“I Have a Fucking Skull For a Head:” Daniel Crocker on The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood


Sundress recently caught up with author Daniel Crocker to discuss his newest chapbook, The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood. Steve Henn, author of And God Said: Let there be Evolution, admitted he had “… never read a book so heartbreaking, so funny, so tender, so powerful, and so real” as The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood.

From the first time I read Daniel’s Like A Fish in a classroom at the University of Illinois Springfield, I too was taken aback by its balance of comedy and the profound, the personal and the pop-cultural. It was also my first interaction with Sundress Publications, a collective of souls forever dedicated to bringing original, captivating voices like Daniel’s to light.

The poems in his most recent installment are the culmination of years of living, writing, and working, as Daniel describes in the following interview.

Jacob Cross: The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood assembles cunning commentary with its leading men, women, puppets, and cartoons. Like a Fish also accomplished similar character portraits, with the poem “He-Man, You Smarmy Bastard,” appearing in both books. What drew you back to this mode of writing? How did you want to separate this new chapbook from Like a Fish?

Daniel Crocker: The He-Man poem was, I think, the first poem I wrote in this style. It came from a friend telling me that his first real crush was He-Man. I imagine that’s fairly common for gay and bi men of a certain age. There’s a lot of subtext in the Masters of the Universe cartoons that are ripe for analysis—back when Queerness was more coded than it is now. For a lot of folks, He-Man is a fictional gay icon. Plus, I just loved the hell out of those cartoons as a kid.

In the end though, I found Skeletor a more interesting character. I related to him. I mean, I have a fucking skull for a head.

What drew me back to this mode of writing is that it’s fun. Writing should be fun. When you’re thinking about tenure, publications, or god forbid writing an immortal poem, it’s easy to lose track of the idea that writing should be fun. There should be a large element of play to it.

It’s a way to explore serious topics without sounding preachy. I’ve always used humor as a way to get into some of the tougher stuff I’d like to write about, the scary stuff. It’s easier for me, and I think it’s easier on the reader. A perfect poem in this mode for me is one where the reader both laughs and gets a little uncomfortable, and then later still find themselves thinking about it.

My first few books of poetry—from way back in the 90s—were more earnest. In fact, I cringe at some of them now. But, people seemed to like them more than I did. I kept getting journals and stuff back with my work in it, then I’d read my work and just not be happy with it. It was depressing. That eventually put me on a 10 year drinking binge where I kept writing, but didn’t send much work out at all. Looking back on it now, I think I needed it. I spent that time becoming a better writer. I was sort of lucky to have some early success, but I wasn’t fully developed as a writer yet. I think what people liked about those early poems is that they were soulful. They were also sloppy. Hopefully, I can do soulful without sloppy now. At least I keep trying.

I’m not sure how to separate the new book from Like a Fish. In a lot of ways, I think everything I have ever written is really just one big book.

JC: The opening line from a poem called “The Hulkster,” reads “Knees crumbled/ like blue cheese and my back/ always hurts.” You bring larger than life personas down to tangible, human levels. I feel like many writers can take defamiliarization to unexpected places, which is nice. But your work does this with purpose, lending meaning by courting the ridiculous. How do you control the irony, the fun rediscovery of these characters? How do you direct the poems to resonate in deeper ways and not trip on the comical?

DC: As one of my writing teachers, Steve Barthelme, once told me, you have to be more than just funny. Of course, sometimes you can just be funny. People love funny, and it’s very hard to do—especially in writing. If you can do it, you’ll find a market for it. That said, and probably because I always had such respect for him, what Steve said stuck with me.

I grew up wanting to be both a professional writer and a professional wrestler. It never occurred to me that it might be difficult to do both. Plus, I never got big enough or in good enough shape to be a wrestler, so writing it was. Only recently, in the last five years I guess, has my love for professional wrestling dwindled. I had long wanted to write a poem from the point of view of Hulk Hogan though. I messed with it for two years. It never accomplished what I wanted it to. But, once I realized that Hogan was as much of a symbol for ’80s politics as Reagan, it got easier.

JC: I feel like “Lion-O,” which questions the Thundercat series for attempting to “un-gay” its protagonist, is a great example of a poetic monologue from a narrator to a subject. There are muses on TV, those inseparable from our 20th and 21st century memories. It’s vital to take ownership of these muses and their places in our lives.

Does talking directly to characters help you refine them into useful realities in your writing process? In other words, do you write outside the poem in early drafts, testing what it is you have to say to the characters?

DC: I wrote that one directly to Lion-O because I felt like we had something in common that we should talk about. Did you see the Thundercats re-imagining? They really did go and un-gay Lion-O. Why? Being a bi-man myself, I understood what it was like to have people want you to fit into a certain category. Something that fit the mold they more expected. In the case of Lion-O, we are socialized to think that our male heroes need to be straight—not just straight, but manly men straight. By all means he should have a few love interests. In the case of bi-men, well, no one believes we exist anyway so there just going to put us in whatever easy category they think we fit into the best.

I’m also pretty convinced that the Thundercats are the villains in this whole thing. They crash land on a planet and immediately start to take over—at least in the original.

As far as the drafts go, it just depends. I knew I wanted to write a Lion-O poem because he was an important part of my childhood. I had seen the reboot and had commented to my daughter that they had un-gayed Lion-O. The rest just wrote itself.


JC: Sesame Street seems to be a playground for your imagination, full of allegedly safe, innocent identities that you upset with your poems. Oscar the Grouch eating government issued cheese in Like a Fish will always stick with me. In the new chapbook, Snuffleupagas, the Cookie Monster, and other monsters are alive, but maybe not so well. What draws you into this setting?

DC: The good thing about the characters on Sesame Street, a great show by the way, is that most of them have one overwhelmingly defining characteristic. For example, Cookie Monster is a glutton. Perfect metaphor for addiction, which is what I used it for. Oscar was poor. I ate government cheese as a kid because we were poor. So, he was a good fit.

I was home alone a lot as a kid, so I watched a lot of television. All of these folks stuck with me, and as I got older, in the back of my mind they were getting older too. What does a 40 year old Grover act like? I ask myself a lot of stupid questions and sometimes they turn into poems.

JC: We have already talked a great deal about the pop-culture cleverness in The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood, but the chapbook’s final four pieces take the collection down a far more tragic path. In “A Dream of Siblings,” you relate a nightmare in scattered, curt couplets and frank language, questioning faith and the status of a brother’s passing; even his soul comes into play.

How do you arrange a poem this effortlessly emotive? How do you break up stanzas like “Maybe I never gave up believing/ Maybe, once having faith, no one/ ever gives up believing?” What rules do you set for yourself structurally?

DC: “A Dream of Siblings” is probably the only poem I’ve ever written that is entirely based on a dream. Everything in that poem was in the dream I had the night before. By that point my brother had been dead for almost thirty years. My sister had been gone about a year. So something subconscious was going on there.

I had written a lot about my brother over the years. I was 13 when he died in a car wreck. It was incredibly traumatic for my entire family, and I really had no good way to process it at that age. Then, when I was about 20, I wrote “Sorry, Richie” which is a long poem about my brother that was in my first book. That book got good reviews and that’s the poem that was most often mentioned. I’ve wondered a few times if I’ve written about it too much. Or about death in general. But, all poets have obsessions. There’s been a lot of death in my family. It’s just me and my mom left. So, I think I just have to resign myself to the fact that it’s something I’m going to write about.

Although I consider myself agnostic now, there’s a whole lot of heaven and hell stuff going on in the back of my head thanks to that damned church my grandma drug me to for years. This joint was one step above snake-handling.

Those 10 years I spent drinking and not submitting is where I learned how to be “effortlessly emotive.” The thing about “Sorry, Richie” is that it’s all out there. Some people like that. Others think it’s too much. I think it’s too much. It’s more powerful if it’s understated. My natural inclination is still to let it all hang out—so what I do now is let something sit for awhile and then cut out everything that can be cut out. On average, I probably end up cutting out 20-30 percent of everything I write. The appearance of effortlessness takes a lot of effort.

JC: What rules and editing expectations did you set for the next piece in the collection, “Brutal?” When was it time to close the book on that piece?

DC: “Brutal” came out, nearly word for word, just like you see it in The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood. I wrote it in probably thirty minutes. But, I had been thinking about it for thirty years. I had touched on the topic before in other writings—but always more veiled. It was such a difficult thing to even think about, much less write. Finally, one night I just felt ready. I decided I’d write it to the best of my memory—though memories that traumatic are surreal and take on a life of their own. What I’m saying is, I have no idea. I just sat down and wrote it and was happy with it. It got turned down by several places though for being too explicit.

JC: Before we finish up, will the culinary world ever make an appearance in your writing? I have read you’re a short order cook aside from a teacher. Do you have a close connection to food?

DC: A lot of my fiction is set in small restaurants, but not so much the poems. I’m not sure why.

I haven’t worked as a short order cook since I started my job at Southeast Missouri State University. I did spent a big part of my life working in family owned restaurants (a much different vibe than chain places). I really loved that work. I washed dishes until my mid-thirties. Great job for a writer. Plenty of time to think. I worked out a lot of poems and stories in the kitchens of various bars and grills.

I also did some cooking later on. I enjoyed that too. I still love to cook and mess around with trying to perfect different kinds of food. I’m not great at it, but I keep getting better.


You can reading Daniel Crocker’s chapbook, The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood, for free at the Sundress Publications website.

Daniel Crocker is the author of three collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, and the novel The Cornstalk Man. His most recent collection of poetry, Like a Fish, was released by Sundress Publications in 2011. Crocker is a graduate from The Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi, and he currently lives in Leadwood, MO, where he works as a short order cook and substitute teacher.

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

Cleared for Lift-Off: The Flight Patterns of Pretty Owl Poetry

pop image

Since the Spring of 2014, the online literary journal known as Pretty Owl Poetry has brought potent and poignant writing to its growing readership. This is all due to its dedicated, tri-force-powered team: poetry editors Kelly Andrews and Gordon Buchan, as well as B. Rose Huber, the journal’s flash fiction editor.

In its ongoing quest to honor all things on the rise within the literary landscape, the Wardrobe sought out the story behind Pretty Owl’s evolution from none other than the POP editors themselves.

Jacob Cross: How did Pretty Owl come together in the months leading up to the launch issue in the spring of 2014? What was the initial meeting of the minds like for each of you?

Kelly Andrews: Prior to inception, I was working on B.E. Quarterly, a Pittsburgh-based literary zine, with a few other people in the community and loved the editorial process. I was also just starting to read poetry for Hot Metal Bridge, University of Pittsburgh’s MFA online lit mag. I really wanted to learn as much as I could about publishing and so the next logical step was to start a journal from the ground up. I reached out to Gordon and Rose—I had participated in workshops and online critiques with both of them and truly admired their abilities as both writers and editors. Very quickly we decided to make Pretty Owl a collaborative effort—with no designated Editor in Chief or Managing Editor. Our first meeting was a Google Hangout, and we were overflowing with ideas for the journal. At one point, we started working on collaborative writing that we were planning to share on the website, but eventually we shifted our focus to design, aesthetic, and outreach so that we could publish the best poetry and flash on a beautiful platform. The launch of the first issue was an incredible feeling—to have so many people trust us with their work was inspiring, and I still feel that way when we publish a new issue.

B. Rose Huber: During a late winter evening, I received a text from Kelly. It said, “I think we should start a literary journal. We should call it Pretty Owl Poetry.” At the time, I wasn’t sure how difficult this would be to do, but I knew well enough to say, “Yes.” I’d long admired Kelly’s work as a writer and editor and knew Gordon was a cool, artistic guy. The collaboration seemed like a good fit. As Kelly wrote, our first meeting was a Google Hangout with plenty of ideas to get us started. Gordon made me laugh; Kelly kept us on task. Our cats mewed in the background. It was pretty much perfect.

Gordon Buchan: Around that time, Kelly and I had been, not really editing, more like co-mentoring each other’s poetry through email, most notably her chapbook, Mule Skinner. I had been wanting to work on something that wasn’t a poem, was more like artwork, so when Kelly told me about Pretty Owl, I started sketching up blueprints right away. Rose, someone I had met one foggy minded night at a college party — talking, if I remember correctly, about poems folded up inside of cereal boxes — was something of a 5’1” tall tale; I wasn’t really sure if she existed, but everyone I knew knew her, and I had this nascent idea that maybe I knew her, too?

JC: Who designed the logo? It almost resembles a Rorschach test blot. Also, what was the basis for the look of the online journal’s website?

GB: Rorschach test blot? Awesome. The owl logo is based off of one dollar bill clippings. I had cut up a couple dollar bills and repasted them back together in a vaguely strigine shape. On the other hand, for the website design, I tried to work with negative afterimages or “ghosts.” If I’m not paraphrasing too much. According to J.H. Brown’s 19th century pamphlet, Spectropia (or Surprising Spectral Illusions Showing Ghosts Everywhere and of any Colour) if you look at a picture too long, it will cause an afterimage to linger in your vision (especially if you look at a blank page afterwards). I don’t know if I successfully created an afterimage-inducing-website design, but I thought it complimented Rose’s homepage banner well.

JC: Has the aesthetic selection of the journal’s poems and flash fiction evolved in any surprising ways? I love the poetic and concrete metaphors Pretty Owl uses in its submissions section, making the call for “lockets filled with tiny twig hairs.”

KA: Our call for submissions was a collaborative writing effort, and while it does offer a glimpse of what we are looking to publish, it isn’t all-inclusive to what we have actually published so far. What I find most surprising is how open Gordon and I are to different voices and styles of poetry. While there tends to be a bit of overlap in what we want to publish, each of us has had to convince the other to include pieces that fall outside of our intended aesthetic. But this is one of the most exciting parts of publishing for me—finding beauty in voices that are completely unlike my own and sharing that with the world. I don’t think the journal would be quite the eclectic mix of poetry it has become if it wasn’t for that openness that exists in our discussions.

BRH: Our flash fiction has evolved in sort of a backward direction. When you think of the term “flash fiction,” you probably imagine a traditional story told in few sentences like microfiction. But that wasn’t the type of flash fiction we were publishing in the beginning. Instead, I was drawn to the poetic, the lyrical. As a writer, I myself have teetered between prose and poetry, not really identifying with either concretely. And that’s the type of prose we’ve published. But in recent months, I’ve been trying to look more carefully at traditional flash fiction. Telling a short story in a small space is an art, and it’s something Pretty Owl Poetry wants to publish going forward.

Cover of the inaugural Spring 2014 Issue of Pretty Owl Poetry.

JC: How do you keep each issue fresh and distinctive? You receive new submissions and new names, but are there prerequisite, subtle themes that each of you attempt to apply to every new installment? In other words, how do you make each issue stand on its own two feet?

KA: One thing we are striving for in each issue is inclusiveness in terms of different voices. While we want to connect and relate to the pieces we publish, we also want to see the world fresh with each poem or piece of flash we showcase. I’m thinking about Cameron Barnett’s poem “Crepe Sole Shoes” in Issue 2 that recalls the death of Emmit Till in 1955 and the lines, “Today you could//be my grandfather.” That poem gives me chills every time I read it—how much has the world changed since that lynching and murder? How much is the same? The narrative and self-reflection in Barnett’s poem is incredibly relevant given the current headlines of police brutality and discrimination against people of color. The next lines in that poem are “I want to put you//back together, but//how can I rebuild you?” I read these as not just speaking to Emmitt Till, but to all of America. For me, each issue is idiosyncratic because we include phenomenal poems like that one. In general, I think we are less concerned about themes (though they usually manifest once we have accepted a handful of pieces) and more concerned with sharing contemporary poetry and flash that moves us.

BRH: The theme seems to emerge after we’ve chosen what to publish.  I choose the fiction exclusively with no input from Kelly and Gordon. I don’t see the poetry they’re choosing, either. When I’m designing the issue and reading all of the pieces together, that’s when the theme begins to emerge. Sometimes it’s uncanny how this happens given our independent selection process. But it’s not terribly surprising because I think, as writers and editors, we are all drawn to similar styles. Since we’ve started including art in the journal, I’ve found the imagery really ties it all together nicely.

GB: If an issue has a theme, it’s probably accidental. Kelly is very interested in diversity, and I am also interested in diversity, but Kelly is really, really interested in diversity. What I’m really, really interested in is keepings things chaotic and destabilizing my comfort zone. Luckily, these characteristics go hand-in-hand.

JC: What are some of your favorite literary journals, publications that each of you draw inspiration from as staff members of Pretty Owl?

KA: I think Gulf Coast, Caketrain, and PANK have beautiful print designs and the work they publish always blows me away. TENDE RLOIN showcases one poet and includes video or sound along with written interviews, and I love getting that big picture of the writer behind the words. Pretty Owl has adopted similar platforms with our online reading series that includes a short interview with the writer and also with our Spotlight Series in Pittsburgh.

I also adore the online journals Big Lucks, Hobart, Octopus, Birdfeast, Phantom Limb, Ghost Proposal, Jellyfish, and 12th House, among others. Each website has its own unique design, and they include such tremendously talented writers. If I could afford unlimited subscriptions to print journals, then I’d be buying copies of The Atlas Review and Gigantic Sequins as well; but for now, I’m just reading the poems that are available online and swooning.

BRH: In the early stages of Pretty Owl Poetry, I leaned a lot on Andrew Keating, editor at Cobalt Review. We went to graduate school together, and I’ve always admired his know-how with regards to online lit mags. We talked on the phone for quite a while about how Pretty Owl should look and feel. Those conversations really shaped our own journal, and now I have a much deeper appreciation for Cobalt Review and what Andrew is trying to do.

I also love, in no particular order: Hobart, Oblong, Aperion Review, Booth Journal, Metazen, decomP magazine and Tupelo Quarterly. I love staring at the beauty that is Ninth Letter. And when I need a good traditional short story, I get my hands on a copy of Glimmer Train.

GB: I think the first journal I ever read was Jellyfish, and that really opened my eyes to a world beyond the New Yorker. Today, I read a good amount of A capella Zoo, Sugar House Review, INK BRICK, and McSweeney’s. I think that Gregor Holtz, the guy who designs Octopus, is a huge inspiration, mostly because the innovative and beautiful things he creates compel me not to be a lazy asshole about my art.

JC: Have you ever considered doing a flash anthology or a sole flash edition? Was there any question when the journal was first formed as to whether or not flash would be included, or was it an instantaneous, unanimous “must-have?”

BRH: Although our name reflects poetry, we felt that flash fiction was a must-have for the journal. But, like I said, if you read through our issues, you’ll see that the work we publish is much more poetic than conventional flash fiction. We are drawn to lyric and sound in both poetry and prose. At the same time, we welcome more traditional flash fiction and often publish these forms in the journal. It’s important for us to include both.

KA: To add to Rose’s response, the poetry we publish is sometimes prose poetry that could easily be nestled under the “flash” title. We published a narrative poem by Jennifer MacBain-Stephens in Issue 5 titled “Growths” that chronicles outbreaks of “birdhouse development syndrome”—people afflicted with birdhouses inexplicably growing from their heads. The poem isn’t necessarily lyrical, but the imagery is so surprising with lines like: “Some of the burliest men I knew had a small raspberry colored birdhouse situated above one of their ears” or “Susan stared at the therapist’s frontal lobe olive birdhouse and felt biasness creep in.” I felt immersed in this strange world that MacBain-Stephens had created. Whether it’s technically prose poetry or flash fiction wasn’t a concern for us, and I think we’re actually more interested in pieces that embody a fluidity of different forms.

As for doing a flash anthology or an entirely flash edition, we’ve never considered this, but it’s a truly great idea! It definitely gives us something to discuss for our next meeting.

Cover of the Summer 2015 issue of Pretty Owl Poetry.

JC: I love the way Pretty Owl has formed an interactive alumni of contributors so-to-speak in so little time. With the featured artist interviews, video interviews, and the Spotlight Series, the journal doesn’t just pair bios and names with their poems. Pretty Owl really delves into personality and process by establishing such a community, both online and in person. So thank you for maintaining this commitment to bringing writers together.

Here’s the question: how do you plan to continue to build and interact with this community in the future?

KA: Thank you for those kind words! We’re currently tossing around ideas of how we can improve the online interviews and readings. One thing we might do moving forward is feature two writers at the same time with the hopes of getting a discussion going between all of us. We want the online interviews to be a little informal and fun for everyone involved. I don’t think we’ve done one yet that didn’t have some sort of technology hiccup, and we just try to go with the flow when that happens.

As for our Spotlight Series, I’ve started to bring in one “wildcard reader” from the community who isn’t (yet!) published in the journal. Pittsburgh has an incredibly vibrant poetry community and there’s so many talented writers that I would love to see in our issues and reading for us. We’ve also hosted out-of-town readers like Zachary Schomburg, Joshua Marie Wilkinson (twice!), John Beer, Mathias Svalina, and Noah Eli Gordon. With those readings, we had a great turnout, and I hope to put on more readings with people who are traveling through the area.

BRH: You may have noticed that our journal doesn’t really have a “home base,” and I think that’s a strength. Kelly’s in Pittsburgh; Gordon’s in Philadelphia, and I’m in Princeton, N.J. In our early discussions, we decided to not really label our journal with a place. That makes sense, given that our journal is on the internet, accessible to everyone.

That said, in the future, I hope to expand our Spotlight Series to the East. Kelly has done a fantastic job of rallying writers in Pittsburgh, and I’m certain we could do that here, too. Princeton is sandwiched between two major cities — New York and Philly — and I want to start taking advantage of that. Plus it means I would get to hang out with Gordon more, an opportunity I wouldn’t turn down.

GB: In the future, we want to feature two readings in the same interview, open a conversation between the members of this community. My goal is to be less of an editor or an interviewer and more like a fosterer of chaos. One day, I want that written on a plack: Gordon, Fosterer of Chaos.

JC: What is your journal’s greatest strength? What makes each of you beam with pride?

BRH: Our ability to work as collaborators. We don’t have a set editor-in-chief, making all decisions as a unit. This results in a better final product. At times, it can feel frustrating. That blood, sweat and tears thing? Totally happens almost every issue. But I find — and I think Kelly and Gordon would agree – that it’s during those passionate debates that our vision really shines. Some of our best decisions have been realized after hours of talking and arguing and sending a thousand emails to each other. In many ways, this is the way we established our mission. And I think, for the betterment of the journal, it’s made us all better editors and thinkers. I’m grateful to work with two writers with very different viewpoints; it’s forced me to be more thoughtful, engaged and passionate.

I also think we’re doing something different with our multimedia approach. We’ve really tried to embrace the electronic part of our literary journal. That’s why we’ve introduced Google Hangouts and other online mediums. Since the journal was born, we’ve wanted those voices to extend beyond the poem or story. There is a person behind those words worth showcasing, too.

KA: I’m always amazed by how each of us has certain abilities that have contributed to making Pretty Owl what it is today. Rose designed our layout and physically puts each issue together, along with maintaining our social media outlets. Gordon handles all of our artistic endeavors—from the design of the logos and our website to the cover art. I proofread each issue multiple times before it goes live and handle a lot of the outreach and networking along with the Spotlight Series. I couldn’t imagine what Pretty Owl would look like without our fierce talents combined, and I don’t want to! And we’re all incredibly busy people with multiple projects happening in our lives so the fact that we can work together to make each issue something we can be proud of and filled with writers we admire brings me tremendous joy.

GB: Kelly, Rose, and I are all, for better or worse, very passionate people. We are passionate about our tastes in art, and we are passionate about our passions. Most of Pretty Owl’s issues begin with a healthy dose of dissonance between the editors, and, progressively, the three of us shape it into something more unified.

1Kelly Andrews is an assistant managing editor at an economic journal and working on her MFA in poetry at the University of Pittsburgh. Her chapbook Mule Skinner is available from Dancing Girl Press (2014). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in PANK, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Weave Magazine, and elsewhere. You can read more about her past and future publications and literary endeavors at her website.

Gordon-profile-pic1-sundressGordon Buchan resides in Philadelphia where he navigates books of etymology and writes about his findings. Recently, he was published in BE Literary and Sugar House Review. Check out his blog, Invisible Woods.

huberB. Rose Huber spends her days writing about research at Princeton University. She received her M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cobalt, Pear Noir!, The New Yinzer, the Light Ekphrastic, BE Literary, and Weave, among others. She also binds books for those who ask. Read more here.

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

Small Prestivus 2015 Recap: #WishedYouWereThere

The attendees of the 2015 Festival of Language, a stellar five hours of reading hosted at the second day of Small Prestivus 2015.

Maybe you’re not familiar with Griffith, Indiana, a northwestern, Hoosier town forty minutes south of Chicago. Maybe you’ve never tried the “sproh rootie” at the Grindhouse Cafe downtown, or mosied into the Pokro Brewing Company for a craft beer with the infamous handle, the “Dwarven Assassin.” But worse yet, what if you weren’t in Griffith on August 1st and 2nd, when this interstate oasis hosted Small Prestivus 2015?

Unless you’re Cher and you can “turn back time,” then you missed out. But the good news is Julie Demoff Larson, Small Prestivus coordinator and Blotterature Literary Magazine founder/editor, plans to keep the annual festival alive and well for years to come. With books to buy, talent to hear, workshops to play, and new friendships to forge, Small Prestivus 2015 was a moleskin journal that fits in your back pocket: small enough for every page and every name to mingle and stand-out. Small enough to matter, to take with you wherever you go.

Speaking of books you obsessively carry and crave, last Saturday’s book fair was brimming with cool titles to share and shine, with food, music, and workshops abounding too. Twelve Winters Press, Lit Fest Press, Sundress Publications, and more showed off their writers and catalogs in the sweltering heat. And when I say sweltering, I mean it. Just ask T. A. Noonan’s likely-still-healing sunburns. Yeah, Sundress works hard for the money, and T.A. wasn’t the only author on-hand to sign books and help out at the publication’s tent. Sarah Winn and Donna Vorreyer were also present, giving readings on both days to very appreciative audiences. You can check-out Sarah’s e-chap, Portage, here for free. Donna’s release, A House of Many Windows, is available for purchase at the Sundress store.

The Sundress Publications tent in action!
The Sundress Publications tent in action!

Following a night of counter-intuitive hydration and evening readings at the Pokro Brewing Company, the Small Prestivus crew of writers, editors, friends, and family gathered one last time on Sunday afternoon for the Festival of Language. This was a diverse five hour slam of fiction and poetry. Deliveries ranged from the suave, Cassonova-meets-Bukowski poems of Bill Gainer to the heart-skipping elegance of Sarah Chavez’s reevaluation of the worlds that are borne on turtle backs. Kayla Greenwell took us into her grandmother’s home and, consequently, her own heart. Bud Smith told us a story about tiger blood. Joani Reese sang from her book, Night Chorus. Robert Vaughan introduced us to Addicts & Basements, and other wondrous characters. Krista Cox captured listeners with her verses scaling the walls of online dating, with one poem rightfully shrinking a “Fisher of Women” down a size. The full list of awesome writers and their equally poignant work is formidable to say the least, and other impressive artists staked their claim to the afternoon as well.

Also making sense of internet non-sense, Adam Nicholson was on-site, establishing himself as the “harmonizer of hash tags” with a reading of the internet’s finest dismal posts. Adam was also responsible for bringing Sala to everyone’s attention at Small Prestivus, a fresh organization made by artists for artists, promoting collaboration and support of creative thinkers as far as the internet can reach. But don’t take my word for it: take Adam’s, and support his cause here.

T.A. graciously accepting a love poem from Joani Reese.
T.A. graciously accepting a love poem from Joani Reese, with Sarah Chavez eavesdropping.

In the same reader’s block as Adam, T.A. Noonan later spoke both a “compsognathus” and an “archaeopteryx” back into existence. She read excerpts from Petticoat Government and The Bone Folders, one line of the latter echoing through the weekend, “That kindergarten grin of peel. How your lips glistened like raw eggs.” She even shared fresh material for fans. You can catch her new book, The Midway Iterations, later this year from Hyacinth Girl Press.

After each round of individual readings, Jane L. Carman and Julie Demoff Larson organized a series of reading experiments. These mixed and matched all the readers and their varied works onto the same stage. Voices mingled and read in unison. Fragments collided in midair. Other experiments allowed for call-and-response theatrics as presenters read every other line of their own work as questions instead of statements, as the laughter launched and the beverages threatened to crawl their way up and out of the audience’s helpless noses. After the last experiment and a round of sixty-second reads, the Festival of Language concluded.

With bittersweet farewells, the cast of Small Prestivus 2015 left the mystical heat of Griffith in its assorted rear-view mirrors. Across the country, we attempt in vain to resume normalcy after the high of sharing work and relishing in the words of new friends. We wait for Small Prestivus 2016, where we hope you can join us in our celebration of all things small press.

Sundress Publications thanks all those who participated, as well as Julie Demoff Larson for organizing!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(All photos courtesy of Small Prestivus 2015 unless otherwise noted.)

For a full list of occurrences, participants, and related news for next year, please view the Small Prestivus Facebook page.

Cracking Open Coalesced Confluence: Sandra Marchetti Makes Her Sundress Debut


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confluence is now available for purchase at the Sundress Store.

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

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

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

original (1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristy Bowen Author Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s What the Fox Says”: Fox Frazier-Foley on Exodus in X Minor


Winner of the 2014 Sundress Chapbook Contest, Fox Frazier-Foley‘s poetic collection of visceral phantoms,  Exodus in X Minor, has spiked EMF detectors and imaginations with its enclosed identities’ respective pains and triumphs. Beth Couture claims the complex chapbook to be “sharp and elusive.” Susan McCabe says Exodus “traverses an unbounded inner being.” With poetry far too bold and rich to be summed up as mere smoke and mirrors, Sundress sought out Fox for the lowdown on how this maze of meaning met the page.

Jacob Cross: In the opening, eponymous poem of the chapbook, you toy with a lyric from “another, gravel-throated & strawberry blonde,” who “picks bluegrass after hours Won’t you bury me beneath the tree where my family lies.” I read what followed as an unsettling narrative flowing between rural, southern imagery of death and poltergeists, all the way back to more contemporary modes of homicide and suffering on the streets. Was this poem an offensive against the idea of death being a peaceful close? What were you trying to accomplish with the visible contrast throughout the piece?

Fox Frazier-Foley: That’s a really interesting way to think about it. I think when I wrote that piece, I was thinking a lot about the relationship the living bear to the dead, and to death itself. I think upstate New York has a very strange relationship to death, and to its dead. It’s a heavily military area — West Point is right there — and gun culture is huge. There’s also a lot of heroin use, and (to me) a shocking amount of thrill-seeking behavior. A lot of violence, a lot of aggression.

But then, at the same time, upstate New York has historically been the central hub of the Spiritualist religion, which is incredibly peaceful. And of course, Spiritualists believe that the change called death is not the end of human consciousness. They believe their dead walk among them; they talk to them. It’s a fascinating subculture, and I was blessed to grow up among people like that, to be exposed to those ideas from a very young age. It creates a new context, I think, for how we view the brutalities of life, and human cruelty. And love. And tenderness. And suffering.

I think that all of these influences affect how people from upstate New York generally view death. It’s something that, in so many different ways, really permeates the fabric of their existence. And I think it’s perhaps because of this complex relationship with death that most people I have known from upstate New York don’t have the romanticized view of death that you’ve described — that it’s some sort of peaceful close. They usually appear to carry a visceral awareness of death, as part of their identity.

I think for people who don’t come from this perspective, it can be a terrifying thing. I once had a guy from upstate New York drunkenly slur at me, “Look: there’s a fine line between living and dying, and the closer you get to death, the better life is.” I understood what he meant — and in many ways, I suppose I wouldn’t argue — but I thought it was a terrifying thing to say. I mean, I was really horrified by it.

As someone who spent many formative years in upstate New York, but then left for a long time, it was really shocking to me — when I went back to live there for a year in 2012 — seeing that mentality more from the outside. I remembered it from growing up there, and yet it felt so strange and frightening when I saw it with new eyes. And I almost have this influence double, in some ways, because of my Southern heritage — my family especially on my mother’s side are very religious Christians, but most of them have seen ghosts and communicated with spirits. Some of them have watched spirits leave bodies as the change called death is taking place. They can see the spirit, can see it happen.

So I think I was interested in bringing those parts of my real-life experience to bear, in this poem and in this book — the speaker is in the act of falling over a precipice, into a transformative journey through an underworld. Those ideas about death you’ve described are present, as one facet of a bigger picture I was trying to create — a narrative arc that, in part, asks, what is a reasonable response to this almost unbearable view of reality, where you can’t see life without seeing death, too? And what happens when those terrifying elements start to become comforting?

JC: Daniel, Theresa, Peter, and Clare were “four Catholic workers in upstate New York” who protested the War in Iraq, resulting in their battery and detainment, a subject which you explore in Exodus. Each individual character and his or her accompanying dedication seems to move and breathe with its own form, music, and sparseness. Could you describe some of the reasoning behind these four poetic portraits and their unique elements on the page?

FFF: Well, the Saint Patrick’s Four, as they came to be called, had a couple lengthy trials in upstate New York, and their story was one that really resonated with me. People taking a dangerous, public stance to defend idealistic viewpoints about love and peace isn’t usually how we frame discussions of contemporary American Christianity — and yet there is that aspect of it, too. That was a really formative influence for me, growing up.

I get frustrated with how we try to talk about — or maybe don’t really try to talk about — Christianity in the USA. Obviously, there are some really horrible things being said and done in the name of Christianity (just like every other belief system, religious or secular, the world over, across time). But people living their religion is more complex than I think the current mainstream/public conversations really reflect — especially in a culture that is often shrilly and smugly secular. So I was drawn to write about these members of the Catholic Worker Movement.

And, as I already knew I wanted to write about these people, I found it irresistible that each of them shares a name with a prominent Catholic saint. So I tried to create voices that dealt with the events and concepts of their protest, but were also shaded by a kind of shared identity — where the saint is also speaking to this situation, experience, and cause. Teresa was an ecstatic poet-mystic; Daniel was a publicly insistent about his faith, and about the directions he saw his government heading in — he was prophetic, in that way; Peter was a leader of a religious-political movement — a letter-writer; Clare was an ascetic who found God through nature.

So once I thought about the identities I wanted to construct — and they are constructed, conflated identities after researching each saint and reading and viewing public interviews with each protester — the voices and cartography of the page came through easily.

JC: Piggybacking off that, Exodus features other poems with repeated titles, yet strikingly distinct forms and subjects depending on their place in the chapbook. I really appreciated this effect of titles as refrains, for it seemed to sustain the feeling of a haunting, or “unfinished business” if you will. How did these echoed titles come about?

FFF: I think they mostly grew out of my desire to create a sense of woven reality; each poem is a continuation of a specific thread, but provides its own illumination, its own singular experience. I also know — I’ve frequently been told — that sometimes my writing can leave a reader feeling disconcerted. I like that feeling in a poem, but not everyone does. I thought about the fact that these titles could serve as anchors, in a way — not just narrative anchors, but emotional anchors — that would then free the poems to get as crazy as they wanted, while kind of instructing the reader who needs something more concrete to latch onto that this book is also a story.

I wanted the trajectory of the exodus to be discernible, and I thought that repetitive title construction might help. Additionally, I thought it underscored the sense that life and death are (both) cyclical. These things happen, and then they happen again. In life, we learn things, we lose things, then we learn them again a little differently. We lose again, and maybe in that repeated loss realize that the initial loss left us a little less-bereft than we had thought.

JC: In each “Letter to Diane Arbus,”there seems to be a consistent use of extra white space and word islands that make the readers eyes move across the page in a way more akin to the way one might view a photograph’s focal points. Did Arbus’s role as a photographer influence this? How did she inspire your letters?

FFF: Her story was so tragic and inspiring to me. I know what it feels like when you’re younger to carry dual identities of “artsy girl” and “good girl” — to be creative and curious, to want to ignore boundaries — but also to feel really compelled to always do what is expected of you, or what is seen as appropriate. Especially for a young person, I think the tension between those two can often be difficult and destructive. It’s hard to achieve balance when your own spirit pulls you one way, and the people you love and respect and trust push you another.

I understand what it feels like to abandon certain more conventional aspects of your identity — a domestic relationship with prescribed gender roles, for example — to cultivate others — to guard your freedom to exercise and create your own voice and perspective, to look at unpleasant things that you’re encouraged to gloss over. To make a home there. I think probably a lot of people understand that process and those feelings.

So, because of my own understanding of that, I feel a lot of tenderness for Diane Arbus. She lost so much, too — I think she was deeply lonely. She was very sick towards the end of her life, with hepatitis, which she contracted through frequent (and frequently careless) sex with strangers. I don’t know what that feels like, but I felt great empathy for her sense of loneliness, her constant need for a greater intellectual stimulus or discovery. I thought it was so tragic, but also so unsurprising — almost inevitable — that she killed herself. I started writing these letters to her years ago, when I was frightened by how much I identified with her, with the things that seemed to motivate her.

That white space — I like what you said about the focal point(s) of photographs a lot — I think of them as emotional punctuation, in those poems.


JC: Could you expand upon the red bearded man motif? The image surfaces in and out of the incarnations of “Exodus in X Minor,” as well as in another poem’s lines, reading “… I was two and had just died for the first time, ensconced by my river, my father had caught and breathed me back. I blurred towards his sky colored eyes, the mud-red of his hair.” I love the recurrence, because you frame the physical trait seamlessly, amplifying already emotive scenes with subtle awesomeness.

FFF: Well, in the opening poem, I try to use it to conflate a terrifying, violent, villainous figure from a very dark pocket of human history with a figure who represents some sort of complex safety, love, comfort, and reprieve or escape from the Fox-Haired Girl’s harsh reality. The goal was to create a trajectory in the book that defines these sorts of influences — joy and trauma, pain and relief, safety and threat — as inextricable, as inevitably linked. I don’t really believe you can have joy without suffering.

Our comfort, both individually and culturally, frequently creates others’ trauma or loss. I don’t believe that this is a new thing, either — I think it’s part of the human condition. I think we can be violent animals, with these selfish tendencies coded into our DNA, and the only way we can even begin to try to rise above them is to acknowledge their existence, and then work with our rational and spiritual minds, in concert, to overcome or work against these really deep-rooted impulses that cause people to do horrible things to each other.

I think to struggle against violence, brutality — evil — is a noble thing. But I also think that humans are imperfect creatures, and I do not believe that we will ever entirely succeed in that endeavor. And I think the people I personally find most distasteful are frequently people who think they stand only for love, equality, and respect, but are actually frequently unkind, bullying and running over other people because they’re so selfishly concerned with their own good feelings of being heard, of being right. They sometimes might feel that they have to be the loudest voice in the room.

And honestly, I feel empathy for them, too, because I think it’s hard not to be that way sometimes. I think we all have those impulses — to want to be recognized as right or as good, or to somehow dominate other people, especially if we are afraid they might be trying to dominate or harm us. I think one way to avoid acting on those impulses (as much as we possibly can avoid it) is to keep in mind that even the kindest people can have cruel impulses sometimes. Even the tenderest relationships can have elements of violence — and I think often vice versa. It’s a horrifying truth, and I was drawn to explore it because I think it is so difficult to process and address, to find your way in. Partly, the red beard seemed like an apt symbol of this to me because — as someone whose family heritage is partly Irish — the history of the Irish and of Irish-Americans provides really good examples of this human tendency — a blurring of lines where people who have been horribly victimized can also be victimizers.

So the red-beardedness was a visual anchor representing/executing that difficult concept of simultaneity. And the past life poems also deal with these concepts — it’s pretty important to the whole book, I think. I liked the idea that the present-day Fox-Haired Girl has had these past lives where her red-bearded counterpart has made appearances that emphasize this difficult concept. He isn’t always lover; he is sometimes caregiver, sometimes cause of torment or sadness or loss, sometimes protector, sometimes friend.

JC: You are serving as a co-editor of the Sundress Publications upcoming Politics of Identity Anthology. Are you excited?!

FFF:I couldn’t be more excited!! We have received a ton of absolutely amazing submissions, and we have a team of really smart readers helping us sift through them. I’m especially excited because I think it’s going to be a really inclusive collection. So, not just excited at the politically-oriented content, but really excited at the huge cross-section of American voices I think we’ll be able to curate next to each other. I think it’s going to be really special.

JC: Exodus also seems to reflect an attention to political subjects, such as the poem, “FOR MADDY LERNER, AGE 6, ACCIDENTALLY KILLED AT AN OUTDOOR FIRING RANGE IN UPSTATE NEW YORK.” What do you try to accomplish in your poetry when handling a subject recognized by many to be “political?”

FFF:I think I’m most interested in the nuances, conflicts, and contradictions of being human. I used to date someone who liked to joke that I’m incapable of feeling only one way about even a glass of water. It’s true. I think almost all of my work is about the struggles of what it means to be human. Specifically regarding the poem you mentioned — I am someone with a healthy fear of guns, and of what people with guns can do (and have done, and continue to do every single day), and I have no patience for individuals who assert loudly that their right to compile an arsenal of weapons somehow supersedes our collective need as a society to protect children. (To protect adults, for that matter.)

However, people are also frequently surprised to learn that I am a gun owner. I like guns. I think shooting guns recreationally is a lot of fun. I’ve never gone hunting, because I don’t want to kill anything, but my husband is from upstate New York, and he hunts deer, bear, turkey — and I’ve actually eaten the venison that he and his friends have shot (it was delicious). I have no patience for people who, in the guise of gun control advocacy, sneer at people in regionalist, classist, and/or racist ways — people who say they don’t like guns, but really mean that they don’t like people who like guns. They use words like “gangster” and “hillbilly” — it’s inflammatory rhetoric that obfuscates the actual issues involved in our problematic cultural relationship with guns, and with gun violence.

So, for me — I’m drawn to write about those tensions from a human perspective. I recognize vast and frightening problems in our current cultural climate regarding how we understand guns and gun culture. But I’m not really interested, in poetry or in life, in reductive answers or banner-waving. I don’t want to write a gun control poem or a gun rights poem. I want to write a poem about the confusions I feel — enjoying guns and loving people who love guns, and simultaneously being utterly revolted and terrified by the ultimate evil(s) that are routinely accomplished with guns, the shattering and staggering losses that are rendered through the use of guns.

I think trying to chip away at that is more important than making some sort of grand political statement. For me, I mean. There are plenty of other people writing the other sort of poems, filling that role in the world. It’s probably good to have that, too. It’s just not where the heat is for me. I like to think my poems serve a different purpose.
JC: In one of the poems entitled, “THE FOX-HAIRED GIRL VISITS A SPIRITUALIST MEDIUM IN UPSTATE NEW YORK, AND SEES ONE OF HER PAST LIVES,” you write between Haitian and English. Was the specific diction of this poem chosen based mostly on which language’s sound more accurately fit into each line? Would you ever consider composing an entire chapbook in Haitian?

FFF: I was definitely preoccupied with sound, and with how the enjambments would affect sound. I mean, I am always preoccupied with that, but the past life poems were difficult because in each of them, I had foreign languages that I wanted to tie in. I’ve studied several foreign languages — some for longer, and in a more academic setting, than others — but the music of the languages I was writing out of was really important to me. I actually had, in the ancient-Roman-past-life poem, a lot of Latin — ritualistic language about Vestal virgins, and Vesta — that I finally just took out, because I couldn’t get the sounds and enjambments to flow and measure in the way that I wanted.

Something similar happened with the Gaelic in the past-life poem that deals with widowhood. I was least frustrated about the Irish-widow poem losing the Gaelic, for reasons I’m not sure of — I guess maybe because Gaelic was nearly eradicated in Ireland for so long, it seemed potentially authentic for the poem to be entirely in English.

I struggled to keep at least a few words of Susquehannock in the mixed-ethnicity-early-American-seer-past-life poem, because it’s a language that has been almost entirely lost, and I really wanted to honor it with at least some inclusion. The Susquehannock lived in New York and Pennsylvania, and they were ravaged by war and by disease — they suffered aggression from other Native tribes, from what I’ve read, as well as from white settlers. They really got it with both barrels, and ultimately they were extinguished, with the few survivors marrying into other ethnic/social/tribal groups. The Susquehannock lived all along the Susquehanna River, which they named. And I grew up on that river, so I felt I wanted to do my best to include at least some of their language, as homage.

Books about Susquehannock language and grammar are actually very hard to find, because almost all of it was lost. I ended up buying some to pore over before I felt I could even try to write the poem. It was frustrating, though, because as someone who has spent a fair amount of her writing life working on translations (I was mildly obsessed with Georg Trakl for years), I wanted to create something that melded the music of both languages in a graceful way. With that one, I decided to let some Susquehannock words frame what might have been most important to the speaker in that particular life. A kind of hinge, to bring the reader back to certain visual elements, as well as spiritual and emotional elements.

So — all of that is by way of saying, I felt lucky that what I wanted to capture in the mixed-ethnicity-mother-and-partner poem seemed to come out so musically and gracefully using Haitian — and not too narrative. I like sharp enjambments, and I like a kind of gracefully jagged sound, with this type of poetic structure. I like the meaning to come from the sounds as much as from the literal definitions of the words. So I was relieved that I didn’t have to take all of that out — although I thought about doing so, since I had taken so much of the other languages out of the other past-life poems.

Your question about a chapbook entirely in Haitian is a really interesting one. Right now, I definitely don’t speak Haitian well enough to do something like that! However, I’m slowly putting together this project, with several friends of mine — it’s a book about acculturation, the blending of different cultural traditions in America, and it tackles, in part, current issue(s) of cultural appropriation, from several angles. The friends involved so far are Jamaican, Irish, West Indian, African — and many of them are of mixed ancestry (one of them identifies primarily as Jamaican, for example, but her family also has ancestry that is Indian and African and British), and so there’s an intermingling of different languages that’s starting to happen in that manuscript that I think is very cool.

I could see myself inviting one of my Haitian friends on board, once the project picks up steam — maybe I should say, if the project continues to pick up steam. It’s a back-burner, relaxed, “fun” project right now — which is such a relief in my life that I want to keep it that way. Right now, it’s a really good, go-with-the-flow group of friends who can talk about all this stuff with joy and humor and sensitivity and kindness and just patience with each other and ourselves. We can have what might, in some contexts, be difficult or stressful conversations, but the way we relate to each other, it’s nurturing and illuminating, and not stressful at all.

So, in that way I could see having a book that incorporates Haitian to a greater degree. I don’t think I’m really qualified at this point in time to write a book in any language other than English, except maybe German — and honestly, I’d probably need to brush up a lot to even do that! I could also definitely see myself maybe translating some Haitian poetry someday, if I get better at speaking it. Those few lines in Exodus took me a really long time, and I still feel nervous about whether I’ll find out later that I made some sort of translation mistake with them that I don’t know about yet.

JC: What’s next for Fox Frazier-Foley?

FFF: My first full-length collection of poems, The Hydromantic Histories, is coming out from Bright Hill Press this June! Chard deNiord selected it as their contest winner last autumn, which was a huge honor, and I’m so grateful to him and my Bright Hill editor, Bertha Rogers, for bringing this book into Real Ink. I had started to resign myself to the idea that this manuscript wasn’t going to find a home, and then Bertha called me that afternoon — it was so surreal. I made a scene in the restaurant when I got her message. Ha!

Other than that, I’m currently putting together an anthology of critical writing called Among Margins, which is coming out from Ricochet Editions in 2016. Several of the other Ricochet editors are working on it with me, and our list of contributors is absolutely off-the-hook — it’s a very exciting collection of voices, writing about their definitions of what makes cool art!

I’m also working on three manuscripts right now that are really different from anything I’ve done so far. One is called Monster, and it’s an illuminated manuscript of poetry that deals with mythological medieval monsters, and real historical figures, to interrogate various human concepts of the monstrous (and how we relate to/react to what we, or others, deem monstrous). Another, An Art Like Everything, is a collection of poems, lyric essays, letters, memoirs, and religious and medical texts. It’s about different definitions of female-ness and femininity, in American medicine and religion. And family relationships, and how we define power. And then there’s Raven Crown, which is a lot like Exodus in X Minor, but more expansive, and goes deeper, into more uncomfortable territory. I think that, out of the three, it will probably take me the longest time to get Raven Crown completely right. But I’d like to finish all of those books in the next year or two, and find homes for them, and promote them well.

I’m also starting up a new literary press in association with TheThe Poetry Blog! I’m really excited about that. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what I’ve started to term visionary poetics — poetry that is concerned with metaphysical vision, spiritual or even mystical vision — but also preoccupied with this world, and this art, and how to en/vision them. So I’ve been talking a lot lately with Micah Towery and Lisa Flowers about those ideas, and eventually I mentioned that we could be facilitating books of this kind. They were really excited about that possibility, too.

So we’ve been getting our ducks in a row to launch that pretty soon. I probably shouldn’t say too much more about that until we get things a little more finalized, though. But I think it’s extremely exciting. I think it’ll be a very nurturing experience, as a writer and an editor. I feel like I will breathe easy in that part of my life, which is a nice feeling.
Apart from those things, I’d really like to finish graduate school. Ha. I’m going to (finally!) graduate in 2016, and I could not be more ready for that step. And lately, I dream about moving to the Chesapeake Bay area and opening a bar with my husband. I don’t know whether we’ll end up doing that or not — I’d still really like to teach creative writing, too — but it’s a nice dream. It’s definitely a source of comfort lately. I dream about it a lot.

JC: And finally, the most pressing question: 

  the song, “What does the Fox say?” Love it or leave it?

FFF: HA. Somewhere in between? My husband thinks it’s really funny, after I get mad and tell someone off (not that this happens very often, but it does happen on occasion), to add, “That’s what the Fox says.” He looks really entertained and pleased with himself afterwards, and I think it’s really cute. Wait, am I a feminist poet ending an interview about her first book by gushing over her husband?

Just in case that’s a conclusion that might undermine my reputation as A Very Serious Writer and Thinker, I’ll add:

Be excellent to each other.

You can reading Fox Frazier-Foley’s chapbook, Exodus in X Minor, for free at the Sundress Publications website or order a hard copy here.


Fox Frazier-Foley is an initiate of Haitian Vodou who hails from upstate New York and northern Virginia. Her first full-length collection of poems, The Hydromantic Histories, was chosen by Chard deNiord as winner of the 2013 Bright Hill Press Poetry Book Prize, and is forthcoming in 2015. She is a Founding Editor and Managing Editor of the Los Angeles-based small press Ricochet Editions, and Editor-Curator of TheThe Infoxicated Corner at TheThe Poetry Blog. She is co-editor of a forthcoming anthology of American political poetry (Sundress Publications, 2016) and Among Margins, an anthology of critical writing on aesthetics (Ricochet Editions, 2016). She is a staff writer and creator of poetry horoscopes for Luna Luna. She was graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Binghamton University, received her MFA from Columbia University, and is currently a PhD candidate and Provost’s Fellow in the Literature & Creative Writing Department at the University of Southern California.

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

Project Bookshelf: Jacob L. Cross


No matter how many screws and nails I bore into it, my bedroom bookshelf seems to always be overburdened to the point of collapse. I have yet to resort to the most durable and cost effective method of book storage my mother utilized in our old home, in which she stacked concrete cinder blocks and pine planks to great effect. When she moved out of that house, she counted 36 boxes of backbreaking literature. I am steadily on my way to a similar heft, with two other book shelves of the same size pictured above completely full. My bookshelf usually looks as if it’s been plundered and ransacked, but it’s only out of love.

I usually reserve the tops of a bookshelf for keepsakes. A sketch of my favorite graphic novel character, Scott Pilgrim, as drawn by my friend and illustrator A.J. Chaos, sits proudly alongside my bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois Springfield. And Boba Fett? Someone has to keep my prized collection safe.

By “prized collection,” I do not mean a mere collection of paper I boast a quirky fondness for. They are old friends, bindings, and their attributable memories hold their real worth. The hard copies we gather take on a life of their own, a uniqueness in their ability to trigger past places, sounds, and people. My copy of Charles Bukowski’s Play the Piano Drunk Like a Percussion Instrument Until the Fingers Begin to Bleed a Bit summons the smell of a Colorado book shop, hail at 6,000 feet above sea level, and a punk band called Lost Years from Gary, Indiana. The band named a song after Bukowski’s poetry collection, this anthem becoming the soundtrack to my honeymoon. It’s beyond cool when art causes these kind of unexpected convergences.

There’s a copy of A Coney Island of the Mind by Lawrence Ferlinghetti I bought because Mary Jo Bang told me to. I was at a book signing of hers hosted at the University of Illinois Springfield. Judy Jordan also visited the same campus during my two years in the Land of Lincoln. A signed edition of her book, Carolina Ghost Woods, lies tucked above Maus. Both Mary and Judy taught me that the greatest heroes are also the most humble.

Sandra Lim’s The Wilderness is suspended precariously above Smaug the Terrible on the cover of a Hobbit edition I have flipped through since I was eleven years old. You won’t find Sommer Browning’s Backup Singers on the shelves, because I am too busy eating it up at my bedside. There is a copy of Passion is a Fashion: The Real Story of The Clash that I still need to return to its rightful owner, a book borrowed for at least two years. Or maybe it’s been three.

Music journalism and leaps into band biographies have always pulled at my heart strings. One of my coolest books is Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs, given to me by an equally cool John A. Logan College English professor. He wrote inside the cover in May 2010, “I hope the future finds you at the confluence of your two passions: music and writing.” I may not be a music journalist, Matt, but I plan to be a poet.

And to that end, and this blog post’s as well, I have to thank every teacher who has filled my home with unexpected, powerful words. I have wondered into so many emotive journeys, paths I would never have found on my own. Like a Fish by Daniel Crocker, Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen, The Bat by Jo Nesbo, The Branches, the Axe, the Missing by Charlotte Pence, 420 Characters by Lou Beach, Streets in their Own Ink by Stuart Dybek, Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, They Could No Longer Contain Themselves from Rose Metal Press, and all the writing/craft books I leave around the house to stub my toes on.

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