Sundress Reads: A Review of Heartland Calamitous

In this remarkable collection of stories, Heartland Calamitous, now available from Autumn House Press, Michael Credico paints for us the experience of what it means to occupy and navigate the Midwest. He describes, through almost lyric-like-not prose, both the feeling of living in the center of the world and yet, at the same time, existing, among slaughterhouses and fast food joints, in the margins. 

Michael Credico’s short fiction has appeared widely in print and online, including Black Warrior Review, The Collagist, Columbia Journal, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Hobart, New Ohio Review, NOÖ Journal, Puerto del Sol, Quarterly West, and others. He earned an MFA in Fiction from the Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts program at Cleveland State University. Credico received an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council, and lives and works at Cleveland, Ohio.

This book is a peek into the elements that chart and construct the Midwest, diving deep, with stunning imagery and boundless imagination, into what it means to survive in what is called the Heartland of the United States. Full of humor, grief, and even the weird and the ugly, these stories span and put together what one would call a dystopian novel. The not-very-long stories carefully explore, in perhaps an exaggerated and wacky fashion, the myths around what it means to be Midwestern. The intricate details force the reader head-on into the universe and witness parts of their lives. The slippery confusion and chaos, mythical creatures, zombies, comic violence, shapeshifters, and startling quantities of fish become symbols/motifs, more often than not, for the journey of the characters as they struggle to articulate their identities. The masterful articulation brings the reader close to the characters in the book (a little too close sometimes) and their desire to leave for someplace better as problems of climate change and degradation, growing old, depression and the sheer everyday-ness that goes beyond care,  weigh heavy on them.

The simultaneous focus on the set-up of the space of the Midwest and the characters is a challenge to the reader, one that Credico makes extremely interesting. The motifs and symbols—of God, fish, cannibalism, grief, loss, and despair–also add an extra layer to the already complicated mesh of language and feelings. These layers question the politics of what it means to be Midwestern and the myths around what it means to survive with what it offers to those occupying it. However, to construct the characters as representatives of the space they occupy is to almost humanize the space itself—a political act, perhaps, that brings the reader closer to the space and empathize with it.

The space is both loud, speaking through the imagery, and silent, as it sits quietly in the background, accessible to those who are ready to unlearn what they know about it and start a new journey through this book. In that sense, the reader almost becomes a character in these stories, discovering, alongside these characters, some bits of themselves, and asking questions of what it means to exist as a social being, maintain relationships, and deal with both the joy and the pain that comes with them. 

Accompanying these complexities is the stunning language that defines Credico’s prose. The sentences in the book strike a balance between those that are poetic and those that are sharp and a smack in the face with reality. They help the reader on the journey they will go on with the characters, but also kick them into reality before it gets too much. It serves as a reminder for the reader not to get too lost in the darkness but to also enjoy what’s being offered, creating, perhaps, a friendly distance between the book and the reader. That way, what Credico’s text perhaps offers is also a lesson in reading, by giving the reader the space, the choice and the accessibility to read as deep as they would like into the text, but also make sure they are returned to the reality of the spaces they occupy. The length of the stories also help with this. This constant back and forth is perhaps what being Midwestern means, and the language of the text successfully embodies that spirit. 

Heartland Calamitous is, therefore, a must-read, especially for those who are looking for those willing to travel with its strange characters.


Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Way Home by Ashley Inguanta

Just a Bunch of Muse Girls Hanging Out in the Desert

Pack-Ratting

This week, I’ve been flirting with one boy and two girls. The boy is cherry pie. The girls, they are ponies, death metal. I tell the boy my dreams. Steel Pier in flames, swallowing Jupiter. The girls and I go swimming naked in the sea, waves metallic in the cat-hair dusk. I want this to last forever. I want to dance in the street—traffic lights glowing like angels in the oiled, wet road.


This selection comes from The Way Home, available from The Dancing Girl Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

Ashley Inguanta is a poet and art photographer whose work often focuses on romantic love, the spirit, landscape, and place. Most recently, you can find her poems in Contrary Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, and The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry. Her newest short collection of poetry, The Island, The Mountain, and the Nightblooming Field is forthcoming in May of 2020. You can learn more about Ashley’s poetry, art, and teaching at ashleyinguanta.net.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Way Home by Ashley Inguanta

Clay and Anchor

You shed your skin this morning and left it on my plate, next to the grapefruit I sliced and salted
for breakfast. Then I yanked my teeth out, one by one, and placed them on the table next to your
fork, fixed you eggs over-easy while you buttoned up your work shirt. You looked like a new
woman, standing beside the kitchen window, touching yourself, becoming all fingertips and
cloth, weaving, reconstructing each grain of light coming through from the outside. We both
sang a song with no name. I called you Clay and Anchor and you called me Clementine and what
was done was done.


This selection comes from The Way Home, available from The Dancing Girl Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

Ashley Inguanta is a poet and art photographer whose work often focuses on romantic love, the spirit, landscape, and place. Most recently, you can find her poems in Contrary Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, and The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry. Her newest short collection of poetry, The Island, The Mountain, and the Nightblooming Field is forthcoming in May of 2020. You can learn more about Ashley’s poetry, art, and teaching at ashleyinguanta.net.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Announces Updates to our Residency Pricing Structure

Moving forward into 2021, Sundress Academy for the Arts has updated our residency pricing structure to reflect our continuing anti-racist work.

Each farmhouse residency now costs $300/week, which includes a room of one’s own, as well as access to our communal kitchen, bathroom, office, and living space, plus wireless internet.

We are now also using a reparations payment model for our farmhouse residencies, which consists of the following:

  1. 3 reparation weeks of equally divided payments for Black and/or Indigenous identifying writers at $150/week
  2. 3 discounted weeks of equally divided payments for BIPOC writers at $250/week
  3. 6 equitable weeks of equally divided payments at $300/week

Alongside these new rates, SAFTA will also now be offering three full fellowships a year (Spring, Summer, and Fall) for Black and/or Indigenous identifying writers.

Black and/or Indigenous identifying writers are also invited to apply for a $350 support grant to help cover the costs of food, travel, childcare, and/or any other needs while they are at the residency. We are currently able to offer two of these grants per residency period (spring/summer/fall). 

Residencies in the Writers Coop remain $150/week and include your own private dry cabin as well as access to the farmhouse amenities. 

The application fees remain waived for all writers of color as well as any writer applying for financial need. All paid application fees will fund support grants for Black and/or Indigenous writers.

Find out more about how to apply for summer residencies here.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Way Home by Ashley Inguanta

Peaks

Girl slept for a thousand years, cradled in an ocean of ghost horses, their legs and necks
wrapping her like mothers would children. Sometimes the ghost-horse legs wrapped girl like
rope, tying up her limbs, all wet with salt from the sea. Sometimes the ghost-horse necks
spooned girl tight, only to uncurl once again, flinging her still-sleeping body into the next wave
of mane, of tail. Sometimes the ghost horses ached when they let girl go. Sometimes the ghost
horses could not wait to get her gone.


This selection comes from The Way Home, available from The Dancing Girl Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Nilsa Rivera.

Ashley Inguanta is a poet and art photographer whose work often focuses on romantic love, the spirit, landscape, and place. Most recently, you can find her poems in Contrary Magazine, The Santa Fe Literary Review, and The Familiar Wild: On Dogs & Poetry. Her newest short collection of poetry, The Island, The Mountain, and the Nightblooming Field is forthcoming in May of 2020. You can learn more about Ashley’s poetry, art, and teaching at ashleyinguanta.net.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Seven by Farzana Doctor


The auditorium dims, and the audience stills. The moderator welcomes the crowd and introduces me as the first speaker. God, why did she have to put me first? I take a sip of water, clear my throat, and click on a slide that shows a compilation of news headlines from 2016 to 2025. 

“Much has changed in the last decade. As you can see, khatna was made illegal in India. There have been dozens of court cases — starting in Australia, then Detroit, and later all across the U.S., Canada, Europe, India — cutters and parents prosecuted. There are now hotlines for victims, specialized therapies for survivors.” 

I run my thumb down the cool glass of my tablet’s screen, and provide the audience with background information and statistics about Bohras and khatna’s emotional, physical, and sexual impacts. The energy downgrades in the room. I move on to the next slide, a photo of our high priest posed with a dead lion five times his size. I hear a couple of gasps. Good, I have their attention again.

“Anecdotal evidence suggests that khatna is still being secretly practised amongst those who are most closely aligned with the apex leader of the Bohras. Thankfully, he has fewer acolytes now as more Bohras have shrugged off his control and have formed more democratic communities, including a large alternative masjid here in New York City. There is even talk that the Indian government might seize his funds and properties and redistribute them to these new configurations. Fun fact about this photo: it circulated on WhatsApp and Facebook in 2018 and people say it was a catalyst for change.” Finger snaps popcorn through the auditorium as audience members show their support. 

I click on the next slide, a photo of me with my mom, her cousins, and my nani, all of us wearing identical orange-and-red tunics. There is a collective “Awww.” I feel a sudden light-headedness. I exhale. Time to get personal. 

“So, that’s me, at seven years old, in India with my family. I’d like to tell you a little about my personal connection to khatna. Like every other khatna story you’ll hear, it’s about secrets, lies, and shame.” This last sentence sounded better when I rehearsed in front of my full-length bedroom mirror. Now it seems cheesy. 

I click on a photo of Mom and Dad, smiling for the camera. Dad’s holding a placard that reads FGM IS GENDER VIOLENCE! 

“My parents were dead-set against the practice, and even attended a rally, the first of its kind in India, while we were there in 2016. Oh, I should give credit to my mom, who provided me with all these old photos.” My gaze slides to the left of the auditorium, where my parents and Nani sit. I told myself I wouldn’t look their way until the end of the speech. 

“One day, I was supposed to be babysat by an older cousin, but I ended up with my grand-aunt, for an hour or so. Now, Maasi was fully aware of my parents’ views about khatna.” The audience is quiet, as though holding its breath. 

“Maasi told me we were going to the market and then we’d go and get ice cream. I remember feeling excited about that.” I pause, take another sip of water, the reel playing in my mind: we were supposed to buy vegetables, but we didn’t. I remember thinking that the aborted errand was somehow my fault. 

“She seemed to be in a rush, and while we were walking, I tripped and skinned my knee.” She scolded me for being clumsy, and her unexpected harshness shocked me. Perhaps she saw it in my expression because she softened then. 

“She said, ‘Don’t worry, I know a nurse who lives close by, and I’ll phone her and she can take care of your knee.’ Soon after, we arrived at this so-called nurse’s place.” 

A century of dust coated the foyer. The lift was that old-timey kind, with a criss-crossing metal grate that protested with a creak and a sigh when Maasi pulled it closed. I liked watching the cement underside of each floor pass as we ascended. 

“An older woman answered the door, and Maasi whispered something to her in Gujarati that I couldn’t understand.” 

The air was stuffy with kerosene. I take a breath and continue. 

“I was told to lie down. Maasi said, ‘We’ll clean your knee and put on a bandage.’ Then she told me to pull off my shorts so she could check that there weren’t any other injuries. I resisted that, told her it was only my knee, but she shushed me. I didn’t stop her when she pulled down both my shorts and underwear. A part of me wondered if she knew better, and so I complied.” 

Later, I’d blame myself for letting her remove my clothing. Mom told me to never let anyone touch me down there. 

“Remember, this was a decade ago; I was only seven.” An old man in the front row nods earnestly at me. He resembles one of my great-uncles with his long white beard and topi. 

“She said the antiseptic might sting for a second, and told me to look out the window so that it would hurt less. I did, and so I didn’t see what actually happened.” 

The sky was smoggy grey. My knee sizzled. At the same time, I felt sharp fingers and a much stronger, searing pain. 

“I believe Maasi tended my knee while the other woman cut my clitoral hood, and while I felt pain in both places, I was confused about what was hurting where. And why.” My knee and vulva prickle for a second and I shift from one leg to the other. The old woman’s fingers were thick at the joints, her nails stained turmeric-yellow. 

“Maasi said, ‘Look, you are fine now, nothing happened.’ The nurse applied a cream and then they dressed me again. Maasi said, ‘You’ll feel better in a minute and forget all about this.’ I wanted to believe her, and so I did. At least for a while. 

“All the way to the ice cream shop, Maasi instructed me to never tell my parents about visiting the nurse, that it was our secret. I thought that I was in trouble for something I couldn’t name. 

“The pain subsided. When we returned to her place, I must have been in shock. I didn’t argue when she undressed me, washed my underwear, and then put them back on me, damp.” 

She told me, “Chee chee, you’ve dirtied your panties. But that’s good, the bleeding stopped.” I was supposed to read out this last line, but something about it feels too crude to say aloud to a roomful of strangers. 

“And so, in that child’s haze of confusion caused by the manipulation of a trusted elder, I kept the secret. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, when we were back in New York, and looking at our digital photo album, that I asked about the protest and what it was all about.” I turn to look up at the projected image of my parents at the rally. 

“And that was when I told them what happened. When I was a bit older, Mom and Nani shared their khatna stories with me and I’ve come to see this as a weird sort of bond we share. A trauma bond, but also now an activism bond.” I lock eyes with Mom, but then look down at my page. 

“My parents and nani didn’t have much to do with Maasi after I told them what happened. She died a few years ago. I don’t know how I feel about her, still.” 

Nani dabs her eyes with a tissue. 

“I’m not really sure what the full impact of khatna has been or will be on my life, but I’m glad I can speak to you about it today. I’ll end there, because my time is up, but I’m happy to speak more during the Q and A.” 

The room explodes into applause. Mom, Dad, and Nani rise to their feet.

This selection comes from Seven, available from The Dundrun Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Gokul Prabhu.

Releasing in Canada and the US this September, Seven is Farzana Doctor’s fourth and most ambitious novel to date. The novel sensitively addresses women’s relationships, sexuality, infidelity, intergenerational violence, religion and healing sexual trauma within the context of the insular Dawoodi Bohra (sub-sect of Shia Islam) community. Seven is also the first novel of its kind to address female genital cutting in the Bohra community
Seven is “invaluable” (Booklist) and “an intimate, gutsy feminist novel” (Foreword Reviews) that bravely tackles a difficult issue, one that is too rarely considered but is close to Farzana’s heart as she actively campaigns against FGM in her own community. Twitter: @farzanadoctor

Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Seven by Farzana Doctor


“C’mon. Let’s go!” Zainab yells into my ear. 

“What? Where?” I yell back. “Follow my lead.” She pulls my arm, and I accompany her around the side of the building, and in the side doors. She pauses to consult the directory; gynecology is on the fourth floor. 

“What are we doing?” I ask, but she shushes me and pulls me into the elevator. Inside, there are two other ridawalas, and I realize that we look like them; patients on our way to appointments. On the fourth floor, Zainab pauses, as though considering our next move, then takes me by the elbow down a long hallway. 

“Zainab! What are you doing?” I ask, but she shakes her head. 

“Shhh.” 

“I’m leaving.” I turn to go. 

“No, please, I need you! Just pretend you’re here for an appointment,” she whispers, glancing around fearfully. Again, no one looks at us askance, the ridas our camouflage. She shoots me a look of desperation. “Please, just come with me.” 

She takes my hand, and worried for her, I follow, her lady-inwaiting in this unfamiliar game of make-believe. 

Ahead is a desk where a receptionist in an emerald rida types at a computer. Sitting beside her is our great-great-grandfather, who thumbs a rolodex. He looks up, nods in acknowledgment. I blink, and then he is gone, the index cards abandoned. 

“Name, please?” the receptionist asks. Zainab offers her first and her maiden name and says she has an appointment with Dr. Master. The receptionist squints at her computer display, searching for the missing information, and Zainab says, “Sorry, must go to the bathroom.” 

She grabs my hand and we flee down the hall, our ridas like wings flapping around us. I have no idea what we are doing, but I know I can’t stop Zainab. And I can’t leave her alone to do whatever unhinged thing she’s about to do. Can I? 

“You gave her your name?” I hiss-whisper. 

“I know, it was stupid. I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t think of that when I was planning this.” 

“Planning what?” 

She places her finger in front of her mouth to silence me and then gestures with her eyebrows to the door in front to us. Its nameplate reads RUBINA MASTER. 

“Zainab! No!” 

Zainab turns the knob and bursts in. A woman in a white coat, who is standing by a window, turns to look at us. 

“Can I help you?” 

“Don’t you remember me? We went to St. Mary’s together, Rubina. I’m Zainab. I was passing by with my cousin and I thought I’d come up and warn you about the protest downstairs.” 

“I can see it with my own two eyes.” Rubina gestures to the window. “These people are such liars.” 

“Yes, it is so bad the way that women these days are taking up this cause. They are bringing shame to our community.” My eyes bug out at Zainab. What is she saying?

“I know, it’s just a small thing, and they are making it into a mountain.” 

“And why are they targeting you? I mean you do khatna under sterile conditions, not like the traditional way, no?” 

“Yes, that’s right. I wish everyone would come to doctors for it. It becomes a safe, medical procedure. Like with boys.” 

“Yes, that was what I was telling my cousin here. She’s in town until next week with her seven-year-old daughter. Can you squeeze in an appointment for them?” 

“Yes, just ask my receptionist out there.” She scans the crowd outside. “The procedure is very quick. We can do it before you go.” 

My brain unscrambles and I ask, “Do you use an anaesthetic cream?” For some reason, I want to confirm Maasi’s account of the procedure. 

“You can get one if you want, but it’s not required,” she says distractedly. Perhaps Maasi’s report was based on hearsay. 

“Very modern, no? When we were kids, it was done in some aunty’s flat.” Zainab laughs, shakes her head. Despite her pretend positivity, her words bring back that apartment, the waiting, the fear. I inhale, shake it away. “

This selection comes from Seven, available from The Dundrun Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Gokul Prabhu.

Releasing in Canada and the US this September, Seven is Farzana Doctor’s fourth and most ambitious novel to date. The novel sensitively addresses women’s relationships, sexuality, infidelity, intergenerational violence, religion and healing sexual trauma within the context of the insular Dawoodi Bohra (sub-sect of Shia Islam) community. Seven is also the first novel of its kind to address female genital cutting in the Bohra community
Seven is “invaluable” (Booklist) and “an intimate, gutsy feminist novel” (Foreword Reviews) that bravely tackles a difficult issue, one that is too rarely considered but is close to Farzana’s heart as she actively campaigns against FGM in her own community. Twitter: @farzanadoctor

Gokul Prabhu is a graduate of Ashoka University, India, with a Postgraduate Diploma in English and creative writing. He works as an administrator and teaching assistant for the Writing and Communication facility at 9dot9 Education, and assists in academic planning for communication, writing and critical thinking courses across several higher-ed institutes in India. Prabhu’s creative and academic work fluctuates between themes of sexuality and silence, and he hopes to be a healthy mix of writer, educator and journalist in the future. He occasionally scribbles book reviews and interviews authors for Scroll.in, an award-winning Indian digital news publication.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents Confessional Writing Workshop

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present a workshop focusing on confessional poetry led by Sundress Assistant Editor Ashley Elizabeth on January 13, 2020, from 6:00 to 7:30PM EST. This event will be held over Zoom. Participants can access the event at tiny.utk.edu/sundress, with the password ‘safta.’

Being our true selves can be hard, especially on paper. This Confessional Writing Workshop is geared to help our most authentic selves come out and provide a space to say what might be hard to say in a positive, supportive environment. We will be writing, reading, and discussing what it means to tell our truths, how important it is to do so, and how to translate that truth to paper using various writing exercises. This is not just for poets, but for anyone that feels like they have something to say. Workshop attendees will look at authors like Olivia Gatwood and Ebony Stewart, among others. 

While there is no fee for this workshop, those who are able and appreciative can make direct donations to the leader via Venmo (@aethepoet) or PayPal (https://paypal.me/AElizabeth427).

Ashley Elizabeth (she/her) is a writing consultant, teacher, and poet. Her works have appeared in SWWIM, Rigorous, and Kahini Quarterly, among others. Her chapbook, you were supposed to be a friend, is available from Nightingale & Sparrow. When Ashley isn’t serving as Assistant Editor at Sundress Publications or working as a member of the Estuary Collective, she habitually posts on Twitter and Instagram (@ae_thepoet). She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her partner and their cat.

Ducts Moves to Gone Dark Archives

Ducts magazine announces their new online home at Gone Dark Archives, hosted by Sundress Publications. This move ensures that two decades’ worth of Ducts issues (1999-2019) will continue to be accessible, connecting writers and readers for years to come. 

Ducts is a free, community-supported magazine that was published at ducts.org at least twice a year from 1999 to 2019. It sponsored the New York City reading series Trumpet Fiction over the same time period.

“In a time of increasing challenges in publishing, we are grateful to be in the company of Gone Dark and Sundress, and we appreciate their generous support as well as the assistance of Managing Editor, Erin Elizabeth Smith. Last but not least, we extend our thanks to all readers, supporters, editors, and contributors to Ducts, who have made the magazine a true pleasure to be part of.” –Mary Cool, Ducts Editor-in-Chief.

You can find issues and information about Ducts here!

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.