Sundress Reads: Review of Luz at Midnight

Somewhere in the night, a dog wanders. Somewhere in South Texas during a blackout, the dog gives birth. Somewhere in America during a global climate crisis, a man finds the dog and brings her home.

In her genre-hopping novel Luz at Midnight (FlowerSong Press, 2020), Marisol Cortez tells a story of the passionate, exhausting search for hope and perseverance against desperation, frustration, injustice, and hopelessness. In this striking climate fiction book with a love story, idealistic and thoughtful Citlali “Lali” Sanchez-O’Connor falls fervently—and in her mind, unfortunately—in love with journalist Joel Champlain, who uncovers the slow-acting political and economic leaders in a fast-moving climate crisis affecting the inhabitants of San Antonio. Lali has a husband, a child, and a job lined up across the country, and she grapples with the badly-timed discovery of a passion she had never felt before. Both Lali and Joel are navigating their dissatisfaction with unfulfilled promises—within their lives and from the people who have the power to stop the climate crisis they are both fighting in personal and professional capacities.

Lali’s confessional opening hints at the passion, reflection, and uncertainty to come. Her discovery of love dawns with the realization that it is “something that in its very inexplicability could not be controlled or reckoned with or understood.” Joel’s introduction is striking, too, presented in second-person point of view with vivid details. We learn about his struggles with mental health and the cognitive dissonance between his ideals and the reality of his work. He questions himself, and his ennui permeates his narrative, speaking to those who have ever questioned their impact, especially those who work against injustice. He struggles to belong and find connection with like-minded people, asking “How can I be part of something but not of something?”

Weaving masterfully between numerous narrative styles and genres—including poetic prose, contemporary storytelling, poetry, theatrical script, musings on physics and human interconnection, research notes, and even news articles—Cortez takes us through multiple perspectives, seeing romance and climate change through various lenses. Lali’s growing understanding of “the complex political interweaving of oil and water and money and color” tie the book’s many elements together. Stylistic choices also treat the text like artwork; dialogue isn’t set off by quotation marks, and the characters’ speech blends into the narrative. The text invites readers to place themselves into the story, using focus and context to derive its meaning. It shifts between past and present tense, showing time’s many links to itself. Every new section begins with another Chapter One—a resetting of time, an acknowledgement of a new beginning amidst many beginnings and endings.

The many characters of Luz at Midnight are well fleshed-out, both memorable and familiar. With stories told with nuance and empathy, these characters comprise people from all backgrounds, from activists to those simply doing their jobs and hoping they do them well. For a brief time, we walk with each character, seeing the world through their eyes and understanding how their experiences have shaped their views and dreams. We see how these characters interact with each other and how their stories intertwine, always drawing back to the idea of connection. The story highlights connections between people, between history and the future, between nature and humanity, and between legacy and damage. Human thought and relationships are explored with artistic, whimsical writing that is at times thoughtful, solemn, or humorous. The characters lean on humor in some of their darkest moments, especially when they feel they have nothing else—yet instances of this humor, like those in the narrative, are weighed down by more sobering realities:         
                                                                                        
“He laughs and waves back. Alto a los rate hikes!
But it really wasn’t funny.”

The characters fight for and live in a San Antonio that is both realistic and fictionalized. Multiple references are made that show the author’s familiarity with the city, and the setting imagines what might happen as the city’s political and economic leaders and citizens respond to issues brought about by climate change—and ultimately by the people themselves. As they delve into the issues plaguing the city, Joel, Lali, and their colleagues grapple with the knowledge that “whoever decided what happened to the land decided the future.” The story’s timeliness and relevance are uncanny; just months before a snowstorm and Texas’ electrical system would lead to prolonged blackouts in multiple areas, disproportionately affecting poorer and more marginalized communities, Cortez warns of those very risks in Texas’ electrical grid plans. These incidents are described in compelling language that personifies nature with “her” instead of “it,” and the narrative frequently ponders nature’s overarching power, extending into every life and permeating the landscape.

Ultimately, Luz at Midnight is thought-provoking, and its many twists and forays into multiple narrative styles ensured my constant reflection and focus. The characters are raw and genuine, and I deeply felt their passion and exhaustion as I followed their stories. The story lovingly and thoughtfully explores human relationships, how they impact and are in turn impacted by the earth, and imagines a near future dealing with climate issues, but ultimately, it is a book about desire and love, whether those are between characters, between people and their city, between animals and humans, or between humans and our world. “When we’re held like that, unconditionally—that’s when our pain becomes endurance, courage. That’s what allows us to survive in the face of violence and to do this work year after year, decade after decade.”

Luz at Midnight is available at FlowerSong Press


Stephi Cham is a freelance editor and author. She received her BM in Music Therapy and Minor in Psychology from Southern Methodist University and is pursuing her MA in Publishing at Rosemont College, where she is the Fiction Editor of Rathalla Review. She wrote the Great Asian-Americans series, published in 2018 by Capstone Press, and her writing has been featured in Strange Horizons.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “Conjure: Family & Folklore as Inspiration for Creative Writing”: A Writer’s Workshop

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “Conjure: Family & Folklore as Inspiration for Creative Writing,” a workshop led by Tamara J. Madison on January 12, 2022 from 6-7:30 pm EST. This event will be held on Zoom. Participants can access the event at tiny.utk.edu/sundress (password: safta).

This workshop will inspire writers (poets, fiction, and non-fiction writers) to use family photos, archives, histories, and even folklore as endless inspiration for new work. Using a series of images, writers will be challenged to examine photographs and explore the characters, landscape and environment of these photographs to dabble in persona writing which may creatively record family, community, cultural history/events and “conjure” new visions. The emphasis of the workshop is brainstorming and exploring through numerous writing prompts and exercises that are later briefly discussed and shared to discover possibilities of further writing and development. Participants will also receive recommendations of other writers who have used such practices.

While there is no fee for this workshop, those who are able and appreciative can make direct donations to Tamara via Venmo or PayPal at tamarajmadison@gmail.com or on Cash App at $TamaraJMadison. 

Tamara J. Madison is an author, poet, editor, and instructor. Her critical and creative works have been published and recorded in various journals, magazines, anthologies, podcasts, and exhibits including Linden Avenue, Poetry International, Extract, Web del Sol Review of Books, Tidal Basin Review, Black Magnolias, and aaduna. She has also been published in the anthologies, SisterFire (HarperCollins), Temba Tupu (RedSea Press), and Check the Rhyme (LitNoire Press). 

She is the author of Collard County (short stories), Kentucky Curdled (poetry), and Sistuh’s Sermon on the Mount (poetry chapbook – Open Hand Press). Her most recent poetry collection Threed, This Road Not Damascus is published by Trio House Press (May 2019) and was short-listed under the title, Breast Poems, in the 2015 Willow Books Literature Award. Threed, … has been reviewed in Poetry International, Cider Press Review, Empty Mirror Review, and Cordella Magazine. Her poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for Best of the Net. 

Tamara is the creator and host of BREAKDOWN: The Poet & The Poems, a conversation series on YouTube to spread awareness of poets and their poetry as inspiration and motivation for everyday life. 

Tamara has performed and recorded her work for stage, television, and studio. She enjoys facilitating creative writing workshops for campus and community. She is an MFA graduate of New England College and an Anaphora Arts Writing Residency fellow (2021). She currently lives in Orlando, Florida where she teaches as a professor of English and Creative Writing at Valencia College. For more information, visit www.tamarajmadison.com.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Book of Levitations by Jenny Sadre-Orafai & Anne Champion


This selection, chosen by Managing Editor Krista Cox, is from Book of Levitations by Jenny Sadre-Orafai & Anne Champion, released by Trembling Pillow Press in 2020. 

Tarot Deck for Ravaged Memories

Your card is the Empress—she holds a knife for a scepter. She has skin under her nails and claw marks on her belly. There are no men in this deck, but every card throws a shadow on the table in the shape of something a man did to you once. When you overturn The Lovers card, crows peck at the bones of carrion. The Sun is the moon and The Moon is a heart hovering in space. The Hanged Woman bears an image of you as a child, but you know this card means something about your father. The Joker glows as a shifting constellation of dying stars; the first pattern you can trace says something about your future.


Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Paper Cotton Leather and Malak and the co-author of Book of LevitationsHer fourth poetry collection, Dear Outsidersis forthcoming from University of Akron Press. Her prose has appeared in The RumpusFourteen HillsThe Los Angeles Review, and others. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and a professor at Kennesaw State University. 

Anne Champion is the author of She Saints & Holy Profanities (Quarterly West, 2019), The Good Girl is Always a Ghost (Black Lawrence Press, 2018), Book of Levitations (Trembling Pillow Press, 2019), Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, 2017). Her work appears in Verse Daily, Tupelo Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Salamander, New South, Redivider, PANK Magazine, and elsewhere. She was a 2009 Academy of American Poets Prize recipient, a 2016 Best of the Net winner, and a Barbara Deming Memorial Grant recipient.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Book of Levitations by Jenny Sadre-Orafai & Anne Champion


This selection, chosen by Managing Editor Krista Cox, is from Book of Levitations by Jenny Sadre-Orafai & Anne Champion, released by Trembling Pillow Press in 2020. 

Spell for Destructive Behavior

The secret is this: there’s no way to find the pain

               before it finds you. You can’t keep a fire

for a pet or chain it to your ankle and drag

               it through your days. Worship idols

of wrecked women, but know that they can’t hear

               your prayers and you can’t hear their loneliness

with the abyss breathing so heavy on your neck.


Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Paper Cotton Leather and Malak and the co-author of Book of LevitationsHer fourth poetry collection, Dear Outsidersis forthcoming from University of Akron Press. Her prose has appeared in The RumpusFourteen HillsThe Los Angeles Review, and others. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and a professor at Kennesaw State University. 

Anne Champion is the author of She Saints & Holy Profanities (Quarterly West, 2019), The Good Girl is Always a Ghost (Black Lawrence Press, 2018), Book of Levitations (Trembling Pillow Press, 2019), Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, 2017). Her work appears in Verse Daily, Tupelo Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Salamander, New South, Redivider, PANK Magazine, and elsewhere. She was a 2009 Academy of American Poets Prize recipient, a 2016 Best of the Net winner, and a Barbara Deming Memorial Grant recipient.

Lyric Essentials: Shannon Hearn Reads Carrie Lorig

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week poet Shannon Hearn has joined us to discuss the work of Carrie Lorig, hybrid poetry, and taking inspiration from other creatives. As always, thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: What was your first experience with Carrie Lorig’s work?

Shannon Hearn: I’m so glad you asked this question. I was first introduced to Lorig’s work the last year of my undergraduate studies by the author Darcie Dennigan (to whom I owe so much, and who pointed my toes towards many of the writing loves in my life). I was working on an extended prose poem in a workshop with Dennigan, which ended up turning into a much lengthier piece titled Tracing Circles in Dirt; I had just read a few writers like Alice Notley and Renee Gladman for the first time and found myself very intrigued in the ways poets do / might take up space on the page.

During this time, I was working hard with my therapist and energy healer on communication related anxiety and finding my voice (not just my poetic voice! that too ((always)), but more so intentionally looking at the ways I was finding myself unable to participate in the world because my anxiety was so paralyzing. I frequently was incapable of speaking at all) and Tracing Circles in Dirt became a very crucial space where I allowed myself / to wrestle with the disorder happening. I started interrogating the line and phrases within each line. And, perhaps in a gesture towards the ways Notley uses “” in Descent of Alette, I started breaking up my prose with slashes “/” and cultivating a cadence on the page that narrowed in on what happens when we isolate words and phrases by cutting them open and asking them to stand / alone.

Basically, I was fascinated by the myriad of ways where so much goes unsaid or unnoticed in sentences on the page and I was very compelled to place weight / on those moments (my partner is a therapist and finds all of this to be utterly masochistic…. Can’t speak? Nice! Let’s put more compression on the words we use to construct our sentences and see how and what they do under pressure!). Enter Carrie Lorig’s The Book of Repulsive Women, which Dennigan sent along to me. Turns out, the slash “/” is Lorig’s signature move. I consumed The Book of Repulsive Women in a day and feverishly moved onto their chapbook Nods from Magic Helicopter Press and then later the same year The Pulp Vs The Throne from Artifice. When I think about my experience with Lorig’s writing, the time I spend with her work really stands as a plot of land where I feel noisily and sympathetically seen by another author in an obsession with language / an obsession which gestures intimately toward ones I wrestle with on the page and in my own body.

Their work really stoked the fire in me for experimentation. Lorig’s poetry was a moment where I read them and thought, oh, this is so weird and challenges so much about what so many of us have been taught about language / the constructs – this is exactly what i am trying and want to be doing. Reading her writing gave me a permission to continue laboring with my words in the frustrated dance / I was locked in / and, if I’m being honest, which I always am trying to be, gave me viscous and tender validation for the power of experimentation.

Shannon Hearn reads an excerpt from Carrie Lorig’s “dreadful contact”

Read “dreaful contact” online here.

AH: You’ve selected poems from a writer who’s done a lot of hybrid writing. How have you been
inspired to innovate in your own work?

SH: Lorig’s writing was absolutely a teacher / to the hybridity that I explore in my own writing and the ways I move / within experimentation. Particularly for people who have been raised within submissive roles in society and from socialization focused on their service to a dominate group, I think it is an ongoing process discovering the ways we can and should take up space – internally and externally.

For me, hybridity has always been a part / of that conversation. All poetry is layered, but when you lift the concept of this form being X and that form being Y, the pressures shift / the choreography becomes an animal / all of its own. You begin moving in a more full-body of language and energy within the work. Hybridity is all about expanding one’s field of vision and if we’re able to lift up off of this form or that genre, there is opportunity for the motions to become all the more sweeping. In a sense, we are giving ourselves permission to demonstrate the ways we’re able to twist and contort and shout and fuck and make a racket on the page in a whole new dimension.

When I look at hybridity / in my own writing, I find myself circling around the same ideas over and around in similar fashions but different fonts. In my MFA I worked with the writer Nicole Cooley and she would say as poets we are constantly gesturing towards the same themes in our work, we just approach those themes from different angles as we move along. For me, this is speaking and not speaking; this is the physical mouth and access to the internal through different, physical parts of the body; this is bridled femininity in its many, various forms. The slash “/” is something I think I will continue / exploring my whole life, but I’ve found my writing continues to look for new ways to interrogate / the unsaid, and also the “why” within what is / unsaid. What are the implications when we cannot speak? What are the implications when we can speak, but choose not to? What are the power dynamics of silence and how does this surface / simmer on the page?

Shannon Hearn reads an excerpt of Carrie Lorig’s “the silent bone”

AH: Lorig has done a lot of poems interrogating form as function. Personally, I’ve always seen hybrid work as a true reflection of the mind—we think in images, words, a cacophony of many different things. How have you approached and viewed hybridity?

SH: I have always been taken with writers who push / for innovation on the page in their work. I think a lot of this started with my own incapacity to speak (and i truly do mean speaking both internally and externally…. to others, but also to the self; i’m always trying to find new ways into my own mind, new thought patterns and circuitous cycles of thought to break open and shake my finger at and kiss) and finding ways to articulate through that state of being. I did a deep dive into Emily Dickinson’s poetry through an independent study in my last year as an undergraduate under the guidance of the poet Penelope Pelizzon where I read all of Dickinson’s poems in order of when they were written, alongside an exploration of her letters and other poets who write in conversation with her (Susan Howe, Lucie Brock-Broido).

There is a slight, strong hand of silence inside of these poets and their work. Maybe silence isn’t right or a specific enough word, maybe more the weight of what is / goes unsaid. Gertrude Stein is another writer who I feel does this ruthlessly. I am always falling in love with poets who have such a hand on the craft of withholding / when they are able to release a line that says one thing (maybe even a nonsensical thing through the tradition of the English language) but means so much more when you are able to dig into what isn’t explicitly being given to you as a reader. So, there’s that side to the coin.

There’s also the other side where I am absolutely floored by writers who manage to do the opposite: to put so much of their thought process onto the page you can’t help but feel a little shaken and seen by it all. Bernadette Mayer, Magdalena Zurawski. I still haven’t recovered from The Bruise and I’m not sure I ever want to convalesce. I know I’m speaking less towards hybridity here than this question prompted, but I think some of the most profound moments of hybridity come when an individual feels so caught between two sources / modalities / colors they have to find a way to communicate by channeling both and I think Carrie Lorig is someone who has mastered this in the field of poetics. In an interview with Heavy Feather Review around the time The Pulp came out Lorig said, “I really don’t think we, as individual people, actually try to describe what it feels like for us TO THINK. I also don’t think we often recognize how difficult it can be to imagine / engage with the different ways those around us think / experience thinking. I mean isn’t this one of the important things reading tries to get closer to?”

I think about this (quite literally) all the time, but particularly when I’m writing. Like, isn’t that one of the most crucial elements to why we read and why we write??? And yet, so frequently, it’s hardly a part of the conversation at all. The way you describe hybridity is so beautiful, as “a true reflection of the mind,” and I absolutely agree. To embody hybridity, to me, is to sit in humanity – to find / field the tension in otherwise ordinary words and phrases, build further into that, and allow space for duality there.

AH:What have you been up to lately? Got any news you’d like to share (life updates, writing, anything!)?

SH: This is such a thoughtful question – thank you for asking. This past fall I started as a PhD candidate in poetry at SUNY Binghamton. Contending with imposter syndrome one, sweet day at a time. I have two chapbooks I’m currently working on who I’m vaguely convinced are about to get married and become a full-length piece – they just don’t know this yet. I go through peaks and valleys of writing and editing with my own work and I’m currently producing lots so I’m trying to be patient with myself and happily procrastinate the throes of editing, which will soon consume my life. I’m trying to be way more intentional about building out a safe writing community and surrounding myself with writers who really see my work and my voice and push me towards myself. I do have a few pieces in the wings of publication, which always feels nervous and embarrassing and thrilling and terrifying. My most recent publication came out right before I got married last fall [:’)] and can be read /listened to at Voicemail Poems.


Carrie Lorig is the author of the chapbooks The Blood Barn, The Repulsive Woman, and NODS. Her full-length collection of poems and essays The Pulp vs. The Throne was released with Artifice Books. She is currently a PhD student in School Psychology.

Find Lorig on Twitter here.

Discover Lorig’s chapbook, The Blood Barn, here and The Pulp vs. The Throne here.

Read an interview with Lorig at Entropy.

Shannon Hearn is currently a PhD candidate in poetry at Binghamton University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming with 3:AM Magazine, Big Lucks, cream city review, Juked, Fugue, Heavy Feather Review, Voicemail Poems, DIALOGIST, and others. She received her MFA in poetry from Queens College, and lives in Brooklyn.

Follow Shannon on Twitter and Instagram.

Read her poem “What Marriage Is / Tender Care” at Voicemail Poems.

Read her poem “You Are/No Longer” at Heavy Feather Review.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. She has had work appear in Barren Magazine, Hobart, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Book of Levitations by Jenny Sadre-Orafai & Anne Champion


This selection, chosen by Managing Editor Krista Cox, is from Book of Levitations by Jenny Sadre-Orafai & Anne Champion, released by Trembling Pillow Press in 2020. 

Raze an Abandoned House

Empty fruits now. No one told the grass,
the weeds, the trees to leave. The sprinkler

is dry, directionless. How to make shapes
in the yard again, feet coming to home?

Chandeliers so bored with their glints;
unappreciated, they’re Vegas headdresses

now. They watch weddings on work
breaks, shaking their noisy bodies

to object. Still, they won’t be back by
the end of this spell. You’ll have light

but it won’t be in necklaces, broken
chains tinkling in the dark.


Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Paper Cotton Leather and Malak and the co-author of Book of LevitationsHer fourth poetry collection, Dear Outsidersis forthcoming from University of Akron Press. Her prose has appeared in The RumpusFourteen HillsThe Los Angeles Review, and others. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and a professor at Kennesaw State University. 

Anne Champion is the author of She Saints & Holy Profanities (Quarterly West, 2019), The Good Girl is Always a Ghost (Black Lawrence Press, 2018), Book of Levitations (Trembling Pillow Press, 2019), Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, 2017). Her work appears in Verse Daily, Tupelo Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Salamander, New South, Redivider, PANK Magazine, and elsewhere. She was a 2009 Academy of American Poets Prize recipient, a 2016 Best of the Net winner, and a Barbara Deming Memorial Grant recipient.

Sundress Publications is Now Open for Full-Length Prose Manuscripts

Sundress Publications is open for submissions of full-length prose manuscripts in all genres. All authors are welcome to submit manuscripts during our reading period, which runs from December 1, 2021 – February 28, 2022. 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 BIPOC writers and entrants who purchase or pre-order any Sundress title. Authors may submit as many manuscripts as they would like, provided that each is accompanied by a separate reading fee or purchase/pre-order. Entrants can place book orders or pay submission fees in our store at https://squareup.com/market/sundress-publications.

All manuscripts will be read by members of our editorial board, and we will choose one manuscript for publication by summer of 2022. We strive to further our commitment to inclusion and seek to encounter as many unique and important voices as possible. We are actively seeking collections from BIPOC writers, trans and nonbinary writers, writers with disabilities, and others whose voices are under-represented 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) noting the author’s first and last name in the subject line. The sample should include the author’s name and an acknowledgements 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. 

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Book of Levitations by Jenny Sadre-Orafai & Anne Champion


This selection, chosen by Managing Editor Krista Cox, is from Book of Levitations by Jenny Sadre-Orafai & Anne Champion, released by Trembling Pillow Press in 2020. 

Spell for Daughters with Nightmares

You are your fathers—dreams happen to you.
Your mothers are first to feel the ruptured

breathing. They swaddle raw amethyst
(spangled mountain), put you and your sleep

on top. Fathers, footnotes, would cancel it.
Don’t let them handle that. This is the best

you can want, daughters. You’ll keep your voice
strong and young for when you need it awake.


Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Paper Cotton Leather and Malak and the co-author of Book of LevitationsHer fourth poetry collection, Dear Outsidersis forthcoming from University of Akron Press. Her prose has appeared in The RumpusFourteen HillsThe Los Angeles Review, and others. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and a professor at Kennesaw State University. 

Anne Champion is the author of She Saints & Holy Profanities (Quarterly West, 2019), The Good Girl is Always a Ghost (Black Lawrence Press, 2018), Book of Levitations (Trembling Pillow Press, 2019), Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, 2017). Her work appears in Verse Daily, Tupelo Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Salamander, New South, Redivider, PANK Magazine, and elsewhere. She was a 2009 Academy of American Poets Prize recipient, a 2016 Best of the Net winner, and a Barbara Deming Memorial Grant recipient.

Sundress Reads: Review of Through A Red Place

In Through A Red Place (Perugia Press, 2021), Rebecca Pelky maps a history of colonial dispossession on Turtle Island, tracing a family lineage and examining how settler-colonial violence causes alienation from land, language, and history. Archival photographs, family trees, and Google Maps images appear alongside these poems, positioning Pelky’s writing as an act of historical documentation that interrogates dominant settler-colonial narratives of Wisconsin’s past. 

Structured around a series of poems written in Mohegan and English, this collection orients itself around the Mohegan year’s lunar cycle. From the book’s first pages, Pelky decentres settler history by embracing this yearly pattern, telling the story of each moon in Mohegan first. “You have been hidden…behind white paper. / You were buried under white people,” she writes of Grandmother Cochegan. Engaging in the white paper of colonial documentation to reframe this history as traumatic and violent, these poems do the work of uncovering buried, hidden stories, so that “I know you, a little.” 

In an extended erasure poem that reframes the words of Andrew Jackson, Pelky conducts a similar uncovering of the genocidal aims of settlement across Turtle Island. “It gives me pleasure / the removal of the Indians,” the poem begins, reminding the reader of the violent power of the written and spoken word. Leaving the omitted language conspicuously on the page, blacked out, Pelky draws attention to what settlers said and didn’t say about their violent dispossession of Indigenous land.  

While poetic engagement with settler-colonial history underscores the United States government’s intention to exterminate Indigenous people, the collection also follows the speaker’s rediscovery of family stories in similar historical documents: photographs, maps, residential school documents, and other records piece together an archive of resilience. Through this rediscovery, Pelky is able to write two “Last of the Mohicans found poem[s]” that contradict myths of the “vanishing Indian:” “Here I am. / I am glad. / … I am not alone. / I am not stone. / I am not the last,” this work insists. 

Just as Through a Red Place reclaims a colonially appropriated history, it reclaims the Mohegan language, whose last fluent speaker, Fidelia Fielding, died in 1908. Through Fidelia’s diaries as well as The Modern Mohegan Dictionary and “Mohegan Phrase Book” prepared by her descendant Stephanie Fielding, Pelky writes in Mohegan, centering this collection in a world that “isn’t static, but flows / prismatic,” where “each of us moves in rainbows.” 

Through a Red Place challenges its reader to expand their understandings of both history and poetry, weaving a story of family history through land. In “Pedigree,” a poem superimposed on an image of a family tree, the speaker rejects racist settler understandings of blood quantum that reduce familial relationships to “the bony processes of names and / dates.” “Mixed Blood,” with its ironic title, searches for meaning elsewhere: “I planted my feet / and started pulling instead—gathering, collecting / hauling everything into my body.” The speaker’s family history is as present, if not more so, in the land as in archival documents. As the speaker explores Wisconsin’s burial mounds and cemeteries, “I’m a kind of link between their distance.” Pelky uses poetic histories to draw together the speaker’s present with a family past, emphasizing the importance of cultural inheritance and making the past present for both speaker and reader.

Through a Red Place is available at Perugia Press


A headshot of Katherine DeCoste. They have short hair and glasses and are wearing a collared shirt and white sweater.

Katherine DeCoste is an editorial intern for Sundress Publications and a graduate student at the University of Victoria. They completed their BA Honors in English and History from the University of Alberta in 2020. You can find their poetry in various outlets, including The Antigonish Review, Grain Magazine, Contemporary Verse 2, and others.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Book of Levitations by Jenny Sadre-Orafai & Anne Champion


This selection, chosen by Managing Editor Krista Cox, is from Book of Levitations by Jenny Sadre-Orafai & Anne Champion, released by Trembling Pillow Press in 2020. 

Predictions

               Like boys, you too were born with power—
you just didn’t know how to steal,

               asking politely, your fingertips
under your friend’s body, chanting

               light as a feather, stiff as a board, waiting
for her to hover, searching the night

               for hidden constellations. Once,
you dreamed the moon turned red

               and split like a peach to nurture you.
Once, you asked a Ouija board

               who would marry you and it said
yes. You visited an old woman with tea leaves

               who envisioned a black hole
in your spirit. Your psychic pressed

               tarot cards to the table and said
that all your men would be lions

               or tigers. You took aura photos
and finally saw yourself as a prism of light

               refracted. You need no meteorologist—
your head throbs whenever there’s a storm.


Jenny Sadre-Orafai is the author of Paper Cotton Leather and Malak and the co-author of Book of LevitationsHer fourth poetry collection, Dear Outsidersis forthcoming from University of Akron Press. Her prose has appeared in The RumpusFourteen HillsThe Los Angeles Review, and others. She is co-founding editor of Josephine Quarterly and a professor at Kennesaw State University. 

Anne Champion is the author of She Saints & Holy Profanities (Quarterly West, 2019), The Good Girl is Always a Ghost (Black Lawrence Press, 2018), Book of Levitations (Trembling Pillow Press, 2019), Reluctant Mistress (Gold Wake Press, 2013), and The Dark Length Home (Noctuary Press, 2017). Her work appears in Verse Daily, Tupelo Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Crab Orchard Review, Salamander, New South, Redivider, PANK Magazine, and elsewhere. She was a 2009 Academy of American Poets Prize recipient, a 2016 Best of the Net winner, and a Barbara Deming Memorial Grant recipient.