Lyric Essentials: John Sibley Williams Reads Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week poet and educator John Sibley Williams has joined us to discuss the work of poet Marcelo Hernandez Castillo, what courage may look like, and the cutting details and musicality of a poem. As always, thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: We all have specific memories of the first time we picked up a specific book or read a favorite poet—when was the first time you discovered Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s work?

John Sibley Williams: I was lucky to have discovered Castillo’s work purely by accident while shopping at my local independent bookstore. I was there looking for a specific book, but this stark, brilliant cover caught my eye. I opened to the first page and was immediately hooked by the simple complexity of its first lines:


Because the bird flew before
there was a word
for flight

This linguistic and philosophical conundrum was followed by:

years from now
there will be a name
for what you and I are doing.

This unexpected shift to the intensely personal while remaining elusively abstract truly caught me off guard. I ended up reading almost a quarter of the book right there, standing in a narrow aisle in a crowded bookstore. And I think I finished it later that night.

John Sibley Williams Reads “Cezontle” by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

AH: I love the rich details and topics the poems delved into! What drew you to these poems specifically?

JSW: It’s so difficult to dismantle poetry that really speaks to you in order to pinpoint what exactly about it fills and breaks and then refills your heart with its music. But the musicality in Castillo’s work is definitely a part of its allure. Each line, phrase, syllable just seems to inspire and converse with the next, and the varied structures in every instance perfectly compliment its themes. But, beyond the evocative language and surprising shifts and richly universal themes, Castillo consistently strikes this astonishing balance between the concrete and abstract, the heartbreakingly intimate and highly conceptual. Everything just leaps off the page, demanding attention and careful consideration, while also asking us to throw all that out and simply sink unquestioningly into his world. There’s just this overarching sense that these poems were written specifically for me and at the same time specifically for everyone else. These poems are bridges across cultures and times, philosophies and deeply felt personal experiences.

John Sibley Williams Reads “Drown” by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo

AH: In the Los Angeles Times, a reviewer described Castillo’s work as “courageous.” For you, as a poet, what has courage looked like on the page?

JSW: “Courage” can take so many (often overlapping) forms in a poem. It can be striking out to attempt something wholly new, breaking with one’s usual conventions and stretching one’s creativity just shy of the breaking point. It can be making bold linguistic decisions that may or may not work, that could be monumentally moving or utterly ridiculous, but still choosing to walk that tightrope whether or not the poem “fails”. I know it’s a cliché, but isn’t it a beautiful thing to master failure? To take huge risks and just pray readers follow your leaps and twists and experimentations? But “courage” can also be deeply personal. Most of the poems I love know exactly when and how to break and then to heal me. There’s a sense of genuineness, an authentic vulnerability, an unspoken agreement that poetry is meant to be one half of a conversation, trusting readers to be that necessary other half. Trusting others with your own deeply felt truth is true courage.

AH: What have you been up to lately? Got any exciting plans (anything!) that’d you like to share?

JSW: Although I haven’t been writing new work as much as I’d like to due to my shifting focus on being the best father I can be to my twin toddlers, I’m honored and thrilled to have two new books forthcoming. “The Drowning House” (winner of the Elixir Press Poetry Award) and “Scale Model of a Country at Dawn” (winner of the Cider Press Review Book Award) are both due out this coming winter. Professionally, last fall I founded Caesura Poetry Workshop, an affordable online workshop series focusing on both poetry and publishing. Each month I’ve been offering new classes, and I’ve been incredibly busy fostering and learning from the community we’ve built together. Beyond the creative, though, I am spending most of my time and energy on my children. It’s a tough world to be brought up into, and there’s nothing more important to me than ensuring they’re prepared to meet it with open hearts, open minds, and a strong sense of themselves.


Marcelo Hernandez Castillo is a poet, essayist, and translator. His collection Cezontle was selected for the 2017 A. Poulin Jr. Prize, and he is the author of the award-winning memoir Children of the Land. The first undocumented graduate from the Helen Zell Writers Program, he aided the establishment of Undocupoet Fellowship. His work has appeared in The New York Times, New England Review, and The Paris Review.

Discover more about Marcelo on his website.

Read his poem “Essay on Synonyms for Tender and a Confession.”

Purchase his collection Cezontle.

John Sibley Williams is the author of seven poetry collections, including Scale Model of a Country at Dawn (Cider Press Review Poetry Award), The Drowning House (Elixir Press Poetry Award), As One Fire Consumes Another (Orison Poetry Prize), Skin Memory (Backwaters Prize, University of Nebraska Press), and Summon (JuxtaProse Chapbook Prize). A twenty-six-time Pushcart nominee, John is the winner of numerous awards, including the Wabash Prize for Poetry, Philip Booth Award, Phyllis Smart-Young Prize, and Laux/Millar Prize. He serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and founder of the Caesura Poetry Workshop series. Previous publishing credits include Best American Poetry, Yale Review, Verse Daily, North American Review, Prairie Schooner, and TriQuarterly.

Find his website here.

Read two of John’s poems in North Dakota Quarterly.

Purchase his poetry collection Skin Memory.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Barren Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press, and reads for EX/POST Magazine. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Arhm Choi Wild Reads Mary Jean Chan

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week we’ve chatted with poet Arhm Choi Wild about the beauty of Mary Jean Chan’s poems, what is means to survive, and how they discovered Chan’s work. Thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: You’ve chosen to read such rich, luscious poems—the entire collection they’re from, Flèche, is so wonderful. What resonates the most for you in these poems?

Arhm Choi Wild: I’m so struck by the rare mirror that these poems provide. Because of the history of erasure and curation of single stories such as the model myth minority, it’s only through intentional and pointed searching that I’ve been able to to find other queer Asian writers. There is such relief in finding that I am not alone in my experiences, that there is a commonality I can fall back on when faced with what feels like impossible questions. Discovering these mirrors makes the questions less daunting, knowing there are others to journey besides.

Arhm Choi Wild Reads “Conversations with Fantasy Mother” by Mary Jean Chan

AH: In “Names,” Chan writes: “You do know / how much I want you — us — to survive?” There is so much power in these last couple of lines, when combined with the forced distance between both the speaker and their relationships. I’m actually thinking about your writing right now. Would you say that as a writer yourself you dwell on similar themes of survival in particular situations?

ACW: Absolutely. In Korean culture there is such an emphasis on family. Since I was a child, I have been engrained with the sense that you do whatever is necessary for family and that they in turn will do anything for you. To think I might lose that support system, especially when my immediate family is small and all of our relatives are across an ocean, made it seem that being my full and authentic self meant choosing between survival and queerness. Only when it became clear that in order to survive, I have to come out to my family did I gather the courage to do so.

Arhm Choi Wild Reads “Names” by Mary Jean Chan

AH: We all have an origin story when it comes to reading our favorite poets. What is the origin story of you discovering Mary Jean Chan’s work?

ACW: I was introduced to Chan’s work in a workshop class I was auditing with R.A. Villanueva, an incredible poet and teacher. After attending many workshops where most of the texts we read were by white, cisgender, and straight people, it was such a joy to be introduced to R.A’s syllabus and Chan’s work.

AH: What have you been up to? Got any good news (about life, writing, anything!) you’d like to share?

ACW: I am so excited and honored to receive fellowships to the Sewanee Writers Conference and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing this summer. I’m working on a 2nd book of poems around coming out as non-binary, the death of my father, and navigating a divorce during the pandemic, and I’m grateful to have time to work on this manuscript!


Mary Jean Chan is a poet, lecturer, and critic based out of England. She is the author of the poetry collection Fleché, which won the 2019 Costa Book Award for Poetry and was a 2021 Lambda Literary Award Finalist, among receiving other awards.

Find Chan’s website here.

Listen to Chan’s interview about her full-length collection here.

Read her poem “Fully Human” at New Republic.

Arhm Choi Wild is the author of CUT TO BLOOM, the winner of the 2019 Write Bloody Prize. Arhm received a MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and their work appears in Barrow Street, The Massachusetts Review, Pleiades, Split this Rock, and other publications. They have received fellowships from Kundiman, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing. They work as the Director of the Progressive Teaching Institute and Diversity Coordinator at a school in New York City. For more information, visit arhmchoiwild.com.

Purchase their full-length collection, Cut to Bloom, here.

Read a portion their work here.

Read their poem “The Story of My Name” at Two Hawks Quarterly.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Into the Void Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads for EX/POST Magazine, is the Managing Editor of Mud Season Review, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Jihyun Yun Reads Emma Hine

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week we’ve chatted with poet Jihyun Yun about the poetry of Emma Hine, surviving through chaotic times, and the wildness of dreams. We hope you enjoy reading through and listening to the poems as much as we did!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: What was your very first experience with Emma Hine’s work?

Jihyun Yun: I attended NYU’s MFA program with Emma but our paths crossed very little during our years there. Funnily enough, my first brush with her work was several years after we both graduated when we were published together in an issue of 32 Poems. I was invited to write a short blog piece about another contributor’s work for their Marginalia series, and I chose to write about her poem “Mammoth Cave.” I was really drawn to the unhusked emotional precision of that piece, and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Jihyun Yun Reads “Jaws” by Emma Hine

AH: Why did you end up choosing these two poems to read for us? What draws you to them specifically?

JY: I chose these poems because I feel like they encapsulate what I so love about her debut collection, Stay Safe. They’re both wildly tender and full of love, even in their careful interrogations of grief and impending loss, but they’re also simply wild in the same way dreams and fables are. There is a sense of transformations in these poems where girls become birds and take flight like in “Don’t You See” or are called towards the water by an almost supernatural pull like in “Jaws”. These poems make good promise of what can be found in spades in the book: world-building, a family’s emotional journey made mythic, but done in a way that we can still see our own lives and anxieties reflected in it. These poems are imaginative and sweeping, but still let us touch the ground.

Jihyun Yun Reads “Don’t You See” by Emma Hine

AH: When describing her poem “Don’t You See” for Poetry Society of America, Hine says that these poems from the collection tend to revolve around the fear of grief. For you, as a creative writer and human going through the turmoil that has been the past year, have you found yourself agreeing with these sentiments in your recent work?

JY: I sympathize with that sentiment a lot, and it might be why I’m so drawn to this book: it rings true to me. This past year we all had a crash course in both fearing the possibility of loss and then experiencing it in one way or another. I was no exception. My father-in-law was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer at the beginning of the pandemic, and every moment leading up to his passing was an exercise of dread. It changed the way I navigated the world, and the poems leading up to the loss and after the loss are very tonally different. So much of the grieving process is contained before the event of loss, and writing through it, whether it be poems or just diary entries, was essential in helping me compartmentalize the anxieties of that anticipatory period.

AH: What have you been up to lately? Got any exciting plans (life plans, writing, anything!) coming up?

JY: My partner received a fellowship and is headed to Korea in the fall, and I’m going to go with him (hopefully for the full year but if not, at least for a few months). My grandparents and I are all fully vaccinated now, so I’m really looking forward to seeing them again. I’ve also been drafting a YA novel, not with any intention of querying it, but to teach myself the basics of writing in a different medium. It’s been a lot of fun!


Emma Hine is a poet and essayist. She receieved her MFA from New York University and her poems have appeared in Copper NickelThe Missouri ReviewThe OffingThe Paris Review, among others. Her debut poetry collection, Stay Safe, was published by Sarabande Books in January 2021.

Find her website here.

Discover her poetry collection Stay Safe here.

Read three of her poems at The Offing.

Jihyun Yun is a Korean American poet from the San Francisco Bay Area. A National Poetry Series finalist, her debut collection Some Are Always Hungry won the 2019 Prairie Schooner Prize in Poetry and was published by the University of Nebraska Press in September 2020. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best New Poets, Ninth Letter, Adroit, Poetry Northwest and elsewhere. She currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan where she is working on a novel. 

Find Jihyun’s work on her website.

Read her poem “Dialogue with the Husband Snitch” here.

Purchase her full-length collection Some Are Always Hungry.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Into the Void Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads for EX/POST Magazine, is the Associate Managing Editor of Mud Season Review, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Athena Dixon Reads Seamus Heaney

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! We’ve chatted with poet, essayist, and editor Athena Dixon about the universality of Seamus Heaney’s work, connecting past and present within writing, and moving forward in life. As always, thank you for reading!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: What was your first encounter with Seamus Heaney’s work?

Athena Dixon: I first came across his work during my second tour through undergraduate school, but I didn’t really hold onto it until I was working on my MFA two years later. At the time I was compiling my creative thesis, Way Station, and quite a few of poems in that collection concerned my hometown and its working-class roots and routines. Heaney’s poems, especially those in Death of a Naturalist and North, were very concrete for me and I added them to my touchpoints for continuing to craft my final project.

Athena Dixon Reads “Digging” by Seamus Heaney

AH: Even if we are not Irish, living in the Ireland that Heaney wrote about, would you say that there is this universal aspect to his work that everyone can relate to in some form? 

AD: I think so and that’s what kept me connected to his poems after my initial introduction. There is a common thread that connects Heaney to his readers because the heart of his work is universal. Readers can relate to Heaney’s very clear reverence for family and tradition. I come from a very blue-collar background. My father was a steelworker and my mother was a factory worker. So, there was an instant understanding in how he describes the work, the physical toll of it, and how it can impact the individual and the family. His work makes me revisit pieces like Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” for the same reasons. There are for sure quite a few people who can relate in the same ways because we’ve seen this kind of labor ourselves or are participating in it to raise our own families. They can understand judgement from social circles and society at large. And they can understand the underlying desire to respect tradition, but to also move forward along your own path.

Athena Dixon Reads “Punishment” by Seamus Heaney

AH: In “Punishment,” we see this interweaving of finding a bog body and political strife in contemporary Northern Ireland. As a writer, how do you grapple with this tension of past and present in your own work?

AD: I try to find tension that is useful to the work and myself. There is, of course, always tension to be found when trying to reconcile the past and the present. However, writing for me has always been a way to filter through that tension and find what is going to be best for not only my art, but also my own personal journey. I think there has to be some balance between the two because what is tension if you aren’t trying to truly dissect it and discover some measure of beauty or questioning in it? I think anything else is just for shock value and that’s not the purpose of writing for me. I want to be able to go back to the past and come back changed in some way. I don’t want to wallow in it. That doesn’t mean there has be complete healing or understanding, but there has to be something useful if I’m going to add more tension to my life.

AH: Why did you choose these two poems specifically?

AD: “Punishment” was the first Heaney poem I encountered and it was like a shock to the system. I fell in love with how he broke his lines and how he crafted images. Those images are rich, but not overwrought. I found such pleasure in the idea he wasn’t trying to be opaque in the poem as well. It is both accessible, yet elevated. Heaney gives us something violent and troubling in a very concise way. It highlights how detached the punishment was despite the very passionate act that led to her demise. Also, his ability to move readers from a macro level to a micro level is brilliant. We get see the overarching expectations and rules of society, the woman’s actions, the reaction to her “crimes”, and even down to the very essence of her bones and brain. It’s an amazing journey in very lean lines.

I love “Digging” for some of the same reasons. I instantly wanted to dissect how there could be such depth to the world building in such slim stanzas. However, what I love the most is his use of sound and rhythm. This poem begs to be read aloud just to hear how the words bounce against each other, how they pull you from one line to the next, and how the poet uses word choice to engage our senses. For me, the poem also is very much an act of love that is recognizable on both sides. The caring of the father and grandfather through their manual labor which gives them the means to care for the speaker juxtaposed against the speaker’s desire to honor those men in the medium he has at his disposal is lovely. And the idea of generational betterment that isn’t couched in shame but rather respect and acknowledgement is close to my heart, too.


Seamus Heaney was a poet and playwright from Ireland. He is widely considered to be one of the finest Irish poets in contemporary history, as his poetry and writing was well-loved all over the world. Full of rich, luscious descriptions of Ireland and its natural beauty, as well as informing readers about the politics and history of the country, his poems showcased his prolific talent as a writer.

Discover some of his work at Poetry.

Read an interview he had with The Paris Review.

Read this New Yorker article on his legacy.

A native of Northeast Ohio, Athena Dixon is the author of The Incredible Shrinking Woman (Split/Lip Press) and No God in This Room (Argus House Press). Her work also appears in The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic (Haymarket Books) and in various publications including GAY Magazine and Narratively. She resides in Philadelphia. Learn more about the author at www.athenadixon.com.

Read Athena’s essay “You Have the Right to Remain Silent” at Grub Street.

Find her essay collection The Incredible Shrinking Woman at Split/Lip Press.

Listen to the podcast Athena co-hosts, New Books in Poetry, here.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Into the Void Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads forEX/POST Magazine, is the Associate Managing Editor of Mud Season Review, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Robin Gow Reads Margarita Cruz

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! For this edition, we’ve chatted with poet, novelist, and essayist Robin Gow about the work of Margarita Cruz, the origins of poetic inspiration, and how they discovered Cruz’s work. Thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: What originally drew you into Margarita’s work and how did you discover it? 

Robin Gow: Cruz is an editor at Tolsun Books, the press that published my first book, and I have to say I love everyone’s writing on the Tolsun Team so I first encountered her writing when she joined the team there. I’m also a pretty avid reader of New Delta Review too and I read her poem “Actus Reus.” I’m drawn to her writing because of the ways she weaves emotion and memory alongside a keen attention to sensation and touch.

Robin Gow Reads “Billowing” by Margarita Cruz

AH: What is your favorite part of the poems and why?

RG: Ugh, it’s so hard to have a favorite part. I think though what I appreciate most returning to Cruz’s poems is way the poem’s narratives are kept aloft by rich and intimate details. Especially thinking about “Billowing,” I’m struck by the way the opening moment in the poem dangles over the other scenes to enrich them and then returns at the end in a seamless way.

AH: In these poems, we get these pockets of moments that are reminiscent of cinema. In your own work, have you found inspiration in other art forms? If not, where does your inspiration lie?

Robin Gow Reads “TODAY I LEARNED CICADAS IN ARIZONA APPEAR EVERY SUMMER BUT IN MY LOVER’S HOME STATE HE WAITS YEARS FOR THEM” by Margarita Cruz

RG: Definitely! I think my writing converses with just about all art forms. I mean I write poems about memes and YouTube videos even.

AH: Do you have any exciting plans to share with us? It can be writing, life updates, etc. 

RG: What a delightful question. Two things: I’m indulging myself in writing a trans boy gay cowboy romance and I started a new job recently doing education and outreach for a program that empowers survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence in my area and I’m loving it.


Margarita Cruz is a poet and writer. She received her MFA from Northern Arizona University, and currently is an assistant editor at Tolsun Books and a columnist for Flagstaff Live! Her work can be found in DIAGRAM, New Delta Review, [PANK], and Susquehanna Review.

Find her website here.

Read her poem “Sometimes I Fall Asleep in my Mother’s Garden and Remember Us Picking in Fields” in Pank.

Find her on Twitter here.

Robin Gow is a trans poet and young adult author. They are the author of OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL DEGENERACY (Tolsun Books 2020) and the chapbook HONEYSUCKLE (Finishing Line Press 2019). Their first young adult novel, A MILLION QUIET REVOLUTIONS is forthcoming in 2022 with FSG Books for Youn Readers and their first essay collection, BLUEBLOOD is forthcoming in summer 2021 with The Nasiona Publishing House. Gow’s poetry has recently been published in POETRY, New Delta Review, and Washington Square Review.

Find their poetry collection, Our Lady of Perpetual Degeneracy, here.

Head onto their website here.

Read their poem “rice & rain” in Poetry.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Into the Void Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads forEX/POST Magazine, is the Associate Managing Editor of Mud Season Review, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Wendy Videlock Reads Virginia Hamilton Adair

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, Wendy Videlock is joining us to share the work of the poet Virginia Hamilton Adair and discuss the natural world around us, the vivacious language and choices made in these poems, and experimentation. Thank you for reading, and we hope to see you next time!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: Why did you choose these poems?

Wendy Videlock: I think they really represent Virginia Hamilton-Adair’s style, range and thematic interests. And of course they’re some of my favorites of hers. She really knows how to surprise the reader, how to pace a poem, how to pack a punch, how to avert our expectation. In “Keyring,” those first two lines, “My grandfather, when he was very old, / to one small room confined,/ gave me a bunch of his keys to hold.” assure us we are in good hands — the syntax, compression, and sonic interests alert us to that right away. Though she chooses a common subject, (one’s grandfather) she treats the subject uniquely, rendering the rather common subject uncommon indeed. And that close! Perfection. She embodies in this piece the diction, tone, and wonder of a child, and that “chuckling sound” the keys make is just a brilliant touch. She seems to work with what Frost called ‘the ghost of meter’ and often ends her poems on a note of mystery that widens, rather than closes off, or confirms our view. I think this little poem really exemplifies that.

“Yea Though I Walk” is a potent little piece with three discernible turns. I’m very drawn to a poetic that’s interested in pacing, that can equally surprise, delight, and devastate. She begins by lulling us into a pastoral scene, with sweet little lambs bobbing along and rather romantic perceptions of shepherding —then leads us to a stark reminder of efficiency, hunger, even cruelty: a wounded lamb unable to keep up, is left by the road we are told, its hooves wired together. The speaker imagines the shepherd returning that evening to collect his dinner. She then switches register again, panning out to a wider view, reflecting more meditatively, “The good shepherd of myths, psalms, and parable/ have always made me uneasy. / Something wrong there, leading me / however gently, to the slaughter”. This describes not only the shepherd and the lamb of course, but also how the poem leads us along with its shifting registers and perceptions — adding yet another layer of engagement to this devastating little poem.

Wendy Videlock Reads “Keyring” by Virginia Hamilton Adair

AH: What was your first experience with this poet’s work?

WV: I was given an anthology by a friend a few years ago called Poets of the American West, edited by Robert Mezey, and discovered one slim and wily little poem of hers called “Mojave Evening.” In it she closes the poem by describing coyotes at dusk this way: “their eyes coming out to hunt/ like all the other stars’. Again a common subject given remarkably uncommon treatment. I was hooked.

Wendy Videlock Reads “Yea Though I Walk” by Virginia Hamilton Adair

AH: Adair’s work is often inspired by the world that was around her. What has been inspiring you lately?

WV: Yes, I’m invested in the natural world as well, the character of the landscape, the wildlife, the changing skies, the cosmos. I’ve been experimenting a lot with prose lately, and testing the boundaries of genre bending, of specialty blending, of literary integrations and the imagination. So many marvelous opportunities for metaphor, intimacy, wordplay and surprising new insights. A writer never has enough time. One of my disappointments in the modern poetic is that it often goes straight for the cerebral, the hyper-ironic, the center stage “I” and the poet’s intention being its central purpose —very often neglecting the enchantment of song, the natural world, the elements, the very facts and shared understandings of our existence. Adair reminds us that poetry’s roots are in song, and that none of those things need be sacrificed in service of the poem.

AH: What have you been up to lately? Got any news to share?

WV: My upcoming book, The Poetic Imagination: A Worthy Difficulty is a collection of new and previously published essays, reviews, and prosimetrum (known in eastern tradition as haibun) on the elusive nature of language, landscape, the imagination, and the often misunderstood nature of verse craft or prosody. I’ve also got a new book of poems I’m readying for publication. I think both should be out by the end of the year or early in 2022.


Wendy Videlock lives in a small agricultural town on the western slope of the Colorado Rockies.  Her work appears in Hudson Review, Poetry, Dark Horse, The New York Times, Best American Poetry, and other venues.  Her books are available from Able Muse Press. Her upcoming collection of essays, The Poetic Imaginarium: A Worthy Difficulty, will appear in the fall of 2021. To see more of Wendy’s work, please visit: www.wendyvidelock.com, or tune in to this recent webinar she did with Tim Green, editor of Rattlehttps://youtu.be/OheIJ9Gg3C8

Read some of Wendy’s work at Poetry here.

Discover her full-length collection Slingshots and Love Plums at Able Muse Press.

Virginia Hamilton Adair was an American poet. Originally, she published a few pieces from the 1930s to 1950s, but then took a break that spanned fifty years. After this break, she found acclaim with her poetry during the last decade of her life. At eighty-three years old and after she had gone blind, her first poetry collection Ants on the Melon: A Collection of Poems was published in 1996. Over her lifetime, she had written over a thousand poems.

Read her poem “Buckroe, After the Season, 1942” here.

Find her poetry collection “Beliefs and Blasphemies” here.

Read more of her work at The New Yorker.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Into the Void Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads for Mud Season Review and EX/POST Magazine, is the Playwriting & Director’s Apprentice at New Perspectives Theatre Company, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Anna Meister Reads Diannely Antigua

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week Anna Meister will be reading Diannely Antigua’s work and discussing the act of reading a poem verbally, admirations, and future plans. Thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: Why did you choose Diannely Antigua? 

Anna Meister: I wanted to speak about Diannely’s poetry because I so appreciate and admire the frank, unapologetic way her work wrangles mental illness as subject matter. I almost wrote that her poems embody a fearlessness, but I think it’s more that the poet allows fear (of stigma, of succumbing, of survival) to be in the poems, and I find that honesty very brave and refreshing.

Anna Meister reads “Variations on a Theme” by Diannely Antigua

AH: Throughout the poems, there seems to be this theme of hunger for something. As a poet yourself, would you say you feel a connection to this concept of wanting something more in your writing? 

AM: Yeah, I certainly feel like my poems tend to come from a place of not knowing, searching for answers. And in that vein, the feeling of longing or unsatiated hunger propels me forward, which I do feel moving through Antigua’s work. It also makes me think about the biblical references and imagery in Ugly Music, how the speaker’s religious history and questioning/speaking to god are connected to an erotic hunger and understanding of her own sexuality.

Anna Meister Reads “Equinox” by Diannely Antigua

AH: Listening to you read these poems and actually reading them on the page was a completely different experience. How was the act of verbally reading these poems? Did it change anything for you?

I always like to hear things aloud as I’m reading; there’s such joy in how differently a poem’s music comes through when read versus on the page. And yes, her book is titled Ugly Music, but Antigua really does have such a musical ear and there’s a lot that’s just sonically delightful about these poems. Something else I noticed in reading them aloud is that, due in part to all of the poems being in first person, their vulnerability (and mine as the reader) felt amplified. The term “confessional poetry” can get a bad rap (which is pretty sexist), but I think Diannely is absolutely showcasing the power of the poem as a space for confession and saying the “unsayable” thing.

AH: Your poetry collection recently came out with Sundress. Got any exciting plans coming up in the near future? 

AM: While this isn’t related to What Nothing, I was just able to get a vaccination appointment for the end of the month and I’m pretty excited about that! I’m looking forward to the ways in which life will feel easier in the months to come, as more and more people get vaccinated and are able to be together again. I miss experiencing poetry with other people! To have my first book released during quarantine/a pandemic has been different than I’d imagined, though I have enjoyed partaking in virtual events and I’m grateful for the accessibility and connection they’ve provided. I’m hoping to travel a bit later this year to see friends, do some readings, and celebrate What Nothing more widely. I’m really proud that it’s finally out in the world!

Diannely Antigua is the author of Ugly Music (YesYes Books, 2019), which won the Pamet River Prize. Previously nominated for the Pushcart Prize and selected for Best of the Net, her poems can be found in The Adroit Journal, Bennington Review, and Washington Square Review. She received her MFA from New York University.

Anna Meister is the author of the poetry collection What Nothing (Sundress Publications, 2021), as well as two chapbooks. Meister received an MFA in Poetry from New York University, where she was a Goldwater Writing Fellow. Her poems have appeared in The Rumpus, Redivider, The Adroit Journal, BOAAT, and elsewhere. She lives in Des Moines, Iowa with her wife and son.

Find her at:

www.annameisterpoet.com

Twitter: @annameisterpoet

https://therumpus.net/2020/09/rumpus-original-poetry-two-poems-by-anna-meister/

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi has had work appear, or forthcoming, in Into the Void Magazine, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She currently reads for Mud Season Review and EX/POST Magazine, is the Playwriting & Director’s Apprentice at New Perspectives Theatre Company, was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow, and is the co-Editor in Chief of Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Interview with Esteban Rodriguez, Author of The Valley

In anticipation of his fifth poetry collection, The Valley, and its 2021 debut, Sundress Publications author Esteban Rodriguez sat down with our Editorial Intern, Lee Anderson, to discuss emptiness, memories, and how syntax can bring family back together.

Lee Anderson: The pictures throughout the book were originally taken by your mother and sister, Maria and Iris Pérez. Tell me about your decisions to use their pictures, which ones to place, and where you placed them.

Esteban Rodriguez: When I originally conceived of The Valley, I knew I wanted photographs included, not necessarily in the ekphrastic sense (although the photos can undoubtedly be seen in that light), but as a way to compliment the poems and visually document the landscape of the Rio Grande Valley (located in deep South Texas—no, not San Antonio, think five hours south). I read Austerlitz, The Rings of Saturn, and The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald in grad school, and I was quite fascinated by the way he included photographs throughout his novels. For me, they don’t so much as add to the novels as they do accompany the texts, and if I could do the same, in a poetry collection, then why not? 

I live in Austin, and my visits to the Valley have become less frequent throughout the years. But my family still lives there, and I asked if they would be willing to undertake a small project in the spring/summer of 2019. My mother had just retired, and my sister, who’s dabbled in photography over the years, had just graduated from nursing school and had some free time on her hands before she began work.

There was no way not to include first photo at the beginning of the collection, which is the house that I grew up in. It’s quite old now, and my aunt lives there, and visually, I think it embodies many houses throughout the Valley, especially those in the colonias or that aren’t defined by the city limits of Weslaco (my hometown). Each photo is meant to add to the overall narrative, as well as show the places that I would frequent with my family—the border between the U.S. and Mexico, church, Downtown McAllen, South Padre Island, all of which have, in some shape or form, defined me.

LA: Homemade medicine and cures are common motifs throughout the book, often intersected by family and self-reliance. Considering especially the lines “her body     like all bodies not immunized / to the circumstances they’ve inherited” (from “Recuerdo: Wardrobes”), how does medicine work in terms of passing down tradition?

ER: Growing up, my family was very wary of going to the doctor’s office, especially my grandmother, who was from Mexico. It was recommended we try home or over-the-counter remedies first (Vicks, Robitussin, prayers and prayer candles under the bed), and if that didn’t work, then a few days rest—no doubt in my mother’s and grandmother’s eyes—would do the trick. What wasn’t so easily revealed to us (us children that is), is that our access to insurance and therefore medical services wasn’t always available, and if it was (my mother did work for the state of Texas), the bills that would results from a visit, or even a hospital stay, were much greater than we had budgeted for the month. We had to rely on what we had, and hopefully that was enough to get us through another day.

LA: Can you speak to the recurring images of circuses, fairs, and fairgrounds?

ER: The Rio Grande Valley Livestock Show and Rodeo happens every year in the Valley in March (usually during Spring Break), and growing up, this was definitely one of the events to look forward. I have always been fascinated with fairs and circuses because of the promise they offer—adrenaline on every roller coaster ride; small and large prizes and rewards at every booth; satisfaction with funnel cakes, turkey legs, and cotton candy. What was there not to love about the Stock Show? What is common throughout the Valley too is traveling circuses and carnivals that pop up throughout the year. You can usually find them off an empty lot of some frontage road, and with them there are families that show up, walking throughout the grounds, hoping to experience something beyond the ordinary, even if just for a night.

LA: In “Recuerdo: Summer, 1996” you write, “and the world has moved on / framing the horizon with heavy-handed themes // of loneliness and loss.” How does the heaviness of loneliness and loss in the world intersect with, or contradict, your own visions of solitude throughout the book?

ER: In many ways, it’s hard not to feel that the Valley lives in a bubble, especially as a child when it appeared that the entire world existed outside of the Valley. When I tell people who are not familiar with Texas (and even some that are) that I am from South Texas, they automatically think of San Antonio. I have to explain that I am from a town five hours south of San Antonio, near the Mexican border, and every time I do explain, I think of the limbo (or what feels like a limbo) that exits between San Antonio and the Valley. I don’t mean to snub everyone who lives in that area, but for me, and many of the people I grew up with, it wasn’t a whole lot more different than the Valley itself, and I think that is where the ideas of solitude come from in the book. No one, despite their claims otherwise, wants to be lonely, and perhaps writing these poems was a way to bring the loneliness out, to let the world serve as company to my past self.

LA: Many of these poems consider ideas of growing up and coming-of-age, yet it is not often the object of focus; when it is, such as in “McAllen,” the idea seems distant. How does the decentering of these sorts of rituals shift how we view ourselves and the world?

ER: I always have an eye on the past, and my first three poetry collections (Dust & Dust, Crash Course, and In Bloom) were primarily about my childhood. My fourth collection, (Dis)placement, departed from that narrative, focusing more on diaspora and violence through a surreal lens, and there are hints of that surrealism in the poem “El río” in The Valley. Having ideas of growing up and coming-of-age as the center of focus is, for me, important and I think it helps illuminate the way I view my upbringing, my identity, and the essence of the Valley, but decentering it, and looking at it from the outside oftentimes has the same effect.

LA: How do memories, such as those in the poems titled with “Recuerdo”, impact the way we view the past and affect the ways we think about our presents and potential futures?

ER: I think these poems help navigate the past more than they do the present or future. These poems were initially written years before the other poems in the collection, but I couldn’t find a way for them to fit in my previous books (and there were some of them that needed major revisions). In my view, these poems allowed me to explore more of the past than I thought was possible, looking at the landscape of my childhood home, my uncles and their obsessions, or how we sought to heal our bodies. When I exhumed them from the depth some nearly obscure computer file, I was able to connect with those moments more intimately, and it was quite cathartic to relive what I thought would be forgotten.

LA: How do you see the dichotomy, or overlap, of empty settings and people out of space in these poems?

ER: In the Valley, there are a lot of empty lots and spaces that have remained empty since I was a child. There are also empty buildings and plazas that were never rented out, and if they were, those businesses never seemed to last long. One of the most influential collections (and one that I continue to recommend to everyone who writes, not just poets) is Night of the Republic by Alan Shapiro, which explores public places throughout America—gas station restroom, supermarket, shoe store, convention hall. The poems are devoid of people, but people seem to haunt even corner of it, and there are many places in the Valley similar to that that I wanted to capture. I wanted the poem to mirror what I visually saw and having an unpunctuated narrative helped the ideas flow easier across the page. I am also a faithful reader of Cormac McCarthy’s works, and it’s definitely possible to use as little punctuation in your work.

LA: Tell me about the particular syntax of these poems, particularly the use of enjambment and blank spaces between phrases in individual lines. 

ER: W.S. Merwin’s The Vixen was the foundation for my book, specifically with regards to the lack of punctuation and the enjambment. If you’ve read Merwin’s work, you know it’s infamous for its absence of periods, commas, semicolons, etc., and I wanted to explore my own work through this approach as well. But I wanted to distinguish the poems with titles of city names from the “Recuerdo” poems, mainly because the “Recuerdo” poems are meant to explore the past more thoroughly. These poems have spaces to indicate a pause and spread out the speaker’s thoughts (they also provide some breathing room for the reader). 

LA: “El río” is a multi-page prose poem ending in three and a half pages of names. Can you speak to the narrative weight of that poem?

ER: My fascination with surrealism stems from the work of certain artists: Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, Kay Sage, and Jeff Jordan, the artist who provided the artwork for three of The Mars Volta’s albums, Amputechture, The Bedlam in Goliath, and Octahedron (I should note The Mars Volta has been quite influential in my own writing, and the manner in which they could produce concept albums with such a lyrical, strange, and surreal force continues to be a source of inspiration).

“El río” is meant to document my father’s journey into the United States, but through a hallucinatory/surreal approach. The father in the poem finds himself in various and almost impossible places throughout his crossing, and the river plays a central role in how it defines his trek into another country, often times attempting to keep him from completing it. My father’s journey is by no means unique, and at the end of the poem you see names that are meant to be representations of those who have lost their lives trying to make a new and better life, especially those who have never been recovered or found.

LA: Which poem(s) in this collection is/are closest to your heart? 

ER: I would say that I’m perhaps closest to the “Recuerdo” poems, mainly because they were poems that didn’t fit into prior books, and I was able to use them fittingly here. Paul Valéry said that a poem is never finished, but only abandoned. I’m not sure to what extend I agree with Valéry, but I no doubt salvaged these poems and found a home for them here. 

Order your copy of The Valley today!


Esteban Rodriguez is the author of the collections Dusk & Dust (Hub City Press, 2019), Crash Course (Saddle Road Press, 2019), In Bloom (SFASU Press, 2020) and (Dis)placement (Skull + Wind Press, 2020). His poetry has appeared in Boulevard, The RumpusShenandoah, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. He is the Interviews Editor for EcoTheo Review, an Assistant Poetry Editor for AGNI, and a regular reviews contributor for PANK and Heavy Feather Review. He lives with his family in Austin, Texas.

Lee Anderson is a nonbinary MFA candidate at Northern Arizona University, where they are the Managing Editor of Thin Air Magazine. They have been published sporadically but with zest, with work seen or forthcoming in The Rumpus, Columbia Journal, Unstamatic Magazine, and elsewhere.

Interview with Hannah V Warren, Author of [re]construction of the necromancer

Winner of Sundress Publications’ eight annual chapbook competition, Hannah V Warren’s,[re]construction of the necromancer, is a haunting reimagining of Hansel and Gretel that explores the themes of transformation, motherhood and creating our own fate. Editorial Intern, Ada Wofford discusses these themes with the author, as well as the significance of reimagining Hansel and Gretel today.

Ada Wofford: What can you tell us about the book’s inscription, “To the girls with the moss in their hair”?

Hannah V Warren: I’m thinking about women who had their own experiences with abandonment in their childhood, but that word means something different for everyone. In the forest, Gretel felt no more alone than in her home. This collection is for those women, the ones who felt lingering instability, no matter where they were—the ones who would have embraced Gretel’s forest and the ability to transform their bodies into something new if they could. 

AW: What is the significance of reimagining Hansel and Gretel today, in 2020?

HVW: We’re currently living in a moment where people are returning to fairy tale, to legend and lore, more frequently than ever. Funnily enough, a movie about Hansel and Gretel came out the same week this chapbook released. (I haven’t seen it, but I hope people revel.)

I think we all find comfort in these stories, the ones we’ve heard again and again. There’s an entrenched familiarity. At least for me, reinventions investigate the troubling aspects of fairy tales we take for granted. In the Grimms’ “Hansel and Gretel,” the tale ends with riches and forgiveness. Although their father supported their demise, the children are easy to forget all trespasses: “Now all their cares were at an end, and they lived happily together.” I wanted to write a new Gretel, someone who doesn’t need to end on forgiveness but instead focuses on her own recovery, realizing she owes nothing to her birth family, especially not absolution of emotional and physical traumas.

AW: Can you talk about the recurring theme of “forgetting” in the book?

HVW: I played with memory a bit in this collection, considering how we process traumatic events. It’s easy to go days, or even a week, without thinking about anything that happened over a decade ago. Then, you’ll smell menthol. Or you’ll hear someone humming. Or a man will brush against your arm. Suddenly, hot stones brim your gut. As Gretel grows older, her childhood memories become fuzzier, but there are moments that haunt her, that she can’t forget. The “forgetting” poems contain many of these specific memories for Gretel, those moments that always return.

AW: Can you speak about the use of spaces and line breaks throughout the book and what their function is to the overall story?

HVW: [re]construction of the necromancer is concerned with the blueprints of our bodies; how we put things back together when they fall apart. I love white space in a poem. Those blanks and breaks are almost as important to me as the words. I imagine them as instructions that guide Gretel, but she doesn’t quite understand how to follow along because she’s never transformed her body before. It’s like putting together a human skeleton when you don’t know where any of the bones go. In these poems, the spaces are sometimes jarring, pulling the language apart like stretched taffy. I think that’s what it would be like to grow a completely new body, to abandon the parts that no longer belong.

AW: What is the significance of the shifting perspective, from first-person to third?

HVW: In these poems, I wanted to create something immersive, atmospheric. In film, it’s really easy to shift perspectives, to show the audience something the main character doesn’t know. I thought a great deal about what the reader needs to know versus what Gretel needs to know, and I quickly realized that Gretel, after her transformation, wouldn’t care a lick about how her birth mother was getting along. Regardless, it was important to me that the reader know how the forest continued interacting with the mother, how this sentience cared for Gretel quietly. In the “Guide for” poems that come at the collection’s beginning and end, I hope the first-, second-, and third-person perspectives join together. The reader is not watching Gretel but instead becomes Gretel in a fractional way. The reader learns to transform.

AW: Can you speak about the themes of eating and consumption found throughout the book?

HVW: The generally unquestioned cannibalism in fairy tales is always so fascinating to me. In lore, eating other folks is a representation of evil, and that’s that. In this collection, one of my goals was to up the ante on every aspect of the Grimms’ tale. What we consume is such an important part of our identities. I’m from south Mississippi, and I felt like part of me melted when I lived in the Midwest for a few years. Where was the crawfish bisque, the okra, the fried catfish, the Cajun seasoning? I wanted [re]construction of the necromancer to be indulgent, gluttonous even. You can’t think of Gretel without thinking of cannibalism, so I twisted that part of the story to empower Gretel. Does that make Gretel a representation of evil, as well? Probably yes, but also maybe no. Throughout the poems, Gretel shifts from starvation to indulging whenever she wants.

AW: Can you talk about the theme of transformation in the book?

HVW: I love writing within the feminine grotesque. In fairy tales, women’s bodies are consistently changing in mimetic and non-mimetic ways, often to reveal something crucial about the narrative’s moral. I hoped to do something similar with Gretel. Children aren’t helpless, per se, but they are small and relatively defenseless, which the normalization of trauma only exacerbates. Gretel’s transformations are her body’s response to her inability to forget and escape the memories that haunt her. The animal and forest parts of her new form cannot remember abandonment or violation, and they help her attain a semblance of stability as she processes her experiences.

AW: Can you talk about the significance of motherhood in the book and how does it connect to the forest?

HVW: When I first started cobbling together this collection, I knew I wanted Gretel to escape the ills that plague her, which includes her birth mother, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it happen. Slowly, the poems I added revealed other mother figures. The candy witch from the Grimms’ story is the mother Gretel never had; she teaches Gretel to care for herself, to cook, to change her body. The forest, as well, acts as a semi-motherly figure in the tender slips where they interact, brushing away debris from Gretel’s skin, feeding her encouragement and dried meats. Throughout her time in the forest, Gretel realizes she can rely on others, but she must find a balance, relying on herself, as well, before she can rejoin the world.

Read [re]construction of the necromancer here.



Hannah V Warren is a Ph.D. student at the University of Georgia where she studies poetry and speculative narratives. Her poems have haunted or will soon appear in Mid-American Review, Moon City Review, and Redivider, among others. Follow her at @hannahvwarren and learn more at hannahvwarren.com.

Ada Wofford is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Library and Information Science. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a BA in English Literature. She is a Contributing Editor for The Blue Nib literary magazine, the Founding Editor of My Little Underground, and has been published by McSweeney’s, Fudoki Magazine, Burial Day Books, and more.

Interview with Author Angela Narciso Torres

Angela Narciso Torres’ chapbook, To the Bone, explores themes of motherhood, life, death, tradition, and culture. Torres writes with a rhythm and musicality all her own, playing with imagery and meaning in a manner that reminds one of the kaleidoscopic perspectives of the impressionists.

In this interview, Sundress intern Ada Wofford took some time to correspond with Torres about this chapbook and the concepts therein.

Ada Wofford: I noticed the repeated themes of food and eating, what can you tell me about the significance of those themes?

Angela Narciso Torres: The theme of food and eating recurs because cooking (and eating) was a valuable part of our family, especially on the maternal side. It was a metaphor for love, as is the case in many Filipino families. Where words failed, food came in to fill the gaps. Meals were not only for sustenance but for nourishing and strengthening family ties. Many of my best childhood memories revolved around the unforgettable meals we shared. And because this book is about love, and family, and loss—food naturally became one of the central tropes.

AW: The poem, “VIA NEGATIVA” eschews the use of question marks and uses a long space to emphasize a particular line. What is the role/function of punctuation and space in this poem and the book as a whole?

ANT: The negative space in the middle of this poem is used to enact, in a physical way, the poem’s subject. My use of punctuation, or the lack of it, is always deliberate in my poems. I view punctuation as a valuable tool for teaching the reader how to read the poem, and so it must be employed with great care and attention. Along with line breaks, they control the pacing of the poem, but also the tone. We can extend the pauses between sentences with punctuation; adding white space extends that pause even further.

AW: What is the significance of light and sunlight in these poems?

ANT: Growing up in the Philippines, light was either overabundant (during the dry season) or notably lacking (during rainy season). As a poet, I’ve always been aware of light as something that can influence the mood or tone surrounding a memory or a felt experience. When I moved to the United States and experienced the four seasons it deepened and expanded my appreciation for various qualities of light and how they can alter not only our moods but also the tone of an experience, when expressed in language. It is one of those devices we have at our disposal as poets to get at a feeling that we need to express in words and images.

AW: One poem is called, “Self-Portrait of a Rosary” and rosary beads are mentioned elsewhere as well. What is the significance of Catholicism in this collection?

ANT: Having been raised Catholic and having attended parochial schools growing up in the Philippines, the language of liturgy and scripture naturally found their way into my poems. The cadences of the psalms, prayers, the liturgy of the Word, and the ritual of the Mass were easily some of the first poetic language I’d learned. There’s a cadence embedded in this language that becomes hardwired in your memory when you hear them week after week. Some of it is really quite beautiful. Aside from Sunday Mass, my parents insisted on the family saying the rosary together at night.

While I am not as devout with this practice as my parents were, rosary beads have become a symbol or talisman for the strength and comfort of family and of faith in something larger than ourselves that the repetition of these incantatory prayers somehow invokes. To this day, I carry rosary beads in my pocket or purse for this very reason.

AW: Considering the references to music in your collection, what is the role of sound and rhythm in these poems?

ANT: Poetry is an art form that aspires toward music. I strive for musicality in my poems simply because I feel that poetry must be, among other things, as pleasurable to the ear as a piece of music. My parents played piano and violin together, and my father constantly played music as we were growing up: from classical to jazz, to Broadway musicals, to “golden oldies.” I begged my parents for piano lessons at the age of 5 and continued taking lessons up to my college years. For me, music was a direct, almost visceral path to the emotions, and the release music could provide was even more immediate than language itself.

So, to be able to express emotional experiences in language, music would clearly have to come into play. I will often read my poems aloud to “hear” the lines as musical phrases, noting whether the lines sound melodious or clunky and revising the phrasing, rhythm, or sound as I see fit.

AW: Can you talk about the recurring theme of your mother?

ANT: When my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, it was a bewildering time for my family. She had always been at the center of our lives—the powerhouse that fueled our days, the keeper and teller of stories, the life of any gathering. She was also a well-loved doctor, a skilled pianist, and an exacting disciplinarian.

From her mother, she inherited a passion for cooking. In her family, food was the highest expression of love. Writing this book was, among other things, primarily a way of preserving what I could of the mother I knew, even as she began the slow decline into dementia.

It was also a way of coming to terms with the impending loss, in part by being watchful for whatever connections we could still forge as she came under the grips of this terrible disease.

In writing these poems, I found myself sifting through the stories she repeated, the food she loved, the songs she played on the piano, her quirky rituals, her anxieties, and her various expressions of love, imperfect as they sometimes were. The most insistent of those found their way into this book.

AW: There are three poems titled as, “Self-Portrait of…” What is the significance of this act (the act of creating a portrait of oneself) in regard to this collection? 

ANT: The three poems, “Self Portrait as Water,” “Self Portrait as Rosary Beads,” and “Self Portrait as Revision,” are meant to redirect the reader’s attention to the speaker of these poems, and to consider how this person is changed by the events in her life—her mother’s decline, her body changing as she grows older while fulfilling various roles as young daughter, wife, mother (of young and then older children), and daughter of aging parents.

In a way, these self-portraits are a thread that weave the poems together, being the voice or the sensibility behind these poems—ever-evolving, morphing, and changing as life necessitates when one is thrust into various transitions, losses, and beginnings that are part of the ebb and flow of human experience.

Download your copy of To the Bone for free here.


Angela Narciso Torres is the author of Blood Orange (Willow Books, 2013) and What Happens Is Neither (Four Way Books, 2021); and winner of the 2019 Yeats Poetry Prize. Her recent work appears in POETRY, Missouri Review, and PANK.

A graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers, she has received fellowships from Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and Ragdale Foundation. She serves as the reviews editor for RHINO. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Manila, she currently lives in South Florida.

Ada Wofford is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying Library and Information Science. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a BA in English Literature.

She is a Contributing Editor for The Blue Nib literary magazine, the Founding Editor of My Little Underground, and has been published by McSweeney’s, Fudoki Magazine, Burial Day Books, and more.