Sundress Reads: Review of The Body He Left Behind

Are there nuanced steps—complicated travels—between the shapes of vulnerability and viciousness, prey and predator? How do we, as humans, form these shapes when we face loss? These are only a few questions that arise from Reese Conner’s debut poetry collection, The Body He Left Behind (Cider Press Review, 2021). An homage to Conner’s father and his cat Lewis, The Body He Left Behind provides a unique space where animalistic movements initiate a poetic voice that calls attention to the way grief, love, or violence can shape us just as tangibly as our own bones.

The Body He Left Behind pulls from a kaleidoscope of observances about human and animal nature that weave together so interchangeably throughout the collection’s five parts that they seem causal and interdependent. In repeating images of toothpicks, rubber bands, spillages, and balsa wood, Conner constructs human and animal bodies according to a material vulnerability, thus exposing the way that humankind stands to bind both themselves, and the nature surrounding them, to a physical compartmentalization and self-imagined organization. “The Rapture”, for instance, illustrates a vomiting ocean as analogy to our view of an exposed human materialism: “a gentle murmur / spread in the bellies of the observant, / who saw even the ugly things begin to ascend—blobfish, Smart Cars, murder weapons, every issue of Us Weekly—and they began to think: / What about us?” In “The Necessary”, Conner points to the losses that occur at the intersection between nature and humanity’s material constructions: “if roads, cars, and quick commutes / mean one, two, one thousand dead cats, then / the choice is still clear: It would be far too expensive, / not to mention logistically irresponsible, / to make cat-retardant roads, so, of course, / a run-over tabby or two is necessary / unpleasantness.” By so clearly pointing to the downfall of human efficiency, Conner makes congruencies between human and animal survival—both of which, at times, reach towards the same beauty—the same menace.

Throughout The Body He Left Behind, the tricky intersection between nature, nurture, and survival becomes the similarity between humans and animals. The need for humans to build their world, to frame the bodies of other people, holds the same mindset as a cat with a dying chipmunk, urging its prey “[t]o move differently, / willing her back to the life he took / so that his purchase / might be made again”. Similarly, the way emotions are sharpened, changed, and buried within a person’s mind holds the same survivalist instincts as a cat licking the cyst on his forepaw: “It is the logic he knows, but it will not work. He’ll lick. It will blue… He’ll lick. It will burst”. The speaker of this collection not only acknowledges these similarities, but takes ownership in the connection, confessing, “I am the reason / the cat, domestic and heavy / with wet food, still kills the cockroach—tears it limb by limb by limb, by limb… Forgive him, he is a violent shape.” In weaving between these images, Conner grants all the room necessary to air the true dichotomy of violent shapes in our world, creating ruminations that ask whether, “desire, even with menace / has meaning”, “how many monsters suffocate / the things they love, and how many / call it kindness,” or if “Frost was right about gold, / about every type of happiness ending / in a quiet violence.”

The dichotomies in The Body He Left Behind not only lead to a forgiving tone throughout the collection, they contribute to a dynamic contemplation about the self and its relationship to loss. As the speaker ruminates on the death of their father and the passing of their cat Lewis, they also question how one reacts to an encounter with impermanence, and how there could ever be a right way to do so. This is particularly prominent in the poem “Thank You,” when the speaker notes that their father: “received the bag / full of Lewis, / who, / like all dead cats / that are carried, / became broken rubber bands / heavy as ball bearings, / and said thank you / as if it were a kindness / to yank a dog / from the cat it killed, (13-21).

Speaking to another loss in the title poem “The Body He Left Behind”, the speaker moves from the act of politely concealing emotion in “Thank You” to describing the adamant desire to let go of a loved one’s image: “It’s time to let go / of the body he left behind, / the one that’s lodged / in your eye like a floater…Yes, it’s time to let go / of the body he left behind. / It’s lodged / in your throat—you mistake it for breath.” It is the struggle to both intimately feel and pull beyond the absence of a loss, the stress in both knowing of an end and ignoring it, that Conner places as a centerpiece in his work. In recognizing the loss of their cat Lewis, for example, the speaker comes to the bittersweet understanding that, “My father told me the saddest stories / are not about broken things—no, the saddest stories are the happy ones / told in past tense because we know everything is broken and we have to see it untouched first, we have to do the breaking ourselves.” By so dynamically illustrating the feeling of recognizing a goodbye that is already in the room, Conner looks unflinchingly towards grief, while also allowing it to hold its own gentle, dismantling character—just as humans, just as animals. “I am lonely for my father,” the speaker says in “Bring Flowers to What You Love.” “I am lonely for my cat” they say in “Lost Cat”. These statements, if any, encompass The Body He Left Behind—they speak to the violent, beautiful impressions humans and animals trace into one another and the way naming that impression, claiming it, is powerful for the same reason naming a cat is: “because naming a cat / does not make him ours, / it makes him us.” Conner’s work shows us how we do that naming, over and over again. 

The Body He Left Behind is available at Cider Press Review


Hannah Olsson holds a double BA in Cinema and Creative Writing English from the University of Iowa. During her time in Iowa, Hannah was the president of The Translate Iowa Project and its publication boundless, a magazine devoted to publishing translated poetry, drama, and prose. Her work, both in English and Swedish, has been featured in boundless, earthwords magazine, InkLit Mag, and the University of Iowa’s Ten-Minute Play Festival, among others.

Sundress Reads: Review of The Animal At Your Side

Megan Alpert’s The Animal at Your Side (Airlie Press, 2020) is a collection that airs on the longer side for poetry books but consists of shorter, digestible poems. It is made up of five sections: Trails, Shores, Interiors, Out Further, and Ways in the Dark. These sections stitch together a multitude of narratives, where the heart of them is a longing for foundation while navigating the ways in which one becomes uprooted from a place, history, or a specific person. They read like lore, like a book uncovered by some mysterious happenstance, or like a fairytale suppressed in your memory. The themes travelled across the board but are rooted in foundation and how one rediscovers home, or a place that can resemble some consistency to such a term. Reading this collection, personally, was both inspirational and an act of discovery as someone who naturally admires poetry about yearning for a place or person, both in an erotic and mournful approach. Alpert has done both, effortlessly, and in a way that feels original.

At its core, The Animal at Your Side is a book about loss, longing, queerness, nature, and location. This collection displays ecopoetics in a way that is accessible to any reader, even one who may not have a background in poetics or environmental interest. Ecopoetics, in its simplest definition, is poetry with an ecological message; the message here being places that will eventually be impacted by climate change, more so than they already are. The Animal at Your Side exists in a surreal and confessional world, blurring the lines of grief and desire for an abundance of things.

The first section, Trails, introduces the reader to the lore of the speaker, their family, their roots… the trails one stumbles upon, and the tracks they leave behind, footprints settled in the dust. The world that is created is one of wild dogs, teeth, wars existing under tongues, bones, and the dirt these things return to. It explores and praises the undesirables. “The dark was soft. It ate / against my skin.” This line from the poem “The Wolf That Never Comes” shows one example of how this collection juxtaposes the dangerous and the inviting—something scary, like darkness or a wolf, can exist simultaneously as soft yet ravenous. Another example of this can be found in “Dawn,” where the first stanza reads: “My sister comes home / smelling of dirt she was buried in, / dandelion milk under her nails.” This poem, along with the others where the speaker grieves for the sister, are haunting and delicate within the flora and fauna planted throughout the book. We are introduced to war hidden in first love and cereal bowls, an aunt who lies and has an intuition for teeth, and a mother who doubles as a storyteller: “Said, Go down / into the earth, / the only / place I will not follow.”

This section leads to the second part, Shores, where we are introduced to a speaker exploring the waters off Massachusetts, the glassy rain in Seattle, and a yard below a purple sky, where they share a moment with their sister, prior to death. A later section eventually leads the reader to a village near the oil road, an apartment with stolen CDs, and a mountainside where a lion waits. Shores explores households, shared spaces, what it means to find home—even when that home is temporary. Despite exploring a new environment, the concerns remain the same, as does the writing—the entrapment of swaying between grief and want, because what else is there to write about? The truth of this book shares a story through new environments, persona poems, narrative tales, and curiosity of a strange eagerness that comes from intimate moments, as well as the melancholic.

One of my favorite poems, “Village at the End of the Oil Road” takes the form of one long stanza, almost looking like the image the poem is about. This narrative piece sets the scene at an oil camp, where the speaker chats on a porch littered with dead katydids while a mother holds her son in a hammock. “When I left, I could never find the text / that said in recent years the word for outsider / had changed from cannibal / to the one we have to feed so they do not starve.” The collection continues to lead toward that sentiment, the idea of being fed as not to starve. The sadness is snapped open and what remains is the fullness from the unburdening of it, or the “Desahogarse,” which “is to unburden yourself, not to undrown / or even to unhome.” The Animal at Your Side shows a world of curiosities through a voice that you can’t help but empathize for, and internally feel a kindred spirit to. Ecopoetics serving as a throughline throughout a collection whose place-based writing encourages the reader to think deeply about the places being written about in these poems. Themes of loss and longing that exist at the core of this collection feel all too real in a world being damaged by climate change, as if these poems are speaking to both ends: loss on the personal level and the concerning loss of the homes the speaker has found. The Animal at Your Side introduces these concerns through a lens that works to get every reader onboard with the fear of loss and the desire to gain.

The Animal at Your Side is available at Airlie Press


Ryleigh Wann (she/her/hers) is an MFA poetry candidate at UNC Wilmington. Her past experiences include reading poetry for Ecotone, editing with Lookout Books, teaching creative writing, and working for the Parks and Recreation Department in Michigan. Her writing can be found in Rejection Letters, Flypaper Lit, and Kissing Dynamite Poetry, among others.

Sundress Reads: Review of Wanting Radiance

“I had to say goodbye to who I’d always been. I drove faster, rolled the window down and hung my head out and yelled it as loud as I could. ‘Miracelle Loving!’ I felt my name arc in the wind and slam back against the windshield, breaking into pieces as I drove on.”

Passages like this frame the way Miracelle Loving reaches out into the world in the novel Wanting Radiance by Karen Salyer McElmurray (South Limestone, 2020). Sinking deep into asphalt roads and long-forgotten, liminal spaces, Wanting Radiance presents the identities and secrets of its characters not as permanent fixtures, but as hollow spaces always wanting something more—a want that is tied to the past perhaps more than it rests in the future.

In introducing main character Miracelle, McElmurray constructs a woman with confidence in her own transience. A tarot reader’s daughter, Miracelle parks her life near weekly rented motels and neon-lighted bars, using a card deck to read off futures that suit the wishes of lonely women and hungry men.

Haunted by the mystery of her mother’s death in Dauncy, Kentucky, unaware of her own father’s name, displaced from her birthplace, and desperately trying to grasp the concept of love, Miracelle is a wanderer who finds permanence only in her ability to drift. However, when the voice of her deceased mother, Ruby Loving, suddenly wedges its way into Miracelle’s mind, it encourages Miracelle to find the past she has never known. Following news clippings from an odd wonders museum known as Willy’s Wonderama, Miracelle decides she cannot possibly know who she is meant to be—or who and how she is supposed to love—until she discovers everything her mother used to be.

Alongside the present, first-person perspective of Miracelle Loving, McElmurray intricately interweaves the histories of Miracelle’s mother Ruby, her father Russell Wallen, and Russell’s wife Della Branham through a third-person perspective. As the truth of Miracelle’s birth in the small town of Radiance comes to light, so too do different textures of wanting—deep, emotional desires for pre-envisioned futures—haunt each character Miracelle meets.

 While describing Miracelle’s migratory movements through “smaller and smaller towns” filled with “Fresh Eggs, Jesus, One Way or No Way” signs and gravel roads eaten by dirt, McElmurray showcases the wants of each character as synonymous to the folds of mountainside towns that have decomposed under capitalist pressure, or fleeted into the skittishness of rear-view mirrors. While Miracelle’s mother wants Russell’s love, a love she finds as “water draining between my fingers”, Russell transforms love into a thing that owns and excavates, until his form of want becomes a thing which “reached inside the mountains and pulled out their hearts.”

McElmurray transforms the ideas of want and love within the character of Della Wallen, who wants a marriage with Russell in the way she can fix a car with warm, slick oil between her fingers, a love that is “the making and doing and seeing it come alive, the work of their hands.” While their definitions of love and want clash inside a depleted mountainside, Russell, Della, and Ruby lend Miracelle Loving the challenging task of finding a name for herself, rather than one that she can weld together from her past.

While realizing the truth behind her mother’s death—and all the desires which lead up to it—Miracelle speaks throughout the novel of “would” and “could.” Many sentences transition into the conditional tense throughout the novel, speaking to the way Miracelle continually works to foretell her future in a way that aligns with the lines of her past—lines which seem to rigidly anchor her body to her family history and the contours of the earth she travels through. Many times, Miracelle revises the trajectory of her future when reading her palms, falling on statements like, “By autumn, I could be standing in a doorway at night watching lightning bugs with a person I had yet to meet” or “Russell Wallen took hold of my hands, and we swung each other round and round. It could have been,” or, “I’d like to say I found just the right potion made of lavender and thyme and mystery, one to make all the world right.” However, only after finding the past, only after listening to the last echoes of her mother’s voice—“you know what to do”— does Miracelle find a new history for her name Miracelle Loving—an acceptance not based on her past, but based on something Wanting Radiance finds at its end: a feeling of present, steady reconciliation that, while not entirely full, still leaves enough space to pull one’s soul into something present and new.

While Miracelle succeeds in discovering her family history, she also realizes that it is not this history which affects the way which she now pursues her own life— her own form of loving. She concludes herself, “Miracelle Loving. My whole history was in that name. Loving I’d never wanted, but searched for like it was the last thing I’d ever find. And here I was, back from searching for the Holy Grail of family and I’d filled in a blank or two or three inside myself, all right, but a hundred more seemed to follow.” In this statement, Miracelle recognizes a new form of journey, one only she can follow; she finds freedom in traversing bravely through blank spaces that have never been defined by her past—spaces available for Miracelle to sculpt herself. Wanting Radiance illustrates a love in Miracelle Loving that arises not from grappling for a specific future, or returning to an unclear past, but instead from simply letting her soul step outside all of the seamed lines (the lines of family history and roadmaps and skin) to become something she can look at deep inside, and define as her own.

Wanting Radiance is available at South Limestone, an imprint of The University Press of Kentucky


Hannah Olsson holds a double BA in Cinema and Creative Writing English from the University of Iowa. During her time in Iowa, Hannah was the president of The Translate Iowa Project and its publication boundless, a magazine devoted to publishing translated poetry, drama, and prose. Her work, both in English and Swedish, has been featured in boundless, earthwords magazine, InkLit Mag, and the University of Iowa’s Ten-Minute Play Festival, among others.

2021 Chapbook Contest Winner Announced

Sundress Publications is thrilled to announce that anaïs peterson’s chapbook, for the joy of it, was selected by librecht baker as the winner of our tenth annual e-chapbook contest. anaïs will receive $200 and publication.

anaïs peterson (name/they) is a poet and organizer currently based on occupied Osage land. Their people love pretty skies, are barefoot in the summer, and are queers, especially those who view gender as a game. anaïs’ words have appeared in Sampsonia WayMixed Mag, and You Are Here, among others, with upcoming work in SLICE. anaïs writes in black pen and Garamond size 11 and tweets from @anais_pgh. A full list of anaïs’ publications and more information may be found at: anaispeterson.weebly.com

Arielle Cottingham’s Machete Moon, Joan Glass’ If Rust Can Grow on the Moon, and Carolyn Supinka’s When I interview fire were selected as runners-up.

We are also excited to announce that Arielle Cottingham’s chapbook, Machete Moon, was this year’s Editor’s Choice and will receive $100 as well as publication.

Texas-born Afro-Latinx poet, editor, performance artist, and educator, Arielle Cottingham has toured four continents in five years, giving performances and teaching workshops across Europe, North America, Australia, and Asia. Their work explores the fluidity of intersectional identities and has appeared in multiple literary journals both in print and online. Notable performance spaces have included 48H Neukölln, the Alley Theatre, the Museum of Old & New Art, and the Sydney Opera House, where they won the title of Australian National Poetry Slam Champion in 2016. Their work has been published in Stellium Literary JournalBOOTHPressure Gauge PressAbout Place Journal, and elsewhere, and their chapbook, Black and Ropy, was published by Pitt Street Poetry in 2017. They are currently pining for falafel at their desk in Berlin.

The entire Sundress team would like to thank librecht baker for serving as this year’s judge.

librecht baker is the author of vetiver (Finishing Line Press, 2017). baker frolics with Black Girl Magic Creative Series and joined Radar Productions’ Sister Spit 2020 tour. baker’s one-act dramedy, “Afterlife or Bust,” was part of Q Youth Foundation’s 2021 Eastside Queer Stories Radio Plays. her full-length play, “Taciturn Beings,” was a semi-finalist for the 43rd annual Bay Area Playwright’s Festival and part of The Vagrancy’s Blossoming: A New Play Reading Series 2019. baker’s other writings appear in ACCOLADES: A Women Who Submit AnthologySolace: Writing Refuge, & LGBTQ Women of Color, Bone Bouquet, Sinister Wisdom, and other publications, but can also be encountered via Women Who Submit’s IGTV for their ACCOLADES online reading series and June Carryl’s one-act play, The Life and Death Of, via The Vagrancy’s YouTube page. baker is a Professor of English, who earned an MFA in interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College. 

We would also like to thank everyone who sent in their work. Finalists and semifinalists include:

Finalists:

Secret Hallelujah Amen, Marcia LeBeau

Dela Torre, Dani Putney*

Semifinalists:

DREAMWAKE, Leanne Dunic

the effulgence of my body means I have or give off light, Cameron Gorman

Various Scenarios, Gianmarc Manzione

Huginn & Muninn, Clare O’Brien

Two New Years, Joyce Orobello

Subject Lessons, Nnadi Samuel

Hollowed, Lucy Zhang

*also selected for publication

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.