Sundress Reads: Review of Defacing the Monument

Susan Briante’s Defacing the Monument (Noemi Press, 2020) is “part documentary act, part lyric essay, part criticism,” as its description reads. It includes collage and open-ended worksheets and invokes lyric, its prose occasionally veering into line breaks. These genres combine to form the book’s two main narratives. The first foregrounds migrants to the American Southwest, especially Arizona, where Briante teaches—Defacing opens with a description of Operation Streamline, which marked the criminalization of migration in 2005. The second narrative is Briante’s family history: her great-grandmother’s immigration from Italy in 1880 and her mother’s death.

With these subjects, Defacing writes itself into the lineage of documentary poetics that it simultaneously traces. The book is rooted in Muriel Rukeyser’s poetics, yet cites authors as varied as Wallace Stevens, Bhanu Kapil, Brenda Coultas, Audre Lorde, and M. NourbeSe Philip to highlight the artistic instinct and imperative to evaluate how we evaluate unreal realities. It defines documentary poetics as a return to primary sources that allows writers to rewrite, amend, contextualize, and ultimately fulfill Rukeyser’s proposal to “extend the document.”

In an interview with the Los Angeles Review of Books, Briante elaborates on her project: “I wanted this book to go beyond the trope of ‘watch me witnessing.’ I gesture to other writers and traditions, as well as give the reader a place to mark the limits and potential of all that I’m placing before and in relation to them.” Briante’s expansive conception of writing emerged as a direct response to her undergraduate studies in journalism, which she undertook “because I wanted to ‘give voice,’ as if a voice were anything to be ‘given.’” Therefore, documentary poetics is a viable and truthful alternative to journalism, free from the latter’s constraint of “presenting both sides.” 

Amid Briante’s web of references and reflections however, Defacing often feels like an homage, its narratives at times becoming secondary. As a result, the book eventually reads as a statement of intent, a set of guidelines, a tentative manifesto.

Honing in on a typographical choice helps illustrate the book’s tonal dissonance. The font Futura exploded in the 1980s, becoming the default for advertisers and representing “corporate identity,” as an Artsy article explains. Artists like Barbara Kruger and the Guerrilla Girls subsequently appropriated Futura in their critiques of a sexist and corporatized art world. “Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?”, the Guerrilla Girls asked in 1989, their question printed pointedly in Futura. On the poster, their motto follows their name: “Conscience of the Art World.” 

Throughout Defacing, Briante shifts into Futura, casting an aphoristic and conclusive quality onto select sentences. “Citizenship is a construct, a shelter that was never constructed to cover everyone equally, that may never have been constructed to cover everyone” she writes in Futura at one point. At another: “And although I live on occupied lands, nobody asks for my papers.” 

The presence of Futura aligns the text with a tradition of critique aimed at a wider audience; Kruger’s photographs and the Guerrilla Girls’ posters embody its potential for mass distribution and appeal, yet it’s slightly unclear who Briante’s declarations are for. Even without this context, readers might wonder about the intended effect of these marked, and often abrupt, statements in such a flexible, genre-bending work. In other words, is Briante an expert—“the conscience of the art world”—or a faultable, fallible explorer of a constantly-changing genre? Can she be both?

In the same vein of tone and audience, the use of Futura also makes clear the book’s own confusion as to what it is critiquing: traditional journalism’s representation of migrants, documentary poetics, documents themselves, the Trump administration, even “the military-prison-industrial-educational-kleptocracy we mistake for a nation,” as she remarks at one point. “The suffering of others—of ‘The Other’—is the central trope in [a]… harangue against things ranging from ‘racist, misogynist and capitalist oppression’ to the melting of polar ice and mass shootings. Those who enjoy this sort of thing will find this book invaluable,” reads a Kirkus review. While perhaps harsh in its minimization of Briante’s care towards migrant narratives as a “trope,” the review does identify the book’s dizzying scope. It lurches and pans, moving from demonstrations at Swarthmore College to disband fraternities to pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in the same paragraph. The sheer range of topics can begin to feel like conflation between them.

Briante includes thought-provoking and often abstract questions and prompts throughout. Yet one prompt near the book’s end embodies this issue of scope and approach: “Write a 12-line rhythmically charged poem in which you slant rhyme (at least twice) the name of the last official indicted from the Trump administration. Reference the most recent climate-change related disaster. Address by first name one of the 24 migrants who have died in ICE custody since 2017. End with the instructions given to you by a parent or guardian on what you should do when waking from a nightmare.” Though undoubtedly intended to precipitate deep engagement with current events, the prompt ends up presenting a somewhat formulaic, Mad-Libs attitude towards massively complex issues. It undoes the book’s careful emphasis on the delicate work of documentary poetics.

The unintended result of the book’s range is that the main subject becomes Briante herself. For example, she cautions repeatedly that poets and documentarians should not fetishize the document. As a tool of the state, writes Briante, documents can be dehumanizing: “I used to believe the document tethered the poem to the earth, to soil that one could taste, that could be nutrient to more than one. / But a document can pull a nation out from under you.” The takeaway is one I wholeheartedly agree with—and it simultaneously appears definable by its naivete. At the least, the writer seems to speak to others who assume that language works for them by default. 

Partway into the book, I was struck by how often it seemed I was witnessing a brilliant writer slowly coming to terms with their own partiality. “Just as the document elides and erases, so does the poem and the poet,” she writes. In the same passage: “Whatever I show you is a representation, filtered and partial.” Another example comes when Briante describes migrants waiting to be processed for asylum: “Their bodies on the ground are not performance, are an act of concrete under flesh sacrifice, are subjected to the sanctioned rituals of the state.” This statement, appearing in Futura, is posited as a bold declaration, but the assertion that migrants’ reality cannot be minimized as “performance” should not, I hope, be fundamentally novel. 

She continues this train of thought, no longer in Futura: “And if I lay my white woman’s body on the border… I do not become migrant although I might feel the pinch and pressure of cement under my hips, might smell how the concrete carries the odor of sun and piss.” 

The book’s near-nearsightedness comes, though, with a steadfast honesty. “I do not know what story I hope to tell about capitalism or family, mothering or money, about cancer,” Briante writes in a late section about her family history. By the book’s end, she acknowledges that it reads as multiple projects at once. 

Perhaps, then, Defacing is best understood as an exercise of trust; that the reader will do something with this incomplete and imperfect document, just as Briante urges us to do something with state and archival documents. That over time, we can revise and extend these records into newly informative—and even beautiful—products. Part of this exercise of trust comes with the text’s own readiness for critique and change. “In some version of this book all the text would be erasable, every line open to your revision,” she writes. We should embrace Briante’s exhortation and invitation, first immersing ourselves in her work and then using it to move beyond.

Defacing the Monument is available at Noemi Press


Claire Shang is a freshman at Columbia University, where she is an editor with The Columbia Review. She is a writer of poetry and creative nonfiction, and a reader of mostly everything. Her work has appeared in or been recognized by Peach MagNoDear Magazine, and Smith College.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Ministry of Flowers by Andrea Witzke Slot


This selection, chosen by Guest Editor Jordi Alonso, is from The Ministry of Flowers by Andrea Witzke Slot, released by Valley Press in 2020.

Gemütlichkeit

Take from me this dove’s-egg nest
in which you can place your charms
and maybe even a dream
or two. And here. Go on. Take
this cup of mud and feathers,
a nest woven just for you.
Will you put all you carry
in its shelter? Settle close
as I ease you like a song?
Oh, I know pulsating need.
My wings, they are waiting-warm.
But these, my legs? Brittle-cold.
Naked as winter. 1e sun
draws low, as if it too asks—
Darling, let’s undress and rest,
make love on a bed from which
a hundred-year-old trunk grows.
Let’s spend the afternoon there,
consent to mischief and sin.
It’s quite easy. Just forgive.
And when dark arrives, and death
glows like light in open palms,
may what we earned in cool night’s
air, all we learned and all we
shared, find its way from bone to
wing when flesh no longer cares.


Andrea Witzke Slot is a London-based poet and fiction writer, whose work has won prizes with Able Muse and Fiction International and placed in a number of competitions in both the US and UK. Her work can be found in such places as Ambit, American Literary Review, The Southeast Review, and Stand Magazine. After teaching for many years, Andrea now lives in London where she works as a contributing artist with Fiona Lesley’s Poetry Exchange and works to capture humanity and nature in words, paints, piano and photography. Her publications include To find a new beauty (Gold Wake Press 2012) and The Ministry of Flowers (Valley Press 2020). Find her online on her website, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Jordi Alonso holds a BA from Kenyon College, an MFA from Stony Brook University, and a PhD in English from the University of Missouri where he studied nineteenth century British literature, classical reception in the Victorian era, and ancient Greek. He will begin his studies towards an MA in Classical Studies at Columbia University in the fall. His first book, a collection of erotic poems inspired by Sappho, Honeyvoiced, was published by XOXOX Press in November of 2014. His chapbook, The Lovers’ Phrasebook was published in 2017 by Red Flag Press. He is currently writing a third book of poems based on ancient Greek divination practices at Delphi.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Eve and All the Wrong Men by Aviya Kushner


This selection, chosen by Guest Editor Jordi Alonso, is from Eve and All the Wrong Men by Aviya Kushner, released by dancing girl press & studio in 2019.

IMAGINING VANDALISM

I want to tiptoe up
and kiss his ribs,
those 500-year-old ribs
of David in Florence,
and whisper the stories
of the men I have kissed since
I last saw David—

I want to say,
you’ll figure it out,
whatever it is that you’re
looking away from.

One day you will look back
in a different direction
and love the baffled person you were.


Aviya Kushner grew up in a Hebrew-speaking home in New York. She is the author of Wolf Lamb Bomb (Orison Books, June 2021), The Grammar of God (Spiegel & Grau / Penguin Random House 2015), and the chapbook Eve and All the Wrong Men (Dancing Girl Press, 2019). She is The Forwards language columnist and an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago, where she directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Jordi Alonso holds a BA from Kenyon College, an MFA from Stony Brook University, and a PhD in English from the University of Missouri where he studied nineteenth century British literature, classical reception in the Victorian era, and ancient Greek. He will begin his studies towards an MA in Classical Studies at Columbia University in the fall. His first book, a collection of erotic poems inspired by Sappho, Honeyvoiced, was published by XOXOX Press in November of 2014. His chapbook, The Lovers’ Phrasebook was published in 2017 by Red Flag Press. He is currently writing a third book of poems based on ancient Greek divination practices at Delphi.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Eve and All the Wrong Men by Aviya Kushner


This selection, chosen by Guest Editor Jordi Alonso, is from Eve and All the Wrong Men by Aviya Kushner, released by dancing girl press & studio in 2019.

THE FIRST TIME

I first heard of Venus of Urbino
when I was eighteen:
half a life ago, I calculate, to my shock,
she was a slide in a dark classroom,
as a professor in a mustard jacket
with a French accent, went on and on—

She’s just as she was then,
just as she was,
when, at nineteen, I spent nineteen
cramped hours on an overnight train
to come see her:
soft belly, hand chastely
on crotch, a goddess
of flawless skin
and unaroused nipples
clutching a flower and looking
at us, as if to say,
I am lovely, I am familiar.

So serenely does she think—
I will outlast you.


Aviya Kushner grew up in a Hebrew-speaking home in New York. She is the author of Wolf Lamb Bomb (Orison Books, June 2021), The Grammar of God (Spiegel & Grau / Penguin Random House 2015), and the chapbook Eve and All the Wrong Men (Dancing Girl Press, 2019). She is The Forwards language columnist and an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago, where she directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Jordi Alonso holds a BA from Kenyon College, an MFA from Stony Brook University, and a PhD in English from the University of Missouri where he studied nineteenth century British literature, classical reception in the Victorian era, and ancient Greek. He will begin his studies towards an MA in Classical Studies at Columbia University in the fall. His first book, a collection of erotic poems inspired by Sappho, Honeyvoiced, was published by XOXOX Press in November of 2014. His chapbook, The Lovers’ Phrasebook was published in 2017 by Red Flag Press. He is currently writing a third book of poems based on ancient Greek divination practices at Delphi.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “Writin’ Rhythm”: A Writers Workshop

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “Writin’ Rhythm,” a workshop led by Elisha Mykelti on June 9, 2021 from 6-7:30PM. This event will be held over Zoom. Participants can access the event at tiny.UTK.edu/sundress (password: safta).

We are musical, sound-making beings. In your pulse, your stride, your foot tappin’, that pen clickin’ and clackin’, there is rhythm. By nature, all poetry has music: written poetry, spoken word poetry, choreo poetry, etc. In this workshop, we’ll explore how to be intentional about musicality and rhythm in our own work by exploiting sound-conscious writing choices. Attendees will be given prompts and writing time to develop poems that employ rhythmic elements, as well as tap into performance techniques used to drive a musical poem.

While there is no fee for this workshop, those who are able and appreciative can make direct donations to Elisha via Venmo @Elisha-Brewer or PayPal @elishabrewer98 .

Elisha Mykelti is a musical poet whose work focuses on the everyday—the absurd, the normal, and not so often pretty—life of the Black American woman. Through the use of dialect, her work pays special attention to her birthplace in the South and her roots up North. Elisha is a teacher and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, with a concentration in Creative Writing from the University of Tennessee.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Eve and All the Wrong Men by Aviya Kushner


This selection, chosen by Guest Editor Jordi Alonso, is from Eve and All the Wrong Men by Aviya Kushner, released by dancing girl press & studio in 2019.

VOYAGE TO VENUS

Wait long enough
and you will
be standing alone, in front of
Venus of Urbino.
It’s like that with lots of beauties:
Michelangelo’s David,
for instance,
or the Hudson River,
or this, the bridge
over Florence
that is by far the loveliest,
the bridge
that calls out,
asking you to stop and listen.
A guitarist plays
American songs,
Layla, he croons, as if you came
all this way to hear what you know. Again.
Or maybe you did.
Maybe we all do.


Aviya Kushner grew up in a Hebrew-speaking home in New York. She is the author of Wolf Lamb Bomb (Orison Books, June 2021), The Grammar of God (Spiegel & Grau / Penguin Random House 2015), and the chapbook Eve and All the Wrong Men (Dancing Girl Press, 2019). She is The Forwards language columnist and an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago, where she directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Jordi Alonso holds a BA from Kenyon College, an MFA from Stony Brook University, and a PhD in English from the University of Missouri where he studied nineteenth century British literature, classical reception in the Victorian era, and ancient Greek. He will begin his studies towards an MA in Classical Studies at Columbia University in the fall. His first book, a collection of erotic poems inspired by Sappho, Honeyvoiced, was published by XOXOX Press in November of 2014. His chapbook, The Lovers’ Phrasebook was published in 2017 by Red Flag Press. He is currently writing a third book of poems based on ancient Greek divination practices at Delphi.

Interview with Amorak Huey, Author of Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy

The cover of a book, with a light green background and cartoon sketches of people laughing and a man with glasses and a bowtie. The title, "Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy" is written in red, green, and white letters above the author's name, Amorak Huey. There is a quote from poet Maggie Smith at the top of the cover against a green rhombus shape: "What is wise and funny and tells you the truth? An Amorak Huey poem. This is his best book yet."

Ahead of the release of his collection Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy, Amorak Huey spoke with Sundress Publications editorial intern Hannah Soyer about the ways gender performance, inheritance, and the inherent political nature of writing informs his work.

Hannah Soyer: The structure of your collection and the use of humor (or lack thereof) appears connected. Can you speak about the way you structured Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy?

Amorak Huey: The section titles are intended to be the components of a joke: setup, reinforcement, misdirection, punchline. I don’t want to over-explain because authorial intent means only so much, and I don’t want my own notions about the book to limit what a reader experiences, but I did definitely want there to be a connection between the title of each section and the work happening in the poems in that section. That helped me order the collection; thinking about the poems in the opening section as setups for where our ideas about fatherhood and masculinity come from, for instance, helped me see which poems belonged there.

HS: Can you speak more about the title of your collection, both the terms “dad jokes” and “late patriarchy”? What do you hope it communicates about your book? 

AH: So dad jokes are like a thing these days, right? A fondness for dumb puns and such—and I love that kind of humor, plus I’m a dad—very much the kind of dad who makes his kids groan with his jokes. But there’s something so weird and unnecessary about gendering an entire kind of humor. That’s how our culture works, though, and I hope the poems trouble that concept some as they explore where these ideas and stereotypes come from and what damage they can do. As for the second part of the title, honestly, it feels overly optimistic now. I wish I could say with certainty that we are indeed late in the patriarchy, and a few years ago when I titled the collection I sincerely, naively thought maybe we were, but here it is, 2021, and the patriarchy seems to be doing just fine, alas. I hope that the title signals something to the reader about where I’m coming from, that I’m not simply buying into or reproducing cultural constructs about gender and masculinity and identity, but challenging them. A poem isn’t a political argument, exactly, but also it kind of is.

HS: In “Pa & Michael Landon & Buddy Ebsen & Daniel Boone,” you write: “America is fond of its rootless men.” How do roots, or the effort to create roots, weave their way throughout your book?

AH: Part of this idea, for sure, is about where our beliefs about ourselves come from. Tracing the roots of our self-conceptions. For me, some of those beliefs very much come from these archetypal men and fathers from television and the movies. We are told over and over that Pa from Little House on the Prairie, he’s like what a father should be, right? Same for, like, Ward Cleaver or even Fred Flintstone. Sure, fine, but also what a narrow view of masculinity and fatherhood is being enforced. When I wrote that line I was also thinking about how these men don’t have to have roots. They provide for their families or whatever, but they do so by going out of the home. Exploring the wilderness like Daniel Boone or even just going out to the mysterious world of work like Mr. Brady. The home is a place for women and children; men are entitled to leave and come back at will. Again, the culture presents these narrow gender definitions and we’re supposed to fit into them or disappear. Adrienne Rich has a poem that I love titled “Amnesia” about this exact thing, and in some ways this entire book is just me thinking about that poem. 

HS: A handful of your poems are titled after names of characters and actors from old shows—what do these signify and how do these titles contribute to the collection’s overall theme? 

AH: These are poems thinking about what it means to have all these pop-cultures as role models, from Arnold Schwarzenegger to George Jetson. We are, of course, surrounded by these figures from almost the first moments of our lives, and so I was trying in these poems to interrogate my own ideas about what it means to be a man, to be a dad, to be a human being. Pretty much as soon as I start asking myself these questions, I’m thinking about how weird and probably unhealthy it is to judge myself because I’m not as muscular as the Terminator, but there it is. What are you gonna do?

HS: In what ways is this collection informed by ideas of performance and witness? 

AH: RuPaul says, “We’re born naked; the rest is drag.” It’s all a performance, right? Gender and masculinity and identity and how we present ourselves to the world. I just the other day read this amazing poem by Gabrielle Bates called “‘Person’ Comes from ‘Mask,’” which is about grief but also about these moments where you suddenly perceive yourself as if from outside your own body and it feels so strange. Sometimes when I’m mowing the lawn in front of my suburban house or cooking dinner at the grill or playing catch with my son in the back yard, I have this almost dissociative experience of, like, is this really me? Or have I become the dad from a 1950s sitcom? That Pleasantville / WandaVision kind of feeling is the source of the line in the book about not knowing whether we are characters or actors.

HS: How does this book reimagine and interpret family? What understanding of “family” do you hope readers will take with them?

AH: I hope the last few poems in the book provide an answer to this. Family is the people who are with you on the long car ride even when you’re getting sick of each other. Family is the people who will listen to your stories. Family is the people with whom you retreat inside a warm house when it gets too cold and snowy outside. The world might be misshapen, your hearts might be battered, but still. Your family is your heart.

HS: Somewhat related to the previous question, your work gives the sense of both embracing and rejecting the title of “father” and the state of fatherhood—how does this book reimagine it under late patriarchy?

AH: Maybe this: maybe I want to reimagine “father” not as something you are but as something you do. To strip away the performative aspects and societal expectations that reserve these roles for people who look and act and are a certain way. There is no one way to parent your children. No single “correct” path to being a dad, or a man, or a person. You don’t have to be some white, cis, middle-class, suburban, Ronald Reagan-approved, emotionally stunted bulwark of masculinity. I love having kids. I love spending time with them, and I love watching them need me less and less as they grow up. I hope that is apparent to them, always.

HS: In “Looking at Men,” you say: ““The world’s pedagogy / has not evolved lately…” In what ways does the world’s pedagogy need to evolve? How else does this idea manifest itself throughout your book? 

AH: The world needs to stop hurting people who don’t match some prescribed version of what’s acceptable. That doesn’t sound so hard, does it? And yet. Here we are, where we always have been, hurting each other. I think many of the poems in this book are asking these questions: Why do we hurt each other? And could we please stop? 

HS: Can you speak about the recurrence of “Fairy Tale” as a poem title? How has your work been shaped by the stories you consumed growing up? 

AH: I was a reader before I was a writer. How reading makes me feel—that’s why I write. The idea that perhaps something I put on a page could possibly make someone else feel some bit of what I feel when I read something meaningful? That lump in the back of the throat. The way words on a page have a literal physical effect in my body? It amazes me. So, yeah, my work is very much shaped by the stories I have consumed. There was one series of books in particular that I used to check out over and over from the library with fairy tales from all over the world. I thought they were called something like “Cavalcade of Norse (or Hungarian or Irish or whatever) Fairy Tales,” but I can’t find that title on the internet, so I must be misremembering. Anyway, fairy tales are stories and they are entertaining and scary and magical, but they’re also ways of explaining who we are. You don’t have to fully buy into Bruno Bettelheim’s Freudian analysis to see that fairy tales are morality plays, cautionary tales, metaphors. Storytelling is central and essential to being human. Any time we write, we’re joining a conversation that has been going on pretty much as long as we’ve been a species.

HS: In what ways do you think the violence of the patriarchy is being interrogated in this collection, and how does this interrogation drive your writing? 

AH: Writing poems is not a neutral act. Publishing poems isn’t, either. These are political acts. Poems exist in this world and are shaped by the same forces and power structures that shape our lives. I don’t think my book will transform the world in any meaningful way. But I have to hope it matters somehow, right? I have to hope that by telling the truth as I see it, by asking questions, by at least trying to challenge what I see as toxic about the world, that my poems will do more good than harm. Jen Benka has an essay at Electric Lit in which she says, “Poetry and storytelling work against immobilization —the want to avoid being uncomfortable or rejected, the desire to anesthetize, the fear of having feelings for another human being.” I could quote the whole essay here, really, but what she’s talking about is exactly what drives my writing: I write to be less lonely, to connect with the world, in the hope that something I write, some word I put on the page, will reach some reader somewhere, and they in turn will feel less lonely themselves, and that connection, that spark, that feeling that someone sees us as we are and loves us anyway — that is how we undo the violence of the patriarchy.

Preorder your copy of Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy today


Amorak Huey is a poet and professor, a writer and sometime journalist, a decent dad and a mediocre slow-pitch softball player. He teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. He is the author of three previous books of poetry and two chapbooks, as well as co-author with W. Todd Kaneko of the textbook Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology.

A white woman in a wheelchair in the middle of an empty street. She has bright pink hair and is wearing a gray tshirt with the words "This Body is Worthy" written across the front.

Hannah Soyer (she/her) is a queer disabled writer born and living in the Midwest. She is the founder of This Body is Worthy, a project aimed at celebrating bodies outside of mainstream societal ideals, and Words of Reclamation, a space for disabled writers.She is the editor of The Ending Hasn’t Happened Yet, an anthology of poetry from disabled, chronically ill, and/or neurodivergent writers forthcoming from Sable Books, and her work has appeared in places such as The Rumpus, Disability Visibility Project, and Entropy. Hannah also happens to be a cat and chocolate enthusiast. 

Sundress Reads: Review of Dear bear,

Alluring and verdant, Ae Hee Lee’s Dear bear, (Platypus Press, 2021) is a gorgeous assemblage of post-apocalyptic love letters addressed to the speaker’s beloved, “bear”. You only need to have read Dear bear, once for it to permeate your living, for it to burrow deep into the innermost layer of your heart, for it to transform how you think about love and possibility after the end of the world. In this collection of tender epistles, Ae Hee Lee cultivates an ecology of romance and wonder.

Dear bear, is set in a (meta)physical forest after a flood—“when the mouth of the sea gaped over our homes”—destroys the speaker’s world. The poems guide us into a forest where a strange collection of flora and fauna blooms from the wreckage. The forest, both real and unreal, marks the destruction of the speaker’s past world as it grows into something alive and intoxicating, while underneath the forest’s ethereal beauty is a desperate rot and brokenness. Ae Hee Lee’s poetic world-building is irresistible, even as she acknowledges that “in this world, nothing can ever be whole.”

Dear bear, is bursting with color; its rich and vivid language engages all of our senses: honey rivers flow down tree trunks, red camellias whirl like silk dresses, and a swarm of bees make love to their queen under the pear blossoms. These poems exude a secret wildness that is thrilling and beautiful. Here, the forest is not yet threatened by the violent process of discovery: “The forest is not delineated or discovered. It pours suddenly until you realize it has always been there behind your eyelids.” Using the forest as a guide, Dear bear, gives us a new way of looking at the self, which decomposes into the “clever design of propagation,” gesturing towards collectivity. Dear bear, leads us towards new possibilities for connection between humans and the more than human world. 

The relationship between the speaker and the bear is full of tenderness, equipoise, and desire. They are each other’s solace and strength in the forest: “I looked hard and tender into the ebbing black and met you.” Witness the gentle twining of sharp bear claws and a woman’s tender spine as they nuzzle and curl into each other. Dear bear, is seductive and lush; a decadent, verdant pleasure is unearthed within these letters—“I sighed along the moss that moaned under the bareness of my legs.” Their romance is defined by a wild longing for what cannot be captured or taken: “my fingers run through the abstract fur of your body”.

The forest is not without its dangers. Along with the speaker and bear, it is inhabited by the huntsman—”blunt-force trauma, the last of men, gristle of the earth”—who chases after them. The huntsman seems to be a vestige from a dangerous past, hunting them across worlds and time. In the huntsman’s looming shadow, the speaker wants to forget the “spectacle” that is our violent history. Here, in the forest, “the only blood we witness is from the berries we burst inside our mouths and let slide down our fingers.” The speaker avoids the ruins beyond the abundant forest, evades the past before it can harm her again.

Like Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Dear bear, is a compendium of myths that guide us through transformation. The poems begin with a devastating, world-ending transformation, but even as we find evidence of eroding and rotting, we also bear witness to burgeoning and blooming. The mythos here is rooted in change and re-imagination: “I peeled my past like a tangerine and ate it because I feared I would turn into a pillar of salt.” Through Ae Hee Lee’s vibrant poetics, we are transfigured alongside this curious new world, reminded that transformation is both a survival strategy and a flourishing. In reading these poems, we become something more than how we began.

Dear bear, beautifully charts the edges of erasure and absence, including the loss of adequate language. Sometimes, the forest is an impossible thing because we have forgotten its name: “In the forest, a blood vessel is not a blood vessel, it’s an ocean that shed its rivers, its roots, and forgot it was once a tree.” As an archive, this book builds upon what has been broken, meandering around what was forgotten or erased in the disaster. However, absence is never feared because it is “forever here.” The inevitability of absence is transformed into the possibility of presence—“a universe beating inside silence and stasis.”

Throughout this collection, the speaker fixates on endings. The letters are a part of a never-ending sequence, where each letter ends not with a period but with a comma—perhaps leaving an opening for an answer. Dear bear, is about the end of the world and the depth of love that is nurtured in its wake: “P.S. Maybe the world had to end so we could finally love, but since the cosmos remains inside of us, it must be all the more complicated than that.” Even as the world is destroyed and reborn, parts of it remain inside of us, and we make a home out of what is left behind. I promise that long after you’ve put Dear bear, down, it will remain inside of you.

Dear bear, is available at Platypus Press


Abigail Renner is a junior at George Washington University studying English and American Studies. She is currently a writing consultant in her university writing center, where she loves unearthing writers’ voices and reading across a myriad of genres. She dreams of living on a farm, filling her shelves with romance novels, and laughing with friends over cups of peppermint tea.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Eve and All the Wrong Men by Aviya Kushner


This selection, chosen by Guest Editor Jordi Alonso, is from Eve and All the Wrong Men by Aviya Kushner, released by dancing girl press & studio in 2019.

BED

Sometimes I crave him in sleep
even though I never really wanted
him in life:
The truth is sometimes I call
Z–
aah yes, that was his name—

even though when he was there,
pressed against me,
I wanted
to be
anywhere,
just anywhere else.

When he finally
married

another woman, named for water,
or almost,
if you change two letters—
if you allow the present and the possible
to collide a bit
into her name, Maya,

almost
the Hebrew for water,
or mayim,

I was so relieved
it wasn’t me,

that I drank
wine, and bathed
in water.


Aviya Kushner grew up in a Hebrew-speaking home in New York. She is the author of Wolf Lamb Bomb (Orison Books, June 2021), The Grammar of God (Spiegel & Grau / Penguin Random House 2015), and the chapbook Eve and All the Wrong Men (Dancing Girl Press, 2019). She is The Forwards language columnist and an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago, where she directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing. Find her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Jordi Alonso holds a BA from Kenyon College, an MFA from Stony Brook University, and a PhD in English from the University of Missouri where he studied nineteenth century British literature, classical reception in the Victorian era, and ancient Greek. He will begin his studies towards an MA in Classical Studies at Columbia University in the fall. His first book, a collection of erotic poems inspired by Sappho, Honeyvoiced, was published by XOXOX Press in November of 2014. His chapbook, The Lovers’ Phrasebook was published in 2017 by Red Flag Press. He is currently writing a third book of poems based on ancient Greek divination practices at Delphi.

Sundress Publications Open Call for Full-Length Poetry Manuscripts

Sundress Publications is open for submissions of full-length poetry manuscripts. All authors are welcome to submit qualifying manuscripts during our reading period of June 1st to August 31st, 2021.

We’re looking for manuscripts of forty-eight to eighty (48-80) single-spaced pages; front matter is excluded from page count. Individual pieces or selections 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. Single-author and collaborative author manuscripts will be considered. Manuscripts translated from another language will not be accepted. Simultaneous submissions are fine, but we ask that authors notify us immediately if their manuscript has been accepted elsewhere.

The reading fee is $13 per manuscript, though the fee will be waived for entrants who purchase or pre-order any Sundress title or broadside. We will also accept nominations for entrants, provided the nominating person either pays the reading fee or makes a qualifying purchase. Authors may submit and/or nominate as many manuscripts as they would like, so long as each is accompanied by a separate reading fee or purchase/pre-order. Entrants and nominators can place book orders or pay submission fees at our store. Please note that this submission fee is waived for all BIPOC writers.

All manuscripts will be read by members of our editorial board, and we will choose at least two manuscripts for publication. 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.

This year our top selection from the reading period also will receive a free one-week writing residency at the Sundress Academy for the Arts in Knoxville, TN.

To submit, email your Sundress store receipt for submission fee or book purchase, along with your manuscript (DOC, DOCX, or PDF), to sundresspublications@gmail.com. Be sure to note both your name and the title of the manuscript in your email header. For those nominating others for our reading period, please include the name of nominee as well as an email address; we will solicit the manuscript directly.