Sundress Releases Blood Stripes by Aaron Dylan Graham

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Sundress Releases Blood Stripes by Aaron Dylan Graham

Blood Stripes CoverSundress Publications announces the release of Blood Stripes, the debut full-length poetry collection from Aaron Graham. Blood Stripes is a haunting, unprecedented example of contemporary trench poetry.

Set in Iraq during the mid-2000’s, Blood Stripes delves into the complexity and trauma of modern conflict. Through the eyes of a marine, these poems illustrate the intimacy of violence with candid brutality. Beyond the innate bonds formed between comrades, a strange communion develops across enemy lines as those charged with destroying each other do so with a kind of tenderness. Through inflicting atrocities, the speaker forges human connection—connections that cannot be replicated outside the battle.

In these poems, violence is a new creature, one that is concurrently loathsome yet addictive and sensual. Amid the shrapnel and the sand wet with bits of lung, this violence is perhaps born of a love of the struggle. While the marine unwittingly volunteers to be a harbinger of death, it is a role of eternal confinement. These poems reveal the moral ambiguity of the causal sequence of war, as at home the marine is haunted by trauma while still craving it. The side effects of conflict cannot be outlived—despite quickclot being applied to a ruptured artery—some bleeding cannot be stopped.

“In Aaron Graham’s searing debut, poetry emerges as a full-blooded form of counterintelligence. WWI novelist Henri Barbusse called soldiers ‘forgetting machines,’ built to suppress and deny the trauma they experience in themselves and produce in others. Marine veteran of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Graham trains every fiber of his uncompromising attention on the sacred and obscene task of remembering what, strictly speaking, cannot be known. PTSD tendrils between every line—’all my nows murder all my / vowels – // all my nows justify / the violence’—as the poet reaches through and beyond realism. Deploying his formidable intelligence as linguist, translator, and philosopher, Graham isolates ‘the moment before an explosion / breaks, the word shrapnel becomes / the beginning of the reality shrapnel.’ Under the poet’s targeted pressure, ‘the whole structure of propriety delaminates,’ including the fiction of the reader’s innocence. The poems in this collection sear me, stain me, push me to the point of slamming the book shut until I’m ready to pry the pages open again, to see in Graham’s language what I cannot see.”
-Cassandra Cleghorn

Aaron Graham hails from Glenrock, Wyoming, population 1159, which boasts seven Aaron Grahambars, six churches, a single 4-way stop sign, and no stoplights. He served as the editor-in-chief for the Squaw Valley Review, is an alumnus of Squaw Valley Writers Workshop and The Ashbury Home School, and the Cambridge Writer’s Workshop. Aaron is currently attending UCNG’s MFA program in poetry and finishing his Ph.D. at Emory University. He currently resides in Greensboro, NC with this wife, Alana, and their three daughters, Alexi, Nora, and Naomi.

Pre-order Blood Stripes here.


Robert Long Foreman Chosen for Publication from Sundress Publications

An image of the author Robert Long ForemanSundress Publications is pleased to announce the manuscript chosen from our inaugural fiction competition is Robert Long Foreman for his exquisite collection of short stories, I Am Here to Make Friends.

Of the collection judge Saba Razvi, author of In the Crocodile Gardens (Agape Editions) and four other collections, had this to say, “Robert Long Foreman has a particular knack for instigating a curiosity in readers about things they might not otherwise think to explore—guns, pigs, bug bites, childbirth, death dreams, and the strangest parts of human intuition. In his new collection I Am Here to Make Friends, Foreman captivates us with each story, keeping us guessing about what will happen next and how we will respond to the actions of characters that remind us of ourselves and our friends, and the choices we would make only in secret. In crisp, compelling prose, this fiction collection’s journey into the psyche is a multifaceted odyssey into the storytelling impulses and cravings that whisper within us in the quiet hours, and its uncanny allure keeps us turning page after page, anxious to know what revelry and revelations wait beyond each turn.”

Robert Long Foreman has won a Pushcart Prize and the hearts of his wife and daughters. His first book, Among Other Things, a collection of essays, was published by Pleiades Press in 2017. His first novel, Weird Pig, is coming from SEMO Press in 2020. His short stories and essays have appeared in magazines like Agni, Copper Nickel, Willow Springs, Crazyhorse, Electric Literature, and Barrelhouse. He lives in Kansas City.

We received a large number of impressive manuscripts for our very first fiction open reading period and are delighted to have found the first of many winning publications to come. 


TURMERIC & SUGAR by Anna Vangala Jones
PATRIMONIUM by Angie Pelekidis
OUTSIDE OF NORMAL by Jessica Barksdale Inclan


COLD CIGAR SMELL  by Viviane Vives
STRIPPED by Leah Griesmann
IN JOSAPHAT’S VALLEY by Joshua Bernstein

Look for I Am Here to Make Friends in March, 2020!

A 501(c)3 non-profit literary press collective founded in 2000, Sundress Publications is an entirely volunteer-run press that publishes chapbooks and full-length collections in both print and digital formats, and hosts numerous literary journals, an online reading series, and the Best of the Net Anthology.

Website:      Facebook: sundresspublications
Email:          Twitter: @SundressPub

Sundress Announces the Release of Amorak Huey’s Collection, Boom Box

Sundress Releases Amorak Huey’s Collection, Boom Box

Sundress Publications announces the release of Amorak Huey’s collection, Boom Box. In this, Huey’s third published collection, the poems brim with desire and are hounded by the uncertainties of puberty, while Huey’s speaker chronicles the honest arc of an adolescence that is neither purely tragic nor purely ideal.


In Boom Box, Amorak Huey’s incisive and tender portrait of a GenX childhood, he challenges his readers to reconsider the way in which we relate to the past as we age. “What are the uses of nostalgia?” Huey asks. “What does it conceal, and what does it uncover?” Boom Box is suffused with the loneliness of small-town isolation and punctuated by the deep hurt of divorce. It is also rife with the pleasures of discovering a favorite album, and the powerful, restless energy of being seventeen. With the humor, curiosity, and earnestness of youth, Huey threads references to KISS, Star Wars, and even Dungeons & Dragons throughout the book, invoking at every turn the comforting sweetness of nostalgia. But Huey’s work is never saccharine. Instead, with each successive poem, and the discerning eye of a sage adult, his speaker untangles a web of early memories. By skillfully painting an experience of growing up in the wide rivers, gravel parking lots, and lonely dirt roads of Alabama, and by pairing those images with intimate snapshots of high school break-ups, missed connections, and Little League fathers who “never had a problem disappointment couldn’t solve,” Huey offers his readers a unique opportunity to remember the awkward trappings of youth through his artistically masterful lens. In this way, Boom Box revisits the foundations of the coming-of-age genre with style, clarity, and an emotional resonance that lasts long after its final lines.

Chelsea Dingman, author of What Bodies Have I Moved and Thaw, says, “If poems are magic, then the poems of Boom Box are rife with the magic of childhood in guitar-solo riffs of splendor and nostalgia. Amidst sweeping narratives, the past stands as a monument to be worshipped instead of forgotten. The sorrow, the thrill, the sex, the music, and the awkwardness, are all captured as if in time capsules—these are poems of loss and marrow and place, of time and the wars it wields. They are profound in their honesty, bittersweet, heartbreaking, yet redemptive. Like a stadium-rock anthem. Like the song thrumming in the background of a life that testifies ‘to love a place is to leave it behind.’”

Order your copy HERE.


Amorak Huey is author of two previous poetry collections: Seducing the Asparagus Queen (Cloudbank Books, 2018), winner of the Vern Rutsala Prize; and Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress Publications, 2015). Co-author of the textbook Poetry: A Writers’ Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), he teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.


Steven Sanchez’s Phantom Tongue Now Available for Preorder


Sundress Publications is pleased to announce that Steven Sanchez’s full-length poetry collection, Phantom Tongue, is now available for preorder at the Sundress store.

Phantom Tongue explores identity, homosexuality, heritage, and language. Written with vibrant detail and surgically precise word choice, the poems in the collection navigate through the construction of a person’s identity by various experiences and circumstances. Some poems are about the narrator’s Mexican heritage and the confliction of not being able to understand the language of his parents and relatives. Others show the struggle to come to terms with sexuality in the context of heritage and religion and the expectations of male gender roles. And others interact with the larger societal struggles looming around the narrator’s struggle, such as a poem about the Orlando nightclub shooting. Phantom Tongue presents the danger of love, the bittersweet beauty of loss, and the power of human striving, often encapsulated by some form of expression—artistic, linguistic, romantic, or otherwise.

Rigoberto González, author and book critic, said of Phantom Tongue:

“Exiled from the cultural language of his Mexican ancestors, longing for the private discourse of queer desire, the young speaker in Steven Sanchez’s Phantom Tongue imagines—and then inhabits—a wondrous space where expression is tactile, intuitive, and intimate. What a heartfelt debut and a wound-healing testament to the fragile but resilient body, its whispered stories.”

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Steven Sanchez is the author of Phantom Tongue (Sundress Publications, 2018), selected by Mark Doty as the winner of Marsh Hawk Press’ Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award. A recipient of fellowships from CantoMundo and the Lambda Literary Foundation, his poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Nimrod, Muzzle, Tahoma Literary Review, Crab Creek Review, Glass: a Journal of Poetry, and other publications.

Order your copy today at the Sundress store!

Sarah A. Chavez’s Hands that Break and Scar Now Available for Sale

Sundress Publications is pleased to announce that Sarah A. Chavez’s debut full-length collection, Hands that Break and Scar, is now available for preorder at at the Sundress store.

The author of Blood Sugar, ire’ne lara silva, had this to say about Hands that Break and Scar:

“In language that is both achingly honest and meticulously poetic, Chavez chronicles the passage from childhood to young womanhood in California’s Central Valley, negotiating culture, language, identity, sexuality, love, and meaning. It is not that these poems reveal the secret profound nature of things—in Chavez’ world, the lines blur between violence and love, joy and struggle, memory and transcendence, the sacred and the mundane. One thing flows into another and back again. Hands That Break & Scar will leave an indelible mark on your heart, reminding you that poetry, beauty, and life are everywhere—within and without.”

Sarah A. Chavez, a mestiza born and raised in the California Central Valley, is the author of the chapbook, All Day, Talking (dancing girl press, 2014), a selection of which won the Susan Atefat Peckham Fellowship. Her work appears in such publications as Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands, BrevityNorth American Review, Fourth River, Acentos Review, and VIDA Exclusive, among others. She holds a PhD in English with a focus in poetry and Ethnic Studies from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Along with teaching at Marshall University, she serves as coordinator of the A.E. Stringer Visiting Writers Series.

Other advance readers include Corinne Clegg Hales, author of To Make it Right, who said:

“The poems in Hands That Break and Scar work as a sort of mosaic, vividly portraying a bi-cultural, working class—and often precarious—childhood in the rough world of California’s hot Central Valley.  This community is as stressed as it is vital—and children become vigilant and self-sufficient at an early age. […] Chavez celebrates the moments of true joy and grace to be found in simple physical acts and otherwise ordinary situations. “I climbed the ladder,” she says, “reached out my arm / placed my fingers on the fruit’s smooth skin, / twisted it away from the stem / and handed it down to my grandmother / whose hair danced lightly in the breeze.” This is a stunning first book, filled with brilliant images, hard truths, and honest hope.”

Order your copy today!

A Reading From Sandra Marchetti’s Confluence: “Cold dark deep and absolutely clear”

Hear Sandra Marchetti read “Cold dark deep and absolutely clear.”

cold dark deep

Confluence is now available for purchase at the Sundress Store.

Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a debut full-length collection of poetry from Sundress Publications. Eating Dog Press also published an illustrated edition of her essays and poetry, A Detail in the Landscape, and her first volume, The Canopy, won Midwest Writing Center’s Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Sandy won Second Prize in Prick of the Spindle’s 2014 Poetry Open and was a finalist for Gulf Coast’s Poetry Prize. Her poetry and prose appears in The Journal, Subtropics, The Hollins Critic, Sugar House Review, Mid-American Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Green Mountains Review, South Dakota Review, Appalachian Heritage, Southwest Review, Phoebe, and elsewhere. Sandy is a teacher and freelance manuscript editor who lives and writes outside of Chicago.

Cracking Open Coalesced Confluence: Sandra Marchetti Makes Her Sundress Debut


The elegance throughout Sandra Marchetti’s debut full-length collection, Confluence, is the clear sign of an arrived artist, an artist not afraid of reinventing archetype for new readers. There’s suspense in Marchetti’s use of nature in ways that add copious intrigue out of so few words, building narrative from the music of a few sparse images that surprise in the way they shrink, swell, break, and sometimes ignite. She proves that in the right hands, a heron across water can tell a ghost story and a swallow in the hand can whisper love.

These poems have breadth, able to “articulate the realm that is the confluence of what Wallace Stevens called the real and the imagination,” as Eric Pankey, author of Crow-Work and Trace says. Sally Keith also says Confluence ” celebrates the intimate as ebullient, charged.” These compliments and the work itself prove that out of the most abstract of tools, a poet using mere words can transcend the ethereal and connect to an audience.

Sundress tracked Marchetti down via an Internet highway a) because we like roadtrips and Zebra Cakes and b) because we craved an explanation for such a rare, resounding debut collection.

Jacob Cross: A few of the poems in Confluence mention painting directly, such as “Sur l’herbe” regarding the French painter Manet and the way the narrator struggles to capture “a strange portrait.” In another poem, “Saints,” you describe the way the Dutch could accomplish arguably the hardest thing in painting: the composition of a glass of water. To what degree can you relate visual art to your work within Confluence?

Sandra Marchetti: First of all, thanks so much for these questions. As I said, this close reading really is a gift. Visual art is so important to my practice. I oftentimes go to museums to refresh my brain. As writers, we look at words always, and images “read” differently. They are like cool water to my eyes. I was an art history minor in college and visual art is a passion of mine. I like to think of my poems as sonic, but also pretty imagistic–some have compared them to photographs–and a visual helps me to create a story, even if it is just the story of a moment. I wouldn’t say I’m an ekphrastic poet in the traditional sense, but I do borrow imagery and ideals from artists and their subjects.

You’ve hit on two of my favorite schools in your question, the Dutch Masters and the Impressionists. The 18th century Dutch painters said, “We will paint perfectly, so perfectly these images will ascend beyond the natural. The more a viewer looks, the more she will see.” In fact, the cover of my book is a detail from Jan Van Huysum’s “Still Life With Flowers and Fruit,” 1715, which comes from this school. I love the detail. At first you don’t notice the flowers that are dying, the insects on the petals, and the dew, but the more you look, you begin to see. Mark Doty talks about this in his Still Life with Oysters and Lemon.

I used to stare at Huysum’s painting for hours at the National Gallery of Art when I lived in DC; I was earning my MFA at George Mason at the time. I loved the way the light played against the paint and the glass, the movement and momentum of the piece, the lavishness of it. I want the poems of my book to swirl, stay, and deepen in that way.

Seeing Manet’s “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” in person was an epiphany for me. I remember sitting under the painting in the Musée d’Orsay for at least an hour, staring up at its hugeness thinking, “That woman looking out at me is Manet himself. He knows what he is doing is so controversial, and he doesn’t care.” And that’s why the French Salon rejected the piece–it was considered pornographic at the time. However, if you look at the picnic basket in the lower left hand corner, you see that Manet could be as delicate in his treatment of subjects as the Old Masters. Instead, he chose to be revolutionary instead–to show a real nude woman next to a fully dressed man, to challenge assumptions.

That’s bad ass, akin to what John Ashbery does in his poems, and it’s what I’m trying to do with my formal work. I want to tune the reader’s ear differently, but that all starts with knowing the masters. I believe in the revolution from within. So, there is a wealth of wisdom, manifesto, and joy in visual art for me.

JC: Also, in “Sur l’herbe” you write about the subject in terms of nature and an artistic process: “then muddle you/ toward the boughs to sway/ in wilderness already named.” Much of your work does blur human identity/emotion into wilderness phenomenon, and your command of transcendental and romantic themes in nature is pronounced and unique. However, the narratives and abstract leaps of the work keep Confluence from falling into either one of those specific camps. Was that what the above line refers to in the “wilderness already named?” How do you as a writer accomplish this balance between familiar themes and stark revitalization?

SM: That’s a really astute observation. Like so many of us, I read a lot of contemporary poetry, but the words that made me are those of the greats. Bishop, Dillard, Thoreau, Paz, Emerson, Hopkins, Dickinson, plus the visual artists mentioned above, are imprint on my poems. I believe taking constitutionals. I believe in finding beauty outside. There is still beauty to be found, even if it doesn’t look as expected. I write outside, en plein air. In fact, its very uncomfortable for me to draft a poem in the house. I will proudly claim my transcendental heritage here.

However, many of the transcendentalists, like Thoreau or even Dillard, pretended their perhaps menial home lives didn’t exist in their masterworks. I couldn’t do that with this book. Confluence is about awe, and awe can happen inside or outside the walls. Sharon Olds and the Bible taught me that human beings contain god, or that we are partly god, and of course we are natural bodies as well. Why not smudge that line?

On a lighter note, in reference to the last stanza of “Sur l’herbe,” I was actually thinking about my husband’s proclivity for mojitos at the time, and that delicious verb, “muddle.” I also thought about how our wilderness is largely “named” and catalogued, but the thing we can’t quite put our fingers on is the interaction between painter and subject; that’s something that can never be named or “tamed” as I hope the poem suggests.

JC: In the poem, “Island Park,” you give an aside in an epigraph concerning a local Geneva, Illinois legend surrounding a park’s railroad bridge and its position as a ground for numerous suicides. “What young/ comes lick-swift, dying/ quick off the two-tiered bridge./ A loud past flinches/ the nuclear edges,” you write, and what powerful, pronounced lines they are. How did you come upon this local story? To that end, how does research propel the writing of your poetry?

SM: Oh, thank you so much. This poem contains more folklore than research, actually. Geneva is a beautiful little town. Imagine it as a Cape Cod of the Midwest. Little shops, restaurants, and plenty of grandmas in pastel pants with shopping bags dot the sidewalks. But Island Park, a peaceful and beautiful daytime destination that runs alongside the Fox River in the center of town, becomes awfully menacing at night. The park has an electrical tower at the far north end and this looming two-tiered bridge accessible to trains on top and pedestrians underneath. I always get the chills when walking in the park after dusk, and refuse to cross the bridge for any reason.

I went with a friend once when we were in high school, and she told me this story–how she even knew one of the kids who died in the shallow, rocky river below. I couldn’t shake the image, and it became the poem that began this book. I found my “voice” in “Island Park,” and decided to keep churning on these poems with flip book imagery and jagged sound work. The pieces eventually mellowed, cooled and became Confluence. Also, to your question, I am working with research moreso in my current poems. And, I always have been an avid fact checker, so even if these poems didn’t contain more than a local’s knowledge when drafted, I make sure the facts are straight before they appear.

JC: “Blue-Black” and “The Washing” illustrate another distinction between your writing and that of a more common romantic/naturalist poet in the way you represent human intimacy. The two poems also show your range, your ability to mold perspective around similar subjects in totally different manners to great effect. “Curved like nautilus shells,/milk-white with golden ribbing,” opens “The Washing,” but what follows is a beautifully simple scene of bathing; in “Blue-Black,” an embrace stanza flows effortlessly into “Here in the night of it,/ an hour where dark weaves/ between the trees’ trunks,/ the black hooves/ of the earth.” Could you describe your creative process behind the themes of these poems?

SM: I wrote about falling in love for the first time, and what love is–the act of caring for another person’s well being holistically, whether that be a child or a lover. In “Blue-Black,” lust is involved in the writing of love, too! I am lustful toward the natural world–I wade in frigid rivers and roll down hills–so these things naturally go together for me. I think, as a Midwestern writer, I have always located myself as part of my landscape. Think of My Ántonia here, which is definitely a part of the midwestern canon. I am a miniscule dot on the horizon line, or I am the tallest object in my landscape, depending on how I see myself. This is what gives non-natives a sort of vertigo when they come here. However, no matter my perspective, myself and my actions are a part of the curvature of the earth. My previous collection, A Detail in the Landscape, really explores that theme as well.


JC: Another aspect of your process I would like to delve into is your arrangement of the music in your pieces, the lyricism of your work. I like the wealth of bird imagery in Confluence, because the way the stanza’s seem to touchdown fits so well with similarly graceful imagery, as in “By Degrees.” You describe a flying V of geese, “One slides from the isosceles/ right to angle in the back fleet./ Lock-swift symmetry.” There’s just enough consonant roughness to round out the assonance. The question: what goes into composing the sound of these very precise poems? Are there any personal constraints you set for yourself when revising that help to hone a poem’s lyricism?

SM: I am so glad you asked about this. I don’t get a lot of questions about my prosody, and I think it’s because we’re scared to talk about it, for fear of counting someone’s meter incorrectly, or putting a writer in the “incorrect” camp. I am trying to write a new meter, something that nods to our past but explodes current notions of “formal” and “metrical” lyrics. I love spondees, and I want you to tap your foot to my poems, to sing them, to read them aloud. They really go, I promise you! I do use some very specific techniques to maintain a sonic and visual symmetry in my pieces. I’m really geeky–I create sound maps that show the progression of vowels and consonants throughout a poem, I repeat words in palindrome fashion to create effects, and I mess with my linebreaks so it’s not always so obvious when things rhyme, etc.

If you’ve seen the documentary, “It Might Get Loud,” think of U2’s The Edge and his guitar pedals and effects. I want my poems to be steel girded sonically, to be honed. So, sound is where I funnel my perfectionistic tendencies these days! Draft after draft, I pare until I find the rock-polished center of the poem. This is metaphor even works its way into the piece, “Lattice,” in the book. Stay tuned as well–a blog post on my nonce forms is coming out on the Sundress Blog in April! I’m also teaching a class at SAFTA called “The Confluence of Rhythms Begins” in June. So, if you’ve ever wanted to create poems with these types of constraints and music-poetics, you’ll soon know all my secrets.

JC: With lines borrowed from William Carlos Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, Carl Phillips, and your mentioning of Annie Dillard’s skill in manipulating a “column of air, picking out flying insects,” you pay homage to a great many poets in Confluence. Were these assorted lines and assembled identities a preliminary goal of the collection, or rather pieces of your personal readings that kept you up at night?

SM: Good question. In fact, I didn’t have any goals for Confluence at all when I began it. I was just writing poems, in stark contrast to the projects I’m working on now. Harold Bloom says we need to divorce our mothers and fathers to create new and important literature. I understand that, and as I referenced above in regards to the Impressionists, they were revolutionaries that came initially from within the system. Confluence name drops my mothers and fathers in literature because they made me, and just like any child, I am of my parents but different than them as well. Many first books are a love letter to influence rather than a divorce from it, and I’m glad I got a shot at publishing mine.

However, lately I have been playing around with how influences can become more than just springboards, and how other poets’ words live in the new words I’m writing. Confluence was the beginning of this process for me, though the new work is now more guided. Students are often told to imitate the style of a poem they love as an exercise. My current work asks, “What if you could write a piece that’s in your own style but still clips branches from poets you love and places them on that altar?”

JC: While we are on the subject, who is your favorite writer to introduce your students to? Anyone you consistently feel you are almost, say, morally obligated to open their eyes to?

SM: I keep trying to share the gospel of Elizabeth Bishop, but students don’t take to her sometimes, at least right away. I didn’t as an undergrad either. Bishop is a slow burn. Once I got her, I never let her go. I like the intimacy of Li-Young Lee’s poems, and my students often enjoy him too, the sweetness of his descriptions of family, and the breadth of his surreal descriptions in poems like “The City in Which I Love You” always leave me agape. I do always introduce them to Sharon Olds. When I was 19 years old, Sharon Olds made me think I could do this poetry thing. I remember going to Barnes and Noble and gobbling up all of her books, feeling super guilty as a good Christian girl, but loving every minute of it. I then saw her at a conference and had her sign six books for me, right then and there. I don’t write like Sharon Olds now, though perhaps the poem that’s most like hers in Confluence is “The Curve.” However, she made me see myself as a poet and showed me what that could entail. I will always love her for that. If you’re a girl who is interested in writing poetry and in my literature or creative writing class, I am morally obligated to give you Sharon Olds. I might start you out with Satan Says or Blood, Tin, Straw.

JC: Also, do you have any advice for those assembling their first chapbook or larger collection? What went into the organization of the whole of Confluence?

SM: I do have some advice. Look out for my guest post on Chloe Yelena Miller’s blog for National Poetry Month where I discuss ordering a full-length collection. However, as a freelance manuscript consultant, I always stress that a book must have its own internal logic. Just like a sci-fi novel, the collection doesn’t need to be realistic, but inside the world of the book the ideas need to make cohere.

I sent Confluence out for five years to contests and open readings periods, revising the manuscript pretty heavily every six months during that time. I would revise it summer and winter, and let it lay fallow awhile, to sit with it. Every time I picked it up, I saw that there was a handful of weaker poems that should be removed and a handful of newer poems that needed to be inserted. It was the only project I worked on during that time, as my two chapbooks came from it, so I was laser-focused on writing poems in that aesthetic.

For Confluence, I knew the idea of “arc” would be hard to build, because so many of the poems are occasional, as we have been discussing here. So, my first instinct was to refuse to build arc, and then to do the opposite: to super-impose a really tight structure onto the collection. Not surprisingly, neither of these worked. I wasn’t sure how to reorder the collection until I met with poet Harryette Mullen on a residency at Vermont Studio Center. She said my poems seemed very staid to her, which came as a shock to me. I thought, of course, that they were bursting with life! She expressed that I needed to put a fire in the center of my book–a beating heart–and so that’s how I rearranged it.

I knew it was done when I said to myself, perhaps arrogantly: “This is a good book. Why shouldn’t it be published?” Less than a year later, Confluence was picked up through an open reading period, though the original press (that I loved) later folded. Sundress was fantastic enough to step in and tell me they wanted Confluence all to themselves. I am a lucky girl.

JC: When can we expect a sophomore collection to Confluence? What’s coming up for Sandra Marchetti?

SM: It’s tough to say when another collection will be out, because I am not a prolific writer and it takes so long for a book to be accepted and then published. However, I can tell you what I’m working on. I am about 15 poems deep into two different projects right now. They are both different than Confluence in that they are projects–ideas I had for books that needed poems to fill them out. Confluence contains most all of the poems I wrote for five years and at the end of the day they were similar enough to make a book. The book though was a fashioning after the fact.

Now I am writing one group of poems loosely titled, “Menageries,” because every poem in the book steals a line or a title from another (usually famous) poet’s poem. Sometimes the poets are even name dropped in the poems. So, it’s a continuation of what I started with Confluence, but in a more directed way. I am exploring whether or not imitations, or homages, can be real poems. It’s going pretty well. So far I’ve snagged Glück, Mark Strand, Li-Young Lee, and others for inclusion in those poems.

The other project I’m writing is a book on Chicago Cubs baseball and Wrigley Field. My father and I have been season ticket holders for years, and we are both die-hard fans (I’m a third generation fan). This is a book that I’ve always wanted to write. I’ve been collecting images and memories for years just waiting for the right time. With the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field passing last year and all of the changes in the Cub organization right now, it feels serendipitous to be writing these poems now. I’m doing a lot of research for the baseball set, and I’m really loving how story-filled they are, in contrast to some of the work in Confluence.

JC: What’s your favorite thing to do in Naperville, Illinois, where you hang your hat? Your least?

SM: Naperville is very suburban, and folks are surprised when I say that Confluence is mostly written about its landscape, which other naturalists might find uninspiring. However, it’s quite beautiful to me. Lots of trees, clean streets, and some sprawling fields and parks that are remnants of its last iteration as a farming community. I grew up here and “townie” is a label I’m pretty proud of. My favorite Naperville traditions? Walking on the Riverwalk at sunset, watching ice floes break up. Cheering on little leaguers from the stands. Taking a drive out to one of the fields on the southern end of town to look at the metoeor showers. A really good meal at Sullivan’s Steakhouse with my husband. Least favorite thing? How hard it is to get into Chicago for poetry-related events. I really want to come to your reading–I promise!

Confluence is now available for purchase at the Sundress Store.

Sandra Marchetti is the author of Confluence, a debut full-length collection of poetry from Sundress Publications. Eating Dog Press also published an illustrated edition of her essays and poetry, A Detail in the Landscape, and her first volume, The Canopy, won Midwest Writing Center’s Mississippi Valley Chapbook Contest. Sandy won Second Prize in Prick of the Spindle’s 2014 Poetry Open and was a finalist for Gulf Coast’s Poetry Prize. Her poetry and prose appears in The Journal, Subtropics, The Hollins Critic, Sugar House Review, Mid-American Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, Green Mountains Review, South Dakota Review, Appalachian Heritage, Southwest Review, Phoebe, and elsewhere. Sandy is a teacher and freelance manuscript editor who lives and writes outside of Chicago.

Jacob L. Cross lives in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He studied creative writing and publishing at the University of Illinois Springfield, where he served as editor of The Popcorn Farm Literary Journal. His work has been featured in Still: The Journal, The Alchemist Review, and elsewhere. More recently, his poems are due for release in Clash by Night, a poetry anthology inspired by the punk staple, London Calling. He enjoys hiking with his wife, traversing Zelda dungeons, spoiling his dogs, and half-priced sushi.

[poppy red] from When I Wake It Will Be Forever

[poppy red]

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.


Buy When I Wake, It Will Be Forever at the Sundress store!


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.


“Dear Alphabet. Dear Spark:” Kristy Bowen and her major characters in minor films

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Kristy Bowen’s poetry reads like an arpeggio sounds, with flurried phrase and dynamic image. She has cracked her own code for the essentially eclectic. Her most recent collection, major characters in minor films, delivers the goods again, but reaches deeper into new themes and territory for the poet. Emotive, unapologetic narrative sprouts from unexpected structures throughout, crazy gluing pop culture and unique imagination to form wry, yet thoughtful beauty. These are places where Ryan Gosling, bus rides, celluloid moons, and cats collide and coexist in the aftermath, making complete sense as the disparate becomes the inseparable.

Sara Biggs Chaney, author of Ann Coulter’s Letter to the Young Poets, admitted, “I want to be best friends with the ‘I’ of (major characters.) She’s hilarious. She’s heartbreaking. She’s more than a little bit dangerous.” Donna Vorreyer claims major characters’s “language moves like a camera, cutting from image to image, leaving impressions that form intriguing fragmented narratives of love, intrigue, mystery and damage.”

Without further ado and further description, Sundress will now take you backstage with Kristy Bowen to shed light on how these major characters found their way into the not-so-minor book.

Jacob Cross: In “open letter to the muse,” a perfect beginning to the collection, you write “on good days, you’re a mad scientist. On bad, a vain girl with a scalpel.” I love this division on inspiration and craft, because it’s what so many writers struggle with on a draft-to-draft basis: the joy of creation through revision versus the dread of slicing apart tidbits, so to speak. How do you balance these two extremes, the “good” and “bad” days? 

Kristy Bowen: Since my writing tends to happen in spurts, I tend to do all the slicing and dicing as I go, so perhaps I create more like a scalpel wielding mad scientist than either/or (it wasn’t always like this). I can usually wrangle a finished draft within a couple passes and if I can’t I usually just step away for awhile. I think it helps to have other creative distractions when things just don’t seem to be flowing or working properly. I can always turn to editing projects or visual projects and then come back to the thing that’s troubling me with a fresh mindset.

JC: Before we go much further, could you describe a bit of your reasoning behind the organization of the different sections/chapters that make up the book? Some, such as “dimestore operetta” and “past imperfect” feature a wide range of forms, where as “I hate you James Franco” and “celluloid moon a love letter in 13 parts” showcase singular wedges of prose poetry. Did these overall differences help determine where the pages fell into place?

KB: I tend to like to work on shorter series of poems, sometimes one or two at a time, so they naturally form themselves into sections. Every once in a while those smaller projects somehow clump together thematically or tonally over a few years to form a larger book—I had some great ordering assistance from Erin Elizabeth Smith to determine what order the sections would be in and how they flowed into one another. I also tend to vacillate back and forth between forms, so some groupings are consistent and others vary depending on when I wrote them. The two newer sections (the moon poems and the James Franco letters) were solely prose, which I’ve favored over the last 5 years or so. Lately I’ve taken a turn back towards lineated poems, though.

JC: Your work is exquisitely exciting because it’s as eclectic as it is focused. As varied and unpredictable as the refreshing language can become, there is still a grounded feeling in poems like “language theory” or “worse case scenario,” a feeling of flash narrative. In other words, is this feeling of a present story a sign a poem is home when writing it: that the story element builds up from so many unexpected architectures, like say, in the board game Jenga? 

KB: I started out as a fiction writer, so story and narrative are very central to anything I’m writing even if it doesn’t appear that way at first glance. Granted, I don’t always know that story when I sit down to start something, but sometimes the fun is in letting that story develop in bits and pieces that form a whole. major characters in minor films as a whole tends toward more lyric “l”-based missives than some of my other books, but there are still narrative threads than run through them, even if they are just purely autobiographical (or sometimes semi-autobiographical at least).
I like that word “architectures”—sometimes it feels like poems are just these small frameworks that hold a story.

JC: Speaking of blocks, you use refrain phrases in free verse in a visually pleasing way, also adding some pretty cool connotative rhythms, such as in “Autobiography” and “no girls were harmed in the making of this poem.” In the latter, “no,” “can’t,” and “won’t” stand out if you stare at the poem as visual art, suggesting a flowing development in the agency or status of the female identities “not” in the poem. 

My question: how organically do these repeated phrases come about? Are any of them remotely purposeful from the earliest stages?

KB: I think probably more than anything visual I tend to work with things like this in terms of sound. I tend to compose poems out loud, so sound and those repetitions become part of the way I speed a poem along toward its ending. Those repetitions and consonance make that happen in a way that delights me when I can do it successfully. I guess in general I work more toward aural variation than visual, (but I guess they have the same effect just in different ways.)The visual manifestation seems somehow more intuitive to me (i.e. I can’t always explain why a poem looks the way it does). I also love visual poetry though and the possibilities therein. We’ve chosen a number of vis-po books to publish at dgp, so it’s probably influencing me without me even knowing it.

Kristy Bowen Author Photo

JC: In “dimestore operetta,” the word “mother” seems like an emotionally charged vein running through the core of some of the pieces: the mother in “fictions,” a mother being beckoned to in “bad touch,” and a female hunter described as either sister or mother in “how to re-imagine your life through mythological characters.” Could you expand on the meaning behind this and some of the other ways your themes engage with women today?

KB: I think the entire book creates/reflects this strange pressure cooker of a female world that is formed by things like made-for-TV movies, pop-culture, the art world, celebrities. Also the intersection of these things with the more domestic world of women, whether it’s mother, daughter, wife, mistress. The book does seem to encompass/be encompassed by this “girl-shaped” world—where the frame of reference is that of daughter/lover/interloper, but at the same time as artist/muse/creator and the friction you find in that co-existence, both good friction and damaging friction.
JC: Did you know James Franco was at the Chicago Humanities Festival in May of last year? Did you also know that he discussed his book of poetry, Directing Herbert White? In short, he claimed it was him finally tapping his time in Hollywood for literary “subject matter.” You’ve dealt a lot of blows through verse to his celebrity, but what would you like to say here concerning Franco that you haven’t said? 

KB: I always say JF has gotten sort of even more douchey since I finished that project in late 2011 with all of his nonsense and that terrible book of poems. I think what is cool about James Franco is that he is so very meta and very aware of his own absurdness. I don’t really hate him (or even know that much about him beyond what I’ve gleaned in passing), but I do sort of cringe at the cult of celebrity and how that effects something like the poetry world (i.e. how magazines clamor to publish ‘names” over quality, which believe me, as an editor aware of the gains to be had by doing so.) Still, in the end, those poems aren’t really so much about JF as a person, but more so as a concept from which to jump off into explorations of my own anxieties as a writer and as a creative person in general in a field with a very small audience (as opposed to Hollywood and it’s very big audience.)

JC: Where do the poems on Franco in major characters in minor films fit in the grand scheme of the collection? Are they a counterbalance? Some of them are less an attack on him than they are succinct scenes and deeper moments, such as the “kids in the park” piece on page 49. I could see how these would mesh well with the other poems in major characters. Your voice is poignantly consistent, no matter what shape the stanzas are.

KB: When Sundress published the JF poems as an e-chap a couple years back, my sister wrote me saying that this was the only series of poems I’d written that sounded most like me. I started the whole thing as a joke. It wasn’t intended to be poetic or fancy in any way, so they are very conversational. Like if you and I were sitting in a bar, this would be what I’d be rambling on about. When I’m “poeming” I tend to get wrapped up in images and rhythm and an attempt to be poem-like. The concerns that developed in the series echoed a lot of what was happening in the first section of poems that deal with the whole muse vs. artist debacle women wind up in, as well as the pop-culture subject matter in other sections, so it seemed like they were a good fit in the book as a whole.

JC: “meteorological facts about the midwest” is flippin’ awesome. The disjointed, punchy prose poem really escalates and vanishes as fast as it arrives. Tell us about this one if you would, whatever you have to offer on it. Also, any Midwest weather stories you’d like to share?

KB: I grew up in the countryside near Rockford, Illinois, so tornadoes were always a possibility. There were many nights me and my sister would be woken up to head to the basement where we huddled until the all clear. There was always this creeping sense of fear and at the same time excitement when the warnings would come across the TV or radio. Weird freak lightning storms and greenish skies and microbursts that would send patio furniture flying. The closest I ever came to what may or may not have been a tornado I didn’t actually see (some friends and I were in a vehicle parked under an overpass and just dirt flying everywhere and a cop pulled over pointing at the sky.) I’ve also seen the wind pick up event tents in the South Loop like they are blocks and move them like 4 feet.

JC: Are there any release parties/readings/events we can look forward to from Kristy Bowen? Also, what’s your next written endeavor likely to be? Too soon to tell?

KB: I’m doing a release reading for major characters on April 3rd at Quimby’s bookstore. I’ll also be reading the week before for The Kettle Blue Review and the week after at the AWP conference in Minneapolis with Sundress. In November I finished a full-length project out now that is sort of about mermaids (both actual and metaphorical ones.)

[Editor’s note: A few of these poems appear in Till the Tide, a separate mermaid-inspired anthology also from Sundress.]

What I’ve been working on now are several small series centered around the apocalypse that will eventually be a manuscript. Also a book-length project about a creepy roadside motel and a murder.

JC: Let’s be real: we should end with your cats. How wonderfully goofy are they? Or are they the stern, brooding type? What’s their favorite thing to do?

KB: I have way too many of them, as I say in one of the James Franco pieces, (5 actually), so they’re a mix. The oldest are a pair of gingers that sometimes resemble the twins in the Shining (I actually tried to name them after them, but the twins do not have names.) My tuxedo Max is cool and aloof and I try way too hard to get him to like me. The two youngest named after writers, Zelda and Ezra, are super sweet and more dog-like than cat-like. They mostly spend their time living in my home without me while I work to pay their rent. I’ve always said I would have a huge menagerie of animals if I didn’t live in the city—dogs, rabbits, horses, goats—but for now, it’s just cats since they are fairly independent and low maintenance.

major characters in minor films is available now for purchase at the Sundress Store.

I*HATE*YOU*JAMES*FRANCO is available as a free e-chap at the Sundress website.

A writer and artist, Kristy Bowen is the author several written and visual projects, including girl show (Black Lawrence Press, 2014) and the shared properties of water and stars (Noctuary Press 2013). She lives in Chicago, where she runs dancing girl press & studio and edits the online litzine wicked alice.

Jacob L. Cross lives in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. He studied creative writing and publishing at the University of Illinois Springfield, where he served as editor of The Popcorn Farm Literary Journal. His work has been featured in Still: The Journal, The Alchemist Review, and elsewhere. More recently, his poems are due for release in Clash by Night, a poetry anthology inspired by the punk staple, London Calling. He enjoys hiking with his wife, traversing Zelda dungeons, spoiling his dogs, and half-priced sushi.