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?

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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.

Shitty First Drafts Episode 4, Featuring Lance Dyzak, is Live!

Picture1Sundress Publications announces the fourth episode of the podcast, Shitty First Drafts. A podcast made for and by writers, the show playfully investigates the creative processes of different artists to determine how a finished draft gets its polish.

Lance Dyzak joins Brynn Martin and Stephanie Phillips to discuss his short story “Extra Innings,” based on a bizarre event he witnessed at a park while walking his dog, and the various forms it went through before reaching its completion.

lance-dyzak-headshot.jpgIn the end, though the event helped Dyzak write a good story, he took it out and cautions writers against “injecting weirdness for the sake of weirdness” they are afraid to write something that feels like it’s been done before. He says, “A lot of writers are afraid of writing a boring story [but] it’s all in the details.”

In this episode, we also discuss the enneagram test (he’s a 5w4), baseball puns, killing your darlings (or filing them away for another time), and the world of online forums.

Lance Dyzak is a Ph.D. student in fiction at the University of Tennessee, where he is writing his first novel. His work has previously appeared in Southwest Review, Southern Indiana ReviewNew Limestone Review, and Per Contra. He is also the co-director of the Only-Tenn-I-See Reading Series, set to kick off in September.

 

Episode 3 of the Podcast “Shitty First Drafts” is Here!

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Sundress Announces the Third Episode of the New Podcast, Shitty First Drafts

Picture1Sundress Publications announces the third episode of a new podcast, Shitty First Drafts. A podcast made for and by writers, the show playfully investigates the creative processes of different artists to determine how a finished draft gets its polish.

In Episode 3, Alyssa Molina joins Stephanie Phillips and Brynn Martin to chat about her winding road to writing: from secret notebooks as a child, to discovering poetry on Tumblr, to writing fan fiction, to performing with Knoxville’s spoken word poetry collective, The 5th Woman, at Bonnaroo. Still in her undergrad at the University of Tennessee, Alyssa is a force both in the classroom and on the stage. After being empowered by other women of color, Alyssa started her career as a spoken word poet, saying, “I realized that the person I had most wanted to see on stage as a little girl was me.” The two pieces she shares on the podcast focus on the women in her family and her relationship with them. Though the poems were written almost 6 years apart—the first while she was still finding her voice in high school and the second for an assignment in a college poetry class—Alyssa discusses the ways that both navigate concerns of womanhood, family, culture, and voice.

Picture2Alyssa Molina is a Knoxville-based poet in her undergrad at the University of Tennessee studying creative writing. Alyssa was born and raised in Miami, “Little Havana,” FL, as her Cuban family says. Being first-generation American, she is profoundly inspired by the tenacity of her family’s immigration story, their will to survive, and her Hispanic culture. She was a traveling poet with The Fifth Woman in 2017–2018, performed at Bonnaroo, hosted three poetry workshops with Marilyn Kallet, Seed Lynn, and Knoxville poet and mentor Daje Morris. Alyssa defines happiness as bare feet, a cigar, and salsa dancing.

 

 

 


A 501(c)3 non-profit literary press collective founded in 2000, Sundress Publications is an entirely volunteer-run press that publishes chapbooks and full-length collections in both print and digital formats, and hosts numerous literary journals, an online reading series, and the Best of the Net Anthology.

Website: www.sundresspublications.com             Facebook: sundresspublications
Email: erin@sundresspublications.com                 Twitter: @SundressPub

Vintage Sundress with Jessica Rae Bergamino

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Sundress’ Vintage Sundress Series offers us an opportunity to catch up with the writers who have published with us in the past. Three years ago, Jessica Rae Bergamino published The Desiring Object or Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering of Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them , a beautiful chapbook that explores questions of selfhood, mythology, and queer femininity in an intergalactic landscape.  In this installment of the series, Sundress intern Athena Lathos interviews Bergamino about the evolution of her creative relationship with space, as well as the pieces of writing and art that have preoccupied her since.

Lathos: You published The Desiring Object with Sundress in 2016, and UNMANNED (with Noemi Press) in 2018. Can you tell us a bit your about the project(s) you are currently working on?

Bergamino: The project I’m currently working on is a hybrid exploration of intergenerational family trauma and violence, though I’ve also been thinking a lot about an interview recently with Brenda Shaughnessy where she talked about the generative capacities and possibilities that come with learning something new and the freedoms of not only being a beginner but being bad at something. So, right now, I’m approaching things that I’ve storied myself as being “bad” at, like gardening and playing music, and looking to see what I can learn in that practice.

Lathos: I enjoyed reading this interview that Adam J. Gellings conducted with you in August of 2016, particularly because it offered insight into your use of compelling and unusual primary sources for The Desiring Object (namely, “recordings of the congressional hearings on the Voyager project, [and] maps of moons made from the Voyager observations”). Can you talk about some primary sources in the media, popular culture, politics, or art that have informed your work lately? desiringobject

Bergamino: I actually spent a huge amount of time working with the Voyager material; along with The Desiring Object, UNMANNED is a collection written through the personae of both Voyager space probes. That book project allowed me to take a deep dive into Cold War era popular culture and politics, science fiction, and Carl Sagan’s critical and creative writing. I knew that I wanted any pop-culture, scientific, or historical references in the book to be relevant for the Voyagers’ launch in 1977.  Since I was born in the 80’s I couldn’t access my own cultural memory of the time period, so I became increasingly interested in the way that some popular culture morphs into a popular mythology and, in turn, how popular mythology might interact with the so-called classical mythologies written into the stars in the names of planets, moons, and satellites.

Lately, I’ve been interested in exploring what might constitute intergenerational popular mythology of girlhood, especially as it is related to queer youth. George from Nancy Drew, Kristy from The Babysitters Club, Anne Shirley, Harriet the Spy, the list goes on… I’m not interested in what subtext may or may not be present in the books or source text, but, rather the way that a shared queer imagination has sprung up around these characters.  Inevitably when I talk about this, a straight person feels the need to tell me that my queer kin are wrong — homophobia makes people so boring!

Lathos: The praise for UNMANNED applauds your capacity to “queer our space canon” (Julia Bloch) and envision “science goddesses through whose aspects [you] explore both the human and stellar condition” (Kazim Ali). What was it like for you to explore gender and sexuality in a galactic landscape, especially through technologies (like the Voyager probes) which might be considered cybernetic, posthuman, or even genderless?

Bergamino: One of the many threads I ended up following in UNMANNED was depictions of space-age femininity that come to us through science-fiction. UNMANNED contains many of what I call “nested persona poems,” where the persona of Voyager Two “tries on” the personae of Princess Leia, Barbarella, and Miss Piggy, to name a few. These nested persona poems provided me space to think through and about some of the possibilities of femininity and feminized bodies that have already been imagined in outer space and then expand upon, re-imagine, and re-vision these performances of gender.  

Each Voyager probe carries a golden record which includes an audio-visual story of life on Earth, and ends with an EKG recording of Ann Druyan — the creative director of the record  — meditating on, among other things, falling in love with Carl Sagan. She’s talked about this in a number of different settings, though I came to the story while listening to an episode of Radiolab. As the project developed, the EKG became one of the least compelling things about the Voyager mission, but it also meant that I never thought of the probes being gender-less; if anything, they are, in my mind, saturated with gender.  I wanted to explore that saturation and use it as an opportunity to pivot into more and more queer visions of femininity. In the queer femme community, we celebrate and talk a lot about femme identity and resilience without orienting femme in relationship to butch or masculine-of-center bodies; by writing both Voyager probes as femme, I hoped to enact some of that celebration.

Lathos: Though two different projects, UNMANNED and The Desiring Object share a common subject. How are the two related, and what was navigating that relationship like from the perspective of craft?

Bergamino: I appreciate the pun there in navigating because so much of The Desiring Object is asking what it means for Voyager Two to navigate the interstellar mission while also learning to navigate her own relationship to identity and desire.  I like to think of The Desiring Object as the poem where Voyager Two learns her own capacity for individualization; in UNMANNED, a sequence titled “Excerpts from Voyager One’s Private Correspondence with Carl Sagan,” explores similar questions through the consciousness of Voyager One.  

While The Desiring Object expands and contracts across the page  as Voyager Two struggles through her relationship to both the mission and herself,  using the scientific tools and experiments that make up the Voyagers bodies as the organizing principle — I like to think of it like the body scan relaxation technique, where a person relaxes by focusing intently on one body part, and then another, and then another.

“Excerpts…” is a series of linked prose poems which follow a linear arc informed by the western zodiac.  Because each Voyager probe is unable to communicate with the other, I wanted to put two very different forms of poem in motion in order to place pressure on the fact that while they were identical in many ways, their social-political-emotional concerns are very different within the books.

Lathos: Given that you have written both a chapbook and a full-length book about space and the Voyager probes, I couldn’t help but ask you about the recent death of the Mars Rover, and the way in which the internet responded with an unexpected magnitude of grief. What do you think it is about space, as well as our attempts to explore it, that we find so compelling?

Bergamino: I’ve been sitting with this question for weeks now, trying to find new ways to put the nature of awe into words and making Star Trek jokes like “damnit Jim, I’m a poet, not a philosopher.” But, most simply, I think the idea that we’re alone in the universe is terrifying for all sorts of reasons —  including the possibility that there is nothing out there, god or alien, to save us from ourselves — and that the stories we can tell about outer space are one way of staving off that terror. Also, in modernity, capitalism loves a “clean slate,” and we haven’t enacted the irreparable harm that we’ve done to this planet on other planets (yet).

Lathos: A classic question, but one for which I always love reading the answer: What have you read lately that has inspired you, impressed you, or moved you to think about something in a different way?

Bergamino: I’ve been reading and learning so much from adrienne maree brown, both in her written work and podcast, How to Survive the End of The World, which she’s created with her sister, Autumn Brown. brown’s concept, in particular, of “moving at the speed of trust” from her book Emergent Strategy has deeply informed my evolving sense of poetics and understanding of the possibilities of poetry moving in the world. Also, I was lucky to be in New York while the Hilma af Klint exhibit was on display at the Guggenheim; her paintings exploded for me in a way that I haven’t experienced in a long time. I want to follow af Klint’s threads of tender wildness and see where it takes me.


 

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Jessica Rae Bergamino is the author of UNMANNED, winner of Noemi Press’ 2017 Poetry Prize, as well the chapbooks The Desiring Object or Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering of Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them (Sundress Publications, 2016), The Mermaid, Singing (dancing girl press, 2015), and Blue in All Things: a Ghost Story (dancing girl press, 2015). Individual poems have recently appeared in Third Coast and Black Warrior Review. She is currently a doctoral candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Utah, where she is the Senior Book Reviews Editor for Quarterly West. Find her online at www.jessicaraebergamino.com.

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Athena Lathos is a poet and nonfiction writer from Santa Maria, California currently living in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Her work can be found in Enizagam and Verseweavers, as well as on her blog, Bertha Mason’s Attic. Her recent essay about the job market, “I Applied to 200 Jobs and All I Got was this Moderate-Severe Depression,” was featured as an Editor’s Pick on Longreads. Lathos completed her MA thesis, “A Sea of Grief is Not a Proscenium: Claudia Rankine’s Citizen and the Spectacle of Racist Violence in Cyberculture,” at Oregon State University’s School of Writing, Literature, and Film in May of 2017. Lathos was a finalist for the 2016 Princemere Poetry Prize and a runner-up for the 2018 Princemere Poetry Prize.