Sundress Reads: A Review of Escape of Light

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape of Light is available at Finishing Line Press


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

Lyric Essentials: Hayley Mitchell Haugen Reads Kari Gunter-Seymour

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Further reading:

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

Sundress Reads: A Review of Every Possible Thing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Lyric Essentials: Lucian Mattison Reads Juan Gelman

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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

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 poets.org.

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 http://ericahoffmeister.com/

Project Bookshelf with Editorial Intern Emma Hudson

I’m going to start by admitting the image on the left is not my bookshelf. When I texted my mom to ask if she could take a picture of my high school bookshelf so I could write this transformative article about my finely-tuned reading material she sent a picture of my 16-year-old sister’s bookshelf.

Mom: Cate said hers is more artsy.

I had to laugh. We have the same black wood-finished bookcase from Target, but somehow, hers surpasses me in a made-up ‘Artsy Bookshelf Contest.’ I guess fairy lights must be the sole determiner of coveted ‘artsy’ titles.

Yes, my sister always had a talent for complimenting me and insulting me in one sentence—a quality I ultimately love about her. On one hand, the art on her shelf is art I made back in the days of free time, but on the other, she’s insinuating my bookshelf aesthetic is no match for her elephant tape dispenser

Maybe she has a point. I organize books by where they fit on my shelf. My one back home (the ‘high school’ one) is two rows deep on the top two shelves. Thinly painted metal bookends try to contain the young-adult chaos from overspilling.

My college shelf continues on the legacy of trying to contain the chaos with thin chicken-College shelf with bodiless Chimmycoup wires ( a ‘steal’ from Homegoods is what my mom calls it). Some books I have yet to read, others are textbooks of semesters’ past, and I have a good stack of albums I regard with childhood remembrance to my latest Waterparks album with catchy and personally unrelatable tunes like “I Miss Having Sex But At Least I Don’t Want To Die (a hit radio-bleeped classic).

A further example of my love for music is displayed on the middle outward-facing encasement at the top is specifically saved for my collection of treasured BTS albums. The brave yellow-hooded BT21 character, Chimmy, is bodiless, but a good guard nonetheless.

Again, I organize by where everything can fit in a somewhat immaculate state. The position of honor for my most beloved books does not stay on the shelf. They float.

Since my freshman year in the cramped, yet warm space of my Hess Hall room is where this concept and artistic need initialized. Books and music are my ultimate loves even if I’m not an expert in creating either, I admire their mere creation.

close-up of floating books

The grayscale posters surround my favorite book series. Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne, is a series that shaped my interests in emotional and apocalyptic storytelling. The same descriptions apply to Issac Marion’s Warm Bodies. Zombies have been on my mind since my early middle-school-age fascination with “The Walking Dead.” As for a zombie who would learn love and understanding is the cure, I like to believe those words can cure all apocalypse epidemics (fictional and real as idealistic as it sounds).

Like my personality and appearance, my shelves have always been a semi-functioning mess with an element of chaotic good to keep things interesting—and on some appealing artistic level. Chimmy will remain guard with his fearsome tongue if anyone thinks they can touch my BTS albums without my permission.


Emma Hudson is currently a third year student at the University of Tennessee working on her double concentration BA in English: Rhetoric and Creative Writing, along with a minor in retail consumer science. She’s a busy bee; she is the Editor-in-Chief of the up-and-coming Honey Magazine. Emma is also a long-time member and leader in UTK’s Creative Writing Club and on the Executive Board for UTK’s Sigma Tau Delta, Alpha Epsilon chapter. In her free time, she figures out how to include K-Pop group BTS into her research projects and watches “reality” tv shows.

Meet Our New Editorial Intern: Emma Hudson

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I never dreamed of being a writer, yet here I am: writing. Growing up, I daydreamed while taking bus rides home from school about having superpowers. I played outside on historic military weaponry like military brats living on base typically did back then. I also played inside, but only with my younger sister, who’s five years my junior—she was the only one who understood the importance of maintaining societal standards that reflected High School Musical.

I especially loved to pretend I was going to become a mega-rockstar. Maybe I still have time to fulfill that dream despite my complete lack of musical talent.

Until the day comes when I absorb superpowers or musical prowess, I enjoy writing: I want to write no matter if I attain any of these seemingly unrealistic qualities.

In my own right, I feel like a rockstar. My experience as a writer in middle school and high school was nonexistent outside of papers for class. I didn’t think much about those papers. I thought more about the books I read in school and in my free time.

Each English class I took throughout my years in high school typically ended up being my favorite class. I annotated, took notes, and participated in class—giving my take on how I thought Romeo and Juliet were more desperate than star-crossed and how drawing comparisons between characters like Heathcliff and Edward Cullen weren’t as applicable as my peers believed.

I had no idea where I wanted to go for my higher education experience. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do or become. My dad, my forever peer-reviewer, pointed out I was always reading and writing. Sure, I wrote rough drafts of story ideas on my laptop: I even dreamed about publishing a novel, one that could surpass the likes of John Green, whom I later discovered would be the center of some UTK Creative Writing Club jokes (Apologies Mr. Green, we mean well and admire your success).

I only applied for two schools and only for their writing programs. I got into both, but I picked the University of Tennessee. It wasn’t the bright orange beckoning me or because my dad graduated from the university in 1989 that I chose to come here. I came to discover myself.

If someone from today’s present went back to tell college freshman me that I would become motivated to join a lot of organizations thanks to the empowering music by seven men from South Korea, I would have no idea what to think.

Today, I still write more for class than anything else, but I love writing more than ever. As an English Major with a double concentration in rhetoric and creative writing, I’m learning about various forms of writing, challenging myself to write within multiple disciplines.

Since freshman year, I’ve been a member of UTK’s Creative Writing Club. Without my friends, I wouldn’t have the bravery to share my work. In the following year, I joined Honey Magazine in its first semester. Now I’m the Editor-in-Chief and hope to finalize our first publication by the end of the 2020 spring semester.

During the same year, I became a member of Sigma Tau Delta and ran for the Executive Board. In the year I’ve been a member, I will get the opportunity to present my rhetorical research on K-Pop group BTS and their fandom BTS ARMY at an international conference that focuses on literature. It’s crazy and a wild dream come true.

Another dream come true is getting to intern for Sundress. I might’ve never grown up dreaming of becoming a writer, but learning how to become a writing rockstar sounds amazing to me.

Emma Hudson is currently a third year student at the University of Tennessee working on her double concentration BA in English: Rhetoric and Creative Writing, along with a minor in retail consumer science. She’s a busy bee; she is the Editor-in-Chief of the up-and-coming Honey Magazine. Emma is also a long-time member and leader in UTK’s Creative Writing Club and on the Executive Board for UTK’s Sigma Tau Delta, Alpha Epsilon chapter. In her free time, she figures out how to include K-Pop group BTS into her research projects and watches “reality” tv shows.

Lyric Essentials: Amy Watkins Reads Carl Phillips

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! In this latest installment, Amy Watkins, author of Wolf Daughter, reads two poems by one of her favorite living poets, Carl Phillips. Amy discusses the act of reading poetry out loud, Phillips’ poetry’s intricate complexity, and Watkins’ new chapbook.

Of special note to regular readers: Sundress would like to welcome former intern Erica Hoffmeister to our staff as the new editor of LE. We’re excited to have her rejoin the team and know she will create fantastic episodes for the series. Thanks for reading!

Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read these two poems by Carl Phillips for Lyric Essentials?

Amy Watkins: I wanted to read something by a living poet. Carl Phillips is one of my favorites, and I had just read his new chapbook, Star Map with Action Figures from Sibling Rivalry Press. I chose these particular poems because I love them; “Sea Glass,” in particular, is one I read over and over. Like a lot of Phillips’s poetry and a lot of my poetry, they’re about love and death, but they’re quiet, controlled. I love that calm, thoughtful voice. I love the metaphorical leaps he makes, and the way the careful syntax and punctuation and line breaks hold it all together.

I also chose these poems because, in spite of the heavy themes, they have a little thread of lightness. In “Sea Glass,” when he says, “some things maybe still a little bit worth being sorry for,” it’s not funny exactly, but there’s a little humor in that wry take on regret. 

Amy Watkins reads “Sea Glass” by Carl Phillips

EH: You said in our discussions that you love reading poetry out loud (and your readings of these poems are beautiful!) – how do reading these particular poems express that love?

AW: These poems are not easy to read out loud because Phillips writes such complex sentences, and he uses line breaks and punctuation so masterfully. I don’t know if you can hear it in my reading, because I tend to read through line breaks a bit, but “Words of Love” has short, choppy lines—some only one word long—and if you read some of the stanzas alone, they momentarily contradict the meaning of the sentence as a whole. 

For instance, the middle of the poem without line breaks goes, “I might have added that not only do I respect, I require mystery. Less and less am I one of those who believes to know a thing, first you touch it…” But there’s a stanza break after “Less and less.” For just a second in the middle of saying something, he subtly suggests its opposite. The form and punctuation are all in on the existential reflecting and reassessing the speaker is doing, so you have to read carefully. It’s a beautiful poem to hear, but also really rewarding to read on the page.

I’m a page poet more than a performer, but I do love reading out loud. I used to host a podcast poetry “magazine” called Red Lion Sq. I enjoyed reading the poems myself, but It was better to have a variety of voices. Sometimes poets would submit recordings, or I would ask other writers or actors to read. I prefer a heightened natural reading voice, but every reader has to find their own sweet spot. Making fun of “poet voice” just makes people self-conscious; however, I don’t think you could convey the meaning of a poem like “Words of Love” with a really affected performance—dramatically pausing and up-turning at the end of every line. My unsolicited advice for reading out loud is to remember that the point is to communicate; speak slowly and clearly, and focus on the poem. And if you’re giving a live reading, practice once or twice, have your material ready so you don’t have to fumble for it when it’s time, and pretend you’re not nervous.

Amy Watkins reads “Words of Love” by Carl Phillips

EH: Has Carl Phillips’ poetry influenced your own writing?

AW: I’m sure it has; I’ve read a lot of it! His book The Art of Daring is the craft book I recommend to my smart friends. But I don’t think my poetry is much like his. My poems are more straightforward. Syntactically they’re a lot simpler than Phillips’s poems. Reading him does make me more aware of punctuation and line breaks. It makes me think more about what a powerful tool grammar is. And we both like similes.

EH: Is there any elements in your newly released chapbook, Wolf Daughter, that you find especially connected to what you’ve talked about here?

AW: Like “Sea Glass,” Wolf Daughter is both heavy and light. It’s about parenting an adolescent girl at this moment in America, only my girl has turned into a wolf. It talks about gun violence and fear of the “other” and alludes to sexual assault, but it also talks about radical confidence and self love, singing in the car, making art—many small joys. There are even two poems about reading out loud together!


Carl Phillips is a one of America’s most celebrated living lyric poets and the author of more than a dozen books of critically acclaimed poetry and criticism. Known as an accidental poet, Phillips earned an M.F.A. from Boston University after studying biology and math at Harvard University. A biracial, queer poet, Phillips’ writing explores themes of dual identities, and has garnered numerous awards and honors. He currently serves as a professor of English and Creative Writing at Washington University in St. Louis and was elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2006. His latest collection of poetry Wild Is the Wind (2018) won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Further reading:

Purchase Carl Phillips’ newest book, Wild is the Wind
Read a feature about Phillips in the New Yorker
Listen to an interview with Phillips on NPR

Amy Watkins is the author of three poetry chapbooks (Milk & Water, Lucky, and Wolf Daughter), a graduate of the Spalding University MFA in Writing, and a parent of a human girl. Find her online at RedLionSq.com or @amykwatkins on Twitter. She lives in Orlando, Florida

Further reading:

Follow Amy Watkins on Twitter
Listen to Amy read more poetry on Red Lion Square podcast
Download and read Wolf Daughter from Sundress Publications

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently living in Denver, she teaches college writing across the Denver metro area and is an editor for the 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) and writes across genres.

Project Bookshelf with Editorial Intern Peyton Vance

My bookcase is black wood, made to look smarter and sharper than it truly is. They say readers treat their books like they do their lovers. I hope that isn’t the case.

While some may highlight their favorite lines, dog-ear pages they reread, or annotate the work until it is a kaleidoscope of paper, I take a different approach.

 I slide off dust covers when reading, as to not damage the books. I do my best not to touch the pages, in fear of ruining the delicate paper with my oily hands. Don’t get me wrong, I do love books. Part of me wishes I could slide a novella in my bag, and read it on the beach, underlining sentences I wish I had come up with. But I’m not that brave. I’m not an Andy who plays with his toys. I’m Al, from Al’s Toybarn, keeping my toys behind a thin pane of glass.

From bottom to top, my bookcase is arranged strategically. Level one is the most haphazard, closest to the ground and least likely to be seen. This is where I keep “smart books”, year books, and paper books I collect coins in. The “smart books” are The Sun Also Rises, Frankenstein, The Grapes of Wrath, and other works that make me feel inferior. 

Above them, is the kid’s shelf, with books I love that are simple. I keep them knowing, hoping, that my kids will enjoy them too. 

Above that, on the third level is my YA section, with killing, love, and everything except sex. Level four is strictly reserved for Stephen King, on a life sentence.

The highest level is the Geek shelf. Where Watchman sits next to Fall of Reach, which sits next to Darth Plagueis… If this didn’t clue anyone in, then the massive Master Chief helmet I bought on eBay for much more than it was worth, will. 

It’s organized, but messy. The levels sit on top of one another with not one thread of cohesion. I’ve even got bastardized shelves around my room because I ran out of space.

Next to my bed, there’s the shelf that holds every Walking Dead volume, right beside my George R.R. Martin shelf with all five books, with one space left for another that may never come.

 I’m clearing off a space, now in my closet for future books to be read. And it’s growing slower than I want it, but faster than I know.

Peyton Vance is a senior at the University of Tennessee. He’s had five pieces published this year and is also currently the prose editor at the Phoenix Literary Magazine. He loves writing in any form whether it be poetry, prose, photos, plays or any other word that doesn’t start with a P. Peyton wants to eventually get into production and screenwriting and does not want to become homeless when he grows up. His favorite food is pizza.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “Finding an Appetite: Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, and Food Writing”

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is proud to present the next installment of their workshop series, “Finding an Appetite: Poetry Creative Nonfiction, and Food Writing.”  This workshop will be led by Katie Culligan and will be held in Room 252 in the Hodges Library from 6 to 7 pm on October 28th. This event is free and open to the public.

Mark Twain said, “Part of the secret of success is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside.” When we begin to consider this active role that food plays in our lives and bodies, we must think about the senses, the land we live on, our families, both nuclear and national, and the labor-system-latticework we all must somehow live in the cracks of. In this workshop, we will investigate together how these considerations, and how food writing in general, can enrich your personal essays and poetry. If you’ve ever grown a mint plant in your kitchen, or waited a table, or eaten a hot dog that your mother cut up to look like an octopus, then you have enough to write about for the foreseeable future. Writers we read together will include those who specialize in both journalism and lyric nonfiction. We will not be reading Mark Twain.

Katie Culligan is a nonfiction writer living in Knoxville, TN, where she is the Fall 2019 Writer in Residence at Sundress Academy for the Arts. She is the recipient of the 2019 Eleanora Burke Award for Nonfiction and the Margaret Artley Woodruff Award for Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee. Recent work appears in Geometry, Noble/ Gas Qtrly, Columbia Journal, American Chordata, and others. She can be reached at katieculliganwriting.com

This event is co-sponsored by the University of Tennessee Creative Writing Program and is free and open to the public.

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is an artists’ residency that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers, actors, filmmakers, and visual artists. All are guided by experienced, professional instructors from a variety of creative disciplines who are dedicated to cultivating the arts in East Tennessee.

Meet Our New Editorial Intern: Peyton Vance


I’ve been a writer, in a sense, for as long as I can remember. Even before I knew how to spell my name I was conjuring up stories about spaceships and adventurers, making my own toys and building worlds around them.

Countless trees have fallen victim to my adolescent phases, such as drawing comic book spoofs of TV episodes. Dozens of mismatched comics I believed were worth millions, now sit in a folder in my closet, where they’ve been seen by 3 people, myself included.

When I was older, I started writing novels. Well, not exactly novels. More like the first two pages of the first chapter of the first part of a single novel. I would do this about a dozen times before I realized I was not good at writing.

Once I was in high school, I started taking creative writing classes. I received runner up for a stage play called “Olympus Family Therapy”. My mom helped me write it. She was an AP English teacher, so she got runner up for a stage play called “Olympus Family Therapy”. And I was still not good at writing.

Shockingly, my parents did not cry when I told them I’d be an English major, concentration; creative writing. And that’s where I was thrown in the deep end. My writing muscles went into maximum overdrive, and I wrote stage plays, screenplays, short stories, fiction, nonfiction, and even a web horror comic.

I have worked with UT’s literary arts magazine, The Phoenix, for over a year. I am the current prose editor. I’m also a creative intern for UnwarranTed, UT’s comedy sketch group. This year alone I have published 5 different pieces. I hope to publish and write more.

When people ask me what I want to be when I graduate, I tell them I am going to be a professional homeless person. I then explain it’s because I want to go into production, write screenplays or draw storyboards, and eventually pitch my own cartoon.

I’m still trying to be a better writer, and working with Sundress will not only help me learn, but it’ll be a crap ton of fun.