Sundress Publications announces the pre-release of MR Sheffield’s new collection, Marvels. An “irreducible kind of book that pivots on every page, refuses to be pinned down” says Julie Marie Wade, author of Catechism: A Love Story and SIX, cautioning that “this book will wild you, Reader, gently.”
MR Sheffield’s Marvels is a séance; a chant of snake bites, wrens, and spiders, nesting and untangling; the instinct of a mother disoriented by her grief; a daughter finding her way in sex and obsession; a family broken and searching for something to pull it back together. Sheffield utilizes H.D. Northrop’s found poems, which describe various creatures, to reveal the wild, instinctive nature of human emotion by repurposing Northrop’s descriptions and applying them to a family. Sheffield couples the poems with manipulated original images from Northrop’s text to drive the skepticism of the poems. Multiplied spiders in the wrong color, transposed boa constrictors, and streaked antelope eyes are juxtaposed with poems about familial grief and resentment, alerting the reader to her instincts. This is the collection that steps back and reveals that instead of visiting an exhibit, admiring the lifelike animals from the soft fur to the magnetizing eyes, we are the exhibit, propped up and trapped behind the glass.
“When the narrator of MR Sheffield’s collection imagines “making a nest of you,” we are invited to make a nest back. Each word and image in this text builds a found and invented structure, layer by layer, for us to writhe around inside of. This multimodal work aims to enthrall us with a nontraditional, visual magic, both human and animal.”
— Nicole Oquendo, author of Telomeres and some prophets
“‘…there is no grief like this and no name for it,’ Sheffield’s speaker confesses in ‘the boa-constrictor,’ which, like all poems inside Marvels, uncoils to reveal monstrous truths about love and loss in a wilderness haunted by the familial. I have yet to find my way out of Sheffield’s collection, months after entering—I don’t believe I’ll ever want to. Between admiring the partnering images and found language from H.D. Northrop’s book of the same name, this collection asks readers—no, dares them—to put their face close to its glass and tap.”
— James A.H. White
MR Sheffield’s work has been published in Black Warrior Review, Hayden’s FerryReview, The Florida Review, and other publications. This is her first book.
Sundress Publications: The first poem in this collection begins with a quote from the Los Angeles Times, and several later poems also draw from newspaper articles. How did you make this decision? How do you see your work as a poet connected to, and interacting with, the work of a journalist?
Rodney Gomez: Well I think that poetry can and should serve as witness, especially for marginalized communities. I believe it’s a powerful way to document narratives that might otherwise go untold. So some of what you see in the book with reference to news articles is an attempt at preservation of some narratives that might not otherwise survive, or even be told at all. I don’t see this work as similar to journalism, however, because I am creating the story. I am not really telling the story. On the contrary, I am telling a story—the one that the poet hears and is then inscribing on the page. I can’t replicate, but only propagate, the narrative. Therefore, I felt that with these poems there was a need to point the reader to the actual news. In another sense, by drawing from news stories I am doing a very basic job—giving the reader some context that might be helpful to understand what is going on in the poem. In some cases, understanding might be necessary (“Checkpoint Aubade”). In others (“Zuihitsu of the Mesquite Virgin”) it’s helpful but not essential. I am indebted to other writers who uncover new realities. These shape my consciousness, and the poems themselves are also forms of gratitude. I see this relationship as parallel to an ekphrastic one, where another work of art serves as the impetus for my own poem-making.
SP: Your poem “Love” is so funny because it has this perfect twist at the end. It’s also notable because it’s a one-sentence, two-page monologue. Can you say a little about your process writing it?
RG: So “Love” actually arrived in the world pretty full-formed. There are autobiographical elements in it and the part about my friend and his girlfriend stem from an actual conversation, and so the style of the poem mimics that. It started off with a lot of conceptual leap-frogging and refusals to stop the freewheeling of imagination. I tried to focus the theme in subsequent drafts but I wanted to let the speaker’s point of view roam freely. It’s a bit neurotic, too, and I wanted to give the sense that you are hearing a monologue spoken on a therapist’s couch, but there’s a lot of room for empathy there.
SP: I feel like, in my own writing, I tend to do the same thing over and over again: the speaker’s voice is always my own voice, and I am usually writing about relationships. I can’t tell if this is just who I am, and that I should accept it, or if I need to push myself to experiment more. Reading through this collection, I’m so struck by the variety in form and tone. Is this something that comes naturally to you? My question is mostly one of admiration: how do you do it??
RG: Well I don’t like to be bored. I like surprises. I like to be delighted. I read so many collections that seem to operate exactly how you describe your own writing—the same voice, the same concerns, and the same way of telling the same stories or discovering the same concepts. So part of the reason for the variety in the book is a willingness to have fun. I have no allegiance to a particular conceptual framework or theoretical approach, so each poem starts anew.
On the other hand, I think development of a singular voice is not easy, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing that your writing has a unity of voice. The voice you hear may be your own, or it may not. I would only consider the situation problematic if there were some lack of authenticity there. Is there something missing? Some people never find their voice, and this may be what you see going on in the collection. Maybe there are many voices because I haven’t found a voice. I might want to say that. Or I might want to say, instead, that I’ve developed a better ear for how a poem wants to develop than I had when I first seriously started writing poetry. So variety may be a consequence of developing the ear, or empathy. And the empathy is directed toward the poem—its concerns, its speakers, and its language.
SP: You have another book, Baedeker from the Persistent Refuge, coming out next year. Congratulations! Are you working on a new project now?
RG: Thank you. So yes, Baedeker will be out in February, I think, from YesYes. That’s the plan. That collection is about identity and the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. It’s a much more place-based book, a book about subverting conventions when it comes to Chicanxdad. I am working seriously on a third book right now, too, which is roughly based on the way we react to and make sense of acts of violence. It’s a horrible book in that it is depressing to write and really drains me, but I think it’s a book it is necessary for me to write. At this moment I am working on the one of centers of the book, a series of poems based on the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, which is a series of dollhouse dioramas created by Frances Glessner Lee to assist criminal investigators in their training. The scenes are ghastly — for example, one of them shows a bloody crib with a trail of blood leading out to the hallway from a child’s room. That book is a sister collection to Citizens and you can see some of the same concerns already in the first book. I’m not sure, ultimately, what kind of conceptual orientation the new collection will have. I only know that I have a rough operating theme and have certain contours of it in mind.
Rodney Gomez is the author of Citizens of the Mausoleum (Sundress Publications, 2018), Baedeker from the Persistent Refuge (YesYes Books, 2019), and several chapbooks. He is the recipient of the Drinking Gourd Prize from Northwestern University and the Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize. His work appears in Poetry, Poetry Northwest, North American Review, The Gettysburg Review, Blackbird, Pleiades, Denver Quarterly, Puerto del Sol, Verse Daily, and other journals and anthologies. A proud member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop and the Chocholichex writing collective, he is also an editor at Latino Book Review and works at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.
I recently interviewed Laura Page, whose collection of poetry epithalamiumwon Sundress Publications‘ sixth chapbook competition. Page is a graduate of Southern Oregon University and editor of the poetry journal, Virga. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from Rust + Moth, Crab Creek Review, The Rumpus, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, TINGE, and elsewhere. She is the author of two previous chapbooks, Children, Apostates (dancing girl press, 2016) and Sylvia Plath in the Major Arcana (Anchor & Plume, forthcoming). Visit her website at www.laurapage.net.
Danielle Hayden: Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed! I’d like to dive right in and talk about epithalamium. What was the inspiration behind this work?
Laura Page: My pleasure. Thank you! I came across the word ‘epithalamium’ in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics while participating in a project spearheaded by my friend Joshua Medsker, who is also a poet. The term is Latin, and denotes texts celebrating or expounding on marriage, though, as the editors note, epithalamia can be quite varied, both in structure and tonality. Adrienne Rich said something that has always stuck with me: “The moment of change is the poem.” I suppose I wanted to document and compile what is mutable between two committed individuals.
DH: What challenges, if any, did you encounter while putting this collection together?
LP: It’s interesting—compiling this collection was almost no challenge; the poems coalesced, however, out of a difficulty I had been having while trying to order another manuscript. I kept feeling that many poems contained in that collection didn’t seem to ‘fit’ or seemed to belong to another speaker. A large percentage of the poems in epithalamium were those that I eventually realized could become a separate body of work.
DH: If I may, I’d like to ask a bit about your background and your journey to becoming a poet. How and when did you decide that you wanted to be a poet? Who or what were your biggest influences/from whom did you draw inspiration?
LP: I’m not sure there was one pivotal moment. I have always loved literature. As a very young person, I read pretty voraciously. I wish I could devour books now like I did then. I think I wrote my first poem when I was twelve and shortly after that, I decided that I wanted to write fiction. Though I do write the occasional story, poetry is my love. I have to return to Adrienne Rich, here, because I started writing again as an adult after I picked up a book of critical essays on her work. I was maybe 19, and was blown away. After that, it was Theodore Roethke. There were a few gateways. Then I started writing truly awful poetry in earnest.
DH: What/who inspires you today?
LP: There are many, but recently I’m enamored with Rainer Maria Rilke, Wallace Stevens, Robert Hass, and Ada Limon.
DH: What is your creative process like? I know it’s different for every poet and sometimes for every work or phase of life. Feel free to describe your process more generally or how it was during the writing of epithalamium, if those differed at all.
LP: A poem almost always begins with an image or a turn of phrase that strikes me and then sticks for whatever reason. For some time now, I’ve been keeping one or more Word files open or readily accessible and writing in odd moments, very fast, without letting myself think too much about what’s going down. Everything in a particular file is loosely connected, so I have several little micro-collections going. I rework the poems, occasionally, but I’m less compulsive about doing so than I ever used to be. This is a fairly new thing. It feels more focused compared to past phases, certainly compared to the rather drawn out process of writing epithalamium.
DH: I know that you are the founding editor of the poetry magazine Virga. Congratulations on the launch! What has that been like so far (rewards, challenges, etc.)?
LP: I started Virga because I wanted to be a more involved literary citizen, as cliché as that term might sound these days, and I feel like I’m accomplishing that goal. It’s been very rewarding to read new and emerging poets and showcase their work. We’ve received some great feedback and I’m feeling confident in the future of the magazine, as tiny as we are. I think the challenge, for us, is a challenge any very new publication experiences unless it is very well connected, which is just bringing the magazine to the attention of more readers and prospective contributors. So, a shameless plug: if you’re reading this, we’d love for you to take a look and consider submitting poems!
DH: Why do you write? Why does poetry matter? We here at Sundress don’t need to be convinced of poetry’s importance, but for those naysayers, what do you say?
LP: Poetry is a means of access; what is being accessed is different for every poet. For me, it’s a way of getting at complex emotions, desires, and a way to interrogate my own assumptions. Sometimes it’s a liminal way to converse with elements outside of myself.
DH: What are you reading now/what have you read recently?
LP: I recently read Jorge Luis Borges’ This Craft of Verse, which is an incredible collection of essays on the reading and writing of poetry, and am currently reading a strange mix of things: some religious texts—gospels from the Nag Hammadi—some Anaïs Nin, some Gertrude Stein.
DH: And, finally, what are you currently working on? Any forthcoming projects that we can look forward to?
LP: I’m working slowly and quietly on a few things, including the full-length manuscript I mentioned. Virga is also gearing up for issue three coming this spring, so we’re very excited about that.
Laura Page is a graduate of Southern Oregon University and editor of the poetry journal, Virga. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from Rust + Moth, Crab Creek Review, The Rumpus, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, TINGE, and elsewhere. She is the author of two previous chapbooks, Children, Apostates (dancing girl press, 2016) and Sylvia Plath in the Major Arcana (Anchor & Plume, forthcoming).
Danielle Hayden is a freelance writer and editor who grew up in Detroit and now lives in Seattle. Included among all the things she loves are: learning, books, watching films, making lists, and collecting great quotes—sometimes as tattoos. She reads about everything, and writes about almost as much. Danielle is an enthusiastic supporter of the arts and of the Oxford comma.
Jessica Rae Bergamino is the author of The Desiring Object or Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering of Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them (Sundress Publications, 2016). She sat down to talk to our editorial intern Adam J. Gellings about process, influence, and more!
Jessica Rae Bergamino: First, thank you Adam for such a generous reading of The Desiring Object and for these thoughtful questions!
I first became interested in the Voyager mission’s emergence as contemporary mythology while listening to Ann Druyan’s discussion of the project on WNYC’s Radiolab. These antiquated robots — without enough memory to play an MP3! — are floating through space with a golden record encoded with, among other things, the brain waves of a woman falling in love. I wanted to explore what would happen if that knowing of oneself as something that can both desire and be desired was transferred on to their robot bodies. As the project evolved it became my love letter to queer femme resilience and the ways femmes constantly evolve the boundaries of desirability.
AJG: Other than poets, were there any other outside influences that were formative to the poems in this collection coming together?
JRB: Along with re-watching the original Cosmos, I read as much about the Voyager project as I could. I was lucky to have access to some amazing primary source material through a university library, including recordings of the congressional hearings on the project and maps of moons made from the Voyager observations and flybys. Two books, though, were particularly instructive: Murmurs of Earth, which explores the contents and creation of the Gold Records, and The Voyager Neptune Travel Guide, which is a weird little book prepared by NASA to orient Earthlings to the interstellar mission. It has a flip book of Voyager’s approach to Neptune! It also has incredibly detailed explanations of what each of Voyager’s scientific instruments do and how they work.
AJG: There is a playful rhythm to many of these poems as you read through them. Most notably in pieces such as ‘Ultraviolet Spectrometer” & “Triaxial Fluxgate Magnetometer,” where the reader is brought back to a single word or sound to bounce off of from each line. I wondered if you could talk a little about the construction of these poems in particular? How did you know when they were complete?
JRB: Each section of The Desiring Object is titled after a scientific instrument that composes the Voyager’s bodies and the corresponding text explores, however tangentially, the work of that instrument. I wanted to anthropomorphize Voyager Two without stripping away her scientific realities and hoped I could reverse engineer Charles Olson’s ideas about projective verse as if the typewriter were experiencing the text, not the poet. The ultraviolet spectrometer measures light, so it lent itself to the opening poem, and I loved the visual rhyme between the ultra-poetic O – invocation and exhalation, whole and hole, planet and a mouth, boundary and unending loop, etcetera, etcetera – and the binary 0.
At the same time that the list of scientific tools provided a great constraint, I knew I couldn’t commit to a linear narrative of psychological development wherein each section had a clear resolution and the next section presented an entirely new challenge — the poems needed to experience technical glitch, repetition, and failure. The triaxial fluxgate magnetometer measures magnetic fields, so I knew that had a great potential to gravitate – pardon the pun – back to an earlier section of the poem. I knew each section was done when I could no longer see the seams where the poems were knit together, but I could still feel the strain against them.
AJG: Could you tell us a little bit about your writing process?
JRB: I read drafts aloud to my cat. A lot
AJG: Who are your ‘go-to’ authors, or specific books that you reach for when you’re in a crunch?
JRB: It utterly depends on the type of the crunch, but Elizabeth Bishop, Brenda Hillman, Sina Queyras, Lucie Brock Broido, and Alice Notley are among the constants.
AJG: What upcoming projects do you have on the horizon?
JRB: I have been working on – dare I say completing? – a full length manuscript which imagines both Voyager One and Two as they grapple with the ethical and intimate limitations of the interstellar mission. I’m also beginning a project which explores the intersections of haunting, anxiety, and girlhood.
Jessica Rae Bergamino is the author of The Desiring Object or Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering of Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them(Sundress Publications, 2016), The Mermaid, Singing (dancing girl press, 2015), and Blue in All Things: a Ghost Story (dancing girl press, 2015). Individual poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Salt Hill, Willow Springs, The Journal, Gulf Coast, The Offing, Colorado Review, and The Cincinnati Review. She is pursuing a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at The University of Utah, where she is poetry editor for Quarterly West.
Adam J. Gellings is a poet from Columbus, Ohio. He is currently a PhD student in English at SUNY Binghamton & he received a MFA in Creative Writing from Ashland University. You can find his work in Quarter After Eight, Rust + Moth & forthcoming in Post Road Magazine.
A soldier in World War I brings
a German bride back to America,
but he does not love
women and she stays locked
her whole married life in a
language she cannot learn.
There are children who leave and don’t
come back, even when the mother dies
and the father’s health fails. What kind of children are these? people ask, who
still consider the husband a kind man –
remember, the wife spoke only silence. What kind of children? you ask, and I
look away – I have already shared
what I know, and there is nothing one
will not do to another, again and again.
Virginia Smith Rice earned her MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University. Her first full-length poetry collection, When I Wake It Will Be Forever, was published in 2014 by Sundress Publications. Her poems appear in Cimarron Review, Cincinnati Review, Denver Quarterly, Meridian, Rattle, Stone Highway Review, Superstition Review, and Third Coast, among other journals. She is co-editor of the online poetry journal, Kettle Blue Review, and associate editor at Canopic Publishing.