Lyric Essentials: Juliana Roth Reads Ross Gay

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite writers to read the work of their favorite poets. This month, Juliana Roth joins us to discuss the work of Ross Gay, contemporary poetry, literary citizenship, and how Gay’s poetry feels like a doorway to better understanding the surrounding world and ourselves. As always, we hope you enjoy reading as much as we did.


Ryleigh Wann: When was the first time you read Ross Gay’s work? Why did it stand out to you then?

Juliana Roth: I had a funny way into Ross Gay’s work, which is just to show my ignorance of contemporary poetry. I didn’t know much about living poets until my final year of college. I was working at this small lending library at my school called the Hopwood Room where once a week the MFA students would gather at this big round table across from my desk and a visiting writer would come sit with them and talk for an hour about their process and books. There was a little nook behind my desk where I would work during the sessions and listen in. I was having a really bad day, I forget why, so I was in my nook. Then all of a sudden I started to hear someone reading a poem, and the words really caught my ear, and then the conversation that followed lifted me right out of my mood. I came out from my nook and learned the poet was Ross Gay.

RW: Why did you choose to read these poems specifically?

JR: In “Becoming the Horse,” I love how I’m taken in to approach “the beast,” whether that is a literal nonhuman animal or any part of us (or our world, which is us) that is difficult to touch, at first tiny as a grass blade, then a fly, then a total transformation occurs. I feel the piece also opens up the possibility that we might change our behavior should we know ourselves or our animals more intimately (nose to nose, heart to heart). It’s a love poem, I think. A gesture towards radical honesty, which the poem seems to suggest might set us free from fear. If we are fully honest and see with true clarity, what is left to fear?

I think this carries into “Ending the Estrangement” where that proximity to what is feared is actually knowing the pain of your mother. The gesture at the end of the poem of singing along with that pain just feels liberating. And like we’re being guided in confronting death. Also a love poem, I think.

And then “Wedding Poem,” definitely a love poem, I think it’s safe to say. For me, the poem captures that sweet embarrassment and shyness that often appears in the face of true love. I imagine that bashfulness happens at any age, and the piece celebrates how simple it is to just let love in—once you do, despite how long it takes to get there.

Juliana Roth reads “Becoming a Horse” by Ross Gay

RW: How has Gay’s writing inspired your own?

JR: The generosity on display in his work is an important model for literary citizenship and maintaining personhood in a public profession. The acknowledgment he makes in Be Holding where he basically says all the poets that came before and all the books he reads, even friends and family, they are his work and in essence the collection belongs to them—that’s pretty significant. I think modeling that resistance to becoming capital and hyper individualism a creative market puts on you is what I hope to do as well. I also think the process he used for The Book of Delights freed me to write my newsletter because I give myself specific constraints not to overedit (there are even typos!), write without knowing in advance what my goal is for the letter, and also as I do the podcast I haven’t spent any money at all on production, so it is very handmade. I don’t think I have a radio voice or personality either—I’m just bringing on people who I admire and who are thinking about the world in interesting ways to chat and we just record our conversation.

Juliana Roth reads “Wedding Poem” by Ross Gay

RW: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share?

JR: Right now I’m in professor mode just getting us through midterms at the moment, but I did find out a few weeks ago that I was selected as an Emerging Writer Fellow at The Center for Fiction, which has been a whirlwind. Last week we got to meet the outgoing fellows and I spent just a few minutes so far with my cohort, but I’m so excited for the community and space to write. I can’t wait to see what work I create while I’m there. I also have a new short film premiering in a festival at Cinema Village on October 26th if there are any local readers who love old movie theaters. As far as life outside of my career goes, I’m just spending as much time as I can with my family right now, including my sweet dog Ziggy. Oh—I started learning to skateboard with a friend this past spring so we practice as much as we can. And I’ve been very into trying different varieties of pesto—hugely exciting, but my favorite so far has been a beetroot cashew. So good!

Read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Juliana Roth is a 2022-23 Susan Kamil Emerging Writer Fellow at The Center for Fiction and was selected as a VIDA Fellow with the Sundress Academy for the Arts. Her writing appears in The Breakwater Review, The Offing, Irish Pages, and Entropy as well as being produced as independent films that she directs. Her web series, The University, was nominated by the International Academy of Web Television for Best Drama Writing and screened at survivor justice nonprofits across the country. Currently, she teaches writing at NYU and writes the newsletter Drawing Animals (subscribe here: www.julianaroth.com/drawinganimals) featuring essays, interviews, doodles, and podcast episodes celebrating our interconnection with nonhuman animal life.

Ross Gay is an advocate for joy, love, and the pleasures of life. He is the author of four books of poetry: Against WhichBringing the Shovel Down; Be Holding, winner of the PEN American Literary Jean Stein Award; and Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, winner of the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2016 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. His first collection of essays, The Book of Delights, was released in 2019 and was a New York Times bestseller.

Inciting Joy is his most recently published collection of essays.

Ryleigh Wann earned her MFA from UNC Wilmington where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in The McNeese ReviewLongleaf ReviewRejection Letters, and elsewhere. Ryleigh currently lives in Brooklyn. Learn more or read her work at ryleighwann.com

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: caliche untapp’d by caliche fields


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Amanda Judd, is from caliche untapp'd by caliche fields released by Fruit Bat Press in 2021.
desserts outta season, thai teas sans a tropical hop
and sticky rice or kai soy to placate nebula treasons
of surprised parental meetings, twisted hurricanes nonstop


xviii

xviii a SIJO imbibed thru whoa-mango, twisted x brewing co., dripping springs, texas

caliche (they / elle / iel) is a mineral deposit of gravel, sand, and nitrates, found especially in dry areas of latin america. they are a queer sioux tejanx; enrolled with the fort peck assiniboine and sioux tribes of montana. they have lived upon the prehistoric ruins of the permian basin. they hold an ma, specializing in the poetry of sor juana inés de la cruz. they’re rooted in the interdisciplinary natures and their work dwells within the kitchen, its sciences and philosophies.

Photo credit:  Lisa Sigler Photography

After a 25-year career as a paralegal, Amanda Valerie Judd returned to school to earn her AFA in Creative Writing from Normandale Community College. She is currently attending Southern New Hampshire University working to earn her BFA in Creative Writing – Poetry. In 2020, she won the Patsy Lea Core Prize for Poetry. In 2021, her poem “My Only Label” was nominated for “Best of the Net 2021.” Her work has been published or is forthcoming in PAN-O-PLY Magazine, MockingOwl Roost, Trouvaille Review, Prospectus, and Talking Stick 31.

Sundress Reads: Review of Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion

Kelly Sargent’s Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion (Kelsay Books, 2022) is not what I expected, and I’m glad.

“Her Voice” The ten tiny fingers she must have clenched / that would one day be / her voice.

Skipping over the synopsis (I like surprises!) and relying on only the title to hint at the inside pages, I’d assumed this was likely abstract visual poetry; however, little did I know Sargent was about to take me on a beautiful 12-piece poetry journey with her and her dear departed, deaf twin sister. While I did not grow up with a deaf sibling or am deaf myself, now I’ve caught a glimpse of that silent, yet rich world through these two little girls’ bedroom windows.

The front cover of Sargent’s work, which depicts two red-haired women holding hands in a lavender field, is the perfect representation of the past, present, and future poems in Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion. The sisterly love, the playfulness, the dreamlike environment—all of these elements rolled into one photo is bursting with happiness, reminiscence, and a desire for those never-forgotten times that can be found in Sargent’s poems.

“My Voice” I am Deaf. / My fingers speak. / A coiffed paintbrush in my grasp, / my voice streaks turquoise and magenta.

It’s clear that Sargent was devoted to her sister despite the fact that some asked their parents to trade her in as if her sister was some cracked porcelain doll they’d dropped on their way out of the thrift store. It’s truly a shame that the small-minded treat those with differences like Sargent (who is hard of hearing) and her sister, as something to be mocked or ignored. As a hearing person, I must confess I’ve wondered whether I’ve been saying or doing the right things by those that are different from me, but I love that Sargent’s poetry has opened up another door to invite me to keep trying to understand that which is unfamiliar to me.

“The Quaking Aspen” I seek her still. / My mirror. / I seek it, still. / “Your turn to count,” I signed. “No peeking.” / Her ears closed. / I heard a crack that she did not.

What’s more is how tangible the author’s loneliness is without her mirror, and it only took reading her first poem, “Seeing Voices,” to grasp that: Sometimes / I slip away to my mirror in the bedroom / to see her nut-brown eyes gazing back at me. / I press my palm against the cool glass, / just to touch her hand again. These were the lines that hooked their tiny, little fingers into my soul and had me reading without pause. I wanted to see this quiet, bright light that had been taken from Sargent too soon. I wanted to share in those moments of their happiness and pain, and this reminded me that we’re all struggling in this life together. It’s poems like Sargent’s that remind us why reading is worth every minute, every hour, every lifetime.

“Fruits of Labor” We cover our mouths momentarily to stifle girlish giggles—/ We are, after all, hard at work. / blue-ber-ry / ba-nan-a / straw-ber-ry

Out of everything in Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion, it was the love and care that bled through the pages and into my heart more than anything that Sargent presented. Once or twice, I found myself tearing up as I was reminded of the special bond that my younger sister and I share. I can’t completely relate to Sargent’s situation, of course, but being silly? Playing hide-and-go-seek? Protecting one another? That I understand. These are the moments I cherish with my own sibling that Sargent encapsulates in her work.

“Rumors of Spring” You were named / as nature had promised. / And soon, / with rumors of spring made real, / You / bloomed.

As a poetry editor, I’ve read through hundreds and hundreds of poems, but I know that Kelly Sargent’s Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion will forever remain at the top of my list of favorite poetry collections. Thank you for sharing you and your sister with us, Ms. Sargent.

Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion is available at Kelsay Books


Eden Stiger is a Kentucky-bred, Ohio-living college undergraduate who recently received her Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from the University of Findlay. She is the current poetry editor and layout editor for the literary magazine Slippery Elm. When the day job and fantasy novel aren’t fighting for her attention, she can be found snuggled on the couch with a book in her hand, playing The Sims at her computer desk, or spending time with her hubby and sweet kitty.

We Call Upon the Author to Explain—Raena Shirali

"We Call Upon the Author to Explain" is written in large serif letters. "Explain" is underlined and written in teal, while the rest is written in black on a white background.

summonings by Raena Shirali is a poetry collection with prismatic points of view, all screaming for society’s scapegoats to be seen as human again, for their blood—shed in the name of fear—to be seen at all. One of the poems, “at first, trying to reach those accused” describes the author researching the stories of the accused witches and trying to embody them, so much so that she swallows matchsticks, pages, wax, desire, and inevitably herself. The last lines are “i mouthed a name i’d never heard & felt her / like my own ghost. there was no magic: it was not profound.” This interview is a conversation on craft, but really it is an extension of this searing poem. It is about the horror Shirali swallowed in order to utter summonings.

Marah Hoffman: You say in the foreword that your book must be “grounded in the inevitable failure to embody the Other.” Readers can see this grounding in phrases like, “i’m too young / to be telling your story, & privileged.” Can you describe your understanding of ethos in telling these stories and explain how you sought to suffuse this ethos into your speakers?

Raena Shirali: Yeah, absolutely. Such a good question to start off on, and thank you so much for asking it. Ethos is a good word to start thinking about this. I think of it as credibility outside of only writing what you intimately know. That was a nice framework to go into these questions with. I think of the “write what you know” adage to be really limiting, and that is not how I approached the subject matter of this book. So, I modified it. I think ethos is not writing only what you know but speaking truthfully about what you can and cannot know. Letting those gaps in your ability to understand a phenomenon as grave and dire and horrific as this one exist—maybe those gaps are where the ethos comes in.

MH: I love your understanding of the word and what it implies. If we only wrote what we knew, the stories of those without the ability to share them would be lost. That’s why docu-poetry is so important.

RS: It’s so true. Every time I talk to someone about this, they ask, “How does fiction writing play in here?” I don’t think the artistic imagination should stop with only what you experience yourself. Whole genres would get demolished by a narrow understanding of ethos.

MH: You are so honest about what you are seeking to accomplish with your collection. You make it clear all the points of view you are using, and that the book doesn’t necessarily contain answers to the tragedies. Just summonings. Hence the title. 

RS: Thank you for saying that. I’m glad it’s working. Always good to hear.

MH: Of course. My second question is about one of my favorite poems, “ghazal against [declining to name the subject].” In this poem, the title, punctuation, and use of brackets subvert the expectations associated with formal verse. The piece is emblematic of the entire collection’s refusal to express in shackles. There is intentionality in the way you utilize formal elements. Would you care to speak about your process for integrating (and extracting) formal elements?

RS: I love the phrasing in this question of “refusing to express in shackles.” One of the beautiful things about being interviewed is that people will say to you the things you have been trying so hard to express but haven’t found the clearest language for. This was one of those moments.

Your question speaks to me for a couple of reasons. It taps into the tension at the heart of writing the book—making these decisions around what formal components are and are not included and subverted. I decided I can’t do this without being extremely honest, extremely forthcoming. This is a huge preoccupation in the writing.

There are a few things to point out in your question. One is the use of brackets. Throughout the collection, brackets refer to research being included from anthropological sources. In this poem, it refers to a part of a quote from Susan Sontag’s book Regarding the Pain of Others. Here, by virtue of brackets being a formal component, it’s explicitly commenting on the theory of looking at violence that is not occurring to you. For me, brackets were an interesting way of showing my work but not to get credit for showing my work, more like showing my work as a way to bring the reader into the web of research I was living in. That formal choice came pretty late actually. I wasn’t sure I was going to use brackets or include this more theoretical language. But it became necessary. There was too much in my head that was not clear in a given poem.

Another important thing to point out is capitalization. Only the names of women who’ve been accused of being witches are capitalized here. That was a very intentional decision to make it clear that they are given more respect. They are real, brave, absolutely vulnerable voices. Everything that came from me felt like it needed to be lowercase.

There’s that play between formal cohesion and experiment throughout the book. The last thing that I’ll say about the ghazal is that it’s one of only a few poems in traditional form included in this text, and that’s because I tend to focus on form more through rhyme and music and sound, rather than through formal constraint. That goes back to ethos. The form itself imposes a constraint, but it only holds briefly. This poem is also a rare example where the subject, women who have been accused and tortured, is named. So the constraint exists, fleetingly, and it, too, is a failure that must necessarily be followed by its dissolution.

MH: Thank you for answering so many parts of that question. It’s clear that your thinking was expansive. Even the capitalizing of letters, it all speaks to the way you are amplifying these women.

RS: A lot of that is where the power of revision comes in. I think that’s so important to say in interviews. This is a very intimidating book. It’s intimidating for me to look at, and it was intimidating for me to revise. There was so much intentionality. Everything has some philosophical meaning behind it. Hopefully, that comes across. But I just want to reiterate that this comes from relentless revision.

MH: I can attest that it does come across. My next question also highlights your intentionality.

Point of view is an element that contributes to the power of the text. Considering the varying POVs that summonings adopts, I kept having one word come to mind—alchemic. The frequent yet fluctuating use of the first person plural strikes the root of the collection, which is that we must see ourselves as “we.” We must believe “Any woman’s death diminishes me,” the Adrienne Rich quote that set the scene for the collection. One of my favorite instances of this POV is, “they’ll think by us i mean daayans but you know i mean us : women : mistaken for all kinds of foliage. grasping root. wilting petals. Gentle weed.” Can you explain your goals/motives in using POV?

RS: I think it’s important to say that the first poems I wrote for this collection were personal poems, from the perspectives of daayans, the witch hunter and village priest, the villagers, and the mountains. That came from a prompt that I gave myself to write a personal poem from every part of the landscape that I was encountering in the research. I asked myself, “What does this act of violence look like from in the distance, from above?” I was doing a lot of kaleidoscopic thinking: painting a scene, trying to tell all sides of the story. In terms of why women are hunted, it’s not just misogyny. There are these long-standing inequities that people are desperate to justify. I didn’t want to write a book that was just surface-level. The first way that I thought I would go deeper was point of view.

Once I started doing that, it became clear to me that it’s impossible to access every single part of this landscape. That is where the inevitable failure entered into the project more broadly. Then POVs closer to my own came in as well as poems that are highly lyrical. Thinking about the different speakers isn’t the only method for coming to understand what I’m talking about, and it’s not all I’m talking about. I’m not just discussing India. The poems are cross-cultural.

The shifting POVs felt like the best way for me to encapsulate for a reader what it felt like to write the book, to dip in and out of research. You know how it is. You read something horrible, and then you carry it with you for the rest of your day. It affects the way you interpret the imagery around you, and then of course it’s there with you when you sit down to write.

You also had a great observation about the collective. There is an arc in the book intentionally toward using collective pronouns more, toward the spirit of that quote from Adrienne Rich. The last line of the last poem is that “no one follows us home.” It’s a prayer for all women or anyone who identifies as a woman or anyone who doesn’t feel safe in public, frankly. It’s for us and by us collectively.

MH: As a reader, I noticed the arc of the collective really shifting my thinking. I think it disrupts the reader’s ability to compartmentalize. As you said, the horror sits with you. For the daayans, the pain is constant. The pain we get from reading is only temporary, so the least we can do is feel it.

RS: I completely agree.

MH: My next question gets at the specific symbolism you use to highlight the themes of the text. There are many recurring symbols throughout the collection; my favorite among them is blood. A woman’s blood, specifically menstrual blood, is often a source of shame. Yet you embed strength and identity within it. Can you speak to your choice to use blood as a dominant symbol?

RS: The first thing with blood has to be menstruation. There’s a lot of fear of women’s sexuality and menstruation within the mythologies that inform the cultures where this takes place. There are ideologies I read about that quite explicitly say, “A woman is considered impure if she is menstruating near an image of the gods.” Women are not supposed to go near, into, or around temples on their period. There’s the notion that a woman who is naked and bleeding in public is suspicious and could be a witch. There are those specific and necessitated mentions of the word blood because it is part of the research. But also, I think blood is really important because it is part of what renders the subject of this book more real. I think about Salem first when I’m thinking about a Western audience for this book, which is very different than thinking about an Indian audience. I’m initially considering what kinds of tropes and rumors we have culturally about witches and how often is the visceral reality that someone’s skin is being punctured part of that. There are common myths that will feel familiar to readers. There’s a line that says, “If we float, if we float” which literally refers to a tradition, both in Indian and Western witch hunting, of filling a woman’s pockets with stones and putting her in a body of water and if she sinks, she’s not a witch, but she’s dead; and if she floats, she’s a witch, so you kill her. Those mythologies cover up the reality of the person underneath them. They’re being drowned. There’s a submersion that becomes almost figurative in lore, and not a lot of addressing the true horror. A lot of Indian women who are tortured for this are beheaded. There is a bloodletting and a lynching and a very real violence inflicted on these people. Including blood so often was probably me being a bit heavy-handed, but with a set of realism-fueled intentions.

MH: The subject matter demands there be bloodshed on the pages.

RS: I think so too. There are stories in the back matter of the book. Like the story of a 63-year-old woman who was dragged from her home and tortured and beheaded. These stories do not exist within a Western author’s mythic imagination, and that felt like something to take advantage of. They do exist within some Indian writer’s and reader’s imaginations, and that too felt like something to take advantage of. I wanted to remind people that it’s not some woman whose feet are facing backward, whose braid is wrapped around her waist, who ate husband’s heart. It was an old, innocent woman who was defenseless and was murdered. A big part of me pushing against the idea of witchiness being cool was me using the word blood so often.

MH: Your language definitely encourages readers to see the subjects as women, not witches.

RS: Our position as women is to live in a state of constant shame, in India and in America. That is a reality in both places. There is a defiance in the naming of it as opposed to owning it or claiming blood is sexy—some sort of positive affirmation version of it. There is power even in acknowledging blood is part of our reality, and we exist in a state of constant shame. That’s part of why we are not safe.

MH: Yes, blood needed to have a presence in the collection. This conversation actually leads us into my next question about how gender exists within the text. Because your collection is concerned with the very real issue of witch-hunting, gender is an important topic. One standout quote about gender is, “here, there is no archetype ungendered.” How did you grapple with notions of gender while composing the collection? 

RS: The context within which the word “woman” is being wielded points to a series of Indian and American archetypes, myths, rumors, hierarchies, all of which result in women being victimized. And I want it to be clear that my intention in using the word “woman” is absolutely not to exclude anyone—whether that’s folks who identify with the word, or folks who don’t. In the later poems of the book—when my point of view enters more explicitly and so, too, does the Empire as a setting—I’m referring to anyone who does not feel safe in public spaces. I mean it to be an encompassing word.

Language is not perfect. I think that is one of the tropes of the book. We are so limited in our abilities to understand the highly complex phenomena that dictate the way we move through space and live our lives and write and read and research and have empathy or resist empathy. The word woman is just one word. I’ve encouraged listeners on tour to replace this with a word that they feel most seen by. In some poems, the word woman is very important, and in some poems the word woman is there for cohesion. Who is safe and who is not safe is different in each of these contexts. It’s part of steeping the reader in the discomfort of the research. It’s not pleasant to read how women are seen as less than, to track an evolution of their knowledge being suspicious rather than connected to the environment. The word woman is the word in the research, and so it’s the word here.

MH: I love listening to you discuss language because as I said earlier, intentionality was a word that kept coming to mind while reading. The voices in the poems make the diverse forms of oppression clear. I think that is unifying. Everyone will be alarmed by the suffering. You can’t read the book and not see that it is bringing everyone to the same understanding of pain. 

RS: I think that the word alarm is really important. I thought the book had to be as alarming to a reader as it was for me to be a reader of the research. That was why I decided to include research itself. I thought, “Oh, I have to replicate this.” Research needs to be part of it, or the stories would only be artifice and nothing would point to the way we talk about these phenomena culturally. These are stories that we trade in, so the language that we use to even trade in them is really important to replicate and eventually interrogate. But first I had to replicate it. 

It is important to note too that this isn’t isolated to India in modern day, in our moment. There are countries in Africa that still have a practice of witch hunting. In some cultures, they are more suspicious of children than women. It’s not always the same. Each place creates its own culture of suspicion, fear, and accusation. It is a way to make peace with living. There is a collective need for a scapegoat, something to explain why life is so awful. How that looks different in different cultures is such a fascinating apparatus to engage with. This book touches on so little of that. It’s a far more widespread, current phenomena than this book could ever hope to address.

MH: There are myriad searing images of female suffering throughout summonings. I personally felt haunted by these images as a reader. What was your emotional journey with this book?

RS: Searing is a good word. I felt seared. I feel seared, perpetually. I think that researching it was a really complicated emotional rollercoaster to go on daily, to pull myself out of whatever otherwise pleasant day I was having and sit with a 400-page book on the social hierarchies in tea plantations in West Bengal. Outside of the research being mentally taxing, it was emotionally searing.

The trick for me is that I write best when I am so enraged or disgusted with an inequality that I cannot possibly move on. That is the most surefire way to get a poem to come out of me. That was true in my first book too. In this book, my struggle was staying focused when I wanted so badly to look away. To get asked, “What’s for dinner?” in the middle of reading and then have to come back to a passage about a woman being killed as part of a land dispute was difficult. The research process, as a result, felt incredibly active. Every word felt like a decision, a decision to continue. Putting the books down felt like how dare I, because I can walk away from this and they can’t. I resisted the need for a break because of exactly what we’ve been talking about, because it feels wrong to complain that reading about a phenomenon is grueling when the phenomenon itself is someone on Earth being tortured.

In many ways, it being grueling is what kept my compass pointing North in terms of ethos, because the ethos was there in the research the entire time. That made certain poems have to exist, like “lucky inhabitant.” The more I researched, the more I realized the experience of the research is part of what the book is trying to capture for readers. I want readers to feel forever altered by what they learned in the text, because it has forever altered me.

summonings is available at Black Lawrence Press


Raena Shirali is the author of two collections of poetry. Her first book, GILT (YesYes Books, 2017), won the 2018 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award, and her second, summonings (Black Lawrence Press, 2022)won the 2021 Hudson Prize. Winner of a Pushcart Prize & a former Philip Roth Resident at Bucknell University, Shirali is also the recipient of prizes and honors from VIDA, Gulf Coast, Boston Review, Cosmonauts Avenue. Formerly a Co-Editor-in-Chief of Muzzle Magazine, Shirali now serves as Faculty Advisor for Folio—a literary magazine dedicated to publishing works by undergraduate students at the national level. She holds an MFA in Poetry from The Ohio State University and is an Assistant Professor of English at Holy Family University. The Indian American poet was raised in Charleston, South Carolina, and now lives in Philadelphia.

Marah Hoffman is a 2022 graduate with a bachelor’s in English and Creative Writing from Lebanon Valley College. In college, she served as co-poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society president. From the LVC English department, she won The Green Blotter Writer Award. She has been featured in journals including Green BlotterLURe JournalOakland Arts ReviewBeyond Thought, and Asterism. Now, she works for the Sundress Academy for the Arts, where she enjoys immersing herself in a new and radiant literary community. Marah loves creative nonfiction, intertextuality, whimsicality, cats, lattes, distance running, and adding to her personal lexicon. Her favorite word changes nearly every week. 

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: caliche untapp’d by caliche fields


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Amanda Judd, is from caliche untapp'd by caliche fields released by Fruit Bat Press in 2021.
the bee cause, that’s tea.
smooth like twirls of honey, lemon, cinnamon
and no patience for sickness


xv

xv a HAIKU xv imbibed thru peach, meridian hive, austin, texas

caliche (they / elle / iel) is a mineral deposit of gravel, sand, and nitrates, found especially in dry areas of latin america. they are a queer sioux tejanx; enrolled with the fort peck assiniboine and sioux tribes of montana. they have lived upon the prehistoric ruins of the permian basin. they hold an ma, specializing in the poetry of sor juana inés de la cruz. they’re rooted in the interdisciplinary natures and their work dwells within the kitchen, its sciences and philosophies.

Photo credit:  Lisa Sigler Photography

After a 25-year career as a paralegal, Amanda Valerie Judd returned to school to earn her AFA in Creative Writing from Normandale Community College. She is currently attending Southern New Hampshire University working to earn her BFA in Creative Writing – Poetry. In 2020, she won the Patsy Lea Core Prize for Poetry. In 2021, her poem “My Only Label” was nominated for “Best of the Net 2021.” Her work has been published or is forthcoming in PAN-O-PLY Magazine, MockingOwl Roost, Trouvaille Review, Prospectus, and Talking Stick 31.

Sundress Academy for the Arts presents: “The Past is not Disappearing Ink: Writing the Self-Elegy”

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “The Past is Not Disappearing Ink: Writing the Self-Elegy,” a workshop led by Kara Dorris on January 11, 2023, from 6-7:30 PM. This event will be held over Zoom. Participants can access the event at tiny.utk.edu/sundress (password: safta).

Who doesn’t wonder, what-if? Today, in a time when “selfies” are popular, even leading to the invention of the “selfie stick,” it is not surprising that we would become more internally reflective while externally revealing our most personal desires. The self-elegy can be reflective, reinventive, and confrontational, interrogating and elegizing past versions of self.

Speakers in self-elegies exert agency and participate in their own creation myths to explore how identity is created and how the past shapes us today. When writing about the past, uncovering those infinite, shadowy selves can allow us to discover truths about the present. This workshop will introduce and discuss the idea of self-elegy and provide instructions to write a self-elegy and, possibly, begin incorporating elements of self-elegy into participants’ own poems beyond the workshop.

While there is no fee to participate in this workshop, those who are able and appreciative may make donations directly to Kara Dorris via Venmo @karadorris.

Kara Dorris is the author of two poetry collections: Have Ruin, Will Travel (2019) and When the Body is a Guardrail (2020) from Finishing Line Press. She has also published five chapbooks including Carnival Bound [or, please unwrap me] co-written with Gwendolyn Paradice (The Cupboard Pamphlet, 2020). Her poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, DIAGRAM, RHINO, Tinderbox, Tupelo Quarterly, Wordgathering, Waxwing, Puerto del Sol, and Crazyhorse, among others as well as the anthology Beauty is a Verb (2011). She is an assistant professor of English at Illinois College. For more information, please visit karadorris.com

This workshop is brought to you in part by a grant provided by the Tennessee Arts Commission. Find out about the important work they do here.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Uncertain Acrobats by Rebecca Hart Olander


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Kirsten Kowalewski, is from Uncertain Acrobats by Rebecca Hart Olander released by CavanKerry Press in 2021.

Calling Song

Walking accompanied by the soundtrack of summer’s end:
single leaf falling, squirrels in the underbrush, unseen
as they blend with the gray of last year’s leaves,
and the thrum of insects in the greenery,
bushes shimmering with sound, a trilling
that isn’t cricket, peeper, or bird.

Back home, my search-bar questions find articles of answers:
“The Sound of August: Jar Fly? Cicada? or Locust?”
and “What Bug’s Creating All That Late Summer Buzz?”
The buzz, it seems, is the annual cicada hatching,
the Tibicen lyricen calling song,
every year new and alive in its short living.

His old voice is still on the machine:
Hi there, Becky, Dad here. Then the birthday song,
curling out the to you in vibrato to make it last longer,
and it does last, but of course it’s also gone.

Rebecca Hart Olander’s poetry has appeared recently in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Jet Fuel Review, The Massachusetts Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and elsewhere, and her collaborative visual and written work has been published in multiple venues online and in They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing (Black Lawrence Press, 2018). Rebecca’s books include a chapbook, Dressing the Wounds (dancing girl press, 2019), and her debut full-length collection, Uncertain Acrobats (CavanKerry Press, 2021), which was given a “Must Read” distinction from the Massachusetts Center for the Book as a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award. Rebecca teaches writing at Westfield State University and Amherst College and works with poets in the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University. She is the editor/director of Perugia Press.

Kirsten Kowalewski is the editor for online horror fiction review resource Monster Librarian. She has an MLS and a specialist certificate in school library media from Indiana University, has worked as a children’s librarian and elementary school media specialist, and is a lifelong reader.

Sundress Academy for the Arts Now Accepting Residency Applications for Summer 2023

Sundress Academy for the Arts

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is now accepting applications for short-term writing residencies in all genres—poetry, fiction, nonfiction, playwriting, screenwriting, journalism, academic writing, and more—for their summer residency period which runs from May 15 to August 20, 2023. These residencies are designed to give artists time and space to complete their creative projects in a quiet and productive environment.

Each farmhouse residency 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. Residencies in the Writers Coop are $150/week and include your own private dry cabin as well as access to the farmhouse amenities. Please note that because of the low cost, we are rarely able to offer scholarships for Writers Coop residents.

Residents will stay at the SAFTA farmhouse, located on a working farm on a 45-acre wooded plot in a Tennessee “holler” perfect for hiking, camping, and nature walks. The farmhouse is also just a half-hour from downtown Knoxville, an exciting and creative city that is home to a thriving artistic community. SAFTA is ideal for writers looking for a rural retreat with urban amenities.

As part of our commitment to anti-racist work, we use a reparations payment model for our farmhouse residencies which consists of the following:

  1. 3 reparations 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

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). If you would like to donate to expand this funding, you may do so here.

For the 2023 Summer residency period, SAFTA will be offering the following fellowships only:

  • Black & Indigenous Writers Fellowship: one full fellowship for Black and/or Indigenous identifying writers
  • Writers of Color Fellowships: one full and one 50% fellowships for writers of color
  • Limited partial scholarships are also available to any applicant with financial need.

This year our residency fellowship judge is Sarah Clark. Sarah is a disabled non-binary Native (Nanticoke) editor, writer, and cultural consultant. They are Editor-in-Chief of beestung, Editor-in-Chief and Poetry Editor at ANMLY, and Editor-in-Chief of ALOCASIA, as well as Co-Editor at Bettering American Poetry and of The Queer Movement Anthology. They curated ANMLY‘s GLITTERBRAIN folio on mental health by trans and queer writers of color, a folio on Indigenous & Decolonial Futures & Futurisms, and edited Drunken Boat‘s folios on Sound Art, “Desire & Interaction,” and a collection of global indigenous art and literature, “First Peoples, Plural.” They were co-editor of Apogee Journal‘s #NoDAPL #Still Here folio, and co-edited Apogee Journal‘s series “WE OUTLAST EMPIRE,” of work against imperialism, and “Place[meant],” on place and meaning, and has guest edited for Glass Poetry‘s Poets Respond series. Formerly, they served as a VIDA Board Member.

The application deadline for the summer residency period is February 1, 2023. Find out more about the application process at our website.

The application fee is waived for all BIPOC identifying writers. For all fellowship applications, the application fee will also be waived for those who demonstrate financial need; please state this in your application under the financial need section. All application fees go to support travel grants for Black and/or Indigenous identifying writers.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Uncertain Acrobats by Rebecca Hart Olander


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Kirsten Kowalewski, is from Uncertain Acrobats by Rebecca Hart Olander released by CavanKerry Press in 2021.

My Heaven Would Be Studded with Fathers

My father in his blue
and white striped bathing suit,
holding me by the ankles,
my hair sweeping
the Good Harbor sand,

my father tossing quarters
into the toll basket as we
cross the Tobin Bridge
toward his house
for the weekend,

my father quizzing me
on the singers
of Motown radio tunes
while we drive, and
on my times tables,

my father stuffed
into a student desk
on Parent Night,
defending my efforts
to my algebra teacher,

my father inhaling
a joint, then passing it
my way on the back steps
of a fading purple
Victorian in Dorchester,

my father in a fisherman’s
sweater holding
my swaddled firstborn
with a look on his face
I’d never seen,

my father reading her
Frog and Toad and looking
like Frog or Toad himself,
in his tweed jacket with
patches on the elbows,

my father reading a prayer
to me and my beloved
at our wedding, wearing
seersucker, happy to
bring God into the room,

my father, rendered speechless,
on a gurney, clutching my hand,
in an anonymous corner
at Mass General that I won’t
forget the whiteness of,

my father in the woods,
placing stones on top of
other stones, then back
in the woods to see
who’s added to his cairns,

then not in the woods at all,
then in the woods everywhere,
my father, in the woods
like stars in the ether, spangling
everything in a wash of light.

Rebecca Hart Olander’s poetry has appeared recently in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Jet Fuel Review, The Massachusetts Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and elsewhere, and her collaborative visual and written work has been published in multiple venues online and in They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing (Black Lawrence Press, 2018). Rebecca’s books include a chapbook, Dressing the Wounds (dancing girl press, 2019), and her debut full-length collection, Uncertain Acrobats (CavanKerry Press, 2021), which was given a “Must Read” distinction from the Massachusetts Center for the Book as a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award. Rebecca teaches writing at Westfield State University and Amherst College and works with poets in the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University. She is the editor/director of Perugia Press.

Kirsten Kowalewski is the editor for online horror fiction review resource Monster Librarian. She has an MLS and a specialist certificate in school library media from Indiana University, has worked as a children’s librarian and elementary school media specialist, and is a lifelong reader.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Uncertain Acrobats by Rebecca Hart Olander


This selection, chosen by Guest Curator Kirsten Kowalewski, is from Uncertain Acrobats by Rebecca Hart Olander released by CavanKerry Press in 2021.

Husk

This is what is left
when language leaves
us—the humming,
the seesaw breath
in and out,
and images of
who my father was:
long-distance runner,
cross-country coach,
English teacher, essayist,
rabid reader, belter of song
and strummer of chords,
backgammon partner,
the last one up at night
reading under dim light,
his strong tea, loose,
from Ireland,
his measuring the leaves,
his steeping overlong,
cream in the stained
vessel, the dark well,
a ritual leading
his inner lion
to the easy chair,
to make that lion
lie down with the lamb
he kept looking for.

Rebecca Hart Olander’s poetry has appeared recently in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Jet Fuel Review, The Massachusetts Review, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and elsewhere, and her collaborative visual and written work has been published in multiple venues online and in They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing (Black Lawrence Press, 2018). Rebecca’s books include a chapbook, Dressing the Wounds (dancing girl press, 2019), and her debut full-length collection, Uncertain Acrobats (CavanKerry Press, 2021), which was given a “Must Read” distinction from the Massachusetts Center for the Book as a finalist for the Massachusetts Book Award. Rebecca teaches writing at Westfield State University and Amherst College and works with poets in the Maslow Family Graduate Program in Creative Writing at Wilkes University. She is the editor/director of Perugia Press.

Kirsten Kowalewski is the editor for online horror fiction review resource Monster Librarian. She has an MLS and a specialist certificate in school library media from Indiana University, has worked as a children’s librarian and elementary school media specialist, and is a lifelong reader.