Interview with Joy Ladin, Author of Impersonation

Following the republishing of her book Impersonation, Joy Ladin spoke with Doubleback Books editorial intern Pema Donnelly about the revision process of republishing, as well as how her gender transition and relationship with God and religion inspired her poetry.

Pema Donnelly: In your author’s note at the beginning of Impersonation, you talk about what revising was like for you. Could you talk a bit more about what it was like to work with these poems that were coming from all different stages of your transition?

Joy Ladin: My first response to re-reading the book after it was accepted by you was shock. Over the years since its publication, I had occasionally reread individual poems that became regulars at readings. But I hadn’t read it as a whole since the first edition was published in 2015. In addition to being struck by the need for an organization that would make it easier to see the connection between the relations to gender expressed when I wrote each poem, there were a number of poems that simultaneously seemed to cry out for revision, and feel too foreign to re-enter imaginatively. They were my poems, I remembered writing them, but after years of living as rather than struggling to become and grow into myself, they didn’t feel like mine any more. 

As I worked on them, I realized how much my relation to gender when I wrote them had shaped my poetics. Poetics grow out of the problems we are wrestling with when we write—they are ways of using language to explore, or clarify, or navigate, or avoid, or resolve those problems. For example, the earliest poems in Impersonation were written when I was in the closet, hiding my trans identity behind a dissociated male persona. That created two poetics-shaping problems: though I wanted to write poems that were coherent and in some ways true, because I wasn’t present in my body or life, I had little vivid experience, feelings, or even memories to draw on, and because I was in the closet, I dared not say anything that revealed my gender dysphoria or female gender identification. These problems led me to write persona poems about feelings, experiences, and memories that weren’t mine, but which indirectly reflected an unspeakable sense of dislocation, loss, and (internal) exile which, after fifteen years of living as myself, seem like a bad dream. That made it excruciating to revise those poems – to once again approach writing as something that couldn’t reveal or even be about me.  

There are three other poetics-defining relations to gender represented in the book. The poetics of my pre-transition poems were defined by trying to explore or express my struggles with gender in ways that are so abstracted that no one would recognize them. The transition poems were driven by a bundle of exciting new (to me) problems. I was trying to speak from a female subject position I hadn’t yet embodied, and to create language for feelings, fears, and losses that, so far as I knew, no trans poet had yet expressed. I was also, for the first time, trying to write as myself, the person I knew myself to be but had not yet grown into—a problem that lead to me writing a lot in what I think of as the prophetic second-person, as a future voice addressing my struggling, unformed self. Writing about a process of becoming I was in the midst of made it impossible to reach what I now think of as endings or conclusions—like fragments of existential rainbows, the poems begin and end in the middle. And finally, even as I was trying to express the excitement and ecstasy of becoming, because my transition was bound up with the breakup of my home, family, and marriage, I needed to do so in a way that acknowledged the sufferings of those I loved – sufferings I caused by finally being true to myself. I couldn’t revise these poems until I gave up trying to force on them a clarity and conclusion that, I realized, negated the problems that summoned them into being. The only section that was easy to revise was the last one, poems about living as, rather than becoming, an openly trans, female-identified person. Even though I don’t write much about that these days, that relation to gender, and representational problems that grow out of it, are much closer to those I live today. 

PD: You mentioned that the “Transit of Venus” sequence felt very ambitious. What does this sequence mean to you, and how do you feel about it in relation to the book now?

JL: The “Transit of Venus” section represented what were then completely new ways of writing for me—writing about feelings in the present (actually, after 45 years in the closet, openly writing about my feelings was new to me); writing about my life in the midst of living it, rather than fictional lives or abstracted reflections of bits of my life; and what was then a new practice of writing poems composed solely from language sampled from women’s magazines, something which became a staple composition technique, but which then was an effort to learn what it meant to write from a female subject position, as a woman. Those poems were also among my earliest efforts to create language to express transgender experiences and interiority, particularly for the tumultuous emotions surrounding gender transition and the process of becoming. But in the personal sense, the most ambitious aspect of these poems was that they weren’t only efforts to represent and express transgender experience—they were efforts to imagine becoming myself and, in a real sense, my first experiences of being myself. To me, they were crucial parts of gender transition; in fact, I considered their earliest drafts as the beginning of my transition—a crucial test of whether I could write poetry as myself, and so—apologies for being so dramatic, but this was how I thought – of whether I could actually live as myself, or needed to die in order to end my life as a man. 

PD: During the revision process, did any favorites emerge for you? Were there any surprises to revising? For instance, a poem you initially liked didn’t make the final cut, or the opposite, a poem you didn’t like initially made the cut with a few changes?

JL: My biggest surprises came when I went back to poems I cut out of the original manuscript—I have musician envy, so thought of them as outtakes from the original sessions—and found previously unpublished poems some, including “Unmaking Love, “Reincarnation,” and “Letter to the Gender Critical,” and the “Stories” sequence, that seemed relevant and strong enough to include. 

I was also surprised that the father poems in the “Post Mortem” section felt important to me after all these years, and by the sharpness and vividness of some of the “Mind-Body Problem” poems, such as “Photograph 1934” and “To Say You Lived— they reminded me of  a kind of concentration and distillation of image I left behind when I left the closet.

It was a relief to cut three poems I included in the original book even though I had misgivings about them – “Still a Guy,” “She,” and “Exegetical Fingers.” Leaving them out made the book better.

PD: One of my favorite poems while reading Impersonation was “Filibustier”. I think it stands out as one of the more overtly political poems in the collection as well. Was there any specific moment that inspired this piece?

JL: I don’t remember a moment that inspired “Filibustier.” It grew out of techniques I learned during the study of modernist American techniques that became my dissertation and book, Soldering the Abyss: Emily Dickinson and Modern American Poetry, in which I examined how Dickinson would fuse language representing different discourses together in ways that turned them into metaphors for one another. She does it much more concisely and mind-blowingly that I do, of course, but that technique gave me a way to express the intensely ambivalent experience of exploring gender transition while still being in the closet without veering, as I often did at the time, into shame or self-hatred. I suddenly realized that, like gender transition, voting (the metaphorical discourse that makes up most of the poem) is an act of self-expression that is done in private, a self-defining choice no one else witnesses or knows, a way of trying to change the world that may mean a lot to the individual (my mother was a devoted member of the League of Women Voters, and came from a refugee family that saw voting as a gift and sacred responsibility) but which is imperceptible to others. I feared that gender transition would cut me off from society. As I expanded the voting metaphor, the poem surprised me by speaking about gender transition in a way I hadn’t imagined—as a private commitment that would strengthen my social participation, a prophetic glimpse of what happened years later after I started living as myself.

PD: A lot of your poems tend to incorporate God or religious references in some way. What is your relationship to religion & how would you say it has changed & evolved over the course of writing Impersonation’s poems?

JL: I’ve written a lot about my relationship to God and religion (two different things!) and how they are bound up for me with my trans identity, including chunks of my memoir of gender transition, Through the Door of Life, which I wrote before Impersonation, and a book-length work of trans theology, The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective, which I wrote after it. Long story short, though my family wasn’t religious, I have always had a sense of God’s presence that sustained me through decades of gender-related suicidal depression. My family didn’t talk about God, and I learned as soon as I started taking writing workshops in junior high school that American poets aren’t supposed to talk about God either, unless we occasionally want to do so skeptically or angrily. So though I’ve always written poems with the word “God” in them, for most of my poetic career, I kept my actual relationship with God, like my female gender identification, in the closet. As I did about gender in my pre-transition poems, I wrote about God from a distance, in ways that make God seem like an idea I’m questioning rather than someone who feels like an important part of my life. You can see those closeted techniques for talking about God in several poems in Impersonation, including the first, “A Story About God,” and the last, “Making Love,” in which God is part of a metaphor for queer sexual ecstasy. But in “Gender is Not the Only Transition,” the sequence that makes up much of the post-transition section and was written after most of the rest of the book, I come close to directly representing parts of my actual relationship with God (though still through the veil of the voices to which the poems in the sequence are attributed).

PD: Finally, if you could, what would you like to say to those who are becoming? 

JL: “All beginnings are hard”—that’s a Jewish saying that applies directly to becoming. Becoming new or truer versions of ourselves is hard, because it means living through a series of beginnings. Every time we come out to someone, it’s the beginning of a new relationship. Every time we re-examine our ways of living or thinking or talking or acting from the perspective of the selves we are growing into, it’s a new beginning. When I was in the throes of becoming, everything felt like a beginning: dressing, walking, talking, seeing old friends, going to the bank, sitting on the subway, kissing, waking up as myself rather than to male persona I had to suffer and maintain, even my emotions, felt new, beginnings of a life and self I was just discovering, making up as I went along.    

Because all beginnings are hard, becoming takes toughness, courage, resilience, and hope—and it also takes compassion toward oneself and those who are affected by our becoming. We have to learn to enlist the most grown-up parts of ourselves in caring for the newborn parts of ourselves. As toddlers teach us when they are learning to walk, becoming takes falling down, getting hurt, pulling ourselves up, lurching forward again. 

Most of all I want to tell those who are becoming that though the world may not be ready for you, though it may seem utterly hostile to you, it needs you—because you, and only you, can be the person you are becoming.

Impersonation is available to download for free from Doubleback Books

Joy Ladin has long worked at the tangled intersection of literature and trans identity. She has published ten books of poetry, including her latest collection, Shekhinah Speaks (Selva Oscura Press, 2022); 2021 National Jewish Book Award winner The Book of Ana (EOAGH); and Lamda Literary Award finalists Impersonation and Transmigration. A new collection, Family, is forthcoming from Persea in 2024. She has also published a memoir of gender transition, National Jewish Book Award finalist Through the Door of Life, and a groundbreaking work of trans theology, Lambda Literary and Triangle Award finalist, The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective. Her writings have been recognized with a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship, among other honors. Many of her poems, essays, and videos of her presentations are available at

Pema Donnelly is a poet and interdisciplinary creative born and raised in Southern California. In her work, she explores representing queer joy, silver linings, and aspects of her own mental health journey. Today, Pema attends the University of California, Irvine, where she studies English and Education. When she is not studying, you may find her visiting your local estate sales or spending time with her senile tuxedo cat, Rose.

Doubleback Books Announces the Release of Joy Ladin’s Impersonation

Doubleback Books announces the release of Joy Ladin’s Impersonation. Previously published in 2015 from The Sheep Meadow Press, and a finalist for the Lamda Literary Award, Impersonation is a collection of poems that chronicles the messy, mysterious, profound, and idiosyncratic gender transition of the speaker. It is a book about the life-long process of becoming. The poems encompass shame and triumph, ecstasy and disappointment, the mundane humiliation of airport security screenings and the miraculous experience of incarnation and fully embodied love. This new edition of Impersonation has been edited with new poems, a new structure, and a new introduction by the author.

Download your copy of Impersonation on the Doubleback Books website.

Joy Ladin has long worked at the tangled intersection of literature and trans identity. She has published ten books of poetry, including her latest collection, Shekhinah Speaks (Selva Oscura Press, 2022); 2021 National Jewish Book Award winner The Book of Anna (EOAGH); and Lambda Literary Award finalists Impersonation and Transmigration. A new collection, Family, is forthcoming from Persea in 2024. She has also published a memoir of gender transition, National Jewish Book Award finalist Through the Door of Life, and a groundbreaking work of trans theology, Lambda Literary and Triangle Award finalist, The Soul of the Stranger: Reading God and Torah from a Transgender Perspective. Her writings have  been recognized with a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship, among other honors. Many of her poems, essays, and videos of her presentations are available at

Doubleback Review is Seeking Short-Form Previously Published Works

Doubleback Review is currently seeking submissions for issue 3:2! We are a part of Doubleback Press, a small press specializing in republishing creative works that were originally published by now-defunct journals and presses. Doubleback Review has also had a special edition for conscientiously withdrawn pieces—works that were withdrawn from journals because of harmful behavior from an editor. We are a home for your retired darlings, and we are also committed to uplifting the voices of marginalized creators.

We are open for submissions year-round and accept poetry, short stories, artwork, and more short-form work. Poets should send up to five poems and prose writers should send up to 4,000 words total—one story or essay, or up to three shorter flash pieces—in one document (Word preferred). Please begin each piece on a separate page. Include your name and email address at the top of each page. Below each piece, specify where it was previously published.

Artists may send one high-resolution image in .JPG, .JPEG, .PNG, or .PDF format, up to 25 MB in size. Please include an artist statement and specify where the piece was previously published in the cover letter field.

Our full submission guidelines can be found here.

Doubleback Books Announces the Release of Wendy Carlisle’s Discount Fireworks

Doubleback Books announces the release of Wendy Carlisle’s Discount Fireworks. Originally published in 2008 by Jacaranda Press, Discount Fireworks is grounded in the specific and personal, showing the universal truth of emotion that extends beyond the speaker and the situation of the poem.

Wendy Carlisle’s poems explore the minutiae of contemporary life, from a childhood in the 1950s to Hurricane Katrina and the thinning glaciers of the twenty-first century. Haunted by the Ozarks of her native Arkansas, the poet explores topics ranging from vampires to Adam and Eve to life in the Andromeda Galaxy. Carlisle’s poems range from sonnets to syllabics to free verse, taking us through an Arkansas landscape touched by wind and water, patois and the rocky Ozark soil. Discount Fireworks is a hymn to landscape and personal identity, a reminder of the interconnectedness of daily existence. Haunting and beautiful, Carlisle’s poems will transport you into an otherworldly plane grounded in everyday joys.

Download your copy of Discount Fireworks on the Doubleback Books website:

Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives and writes in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the author of four books, Reading Berryman to the Dog, Discount Fireworks, The Mercy of Traffic, and On the Way to the Promised Land Zoo, and five chapbooks. See her work online and in print in Persimmon Tree, pacificREVIEW, 2RiverView, Mom Egg, San Pedro River Review, Atlanta Review, and others. She has an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts, has been anthologized, and has 12 times been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. For more information, her website is

Doubleback Books Announces the Release of Terese Svoboda’s Treason

Doubleback Books announces the release of Terese Svoboda’s Treason. A book centered on betrayals with a wry and feminist eye, these poems speak out against injustice and hold a mirror to our own flaws.

Treason is sometimes funny, sometimes strange, and always hard-hitting, covering motherhood, the toll of the 2002 civil war in Sudan, the Rodney King protests in L.A., and much more. Svoboda’s poems shine a torch on injustice and betrayal inside our public and intimate institutions. Treason’s topics are unfortunately timeless, the poems themselves worthy of mythology.

Eleanor Wilner, author of Tourist in Hell and many other collections writes, “Cool, wry surface: depth charge of cry, of outrage, language at the edge of utterance, utterly original, black-bordered, indelible as we are not.” D.A. Powell, author of Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys adds, “These poems seethe with dangers so close to home they seem to teeter on that frightening edge between comic and tragic.”

Pre-order your copy of Treason HERE.

The author of 19 books of poetry, fiction, memoir, biography, and translation, Terese Svoboda will publish Theatrix: Play Poems (Anhinga Press), in 2021. A Guggenheim fellow, she has been awarded the Bobst Prize in fiction, the Iowa Prize for poetry, an NEH grant for translation, and other prizes. Her opera WET premiered at L.A.’s Disney Hall.

Doubleback Books is an imprint of Sundress Publications. More information can be found HERE.

Doubleback Books Call for Submissions

Doubleback Books, a Sundress Publications imprint, is now open for submissions by authors of out-of-print books. At Doubleback Books, we believe that out of print should not mean out of mind. Although other publishers rescue works that have fallen into the public eye from obscurity, few reprint books from small, independent presses that have folded during the twenty-first century and (often through no fault of their own) left new, exciting books to go out of print before their time. 

If you are the author of a book that has recently gone out of print because of a press closure, we want to read it. We are hosting an open reading period from March to May 2020.  Authors of works that have gone out of print due to their original press folding may submit full-length or short books, including novels, novellas, chapbooks, short story collections, poetry collections, essay collections, and memoirs. Editors may also submit out-of-print manuscripts their presses published before closing. To be eligible, works must have been both published and out of print after the year 2000. 

Accepted manuscripts will be released as free downloadable e-books on the Sundress Publications website. Previous titles include Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s The Opposite of Work, Colleen S Harris’ These Terrible Sacraments, and Virginia Chase Sutton’s What Brings You to Del Amo. 

To submit, email the following to

  • Your manuscript(s) in .PDF or .DOC format 
  • A brief cover letter in the body of the email telling us a little bit about your work and yourself and noting the genre of the manuscript
  • The name of the manuscript’s original publisher
  • The name and contact information of the publisher’s former editor-in-chief, if available 

Please note: we do not republish translated work or previously self-published work. 

Doubleback Books is an imprint of Sundress Publications. More information can be found here.

Doubleback Announces Newest Release: “The Opposite of Work”

Doubleback Books, an imprint of Sundress Publications, is pleased to announce the upcoming release of The Opposite of Work by Hugh Behm-Steinberg. This poetry collection was selected in our 2019 open reading period for fall publication. The Opposite of Work was originally published by JackLeg Press and we’re excited to bring it back for new readers. 

The meditative poems in The Opposite of Work are paired with intriguing images on opposite-facing pages. The images, which operate as a flipbook, were created by Mary Behm-Steinberg. Doubleback will also release a companion video of the book.

On The Opposite of Work—

“Hugh Behm-Steinberg has built a dream-rattled space. It is a space of stretched ideas and ideals,” Tony Mancus, PANK.

“Delicately explores the effort to come to terms with one’s own soul and the Other,” Charles Kruger, The Rumpus.

“Extraordinary magic and possibility,” S. Marie Clay, Ghost Town.

Hugh Behm-Steinberg is a poet and short fiction writer. His books of poetry include Shy Green Fields (No Tell Books, 2007), as well as three Dusie chapbooks, Sorcery (2007), Good Morning! (2011), and The Sound of Music (2015). A collection of prose poems and microfiction, Animal Children, is forthcoming from Nomadic Press in January, 2020.

Behm-Steinberg is a former Wallace Stegner Fellow in creative writing at Stanford University and the recipient of an NEA fellowship. His short story “Taylor Swift” won the Barthelme Prize for short fiction, and his story “Goodwill” was picked as one of the Wigleaf Top Fifty Very Short Fictions of 2018. From 2007-2017 he served as Faculty Editor of Eleven Eleven, and he is currently the Chief Steward of the adjunct faculty union at California College of the Arts.

Look for The Opposite of Work, book download and video, coming soon at Doubleback Books.

Website:             Facebook: DoublebackBooks
Email:               Twitter: @DoublebackP

Sundress Announces the Launch of Doubleback Review

Doubleback_Header_ImageSundress Announces the Launch of Doubleback Review

Sundress Publications announces the launch of Doubleback Review, a publication that believes out-of-print should not mean out of mind. Adopting the singular mission of Doubleback Books, the Sundress imprint that reprinted Virginia Chase Sutton’s What Brings You to Del Amo and Sarah J. Sloat’s In the Voice of a Minor Saint, Doubleback Review will print pieces of any genre that were published by a journal that subsequently became defunct. In fact, Doubleback will only publish previously-published work from journals that no longer exist, a notably rare commission for a small indie publication.

“In a churn and burn culture, to revisit and reflect is a luxury. Doubleback Review wants to hit the pause button on art that may slip from the public’s eye (and therefore lose its potential for connection). It wants to resurrect your retired darlings, your dead art, your beautiful zombies — pieces that, like rare and precious artifacts, are worth dusting off, airing out, and putting out on display. Let Doubleback’s talented team of editors help you recirculate your valuable relics, and offer them one more triumphant day in the sun.” –Doubleback Review website

The inaugural masthead includes Krista Cox as Managing Editor, Anna Black as Poetry Editor, Samantha Edmonds as Fiction Editor, and Nilsa Rivera as Nonfiction Editor. The team also includes a suite of associate editors and a social media editor.

Doubleback Review will accept submissions on a rolling basis for two issues to be published in April and October. Submissions are free. Writers from traditionally marginalized communities are particularly encouraged to submit their work. For additional information, including submission guidelines and staff bios, visit You can also find Doubleback on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


Coming Soon from Doubleback Books: These Terrible Sacraments by Colleen S. Harris


Doubleback Books Selects These Terrible Sacraments
by Colleen S. Harris for 2018 Open Reading Period

Doubleback Books is pleased to announce the upcoming release of These Terrible Sacraments by Colleen S. Harris. This poetry collection was selected in our 2018 open reading period for Spring 2019 publication. These Terrible Sacraments was originally published by Bellowing Ark Press out of Seattle, and we are excited to bring it back for new readers.

Colleen S. Harris serves as a librarian on the faculty at California State University Channel Islands, where she also teaches in the Freedom and Justice Studies minor. She is the author of God in My Throat: The Lilith Poems (Bellowing Ark, 2009), These Terrible Sacraments (Bellowing Ark, 2010), and The Kentucky Vein (Punkin House, 2011), as well as the chapbooks That Reckless Sound and Some Assembly Required out of Porkbelly Press (2014). She is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee for poetry and short fiction, and the co-editor of Women and Poetry: Writing, Revising, Publishing and Teaching and co-editor of Women Versed in Myth: Essays on Modern Poets. Her work has also appeared in Main Street Rag, Wisconsin Review, The Louisville Review, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and is forthcoming from Mezzo Cammin.

Look for Doubleback Books’ next open reading period this summer; submissions begin in April.


Doubleback Books is an imprint of Sundress Publications which is 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. 

Doubleback Website                                    Doubleback Books on Facebook    Twitter


Virginia Chase Sutton’s New Book of Poems: What Brings You to Del Amo


Doubleback Books presents Virginia Chase Sutton’s What Brings You to Del Amo

Doubleback Books, an imprint of Sundress Publications, is proud to announce the republication of Virginia Chase Sutton’s What Brings You to Del Amo. Bruce Weigl, author of The Abundance of Nothing, had this to say concerning Sutton’s work:

Virginia Book“Face it: as much as we love to glorify and extol the powers of imagination, there are some things you have to see up close and personal in order to be able to bring them into the rarified circumstance of a poem. These would include death, and even worse, all manner of human degradation and suffering possible. Still, bearing witness, no matter how intimate, is no guarantee of good art either. Virginia Chase Sutton manages, no, she illuminates a seamlessness between what is real, and what is barely imaginable in our lives with such precision that you are compelled to bear witness beside her. The poems of What Brings You to Del Amo are relentless in their pursuit of us, and relentless too in their pursuit of the highest level of craft and care.”

Virginia SuttonVirginia Chase Sutton is the author of the full-length collections Embellishments, What Brings You to Del Amo, and Of a Transient Nature, and the chapbook, Down River. Sutton’s poems have won the Louis Untermeyer Poetry Scholarship at Bread Loaf, the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Award, and the National Poet Hunt.  She has been a fellow at Writers at Work, the Ragdale Foundation, and the Vermont Studio Center.  Sutton has won the Paumanock Visiting Writer’s Award and Reading Series and has been a finalist for the Dana Award in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including Paris Review, Ploughshares, Western Humanities Review, and Poet Lore, and have received seven Pushcart nominations. Sutton lives in Tempe, Arizona.

Read What Brings You to Del Amo today for free!