Sundress Announces the Release of Athena Nassar’s Little Houses

The cover of a book with the illustration of a girl of Egyptian descent with a gray head scarf and dark red lipstick against a black background. The girl's neck transitions into a brick wall which forms part of a house, and there are various pieces of different houses and buildings where her shoulders would be. The title, "Little Houses" is written in tan letters, and the authors name, "Athena Nassar" is written in light gray letters below the tile.

Sundress Publications announces the release of Athena Nassar’s Little Houses. Nassar’s poetry is bold, and walks readers down a harrowing, heartfelt, passionate road.

“a part of you wants to stay wedged / in the throat of what will kill you.”

Athena Nassar’s piercing debut full-length collection, Little Houses, unravels one American family’s conflicted Southern existence. Nassar’s speaker first surfaces from an alligator’s mouth to beckon readers through a series of revolving doors. Behind one door, she reckons with a complex history of colonization; behind another, Princess Peach mourns her own hard-coded impotence. In this way, Nassar does not shy from exploring all sides of her speaker’s sexuality, heritage, and familial connections. To occupy her Little Houses is to find freedom in contradiction.

Kevin Prufer, author of The Art of Fiction writes, “In Little Houses, Athena Nassar meditates with unusual clarity on the complexities of race and displacement, the pervasiveness of violence, and the vagaries of love and sex. In poems at once deeply personal and vast in scope, the weight of history and memory hangs heavy—imperial, ancient, familial, and personal. This is a marvelous debut collection by a poet deeply attuned to the possibilities of language and introspection.”

Order your copy of Little Houses on the Sundress website.

A woman with a medium-dark skin with long dark hair, wearing a black long-sleeve shirt and black pants seated in a black chair, one arm is resting on the back of the chair and the other is draped into her lap, in a gray room with a grayish wood floor.

Athena Nassar, author of Little Houses (Sundress Publications, 2023), is an Egyptian-American poet, essayist, and short story writer from Atlanta, Georgia. A finalist for the 2021 Poets Out Loud Prize, she is the winner of the 2021 Academy of American Poets College Prize, and the 2019 Scholastic National Gold Medal Portfolio Award among other honors. Her work has appeared in Southern Humanities Review, The Missouri Review, The Chattahoochee Review, Salt Hill, Lake Effect, The McNeese Review, New Orleans Review, Zone 3, The Los Angeles Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, PANK, and elsewhere. She attends Emerson College, where she is the Poetry Editor of The Emerson Review.

Sundress Reads: Review of Faraway Places

The title of Teow Lim Goh’s Faraway Places (Diode Editions, 2021) is at once truthful and misleading—a collection concerning intimate natural places and the profound emotional memories that accompany them, it honestly, heartbreakingly reflects on how our man-made creations have distanced us from said places and ourselves. Goh’s deliberate, attentive poetry asks us to reckon with our current notions of the natural world as a thing to control, while also relating these notions to womanhood and more broadly to love itself. In Faraway Places, the world is imbued with an aching sense of loss, but not one that is irreparable, as Goh simply and beautifully shows us how to cherish the world with wonder again. 

The collection almost immediately begins with the radical reimagination of the natural world that we find time and time again in Goh’s work. In “Black Orchid,” for instance, she states that “We look at flowers as a way to know / where we are.” Flowers, which we might perceive as purely aesthetic additions to land, are here imbued with deeper meaning: they exist to provide intimate insight into the landscape itself. Everything in nature has a significant message for us, Goh implies, if we take the time to look, to pay attention. Another natural space the collection frequently meditates on—the sea—is also repeatedly reimagined, beginning with the poem “Borders,” which declares, “The sea is the edge of land / and the beginning of another world.” Rather than allowing the sea to be a definitive end to explorable territory, Goh eagerly enters it: “the water will hold me— / I learn to swim.” Here, she reminds us that no border is impermeable, that even the most intimidating of natural spaces can welcome us as long as we learn its ways.

But while Faraway Places loves to show us the rich meaning natural spaces are saturated with and their wild openness to those who truly seek to understand them, it also depicts the painful reality of man-made spaces—gardens, houses, fences—and their accompanying sense of profound loss. These spaces all have one thing in common: they are created to divide, to control, to tame the natural world. Goh shows us that it is this human compulsion to force partitions where they would not naturally occur that utterly obscures our understanding of nature itself. “Stars” is where she first mourns the loss of shared memory and experience, plaintively reflecting that “Those / who know the lore can use [stars] / to find their way / in the world. But I cannot seem / to remember.” This absence, this want, is more explicitly linked to man-made space in “Split,” where she tells us that in her memory, “I can see the house I lived in, the schools / I went to, the gardens I walked in the evenings. / What I don’t remember is how it all felt, / the textures of the sea and sky.” Artificial spaces—the house, the school, the gardens—are able to be visually remembered at the surface level, but Goh emphasizes their destruction of the deeper emotional connection with sea and sky.

However, Goh is not without hope, acknowledging the ways in which nature is not a passive victim of man-made creation but a quietly resistant force. Her poem “Island” describes the garden of the speaker’s childhood as “overgrown,” subtly implying the ways nature continues to evolve despite the limits we place around it, and it concludes with the lines “The coconut / fell and bobbed in the waves, too dry / and hard to eat, the shell broken / only by a knife,” which give even the coconut a semblance of agency, refusing to allow itself to be harvested and broken as humans perhaps intended to do with it. In “Birdsong,” too, Goh demonstrates the wordless resistance of nature with the opening lines “At the tropical aviary, I wanted to listen / to the birds, look / at their splendid feathers. / I find instead silence. Macaws / hang their heads.” The power of the birds is their very silence, denying the human onlookers their voice, refusing to serve as captive entertainment. Towards the end of Faraway Places, we see Goh bring to light a parallel we might have subconsciously picked up on: the way the experience of nature, captured and controlled, uncannily resembles the experience of being a woman. “Wings” explicitly makes this comparison, opening with “Maybe she is a dancer, or a bird—,” and, similar to “Birdsong,” Goh suggests that the main form of female power is the power to withhold, stating that “She never reveals her silhouette.”

More broadly, the collection bears a universal message about love: that to love is to release the compulsion to control. “January,” one of the collection’s concluding poems, ends with the speaker’s reflection that perhaps “bearing / witness is the deepest form of love.” Goh shows us the ways we lose our intimacy with nature through our addiction to dominion and the ways nature silently but forcefully pushes back, but she also illuminates a solution through which we can live in harmony: by allowing nature to do what it wants. Through Goh’s words, then, we see the world as a friend, a lover—constantly evolving, calling us to reimagine it with wonder, and most importantly, to let it be. 

Faraway Places is available at Diode Editions

Kaylee Jeong is a Korean American writer, currently studying English at Columbia University. She edits for Quarto, Columbia’s official undergraduate literary magazine, and serves as a poetry reader for the Columbia Journal’s Incarcerated Writers Initiative. A 2019 Sundress Best of the Net finalist in poetry, her work has been featured in diodeBOAAT, and Hyphen, among others.

Sundress Reads: Review of Body Facts

Joey S. Kim’s Body Facts deliberately and bravely navigates the unique confusion of first-generation Korean Americans, moving with poise through both personal and political histories of trauma and loss. The collection’s range of experiences spans both space and time, from reflections on Japanese-occupied Korea and the Korean War to painful personal memories of a childhood spent being othered by white classmates in suburban Ohio, from the speaker’s life under Trump’s America to imagined recollections of her parents’ lives in their homeland. Grounding the collection’s vast sweep of history and memory is the physical fact of the body, and the ways it is wounded and transformed as it tries to fit into a country that rejects and shames it, while also trying to remain true to a heritage to which it feels unmoored. Kim’s poems borrow from a variety of texts: tweets, memoirs, Shakespearean sonnets, and more are all deftly woven in with poignant visions of rice paddies and monsoons. This braiding of sundry images creates a collection that thoughtfully expresses the variegated nature of a hyphenated identity, of an American-born child of Korean immigrants. Body Facts opens a door to that identity, illuminating the extraordinary complexity within the body that contains it.

The collection’s titular poem, “Body Facts,” uses text from the racist, stiffly clinical “Oriental Peregrinations,” written by plastic surgeon D.R. Millard, who brought double eyelid surgery, or sangapul, to Korea during the Korean War. Though the poem begins with Millard’s words, it ends with Kim’s inclusion of personal, painful details of stomach skin that “looks elephantine after the weight loss of high school,” or the arm, wounded after “the skateboarding accident.” Here, she reclaims the body that was historically horrifically distorted through the racist white lens, allowing it to be a troubled teenager, a fully realized personality, instead of the generalizations of the “Orient,” of “thousands of mongoloid folds.” This is only the first of many times throughout the collection that we see Kim carve space for the Korean American identity in old, white texts. The poem “Y” gets its name from the “y” in English poet William Blake’s famous poem, “Tyger” (“Tyger Tyger burning bright”) and, like “Body Facts,” it begins with the source text but immediately veers into vivid, personal images of “the hostel near the central Seoul train station where / halmoni supported herself by selling snacks from a pushcart” or the “fluorescent TruGreen patina” of her Ohio childhood lawn. In doing so, Kim takes hold of and reinvents the literary canon that has traditionally excluded any non-white, non-male voices. Why? Because, she states simply in “Y,” “I am fearful of disappearing.”

Yet, Kim does not only make space for Koreanness in the midst of white texts. Body Facts is filled with whole poems consisting solely of collective memory, the collection opening with images of a fisherman and his wife, “Stomachs churning, dreaming / of white rice at dinner.” As she steadily and calmly describes the scene, we are reminded that these memories, too, belong to her, as she belongs to them—though she may never have been the fisherman or his wife, their shared Korean heritage runs through her body, in her blood.

This collective memory becomes more specifically personal as she recounts, secondhand, memories of her parents’ lives in Korea, even addressing them directly in poems titled “Umma (Mom)” and “Appa (Dad).” Such poems evoke the way immigrant parents often become the point their children anchor to for understanding of the greater tradition they come from. Our parents are the people who look like us when no one else in our United States suburb does, the people that hold the key to the heritage our bodies evince—it is as Kim says to her mother in “Umma (Mom)”: “Your womb is my first / memory… / I grew up attached to your shin.” But Kim also captures the distinct sense of distance created between even the child and the immigrant parent, as the parent often feels unhappy in their strange land, lost in their longing for their home. Guilt and want take root in the child’s heart, as reflected in the way Kim wistfully begins and ends “Appa (Dad)” with “Most days, I can’t find you.”

What does this guilt do to a young body, as it also experiences the shame of twisting itself to fit the pressures of American stereotypes and expectations? In “’China Doll’Sacrifice,” we see the answer, as Kim shows us the young, Asian, female body “told to suck in, / act weak for the boys,” “[swallow] the venom of their words,” and “let the poison, the palliative, / come back up.” The physical consequences of emotional, societal pressures are made severely known, reminding us of the ways abstract concepts such as identity can have real and painful effects when constantly in a state of upheaval.

And yet, the distance between the speaker and her heritage is not unbridgeable. Kim makes this clear. The first-generation experience of feeling rejected and isolated from our parents’ culture is reimagined in poems like “A Sijo Prayer”: “The mid-day tide rolls in, and I dream of my Korean ancestors. / Although their words are foreign, the water tugs me to join my hands.” Here, Kim suggests that our yearning is reciprocated, mutual, that our distant heritage is as drawn to us as we are to it. They want us there. And this wanting shows us that we do, indeed, belong to someone, somewhere.

Body Facts is available at Diode Editions

Kaylee Jeong is a Korean American writer, currently studying English at Columbia University. She edits for Quarto, Columbia’s official undergraduate literary magazine, and serves as a poetry reader for the Columbia Journal’s Incarcerated Writers Initiative. A 2019 Sundress Best of the Net finalist in poetry, her work has been featured in diode, BOAAT, and Hyphen, among others.