Lyric Essentials: Juliana Roth Reads Ross Gay

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite writers to read the work of their favorite poets. This month, Juliana Roth joins us to discuss the work of Ross Gay, contemporary poetry, literary citizenship, and how Gay’s poetry feels like a doorway to better understanding the surrounding world and ourselves. As always, we hope you enjoy reading as much as we did.


Ryleigh Wann: When was the first time you read Ross Gay’s work? Why did it stand out to you then?

Juliana Roth: I had a funny way into Ross Gay’s work, which is just to show my ignorance of contemporary poetry. I didn’t know much about living poets until my final year of college. I was working at this small lending library at my school called the Hopwood Room where once a week the MFA students would gather at this big round table across from my desk and a visiting writer would come sit with them and talk for an hour about their process and books. There was a little nook behind my desk where I would work during the sessions and listen in. I was having a really bad day, I forget why, so I was in my nook. Then all of a sudden I started to hear someone reading a poem, and the words really caught my ear, and then the conversation that followed lifted me right out of my mood. I came out from my nook and learned the poet was Ross Gay.

RW: Why did you choose to read these poems specifically?

JR: In “Becoming the Horse,” I love how I’m taken in to approach “the beast,” whether that is a literal nonhuman animal or any part of us (or our world, which is us) that is difficult to touch, at first tiny as a grass blade, then a fly, then a total transformation occurs. I feel the piece also opens up the possibility that we might change our behavior should we know ourselves or our animals more intimately (nose to nose, heart to heart). It’s a love poem, I think. A gesture towards radical honesty, which the poem seems to suggest might set us free from fear. If we are fully honest and see with true clarity, what is left to fear?

I think this carries into “Ending the Estrangement” where that proximity to what is feared is actually knowing the pain of your mother. The gesture at the end of the poem of singing along with that pain just feels liberating. And like we’re being guided in confronting death. Also a love poem, I think.

And then “Wedding Poem,” definitely a love poem, I think it’s safe to say. For me, the poem captures that sweet embarrassment and shyness that often appears in the face of true love. I imagine that bashfulness happens at any age, and the piece celebrates how simple it is to just let love in—once you do, despite how long it takes to get there.

Juliana Roth reads “Becoming a Horse” by Ross Gay

RW: How has Gay’s writing inspired your own?

JR: The generosity on display in his work is an important model for literary citizenship and maintaining personhood in a public profession. The acknowledgment he makes in Be Holding where he basically says all the poets that came before and all the books he reads, even friends and family, they are his work and in essence the collection belongs to them—that’s pretty significant. I think modeling that resistance to becoming capital and hyper individualism a creative market puts on you is what I hope to do as well. I also think the process he used for The Book of Delights freed me to write my newsletter because I give myself specific constraints not to overedit (there are even typos!), write without knowing in advance what my goal is for the letter, and also as I do the podcast I haven’t spent any money at all on production, so it is very handmade. I don’t think I have a radio voice or personality either—I’m just bringing on people who I admire and who are thinking about the world in interesting ways to chat and we just record our conversation.

Juliana Roth reads “Wedding Poem” by Ross Gay

RW: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share?

JR: Right now I’m in professor mode just getting us through midterms at the moment, but I did find out a few weeks ago that I was selected as an Emerging Writer Fellow at The Center for Fiction, which has been a whirlwind. Last week we got to meet the outgoing fellows and I spent just a few minutes so far with my cohort, but I’m so excited for the community and space to write. I can’t wait to see what work I create while I’m there. I also have a new short film premiering in a festival at Cinema Village on October 26th if there are any local readers who love old movie theaters. As far as life outside of my career goes, I’m just spending as much time as I can with my family right now, including my sweet dog Ziggy. Oh—I started learning to skateboard with a friend this past spring so we practice as much as we can. And I’ve been very into trying different varieties of pesto—hugely exciting, but my favorite so far has been a beetroot cashew. So good!

Read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Juliana Roth is a 2022-23 Susan Kamil Emerging Writer Fellow at The Center for Fiction and was selected as a VIDA Fellow with the Sundress Academy for the Arts. Her writing appears in The Breakwater Review, The Offing, Irish Pages, and Entropy as well as being produced as independent films that she directs. Her web series, The University, was nominated by the International Academy of Web Television for Best Drama Writing and screened at survivor justice nonprofits across the country. Currently, she teaches writing at NYU and writes the newsletter Drawing Animals (subscribe here: www.julianaroth.com/drawinganimals) featuring essays, interviews, doodles, and podcast episodes celebrating our interconnection with nonhuman animal life.

Ross Gay is an advocate for joy, love, and the pleasures of life. He is the author of four books of poetry: Against WhichBringing the Shovel Down; Be Holding, winner of the PEN American Literary Jean Stein Award; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. His first collection of essays, The Book of Delights, was released in 2019 and was a New York Times bestseller.

Inciting Joy is his most recently published collection of essays.

Ryleigh Wann earned her MFA from UNC Wilmington where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in The McNeese ReviewLongleaf ReviewRejection Letters, and elsewhere. Ryleigh currently lives in Brooklyn. Learn more or read her work at ryleighwann.com

Lyric Essentials: Anthony DiPietro Reads Diane Seuss

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite writers to read the work of their favorite poets. This month, Anthony DiPietro joins us to discuss the work of Diane Seuss and line length in poetry, the intersection of play and rules, and insight regarding the perks of writing prompts. As always, we hope you enjoy reading as much as we did.


Ryleigh Wann: When was the first time you read Diane Seuss’s work? Why did it stand out to you then?

Anthony DiPietro: Diane Seuss taught at The Frost Place in 2017 while I was assisting the director, and I had the chance to study in her class. Before we all arrived in New Hampshire, while she was reading my packet of work, I was reading her book Four Legged Girl. When she arrived, she walked up to me to check in, and the director introduced us. She told me she dug my poems, which really bowled me over, and all I could say was “I like yours too.” Later in the week, she gave a reading and afterwards signed my copy of her book with a kind note and a lipstick kiss on the title page. I went on to read just about everything she’s written.

When I was first discovering her poems, I was drawn to her play between titles and first lines as well as her often long lines that run together. There’s almost a tease sometimes that this poem will be one long sentence. What that’s really about is an exuberance of voice, a confidence. She jumps headlong into a poem, and you just have to go along for the ride. If you look at “Either everything is sexual,” sometimes she chooses to end the sentence with a period, and that stop has certainty–a certainty of tone if not of fact. Other times, she strings sentences together with commas, including the final question that ends the poem, as if the momentum of her poem-story won’t let her reach a full stop. Sometimes there are fragments parading as sentences, which would suggest an incomplete thought, but she has a way of eventually coming back to complete every thought later, which is super satisfying. I think I saw her playing on the page, and it reminded me that when we write, we can sometimes return to our kindergarten self: we know no rules when we’re first learning to write or draw or sing. Creativity is just for expression. I’m making it sound like she doesn’t care for rules, but she’s also said that she selects each word with the care of a jeweler–and that is immediately apparent in any Diane Seuss poem. She’s making choices everywhere. You see them and you feel them on a gut level. Ultimately, I feel a kinship to Diane Seuss because she’s doing what I imagine all great poets do, or maybe it’s just the clan of poets in what I consider my lineage, which is to turn the raw material of our life, our biography, into a mythology. To do that is to generate image systems we keep drawing from. And to sound slick doing it.

Anthony DiPietro reads “[I fell on an incline]” by Diane Seuss

RW: Why did you choose to read these poems specifically?

AD: I chose poems that I felt had something in common with my own work. “I aborted two daughters,” reminds me of my poem “A few years ago, I got a ticket for being exposed” which starts with me naked on a beach where I shouldn’t have been naked. I wrote it after reading Dolly Lemke’s poem “I never went to that movie at 12:45” in Best American Poetry 2010, where her liner notes say, “I have pretty much laid out all my faults, mistakes, and negative attributes for everyone to read.” I took those instructions as a prompt to enter directly into the vein of confessional poetry. Alongside the bigger sins, Lemke and I both pepper our lists with mundane references–coffee, shopping, shoes, sugar. In Seuss’s first line, the poem appears to respond to that same impulse: I’m about to tell you the worst thing about me (or the worst thing I’ve ever done). But in fact the poem goes to completely unpredictable places.

The same could be said for the poem “Either everything is sexual, or nothing is.” I love a poem that sets itself up that way: such an absolute, black and white statement that it can only be a false hypothesis. The title reads as a demand for an argument, and the poem answers that demand. And more than an argument, it becomes a sort of manifesto–or am I just projecting here? Sex ranks first on my list of writerly obsessions, so it’s possible. And this argument or manifesto takes the form of this positively luscious, exuberant list of images. I love list poems; I think every poem I write is based around some form of list. Around the time I met this poem, I was beginning to think of my aesthetic as embracing the idea that more is more–which is supposed to be against the rules in poetry–but I believe that a queer or camp aesthetic is built on an over-the-top quality. I have tried to write as over-the-top as this poem goes, and I can’t get there. I’m beat.

The third poem, “I fell on an incline,” I chose because of the way the poem travels. With almost impossible compression, the poem literally criss-crosses the continent while also time traveling to memories from different decades. I’m often reaching for a similar effect in my poems. When it works, it feels like you’ve actually traveled all these places, like you’ve danced yourself dizzy. You’ve been dropped off somewhere disorienting, but it turns out to be nirvana. The self-address in her last three words of this poem are signature Diane Seuss, just fully and unmistakably her voice. I can’t quite put into words where that little gesture takes me, but I get there every time I read it.

Anthony DiPietro reads “[I aborted two daughters]”

RW: Seuss’s latest poetry collection is made up entirely of sonnets. What do you think the benefits of writing formal poetry can be? How does your own writing interact with different forms, musicality, meter, etc.?

AD: One poem in that book begins, “The sonnet, like poverty, teaches you what you can do / without.” Which apart from being a brilliant line break seems to be a clue about one of the reasons she’s drawn to the form. I’m definitely aligned with Seuss in this–I like to make use of forms.

I believe that a good prompt brings together an expansive element to help you generate words and ideas, plus at least one constraining element, something that limits you. Without the limiting element, you might be making a grocery list rather than writing poetry. Writing in forms, or against a form, however you choose to think of it, is a constraining element. It becomes the box that you try to think outside of. When you start to write up against those limits, you suddenly find yourself saying what you didn’t expect to and wouldn’t have otherwise, which gives the poem a pulse of surprise or discovery. 

That being said, as much as I’m a fan of forms, I don’t want something too strict, particularly a strict meter. I want my cadence to feel like mine. Musicality is not what I consider my strength or natural gift. Some poets have an ear for the music in the language, some write by ear and only later bring in sense–the logic, the drama, whatever meaning-making is happening in the poem. I’m quite the opposite. Sense comes first, and at some stage I revise to make sure its music works. Possibly, for this reason, I’m drawn to contemporary forms that invite you to test their limits and try to break them. For example, I find sestinas too dense, so I invented a form that borrows the sestina’s patterns but has 18 lines rather than 39.

RW: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share?

AD: Most exciting is that my debut poetry collection, kiss & release, is under contract to be published in 2024. While I wait for that, I’m working on another poetry book. I’m playing with persona in a different way from my past work, which is great fun. And I’m planning to attend one or more writing residencies next year to get some more focused time with that manuscript. Something a little more unexpected is that I’m also working on my first screenplay, a gay romantic comedy. We were just talking about forms, and romantic comedies are another example. They’re totally formulaic but seem to be able to hold an infinite number of combinations of characters and circumstances that lead to different results–some are more funny, some are more romantic, sometimes one partner has to grow, sometimes both, etc. You have to understand the form deeply to be able to do something new within it. That’s why I’ve been writing this since I think 2019. Also it became a little harder to finish when, in life, I got to the ending of my own romantic comedy when I met my partner in 2020 and moved in together last year.

Read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Diane Seuss is poet, teacher, and the author of five books of poetry, including frank: sonnets (Graywolf Press, 2021), winner of the 2022 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, and the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press, 2018), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry; Four-Legged Girl (Graywolf Press, 2015), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010), recipient of the Juniper Prize for Poetry. Seuss lives in Michigan.

Purchase her collection, frank: sonnets, here.

Anthony DiPietro is a gay Rhode Island-born writer and arts administrator now living in Worcester, MA. He earned a creative writing MFA at Stony Brook University, where he also taught courses and planned and diversified arts programming. He now serves as deputy director of Rose Art Museum. His first chapbook, And Walk Through, a series of poems composed on a typewriter during the pandemic lockdowns, is now available, and his full-length poetry collection, kiss & release, will appear from Unsolicited Press in 2024. His website is www.AnthonyWriter.com

Ryleigh Wann earned her MFA from UNC Wilmington where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in The McNeese ReviewLongleaf ReviewRejection Letters,  and elsewhere. Ryleigh currently lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter @wannderfullll or read her publications at ryleighwann.com

Lyric Essentials: Jennifer Schomburg Kanke Reads Annie Finch

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite authors to share the work of their favorite poets. This month, Jennifer Schomburg Kanke has joined us to discuss the work of Annie Finch, and the act of poetry as magic, formal poetry with contemporary topics, and resources to find similar poetry recommendations. As always, we hope you enjoy as much as we did.


Jennifer Schomburg Kanke

Ryleigh Wann: When was the first time you read Annie Finch’s work? Why did it stand out to you then?

Jennifer Schomburg Kanke: The first time I read her work was when Calendars came out from Tupelo Press in the early aughts. It stood out to me because it was the first time I was reading contemporary poetry from a major press that wasn’t being vague about magic. These poems went beyond being just metaphor and symbol, they were spells and chants, and their power was palpable. At that time I’d been a practicing pagan for about four or five years and Calendars just opened up so many possibilities to me as a writer (of course, then I went into a graduate program a few years after and that possibility laid latent for a bit).

RW: Where would you recommend new readers of Finch’s work start out? What other similar poets do you recommend?

JSK: I would suggest starting with Calendars or Spells, if you’re looking for a collection. You can also find a lot of her work on the Poetry Foundation’s page, so if you want a broad overview, that’s a great place to go (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/annie-finch#tab-poems). And Annie’s readings really bring her poems to life. You can find a lot of them on her YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/Arcfinch). I think the exact combination of what Annie Finch has going on can be difficult to find in other writers. But, if you like Annie’s emphasis on prosody in her work, there are so many great poets out there to recommend. Patricia Smith, Rita Dove, and Mark Jarman come to mind for contemporary formal work. Another really great place to find poets similar to her is by joining the Poetry Witch Community online which is open to only women (cis and trans) and gender nonconforming writers. It’s a wonderful place to make connection with and read the poetry of others who have been brought together through an interest in Annie Finch’s work.

Jennifer Schomburg Kanke reads “Winter Solstice Chant” by Annie Finch

RW: Why did you choose to read these poems specifically?

JSK: I picked out one of her poems about abortion, “My Baby Fell Apart,” because it’s a great example of how formal poetry can still tackle tough contemporary topics. I picked out “Edge, Atlantic, July” because it’s a more recent poem, and also because I love the way it reminds us of nature’s ability to bring us back to ourselves, to shake us out of our own shit. And I picked out “Winter Solstice Chant” because it’s one of my favorites. It’s beautiful in the way that it’s both comforting and creepy all at once.

Jennifer Schomburg Kanke reads “My Baby Fell Apart” by Annie Finch

RW: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share?

JSK: I’m incredibly excited that an excerpt from the novel I’ve been working on will be appearing in Shenandoah in November. I’ve been sending the novel to contests and haven’t had any luck with it yet, so when they accepted the excerpt it just really made my heart sing because I was starting to worry that maybe it wasn’t connecting with people the way I wanted it to. And really I think it’s that I just need to find the people it will connect with. It’s called A Pleasant Loitering Journey and it’s the fictional memoir of a woman who becomes a literal goddess after going through chemo for ovarian cancer. It has a non-linear timeline and an almost ridiculous amount of direct addresses to the reader (and some three page footnoted asides that I’m hoping will crack others up as much as they crack me up), and by the end, becomes sort of a self-help book where she gives the reader tips for how to be a goddess while also spewing out all the times she’s fucked things up.

Read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Annie Finch is a poet, writer, speaker, and performer known for her powers of poetic rhythm and spellbinding readings of poetry infused with magic. Her other writings include books, plays, and essays on poetry, meter, feminism, and witchcraft and the anthology Choice Words: Writers on Abortion. Her poems have appeared onstage at Carnegie Hall and in The Paris Review, New York Times, and Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. Her website is www.anniefinch.com

Jennifer Schomburg Kanke lives in Florida where she edits confidential documents. Her work has recently appeared in New Ohio Review, Nimrod, Massachusetts Review, and Salamander. Her zine about her experiences undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, Fine, Considering, is available from Rinky Dink Press. She serves as a reader for The Dodge. Her website is www.jenniferschomburgkanke.com

Ryleigh Wann earned her MFA from UNC Wilmington where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in The McNeese Review, Longleaf ReviewRejection Letters,  and elsewhere. Ryleigh currently lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter @wannderfullll or read her work at ryleighwann.com

Lyric Essentials: Catherine Rockwood Reads Joshua Burton

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite authors to share the work of their favorite poets. This month, Catherine Rockwood has joined us to discuss the work of Joshua Burton and confessional poetry. As always, we hope you enjoy as much as we did.


Ryleigh Wann: When was the first time you read Joshua Burton’s work? Why did it stand out to you then?

Catherine Rockwood: My first encounter with Joshua Burton’s poetry was June/July of this summer, when my copy of Fracture Anthology arrived. What stood out to me at once was both the intimacy and the ambition of the project – to write poems with one’s own mother, about both her life and your own, and achieve so much formal and emotional success in the process? Amazing. Almost uncanny, really. The degree of determination involved, and the ethical precision, and the risk-taking, and the skill.

RW: Why did you choose to read these poems specifically?

CR: I knew I had to include “Nomenclature” in the recordings, because it was the poem that first made me sit down and go “ohhh” when I was reading the chapbook. And I don’t honestly think that reflects in great ways on me as a reader: I think I should have been able to get there much faster, based on what precedes “Nomenclature” in the manuscript. But as it was, I needed an entry-point to an assembled work that was amenable to what I already knew, and for me this poem was that – the moment of naming, of choosing a name that a new life will be known by, has tremendous literary resonance that operated in ways I was familiar with, and then all of a sudden I could sort of retroactively get a wider look at what was so powerful about the entire project. 

Catherine Rockwood reads “A Painting of a Pressed Flower” by Joshua Burton

A Painting of a Pressed Flower” I just find so haunting. I am not sure I fully understand the complex layering of memory/art/trauma in this poem, the way it all works together to create what feels like an entirely unique symbolic vocabulary, but I can feel it working, I think in that direction. And I cannot shake the lines “the residue bleeds through pages/  five through eleven”: so specific, so material, so literal, and yet what those lines are saying is, some events absolutely layer themselves permanently into parts of our lives, and what are you going to do with that? To what extent can you bring yourself to accept unintentional, vivid, personal-historical “residues” while also saying something like “this effect, this fact, is accidental – it evades claims of design  – and yet, I assert its meaning.”?

History” is a tour de force in other ways. It deliberately maintains the strangeness, the unfamiliar-to-the-reader quality, of the protective or negotiative systems the “I”-speaker of the poem (who is the poet’s mother) has developed to help herself deal with a clearly hostile world. And that’s a hard choice to make, as a writer – or, anyway, when I think about it I get nervous, I feel worried – to decide “no, the difficulty is part of the point, I want this to be something readers have to work to try to understand, because otherwise I’m not honoring the individual narrated life in the poem, I’m not doing it justice.” Making that choice, and following through on it formally, takes incredible determination (which is a word I seem to be repeating) and craft.

RW: Burton’s chapbook, Fracture Anthology, began with poems written about the speaker’s mother. What do you think are the challenges (or benefits) of writing poems about living people the writer might be close to?

Catherine Rockwood reads “History” by Joshua Burton

CR: Oh my goodness. This work is so hard. I have only peripherally played around with it in my own writing, and the one time I wrote directly about family members it was a huge, uncomfortable thing to tell them before the poem was published. Because you realize you have to take responsibility for your own “take” on someone else’s life, and they may not agree with your view of it. In the end, when you write and publish about living people who are in your life, you’re either saying “well good so we agree,” or “well okay, we have worked out an agreement that I have the right to relate this part of things in this way,” or “well, you hate that I’ve written about this in this way but too fucking bad.” Fracture Anthology…it’s definitely, DEFINITELY not the last thing. To me, from the outside, it looks actually more like a fourth thing, some kind of consent-driven work of biographical/autobiographical art in which both the poet and his mother really have their own voices but these voices sometimes blend in ways that are almost transcendent. I guess you would say the challenge and the benefit there are pretty contiguous.

RW: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share?

CR: Hm. I’ve been editing for the first time – Reckoning Magazine, the magazine of creative writing and environmental justice I’m on staff for, is putting out a special issue on bodily autonomy and the environment in October. And I’m lead editor for that. We got really, really angry after the Dobbs v. Jackson decision came down at the Supreme Court in June, and decided to put out a themed submission call, and authors have answered it very thoroughly. I’m excited about the work we’ll be showcasing, and my colleagues at Reckoning have been super supportive and patient (and informative!) as I work through the new-to-me process.

Read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Joshua Burton is a poet and educator from Houston, TX and received his MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. His work can be found in Mississippi Review, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. His debut poetry collection is forthcoming in the spring of 2023 with the University of Wisconsin Press. Find his website here. Purchase his collection, Fracture Anthology here.

Catherine Rockwood reads and edits for Reckoning Magazine, and reviews books for Strange Horizons. Her poetry chapbook, Endeavors to Obtain Perpetual Motion, is available from the Ethel Zine Press. You can find her on Twitter at @martin65, and elsewhere on the internet at www.catherinerockwood.com/about

Ryleigh Wann earned her MFA from UNC Wilmington where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in Longleaf Review, Rejection Letters, Flypaper Lit, and elsewhere. Ryleigh currently lives in Brooklyn. Learn more at ryleighwann.com

Lyric Essentials: Donald Quist Reads Terrance Hayes

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite authors to share the work of their favorite poets. This month, Donald Quist has joined us to discuss the work of Terrance Hayes and how poetry impacts writing prose, the musicality of verse, and how form can impact content. As always, we hope you enjoy as much as we did.


Ryleigh Wann: When was the first time you read Terrance Hayes work? Why did it stand out to you then?

Donald Quist

Donald Quist: I first heard about Hayes when I was an undergrad, about twenty years ago now. I was struggling through an English minor at a small, predominantly white, Liberal Arts college in South Carolina. My professors often mentioned Hayes to me. Hayes was an alum. I was told he and I shared similar backgrounds, and we both are Black and poetic. Teachers offered his work to me as a kind of model. I was given a copy of Hip Logic and fell in love with the musicality of his verse and the clarity of his poetic imagery.

RW: How has Hayes’s writing inspired your own? 

Donald Quist Reads “American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin [“I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison”]” by Terrance Hayes.

DQ: Hayes has had a significant impact on my work, perhaps most notably in how I approach the construction of narratives. He once said: “I want form to influence my content. I want it to make my language do things that it might not have otherwise done.” His poetry has often inspired me to take chances with my prose, and to seek out forms that serve the ways I’d hope for my narratives to function. It’s why I have essays in the form of lesson plans and stage directions, and short stories constructed out of search engine results and another one as the preface to a fictional anthology.

RW: Why did you choose these poems to specifically? 

Donald Quist Reads “For Robert Hayden” by Terrance Hayes

DQ: I chose these poems because they span the length of his career. I think they offer a great representation of his versatility and core themes. Also, they’re pleasurable to read. Like, notice how there’s a physicality to the verses, the employment of verbs, adverbs and syntax that highlight movement, and the narrowing on bodily details. It all works together to remind the reader of the presence of their own flesh. The poems aren’t just heard or viewed, there is a clear intent to make them felt. Damn, it’s good. I attempt to do the same in all my Creative Writing.

RW: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share?

DQ: I try to stay busy. I have a novel out on submission and I’m working to complete a draft of another book project by the end of the year. Got some upcoming workshops, and I have readings scheduled from my recent essay collection, To Those Bounded.

Read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Terrance Hayes is a contemporary American poet and artist. His most recent publications include American Sonnets for My Past And Future Assassin (Penguin 2018) and To Float In The Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight (Wave, 2018). Hayes is a Professor of English at New York University. 

Find his website here.

Purchase his collection American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin here.

Donald Quist is author of two essay collections, Harbors, a Foreword INDIES Bronze Winner and International Book Awards Finalist, and TO THOSE BOUNDED. He has a linked story collection, For Other Ghosts. His writing has appeared in AGNI, North American Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Rumpus, and was Notable in Best American Essays 2018. He is creator of the online nonfiction series PAST TEN. Donald has received fellowships from Sundress Academy for the Arts and Kimbilio Fiction. He has served as a Gus T. Ridgel fellow for the English PhD program at University of Missouri and Director of the MFA in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Visit: https://www.donaldquist.com/

Ryleigh Wann earned her MFA in poetry from UNC Wilmington where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in Longleaf Review, Rejection Letters, Flypaper Lit, and elsewhere. Ryleigh currently lives in North Carolina by way of Michigan. Learn more at ryleighwann.com

Lyric Essentials: Roseanna Alice Boswell Reads Becca Klaver

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week poet, student, and author Roseanna Alice Boswell has joined us to discuss the work of Becca Klaver, feeling understood and comforted during a lonely time, and being unafraid in writing. As always, we hope you enjoy as much as we did.


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: When was the first time you read Klaver’s work? Why did it stand out to you then?

Roseanna Alice Boswell: I first experienced Becca Klaver’s work in 2017 when I heard her give a reading in Ohio. She was the visiting professor at my MFA at the time, and so I had sort of the unique opportunity of getting to know her as a teacher first, and then as a poet. As soon as I heard her poems, it was like something clicked in my brain. I was like oh my god, yes, this is the kind of poetry I want to write when I grow up!

AH: How has Klaver’s writing inspired your own? 

Roseanna Alice Broswell Reads “Uptalk” by Becca Klaver

RAB: I think what is so delicious to me about Becca’s work is that it is just unabashed all the time. In her collection Ready for the World, she writes about selfies, and dildos, and magic, and girl-ness in this way that intellectualizes without distancing, if that makes sense? Reading her poems always makes me want to grab a pink, sparkly pen and start writing, as both celebration and interrogation: what is girlhood? what can I make with it?

Roseanna Alice Broswell Reads “Reproductive Logic” by Becca Klaver

AH: Why did you choose these poems specifically? 

RAB: These poems are all from Ready for the World, which I read after the start of the pandemic and social distancing. It was such a comforting collection to read; it made me feel seen and understood during a time that felt incredibly lonely and isolating. And these three poems in particular have just stayed and stayed with me. I think great poems are kind of like music that way, they’ll just pop into your head from time to time and ride through your day with you. The poem “Reproductive Logic” is like that especially for me. “Last night, I pulled the death card for future and shuddered as I thought, It’s coming for us all; have your babies. I’ll raise this solitude like a foundling.” I mean, COME ON. How great is that? Maybe too because I’m approaching my thirties, and many of my friends and family are starting families, that one hits very close to home.

AH: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share?

RAB: School and work and writing take up pretty much all of my time, although not usually in equal shares (wouldn’t that be tidy and convenient?). I am working on a chapbook manuscript right now though that I am pretty excited about. And I think that while I was at work last week I thought of a good title for my next full length collection! We’ll see if I still like it in a year or so when I am trying to put it together, but it felt like a Big Moment at the time…

Read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Becca Klaver is a contemporary American poet. She is the author of the poetry collections LA Liminal (Kore Press, 2010), Empire Wasted (Bloof Books, 2016), and Ready for the World (Black Lawrence Press, 2020). Her poems and prose have appeared in Verse Daily, American Poetry Review, and Sink Review. She received her PhD from Rutgers University.

Find her website here.

Read her poem “Fall Parties” at Poets.org

Purchase her collection Ready for the World at Black Lawrence Press.

Roseanna Alice Boswell is a queer poet from Upstate New York. Her work has appeared in: RHINO, Whiskey Island, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, Roseanna holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University and is a Ph.D. student in English – Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University. Her chapbook, Imitating Light, was chosen as the 2021 Iron Horse Literary Review Chapbook Competition winner. Roseanna’s first full-length collection, Hiding in a Thimble, was published with Haverthorn Press in 2021. She currently haunts the Midwest with her husband and cat.

Find her website here.

Follow Roseanna Alice on Twitter.

Purchase her collection Hiding in a Thimble here.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is an Iranian-American multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. Her writing has appeared in Moon City Review, Hobart, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor-in-Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press, and a contributing writer at MovieWeb. Her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Dayna Patterson Reads Pattiann Rogers

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! Artist, writer, and avid fungi enthusiast Dayna Patterson has joined us to discuss the work of Pattiann Rogers, faith in writing, and being a poet mom. We hope you enjoyed as much as we did, and, as always, thank you for tuning in.


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: When was the first time you read Roger’s work? Why did it stand out to you then? 

Dayna Patterson: About 13 years ago, when my girls were very little, just 1 and 2, I was taking a poetry workshop that met once or twice a week in the evening. The professor, Christine Butterworth-McDermott, introduced Rogers’s work, and I was immediately captivated by the blend of science and lyricism. I remember checking out a video of Rogers reading for the Lannan Foundation, and she mentioned that she really began writing poetry when her two boys were very small. She joked about dedicating her first book to Popeye because the only time she got any writing done was when her boys were plunked in front of the TV. From that moment, I felt less guilty about turning on Max & Ruby for my girls while I wrote. Rogers made the poet-mom life seem more possible. 

Dayna Patterson reads “Servant, Birthright” by Pattiann Rogers

AH: How has Rogers’s writing inspired your own? 

DP: My understanding is that Rogers minored in zoology, and I appreciate both the close observations and the zooming out to glimpse the big picture that she does in her poems. I’m enamored by her attention to detail in the natural world, which I find an endless source of wonder and amazement, both in my life and in my own work. But her poetic magic is more than just attention to detail. She seems to be really gifted with maneuvering the extended metaphor, linking together some wonderfully strange ideas and running with them.

Dayna Patterson reads “‘God is in the Details’ says the Mathematician Freeman J. Dyson” by Pattiann Rogers

AH: Why did you choose these poems specifically? 

DP: Rogers has a lot to say about god, doesn’t she? Coming back to her work after more than a decade, after a huge fluctuation in my own faith, I’ve been particularly piqued by how she talks about god and how god changes over time. In her earlier work, she seems to affirm the existence of god and the soul, and then later there’s much more room for doubt. I read “Servant, Birthright” a few months ago for the first time, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m haunted by the idea of god as a cow, the speaker’s relationship to the cow, how it morphs over time. I wonder how closely the speaker of the poem reflects Rogers’s own ideas about her relationship to god. I wonder what metaphor I could write into to transcribe my own shifting relationship to divinity. 

I chose “God is in the Details” because I’m more drawn, these days, to the Feminine Divine. I was raised Mormon, and Mormon theology has a godhead made up of God the Father (male), God the Son (aka Jesus, also male), and God the Holy Ghost (you guessed it–male). There’s a God the Mother, but she’s considered by many to be too sacred to speak of, and Mormons are forbidden to pray to Her. After leaving Mormonism, I’m still curious about the idea of a Feminine Divine figure. I also began dabbling in embroidery and textile arts a couple of years ago, so this poem, with its down-to-earth grandma-god stitching the fine details of the world? Well, I wish I’d written it. 

AH: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share? 

DP: My first full-length collection, If Mother Braids a WaterfalI, just turned two! My next poetry book, O Lady, Speak Again, a collection of Post-Mormon feminist poems that riff on Shakespeare, is forthcoming from Signature Books. In my spare time, I curate Poetry + Fungus, a pairing of poetry books with species from the fungal world. 


Pattiann Rogers is an American poet from the Midwest. She has received two NEA grants, four Pushcart Prizes, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lannan Poetry Fellowship over the course of her prolific career. Her poetry collections include Quickening Fields (Penguin, 2017), Wayfare (Penguin, 2008), and Firekeeper: New and Selected Poems (Milkweed Editions, 1994).

Find a collection of her work at Poetry.

Purchase a copy of Firekeeper at Milkweed.

Read more about Rogers here.

Dayna Patterson is a Thea-curious recovering Mormon, fungophile, macrophotography enthusiast, and textile artist. She’s the author of Titania in Yellow (Porkbelly Press, 2019) and If Mother Braids a Waterfall (Signature Books, 2020). Honors include the Association for Mormon Letters Poetry Award and the 2019 #DignityNotDetention Poetry Prize judged by Ilya Kaminsky. Her creative work has appeared recently in EcoTheo, Kenyon Review, and Whale Road Review. She’s the founding editor (now emerita) of Psaltery & Lyre and a co-editor of Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry. In her spare time, she curates Poetry + Fungus, a pairing of poetry books and species from the fungal world.

Find Dayna online at daynapatterson.com

Purchase If a Mother Braids a Waterfall here.

Read Dayna’s poem “Our Lady of Thread” at The Kenyon Review.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is an Iranian-American multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. Her writing has appeared in Barren Magazine, Hobart, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Kristin LaFollette Reads Steve Henn

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials. Poet, educator, and editor Kristin LaFollette has joined us this week to discuss mentorship, inspirations, and recent reads. As always, thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: Why did you choose Steve Henn for this feature? What was your first experience with his work?

Kristin LaFollette: I started reading Henn’s work when his book Indiana Noble Sad Man of the Year (Wolfson Press, 2017) was released. Henn was actually my AP English teacher during my senior year of high school, and his teaching and mentorship over the years has impacted my writing in so many ways. I first started writing poetry in a creative writing class during my freshman year of high school, but I became more interested in poetry in Henn’s class a few years later. He attended Indiana University South Bend (IUSB) and talked so highly of his experience there that I ended up going there for my BA and MA in English and creative writing. 

Henn, LaFollette, and Kaveh Akbar

Henn’s name might sound familiar if you’ve heard or read any interviews with the poet Kaveh Akbar (here’s one example). Akbar and I were in that same AP English class together with Henn, and as Akbar has indicated in many interviews, Henn had a great impact on his writing life, as well. Even after I graduated, I would see Henn at literary events at IUSB and he would remember things I wrote and talk to me about them. When my first chapbook came out, he drove from Indiana to Ohio to do a reading with me at Bowling Green State University. He just wrote a blurb for my recently-released poetry collection, Hematology

I chose him for this feature because he is so invested in his students and other writers and is a voracious reader. Since he’s so often promoting the work of others, I’m hoping this interview can give his work some of the attention it deserves. 

Just for fun: Also, Henn and Akbar did a reading together at IUSB back in 2017 and I drove from Ohio to see them read (see the attached image). It was a fun reunion, and listening to both of them read reminded me that brilliant writers can come from anywhere, even Warsaw, IN. 

Kristin LaFollette reads “World’s #1 Dad” by Steve Henn

AH: What draws you to Henn’s work specifically? Have you been inspired by it? 

KL: There’s so much to appreciate about Henn’s poetry, but one thing that stands out is how skillfully and surprisingly he intersects humor with heavy subject matter; many of his poems are both funny and poignant at the same time. Steve also isn’t afraid to tackle difficult social and/or political issues in his work, but he often does so in a lighthearted way that encourages readers to think about or consider issues in new and different ways. 

I am inspired by Henn’s work because it conveys that a skilled poet can write about any subject effectively and that inspiration can come from anywhere. Further, his poems are good reminders not to take life too seriously and that bringing humor into poetry can be helpful in articulating and processing complex feelings and experiences.

AH: For those who are interested in reading more work like Henn’s, do you have any recommendations? What other writers have you been adoring lately?

KL: One poet who comes to mind is Darren C. Demaree. His poetry reminds me of Henn’s in so many ways, but probably because of his sometimes-humorous approaches to heavy topics. He also writes about fatherhood and important social issues, so those are additional common threads. I just finished reading a child walks in the dark (Harbor Editions, 2021), Demaree’s recent book release, and I highly recommend it to fans of Henn’s poetry. 

Other poetry collections I’ve read recently and loved: Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar, Wobble by Rae Armantrout, Advice from the Lights by Stephanie Burt, and Pine by Julia Koets. 

Kristin LaFollette reads “The Mother of My Children” by Steve Henn

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

KL: This has been a busy season for me! My first full-length collection of poetry, Hematology, won the 2021 Harbor Editions Laureate Prize and was released in December. I’ve done several readings to promote that, including a book launch hosted by my university on February 17th. Also, a review of Hematology was just published in Gasher!

I recently served on the judging team for the Perugia Press Prize, and I’m on the editorial board at Mud Season Review as the Art Editor (we just released #60 – check it out here!). In the past couple months, I’ve had poetry featured in The Maynard, Harpy Hybrid Review, and Poetry is Currency. My writing and research are often focused on the body and medicine, and I had a series of seven poems featured in February 2022 at The Blood Project (TBP), an educational platform that works toward building bridges between the humanities, science, and patient care.

You can read more content from this interview at the Sundress Patreon.


Steve Henn is a writer and high school English teacher. His poems have appeared in New York Quarterly, Into the Void, and Rattle, among others. He is the author of multiple poetry collections, including American Male (Main Street Rag, 2022) and Guilty Prayer (Main Street Rag, 2021).

Find Steve at his website.

Read his poem “I Remember” at Twyckenham Notes.

Purchase his newest chapbook here.

 Kristin LaFollette is a writer, artist, and photographer and serves as the Art Editor at Mud Season Review. She is the author of Hematology (winner of the 2021 Harbor Editions Laureate Prize) and Body Parts (winner of the 2017 GFT Press Chapbook Contest). She received her Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University and is a professor at the University of Southern Indiana. 

Find Kristin’s website here: https://www.kristinlafollette.com

Purchase Kristin’s collection Hematology here.

Follow Kristin on Twitter.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is an Iranian-American multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. Her writing has appeared in Barren Magazine, Hobart, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Allison Blevins Reads Kerri French

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week we are joined with poet and educator Allison Blevins, who has read the work of Kerri French. Join us in a discussion about when we first discover our favorite poets, literary inspirations, and what’s next. As always, thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: When was the first time you read French’s work? Why did it stand out to you then? 

Black & White

Allison Belvins: I first read her book Every Room in the Body in 2018.  I had just given birth to our youngest child.  I was experiencing postpartum depression and something about French’s struggle with pregnancy resonated with where I was.  Ultimately, this book is about the body.  At the time, mine was betraying me.  I was supposed to be joyful.  The book made me feel a little less lonely.

Allison Blevins Reads “In Which I Play the Part of Myself” by Kerri French

AH: How has French’s writing inspired your own? 

AB: In 2019, I was slowly paralyzed from the waist down.  I learned to walk again and was eventually diagnosed with MS.  Not only did I have to learn how to be chronically ill and disabled, I had to learn how to write my new body.  My research and reading became only books on disability, pain, and illness.  Every Room in the Body was a book I came back to.  How do you write the truth in a way that able bodied folks will want to hear it?  French’s book is able to haunt but without overcoming the reader.  This was incredibly inspiring to my own work.

Allison Blevins Reads “32 Weeks” by Kerri French

AH: Why did you choose these poems specifically? 

AB: I picked these three poems because they were the ones with creased pages.  I’d marked them.  I knew I’d come back to them, and I was right.  

AH: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share? 

AB: I have a collaborative chapbook from Seven Kitchens Press publishing in March with the poet Josh Davis. I have a lyric memoir publishing in April from BlazeVox, and I have a collection publishing in September with YesYes Books.  I’m also currently working on an anthology of work by queer disabled folks with an unbelievably awesome team of editors!

You can read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Kerri French is a poet and author based outside of Nashville, Tennessee. She is the author of Every Room in the Body (Moon City Press, 2017) and received degrees from UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Greensboro, and Boston University. Her poems have appeared in The Nashville Review, Washington Square Review, and Copper Nickel, among many others.

Find her website here.

Purchase her collection Every Room in the Body here.

Read her poem “Like a Prayer” at Barrelhouse.

Allison Blevins is the author of four chapbooks and the collection Slowly/Suddenly (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2021). Her books Handbook for the Newly Disabled (BlazeVox, 2022) and Cataloging Pain (YesYes Books, 2022) are forthcoming.  Her work has appeared in such journals as Mid-American Reviewthe minnesota review, and Raleigh Review.  She is the Director of Small Harbor Publishing and the Executive Editor at the museum of americana.  She lives in Missouri with her partner and three children. 

 Find her online at http://www.allisonblevins.com.

Discover her chapbooks here.

Read her poem “Who’s Afraid of Silence” here.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. Her writing has appeared in Barren Magazine, Hobart, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Odessa Charon Reads Brian Doyle

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week writer and teacher Odessa Charon has joined us to discuss the work of Brian Doyle, fateful encounters, and the divinity that surrounds us in our everyday lives. Thank you for reading and, as always, we hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: What was your first experience with Doyle’s work?

Image of Doyle was taken by Odessa when they met.

Odessa Charon: There was a Literature professor I had, when I went to college in the eerie lowland expanse of Ohio. This professor was a mentor and confidant. At the time, I was struggling with my mental health, oscillating between severe depressive and manic episodes. I had begun processing a CPTSD diagnosis, while still living in a dorm room where I experienced a deep trauma. I felt Godly entities had deserted me. My brain was a consistent threat to my existence. Art and spirituality no longer fed me. Life did not inspire.

One afternoon, forbidden spliff already between my lips as we wrapped up a class session, this professor-guide called me into her office before I could rush out the door to get stoned. Without words, this professor pushed a photocopy of Brian Doyle’s prose poem, “A Sin” across her cherrywood desk. Intuitively, she knew it was exactly what I needed, in the midst of tumult. 

Never before had I read a piece which so defiantly shirked conventions of formatting. “A Sin” echoed my own writing style and mental health at the time; swirling, hypomanic thought processes, free of punctuation unless absolutely necessary. Yet Doyle grounded his works in what is true and unchanging. While brain chemistries and emotions are fleeting, Brian Doyle wrote words rooted in the grace(ful/less-ness) experience of humanness. In both his writing style and the Divine love, hope, anger, and confusion he spoke to, I felt held and inspired.

Odessa Charon reads “A Song of Believing” by Brian Doyle

Read the poem here.

AH: In our correspondence, you mentioned a life changing experience with Doyle. How has he inspired your work?

OC: Around the time of being gifted “A Sin,” I was introduced to Martin Heidegger’s theory of thrownness; the feeling of having-been-thrown into the world. After a particularly transformative psychedelic experience, I became acutely aware of my own place on this Earth. Shattering like tectonic plates, a stagnant piece of me shifted. Meditations within this dark night of the soul forced the realization that I was living in a pattern of dissociation. While my internal world was going through a death-life cycle, I understood I would never reach the “life” stage, unless I left Ohio. Portland, Oregon intuitively called to me. I knew no one there, and had never visited. 

If you have ever spent an extended period of time in Portland, you may have noticed the extreme “portal” that that place is. Living in that part of the Pacific Northwest grants access to elements of spiritual awakening which are incredibly specific to the land there. Everyone, and I do mean that, I came across while living there was on some kind of pilgrimage towards something larger. Portland breathes in those who are ready for that journey. For me, it was exactly where I needed to be. Coincidentally, Brian Doyle also lived and taught there.

Before I decided to leave my college in Ohio, I decided to tour Portland, just to be sure I wanted to move there. Spiritual knowingness is one thing, but logistics are a whole other. On a whim, sitting in my campus dining hall, I emailed Doyle at his University of Portland address. I asked if we could meet, just to chat about his work. I explained that I was not a reporter, or any kind of professional in the literary word—just a nineteen year old fan, processing a phenomenological awakening. We could get lunch, or coffee. He responded, “I don’t have meetings over food, but you’re welcome to come to my office.” 

We sat in his university office for an hour. We reflected together on how a Midwest landscape of seeming nothingness can inform an ecstatic experience (he related it to Jesus in the desert). I processed moving away from my Jewish religious background (“when you’re nineteen, it’s important to discover what you actually believe in”). Between students dropping off essays, Brian Doyle and I processed religion vs. spirituality vs. the mystical (in his words, most organized religions are “smoke and mirrors and performance”). We spoke of how to write, and why (“because you need to”). We laughed, too. Brian Doyle was an insightful, perceptive man, profoundly connected to the Great Unknown, as much as he was a humorist. If it doesn’t bring you joy, he said in some other words, don’t do it.

That meeting inspired me to embrace mystery. My creative work is a chimera and oftentimes, a shapeshifter. If I were to force it into one genre, or one format, I would lose my magic and passion. In a way, he gave me a sort of permission, for sacred embodiment. Before I left Brian Doyle’s office, he gave me one of his own copies of Grace Notes. On the title page, he inscribed in his winding handwriting, 

“To my friend Odessa—

With laughter and prayers and my regards on your work—

best wishes for light and for fun in it—

Brian Doyle.”

Something to note is that Brian Doyle passed away from a brain tumor, about seven months after we met. I am forever in gratitude for his lessons, his impact, and his presence.

Odessa Charon reads “if we got to be what we so want to be” by Brian Doyle  

Read the poem here.

AH: Why did you choose these poems specifically?

OC: I chose the poems/proem, “The best poem ever” (available on the Sundress Patreon); “A song of believing”; and “If we ever got to be what we so want to be” because they represent the mission of Brian Doyle’s work, as well as my own philosophy of living. All three speak to noticing the Divine in everything, everywhere. Life, as crushing as it can be, is also devastatingly beautiful if you open your eyes to it. In “a song of believing”, Doyle writes, 

Look, I know all too well that the story of the world is entropy, things fly apart, we sicken, we fail, we grow weary, we divorce, we are hammered and hounded by loss and accidents and tragedies, we slide away into the dark oceans behind the stars.

But I also know that we are carved of immense confusing holiness; that the whole point for us is grace under duress; and that you either take a flying leap at nonsensical illogical unreasonable ideas like marriage and marathons and democracy and divinity, or you huddle behind the brooding wall.

Brian Doyle did not pretend that the inherent transcendency of life was all rainbows and ascension. He did not invalidate that this world is rife with heartbreak, and valid terror. The point is, you feel the fear, and do it anyway. Both hope and loss can be held at the same time. One may be more prevalent than the other at times, but it does not mean the light goes away. Personally, mindful awareness of duality is a lifeboat; it saved me, and continues to do so.

Both “The best poem ever” and “If we ever got to be what we so want to be” are also testaments to that idea. I have spent the last five years as an early childhood educator. This was not a line of work which I ever saw myself entering, but it has been a healing balm for my inner child. Working with children has further enlightened me to the idea that there is magic and mystery all around us, at all times. In “the best poem over,” Doyle and his child consider, 

Maybe there are a lot of poems that you can’t write

Down. Couldn’t that be? But they’re still there even

If no one can write them down, right? Poems in

Books are only a little bit of all the poems there are.

Those are only the poems someone found words for.

Poetry, like Divine inspiration, like grace, are always accessible to those who can bring themselves to notice it. A core part of childhood, ideally, is the ability to play. Playing, to me, is a form of connecting with something much more intuitive and special, than the adult world gives credit to. As adults, play is a form of inner child healing. Play can also include writing. If we as grown-ups can embrace a childlike sense of wonder—if we could grasp the fluidity of art, emotion, and Godliness (whatever that means to you)—I believe we would all be much better off.

AH: What have you been up to lately (life, writing, anything)? 

OC: Currently, I feel myself arising from a contractive state. I view life as a series of “contractions” and “expansions.” Contraction, like the physical pains of labor; expansion, as in the literal life that comes as a result. I moved to Portland, Maine (I must love port cities) in the autumn, and am still finding my footing here. I have a couple of friends, but no writing community thus far. It is cold as hell and being a teacher in a pandemic is… Yeah.

I love Maine and am grateful to be here. Physically and psycho-spiritually, I am exactly where I need to be. Is it comfortable? God, no. Is it aligned and worth it? Unequivocally, yes.

Soon, I am navigating a total career switch to the publishing industry. It is scary, to do a thing for the very first time. But that fear is so juicy, in a way. It is such a potent time for growth. Creatively, I am in a fallow period of working on my book, Nostos. I write trauma narratives, which tend to spill onto the page when they are good and ready. I trust myself and the process. Fallow periods are preparation. Divine timing never fails.


Brian Doyle was an American writer and educator. Doyle was the editor of Portland Magazine, taught at the University of Oregon, and was the author of several novels, poetry collections, and essays collections. He was the recipient of multiple Pushcart Prizes and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.

Read some of his work at Orion.

Read about him at LitHub.

Learn more about his books here.

Odessa Charon (they/them) is a writer, teacher, and spiritual intuitive. Primarily through symbology related to Greek myth, they write from their own experiences of recovery from childhood abuse and sexual trauma. In support of them writing their first creative nonfiction book, Nostos, Odessa is a grateful recipient of a Regional Arts and Culture Council grant. Through writing and intuitive work, Odessa is a healing guide for brave souls, journeying to their own underworlds. Odessa Charon resides in Portland, Maine. They live with two witchy cats and the friendly spirits in their apartment. You can follow them on Instagram for thoughts on mental health and spirituality, at @odessaiswriting.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. Her writing has appeared in Barren Magazine, Hobart, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com