Lyric Essentials: Mike Hackney Reads Sharon Olds

For this installment of Lyric Essentials, we’re joined by Mike Hackney, who shares a poem by Sharon Olds. Mike shares how his desire to learn from challenging poetry led him to choosing Olds’ work for this series, along with his admiration for her work and her refusal to compromise her principles. Thanks for reading!


Riley Steiner: Why did you choose this poem to read for Lyric Essentials?

Mike Hackney: I selected “I Go Back To May 1937” because it was a sort of confession that I related to, an ars poetica of sorts, and I am always interested in poems about the writing process or about being a writer. Plus, it is fairly accessible, and I think a lot of people can relate to it. Mainly, I chose a poem by Sharon Olds because I am wrestling with her right now and want to gain some clarity, some understanding of her through this interview process. This piece resonated with me, while other poems by Olds have not. However, I am getting closer to gaining a complete admiration and respect for her work.

Mike Hackney reads “I Go Back to 1937” by Sharon Olds

RS: What do you admire about Sharon Olds’ poetry in general?

MH: She shares her pain on the page for everyone to see. I appreciate the bravery it takes to do such things. But, to answer this question fully, let me begin with a story: When I was an undergraduate in creative writing, my final project one year was to write a thirty-page paper on a poet of my choice. I considered Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and William Carlos Williams, all fine poets in their own right. I finally settled on Ezra Pound because he seemed the most complex and difficult to understand at the time; I wanted to really challenge myself and ultimately learn something through the writing process. It would have been easy to select one of the others, but I guess I chose the road less traveled by (to quote a phrase by Frost himself). My admiration for Pound came through my learned understanding of him and how he worked. Incidentally, I got an A on the paper but failed the final exam that term because I managed to tie every essay question back to Ezra Pound, even when there was no relation. My professor at the time, noting my obsession, allowed me to take the exam over, and I managed to answer the questions the second time without referring to Pound. I got an A in the class… 

In my spare time, I read a lot of poetry criticism, book reviews, and essays on poets and poetry. Sharon Olds has popped up a couple times in my reading. She controversial and quite popular in certain circles, and at first I didn’t understand what all the hype was about. I always felt as if I were reading highly stylized Grimms’ fairy tales when I read her poems. There seemed to be a mock tone, an insincerity about her at times, as if she capitalized on situations that were embellished. I felt that she paled in comparison to, say, Sylvia Plath. I chose Sharon Olds because I felt I had something to learn here. It seemed, most often, I would miss the point of her greatness and talent. But the more I read of her, the more I admire her for what she is. She seems to lack technique in many ways, but she makes up for it with raw emotion.

I also admire Olds a lot for the stance she took in 2005 when invited to a White House luncheon by Laura Bush. Olds declined the invitation, stating, in essence, that she could not break bread with the current administration because she didn’t believe in the war with Iraq, and she felt that the administration was making decisions counter to the wants and needs of the American people. I appreciate Olds for that. She would have garnered a lot of attention and possibly sold a lot of books by attending. She declined on principle. She was heroic in that instance. I have the letter in a nightstand drawer. It is easily accessible online. I hope that answers the question.

RS: I noticed there is a sort of “ticking” sound in the background of your reading, sort of like a metronome. Was this something you used to accompany your reading? If so, what is your purpose for using it?

MH: So, I just learned how to use the recording equipment that is available online. It is all very new to me. The program I chose just happened to have this ticking noise that I could not get rid of—an effect that would not go away. Eventually, after several recordings of the poem, I decided that I rather liked the dissonance in the background. I came to view it as part of the overall presentation. I think it adds something to the reading. Although I’m not sure exactly what.

RS: Do you have any current writing projects (poetry or otherwise) that you’d like to tell us about?

MH: I am in the midst of finishing a book-length manuscript of poems, which I hope to have published by the end of 2020. I think it might be my strongest work yet. It will be my first full-length publication since 2012.


Sharon Olds graduated with degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University. She is the author of more than ten books of poetry and the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, as well as the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. From 1998 to 2000, she served as New York state’s poet laureate. She currently teaches at New York University.

Further reading:

Purchase Olds’ most recent book, Stag’s Leap
Read an NPR book review of Stag’s Leap
Read a conversation with Olds in Lit Hub

The author of multiple poetry collections and a novel, Mike Hackney studied Creative Writing at Bowling Green University and earned his MLS from the University of Toledo. He is the recipient of grants and awards from the Toledo Arts Commission and the Ohio Arts Council. His poetry has been published in a wide range of literary journals, including Prairie Margins, The Insider, and the Cornfed Angel.

Further reading:

Purchase Mike’s book Mid-Western Shoes: Your Poetic Self All Over Again
Read Mike’s poem “How to Write a Poem” in THEthe Poetry
Visit Mike’s Facebook page

Riley Steiner graduated from Miami University, where she studied Creative Writing and Media & Culture. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, she enjoys baking, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, and spending way too much money at Half Price Books. She’s published her creative work in the Oakland Arts Review and Collision.

The Wardrobe's Best Dressed: We Will Not Be Silenced edited by Christine E. Ray, Kindra M. Austin, Candice & Louisa Daquin Rachel Finch

TW: Rape

Safety at Age Eleven

Wilda W. Morris

Grandmother would have kept me

safe had she known her beloved nephew

visiting from Kansas would trap me

on the basement stair and touch me

in the wrong places. I kept her safe

from heartbreak by not telling.

And Mother would have kept me safe

had she suspected. She’d warned me

about strangers, told me where to kick

if I needed to get away, but she was at work

and had too many worries already

so I kept her safe, too.

I didn’t go to the basement again

until he was back on the west-bound train.

And until now, I never told anyone.

This selection comes from the book, We Will Not Be Silenced, available from Indie Blu(e).  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera .

We Will Not Be Silenced: The Lived Experience of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Told Powerfully Through Poetry, Prose, Essay, and Art is the brainchild of Kindra M. Austin, Candice Louisa Daquin, Rachel Finch, and Christine E. Ray. The four indie writers and survivors felt compelled to organize a response after wide-spread, highly publicized cases of rape, sexual harassment, and misconduct. They chose to advocate, educate, and resist through art. The editors opened submissions for just two weeks to women and men around the world. The response from writers and artists was overwhelming: the final anthology includes 166 pieces of writing and art from 95 contributors around the globe.

 
 

The Wardrobe's Best Dressed: We Will Not Be Silenced edited by Christine E. Ray, Kindra M. Austin, Candice & Louisa Daquin Rachel Finch

TW: Rape

Lock Her Up

Cynthia Bryant

Somewhere

to a nonplussed audience

of her parents

a molested daughter blurts out the secret

about her lately pouting tummy

how it came to pass

Somewhere a mother screams

unintelligible sounds rise

to blot out offending words

that present too hard a choice

Calls the police

on her canary-yellow kitchen phone

Somewhere
the fury of a father
shocks high-color to face
as he pummels daughter
in attempts to exorcise
the madness
that threatens exposure
Somewhere
nosey neighbors open front doors
stand in groups in their yards
make up minds by committee
about what sort of folks
and who’s at fault
when laundry is aired

Somewhere
small town police arrive
lights flashing
as parents point to daughter
an undone puzzle on the floor
police gather the pieces
pile her into the back of a squad car
Somewhere
an unheard daughter
serving one-month solitary in Juvenile Hall
revisits over and over
the last few moments at home
outnumbered
incorrigible

This selection comes from the book, We Will Not Be Silenced, available from Indie Blu(e).  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera .

We Will Not Be Silenced: The Lived Experience of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Told Powerfully Through Poetry, Prose, Essay, and Art is the brainchild of Kindra M. Austin, Candice Louisa Daquin, Rachel Finch, and Christine E. Ray. The four indie writers and survivors felt compelled to organize a response after wide-spread, highly publicized cases of rape, sexual harassment, and misconduct. They chose to advocate, educate, and resist through art. The editors opened submissions for just two weeks to women and men around the world. The response from writers and artists was overwhelming: the final anthology includes 166 pieces of writing and art from 95 contributors around the globe.

 
 

Interview with Karen Craigo, Poet Laureate of Missouri

Missouri’s new Poet Laureate and Sundress Publications author Karen Craigo took out some time to talk with Sundress Editorial Intern, Jacquelyn Scott about the meaning of literary citizenship, the next steps for literacy, and the value of aiming high.

Jacquelyn Scott: What does it mean to you to be the Poet Laureate of Missouri?

Karen Craigo: I am over-the-moon delighted to be named to this position. A poet laureate is sort of a cheerleader, or maybe even an evangelist, for poetry, and that’s something I’ve always done anyway as a writer, teacher, and editor. This recognition, though? It’s big. I’ve been unabashedly telling everybody. The bank teller may not be excited that I’m a poet, but when I explain that I’m sort of the official poet of Missouri, well … OK, she’s not excited about that, either, but it feels good to crow about it.

JS: What aspect of being the Poet Laureate are you most looking forward to and why?

KC: In order to be selected as Poet Laureate, I submitted a batch of poems, but I also described a project I would pursue during my two years in office — a period that overlaps the start of our bicentennial year in the state, as it turns out! My project is called “The News From Poetry,” and it comes from those famous lines from the William Carlos Williams poem, “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower”:

It is difficult
to get the news from poems
 yet men die miserably every day
for lack
of what is found there.

I’m a newsperson — specifically, I’m the editor and general manager of a small Missouri weekly newspaper, The Marshfield Mail, and this verse has always meant a great deal to me. At any rate, my plan is to get the news from every section of Missouri — all 114 counties, plus St. Louis, which is its own thing, so 115 entities — and publish them weekly on a blog. Some counties are no-brainers — I’m in the mid-sized city of Springfield, in Greene County, Missouri, and we have a lot of poets, as does Jackson County, where Kansas City, Missouri, is located, or Boone County, which is home to Columbia and the University of Missouri. But what’s the scene like in, say Daviess or Grundy County? I have no idea … yet. My plan is to find the poets, and if I can’t find them, I’ll go there myself and train them up. This is going to be the best adventure.

JS: You once said that even though it’s important, writing sucks at a person’s energy, spirit, and happiness. What keeps you writing?

KC: You’re referring to writing, which completely sucks eggs. But what keeps me in the game is having written. There is absolutely no finer feeling than looking at a poem that says exactly what you wanted to express, or that says something you didn’t have the good sense to want to express, but that the process of writing just offered up as a gift, as it does sometimes.

Writing is a spiritual activity for me. It’s meditation. It clarifies and fulfills me. Cranking out the words can really hurt sometimes, though.

JS: Do you think someone should have to work to “solve” a poem?

KC: That’s a fascinating question, and I don’t quite know what to think about it. I’ve had writing challenges that required solutions — how to link one idea to another, how to get the lineation or the sonics where I want them to be. I’m going to say no, though — poems are not problems, and even when you’re puzzling over a compositional matter — say, how to get a repetition to fit in the third line of the fourth stanza of a sestina, I wouldn’t say we’re solving the poem.

Now, with that being said, I think all poems are arguments, and arguments are similar to problems — if we don’t solve them, we at least try to resolve them. But poetry itself is a solution for me. It helps me to work things out; it gives me comfort when I need it. I often find that poems communicate with me in a very intimate way, and a very literal one, too. If I come to the page with trouble, I leave with a kind of peace. You could say that my difficulty (or pain, or muddled thinking) dissolves, so maybe there’s that kind of solution — what I’m puzzling over is taken in, dissolved into the hot soup of the larger world.

JS: Do you want each of your publications to stand alone, or do you want to build a bigger opus for your work that yields connections between books?

KC: I’m not quite that calculated in my work — or I’m not entirely conscious of how I feel about this. I would be happy if people knew that each book was from the same consciousness, but it’s good when we allow ourselves to change and grow, too. As for an exact link, where one book leads into another — wouldn’t that be a fascinating way to work? But I don’t think I have the right kind of attention span for that.

JS: In an interview for Passing Through Humansville (Sundress Publications, 2018), you mentioned this idea of authors “serving the reader.” Could you speak to that a little more? Is this connection of service related to your new position as Poet Laureate?

 KC: Although all of my answers so far have revealed that writing is very personal for me, the fact is, I don’t think a piece of writing is fully done until it has an audience. Along those lines, I don’t think that as the poet I’m the sole authority on the work I make. It’s a circuit that isn’t complete until a connection is made. Maybe poetry keeps me grounded (if we’re to continue the electrical metaphor), but these utterances sort of ask for an audience. In connecting with readers, we offer our way of looking at things, and we have a chance of expanding their view or helping them to see that they’re not alone in feeling as they do. This connection is how we serve.

The laureate position is about service. I’m most interested in reaching those people who don’t have a relationship with poetry at all (or don’t realize that they do). I would like to demonstrate to people how reading and writing poetry can make for a more empathetic and loving citizen. We can use that no matter where we are — Missouri, Tennessee, the moon ….

JS: How has your writing changed since your first publication?

KC: I think it’s getting tighter. Poetry used to happen for me at the revision stage; I would recopy a poem over and over, and each time I did, it would improve, until it didn’t — and that’s when I would stop revising. So much of that happens during the initial draft now. I work things out as I go now. My poems tend to be small, so sometimes they need very little revision at all. (I don’t mean every reader will automatically love them, of course — I mean that they say what I want them to say in the best way I can say it.)

I used to worry that I covered repetitive themes — motherhood, money, the spirit, these were kind of my beat — but then I realized that it was OK to have small obsessions, and that the change in my thinking over the years will result in different sorts of poems. Honestly, I’m just easier on myself these days. I like who I am, and that includes who I am as a poet. I continue to write what comes and do my best with it, and that’s all anyone can ask me to do.

JS: How has your literary citizenship shaped who you are as a writer?

KC: Hmm. Again, it’s such a great question. These are drinks-at-the-bar-with-friends questions, though — the kind you debate all through the evening and change positions on four times as your appreciation for the whole writing world deepens. As an interview for publication, I’m mindful that the answer I give right now might be different on a different day, but I’m going to take a stab at it.

Citizenship implies a nation of some sort, doesn’t it? I picture a whole hidden country for writers — like Wakanda, but with the Starbucks Okoye envisioned. Citizenship — coming together with civility and common purpose — has benefits. It builds community, it reminds us to be civil, it sparks friendly competition. But writing happens alone. Even if we go to a coffee shop, we’re really not in the coffee shop if we’re deep in our own mind. That’s an untouchable space.

But for some reason, I’ve always been drawn to the community of writers, and as I’ve advanced in my craft, I’ve felt even more like reaching out — being a sounding board or even a mentor to those who want one, encouraging emerging voices, holding publishers to accountability standards.

I don’t think community has shaped my writing much, but I do think it has shaped me in my humanness. It’s nice not to be in this alone, and it’s especially nice to introduce newcomers to the writing I love so much.

JS: Once the US has reached the ideal of 100% literacy, do we redefine what we’re reaching for? Do we (or should we) redefine literacy to something more than just the ability to read?

KC: I do think literacy encompasses more than reading. There’s the idea of cultural literacy, of course; when we stare stupidly at the mention of some musician we’ve never heard of — Lil Tjay or Filmore (rising stars I’ve never heard of, in rap and country, respectively, but TOTALLY just Googled) — we’re failing in that area, aren’t we? There’s something missing from our education. We can’t know everything but knowing a little helps us to relate to one another.

The U.S. won’t reach 100 percent literacy, because some people can’t learn to read — babies, for instance. People with dementia. People with severe processing disorders. Or, hell, people who don’t want to learn to read. For me, literacy is important; books are a source of joy. But I’m much more interested in human connection, and that requires a broader literacy than just sounding out letters.

JS: What advice do you have for poets who are looking to publish for the first time?

KC: I think it’s really great to start close to home — your campus literary journal, a local micropress, that kind of thing. This builds that community we were talking about before. I also think it’s important not to publish before you have a body of work you can be permanently proud of. If you’re going to look at today’s work in 10 years and want to change your name to distance yourself from it, that’s probably an indication that publishing is premature. (The thing is, we don’t know what’s going to trigger our gag reflex IN THE YEAR 2030 … so, that’s a tough call.)

Some nuts-and-bolts suggestions: Aim high, even aim above your head a few times, just to get the lay of the land. You can start at prestigious journals and then adjust downward after some rejections, but don’t start at the bottom. If you know they’ll accept your work, where’s the fun in that?

Also, when you’re starting out, simultaneously submit a lot (taking care to aim for similar publications and to go with the first acceptance to reach you, while swiftly withdrawing work that finds a home). As you being to find homes for your work, continue to simultaneously submit, but send poems to three journals, maybe, instead of a dozen. Once you do really well, you won’t want to simultaneously submit any longer, I’ll bet — it’s good incentive to write more, which is where your energy should be anyway.

Most importantly? Don’t let publishing break you. The writing is the important part. I work on publishing activities when I’m feeling a little stuck.

JS: What advice do you have for poets who are struggling with complicated or difficult-to-write images?

KC: Maybe just to plug on through? Sometimes I remind myself that no one else ever has to see the things I’m writing, so it gives me permission to be really honest and raw. Spoiler alert: Once I like a poem, I’m sharing, even if it contains my Gmail password, my debit card PIN, my Social Security number, my secret meatloaf recipe, a confession of that thing I did ….

JS: What books or authors have you read that you think are important?

KC: Everything you read has value. This is a foundational belief that everyone in my family shares. It doesn’t matter what you pick up — shampoo bottle, pornographic magazine, children’s picture book, Moby-Dick; that text is going to teach you something. This is something my parents always said, and stuck to, no matter how much I challenged them.

I love the poetry collection The Wild Iris by Louise Glück. If you read it, it has a narrative arc delivered in the voices of flowers interspersed with prayers. I aspire to such vision, but it seems a ways off. I could name a lot of other influential poetry books, but one of my habits is to go on reading jags where I finish a poetry book a day (and often blog about it or review it somewhere). That’s important — exposing yourself to a lot of different voices. What I’m reading right now (any right now) exerts the most influence on me, like a magnet.

JS: What are you working on right now?

KC: I recently lost my ex-husband to suicide. We were extremely close friends, though he lived in Maine; we talked every day, and he just delighted me. I miss him so much, and I’m working through that with poetry a little bit. It’s odd work for me. It sort of lacks artifice, and the lineation is very chaotic and different. Incidentally, I had written the saddest, loneliest portraits of him a couple of months before he died. I think I’ve stumbled into a collection, or I’m stumbling still.

Grief
by Karen Craigo

Don’t worry—I still move
through the world. At first
I doubted I could stir,
could raise myself up
on an elbow to sip
a bit of broth.
But I’m fine. I go
to the store, read the back
of the cereal box, notice
each time the furnace kicks on.
What I mean is
I take things in. Just today
I saw where some species of bat
hibernate through the cold,
but others migrate. That’s right.
You figure you’re looking
at birds in flight,
but they’re so much darker,
so much more upside-down.

Purchase your copy of Passing Through Humansville and No More Milk
at the Sundress store!


Karen Craigo is the author of two Sundress Publications titles, No More Milk (2016) and Passing Through Humansville (2018). She is also the author of Escaped Housewife Tries Hard to Blend In (forthcoming from Tolson Books, 2018), and three chapbooks. She is the editor of a weekly newspaper, The Marshfield (Missouri) Mail, and she maintains Better View of the Moon, a blog on writing and creativity. She lives in Springfield, Missouri.

Jacquelyn Scott is a current MFA candidate at The University of Tennessee. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Blue Mountain Review, december mag, The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and The Write Launch. Find her on a hiking trail or on Twitter @JacquelynLScott.


Sundress Announces the Eleventh Episode of Shitty First Drafts

In episode 11 of Shitty First Drafts, Stephanie and Brynn talk with poet and PhD candidate Chloe Hanson about her poems “Drowning” and “Collected,” both of which deal with literary metaphor and darker subject matter.

Chloe discusses how her dissertation draws upon mythic tradition to talk about eco-feminism, and how prompts have helped her continue to generate work for the project, though she constantly gets excited and distracted by new poem ideas. They chat about what eyeshadow choices are appropriate as a goth kid, the draw of Broadway, and why schools in Kansas have basements. You can find Chloe live-tweeting bad Christmas movies as well as writing and performing music with her husband in her spare time.

Link: https://sfdpodcast.podbean.com/e/episode-011-chloe-hanson/

Chloe Hanson is a PhD candidate at the University of Tennessee. Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals, including Contemporary Verse 2, Pretty OwlArsenic Lobster, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, and Calamus. When she has time, she also loves to write and perform music, drink beer, and play with her dogs.


January Sundress Reading Series

The Sundress Academy for the Arts will be hosting our January reading featuring poets Darren C. Demaree, Erika Eckart, and Nik Buhler. Come enjoy the new year with beer, pretzels, and great poety from these fine readers at 1PM on January 19th at Hexagon Brewing!

Darren C. Demaree is the author of eleven poetry collections, most recently “Emily As Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire”, (June 2019, Harpoon Books).  He is the recipient of a 2018 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, the Louis Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and the Nancy Dew Taylor Award from Emrys Journal.  He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry.  He is currently living in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and children.

“i told my children those junk plums left at the bottom of the grocery bag were not perfect when we put them in the bag but they were on sale and good enough for a family that doesn’t get many plums so now that they are mangled and losing their juice to the bottom of the thin green bag i struggled so mightily to remove from the dispenser” –from [those junk plums]:

Erika Eckart is a mom, writer and high school English teacher, who lives and works just outside Chicago. Her prose poems blur the line between prose and poetry and have appeared in Double Room, Quarter After Eight, Quick Fiction, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Nano Fiction and Quiditty, among others. In 2018, her book of prose poems “the tyranny of heirlooms” was released by Sundress Publications. She is currently writing a novel about a Shire horse based amusement park, a truck stop and a race riot.

Sample: From “The River”

A tumor like melted taffy has soaked into her brain. Little niblets of steel-colored cottage cheese, the hardened ends of old gray play dough. At first her syntax remains, but all the nouns have been replaced by more magical material.  Planet and alien replace house and car. “Did you push the red on the map, for the lemon aliens?” We sit and interpret, trying to gather whatever bits of information we already know. Cancer is river. “Can’t they get this river out of me?” she begs.

Nik Buhler is a queer, Appalachian native living in Knoxville, Tennessee. Their work has appeared in Phoenix Literary Arts Magazine and Crab Fat Magazine. When they are not writing new poems and essays with the help of their cat, Nik can be found at Firefly Farms annoying chicken and sheep into loving them back.

“Well, you’re either a boy or a girl.

You can’t be neither.

I am bound

by elastic wrapped ribs.

I disappear my breasts

when I know the world does not believe

in magic or women

who don’t want to be

The Wardrobe's Best Dressed: We Will Not Be Silenced edited by Christine E. Ray, Kindra M. Austin, Candice & Louisa Daquin Rachel Finch

TW: Rape

Slap

Betty Albright

He said he liked

the way I walked,

sang Dean Martin

with his motorcycle cocked

till I went with him

to Sehome Hill

and he stopped being Dean

and the meadow grew thorns

as he twisted my slap

grinding into the shock

knowing I’d never tell,

for back then women blamed themselves

This selection comes from the book, We Will Not Be Silenced, available from Indie Blu(e).  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera .

We Will Not Be Silenced: The Lived Experience of Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Told Powerfully Through Poetry, Prose, Essay, and Art is the brainchild of Kindra M. Austin, Candice Louisa Daquin, Rachel Finch, and Christine E. Ray. The four indie writers and survivors felt compelled to organize a response after wide-spread, highly publicized cases of rape, sexual harassment, and misconduct. They chose to advocate, educate, and resist through art. The editors opened submissions for just two weeks to women and men around the world. The response from writers and artists was overwhelming: the final anthology includes 166 pieces of writing and art from 95 contributors around the globe.

 
 

Sundress Publications CLOSING for Full-Length Prose Manuscripts

Sundress Publications has been open for submissions of full-length prose manuscripts in all genres. All authors have been invited to submit manuscripts during our reading period, which will soon close on January 15, 2020.

Sundress is particularly interested in prose collections that value genre hybridization, the lyric, flash, strange or fractured narratives, new fiction, experimental work, or work with strong attention to lyricism and language. These collections may be short stories, novellas, essays, memoir, or a mixture thereof.

We are looking for manuscripts of 125-165 double-spaced pages of prose; front matter is not included toward the page count. Individual stories may have been previously published in anthologies, chapbooks, print journals, online journals, etc., but cannot have appeared in any full-length collection, including self-published collections. Manuscripts translated from another language will not be accepted. Simultaneous submissions are fine, but we ask that authors notify us immediately if their work has been accepted elsewhere.

The reading fee is $15 per manuscript, though the fee will be waived for entrants who purchase or pre-order any Sundress title or broadside. Authors may submit as many manuscripts as they would like, provided that each is accompanied by a separate reading fee or purchase/pre-order. We will also accept nominations for entrants, provided the nominating person either pays the reading fee or makes a qualifying purchase. Entrants and nominators can place book orders or pay submission fees in our store.

All manuscripts will be read by members of our editorial board, and we will choose one manuscript for publication in late 2020. We strive to further our commitment to diversity and seek to encounter as many unique and important voices as possible. We are actively seeking collections from writers of color, trans and nonbinary writers, writers with disabilities, and others whose voices are underrepresented in literary publishing. Selected manuscripts will be offered a standard publication contract, which includes 25 copies of the published book, as well as any additional copies at cost.

To submit, forward the qualifying Sundress store receipt for submission fee or book purchase to sundresspublications@gmail.com, and attach a 20-35 page sample of the manuscript (DOC, DOCX, or PDF). The sample should include the author’s name and an acknowledgments page. The sample may include one story or a number of shorter stories. After our initial selection process, semi-finalists will be asked to send the full collection.

Be sure to note both the author’s name and the title of the manuscript in the subject line of the email. For those nominating others, please include the name of the nominee as well as an email address where we can reach the nominee and we will solicit the manuscript directly.


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: sundresspublications@gmail.com  Twitter: @SundressPub

Sundress Announcement: CookBook is Back!

On the first relaunched episode of CookBook, airing December 31st, poet Barbara Fant visits CookBook host Darren C. Demaree to make oatmeal raisin cookies and talk poetry.

An Ohio native who has been writing and performing for 13 years. Barbara Fant integrates poetry and activism, and works at The Columbus Foundation while teaching poetry at Transit Arts and in correctional institutions.

While baking her favorite kind of cookie, Fant touches base on her belief in the transformative power of art and poetry as her ministry. Her and Darren chat about the healing power of writing for the writer, how wrong Hemingway was about the writing process, what it means to be from Ohio, and the power of performance poetry.

Watch the episode here!

Barbara Fant is the author of four poetry collections: Paint, Inside Out (2010), two chapbooks RibCaged and Them Brilliant Suns (both in 2017), and Aligning Water and Bearing Stars (2019). She is also the co-author of two stage productions, Black Staccato (2015) and Inside the Riot (2016). Fant has been commissioned by over ten organizations and has received residencies in Idyllwild, California and Havana, Cuba. She has represented Columbus, OH in 9 National Poetry Slam competitions and placed 8th out of 96 poets in the 2017 Women of the World Poetry Slam. She is a TEDx speaker and is featured in the Greater Columbus Arts Council’s Columbus Makes Art Campaign, the 2017 Columbus Alive People to Watch issue, and 614 Magazine’s 2019 Interview issue. She holds a BA in Literature, a Masters in Theological Studies, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry.

Host Darren C. Demaree is the author of eleven poetry collections, most recently “Emily As Sometimes the Forest Wants the Fire”, (June 2019, Harpoon Books). He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry.



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: sundresspublications.com  Facebook: sundresspublications
Email: sundresspublications@gmail.com  Twitter: @SundressPub

Lyric Essentials: Jennifer Jean Reads W.S. Merwin

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! For this installment of the series, we’re joined by poet Jennifer Jean. She talks about two of her favorite poems by W.S. Merwin, along with the unique perspective her work in translation gives her when reading his poetry, the importance of supportive writing communities, and much more. Thanks for reading!


Riley Steiner: Why did you choose these two poems to read?

Jennifer Jean: My selections here represent Merwin’s formal evolution: “Air” (from 1963) contains punctuation and “Vixen” (from 1998), like most of Merwin’s latter poetry, does not. I don’t eschew punctuation in my own work, but I recognize that doing so requires virtuosic control (i.e., understanding) of language. It requires immense trust that there’s enough in the syntax, the allusions, the sound of the syllables—and more—to ferry the reader, to convey both music and sense, without the usual notational indicators. If I had written “Vixen,” Merwin’s “…the sentences / never caught in words warden of where the river went” would have become the more conventional: “…the sentences / never caught in words. Warden of where the river went.” Lack of punctuation allows for a single line to better hold its integrity as a unit of thought even though it contains two sentences—or even the end of one sentence and the beginning of another.

I wonder if Merwin’s lifelong work in translation gave him this control? If so, I’m hopeful. I’ve been co-translating poems originally in Arabic and it’s shifted my approach to, and feel for, English. I suppose it’s also shifted my view of poets who heavily translate! Which is nice. This means I’ve a new means to explore Merwin, whose work I’ve loved for almost twenty years.

Jennifer Jean reads “Air” by W.S. Merwin

RS: Did you discover anything new about these poems after reading them out loud, as opposed to reading them on the page?

JJ: I encountered Merwin’s “Air” in graduate school when I had to choose a poem to memorize for a craft class. When reading it aloud for Sundress, the words were tasty and familiar. I don’t remember if this is what it did to me originally, but I bet this poem gave me permission to lob a lovely heightened word like “immortelles” into the mix with simpler language. As well, I bet it gave me permission to cut connector or transitional verbage so that the sense of each thought just barely touches the one that follows. Because there’s only one enjambed line (the second), the poem seems made of a series of almost aphoristic statements—when, really, it’s made of regular-sized sentences. This arrangement is delightfully disconcerting! Especially when read aloud.

“Vixen” is amazing in that it conveys the character of the animal in fleet, long lines. It’s the title poem for Merwin’s collection The Vixen, which engages with seasons and nature and creatures in extended, contemplative, organically musical lines. Every poem is in awe of its subject. How did he sustain this awe?! Because an out loud reading enables me to embody the poem—to actually put the poem in my body—when I recorded it, I was reminded very strongly that this sustained state of awe is (yes!) possible for me too.

Jennifer Jean reads “Vixen” by W.S. Merwin

RS: What do you admire about W.S. Merwin’s work in general?

JJ: I’ve always enjoyed Merwin’s spare lyrics as antidotes to my (often overly) dense prosey-poems. His free forms are the antithesis of Dickinson—they breathe, they’re sane—but they convey the same depth of notion and emotion.

RS: How did you first discover his poetry?

JJ: As an undergrad, I wanted to know who Sylvia Plath knew—she was an obsession, but eventually became a leaping-off point. Merwin and Plath knew each other through Plath’s husband Ted Hughes. I tried to read Hughes, but he bored me. However, Merwin seemed to offer that ineffable quality that the best poetry provides: a Lucille Clifton–like glimpse into the transcendent. I was hooked!

About poetry communities—I think Plath’s community was totally toxic. She journaled constantly about a searing jealousy of—especially—fellow women poets like Adrienne Rich and Anne Sexton. She was also jealous of men like Merwin. She did not have a support system amongst her peers! She had a scarcity mentality (which may not have been unjustified at the time…). I’ve noticed that nurturing mutually supportive poetry communities, both local and virtual, keeps the awe and the fun and the joy in my writing life. I would hate to not have anyone to celebrate. And I know my writing would be worse off without the input of the talented poets that I know. I hope emerging writers study Merwin, that they “study the masters” (including the way that Lucille Clifton meant it) but that they also find ways to create and nurture strong writing communities.


W.S. Merwin is the author of more than twenty poetry collections. The recipient of a long list of major poetry awards and fellowships, he also published books of translation, plays, and books of prose, including two memoirs. From 2010 to 2011, he served as Poet Laureate of the United States. His most recent collection is Garden Time (2016) from Copper Canyon Press. Merwin died in March 2019.

Further reading:

Purchase Garden Time from Copper Canyon Press
Merwin’s very first collection of poetry, A Mask for Janus, is at Yale University Press
Read a 2017 article about Merwin and his poetry in the New Yorker

Jennifer Jean is the author of The Fool (Big Table), and her awards include: a 2020 Peter Taylor Fellowship from the Kenyon Review Writers Workshop; a 2018 Disquiet FLAD Fellowship; a 2017 “Her Story Is” Residency, where she worked with Iraqi women artists in Dubai; and a 2013 Ambassador for Peace Award for her activism in the arts. Jennifer’s poems and co-translations have appeared in Poetry Magazine, Rattle, Waxwing Journal, Crab Creek Review, The Common, and more. She’s an administrator at the Boston Book Festival and an editor at Talking Writing Magazine.

Further reading:

Visit Jean’s website
Read Jean’s work in Poetry Magazine
Read one of Jean’s poems—and a Q&A about it—from Broadsided Press
Read a selection of poems that Jean co-translated from Arabic in The Common

Riley Steiner graduated from Miami University, where she studied Creative Writing and Media & Culture. Originally from Columbus, Ohio, she enjoys baking, cheering for the Green Bay Packers, and spending way too much money at Half Price Books. She’s published her creative work in the Oakland Arts Review and Collision.