Interview with MR Sheffield, Author of Marvels

Marvels by MR Sheffield

Sundress Publications editorial intern Jenna Geisinger sat down to talk with Sundress author MR Sheffield, author of the new release, Marvels, about the ways the book practically wrote itself.

Jenna Geisinger: In your collection, Marvels,  you frame each section with a found poem from H.D. Northrop’s copy of Marvels of Natural History. How did you come across this copy?

MR Sheffield: We have several bookcases full of books A lot of them I purchased, but many were given to us. Marvels of Natural History is one such book. I actually just noticed it on my bookshelf one evening and was immediately enthralled.

JG: What inspired you to incorporate his poems into your collection?

MR: His descriptions aren’t really poetry. It’s a book of illustrations and information on animals. The kind you give to kids. You know, before the internet. Anyway, some of his descriptions are so strange and out of date. Like the double-fish entry—it’s just bizarre. And, I don’t know, it seemed like this stuff wanted to be poetry.

JG: The found poems are descriptions of different animals, which you repurpose in the rest of the poems of the section to apply to a mother/daughter relationship, creating really lovely extended metaphors. How did you make the connection between these “marvels of natural history” and Gladys and her mother? What struck you about animal characteristics applied to humans?

MR: Thank you. The extended metaphors grew out of the book itself—I can’t take credit for that. But, we tend to draw such a thick, black line between ourselves and animals, when really (and as everyone suspects, but perhaps denies) we’re all just animals. “Just.” It seemed to me that HD got to kind of go on this wonderful adventure describing these animals. I imagined the mother doing that—being this grand, world explorer who loves her daughter but will not sacrifice for her.

JG: Gladys and her mother communicate through various forms: telephone/voicemail, letter, and fax. Why did you choose to defy the time period?

MR: I thought it would be funny. It also seems to me that, although we have these new forms of communication (social media being a primary form more and more), we’re still saying the same awkward things. That is whether, through a conversation, a fax, a text message, or a comment on Instagram, we are preoccupied with the same old thing—the human condition.

JG: Your collection explores the themes of grief and abandonment within a family. Why did you choose to show both Gladys and her mother’s perspective, as opposed to just one?

MR: I don’t like the idea of one person dominating the conversation. It’s important to consider other perspectives. I thought bringing in Gladys would do this.

JG: What inspired you to make Northrop a love interest of Gladys? How do you think it adds to the larger arc?

MR: I’m not sure—that just kind of happened. I was so focused on him, and I wanted a reason for his presence.

JG: In your bio, it is noted that this is your first collection. What was your approach to tackling a work of this magnitude?

MR: I just wrote it, haha. At the time I was taking a writing workshop with Nick Flynn. He had us do freewriting exercises every evening. Those exercises became this book. This might sound stupid, but it kind of wrote itself.

JG: If you were to write another collection, would you change your approach?

MR: For sure, I want to try many different types of writing. I have a few other manuscripts of prose poetry and fiction. Right now, I’m working on a novel. It is definitely not writing itself, haha.

JG: What are you reading currently?

MR: Honestly? I’m reading a self-help book called Stop Obsessing. I’m not sure whether or not it’s helping.

MR Sheffield’s book, Marvels, is available for sale here.


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MR Sheffield’s work has been published in Black Warrior ReviewHayden’s Ferry ReviewThe Florida Review, and other publications. This is her first book.

 

 

 

More of Sheffield’s work can be found here:

2017 Black Warrior Review Spring/Summer Edition 

2016 Hayden’s Ferry Review Spring/Summer Edition

37.1 2012 The Florida Review

Marvels at Sundress (pre-order)

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Jenna Geisinger is a fiction and creative non-fiction writer from New Jersey. She attends the MFA Professional and Creative Writing Program at William Paterson University, while working as an associate managing editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal and a reader for Philadelphia Stories, where she has been previously published.

 

 

 

A-Line: Amorak Huey’s Seducing the Asparagus Queen

Sundress Publications is pleased to present A-Line, a new review series. A-Line will feature reviews of new books and chapbooks by our Sundress authors published by other presses. Our hope is to feature the critical and thoughtful insights of our editorial interns about books by the authors we love.

 

Asparagus-Cover-204x300-1.jpgAmorak Huey’s second full-length collection Seducing the Asparagus Queen can best be described by a line from “Six Years in Sudbury, Ontario”: “Whatever doesn’t kill you fucks you up in some other way.” Huey’s book chafes against American culture and with that the American Dream, by using common sayings about work or life and twisting them to reveal the truth—when bad things happen you don’t just get over them unscathed no matter how many cross-stitched pillows say you will, there will be scars. You’ll come home from war and your father still won’t be proud. You’ll work a job, grind yourself down because you’re supposed to, and your wife will touch herself to Dancing with the Stars while you get drunk and flirt with someone from high school in the same stuck as you. Huey makes the truth easier to swallow with his witty and punchy lines like “Cut your girlfriend in half, she holds it against you for weeks.”

The pairing of his humorous, cut-through-the-thick tone with intriguing images make his poems ache—the embodiment of the broken extrovert, bandaging his wounds in laughter like the clown imagery in a few of his poems. Because of this I found Seducing the Asparagus Queen refreshing and relatable. Huey captures every phase of life—the restlessness and desperation of youth, the disillusionment and the self-doubt of adulthood, mourning, and really the disillusionment with life in general. I felt understood by this chapbook. Like I slumped down in a barstool, head to bar top, and this chapbook slid me a whiskey shot, and gave voice to the stirring feelings underneath. It told me that life is hell and probably cursed a few times before taking another shot, pausing as the whiskey burned its throat and said that no one has the answers. I found a comfort and camaraderie in feeling stuck, in someone wading in too far to turn back, but unsure of how to continue. Whether that be the moment in the back of a car somewhere in the middle of nowhere, where touch is the only language, your whole future ahead of you, or you’re trying to figure out how to fit, how to work, how to be a parent, how to let go of one home for another, how to lose someone and keep moving forward. Seducing the Asparagus Queen is funny, insightful, and exactly what I needed to read.

 

Order Seducing the Asparagus Queen at Cloudbank Books

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Jenna Geisinger is a fiction and creative non-fiction writer from New Jersey. She attends the MFA Professional and Creative Writing Program at William Paterson University, while working as an associate managing editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal and a reader for Philadelphia Stories, where she has been previously published.

The Weight of Inheritance: Interview with Erika Eckart

The Tyranny of HeirloomsErika Eckart discussed her forthcoming chapbook of prose poetry, The Tyranny of Heirlooms (Sundress Publications, 2018).

Jenna Geisinger (JG): I am obsessed with the metaphor of heirlooms, which are usually connoted with sentimental or valuable objects passed down a family line, but in this collection, we are looking at heirlooms in a new light—as tradition, religion, regret, parenthood/mental illness, etc. How did you come to heirlooms as a metaphor?

Erika Eckart (EE): “The Tyranny of Heirlooms” is the title of an article in The New York Times. My dear friend, Judi Van Erden, told me about the article and described to me the phenomenon it discussed, that nobody wants them anymore, these treasures, but we take them along, keep them strapped to us like carpetbaggers out of obligation and we bend and bow under the weight of them, both physical and emotional. It got me thinking about everything else that we inherit that we had rather not: trauma, disease, addiction, really ugly dishes. I went home that day and listed everything negative I had to carry around from my ancestors: a grandfather who wore blackface, alcoholism, heart disease, just to name a few.

My mother has had a couple strokes and a heart attack and after each one of these incidents she shows up at my house with more stuff, things I didn’t even know she had, wedding china from her second husband. She’s unloading in a frantic reverse nesting. I had been working on a poem about this hot-potato-hand-off of goods and decided this title felt right. This collection went through a few iterations and was actually orphaned by a publisher which shut down before print–along the way as it evolved I saw the weight of inheritance as a common theme throughout. I like that the root word “loom” is in there, it suggests a stubborn presence, something that isn’t going anywhere.

JG: I was excited when I saw that The Tyranny of Heirlooms was composed of prose poetry. I was even more excited as I was reading because in a way it lends itself to the biblical and mythological references, while also emphasizing the collection’s challenge of traditional beliefs. Why did you choose to use this format for the entire collection? Do you prefer writing in prose as opposed to stanzas?

EE: In undergrad I really thought I was a fiction writer, but my short stories were dense thickets much to the irritation of my professors. Then in a mandatory poetry class we had to read and imitate Carolyn Forche’s “The Colonel.” I didn’t know you could break the rules like that, and I was thrilled to find this new set of rules. I love how much of an assault a prose poem can be. How breathless and harried and surprising it is to see the music and imagery of poetry all packed into a tidy paragraph.

I adore how they challenge the notion of what can be a poem and therefore how they challenge the idea of classification and a bunch of imagined finger-wagging order keepers. I feel like they are the right vessel for some of the rule breaking I want to do.

JG: In the first half of the collection, the speakers seem to be adults—many parents with children—while the second half seems to be predominantly comprised of child speakers with an emotionally abusive mother. Why did you choose to organize the poems in this manner?

EE: I had this body of work that I felt had a common theme and form and I was looking for a way to make them feel cohesive. I felt the poems in the first half were dramatic monologues, all representing different people but with a common theme: unfulfilled longing or regret or just this very human idea vulnerability. The second half are in one voice, a child’s. These are semi-autobiographical pieces, and I looked at it as taking one dramatic monologue and exploding it, giving an opportunity for one character to explicate their formative experiences.erika

JG: Has teaching changed your worldview or informed your writing in new ways?

EE: Teaching has made me much more more generous to people in my writing. In teaching thousands of students I have only found goodness and compassion and light. I’ve also discovered in a concrete way that everyone has a unique story, no one is a cliche.

Another way teaching has informed my writing is through repeated readings of texts. Often I will teach something for a few years in a row and each year I get to read and discuss it with students several times a day. It is like a seance, where we bring to life the words of a writer everyday, and there is something spiritual about it and it opens up new pathways  For example, I teach a set of poems about Icarus and have students evaluate how author’s subvert myth for their own purposes. And this constant evaluation of these works got me thinking about Daedalus and how we empathize with Icarus, with youth culture and how my perspective has evolved since become an old person and a parent. The product of that was the poem “Daedalus,” which is in the book.

JG: In your author’s bio, you mention the currently untitled novel you are writing. Do you approach fiction and poetry differently? Has working in two different genres changed how you write in either genre?

EE: Writing poetry is intense work of examining each word, deciding if a sentence can survive without an article or preposition, finding ways to express something in fewer syllables, inverting and playing with verb tense, whispering to yourself a line 30 or 40 times. It is about collapsing language to its core. Fiction, on the other hand, is about expansion. It draws on a whole other set of skills. To maintain several plot threads, to tease out an idea over 2 to 3 hundred pages requires a kind of sustained plate spinning over months or years. I have always done both so I’m not sure how they impact one another, having before and after to compare.

JG: What books are you currently reading?

EE: Right now, I am simultaneously reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World.

You can read the collection now for free here! 



Erika Eckart‘s work has appeared in Double Room, Quick Fiction, Quarter After Eight, Quiddity, nano fiction, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Ghost Ocean and Women’s Studies Quarterly. She has an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing and English from Loyola University Chicago and an M.Ed. in Language, Literacy and Culture at the University of Illinois at Chicago. When not writing, she teaches high school English in a suburb of Chicago and makes vegan baked goods for her husband, Mark Donahue, and their two children, Ella and Archer. She is currently writing a yet untitled novel about a cult leader, an energy megacorporation and a popular high school girl found dead in a river.

Jenna Geisinger is a fiction and creative non-fiction writer from New Jersey. She attends the MFA Professional and Creative Writing Program at William Paterson University, while working as an associate managing editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal and a reader for Philadelphia Stories, where she has been published.

Project Bookshelf: Jenna Geisinger

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As you can see, my bookshelf isn’t much of a bookshelf at all. Right now, it is a box and three piles on the floor. I am in the process of moving to North Jersey for graduate school. This is not all of them. I have a terrible habit of leaving the books I’m currently reading out on coffee tables, counters, armchairs of couches, etc… It is this habit that made me want a bookshelf because my family will use my books as coasters (my biggest pet peeve) and leave coffee stains on covers, or just stain the entirety of Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. The pages are warped and stuck together. (My mom is trying to convince me to leave some books home, but I will lay in traffic before I leave my books with those careless people).

Some of my books are pieces of comfort—stories I love and reread over and over. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell is one of my favorites. When I transferred to Stockton University from community college, I was so nervous. What if I couldn’t do it? I found solace in Rowell’s novel, whose protagonist suffers the same social anxiety as me. Cath’s life and circumstances were very similar to my own, and even though she subsisted off of protein bars because she was too afraid to ask where the cafeteria was (100% something I would do), she made it. It was the first time I found a book where the protagonist suffered from anxiety, but the anxiety was merely a trait of the character, rather than the focus of the novel. I felt like someone understood how I thought and felt.

Other books I love because of the stories of course, but also because of the memories associated with them—as if they could be pressed into the pages like a flower. I reread them and remember who I was when I first read them, where I was when I bought them. I bought Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalist and read most of it on a trip to Yale with my independent study, where Shilo and I explored New Haven, CT, getting lost trying to find a bookstore. We went to handle the earliest edition of Aphra Behn’s Love Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister, which we had been helping our professor edit in terms of where to put footnotes for “The Clever College Student.” The Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri, which I bought in the second-hand bookstore we eventually found. Tenth of December by George Saunders is in the mix there, which I started reading because a professor commented that a short story I wrote reminded him of George Saunders, and then it became a comfort after I was in the hospital room when my beloved grandmother took her last rattled breaths.

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Jenna Geisinger is a fiction and creative non-fiction writer from New Jersey. She attends the MFA Professional and Creative Writing Program at William Paterson University, while working as an associate managing editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal and a reader for Philadelphia Stories, where she has been published.

Meet Our New Editorial Intern: Jenna Geisinger

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Reading has always been an escape for me. I felt like books were places of comfort, that tucked you in and welcomed you back just where you left off. Most summers I begged my mom to drive me to our library, and I’d take out the five book maximum, then return the next week for five more books. I spent hours reading without realizing how much time had passed. I was the kid that came to school zombie-fied by a book I couldn’t put down. To me, the lives of the characters in the books were more interesting, or fulfilling, than my life.

In elementary school I started writing. Sort of. It started with my own version of A Series of Unfortunate Events. I spent three long sentences describing every aspect of Mr. Poe—the olive green of his jacket, the bristle of his mustache, the scuffed shoes, his nervous hands—I wanted to make Mr. Poe standing at the door so real. I wanted to make it as real as the book was to me. Thankfully, I learned to pare down my sentences, but the first drafts are still gunked with too many adjectives.

However, writing will never provide the same escape for me that reading has. Writing is gruesome. It’s tiring—it’s writing five drafts simultaneously of the same story because you can’t make up your mind about the narrator. It’s rereading and rearranging the same paragraph, reading it aloud to yourself and hearing where the flow hiccups, but having no clue how to smoothen it out. I love writing, but it is work, and it is too vulnerable to my doubt and criticism, as well as that of others. Reading is intimate, accepting you in whatever mental or emotional state you’re in, and lets you step into someone else’s life for a little while. It wows you with shiny sentences, and tricks you with plot structure, but it’s free of the worry and overthinking that writing welcomes. I want to give that to someone else. I want to welcome them into a story and tell them everything will be fine, everything else can wait.

In the last year or so, the pressure has been mounting about what to do after college. Senior year ticked on, the deadline inching closer, waiting for my decision. I spoke extensively with my mentor about whether I should apply to graduate school. Was it worth it? In her small office, closed in with wall-to-wall bookshelves, she asked me what I pictured myself doing. I told her that I would love to write novels, but that is impractical. That is a side project. Then I looked at her—this polished writer with an award-winning chapbook under her belt—and said that I thought I could be happy being a part of the process to create published work. My favorite part of workshop classes was editing. I loved polishing my peers’ stories, showing them what they couldn’t see. I am really excited to intern at Sundress Publications and be so close to stories.

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Jenna Geisinger is a fiction and creative non-fiction writer from New Jersey. She attends the MFA Professional and Creative Writing Program at William Paterson University, while working as an associate managing editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal and a reader for Philadelphia Stories, where she has been published.