Sundress Reads: Review of Bath by Jen Silverman

The Sundress Reads logo is black and white and features a fluffy sheep drinking a mug of tea, reading a book, and sitting cross-legged on a stool.
The cover of Bath by Jen Silverman centers a photograph of a shadowy white woman with closed eyes and wet skin and hair. The image is in dark and blue tones and the title and author's name is in a silver, linear font that fades at the edges.

In an interview with Jerrod Schwarz included at the end of the collection, Jen Silverman explains that she “wanted to contend with a multitude of possibilities” surrounding baths. “You can be immersed or submerged. You can be bathed in sensation, you can be deluged in light.” Water surrounds us in bathtubs and fills us as we drink; the language of Jen Silverman’s Bath (Driftwood Press, 2022) similarly surrounds and fills.

The purpose of water and other liquids shifts throughout Bath. Water may “quiver like a fugitive” as it flashes a reflection. Speakers are “treading water” or use “each hand cupped / on a different set of promises.” Water creates “ocean-memory / sharp as brine” and sparks “the fountain of youth.”

Nevertheless, “the fountain of youth” has “a limit” and is described as “a steam-choked pool.” In Bath, water is not only a regenerator or refresher; baths are threatening and ominous, even deadly. This subversion is seen most clearly in Silverman’s twisting of baptism, a holy and divine type of bath. In “Bath 6,” “they dropped you in the river. They said / Praise Jesus, Praise Him. You bobbed up / half-drowned… Somewhere in / the river mud, you lost your God.” Or, similarly, in “Bath 3,” “you baptize yourself in sorrow, again and again. / You baptize yourself with bourbon and brandy.” Here, baths are not spiritual experiences, but a destructive power that traps and chokes.

Most poems take place in a specified location, like “Boston,” “Louisville,” or “Cairo.” These locations help differentiate poems that investigate similar themes and often include nameless characters. Silverman explains that “there’s a lot of truth to be found in the details—what a place looks and smells like, the quality of its light—but also the specificity of… language.” The setting, like water itself, is fluid and changing. The reader can’t know where the speaker most belongs, where they are most at home, or where they were raised. 

In “The Devil Dogs My Steps, but if it Weren’t Him, it Would Just be Someone Else,” the speaker of the poem is “living in Cincinnati.” She isn’t sure that Cincinnati is home—she even asks “if you can call this living.” But, in Cincinnati, the Devil “calls” and “lingers.” The Devil and the speaker walk and talk together, even as he oversteps and complicates. “He isn’t invited per se, / but also, / he isn’t not.” “The Devil says: / I like to come home because it reminds me / what a disaster we make / of what’s ours.” But where is home for the speaker of this poem, or the speakers of Bath? Does the speaker avoid home to avoid her created disasters, as the Devil suggests, or is home found in relationships, in all their chaos and their miracles? As “a beefy woman at the bar says: / I like to travel because it reminds me / how great it is to be home.”

From this perspective, the role of water seems to foster connection. For example, “when I shower, you sit on the floor, / only steam between us.” Water fills the space between people, and a father’s love for his newborn daughter in “Bath 8” “becomes a weather-system / of love.” A few weeks later “he has panic attacks / all the time.” Relationships, and the delight and terror they cause, are as necessary as drinking water. The speaker explains that they “can’t stop thinking / that I’m going to die.” “Groceries, laundry, / bills of course, / but even the good stuff / …that stuff too: / gonna die.” Death anxiety follows the delight of interpersonal connection; this becomes a metaphor for humanity’s relationship with water, where the very thing we need to survive can kill so easily.

In “Bath 11,” the final poem of the collection, the speaker wonders “how strange it is: all the ways we are given to make / family.” For all the heartache of community, the speaker does not isolate herself. She spends New Year’s Eve with a kind of family, and her “ex’s wife tells us about giving birth / to their daughter.” On one hand, the scene seems full of fractured connection: the ex that married someone else, the foreshadowing of “B and I… breaking up,” and “my partner… that has yet to arrive.” And yet, when asked “to explain all this, / …what could I say but: Love.” In all of this, Silverman keeps bathing, even in the face of every potential loss.

Bath is available at Driftwood Press


A white woman with red hair, round, tortoise shell glasses, and a blue coat sits on a stone bench against a stone wall and looks directly at the camera.

Hailey Small is based in Wilmore, Kentucky, where she writes lyric prose and watches gingko leaves turn soft each November. Hailey is a junior at Asbury University, working towards a BA in English and History. She enjoys working in Asbury’s writing center, where she partners with remedial English students to make academia and creative writing more accessible. Most recently, Hailey was published in The Asbury Review, where she also serves as the creative non-fiction editor, and anthrowcircus.com

Project Bookshelf: Mary Sims

One of my favorite pastimes to this day is exploring local second-hand bookstores. In middle school, my mom would take me to a small store close to our house, blending our time there with the small coffee shop across the street. My summers were spent rotating between them both and my local library, which was also within walking distance. After all of these years, I can’t count how many books I have bought from that store, but I know it was enough to have filled my childhood bookshelf.

Presently, I still visit that bookstore, and I love it just as much. Perhaps the biggest change I’ve experienced in the routine is the shift in content on my bookshelves. My days of Percy Jackson and John Green were left behind for my growing love of classics and poetry. Woolf and Wilde replaced Rowling; Mary Oliver and Danez Smith took the place of C.S Lewis. My break from middle school was marked by my transition into new genres. I became obsessed with classic literature and contemporary poetry. Kay Ryan’s The Best of It was the beginning collection that steered me into poetry. Even now, the book is still on my shelf, crowded against the more recent collections I’ve enjoyed. 

In taking one look at my bookshelf, my favorites become obvious. Poetry and plays litter the upper shelf, organized carefully so that no author overshadows another. Sarah Kane is able to meet Tiana Clark without distraction and Mary Oliver sits beside Franny Choi in an organized chaos of styles. This shelf is not only important to me because of the community they represent, but because these collections have inspired me to pursue poetry. Louise Gluck’s The Wild Iris introduced me to the importance of movement within a poem. I would spend my time reading this collection between my classes and job, marveling at her ability to shift within her stanzas; I remember sitting out on my university library’s steps and highlighting lines in the sunlight.

In addition to Gluck’s collection, Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf is one of my most treasured books. This collection was my gateway into contemporary poetry as it showed me how to love poetry in all its different forms. I was fortunate enough to get it signed in January and keep it displayed proudly. Sitting beside Akbar’s poems is another one of my more recent purchases: Franny Choi’s Soft Science. This collection taught me the imperative role form plays in conducting the message of a poem. Beyond what I have learned from it, this collection holds a special place in my heart as it contains one of my favorite poems: Introduction to Quantum Theory. The first time I read this poem, I felt the world around me melt away. Predictably, reading Soft Science had the same effect as I tore through it. 

Many other notable books I still find myself enraptured by are Richard Siken’s War of the Foxes, Araclis Girmay’s Kingdom Animalia, Sarah Kane’s collected plays, and Hieu Minh Nguyen’s This Way To The Sugar. Siken’s collection was a gift I received two Christmases ago after I had devoured his first collection Crush in under a day. His ability to condense emotion into action devastated me, and I simply had to have more of it. The relationship of the speaker and the reader seemed foundational to Siken’s emotional construction. Oftentimes, his poems gave the impression of an intentionally fragile structure, waiting to be torn apart. Similarly, Girmay’s collection is one I had on my list for a long time. I finally purchased my copy for a directed study course I took with one of my favorite professors. As expected, her collection was hypnotic. I was fixated on her use of images to place her reader into each poem as well as remove them just as quick. Her ability to deconstruct interaction within her own work was breathtaking, and I couldn’t tear myself away.

This past fall I was able to visit with family friends in Seattle, Washington — one of my favorite places to be — where I picked up a copy of Nguyen’s book at a local bookstore I come to each time I’m in the city. I carried his collection across the city and then over the ocean as I started to read it. Of course, it’s no surprise how quickly i became immersed. Nguyen’s use of careful violence in each poem entangled me, leading me to continuously marvel at each image he crafted. Sarah Kane’s plays were something I discovered indirectly, but I am very glad I did. Last summer I came across her work in a short quote shared by a book-review blogger I follow. I was so entranced; I hadn’t read many plays outside of school assignments, and I wanted to correct that. I ordered her collection, finishing the whole thing in two days. I was torn apart; I was resurrected. There is no other way to describe how I felt reading her work.

My second shelf is a little more disorganized, which also reflects my relationship with fiction. There is a blend of university assigned readings, high school fascinations, and ‘to-read’ piles all pressed together. This shelf contains my collected fiction and non-fiction. Writers like Jamaica Kincaid and Bram Stoker meet each other within the chaos. Last year I became very invested in non-fiction; I picked up the exploration that was Cat Marnell’s How to Murder Your Life and snowballed from there. On my bookshelf is one of Terry Tempest Williams’ books Refuge, which continues to inspire me even a year after my first reading. I was stunned by her ability to blend dreamscapes with reality while remaining within her non-fiction genre. The structure of each realization throughout was framed by a careful preciseness, leaving the reader with a constant impression of standing at the edge of a cliff and refusing to look directly downwards. 

My love for fiction fluctuates between fixation and fascination. During my sophomore year of university I set a challenge to read fifty books I hadn’t read before. J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher and the Rye was something I had been recommended by a friend in passing and thus became the first on my list. Though the novel is surrounded by controversy, it is still one of my favorite classics. Stream of consciousness is something I lean heavily towards — my annotated copy of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway speaks for itself — so it may come as no surprise that I found Holden Caulfield’s narrative intriguing and relatable. Lastly, lying beside Catcher in the Rye is another classic that influenced me heavily— Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I started this novel in high school after one of my best friends recommended it to me; I would finish my classwork early to read it at my desk, glancing over at my friend occasionally as if to say, can you believe this? She would simply raise one eyebrow across the room, and I knew we were in agreement. 

Literature is an imperative piece of the person I am. If I were to explain my personality in objects, books would certainly be a necessary part of the picture. I am sure these pictures of my bookshelf reveal more about me than I have written, but I do hope that the stories I’ve tied to each book help to shape a perspective. I think the most important part in my journey with literature is where it started. I didn’t learn the importance of literature from my school system growing up, but rather I learned it from who I discovered each genre with. I found literature with the people I care most about: my mother and that bookstore, my best friend and Wilde, my coworkers and I arguing over Stephen King’s inability to write a decent ending. 


Mary Sims is an undergraduate writer working towards her BA in English at Kennesaw State University. She is currently a poetry editor for Waymark Literary Magazine and a former student editor for the Atlanta based magazine Muse/A. Her work has appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Poetry Annals, Peach Mag, and more. She can often be found filling her shelves with poetry collections, roaming antique stores, or laughing over raspberry cappuccinos with friends.

The Poet at the Art Museum

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The Chrysler Museum of Art, recently re-opened in Norfolk, Virginia after being closed for more than a year for an extensive renovation and expansion, is a goldmine of knowledge and inspiration for visual artists and writers alike. The space is cavernous, with soft sunlight in the inner courtyard and tastefully chosen lighting in the galleries. There is a quality of the place that muffles sound and lends it a sacred feeling.

I am reminded of Larkin’s poem “Church Going”, only the holy here is still holy. Here in quiet beauty are some of the greatest images that the human inner eye and hands have ever wrought. Highlights include Mary Cassatt’s The Familywhich depicts, in golden summer light, a mother, young daughter and a chubby baby, forming a kind of mystic triangle. Works of art like this never fail to suggest images and stories to other kinds of artists who deal in images, writers and poets. Possible questions for the writer who stands before this painting are who is this woman, what does she feel holding the baby in her arms, what thoughts are going through the mind of young girl as she stares so intently at the baby? Love or jealousy or both? What is the building is behind them, and who waits there?

But beyond this are the colors and shapes of the piece and the way they stimulate the poet’s image making faculty: the purple of the woman’s dress, the black of the girl’s dress, the shiny round flesh of the baby’s belly. I believe that you can’t force inspiration, but you can definitely put yourself in situations that make it more likely to come. No situation is as viscerally powerful as standing in front of this painting, or any of the dozens of others there, not to mention the Greek, Chinese, Arabic and Japanese art, the glass collection, and the mirrored abstract sculptures out in the garden.

Oh! There’s a new café in case all this art makes you thirsty for a beer. Yes, I said beer. Local craft. Try the Smartmouth Art Mouth, brewed just for the re-opening. But if you can’t make it to out to Norfolk, go to an art museum near you. Any good museum can be an essential resource for the creative writer.

Gary Charles Wilkens, Assistant Professor of English at Norfolk State University, was the winner of the 2006 Texas Review Breakthrough Poetry Prize for his first book, The Red Light Was My Mind. His poems have appeared in more than 50 online and print venues, among themThe Texas Review, The Cortland Review, the Adirondack Review, The Prague Revue, and The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume II:Mississippi.