Project Bookshelf: Mary Sims

One of my favorite pastimes to this day is exploring local second-hand bookstores. In middle school, my mom would take me to a small store close to our house, blending our time there with the small coffee shop across the street. My summers were spent rotating between them both and my local library, which was also within walking distance. After all of these years, I can’t count how many books I have bought from that store, but I know it was enough to have filled my childhood bookshelf.

Presently, I still visit that bookstore, and I love it just as much. Perhaps the biggest change I’ve experienced in the routine is the shift in content on my bookshelves. My days of Percy Jackson and John Green were left behind for my growing love of classics and poetry. Woolf and Wilde replaced Rowling; Mary Oliver and Danez Smith took the place of C.S Lewis. My break from middle school was marked by my transition into new genres. I became obsessed with classic literature and contemporary poetry. Kay Ryan’s The Best of It was the beginning collection that steered me into poetry. Even now, the book is still on my shelf, crowded against the more recent collections I’ve enjoyed. 

In taking one look at my bookshelf, my favorites become obvious. Poetry and plays litter the upper shelf, organized carefully so that no author overshadows another. Sarah Kane is able to meet Tiana Clark without distraction and Mary Oliver sits beside Franny Choi in an organized chaos of styles. This shelf is not only important to me because of the community they represent, but because these collections have inspired me to pursue poetry. Louise Gluck’s The Wild Iris introduced me to the importance of movement within a poem. I would spend my time reading this collection between my classes and job, marveling at her ability to shift within her stanzas; I remember sitting out on my university library’s steps and highlighting lines in the sunlight.

In addition to Gluck’s collection, Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf is one of my most treasured books. This collection was my gateway into contemporary poetry as it showed me how to love poetry in all its different forms. I was fortunate enough to get it signed in January and keep it displayed proudly. Sitting beside Akbar’s poems is another one of my more recent purchases: Franny Choi’s Soft Science. This collection taught me the imperative role form plays in conducting the message of a poem. Beyond what I have learned from it, this collection holds a special place in my heart as it contains one of my favorite poems: Introduction to Quantum Theory. The first time I read this poem, I felt the world around me melt away. Predictably, reading Soft Science had the same effect as I tore through it. 

Many other notable books I still find myself enraptured by are Richard Siken’s War of the Foxes, Araclis Girmay’s Kingdom Animalia, Sarah Kane’s collected plays, and Hieu Minh Nguyen’s This Way To The Sugar. Siken’s collection was a gift I received two Christmases ago after I had devoured his first collection Crush in under a day. His ability to condense emotion into action devastated me, and I simply had to have more of it. The relationship of the speaker and the reader seemed foundational to Siken’s emotional construction. Oftentimes, his poems gave the impression of an intentionally fragile structure, waiting to be torn apart. Similarly, Girmay’s collection is one I had on my list for a long time. I finally purchased my copy for a directed study course I took with one of my favorite professors. As expected, her collection was hypnotic. I was fixated on her use of images to place her reader into each poem as well as remove them just as quick. Her ability to deconstruct interaction within her own work was breathtaking, and I couldn’t tear myself away.

This past fall I was able to visit with family friends in Seattle, Washington — one of my favorite places to be — where I picked up a copy of Nguyen’s book at a local bookstore I come to each time I’m in the city. I carried his collection across the city and then over the ocean as I started to read it. Of course, it’s no surprise how quickly i became immersed. Nguyen’s use of careful violence in each poem entangled me, leading me to continuously marvel at each image he crafted. Sarah Kane’s plays were something I discovered indirectly, but I am very glad I did. Last summer I came across her work in a short quote shared by a book-review blogger I follow. I was so entranced; I hadn’t read many plays outside of school assignments, and I wanted to correct that. I ordered her collection, finishing the whole thing in two days. I was torn apart; I was resurrected. There is no other way to describe how I felt reading her work.

My second shelf is a little more disorganized, which also reflects my relationship with fiction. There is a blend of university assigned readings, high school fascinations, and ‘to-read’ piles all pressed together. This shelf contains my collected fiction and non-fiction. Writers like Jamaica Kincaid and Bram Stoker meet each other within the chaos. Last year I became very invested in non-fiction; I picked up the exploration that was Cat Marnell’s How to Murder Your Life and snowballed from there. On my bookshelf is one of Terry Tempest Williams’ books Refuge, which continues to inspire me even a year after my first reading. I was stunned by her ability to blend dreamscapes with reality while remaining within her non-fiction genre. The structure of each realization throughout was framed by a careful preciseness, leaving the reader with a constant impression of standing at the edge of a cliff and refusing to look directly downwards. 

My love for fiction fluctuates between fixation and fascination. During my sophomore year of university I set a challenge to read fifty books I hadn’t read before. J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher and the Rye was something I had been recommended by a friend in passing and thus became the first on my list. Though the novel is surrounded by controversy, it is still one of my favorite classics. Stream of consciousness is something I lean heavily towards — my annotated copy of Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway speaks for itself — so it may come as no surprise that I found Holden Caulfield’s narrative intriguing and relatable. Lastly, lying beside Catcher in the Rye is another classic that influenced me heavily— Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. I started this novel in high school after one of my best friends recommended it to me; I would finish my classwork early to read it at my desk, glancing over at my friend occasionally as if to say, can you believe this? She would simply raise one eyebrow across the room, and I knew we were in agreement. 

Literature is an imperative piece of the person I am. If I were to explain my personality in objects, books would certainly be a necessary part of the picture. I am sure these pictures of my bookshelf reveal more about me than I have written, but I do hope that the stories I’ve tied to each book help to shape a perspective. I think the most important part in my journey with literature is where it started. I didn’t learn the importance of literature from my school system growing up, but rather I learned it from who I discovered each genre with. I found literature with the people I care most about: my mother and that bookstore, my best friend and Wilde, my coworkers and I arguing over Stephen King’s inability to write a decent ending. 


Mary Sims is an undergraduate writer working towards her BA in English at Kennesaw State University. She is currently a poetry editor for Waymark Literary Magazine and a former student editor for the Atlanta based magazine Muse/A. Her work has appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Poetry Annals, Peach Mag, and more. She can often be found filling her shelves with poetry collections, roaming antique stores, or laughing over raspberry cappuccinos with friends.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Life on Dodge by Rita Feinstein

You have gone, and so can I.
I can go to a red planet
with no name, no coordinates.
There is no wind here, no dust,
nowhere to stake a flag. No rotation,
no view. No ocean under the crust
and no ice at the poles. There is
no gravity, no atmosphere,
and no one to name its craters.
There is not a robot to help repair
the spaceship I don’t have.
There are no giant worms in the sand.
There is no sand. There is nothing here
but not enough of it.


This selection comes from the book, Life on Dodge, available from Brain Mill Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

 Rita Feinstein is the author of the poetry chapbook Life on Dodge (Brain Mill Press, 2018). Her work has appeared in Grist, Willow Springs, and Sugar House, among other publications, and has been nominated for Best of the Net and Best New Poets. She received her MFA from Oregon State University. Twitter handle: @RitaFeinstein
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Life on Dodge by Rita Feinstein

When you left, there was a sound
like the scraping of a dagger
being unsheathed from my heart,
and in the left-behind hollow,
a red bat came to roost.
Good, I thought, because bats go
where moths go and moths go
where the light is, which means
there’s still something like a streetlamp
in me, however dusty and guttering.
But where its corona bleeds to black,
you can still hear it—the sleek shriek
of steel against bone, the infinite echo
of you pulling away.


This selection comes from the book, Life on Dodge, available from Brain Mill Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

 Rita Feinstein is the author of the poetry chapbook Life on Dodge (Brain Mill Press, 2018). Her work has appeared in Grist, Willow Springs, and Sugar House, among other publications, and has been nominated for Best of the Net and Best New Poets. She received her MFA from Oregon State University. Twitter handle: @RitaFeinstein
 
Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Towns by Kathleen Kirk


Forgiveness in Lafayette

I believe I could let silkworms hug
the scarlet breath from the mulberry
choking the lilac in the northeast corner
of the yard, but isn’t that blood
vengeance? You tell me I need cold
reason, but reason isn’t cold,
and people grow heavy with what they carry,
with what they can’t undo. I dug
up the tulip bulbs on the north
this spring, where they didn’t want
to open; I’ll move them in September
to a spot beside the black-eyed Susans.
Let’s drive to Lafayette, let’s bite
the bullet, bury the hatchet, build
another bridge to nowheresville,
because that’s what people do, that’s
what people say. You think I’m lying
to you. Then the road bends.


This selection comes from the book, The Towns, available from Unicorn Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Kathleen Kirk is the author of eight poetry chapbooks, including The Towns from Unicorn Press. Her poems appear in such print and online journals as StirringRedheaded StepchildWaccamawNimrodPoetry East, and Atlanta Review. Her Patricia Dobler Award-winning poem, “Fox Collar,” is just out in Voices From the Attic. Kathleen is the poetry editor for Escape Into Life.

Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Towns by Kathleen Kirk


Middletown

When we arrive, I am wavering
in my belief in myself as a woman
who knows enough to say no to a man
with real leather seats. Turning,
we pass a house with too many dogs.
I feel them at my throat clamor
for the gristle of my risen heart.
This man could ruin me, I could
ruin him. I know when we kiss
how soft my lips will seem to him,
how sharp the shadow on his chin.
I’m sure I’ve been here before: the road
curves around a tavern, eyeless
and bored, a red brick church, rubble
where once a house surprised its own
foundation, burning to the ground
after a woman shot her husband
in the chest, his palm prints on the barrel.


This selection comes from the book, The Towns, available from Unicorn Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Kathleen Kirk is the author of eight poetry chapbooks, including The Towns from Unicorn Press. Her poems appear in such print and online journals as StirringRedheaded StepchildWaccamawNimrodPoetry East, and Atlanta Review. Her Patricia Dobler Award-winning poem, “Fox Collar,” is just out in Voices From the Attic. Kathleen is the poetry editor for Escape Into Life.

Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

 

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Lyric Essentials: Barbara Costas-Biggs Reads Jane Kenyon

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, we welcome Barbara Costas-Biggs who reads Jane Kenyon for us and offers a moment of solace and emotional check-ins through poetry during an exceptionally chaotic time. Thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read Jane Kenyon for Lyric Essentials?

Barbara Costas-Biggs: My mind immediately went to her.  I read her a lot—for inspiration or to find a moment of calm in this crazy world.  I feel a connectedness to Kenyon’s poems, the way she works things out with particular attention to the natural world.  When our children were very small, my husband and I moved into his grandmother’s old farmhouse in eastern Kentucky and thought we’d make a go of it as (very) small scale organic farmers.  Really, we had a large garden and a few cows and chickens, enough to keep friends and family in eggs and vegetables.  It felt very foreign to me, this new way of life we had chosen.  I think that’s when I really started to want to understand her work better.  In prepping for this interview, I read a lot of old articles about her, went back into her books and her own words.  One thing I think that people who aren’t more familiar with her think is that she wrote nice little poems about nature, and that her work might not stack up against the work of her husband (which is a crazy notion that I hadn’t really thought about myself, but the idea is out there).  Here’s one of Donald Hall’s responses when asked about their stylistic differences: “Yeah,” he’d say, “her style is a glass of water – a 100-proof glass of water.” I think that sums it up pretty well.

EH: Was there a particular reason you chose the poems “The Pear” and “Heavy Rain” from Kenyon’s expansive oeuvre?

BCB: It might be a bit of a cop-out, but I think I chose The Pear because I recently had a birthday, my 44th, and there is so much in this poem that resonates with me right now.  This wild year has had me all over the place.  I’ve spent 2020 all over the emotional charts, and I know many others have, too.  This poem, 10 lines & 53 words, is a powerhouse.  In it, I read desperation and fear, but also a warning of sorts in that last stanza.  I spend too much time worrying and thinking on the things that I have lost, and when Kenyon writes “and you may not be aware/ until things have gone too far”, it gives me pause.  It’s a reminder to me that the desolation she also speaks of in the poem can be stemmed with a bit of self-preservation and emotional check-ins.  I know that this is a deeply personal reading, and that not everyone might see it that way, and that’s ok. 

Heavy Summer Rain might be my very favorite poem, so choosing that one was easy.  I think again, she is working with the natural, looking for ways that the world (and ourselves) can “right itself”. And also again, her work with vowels is just so lovely: “Everything blooming bows down in the rain”.  It’s almost an incantation, asking to be repeated in a holy way. The images in this poem are just so clear to me, like my own backyard.  Knowing where the deer bed down, watching the poppies that my husband’s grandmother planted fall in a storm.  And that middle stanza, the one that takes a personal turn, is just too perfect. “I miss you steadily, painfully”, exactly like the falling rain.

Barbara Costas-Biggs reads “The Pear” by Jane Kenyon

EH: Your simple, almost anecdotal yet powerfully emotionally resonant poetry style seems to share some of those elements with Kenyon’s work. Do you find a particular inspiration from her poetry?

BCB: Oh, yes, and that is really much too kind. I think I have probably answered this question before getting to it officially.  There are two writers that I feel a special kinship with.  Kenyon, obviously, and also Barbara Kingsolver.  I think it’s because they write so much about place and relationship to that place.  I have spent most of my life in Appalachia, and I don’t think you can live here without feeling a strong connection to the hills and dales. I can’t imagine trying to write without bringing in mayapples, river trout, sycamore trees.  For me, like Pound said, the natural object is always the adequate symbol.  I met and studied with the poet Cathy Smith Bowers while I was working on my MFA, and she gave me wonderful advice: Always go back to Jane. And I do. When I get stuck in a poem or in my head, I pull out Kenyon and try to get back to work.

Barbara Costas-Biggs reads “Heavy Summer Rain” by Jane Kenyon

EH: Lastly, is there anything you are working on now that you’d like to share with readers?

BCB: I’m slowing putting together a second collection of poems (which seems funny since the first one is still unpublished!), and I’m also expanding a chapbook that I wrote which contains poems about my father and his death.  It’s called The Other Shore, and was recently a finalist for the Washburn Prize from Harbor Review.  My father was a music fanatic and a guitarist, and the title comes from an arrangement of Good Shepherd by Jefferson Airplane.  Music plays a large part in those poems.  I also have 4 poems forthcoming in The Appalachian Review.


Jane Kenyon is an acutely midwestern American poet, born, raised and educated in Ann Arbor Michigan. In her lifetime as a translator, poet and essayist, she published four collections of poetry and championed the art of translation, translating Anna Akhmatova’s poems from Russian to English. The wife of poet Donald Hall, Kenyon’s poetry is distinctly focused on rural and naturalist themes while addressing depression and melancholy, as is famously outlines in her acclaimed poem “Having it out with Melancholy.” She was the poet laureate of New Hampshire when she died of leukemia at just 47 years old.

Further reading:

Read this review and short biography of The Poetry of Jane Kenyon from The National Book Review.
Purchase The Best Poems of Jane Kenyon from Graywolf Press.
Watch this extensive profile of Kenyon and her husband, poet Donald Hall, from Bill Moyers.

Barbara Costas-Biggs is a poet and librarian from Appalachian Southern Ohio. Her work has appeared recently or is forthcoming from Appalachian Review,  Lost Balloon, Northern Appalachian Review, Mothers Always Write, Glass, Ghost City Press, 8Poems, and others. Her poem “Naked in the Macy’s Changing Room, Trying to Think About Anything Other Than the Election” won the Split This Rock Abortion Rights poetry contest in 2017, and her chapbook, The Other Shore, was a finalist for the Washburn Prize from Harbor Review.  Her MFA is from Queens University of Charlotte, and her MLIS is from Kent State.

Further reading:

Read Costas-Biggs poem “Naked in the Macy’s Changing Room, Trying to Think About Anything Other Than the Election,” winner of the 2017 Split This Rock Abortion Rights poetry contest.
Read Costas-Biggs’ blog on her personal website.
Follow Costas-Biggs on Twitter to stay updated with newly published works.

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and advocates for media literacy and digital citizenship. She is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society and the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at http://ericahoffmeister.com/

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Towns by Kathleen Kirk


The Towns

In Gainesville once, we took a bus across town
to visit Rebel’s brother
and played in the fenced back yard
till it was time to go home.
A flood took my shoe, we were stranded
in a parking lot till the rain stopped.
Another day, we drove away
from the hurricane.
In Kearney, the President died.
A fireman came to the door
because my brother was playing with matches.
There was a blizzard.
We drove into the baseball field.
In Bloomington, the house was made of stucco,
just like the little green store in Gainesville.
I could not remember the piano song I had learned in Kearney.
On Linden Street road, in the blur between
two townships,
a man walked on the moon.
I stood under it and watched his shadow.
Raccoons built a nest in a tree.
Wind changed the shape of everything, cedars streaming north.
In London, I wrote letters,
classmates beat upon my back,
I made a cake wrapped in marzipan.
We ate slices of coconut on the street in Paris.
In Zurich, the water was clean.
We walked through the Olympic village,
Germany still a mystery.
Florence, the golden doors.
Murano, the blown glass.
Water took us there.
Then we came home, and I never wanted to leave.
Mabel is buried in Hudson.
Polly is buried in Leroy.


This selection comes from the book, The Towns, available from Unicorn Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Kathleen Kirk is the author of eight poetry chapbooks, including The Towns from Unicorn Press. Her poems appear in such print and online journals as StirringRedheaded StepchildWaccamawNimrodPoetry East, and Atlanta Review. Her Patricia Dobler Award-winning poem, “Fox Collar,” is just out in Voices From the Attic. Kathleen is the poetry editor for Escape Into Life.

Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

 

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Editorial Internship Sundress Academy for the Arts

The Sundress Academy for the Arts at Firefly Farms, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, is seeking two editorial interns. The position’s responsibilities include the preparation of documents necessary to run an independent writers residency, as well as online participation in literary events including readings and workshops. This part-time internship would consist of approximately 5-10 hours of work per week and run from January 1st to June 30th, 2021.

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is an entirely volunteer-run organization that hosts residencies, workshops, and retreats centered on creative writing in all genres. Located on a 45-acre farm twenty minutes from downtown Knoxville, SAFTA’s mission is to give writers of all levels a chance to workshop with nationally renowned professionals in their field as well as uninterrupted time to focus on their creative work.

The editorial intern’s responsibilities will include writing press releases, composing blogs, proofreading, working with social media (Facebook, WordPress, etc.), collating editorial and residency data, research, and more.  The intern will also be needed to help facilitate Zoom readings and events.

Preferred qualifications include:

  • A keen eye for proof-reading
  • Strong written communication skills
  • Experience with WordPress, Zoom, and other online mediums
  • Knowledge of contemporary literature a plus

Due to the current health crisis, this position can be done remotely, and therefore we are accepting applications regardless of your current location.

While this is an unpaid internship, all interns will gain real-world experience in working with online event planning, nonprofit management, running a residency, communications, and more while creating a portfolio of work for future employment opportunities. Interns will get to work alongside members of both the local and national literary community through SAFTA workshops and readings, which interns are able to attend for free during their tenure with the organization.

To apply, please send a resume and a brief cover letter detailing your interest in the position to the Staff Director, JoAnna Brooker, at saftastaffdirector@gmail.com. Applications are due by December 1st, 2020.

For more information, visit our website at www.sundressacademyforthearts.com

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: The Towns by Kathleen Kirk


Housekeeping in Downs

I used to dust the candelabra
of a house in Downs with chamois
as yellow and easy as butter, a phrase
applied to me once, as an actress
(not an agile goat). That’s all
done now, and I don’t lament
the losses, these strawberries minced
all summer in the mown grass.
August has a torque of its own,
roiling toward a storm. The gutters
revoke their duty, cracked & rusted,
paint fingernailed away
by murderous time. It’s so Shakespearean,
summer in the Midwest. It’s hard
to make a living in the arts
(or as a goat herd). I thought I could
write poems and play small parts
but these horns tip backwards.


This selection comes from the book, The Towns, available from Unicorn Press.  Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Alex DiFrancesco.

Kathleen Kirk is the author of eight poetry chapbooks, including The Towns from Unicorn Press. Her poems appear in such print and online journals as StirringRedheaded StepchildWaccamawNimrodPoetry East, and Atlanta Review. Her Patricia Dobler Award-winning poem, “Fox Collar,” is just out in Voices From the Attic. Kathleen is the poetry editor for Escape Into Life.

Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 Brooklyn, The New Ohio Review, Brevity and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. Their short story collection Transmutation (Seven Stories Press) is forthcoming in 2021. They are the recipient of grants and fellowships from PEN America and Sundress Academy for the Arts. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.
 

 

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Sundress Reads: A Review of Every Possible Thing

Every Possible Thing - Kindle edition by Poppy, Karen. Literature & Fiction  Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Karen Poppy’s stunning collection Every Possible Thing begins with an opening of offerings. Proposed by imagery dominated exchanges, her use of themes such as sacrifice, transformation, and renewal offer her readers an immediate sense of connection to her work. Her collection’s first poem “Every Possible Thing” begins with this same sense of sacrifice and renewal by immersing her audience in the imaginative and hypnotic exchange between the speaker and their subject.

The collection’s opening line sets a tone of intention throughout, displaying a sense of coated devotion unique to the poem’s own movement: “What I promised, I gave you: / Silver-skinned gloves, my hands / Loosened from life became twin fish.” From there, the speaker catalogues devotion through their physical actions and movements. Throughout her collection, Poppy continues to employ this same precise movement to embrace the action within each of her poems. No poem, Poppy assures us early-on, is ever stagnant. 

Every Possible Thing is never still. The collection begins in motion and continues to guide its reader by cataloging the duality of action and movement. This use of movement throughout her work offers insight into the depth of implication. Poppy’s poem “Your Words” is an opening to the collection’s themes, but it is also a record of just how carefully emotion channels through action.

When communicating with the reader, the speaker offers more than physical objects or images to converse. In fact, the speaker’s sense of dedication is painted behind the physical action of each offering, a new unique twist behind every new image displayed: “I want you / To speak to me, / In fact, / As you would speak / To your animals.” “Your Words” is a poem of communication as much as it is of desire. There is a need to be seen, to be regarded as gravely as can be allowed. The speaker directs us to see her, and who are we to turn away?

As I read Poppy’s collection, I found myself immersed in her use of mythology. Even more so in her use of it in creating reclamation narratives. Her poem “Badass Mermaid” explores the complexities and empowerment of transformation through the lens of a mythological mermaid within Odysseus’s tale. The speaker reclaims her narrative outside of Odysseus’s story and establishes the idea that her agency does not stem from being an ‘accessory’ to a hero’s quest but rather her own power outside of it: “Homer’s / Odysseus / Told it wrong, / Or his men / Told it, / Innocent.” It is here that we see the speaker reclaim her own identity within Odysseus’ story after being alienated from the tale. 

The speaker retells her story by crafting her own narrative in wake of the chaos left by Odysseus, thus attaching a sense of authority to her own lost story. Agency, Poppy tells her audience, is more than a necessity; rather, it is a value that cannot afford to be overlooked. The speaker’s narrative is one of power, of danger, and more than ready to peel out of the confines of her established erasure. 

Poppy’s use of line breaks within the poem further add to these implications of power. Every moment is calculated; every space, line break, and punctuation are brimming with not only intention but with assurance that truth is lurking around the corner, waiting for an opening to break into.

In addition to mythology and reclamation narratives, connection is a vital theme within Every Possible Thing. The ability to join together, to meld ideas and images, is not only a powerful device Poppy employs. Rather, it is also the basis of understanding in a place where the mere idea seems impossible. Her poem “What We Find” exemplifies this concept openly: “Our own voice, / Each other. / To sing uniquely, but not alone. / Eerie electricity. Connection. / Through the song: / Everything is the right choice.” The poem, like her collection, becomes a moment of connection, reaching out to include the reader in this narrative of understanding. 

Through her collection, Karen Poppy draws in her audience by the speaker’s ability to not only connect but their desire to understand. Searches for understanding, the power of reclamation, and the concept of connection litter the pages, leaving the reader haunted even after the collection has been finished. There is something warm and vulnerable within Poppy’s use of connection. Her poem “I Like When You Speak” perhaps displays this best as the speaker weaves a moment of pure humanity: “I like when you speak / When you are here / Saying all that you want to say, and nothing more.” There is an ever-present ache buried between the lines, a moment so openly human we cannot turn ourselves away from the carefulness of the moment. 

Where Every Possible Thing is a collection of connection and understanding, it is also a journey of being human. Reclamation narratives, paths of renewal, and movements shaped in the form of devotion collide to create a bond so intricate it becomes innate. All of these multitudes and more, Every Possible Thing is a conversation between speaker and reader– an opening made just small enough for the reader to want to join, without having to be invited directly. Poppy’s collection is a meticulous warmth. More than anything, it is an invitation into the experiences of humanity and an exploration to all of the crushing and beautiful depth they offer.

Karen Poppy’s Every Possible Thing can be found for purchase here.


Mary Sims is an undergraduate senior at Kennesaw State University working towards her BA in English. She is a poetry editor at Waymark Literary Magazine and has been published in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Poetry Annals, Peach Mag, Kingdoms of the Wild, Rising Phoenix Review, and more. Currently, she splits her time between working as a student editor, piling her shelves with poetry collections, and laughing over raspberry cappuccinos with friends.

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