We Call Upon the Author to Explain—Raena Shirali

"We Call Upon the Author to Explain" is written in large serif letters. "Explain" is underlined and written in teal, while the rest is written in black on a white background.

summonings by Raena Shirali is a poetry collection with prismatic points of view, all screaming for society’s scapegoats to be seen as human again, for their blood—shed in the name of fear—to be seen at all. One of the poems, “at first, trying to reach those accused” describes the author researching the stories of the accused witches and trying to embody them, so much so that she swallows matchsticks, pages, wax, desire, and inevitably herself. The last lines are “i mouthed a name i’d never heard & felt her / like my own ghost. there was no magic: it was not profound.” This interview is a conversation on craft, but really it is an extension of this searing poem. It is about the horror Shirali swallowed in order to utter summonings.

Marah Hoffman: You say in the foreword that your book must be “grounded in the inevitable failure to embody the Other.” Readers can see this grounding in phrases like, “i’m too young / to be telling your story, & privileged.” Can you describe your understanding of ethos in telling these stories and explain how you sought to suffuse this ethos into your speakers?

Raena Shirali: Yeah, absolutely. Such a good question to start off on, and thank you so much for asking it. Ethos is a good word to start thinking about this. I think of it as credibility outside of only writing what you intimately know. That was a nice framework to go into these questions with. I think of the “write what you know” adage to be really limiting, and that is not how I approached the subject matter of this book. So, I modified it. I think ethos is not writing only what you know but speaking truthfully about what you can and cannot know. Letting those gaps in your ability to understand a phenomenon as grave and dire and horrific as this one exist—maybe those gaps are where the ethos comes in.

MH: I love your understanding of the word and what it implies. If we only wrote what we knew, the stories of those without the ability to share them would be lost. That’s why docu-poetry is so important.

RS: It’s so true. Every time I talk to someone about this, they ask, “How does fiction writing play in here?” I don’t think the artistic imagination should stop with only what you experience yourself. Whole genres would get demolished by a narrow understanding of ethos.

MH: You are so honest about what you are seeking to accomplish with your collection. You make it clear all the points of view you are using, and that the book doesn’t necessarily contain answers to the tragedies. Just summonings. Hence the title. 

RS: Thank you for saying that. I’m glad it’s working. Always good to hear.

MH: Of course. My second question is about one of my favorite poems, “ghazal against [declining to name the subject].” In this poem, the title, punctuation, and use of brackets subvert the expectations associated with formal verse. The piece is emblematic of the entire collection’s refusal to express in shackles. There is intentionality in the way you utilize formal elements. Would you care to speak about your process for integrating (and extracting) formal elements?

RS: I love the phrasing in this question of “refusing to express in shackles.” One of the beautiful things about being interviewed is that people will say to you the things you have been trying so hard to express but haven’t found the clearest language for. This was one of those moments.

Your question speaks to me for a couple of reasons. It taps into the tension at the heart of writing the book—making these decisions around what formal components are and are not included and subverted. I decided I can’t do this without being extremely honest, extremely forthcoming. This is a huge preoccupation in the writing.

There are a few things to point out in your question. One is the use of brackets. Throughout the collection, brackets refer to research being included from anthropological sources. In this poem, it refers to a part of a quote from Susan Sontag’s book Regarding the Pain of Others. Here, by virtue of brackets being a formal component, it’s explicitly commenting on the theory of looking at violence that is not occurring to you. For me, brackets were an interesting way of showing my work but not to get credit for showing my work, more like showing my work as a way to bring the reader into the web of research I was living in. That formal choice came pretty late actually. I wasn’t sure I was going to use brackets or include this more theoretical language. But it became necessary. There was too much in my head that was not clear in a given poem.

Another important thing to point out is capitalization. Only the names of women who’ve been accused of being witches are capitalized here. That was a very intentional decision to make it clear that they are given more respect. They are real, brave, absolutely vulnerable voices. Everything that came from me felt like it needed to be lowercase.

There’s that play between formal cohesion and experiment throughout the book. The last thing that I’ll say about the ghazal is that it’s one of only a few poems in traditional form included in this text, and that’s because I tend to focus on form more through rhyme and music and sound, rather than through formal constraint. That goes back to ethos. The form itself imposes a constraint, but it only holds briefly. This poem is also a rare example where the subject, women who have been accused and tortured, is named. So the constraint exists, fleetingly, and it, too, is a failure that must necessarily be followed by its dissolution.

MH: Thank you for answering so many parts of that question. It’s clear that your thinking was expansive. Even the capitalizing of letters, it all speaks to the way you are amplifying these women.

RS: A lot of that is where the power of revision comes in. I think that’s so important to say in interviews. This is a very intimidating book. It’s intimidating for me to look at, and it was intimidating for me to revise. There was so much intentionality. Everything has some philosophical meaning behind it. Hopefully, that comes across. But I just want to reiterate that this comes from relentless revision.

MH: I can attest that it does come across. My next question also highlights your intentionality.

Point of view is an element that contributes to the power of the text. Considering the varying POVs that summonings adopts, I kept having one word come to mind—alchemic. The frequent yet fluctuating use of the first person plural strikes the root of the collection, which is that we must see ourselves as “we.” We must believe “Any woman’s death diminishes me,” the Adrienne Rich quote that set the scene for the collection. One of my favorite instances of this POV is, “they’ll think by us i mean daayans but you know i mean us : women : mistaken for all kinds of foliage. grasping root. wilting petals. Gentle weed.” Can you explain your goals/motives in using POV?

RS: I think it’s important to say that the first poems I wrote for this collection were personal poems, from the perspectives of daayans, the witch hunter and village priest, the villagers, and the mountains. That came from a prompt that I gave myself to write a personal poem from every part of the landscape that I was encountering in the research. I asked myself, “What does this act of violence look like from in the distance, from above?” I was doing a lot of kaleidoscopic thinking: painting a scene, trying to tell all sides of the story. In terms of why women are hunted, it’s not just misogyny. There are these long-standing inequities that people are desperate to justify. I didn’t want to write a book that was just surface-level. The first way that I thought I would go deeper was point of view.

Once I started doing that, it became clear to me that it’s impossible to access every single part of this landscape. That is where the inevitable failure entered into the project more broadly. Then POVs closer to my own came in as well as poems that are highly lyrical. Thinking about the different speakers isn’t the only method for coming to understand what I’m talking about, and it’s not all I’m talking about. I’m not just discussing India. The poems are cross-cultural.

The shifting POVs felt like the best way for me to encapsulate for a reader what it felt like to write the book, to dip in and out of research. You know how it is. You read something horrible, and then you carry it with you for the rest of your day. It affects the way you interpret the imagery around you, and then of course it’s there with you when you sit down to write.

You also had a great observation about the collective. There is an arc in the book intentionally toward using collective pronouns more, toward the spirit of that quote from Adrienne Rich. The last line of the last poem is that “no one follows us home.” It’s a prayer for all women or anyone who identifies as a woman or anyone who doesn’t feel safe in public, frankly. It’s for us and by us collectively.

MH: As a reader, I noticed the arc of the collective really shifting my thinking. I think it disrupts the reader’s ability to compartmentalize. As you said, the horror sits with you. For the daayans, the pain is constant. The pain we get from reading is only temporary, so the least we can do is feel it.

RS: I completely agree.

MH: My next question gets at the specific symbolism you use to highlight the themes of the text. There are many recurring symbols throughout the collection; my favorite among them is blood. A woman’s blood, specifically menstrual blood, is often a source of shame. Yet you embed strength and identity within it. Can you speak to your choice to use blood as a dominant symbol?

RS: The first thing with blood has to be menstruation. There’s a lot of fear of women’s sexuality and menstruation within the mythologies that inform the cultures where this takes place. There are ideologies I read about that quite explicitly say, “A woman is considered impure if she is menstruating near an image of the gods.” Women are not supposed to go near, into, or around temples on their period. There’s the notion that a woman who is naked and bleeding in public is suspicious and could be a witch. There are those specific and necessitated mentions of the word blood because it is part of the research. But also, I think blood is really important because it is part of what renders the subject of this book more real. I think about Salem first when I’m thinking about a Western audience for this book, which is very different than thinking about an Indian audience. I’m initially considering what kinds of tropes and rumors we have culturally about witches and how often is the visceral reality that someone’s skin is being punctured part of that. There are common myths that will feel familiar to readers. There’s a line that says, “If we float, if we float” which literally refers to a tradition, both in Indian and Western witch hunting, of filling a woman’s pockets with stones and putting her in a body of water and if she sinks, she’s not a witch, but she’s dead; and if she floats, she’s a witch, so you kill her. Those mythologies cover up the reality of the person underneath them. They’re being drowned. There’s a submersion that becomes almost figurative in lore, and not a lot of addressing the true horror. A lot of Indian women who are tortured for this are beheaded. There is a bloodletting and a lynching and a very real violence inflicted on these people. Including blood so often was probably me being a bit heavy-handed, but with a set of realism-fueled intentions.

MH: The subject matter demands there be bloodshed on the pages.

RS: I think so too. There are stories in the back matter of the book. Like the story of a 63-year-old woman who was dragged from her home and tortured and beheaded. These stories do not exist within a Western author’s mythic imagination, and that felt like something to take advantage of. They do exist within some Indian writer’s and reader’s imaginations, and that too felt like something to take advantage of. I wanted to remind people that it’s not some woman whose feet are facing backward, whose braid is wrapped around her waist, who ate husband’s heart. It was an old, innocent woman who was defenseless and was murdered. A big part of me pushing against the idea of witchiness being cool was me using the word blood so often.

MH: Your language definitely encourages readers to see the subjects as women, not witches.

RS: Our position as women is to live in a state of constant shame, in India and in America. That is a reality in both places. There is a defiance in the naming of it as opposed to owning it or claiming blood is sexy—some sort of positive affirmation version of it. There is power even in acknowledging blood is part of our reality, and we exist in a state of constant shame. That’s part of why we are not safe.

MH: Yes, blood needed to have a presence in the collection. This conversation actually leads us into my next question about how gender exists within the text. Because your collection is concerned with the very real issue of witch-hunting, gender is an important topic. One standout quote about gender is, “here, there is no archetype ungendered.” How did you grapple with notions of gender while composing the collection? 

RS: The context within which the word “woman” is being wielded points to a series of Indian and American archetypes, myths, rumors, hierarchies, all of which result in women being victimized. And I want it to be clear that my intention in using the word “woman” is absolutely not to exclude anyone—whether that’s folks who identify with the word, or folks who don’t. In the later poems of the book—when my point of view enters more explicitly and so, too, does the Empire as a setting—I’m referring to anyone who does not feel safe in public spaces. I mean it to be an encompassing word.

Language is not perfect. I think that is one of the tropes of the book. We are so limited in our abilities to understand the highly complex phenomena that dictate the way we move through space and live our lives and write and read and research and have empathy or resist empathy. The word woman is just one word. I’ve encouraged listeners on tour to replace this with a word that they feel most seen by. In some poems, the word woman is very important, and in some poems the word woman is there for cohesion. Who is safe and who is not safe is different in each of these contexts. It’s part of steeping the reader in the discomfort of the research. It’s not pleasant to read how women are seen as less than, to track an evolution of their knowledge being suspicious rather than connected to the environment. The word woman is the word in the research, and so it’s the word here.

MH: I love listening to you discuss language because as I said earlier, intentionality was a word that kept coming to mind while reading. The voices in the poems make the diverse forms of oppression clear. I think that is unifying. Everyone will be alarmed by the suffering. You can’t read the book and not see that it is bringing everyone to the same understanding of pain. 

RS: I think that the word alarm is really important. I thought the book had to be as alarming to a reader as it was for me to be a reader of the research. That was why I decided to include research itself. I thought, “Oh, I have to replicate this.” Research needs to be part of it, or the stories would only be artifice and nothing would point to the way we talk about these phenomena culturally. These are stories that we trade in, so the language that we use to even trade in them is really important to replicate and eventually interrogate. But first I had to replicate it. 

It is important to note too that this isn’t isolated to India in modern day, in our moment. There are countries in Africa that still have a practice of witch hunting. In some cultures, they are more suspicious of children than women. It’s not always the same. Each place creates its own culture of suspicion, fear, and accusation. It is a way to make peace with living. There is a collective need for a scapegoat, something to explain why life is so awful. How that looks different in different cultures is such a fascinating apparatus to engage with. This book touches on so little of that. It’s a far more widespread, current phenomena than this book could ever hope to address.

MH: There are myriad searing images of female suffering throughout summonings. I personally felt haunted by these images as a reader. What was your emotional journey with this book?

RS: Searing is a good word. I felt seared. I feel seared, perpetually. I think that researching it was a really complicated emotional rollercoaster to go on daily, to pull myself out of whatever otherwise pleasant day I was having and sit with a 400-page book on the social hierarchies in tea plantations in West Bengal. Outside of the research being mentally taxing, it was emotionally searing.

The trick for me is that I write best when I am so enraged or disgusted with an inequality that I cannot possibly move on. That is the most surefire way to get a poem to come out of me. That was true in my first book too. In this book, my struggle was staying focused when I wanted so badly to look away. To get asked, “What’s for dinner?” in the middle of reading and then have to come back to a passage about a woman being killed as part of a land dispute was difficult. The research process, as a result, felt incredibly active. Every word felt like a decision, a decision to continue. Putting the books down felt like how dare I, because I can walk away from this and they can’t. I resisted the need for a break because of exactly what we’ve been talking about, because it feels wrong to complain that reading about a phenomenon is grueling when the phenomenon itself is someone on Earth being tortured.

In many ways, it being grueling is what kept my compass pointing North in terms of ethos, because the ethos was there in the research the entire time. That made certain poems have to exist, like “lucky inhabitant.” The more I researched, the more I realized the experience of the research is part of what the book is trying to capture for readers. I want readers to feel forever altered by what they learned in the text, because it has forever altered me.

summonings is available at Black Lawrence Press


Raena Shirali is the author of two collections of poetry. Her first book, GILT (YesYes Books, 2017), won the 2018 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award, and her second, summonings (Black Lawrence Press, 2022)won the 2021 Hudson Prize. Winner of a Pushcart Prize & a former Philip Roth Resident at Bucknell University, Shirali is also the recipient of prizes and honors from VIDA, Gulf Coast, Boston Review, Cosmonauts Avenue. Formerly a Co-Editor-in-Chief of Muzzle Magazine, Shirali now serves as Faculty Advisor for Folio—a literary magazine dedicated to publishing works by undergraduate students at the national level. She holds an MFA in Poetry from The Ohio State University and is an Assistant Professor of English at Holy Family University. The Indian American poet was raised in Charleston, South Carolina, and now lives in Philadelphia.

Marah Hoffman is a 2022 graduate with a bachelor’s in English and Creative Writing from Lebanon Valley College. In college, she served as co-poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society president. From the LVC English department, she won The Green Blotter Writer Award. She has been featured in journals including Green BlotterLURe JournalOakland Arts ReviewBeyond Thought, and Asterism. Now, she works for the Sundress Academy for the Arts, where she enjoys immersing herself in a new and radiant literary community. Marah loves creative nonfiction, intertextuality, whimsicality, cats, lattes, distance running, and adding to her personal lexicon. Her favorite word changes nearly every week. 

Lyric Essentials: Anthony DiPietro Reads Diane Seuss

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite writers to read the work of their favorite poets. This month, Anthony DiPietro joins us to discuss the work of Diane Seuss and line length in poetry, the intersection of play and rules, and insight regarding the perks of writing prompts. As always, we hope you enjoy reading as much as we did.


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

Anthony DiPietro: Diane Seuss taught at The Frost Place in 2017 while I was assisting the director, and I had the chance to study in her class. Before we all arrived in New Hampshire, while she was reading my packet of work, I was reading her book Four Legged Girl. When she arrived, she walked up to me to check in, and the director introduced us. She told me she dug my poems, which really bowled me over, and all I could say was “I like yours too.” Later in the week, she gave a reading and afterwards signed my copy of her book with a kind note and a lipstick kiss on the title page. I went on to read just about everything she’s written.

When I was first discovering her poems, I was drawn to her play between titles and first lines as well as her often long lines that run together. There’s almost a tease sometimes that this poem will be one long sentence. What that’s really about is an exuberance of voice, a confidence. She jumps headlong into a poem, and you just have to go along for the ride. If you look at “Either everything is sexual,” sometimes she chooses to end the sentence with a period, and that stop has certainty–a certainty of tone if not of fact. Other times, she strings sentences together with commas, including the final question that ends the poem, as if the momentum of her poem-story won’t let her reach a full stop. Sometimes there are fragments parading as sentences, which would suggest an incomplete thought, but she has a way of eventually coming back to complete every thought later, which is super satisfying. I think I saw her playing on the page, and it reminded me that when we write, we can sometimes return to our kindergarten self: we know no rules when we’re first learning to write or draw or sing. Creativity is just for expression. I’m making it sound like she doesn’t care for rules, but she’s also said that she selects each word with the care of a jeweler–and that is immediately apparent in any Diane Seuss poem. She’s making choices everywhere. You see them and you feel them on a gut level. Ultimately, I feel a kinship to Diane Seuss because she’s doing what I imagine all great poets do, or maybe it’s just the clan of poets in what I consider my lineage, which is to turn the raw material of our life, our biography, into a mythology. To do that is to generate image systems we keep drawing from. And to sound slick doing it.

Anthony DiPietro reads “[I fell on an incline]” by Diane Seuss

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

AD: I chose poems that I felt had something in common with my own work. “I aborted two daughters,” reminds me of my poem “A few years ago, I got a ticket for being exposed” which starts with me naked on a beach where I shouldn’t have been naked. I wrote it after reading Dolly Lemke’s poem “I never went to that movie at 12:45” in Best American Poetry 2010, where her liner notes say, “I have pretty much laid out all my faults, mistakes, and negative attributes for everyone to read.” I took those instructions as a prompt to enter directly into the vein of confessional poetry. Alongside the bigger sins, Lemke and I both pepper our lists with mundane references–coffee, shopping, shoes, sugar. In Seuss’s first line, the poem appears to respond to that same impulse: I’m about to tell you the worst thing about me (or the worst thing I’ve ever done). But in fact the poem goes to completely unpredictable places.

The same could be said for the poem “Either everything is sexual, or nothing is.” I love a poem that sets itself up that way: such an absolute, black and white statement that it can only be a false hypothesis. The title reads as a demand for an argument, and the poem answers that demand. And more than an argument, it becomes a sort of manifesto–or am I just projecting here? Sex ranks first on my list of writerly obsessions, so it’s possible. And this argument or manifesto takes the form of this positively luscious, exuberant list of images. I love list poems; I think every poem I write is based around some form of list. Around the time I met this poem, I was beginning to think of my aesthetic as embracing the idea that more is more–which is supposed to be against the rules in poetry–but I believe that a queer or camp aesthetic is built on an over-the-top quality. I have tried to write as over-the-top as this poem goes, and I can’t get there. I’m beat.

The third poem, “I fell on an incline,” I chose because of the way the poem travels. With almost impossible compression, the poem literally criss-crosses the continent while also time traveling to memories from different decades. I’m often reaching for a similar effect in my poems. When it works, it feels like you’ve actually traveled all these places, like you’ve danced yourself dizzy. You’ve been dropped off somewhere disorienting, but it turns out to be nirvana. The self-address in her last three words of this poem are signature Diane Seuss, just fully and unmistakably her voice. I can’t quite put into words where that little gesture takes me, but I get there every time I read it.

Anthony DiPietro reads “[I aborted two daughters]”

RW: Seuss’s latest poetry collection is made up entirely of sonnets. What do you think the benefits of writing formal poetry can be? How does your own writing interact with different forms, musicality, meter, etc.?

AD: One poem in that book begins, “The sonnet, like poverty, teaches you what you can do / without.” Which apart from being a brilliant line break seems to be a clue about one of the reasons she’s drawn to the form. I’m definitely aligned with Seuss in this–I like to make use of forms.

I believe that a good prompt brings together an expansive element to help you generate words and ideas, plus at least one constraining element, something that limits you. Without the limiting element, you might be making a grocery list rather than writing poetry. Writing in forms, or against a form, however you choose to think of it, is a constraining element. It becomes the box that you try to think outside of. When you start to write up against those limits, you suddenly find yourself saying what you didn’t expect to and wouldn’t have otherwise, which gives the poem a pulse of surprise or discovery. 

That being said, as much as I’m a fan of forms, I don’t want something too strict, particularly a strict meter. I want my cadence to feel like mine. Musicality is not what I consider my strength or natural gift. Some poets have an ear for the music in the language, some write by ear and only later bring in sense–the logic, the drama, whatever meaning-making is happening in the poem. I’m quite the opposite. Sense comes first, and at some stage I revise to make sure its music works. Possibly, for this reason, I’m drawn to contemporary forms that invite you to test their limits and try to break them. For example, I find sestinas too dense, so I invented a form that borrows the sestina’s patterns but has 18 lines rather than 39.

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

AD: Most exciting is that my debut poetry collection, kiss & release, is under contract to be published in 2024. While I wait for that, I’m working on another poetry book. I’m playing with persona in a different way from my past work, which is great fun. And I’m planning to attend one or more writing residencies next year to get some more focused time with that manuscript. Something a little more unexpected is that I’m also working on my first screenplay, a gay romantic comedy. We were just talking about forms, and romantic comedies are another example. They’re totally formulaic but seem to be able to hold an infinite number of combinations of characters and circumstances that lead to different results–some are more funny, some are more romantic, sometimes one partner has to grow, sometimes both, etc. You have to understand the form deeply to be able to do something new within it. That’s why I’ve been writing this since I think 2019. Also it became a little harder to finish when, in life, I got to the ending of my own romantic comedy when I met my partner in 2020 and moved in together last year.

Read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Diane Seuss is poet, teacher, and the author of five books of poetry, including frank: sonnets (Graywolf Press, 2021), winner of the 2022 PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry, the 2021 National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, and the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl (Graywolf Press, 2018), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry; Four-Legged Girl (Graywolf Press, 2015), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open (University of Massachusetts Press, 2010), recipient of the Juniper Prize for Poetry. Seuss lives in Michigan.

Purchase her collection, frank: sonnets, here.

Anthony DiPietro is a gay Rhode Island-born writer and arts administrator now living in Worcester, MA. He earned a creative writing MFA at Stony Brook University, where he also taught courses and planned and diversified arts programming. He now serves as deputy director of Rose Art Museum. His first chapbook, And Walk Through, a series of poems composed on a typewriter during the pandemic lockdowns, is now available, and his full-length poetry collection, kiss & release, will appear from Unsolicited Press in 2024. His website is www.AnthonyWriter.com

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 The McNeese ReviewLongleaf ReviewRejection Letters,  and elsewhere. Ryleigh currently lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter @wannderfullll or read her publications at ryleighwann.com

Lyric Essentials: Jennifer Schomburg Kanke Reads Annie Finch

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite authors to share the work of their favorite poets. This month, Jennifer Schomburg Kanke has joined us to discuss the work of Annie Finch, and the act of poetry as magic, formal poetry with contemporary topics, and resources to find similar poetry recommendations. As always, we hope you enjoy as much as we did.


Jennifer Schomburg Kanke

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

Jennifer Schomburg Kanke: The first time I read her work was when Calendars came out from Tupelo Press in the early aughts. It stood out to me because it was the first time I was reading contemporary poetry from a major press that wasn’t being vague about magic. These poems went beyond being just metaphor and symbol, they were spells and chants, and their power was palpable. At that time I’d been a practicing pagan for about four or five years and Calendars just opened up so many possibilities to me as a writer (of course, then I went into a graduate program a few years after and that possibility laid latent for a bit).

RW: Where would you recommend new readers of Finch’s work start out? What other similar poets do you recommend?

JSK: I would suggest starting with Calendars or Spells, if you’re looking for a collection. You can also find a lot of her work on the Poetry Foundation’s page, so if you want a broad overview, that’s a great place to go (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/annie-finch#tab-poems). And Annie’s readings really bring her poems to life. You can find a lot of them on her YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/user/Arcfinch). I think the exact combination of what Annie Finch has going on can be difficult to find in other writers. But, if you like Annie’s emphasis on prosody in her work, there are so many great poets out there to recommend. Patricia Smith, Rita Dove, and Mark Jarman come to mind for contemporary formal work. Another really great place to find poets similar to her is by joining the Poetry Witch Community online which is open to only women (cis and trans) and gender nonconforming writers. It’s a wonderful place to make connection with and read the poetry of others who have been brought together through an interest in Annie Finch’s work.

Jennifer Schomburg Kanke reads “Winter Solstice Chant” by Annie Finch

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

JSK: I picked out one of her poems about abortion, “My Baby Fell Apart,” because it’s a great example of how formal poetry can still tackle tough contemporary topics. I picked out “Edge, Atlantic, July” because it’s a more recent poem, and also because I love the way it reminds us of nature’s ability to bring us back to ourselves, to shake us out of our own shit. And I picked out “Winter Solstice Chant” because it’s one of my favorites. It’s beautiful in the way that it’s both comforting and creepy all at once.

Jennifer Schomburg Kanke reads “My Baby Fell Apart” by Annie Finch

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

JSK: I’m incredibly excited that an excerpt from the novel I’ve been working on will be appearing in Shenandoah in November. I’ve been sending the novel to contests and haven’t had any luck with it yet, so when they accepted the excerpt it just really made my heart sing because I was starting to worry that maybe it wasn’t connecting with people the way I wanted it to. And really I think it’s that I just need to find the people it will connect with. It’s called A Pleasant Loitering Journey and it’s the fictional memoir of a woman who becomes a literal goddess after going through chemo for ovarian cancer. It has a non-linear timeline and an almost ridiculous amount of direct addresses to the reader (and some three page footnoted asides that I’m hoping will crack others up as much as they crack me up), and by the end, becomes sort of a self-help book where she gives the reader tips for how to be a goddess while also spewing out all the times she’s fucked things up.

Read more from this interview at our Patreon.


Annie Finch is a poet, writer, speaker, and performer known for her powers of poetic rhythm and spellbinding readings of poetry infused with magic. Her other writings include books, plays, and essays on poetry, meter, feminism, and witchcraft and the anthology Choice Words: Writers on Abortion. Her poems have appeared onstage at Carnegie Hall and in The Paris Review, New York Times, and Penguin Book of Twentieth-Century American Poetry. Her website is www.anniefinch.com

Jennifer Schomburg Kanke lives in Florida where she edits confidential documents. Her work has recently appeared in New Ohio Review, Nimrod, Massachusetts Review, and Salamander. Her zine about her experiences undergoing chemotherapy for ovarian cancer, Fine, Considering, is available from Rinky Dink Press. She serves as a reader for The Dodge. Her website is www.jenniferschomburgkanke.com

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 The McNeese Review, Longleaf ReviewRejection Letters,  and elsewhere. Ryleigh currently lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter @wannderfullll or read her work at ryleighwann.com

Interview with Marah Hoffman, SAFTA Writer in Residence

Our editorial intern Anna-Quinn French sat down to talk with our newest Writer in Residence at the Sundress Academy for the Arts, Marah Hoffman, to learn more about her goals for her time at Firefly Farms.

Marah Hoffman is a 2022 graduate with bachelor’s in English and Creative Writing from Lebanon Valley College. In college, she served as co-poetry editor of Green Blotter Literary Magazine and Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society president. From the LVC English department, she won The Green Blotter Writer Award. She has been featured in journals including Green Blotter, LURe Journal, Oakland Arts Review, Beyond Thought, and Asterism. Now, she is discovering new literary communities and new methods of igniting creativity. She loves creative nonfiction, intertextuality, whimsicality, cats, lattes, distance running, and adding to her personal lexicon. Her favorite word changes nearly every week.

Anna-Quinn French: Your love for literature and language is brightly apparent in the writing you did for Project Bookshelf and Sundress Reads. If you were stuck with only one book for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

Marah Hoffman: Thank you! What a wonderful and cruel question for a person who is currently reading four different books! I would have to choose The Best of Brevity edited by Zoe Bossiere and Dinty W. Moore. It was one of many impulse buys at AWP this past spring, and it does not disappoint. The collection celebrates Brevity’s 20th anniversary by compiling what the editors believe to be the best flash. It is likely the only book in the world that could satiate my fluctuating literary moods for the rest of my life. The themes, structures, voices, and economy of language are awe-inspiring. In my margin notes, I am writing wow over and over again. It masterfully showcases the spectrum of the form and humanity. 

AQF: At what age or time in your life did you recognize that writing or an English-based profession was the path you wanted to take? What influences or inspirations led you to that realization?

MH: I can remember being in sixth grade, standing on a tiny stage in my school’s commons room reading a poem I had written called “Sunrise” where I compared the sun to a coin in the pocket of heaven. It was not a good poem. I was definitely not a prodigy. But the rush of fleshing an experience with words, of creating enticed me. I considered other career paths such as flower arranging and environmental science, but I always knew that English brought me the most joy. In high school, taking AP Language and Composition gave me permission to consider an English major seriously. The texts we read in that class, among the most noteworthy being The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan and Wild by Cheryl Strayed, convinced me that writing was something I needed. This was the same year I saw Dead Poets Society, and Mr. Keating’s words, “medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for,” really struck a chord with me. 

AQF: I saw that you tutored throughout your undergrad, and I am in training right now to become a tutor at UTK! In what ways do you think tutoring and helping others with their writing aided in your own growth as a writer? 

MH: That’s great! Tutoring is a fantastic way to improve as a writer. It is true what people say about explaining a concept to others being the true test of your own knowledge. Tutoring reminded me that writing, at its core, is an act of communication. I had to explain to fellow students how readers might respond to their argument, the holes they might find if they don’t include counterarguments and rebuttals. When writing my own papers, I would often hear my tutor-self correct my student-self who was about to make a mistake.  

AQF: While I was reading your Intern Intro for Sundress, I related to the sentiments you stated about your father and the advice he gave you that has stuck with you through hard obstacles you’ve faced. Do you ever find yourself going through bouts of self-doubt or lack of fresh ideas? If so, how do you persevere through this type of writer’s block, and what advice would you give to new writers in overcoming similar difficulties?

MH: Throughout college, there were semesters where creativity struck me frequently and at the worst moments. I would have to force myself to finish my reading instead of starting a poem. There were also semesters where my brain felt trapped in analytical mode, unable to invent. The difference between the two, I am almost certain, was what I was reading. When I am reading the kinds of things I aspire to write, I find myself inspired and invigorated. This summer, I purposefully chose to read essay collections because I have been writing a lot of essays.

AQF: I also noted your long history in writing poetry and that creative nonfiction has been a new outlet for you. What aspects or changes in your life led you to this interest in writing personal essays? 

MH: Good question! I have an easy answer. In the fall of my senior year, I took Writing a Life which focused on creative nonfiction. That was definitely the genesis of this interest. The previous year, I had done a deep dive into the history of the personal essay, reading the work of pioneers like Michel de Montaigne and Francis Bacon. But Writing a Life exposed me to fresh, lush essays that I became obsessed with emulating. I still write poems, but my default seems to be more essays now which I never expected. 

AQF: Congratulations on your long-term residency at the farm! What projects are you currently working on or  hoping to write? Do you have any specific themes or topics you are focusing on? 

MH: Thank you! I’m mainly working on MFA applications, composing my personal statement, trying to make my writing sample as strong as it can be. A theme I can’t seem to get away from is ephemerality. The farm is a great place to ruminate on this theme because caring for animals showcases all sides of Mother Nature.


Anna-Quinn French

Anna-Quinn French is a junior at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville where she studies English, with a concentration in literature and a minor in Philosophy, and works as a student tutor in the Judith Anderson Herbert Writing Center. She is a sucker for fantasy romance novels and romantic poetry and is constantly on the hunt for the next story that she can fixate on for months.

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? 

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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