SL: In Boland we have an authentic female voice, a voice both steeped in literary tradition and yet strong enough to buck its patriarchal dominance, a voice that speaks to me both personally and politically as a woman. When Boland says “we [women] were never at the scene of the crime” she is invoking not only Irish history but every woman’s history, and the blessing and curse of the domestic world to which (she says in the introduction to an essential essay collection, Object Lessons) her body led her at the same time she was trying to become a poet. A difficult path, especially “in a country where the word woman and the word poet were almost magnetically opposed.” This divided experience is shared by women in other countries and other generations, and is undoubtedly still a nagging truth in the lives of many women artists today.

Boland’s literary training simultaneously intimidated her and prepared her for the life of a poet. Her historical sensibility is very present in these poems, but now she seems to have control over what used to subdue and even sometimes alienate her. In the second poem I chose to read, “Thanked be Fortune,” Sir Thomas Wyatt is invoked in the title, a line from his 1535 poem “They Flee from Me,” in which a bereft courtier first whines about his falling popularity with the women of the court and then indulges in a sensual memory (“thanked be fortune, it hath been otherwise . . .”).  Even a momentary re-examination of Wyatt’s famous poem reinforces Boland’s assertion in Object Lessons that throughout centuries of male dominance in poetry, women have certainly been present, but as “ornaments” and mythic emblems, which objectified and silenced real women. The first line of this love poem about marriage carries us further into the profound dual existence of the speaker which is glimpsed here in the couple’s book-filled bedroom:

            Did we live a double life?

                        I would have said

                                    we never envied

            the epic glory of the star-crossed

Instead, this couple learned the “code marriage makes of passion–duty dailyness routine.”  Through the bookshelf above their bed, they are vicariously involved in the on-going dramas of all great literature, where “men and women/ wept, curse, kept and broke faith/ and killed themselves for love” only to wake to their own selves at dawn.  Although Boland is never afraid to deal in abstract ideas, her sparing and well-wrought imagery is stunning, as in this poem which ends with such a complete sensory picture of the season, the current era of the marriage, and the enveloping natural world, it is downright Haiku-like in its delicious completion:

                        we woke early and lay together

            listening to our child crying, as if to birdsong,

                        with ice on the windowsills

                                                            and the grass eking out

                        the last crooked hour of starlight.

The image of the grass, complicated and personified by the verb “eking,” takes the poem outdoors but the air is still infused with very human longings and rhythms. I am eternally grateful for how her poems demonstrate the power of women’s experience as poetic material.

And now she is gone. At the beginning of the Covid crisis, she was teaching at Stanford, far from her home and family in Ireland. She chose to go home to weather the pandemic with her family and was enjoying teaching online when she suffered a massive stroke and died at home in Dublin on April 27. For a whole day I sat on my bed with her books all around me. Thanked be fortune, we have this beautiful work in which she lives. Read Eavan Boland!

Eavan Boland is an influential Irish poet and academic, known for being a prominent female voice in contemporary Irish literature. She is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, several volumes of nonfiction, and was the recipient of a Lannan Foundation Award, an American Ireland Fund Literary Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Irish Book Awards, among many other honors. She was also an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Irish Academy of Letters. A professor for decades at several institutions, Boland was most recently teaching at Stanford University, where she was the Melvin and Bill Lane Director of the Creative Writing Program. She died following a stroke in her home in Dublin on April 27th, 2020 at 75 years old.

Further reading:

Read Stanford’s dedication to Boland following her untimely death.
Watch PBS’ “Conversation: Poet Eavan Boland.”
Check out Boland’s body of work by reading her collections of poetry.

Susan Lilley is a Florida native and is currently serving as Orlando’s inaugural Poet Laureate. Her poetry and non-fiction have appeared in American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, The Southern Review, Drunken Boat, Saw Palm, The Florida Review, Sweet, and other journals. Her two chapbooks are Night Windows and Satellite Beach. She is a past winner of the Rita Dove Poetry Award and has held a State of Florida Individual Arts Fellowship. She has taught at University of Central Florida and Rollins College, and currently teaches literature and creative writing at Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park. Her new full collection, Venus in Retrograde, was published spring of 2019 by Burrow Press.

Further reading:

Purchase Lilley’s first full collection of poetry, Venus in Retrograde from Burrow Press.
Read the official announcement naming Lilley Orlando’s first poet laureate.
Listen to Lilley talk more about her work on the podcast The Drunken Odyssey.

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

Lyric Essentials: JP Howard Reads Cheryl Clarke

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! For this installment, JP Howard reads poems from Cheryl Clarke and talks about literary activism, the power of poetry, and the importance of black, lesbian voices in the community. Thank you for reading!

Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read these poems by Cheryl Clarke for Lyric Essentials?

JP Howard: I know that the Lyric Essentials series provides writers an opportunity to pay homage to poets that have guided us and transformed our work and Cheryl Clarke and her work have spoken to me for many decades. Her writing has consistently inspired my own poetry. I first discovered Clarke’s work when I was a freshman attending Barnard College. I’m pretty sure “Of Althea and Flaxie” was one of the very first poems of Clarke’s that I read. I loved that it was bold and that it celebrated an out-loud love between two women. The time period at the start of the poem (1943) lets the reader know from the start that this was a love that was not easily swayed by society or society’s expectations. Her entry into the poem is quite exquisite with her narrative description of the couple; she paints a portrait of a butch-femme couple who are proud of their relationship. This book was written in the early 80’s  and I believe it was significant and empowering to note that Cheryl Clarke, like Audre Lorde and Pat Parker, all fierce black activist lesbian poets writing during that time period, wrote unapologetically about lesbian love. I choose this poem, in particular, because Clarke painted this couple so vividly on the page, that many years went by before I read the poem again, yet I clearly remembered Althea and Flaxie. It was as if I had actually met them at some point in my life. I also chose this poem to honor my 18 year old self. It’s a way of saying “JP you are still here. You are still living your life out loud too!” The poetry of Clarke, Lorde and Parker, all gave me the  courage to come out to my own family, soon after discovering their work while at Barnard. Ultimately, this is a classic Clarke narrative poem that deserves to be both read and heard. 

JP Howard reads “Of Althea and Flaxie” by Cheryl Clarke

“i come to the city” wasn’t a poem of Clarke’s that I was familiar with, yet it had a strong New York energy that drew me into the poem. It reminds me of the vibe of New York lesbian clubs and bars, that once were in abundance, but sadly, no longer are. This poem, while concise, effectively captures all the promise and sensuality of women making connections in a big city, like New York or San Francisco. It is also infused with Clarke’s acerbic wit and determination in the ending lines “I been in love/six times in the last six months/and ain’t done trying yet.” I think it’s a poem of lesbian desire/longing that many can relate to—also the ending and the speaker’s determination “ain’t done trying yet” makes the reader chuckle to herself! 

JP Howard reads “i come to the city” by Cheryl Clarke

EH: Has Clarke’s work influenced your own work as a writer or educator? 

JPH: Clarke’s work has influenced me tremendously, both as writer and educator. She continues to speak her truth. I love that she is a black lesbian activist poet speaking her truth through generations and to new generations. She proudly refers to herself as a “queer black troublemaker” and I love that description! It’s so on point. Her poems are honest, incredibly sexy, consistency political and often challenge the reader to think about all the intersections in our lives. She makes the reader work and I love her poems for doing that. Her work has and continues to challenge me to speak my truth and also to consistently teach her work, along with other black lesbian activist poets, so that writers of all generations can be exposed to Clarke’s early work and her current work. Much of my own poetry is political and deals with the intersections of being a black lesbian activist poet in America—I try to always bring my full self to the page, the stage and to the classrooms and/or to writing workshops that I facilitate.

Much of my writing and how I move through the world as an activist poet, I owe to Clarke. Discovering her work at a young age made me realize I too can speak my truth and maybe someone will read my work one day, the way I was reading and being influenced by her work. I’m fortunate to now also call Cheryl Clarke friend. During this past April during National Poetry Month (NaPoMo), we were in a small online writing group, Elma’s Heart Circle, founded by another dynamic black lesbian poet, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor. Our small group of women poets exchanged poems daily. Cheryl Clarke’s new poems were political, unwavering in their directness, and often gut-wrenching in their ability to shine a light on painful Her/Histories. She continues to speak her truth and inspire me as a writer and as a friend. 

EH: Clarke’s life’s work is an example of the power of poetry—how important do you think it is to share and highlight the work of such influential activists like her?

JPH: I think it is absolutely crucial to share and highlight the work of influential activists like Cheryl Clarke. Her poetry, her essays, her political activism, her current work as co-founder, with her sister Breena Clarke, of the Hobart Festival of Women Writers, are all models of literary activism. She not only speaks her truth, but each year brings hundreds of women writers together to share their stories and their words at this annual women writer’s festival that centers and celebrates women writers. I think it is important to also highlight when poets and writers are giving back to our writing communities—literary activism is crucial and inspiring. 

EH: Is there anything you are currently working on that you’d like to share with readers? 

JPH: I’m delighted that one of my praise poems was recently selected by Tracy K. Smith, former Poet Laureate of the U.S. for The Slowdown, Smith’s daily weekday podcast series. I’m not sure what day it will be arriving in peoples inboxes, but folks can subscribe on Apple and Google podcasts. I’m working on completing edits for two poetry manuscripts, one full length and the other a chapbook. I’m excited for my second full length collection to find a home. I’m the proud curator and nurturer of Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon, a monthly literary series that usually meets in New York. Since March, I’ve been busy reimagining and bringing the Salon & Open Mic series online during this current pandemic while many of us are sheltering-in. The responses to the online iteration have been incredible. While our online gatherings confirm my belief in the healing power of poetry and community, I still fiercely miss our monthly in-person gatherings. 

Cheryl Clarke is a widely recognized black lesbian poet, essayist, educator and community activist who grew up during the Civil Rights Movement in Washington D.C. Her work is known for its significant cultural impact in black, lesbian, and feminist communities, and has been anthologized and featured in various journals such as The Black Scholar, The Kenyon Review, The World in Us: An Anthology of Lesbian and Gay Poetry, and many others. She is the author of five poetry books, including her most recent, By My Precise Haircut (2016); her book Experimental Love (Firebrand Books, 1993) wasnominated for a 1994 Lambda Literary Award. She holds a B.A. from Howard University and an M.A., M.S.W., and Ph.D. from Rutgers University, and she works as the Director of the Office of Diverse Community Affairs and Lesbian-Gay Concerns at Rutgers, and co-organizer of the Hobart Festival of Women Writers. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Hobart, New York with her life partner.

Further reading:

Purchase Clarke’s most recent book of poetry By My Precise Haircut.
Read an interview of Clarke in Out History
Visit the Rutgers Archives for oral history recordings of Clarke.

JP Howard is an author, educator, literary activist, curator and community builder. She curates Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon, in New York and herdebut poetry collection, SAY/MIRROR (The Operating System)was a 2016 Lambda Literary Award finalist. She is also the author of bury your love poems here (Belladonna*) and co-editor of Sinister Wisdom Journal Black Lesbians—We Are the Revolution! JP is a 2020 featured author in Lambda Literary’s LGBTQ Writers in Schools program and was a Split this Rock Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism finalist. She is also featured in the Lesbian Poet Trading Card Series from Headmistress Press and was the recipient of Lambda Literary’s Judith A. Markowitz Emerging Writer Award. JP’s work is widely anthologized and poetry and essays have appeared (or forthcoming) in The Academy of American Poets poem-a-day series,The Slowdown podcast,Anomaly, Apogee Journal, The Feminist Wire, Split this Rock, Muzzle Magazine, The Best American Poetry Blog, Nepantla: A Journal for Queer Poets of Color, Talking Writing, Connotation Press and others. JP is the Editor-at-Large at Mom Egg Review VOX online and holds a BA from Barnard College, an MFA in Creative Writing from The City College of New York and a JD from Brooklyn Law School.  

Further reading:

Subscribe to The Slowdown to listen to Howard’s feature on the podcast with Tracy K. Smith.
Purchase Howard’s latest collection, SAY/MIRROR.
Learn more about JP Howard and keep up with her work at her personal website.

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

Lyric Essentials: Lucian Mattison Reads Juan Gelman


Thank you for joining us at Lyric Essentials! This week, poet and translator Lucian Mattison reads for us Juan Gelman as he discusses history within Argentinian poetry and the bridge that connects people through poetry translation. Thanks for reading!

Erica Hoffmeister: What is your relationship with Juan Gelman’s work? Has his work influenced your own writing at all?


Lucian Mattison: Although Gelman is a heavyweight back in Argentina, I am quite new to his work. I started off with this book Unthinkable Tenderness because it highlights different time periods in his life in its different sections. In this format, you see his writing actively moving with him and grappling with his being exiled from the country and his son becoming one of the desaparecidos, the victims who were “disappeared” by the anti-communist, military government of the time. My mother grew up in Argentina during the same time and told me stories about living during a time where at any point, one could be snatched from their home if they were seen as sympathetic to radical opposition groups like The Montoneros. The book provides me with another poetic lens through which to view these same kinds of stories which I have always heard about through anecdotes and depictions in movies. As he is a newer addition to my library, I cannot say where [his influence is] exactly just yet. But I can, without a doubt, say he has and is currently doing so.

Lucian Mattison reads “VIII” by Juan Gelman

EH: Of all of Gelman’s collections, why did you choose to read these two poems, both from Unthinkable Tenderness?

LM: I chose to read these two poems because they both deal with the feeling of being exiled in spirit. Gelman wrote these poems between 1974-1980, as he was being chased out of Buenos Aires and finding refuge in Rome. Not being able to go back to his motherland and see his family and children, he worried constantly for their safety, and rightfully so. His son and wife were disappeared in 1976. While other poems directly reference the heartbreak and acidity related to the family tragedy, these two poems bookend the tragedy. The first poem represents a time while there was a certain romance to the persecution, which he defies with the persistence of love and beauty. The later poem comes from a time where he identifies with the deferred dream of an immigrant, where his heart is both displaced and without any place to return. I chose these poems because they are both insistent in their repetition, but come from two very different places, both physically and emotionally.

Lucian Mattison reads “What They Don’t Know” by Juan Gelman

EH: How does your role as a translator and role as a poet work together?

LM: I have been translating poetry from Spanish to English only since 2016, but I’ve been translating my whole life having grown up in bilingual household. In the small amount of time that I’ve been translating poetry, it became much clearer to me just how much Spanish influences my relationship to sound and sentence structure in English. Just like any poet, I defer to sound in a way that is specific to my experience of my languages. The simple fact is, my brand of Spanish is different from the rest of South America’s and, as a result, I relate differently to the world because I’ve been describing it with those terms for as long as I can remember. As a translator, the hardest work is preserving some of the emotional/experiential context inside a voice while working to keep it in line with contemporary English poetics. Being a poet who writes in English, I feel like it is my duty to use my experience in English poetry and craft, and my emotional relationship to my mother language to find an acceptable form for a translated work. I do it because it is important to hear the voices of our contemporaries across the globe and I am lucky enough to be able to build bridges like these.

EH: Are there any creative projects you are working on right now that you’d like to tell us about?

LM: Yes! I am currently looking for a publisher for a translation of Diego Alfaro Palma’s 2015 Santiago Literary Prize-winning collection of poetry, Tordo, published in Buenos Aires in 2016. This is his second collection of original poetry and the first translation of one of his books into English. As far as my own work, I am sending out my third collection of poems titled “Curare” for consideration at publishing houses. I am also writing a novellette that I hope to finish by the end of the year and, as always, I’m writing short stories.

Juan Gelman is an Argentinian poet, translator, journalist, and political activist who lived from 1930 to 2014, spending the last half of his life in political exile. Publishing over twenty books of poetry in his lifetime, he has earned several awards and accolades, including the 1997 Argentine Poetry Prize and the 2007 Cervantes Prize. Gelman is also a widely celebrated political journalist and human rights activist. Upon his death in Mexico City at age 83, Argentina’s president declared three days of national mourning.

Further reading:

Purchase Unthinkable Tenderness by Juan Gelman.
Read this piece on the life of Juan Gelman by Caroline Brothers.
Learn more about translation and Gelman’s poetry specifically at Reading in Translation.

Lucian Mattison is an U.S.-Argentinian poet and translator and author of two books of poetry, Reaper’s Milonga (YesYes Books, 2018) and Peregrine Nation (Dynamo Verlag, 2017), winner of the 2014 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize. He is currently based out of Washington, DC, where he is an associate editor of poetry for Barrelhouse. He won the Puerto Del Sol Poetry Prize and has poetry, short fiction, and translations that appear in numerous journals including CutBank, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hobart, The Offing, Sixth Finch, Third Coast, and have been featured on

Further reading:

Learn more about Lucian at his personal website.
Buy Lucian’s most recent poetry collection Reaper’s Milonga from YesYes Books.
Read the announcement naming Mattison the recipient of the 2014 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize

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