Lyric Essentials: Catherine Rockwood Reads Joshua Burton

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite authors to share the work of their favorite poets. This month, Catherine Rockwood has joined us to discuss the work of Joshua Burton and confessional poetry. As always, we hope you enjoy as much as we did.


Ryleigh Wann: When was the first time you read Joshua Burton’s work? Why did it stand out to you then?

Catherine Rockwood: My first encounter with Joshua Burton’s poetry was June/July of this summer, when my copy of Fracture Anthology arrived. What stood out to me at once was both the intimacy and the ambition of the project – to write poems with one’s own mother, about both her life and your own, and achieve so much formal and emotional success in the process? Amazing. Almost uncanny, really. The degree of determination involved, and the ethical precision, and the risk-taking, and the skill.

RW: Why did you choose to read these poems specifically?

CR: I knew I had to include “Nomenclature” in the recordings, because it was the poem that first made me sit down and go “ohhh” when I was reading the chapbook. And I don’t honestly think that reflects in great ways on me as a reader: I think I should have been able to get there much faster, based on what precedes “Nomenclature” in the manuscript. But as it was, I needed an entry-point to an assembled work that was amenable to what I already knew, and for me this poem was that – the moment of naming, of choosing a name that a new life will be known by, has tremendous literary resonance that operated in ways I was familiar with, and then all of a sudden I could sort of retroactively get a wider look at what was so powerful about the entire project. 

Catherine Rockwood reads “A Painting of a Pressed Flower” by Joshua Burton

A Painting of a Pressed Flower” I just find so haunting. I am not sure I fully understand the complex layering of memory/art/trauma in this poem, the way it all works together to create what feels like an entirely unique symbolic vocabulary, but I can feel it working, I think in that direction. And I cannot shake the lines “the residue bleeds through pages/  five through eleven”: so specific, so material, so literal, and yet what those lines are saying is, some events absolutely layer themselves permanently into parts of our lives, and what are you going to do with that? To what extent can you bring yourself to accept unintentional, vivid, personal-historical “residues” while also saying something like “this effect, this fact, is accidental – it evades claims of design  – and yet, I assert its meaning.”?

History” is a tour de force in other ways. It deliberately maintains the strangeness, the unfamiliar-to-the-reader quality, of the protective or negotiative systems the “I”-speaker of the poem (who is the poet’s mother) has developed to help herself deal with a clearly hostile world. And that’s a hard choice to make, as a writer – or, anyway, when I think about it I get nervous, I feel worried – to decide “no, the difficulty is part of the point, I want this to be something readers have to work to try to understand, because otherwise I’m not honoring the individual narrated life in the poem, I’m not doing it justice.” Making that choice, and following through on it formally, takes incredible determination (which is a word I seem to be repeating) and craft.

RW: Burton’s chapbook, Fracture Anthology, began with poems written about the speaker’s mother. What do you think are the challenges (or benefits) of writing poems about living people the writer might be close to?

Catherine Rockwood reads “History” by Joshua Burton

CR: Oh my goodness. This work is so hard. I have only peripherally played around with it in my own writing, and the one time I wrote directly about family members it was a huge, uncomfortable thing to tell them before the poem was published. Because you realize you have to take responsibility for your own “take” on someone else’s life, and they may not agree with your view of it. In the end, when you write and publish about living people who are in your life, you’re either saying “well good so we agree,” or “well okay, we have worked out an agreement that I have the right to relate this part of things in this way,” or “well, you hate that I’ve written about this in this way but too fucking bad.” Fracture Anthology…it’s definitely, DEFINITELY not the last thing. To me, from the outside, it looks actually more like a fourth thing, some kind of consent-driven work of biographical/autobiographical art in which both the poet and his mother really have their own voices but these voices sometimes blend in ways that are almost transcendent. I guess you would say the challenge and the benefit there are pretty contiguous.

RW: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share?

CR: Hm. I’ve been editing for the first time – Reckoning Magazine, the magazine of creative writing and environmental justice I’m on staff for, is putting out a special issue on bodily autonomy and the environment in October. And I’m lead editor for that. We got really, really angry after the Dobbs v. Jackson decision came down at the Supreme Court in June, and decided to put out a themed submission call, and authors have answered it very thoroughly. I’m excited about the work we’ll be showcasing, and my colleagues at Reckoning have been super supportive and patient (and informative!) as I work through the new-to-me process.

Read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Joshua Burton is a poet and educator from Houston, TX and received his MFA in poetry at Syracuse University. His work can be found in Mississippi Review, Gulf Coast, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. His debut poetry collection is forthcoming in the spring of 2023 with the University of Wisconsin Press. Find his website here. Purchase his collection, Fracture Anthology here.

Catherine Rockwood reads and edits for Reckoning Magazine, and reviews books for Strange Horizons. Her poetry chapbook, Endeavors to Obtain Perpetual Motion, is available from the Ethel Zine Press. You can find her on Twitter at @martin65, and elsewhere on the internet at www.catherinerockwood.com/about

Ryleigh Wann earned her MFA from UNC Wilmington where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in Longleaf Review, Rejection Letters, Flypaper Lit, and elsewhere. Ryleigh currently lives in Brooklyn. Learn more at ryleighwann.com

Lyric Essentials: Donald Quist Reads Terrance Hayes

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite authors to share the work of their favorite poets. This month, Donald Quist has joined us to discuss the work of Terrance Hayes and how poetry impacts writing prose, the musicality of verse, and how form can impact content. As always, we hope you enjoy as much as we did.


Ryleigh Wann: When was the first time you read Terrance Hayes work? Why did it stand out to you then?

Donald Quist

Donald Quist: I first heard about Hayes when I was an undergrad, about twenty years ago now. I was struggling through an English minor at a small, predominantly white, Liberal Arts college in South Carolina. My professors often mentioned Hayes to me. Hayes was an alum. I was told he and I shared similar backgrounds, and we both are Black and poetic. Teachers offered his work to me as a kind of model. I was given a copy of Hip Logic and fell in love with the musicality of his verse and the clarity of his poetic imagery.

RW: How has Hayes’s writing inspired your own? 

Donald Quist Reads “American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin [“I lock you in an American sonnet that is part prison”]” by Terrance Hayes.

DQ: Hayes has had a significant impact on my work, perhaps most notably in how I approach the construction of narratives. He once said: “I want form to influence my content. I want it to make my language do things that it might not have otherwise done.” His poetry has often inspired me to take chances with my prose, and to seek out forms that serve the ways I’d hope for my narratives to function. It’s why I have essays in the form of lesson plans and stage directions, and short stories constructed out of search engine results and another one as the preface to a fictional anthology.

RW: Why did you choose these poems to specifically? 

Donald Quist Reads “For Robert Hayden” by Terrance Hayes

DQ: I chose these poems because they span the length of his career. I think they offer a great representation of his versatility and core themes. Also, they’re pleasurable to read. Like, notice how there’s a physicality to the verses, the employment of verbs, adverbs and syntax that highlight movement, and the narrowing on bodily details. It all works together to remind the reader of the presence of their own flesh. The poems aren’t just heard or viewed, there is a clear intent to make them felt. Damn, it’s good. I attempt to do the same in all my Creative Writing.

RW: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share?

DQ: I try to stay busy. I have a novel out on submission and I’m working to complete a draft of another book project by the end of the year. Got some upcoming workshops, and I have readings scheduled from my recent essay collection, To Those Bounded.

Read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Terrance Hayes is a contemporary American poet and artist. His most recent publications include American Sonnets for My Past And Future Assassin (Penguin 2018) and To Float In The Space Between: Drawings and Essays in Conversation with Etheridge Knight (Wave, 2018). Hayes is a Professor of English at New York University. 

Find his website here.

Purchase his collection American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin here.

Donald Quist is author of two essay collections, Harbors, a Foreword INDIES Bronze Winner and International Book Awards Finalist, and TO THOSE BOUNDED. He has a linked story collection, For Other Ghosts. His writing has appeared in AGNI, North American Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Rumpus, and was Notable in Best American Essays 2018. He is creator of the online nonfiction series PAST TEN. Donald has received fellowships from Sundress Academy for the Arts and Kimbilio Fiction. He has served as a Gus T. Ridgel fellow for the English PhD program at University of Missouri and Director of the MFA in Writing at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Visit: https://www.donaldquist.com/

Ryleigh Wann earned her MFA in poetry from UNC Wilmington where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in Longleaf Review, Rejection Letters, Flypaper Lit, and elsewhere. Ryleigh currently lives in North Carolina by way of Michigan. Learn more at ryleighwann.com

Lyric Essentials: Roseanna Alice Boswell Reads Becca Klaver

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week poet, student, and author Roseanna Alice Boswell has joined us to discuss the work of Becca Klaver, feeling understood and comforted during a lonely time, and being unafraid in writing. As always, we hope you enjoy as much as we did.


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: When was the first time you read Klaver’s work? Why did it stand out to you then?

Roseanna Alice Boswell: I first experienced Becca Klaver’s work in 2017 when I heard her give a reading in Ohio. She was the visiting professor at my MFA at the time, and so I had sort of the unique opportunity of getting to know her as a teacher first, and then as a poet. As soon as I heard her poems, it was like something clicked in my brain. I was like oh my god, yes, this is the kind of poetry I want to write when I grow up!

AH: How has Klaver’s writing inspired your own? 

Roseanna Alice Broswell Reads “Uptalk” by Becca Klaver

RAB: I think what is so delicious to me about Becca’s work is that it is just unabashed all the time. In her collection Ready for the World, she writes about selfies, and dildos, and magic, and girl-ness in this way that intellectualizes without distancing, if that makes sense? Reading her poems always makes me want to grab a pink, sparkly pen and start writing, as both celebration and interrogation: what is girlhood? what can I make with it?

Roseanna Alice Broswell Reads “Reproductive Logic” by Becca Klaver

AH: Why did you choose these poems specifically? 

RAB: These poems are all from Ready for the World, which I read after the start of the pandemic and social distancing. It was such a comforting collection to read; it made me feel seen and understood during a time that felt incredibly lonely and isolating. And these three poems in particular have just stayed and stayed with me. I think great poems are kind of like music that way, they’ll just pop into your head from time to time and ride through your day with you. The poem “Reproductive Logic” is like that especially for me. “Last night, I pulled the death card for future and shuddered as I thought, It’s coming for us all; have your babies. I’ll raise this solitude like a foundling.” I mean, COME ON. How great is that? Maybe too because I’m approaching my thirties, and many of my friends and family are starting families, that one hits very close to home.

AH: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share?

RAB: School and work and writing take up pretty much all of my time, although not usually in equal shares (wouldn’t that be tidy and convenient?). I am working on a chapbook manuscript right now though that I am pretty excited about. And I think that while I was at work last week I thought of a good title for my next full length collection! We’ll see if I still like it in a year or so when I am trying to put it together, but it felt like a Big Moment at the time…

Read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Becca Klaver is a contemporary American poet. She is the author of the poetry collections LA Liminal (Kore Press, 2010), Empire Wasted (Bloof Books, 2016), and Ready for the World (Black Lawrence Press, 2020). Her poems and prose have appeared in Verse Daily, American Poetry Review, and Sink Review. She received her PhD from Rutgers University.

Find her website here.

Read her poem “Fall Parties” at Poets.org

Purchase her collection Ready for the World at Black Lawrence Press.

Roseanna Alice Boswell is a queer poet from Upstate New York. Her work has appeared in: RHINO, Whiskey Island, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, Roseanna holds an MFA from Bowling Green State University and is a Ph.D. student in English – Creative Writing at Oklahoma State University. Her chapbook, Imitating Light, was chosen as the 2021 Iron Horse Literary Review Chapbook Competition winner. Roseanna’s first full-length collection, Hiding in a Thimble, was published with Haverthorn Press in 2021. She currently haunts the Midwest with her husband and cat.

Find her website here.

Follow Roseanna Alice on Twitter.

Purchase her collection Hiding in a Thimble here.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is an Iranian-American multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. Her writing has appeared in Moon City Review, Hobart, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor-in-Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press, and a contributing writer at MovieWeb. Her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Dayna Patterson Reads Pattiann Rogers

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! Artist, writer, and avid fungi enthusiast Dayna Patterson has joined us to discuss the work of Pattiann Rogers, faith in writing, and being a poet mom. We hope you enjoyed as much as we did, and, as always, thank you for tuning in.


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: When was the first time you read Roger’s work? Why did it stand out to you then? 

Dayna Patterson: About 13 years ago, when my girls were very little, just 1 and 2, I was taking a poetry workshop that met once or twice a week in the evening. The professor, Christine Butterworth-McDermott, introduced Rogers’s work, and I was immediately captivated by the blend of science and lyricism. I remember checking out a video of Rogers reading for the Lannan Foundation, and she mentioned that she really began writing poetry when her two boys were very small. She joked about dedicating her first book to Popeye because the only time she got any writing done was when her boys were plunked in front of the TV. From that moment, I felt less guilty about turning on Max & Ruby for my girls while I wrote. Rogers made the poet-mom life seem more possible. 

Dayna Patterson reads “Servant, Birthright” by Pattiann Rogers

AH: How has Rogers’s writing inspired your own? 

DP: My understanding is that Rogers minored in zoology, and I appreciate both the close observations and the zooming out to glimpse the big picture that she does in her poems. I’m enamored by her attention to detail in the natural world, which I find an endless source of wonder and amazement, both in my life and in my own work. But her poetic magic is more than just attention to detail. She seems to be really gifted with maneuvering the extended metaphor, linking together some wonderfully strange ideas and running with them.

Dayna Patterson reads “‘God is in the Details’ says the Mathematician Freeman J. Dyson” by Pattiann Rogers

AH: Why did you choose these poems specifically? 

DP: Rogers has a lot to say about god, doesn’t she? Coming back to her work after more than a decade, after a huge fluctuation in my own faith, I’ve been particularly piqued by how she talks about god and how god changes over time. In her earlier work, she seems to affirm the existence of god and the soul, and then later there’s much more room for doubt. I read “Servant, Birthright” a few months ago for the first time, and I can’t stop thinking about it. I’m haunted by the idea of god as a cow, the speaker’s relationship to the cow, how it morphs over time. I wonder how closely the speaker of the poem reflects Rogers’s own ideas about her relationship to god. I wonder what metaphor I could write into to transcribe my own shifting relationship to divinity. 

I chose “God is in the Details” because I’m more drawn, these days, to the Feminine Divine. I was raised Mormon, and Mormon theology has a godhead made up of God the Father (male), God the Son (aka Jesus, also male), and God the Holy Ghost (you guessed it–male). There’s a God the Mother, but she’s considered by many to be too sacred to speak of, and Mormons are forbidden to pray to Her. After leaving Mormonism, I’m still curious about the idea of a Feminine Divine figure. I also began dabbling in embroidery and textile arts a couple of years ago, so this poem, with its down-to-earth grandma-god stitching the fine details of the world? Well, I wish I’d written it. 

AH: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share? 

DP: My first full-length collection, If Mother Braids a WaterfalI, just turned two! My next poetry book, O Lady, Speak Again, a collection of Post-Mormon feminist poems that riff on Shakespeare, is forthcoming from Signature Books. In my spare time, I curate Poetry + Fungus, a pairing of poetry books with species from the fungal world. 


Pattiann Rogers is an American poet from the Midwest. She has received two NEA grants, four Pushcart Prizes, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lannan Poetry Fellowship over the course of her prolific career. Her poetry collections include Quickening Fields (Penguin, 2017), Wayfare (Penguin, 2008), and Firekeeper: New and Selected Poems (Milkweed Editions, 1994).

Find a collection of her work at Poetry.

Purchase a copy of Firekeeper at Milkweed.

Read more about Rogers here.

Dayna Patterson is a Thea-curious recovering Mormon, fungophile, macrophotography enthusiast, and textile artist. She’s the author of Titania in Yellow (Porkbelly Press, 2019) and If Mother Braids a Waterfall (Signature Books, 2020). Honors include the Association for Mormon Letters Poetry Award and the 2019 #DignityNotDetention Poetry Prize judged by Ilya Kaminsky. Her creative work has appeared recently in EcoTheo, Kenyon Review, and Whale Road Review. She’s the founding editor (now emerita) of Psaltery & Lyre and a co-editor of Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry. In her spare time, she curates Poetry + Fungus, a pairing of poetry books and species from the fungal world.

Find Dayna online at daynapatterson.com

Purchase If a Mother Braids a Waterfall here.

Read Dayna’s poem “Our Lady of Thread” at The Kenyon Review.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is an Iranian-American multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. Her writing has appeared in Barren Magazine, Hobart, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Kristin LaFollette Reads Steve Henn

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials. Poet, educator, and editor Kristin LaFollette has joined us this week to discuss mentorship, inspirations, and recent reads. As always, thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: Why did you choose Steve Henn for this feature? What was your first experience with his work?

Kristin LaFollette: I started reading Henn’s work when his book Indiana Noble Sad Man of the Year (Wolfson Press, 2017) was released. Henn was actually my AP English teacher during my senior year of high school, and his teaching and mentorship over the years has impacted my writing in so many ways. I first started writing poetry in a creative writing class during my freshman year of high school, but I became more interested in poetry in Henn’s class a few years later. He attended Indiana University South Bend (IUSB) and talked so highly of his experience there that I ended up going there for my BA and MA in English and creative writing. 

Henn, LaFollette, and Kaveh Akbar

Henn’s name might sound familiar if you’ve heard or read any interviews with the poet Kaveh Akbar (here’s one example). Akbar and I were in that same AP English class together with Henn, and as Akbar has indicated in many interviews, Henn had a great impact on his writing life, as well. Even after I graduated, I would see Henn at literary events at IUSB and he would remember things I wrote and talk to me about them. When my first chapbook came out, he drove from Indiana to Ohio to do a reading with me at Bowling Green State University. He just wrote a blurb for my recently-released poetry collection, Hematology

I chose him for this feature because he is so invested in his students and other writers and is a voracious reader. Since he’s so often promoting the work of others, I’m hoping this interview can give his work some of the attention it deserves. 

Just for fun: Also, Henn and Akbar did a reading together at IUSB back in 2017 and I drove from Ohio to see them read (see the attached image). It was a fun reunion, and listening to both of them read reminded me that brilliant writers can come from anywhere, even Warsaw, IN. 

Kristin LaFollette reads “World’s #1 Dad” by Steve Henn

AH: What draws you to Henn’s work specifically? Have you been inspired by it? 

KL: There’s so much to appreciate about Henn’s poetry, but one thing that stands out is how skillfully and surprisingly he intersects humor with heavy subject matter; many of his poems are both funny and poignant at the same time. Steve also isn’t afraid to tackle difficult social and/or political issues in his work, but he often does so in a lighthearted way that encourages readers to think about or consider issues in new and different ways. 

I am inspired by Henn’s work because it conveys that a skilled poet can write about any subject effectively and that inspiration can come from anywhere. Further, his poems are good reminders not to take life too seriously and that bringing humor into poetry can be helpful in articulating and processing complex feelings and experiences.

AH: For those who are interested in reading more work like Henn’s, do you have any recommendations? What other writers have you been adoring lately?

KL: One poet who comes to mind is Darren C. Demaree. His poetry reminds me of Henn’s in so many ways, but probably because of his sometimes-humorous approaches to heavy topics. He also writes about fatherhood and important social issues, so those are additional common threads. I just finished reading a child walks in the dark (Harbor Editions, 2021), Demaree’s recent book release, and I highly recommend it to fans of Henn’s poetry. 

Other poetry collections I’ve read recently and loved: Pilgrim Bell by Kaveh Akbar, Wobble by Rae Armantrout, Advice from the Lights by Stephanie Burt, and Pine by Julia Koets. 

Kristin LaFollette reads “The Mother of My Children” by Steve Henn

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

KL: This has been a busy season for me! My first full-length collection of poetry, Hematology, won the 2021 Harbor Editions Laureate Prize and was released in December. I’ve done several readings to promote that, including a book launch hosted by my university on February 17th. Also, a review of Hematology was just published in Gasher!

I recently served on the judging team for the Perugia Press Prize, and I’m on the editorial board at Mud Season Review as the Art Editor (we just released #60 – check it out here!). In the past couple months, I’ve had poetry featured in The Maynard, Harpy Hybrid Review, and Poetry is Currency. My writing and research are often focused on the body and medicine, and I had a series of seven poems featured in February 2022 at The Blood Project (TBP), an educational platform that works toward building bridges between the humanities, science, and patient care.

You can read more content from this interview at the Sundress Patreon.


Steve Henn is a writer and high school English teacher. His poems have appeared in New York Quarterly, Into the Void, and Rattle, among others. He is the author of multiple poetry collections, including American Male (Main Street Rag, 2022) and Guilty Prayer (Main Street Rag, 2021).

Find Steve at his website.

Read his poem “I Remember” at Twyckenham Notes.

Purchase his newest chapbook here.

 Kristin LaFollette is a writer, artist, and photographer and serves as the Art Editor at Mud Season Review. She is the author of Hematology (winner of the 2021 Harbor Editions Laureate Prize) and Body Parts (winner of the 2017 GFT Press Chapbook Contest). She received her Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University and is a professor at the University of Southern Indiana. 

Find Kristin’s website here: https://www.kristinlafollette.com

Purchase Kristin’s collection Hematology here.

Follow Kristin on Twitter.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is an Iranian-American multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. Her writing has appeared in Barren Magazine, Hobart, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Allison Blevins Reads Kerri French

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week we are joined with poet and educator Allison Blevins, who has read the work of Kerri French. Join us in a discussion about when we first discover our favorite poets, literary inspirations, and what’s next. As always, thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: When was the first time you read French’s work? Why did it stand out to you then? 

Black & White

Allison Belvins: I first read her book Every Room in the Body in 2018.  I had just given birth to our youngest child.  I was experiencing postpartum depression and something about French’s struggle with pregnancy resonated with where I was.  Ultimately, this book is about the body.  At the time, mine was betraying me.  I was supposed to be joyful.  The book made me feel a little less lonely.

Allison Blevins Reads “In Which I Play the Part of Myself” by Kerri French

AH: How has French’s writing inspired your own? 

AB: In 2019, I was slowly paralyzed from the waist down.  I learned to walk again and was eventually diagnosed with MS.  Not only did I have to learn how to be chronically ill and disabled, I had to learn how to write my new body.  My research and reading became only books on disability, pain, and illness.  Every Room in the Body was a book I came back to.  How do you write the truth in a way that able bodied folks will want to hear it?  French’s book is able to haunt but without overcoming the reader.  This was incredibly inspiring to my own work.

Allison Blevins Reads “32 Weeks” by Kerri French

AH: Why did you choose these poems specifically? 

AB: I picked these three poems because they were the ones with creased pages.  I’d marked them.  I knew I’d come back to them, and I was right.  

AH: What have you been up to lately (life, work, anything!)? Got any news to share? 

AB: I have a collaborative chapbook from Seven Kitchens Press publishing in March with the poet Josh Davis. I have a lyric memoir publishing in April from BlazeVox, and I have a collection publishing in September with YesYes Books.  I’m also currently working on an anthology of work by queer disabled folks with an unbelievably awesome team of editors!

You can read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Kerri French is a poet and author based outside of Nashville, Tennessee. She is the author of Every Room in the Body (Moon City Press, 2017) and received degrees from UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Greensboro, and Boston University. Her poems have appeared in The Nashville Review, Washington Square Review, and Copper Nickel, among many others.

Find her website here.

Purchase her collection Every Room in the Body here.

Read her poem “Like a Prayer” at Barrelhouse.

Allison Blevins is the author of four chapbooks and the collection Slowly/Suddenly (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 2021). Her books Handbook for the Newly Disabled (BlazeVox, 2022) and Cataloging Pain (YesYes Books, 2022) are forthcoming.  Her work has appeared in such journals as Mid-American Reviewthe minnesota review, and Raleigh Review.  She is the Director of Small Harbor Publishing and the Executive Editor at the museum of americana.  She lives in Missouri with her partner and three children. 

 Find her online at http://www.allisonblevins.com.

Discover her chapbooks here.

Read her poem “Who’s Afraid of Silence” here.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. Her writing has appeared in Barren Magazine, Hobart, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Odessa Charon Reads Brian Doyle

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week writer and teacher Odessa Charon has joined us to discuss the work of Brian Doyle, fateful encounters, and the divinity that surrounds us in our everyday lives. Thank you for reading and, as always, we hope you enjoy this conversation as much as we did!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: What was your first experience with Doyle’s work?

Image of Doyle was taken by Odessa when they met.

Odessa Charon: There was a Literature professor I had, when I went to college in the eerie lowland expanse of Ohio. This professor was a mentor and confidant. At the time, I was struggling with my mental health, oscillating between severe depressive and manic episodes. I had begun processing a CPTSD diagnosis, while still living in a dorm room where I experienced a deep trauma. I felt Godly entities had deserted me. My brain was a consistent threat to my existence. Art and spirituality no longer fed me. Life did not inspire.

One afternoon, forbidden spliff already between my lips as we wrapped up a class session, this professor-guide called me into her office before I could rush out the door to get stoned. Without words, this professor pushed a photocopy of Brian Doyle’s prose poem, “A Sin” across her cherrywood desk. Intuitively, she knew it was exactly what I needed, in the midst of tumult. 

Never before had I read a piece which so defiantly shirked conventions of formatting. “A Sin” echoed my own writing style and mental health at the time; swirling, hypomanic thought processes, free of punctuation unless absolutely necessary. Yet Doyle grounded his works in what is true and unchanging. While brain chemistries and emotions are fleeting, Brian Doyle wrote words rooted in the grace(ful/less-ness) experience of humanness. In both his writing style and the Divine love, hope, anger, and confusion he spoke to, I felt held and inspired.

Odessa Charon reads “A Song of Believing” by Brian Doyle

Read the poem here.

AH: In our correspondence, you mentioned a life changing experience with Doyle. How has he inspired your work?

OC: Around the time of being gifted “A Sin,” I was introduced to Martin Heidegger’s theory of thrownness; the feeling of having-been-thrown into the world. After a particularly transformative psychedelic experience, I became acutely aware of my own place on this Earth. Shattering like tectonic plates, a stagnant piece of me shifted. Meditations within this dark night of the soul forced the realization that I was living in a pattern of dissociation. While my internal world was going through a death-life cycle, I understood I would never reach the “life” stage, unless I left Ohio. Portland, Oregon intuitively called to me. I knew no one there, and had never visited. 

If you have ever spent an extended period of time in Portland, you may have noticed the extreme “portal” that that place is. Living in that part of the Pacific Northwest grants access to elements of spiritual awakening which are incredibly specific to the land there. Everyone, and I do mean that, I came across while living there was on some kind of pilgrimage towards something larger. Portland breathes in those who are ready for that journey. For me, it was exactly where I needed to be. Coincidentally, Brian Doyle also lived and taught there.

Before I decided to leave my college in Ohio, I decided to tour Portland, just to be sure I wanted to move there. Spiritual knowingness is one thing, but logistics are a whole other. On a whim, sitting in my campus dining hall, I emailed Doyle at his University of Portland address. I asked if we could meet, just to chat about his work. I explained that I was not a reporter, or any kind of professional in the literary word—just a nineteen year old fan, processing a phenomenological awakening. We could get lunch, or coffee. He responded, “I don’t have meetings over food, but you’re welcome to come to my office.” 

We sat in his university office for an hour. We reflected together on how a Midwest landscape of seeming nothingness can inform an ecstatic experience (he related it to Jesus in the desert). I processed moving away from my Jewish religious background (“when you’re nineteen, it’s important to discover what you actually believe in”). Between students dropping off essays, Brian Doyle and I processed religion vs. spirituality vs. the mystical (in his words, most organized religions are “smoke and mirrors and performance”). We spoke of how to write, and why (“because you need to”). We laughed, too. Brian Doyle was an insightful, perceptive man, profoundly connected to the Great Unknown, as much as he was a humorist. If it doesn’t bring you joy, he said in some other words, don’t do it.

That meeting inspired me to embrace mystery. My creative work is a chimera and oftentimes, a shapeshifter. If I were to force it into one genre, or one format, I would lose my magic and passion. In a way, he gave me a sort of permission, for sacred embodiment. Before I left Brian Doyle’s office, he gave me one of his own copies of Grace Notes. On the title page, he inscribed in his winding handwriting, 

“To my friend Odessa—

With laughter and prayers and my regards on your work—

best wishes for light and for fun in it—

Brian Doyle.”

Something to note is that Brian Doyle passed away from a brain tumor, about seven months after we met. I am forever in gratitude for his lessons, his impact, and his presence.

Odessa Charon reads “if we got to be what we so want to be” by Brian Doyle  

Read the poem here.

AH: Why did you choose these poems specifically?

OC: I chose the poems/proem, “The best poem ever” (available on the Sundress Patreon); “A song of believing”; and “If we ever got to be what we so want to be” because they represent the mission of Brian Doyle’s work, as well as my own philosophy of living. All three speak to noticing the Divine in everything, everywhere. Life, as crushing as it can be, is also devastatingly beautiful if you open your eyes to it. In “a song of believing”, Doyle writes, 

Look, I know all too well that the story of the world is entropy, things fly apart, we sicken, we fail, we grow weary, we divorce, we are hammered and hounded by loss and accidents and tragedies, we slide away into the dark oceans behind the stars.

But I also know that we are carved of immense confusing holiness; that the whole point for us is grace under duress; and that you either take a flying leap at nonsensical illogical unreasonable ideas like marriage and marathons and democracy and divinity, or you huddle behind the brooding wall.

Brian Doyle did not pretend that the inherent transcendency of life was all rainbows and ascension. He did not invalidate that this world is rife with heartbreak, and valid terror. The point is, you feel the fear, and do it anyway. Both hope and loss can be held at the same time. One may be more prevalent than the other at times, but it does not mean the light goes away. Personally, mindful awareness of duality is a lifeboat; it saved me, and continues to do so.

Both “The best poem ever” and “If we ever got to be what we so want to be” are also testaments to that idea. I have spent the last five years as an early childhood educator. This was not a line of work which I ever saw myself entering, but it has been a healing balm for my inner child. Working with children has further enlightened me to the idea that there is magic and mystery all around us, at all times. In “the best poem over,” Doyle and his child consider, 

Maybe there are a lot of poems that you can’t write

Down. Couldn’t that be? But they’re still there even

If no one can write them down, right? Poems in

Books are only a little bit of all the poems there are.

Those are only the poems someone found words for.

Poetry, like Divine inspiration, like grace, are always accessible to those who can bring themselves to notice it. A core part of childhood, ideally, is the ability to play. Playing, to me, is a form of connecting with something much more intuitive and special, than the adult world gives credit to. As adults, play is a form of inner child healing. Play can also include writing. If we as grown-ups can embrace a childlike sense of wonder—if we could grasp the fluidity of art, emotion, and Godliness (whatever that means to you)—I believe we would all be much better off.

AH: What have you been up to lately (life, writing, anything)? 

OC: Currently, I feel myself arising from a contractive state. I view life as a series of “contractions” and “expansions.” Contraction, like the physical pains of labor; expansion, as in the literal life that comes as a result. I moved to Portland, Maine (I must love port cities) in the autumn, and am still finding my footing here. I have a couple of friends, but no writing community thus far. It is cold as hell and being a teacher in a pandemic is… Yeah.

I love Maine and am grateful to be here. Physically and psycho-spiritually, I am exactly where I need to be. Is it comfortable? God, no. Is it aligned and worth it? Unequivocally, yes.

Soon, I am navigating a total career switch to the publishing industry. It is scary, to do a thing for the very first time. But that fear is so juicy, in a way. It is such a potent time for growth. Creatively, I am in a fallow period of working on my book, Nostos. I write trauma narratives, which tend to spill onto the page when they are good and ready. I trust myself and the process. Fallow periods are preparation. Divine timing never fails.


Brian Doyle was an American writer and educator. Doyle was the editor of Portland Magazine, taught at the University of Oregon, and was the author of several novels, poetry collections, and essays collections. He was the recipient of multiple Pushcart Prizes and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature.

Read some of his work at Orion.

Read about him at LitHub.

Learn more about his books here.

Odessa Charon (they/them) is a writer, teacher, and spiritual intuitive. Primarily through symbology related to Greek myth, they write from their own experiences of recovery from childhood abuse and sexual trauma. In support of them writing their first creative nonfiction book, Nostos, Odessa is a grateful recipient of a Regional Arts and Culture Council grant. Through writing and intuitive work, Odessa is a healing guide for brave souls, journeying to their own underworlds. Odessa Charon resides in Portland, Maine. They live with two witchy cats and the friendly spirits in their apartment. You can follow them on Instagram for thoughts on mental health and spirituality, at @odessaiswriting.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist, writer, and journalist. Her writing has appeared in Barren Magazine, Hobart, DIALOGIST, Rust + Moth, and The Shore, among others. She is the Co-Editor in Chief at both Mud Season Review and Juven Press. More of her work can be found at ashleyhajimirsadeghi.com

Lyric Essentials: Sumita Chakraborty Reads Alice Oswald

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week we’ve chatted with poet and educator Sumita Chakraborty about ecology, Alice Oswald’s work, and poetic inspirations. We hope you enjoy it, and, as always, thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: Why did you choose Oswald? What was your first experience reading their work? 

Sumita Chakraborty: I chose Oswald because I’ve been learning from her work for a long time, and the way she thinks about language and poetics (among other thematic obsessions like death and ecology) really resonates with me. Technically, the first time I encountered her work was when I still worked for AGNI, where I was on the editorial staff for 13 years—at the beginning of that stretch of time I was an intern, and her poem “Dunt” (which is now in her fairly recent collection Falling Awake) was initially published in the very first issue of AGNI on which I worked, back in 2006. My real sustained engagement with her work came with her excavation of the IliadMemorial, which I read when it first came out and then became even more significant to me after my sister died in 2014. I read it multiple times a day for a few months and then started digging through all of her work.

Sumita Chakraborty Reads “Memorial” by Alice Oswald

AH: How has Oswald’s work inspired your writing? 

SC: Countless ways, to be honest! One thing that’s lately been on my mind, especially post-Arrow, is that I think Oswald has a remarkable way of dissolving the imagined boundary between the “experimental” and the “lyric.” I think that boundary is one that we often internalize or are taught to internalize, whereas Oswald reminds me that they are both very much two sides of the same coin—or, probably, basically the same side of something much more complex than a coin. I also love the way she honors and follows language, as well as the way she fluidly balances and re-balances each poem’s investment in ambiguity and concreteness alike. To be honest, I could go on for ages about her work and its importance to me; I wrote about some other things I’m drawn to some years back for LARB, and I do go on for ages there! I completely trampled the initial word limit I was given and I am very appreciative that the editors there let me run with it. 

Sumita Chakraborty Reads “Must Never Sleep” by Alice Oswald

AH: There seems to be an intersection between Oswald and you: you both have a tendency to dabble in the discussion of the environment. Where did your interest in this begin? 

SC: That’s kind of you to say and to notice! Ecology studies is a huge part of my scholarly life, so I’ve been thinking about it fairly actively at least since I began my PhD in 2012. I think where I especially resonate with Oswald’s approach to it is best captured in a remark she made in, I believe, an interview with Granta. She says that the nature poets that she likes the most are Homer, Ovid, and Shakespeare, specifically “because they include the human and the non-human in the same picture”; of ecosystems, she says, “How can you categorize that?” A similar approach guides my interest in the environment. 

AH: What have you been up to lately? Got any news to share (life, writing, small achievements—anything!)? 

SC: I’ve got something environment-related, actually! My academic book—which is one of my main preoccupations at the moment, and is called Grave Dangers: Poetics and the Ethics of Death in the Anthropocene—is newly under an advance contract with the University of Minnesota Press. On the poetry side, I’m playing with some new forms of visual and multimedia poetry that I’m really enjoying, and my second collection is shaping up to be rather obsessed with questions of interiority. 


Alice Oswald is a British poet; although she is not as well-known outside of her native country, her work is widely circulated. She is the author of The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile and six other poetry collections. Her poems delve into the topic of nature, history, and environment. She was the first woman to serve as the Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.

Read her poem “Flies” at Poetry.

Read a profile about Oswald in The New Yorker.

Find her award-winning collection Falling Awake here.

Sumita Chakraborty is the author of the poetry collection Arrow, which was published by Alice James Books in the U.S. and Carcanet Press in the U.K. in 2020 and has received coverage in the New York Times, NPR, and the Guardian. Her work in progress includes a scholarly monograph, Grave Dangers: Poetics and the Ethics of Death in the Anthropocene, under contract with the University of Minnesota Press. She lives in Ann Arbor, where she teaches in literary studies and creative writing at the University of Michigan.

Find her on Twitter @notsumatra

Learn more about Sumita on her website.

Read her poem “Dear, Beloved” at Poetry.


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear in Barren Magazine, Hobart, 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

Interview with Inès Pujos, Author of Something Dark to Shine In

In anticipation of the release of her collection Something Dark to Shine In, Inès Pujos spoke with Sundress Publications’ editorial intern Ryleigh Wann about the use of the speculative and macabre in writing, animals, and survival.

Ryleigh Wann: The manuscript for Something Dark to Shine In was, at some points, also known as Against Porcelain and Lilly of The Valley. Could you speak more about the title of the book and how it encompasses the collection?

Inès Pujos: When I originally finished writing the manuscript post-MFA, I named it Against Porcelain after the title poem, which captured this urgent and macabre perspective that seemed to thread the collection as a whole. There was something eerie about porcelain, in the color and the fragility nature of it all. After submitting to several contests, a few editors pointed out that they thought a different title would be better suited. So I began submitting it as Lilly of the Valley, a nod to another title poem that was added after the first draft of the manuscript. But as time went on, I felt that title felt a little too mundane. My manuscript was previously picked up by another press and the editor suggested that I just lift my opening quote from Frank Standford’s The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You: “I’ll just bleed so the stars have something Dark to Shine In.” This quote has always resonated with me and really encompasses this idea of making something special out of one’s own martyrdom and trauma…which is what my whole collection discusses, and so the manuscript officially became Something Dark to Shine In.”

RW: Can you speak about the use of the speculative in this collection, found in the wolf
character in “Breaking Winter” or the meandering nature of “Patron Saint of All Lost Things”?

IP: I first began writing because I was not able to draw…or at least draw well. I always loved the surrealist painters and gravitated towards the surreal in my writing. It was in those early writing days that I created whole alternative worlds with these more fantastical characters all living in a village by the sea. As the years went on, more of these surreal characters began to emerge and I’ve carried them with me in various poems. Interestingly ,the wolf character appeared in my writing as a predator, in relation to the narrator. But over time, the wolf also became a feral protector. A few years out of writing “Breaking Winter,” I was working on my trauma with my therapist through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and the wolf character came to my protection…in all of his feralness he was able to be protective and at times nurturing so my relationship with this character changed.

As for “Patron Saint of All Lost Thing,” that poem was written in one sitting. I was on the train from NYC to New Haven and “Says I Love You”… I just remember having written one line and then it all flowed out of me, very much stream of consciences…which also could have been facilitated by the movement of the train. It was here that I explored a bit more of my personal family folklore and the long form allowed for a more whimsical approach. By the time I reach New Haven, I had the first draft done…my friend and I spent the afternoon walking through a graveyard …which was peak gothic and writerly and was able to make its way into sections of “Patron Saint of All Lost Things” after that.

RW: Can you tell me about the use of form throughout the collection, specifically in “Breaking Winter” or “More Blood in the East Village” and your use of space on the page?

IP: I find writing in certain forms to be very motivating when I experience writers block and although I am comfortable with more traditional form, I do like creating a hybrid out of it… taking something traditional and adding a twist to it. Yes…I love using white space…whether it is through erasure poems or using the space to create an erasure type esthetic. I use spaces as a way to add a bit more breath in my poems…often I find that my work has some manic energy to it and I rush to get everything on the page. The use of white space in “Breaking Winter” or “More Blood in the East Village” acts almost like the beat cue in screenplays. I want to add more tension between the manic/more urgent pacing with the use of white space.

RW: This haunting and haunted collection employs morbid language and imagery to discuss the impacts trauma has on the body. Can you discuss the influence of the macabre in your writing of such visceral language, themes, and imagery?

IP: My use of the macabre in my writing is a direct influence from my thought process and I’ve turned to writing to explore and destigmatize my own intrusive thoughts from previous traumas. But I also think that I’ve always been a bit morbid. As a child, I was fascinated by animals and wanted to be a surgeon. Growing up, my cats would often leave their prey lying around our yard and I would take their bodies back inside and try to examine their bodies and blood under a microscope. When I saw a dead bird on the road, I would put it in my bag and examine its wings, tried to sew it back. My desire to be a surgeon stopped the moment I experienced some medical trauma when I was thirteen. Though I still poured over my own surgery notes and pictures…I just didn’t feel comfortable inflecting harm on someone even if they medically need it. I find the body fascinating, whether human or animal and am curious to witness its inner workings. Post numerous surgeries and medical treatments, I took a lot of those experiences and put them into writing. That lived experience combined with intrusive thoughts only further fueled my more visceral images in themes. I think there’s a link between the macabre and trauma, In Esme Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias, Esme teases out this connection beautifully…of consuming more macabre media and even true crime following a trauma. I think it’s my brain’s way of finding attunement, so I’m naturally drawn to morbidity.

RW: Tell me about the particular syntax of these poems, particularly the use of enjambment and blank spaces between phrases in individual lines like in “Good Faith.”

IP: I approached “Good Faith” in a similar manner to “Breaking Winter” and More Blood in the East Village”…in terms of the form and use of white space. Though, in this later poem, many of the spaces are not so much about creating tension and rather using the space to emphasize the intimacy between my partner and I…kind of like when we look at each other and I know what she’s thinking and vice versa.

RW: Something Dark to Shine In almost reads like a grimoire. Can you discuss the balance of the personal and cosmic mythologies (or magic) occurring within these poems?

IP: I grew up in the United States with just my immediate family…all my extended family was in France and so the only constant connection to my larger family was through old photographs. I used to take them out and look at my relatives, create narratives as a way to feel closer to my relatives. At an early age I found out about my grandmother’s suicide, which occurred when my mother was fourteen. My grandmother was so tragically beautiful and the stories surrounding her depression, her mental illness, and her family dynamics captivated me. So those stories always appeared to have some scene of mysticism/ family folklore. I would say that this folklore is very present in “Patron Saint of All Lost Things”, where I explore family grief and trauma and making something bright out of something so terribly tragic. It all ties back to the need to make something special, it’s very human.

RW: What truths do you think the book is searching for?

IP: I think a lot of personal truths were written within this manuscript by my own unconscious. When I first wrote the poems within my second and third semester of my MFA, I had not come to terms that during my first semester, I was raped. And yet, looking back at the poems now, almost ten years later, it was so clear that my body processed the rape earlier than my own mind…so there are so many personal truths hidden throughout the poems. Same goes for my own gender identity…I look at the lines that are in this book and I am stunned at how clearly I knew myself within that realm of the poem, but that it took me a little longer to come to terms with these truths.

RW: Many of the truths in these poems include a consideration of place, such as the East Village, Tompkins Square. I found it interesting how this ecotone is written about; the speaker or language of these poems interacting with a location. What does it mean to you to write about a place?

IP: I find location to be a very important part of my writing process. Perhaps it’s the influence of screenwriting, but I almost always need to ground myself in a physical space…whether imagined or real…I need the reader to be able to see where I am. And a great deal of these poems from the manuscript were written at coffee shops in the East Village, on my walks through Tompkins Park, and throughout the Lower East Side. I think there’s something inherently special about the East Village…so many great art movements were born there, and it was the first time that I saw a
large city function as literally a small village. I talk about my friend’s mother, Leslie, who I never met while she was alive…but having heard so many stories about her while in High school,  always imagined the neighborhood as Avant Garde and feral. When I first spent more time in the East Village, I felt instantly connected to it, and to Leslie, and I began writing my own folklore narrative between us.

RW: Which poems compel you the most?

IP: This answer has changed so many times of the years. Looking back, I notice the difference in my work the most with the poem entitled, “The New Frontier.” While the subject matter is about grooming and sexual assault, a subject that I cover in other poems, It’s the first poem that I am more direct about the subject itself. It was written after I had realized and began to process that I was a rape survivor, and I was more comfortable with claiming that trauma and had the words to articulate what I had survived. Previously, my unconscious didn’t’ have that clear cut language and I tended to rely on metaphors and more surreal settings. While there are some
surreal aspects to this poem, it felt like a turning point in my own trauma processing and writing.

Order your copy of Something Dark to Shine In today


Inès Pujos holds an MFA in Poetry from NYU. Their poems have appeared in The Adroit Journal, Gulf Coast, Puerto del Sol, and Verse Daily, among others. Their manuscript was a finalist for multiple prizes, including Alice James’ 2017 open reading period and Semi-finalist for The 2017 Berkshire Prize by Tupelo Press. For more information visit inespujoscreative.com.

Ryleigh Wann is an MFA poetry candidate at UNC Wilmington where she teaches creative writing and is the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in Rejection LettersFlypaper Lit, and Kissing Dynamite Poetry, among others.

Sunni Brown Wilkinson Reads Lisel Mueller

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! Today we’ve chatted with educator and poet Sunni Brown Wilkinson about Lisel Mueller’s work, revealing what you’ve been reading in your work, and connecting writing to occupied spaces and histories. As always, thank you for tuning in!


Ashley Hajimirsadeghi: How and when did you first discover Mueller’s work?

Sunni Brown Wilkinson: I’d seen Mueller’s name around on the internet for a while on poems I really liked, and then about a year ago a poet friend posted ‘Alive Together’ on her Facebook page one day and wrote about how much honor she gave that single poem, how profound it is. I went to the library a week or so later and checked out the book Alive Together, Mueller’s newer and selected poems, and fell in love with her work. I’ve been exploring her poetry ever since.

Sunni Brown Wilkinson Reads “Alive Together” by Lisel Mueller

AH: Mueller’s work is often said to engage with history and folklore, with both personal and private lives. As a writer, do you relate to this inspiration, and if so, how? 


SBW: I very much relate. One of the things I love most about Mueller is the way she celebrates the domestic life as a vibrant, necessary space, but also connects that space with history and specific historical or artistic figures. It’s as if she’s constantly braiding together moments in her day, things she touches and people she loves, with something she read about a composer or a study on bees or a meditation on Monet. She sees how things intersect.

And her own family history of fleeing Germany at the onset of WW II at age 15 with her parents and, from the safe harbor of America, watching her native country implode, informs nearly every poem, if not contextually than in spirit. Where we come from and the road of our past, the marvel of being able to live the life we do, are themes that seem to hold onto the hands of nearly all of her poems.

Sunni Brown Wilkinson Reads “Things” by Lisel Mueller

AH: How has Mueller’s work inspired you? 
SBW: My mentor in grad school, Christopher Howell, once said, “Your work should reveal what you’ve been reading.” I love how Mueller does this so openly in her writing. She writes directly about Mary Shelley, Patricia Hearst, science magazines, composers, fairy tales. Each poem is a portal into this living space where other great minds work and mourn and live. She keeps a humility about her own genius by admiring the genius and discoveries of others.

Her poem “Reading The Brothers Grimm to Jenny” is just heartbreakingly lovely. The line “Jenny, we make just dreams/ out of our unjust lives,” and the image at the end of herself holding “the golden key” for her daughter, whose understanding of the world is rooted in her mother’s words, reveal this person who knows the worst of the world and still believes in the magic. And who reverences the childlike belief that good will conquer all. She both questions and celebrates that.

There’s a warmth, a curiosity, and an admirable dexterity of the mind that comes through in every Mueller poem. She’s equally comfortable writing about her grandmother’s gold pin, bees, roadtripping down the highway, and picking raspberries as she is writing about classical music and composers, Monet, the Queen of Sheba. Why wouldn’t you want to hang out with someone like that? She’s interested in everything! She’s down to earth and deeply perceptive. Her language is electric and accessible. If we could choose a BFF dead poet, mine would be Lisel Mueller. She reminds me to stay curious, read gobs, and live purposefully in my own quiet
spaces.

AH: What have you been up to lately? Got any exciting news to share (about life, writing, anything!)? 
SBW: I recently started writing essays. I’m taking a very slow route to putting together a
collection, but I’ll get there. I’ve already got the central ideas in place and am tinkering
with the parts. It’s also coming up on Halloween, so that means we’re reading scary stories at our house and going for hikes in the foothills and having fires in the fire pit and making lots of soup, so life is good!


Lisel Muller was an American poetry born in Germany. After fleeing Nazi Germany at age fifteen with her family, Mueller became interested in memory and history within poetry, which led her to produce prolific work. She is the author of the Second Language (1986) and The Need to Hold Still, among many other books.

Read more about her at Poetry Foundation.

Read her poem “Afterthoughts by the Lovers.”

Find her in-depth obituary in The New York Times.

Sunni Brown Wilkinson’s most recent work can be found in Western Humanities Review, Coal Hill Review, New Ohio Review, Ruminate, and South Dakota Review. She is the author of The Marriage of the Moon and the Field (Black Lawrence Press, 2019) and The Ache & The Wing (winner of Sundress Publications’ 2020 Chapbook Prize).  Her work has been awarded New Ohio Review’s NORward Poetry Prize, the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize, and the Sherwin W. Howard Award and was runner-up for the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize. She teaches at Weber State University and lives in northern Utah with her husband and three sons.

Find Sunni’s collection The Marriage of the Moon and the Field here.

Read two of her poems here.

Find an interview with Sunni here.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is a multimedia artist and writer. She has had work appear in Barren Magazine, Hobart, 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