Lyric Essentials: Amanda Gomez Reads Miguel Hernández

Hello, and thank you for joining us again for Lyric Essentials! This week, we are pleased to hear from Amanda Gomez, who reads poetry from Miguel Hernández to us and chats about viewing poetry as a tool for hope and teaching literary citizenship through exposure to diverse writers. Thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose these two particular poems by Miguel Hernández to read for Lyric Essentials?

Amanda Gomez: Despite the fact that Miguel Hernández is one of the most popular 20th century Spanish poets, I am very new to his work. I purchased The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández, edited by Ted Genoways, last year, but it was not until this spring that I began to read his work. It seems easy to say that I chose to read Hernández work because I have just recently finished reading his work, but I think it is his urgency that compels me. With everything going on around us, the pandemic and the ways in which it has exacerbated the inequities of our systems, police brutality and the murders of innocent Black lives, systems of oppression that continue to exist, I wanted to return to someone who has come before, and Hernández is that person for me at the moment. Hernández fought for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and both of the poems I decided to read were written by him from jail after having been imprisoned by Francisco Franco.

The first poem I chose, “Lullaby of the Onion,” was the very first poem of Hernández’ work that I was introduced to, and it is probably his most well-known poem. Hernández wrote the poem in response to a letter from his wife in which she details how she and their child were starving, and the child was malnourished having only onions and bread to eat. Hernández resists despair throughout this poem. It is not just a love poem, but a political poem: he illustrates the poet’s work is not simply to witness the moment but to reimagine a new future.

The problem with imagination, however, is that it’s rooted in our bodily experiences, and if left unchecked becomes dangerous, which is why I’ve also chosen “The World is as it Appears.” Here, Hernández’ hopeful tone is more restrained. In one line he writes, “[n]o one has seen us. We have seen / no one,” highlighting the ways in which we flatten the identities and experiences of others and conflate them with our own, reducing our capability for compassion and empathy. And while this is human error, I think we could interrogate this idea further as to how power interacts with these moments. For instance, I am reminded of D. L. Hughley who said, “The most dangerous place for Black people to live is in White people’s imagination.” I am fearful that we as a country will continue to remain blind, “blind as we are from seeing,” as Hernández ends the poem. But if there is some consolation, it is that “[i]t takes work and love / to see these things with you.”

In choosing these poems, I wanted hope for the future. Hope for now, but I can’t see that hope being viable without looking back to the past.

Amanda Gomez reads “The World as it Appears” by Miguel Hernández

EH: In our emails, you mention Don Share reading his translation of Miguel Hernández’ poem “Lullaby of the Onion” as your introductory point to Hernández’ work. What about that experience of hearing that poem aloud resonated with you so deeply?

AG: Listening to Don Share read the poem was enthralling for me. I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing, which was driving in my car, and just as he began the poem, I was parking in a gravel parking lot outside of a local coffee shop. I could not get out of the car until I had listened to the entire poem on repeat multiple times.

I am drawn to people’s voices. A speaker’s intonations and pauses are just as interesting to me as the words. In the act of listening, I am learning about the writer and the speaker, and sometimes those identities are shared in the same person and sometimes those identities are shared by two different people, but I find listening an erotic act. I can’t imagine anyone reads the same poem the exact same way every time. We linger in places that hold our attention more, and those places speak to us at very finite points in time. So for me, I could hear the nostalgia in Share’s voice in the places his voice warmed, knowing he’d read it many times.

However, I will admit that while listening to the poem was a great moment, reading the poem was a very lackluster experience the first time. It took multiple readings for me to come to my own appreciation and understanding of the poem.

Amanda Gomez reads “Lullaby of the Onion” by Miguel Hernández

EH: Has Hernández’ work influenced your own writing in some way?

AG: I would still say I am new to Hernández’ work, so I can’t exactly say how he has influenced my writing directly. I can say that Hernández’ imagery has stuck with me. He ends his poem “A Photograph,” by saying, “a picture accompanies me,” and I enjoy how much weight he places on the image. In one poem, there are “rustling eyelashes of the canefield,” and in another poem, “there is an orchard of mouths.” It is hard not to walk away from one of his poems without remembering these phrases, reminding me to always continue to invent new ways of seeing everything around me.

EH: How does your teacher-writer relationship impact the poetry that you read and/or teach?

AG: Being a writer has definitely impacted the way I teach and what poetry I teach. It wasn’t until graduate school that I encountered poets outside of the canon, Latinx poets that I could relate to and identify with, and I think that is such a travesty. I don’t want my students having to wait that long to find authors that look like them. I make it a priority to focus on QTBIPOC writers. I want author identity to be important to my students, though I do worry that my students come to the page to reassert their own opinions or biases rather than to confront them. I try to incorporate as many writers as possible to confront this concern and dialogue with them.

I’m also thinking about ways in which to teach my students the importance of literary citizenship. Many of the writers I choose are contemporary writers because I want them to think about the ways in which art serves us and how we can reciprocate. I also try to maintain some sort of balance between books published by large presses and small presses, so students can think about and talk about access to art as well.  

EH: Lastly, is there anything you are currently working on that you’d like to share with our readers? 

AG: Yes! My first chapbook, Wasting Disease, will be available in October through Finishing Line Press, and it is available for pre-order now. I am also working on a hybrid work that could probably best be described as lyrical essay. Growing up, most of my education came through television and movies. My parents were fascinated with American lore, and it was always a bit eerie to me. My dad especially loves Western movies, and so the piece is an exploration of John Wayne and his wives, a characteristic someone once described as the most “un-American” thing about Wayne. My primary focus is his second wife, Esperanza Baur, and I want to think through and reimagine her history as it’s hard to see her clearly past the patriarchal whitewash. At least, that’s my opinion.


Miguel Hernández is an early 20th century Spanish poet and playwright who gained fame as a political figure who wrote and read poetry during the Spanish Civil War. The son of an impoverished goat herder, Hernández was self-taught despite being discouraged and abused by his father for wanting to pursue writing. A member of the Communist Party of Spain, Hernández was arrested several times for his anti-fascist views and wrote many of his works from jail, some poems as love letters for his wife. Hernández’ prison poems which were collected and published posthumosly as Cancionero y romancero de ausencia (Songs and Ballads of Absence). Throughout his lifetime, he wrote five books of poetry and six plays. He died in 1942 in prison, at the age of 31.

Further reading:

Purchase The Selected Poems of Miguel Hernández, edited by Ted Genoways.
Read this feature about Hernández in Latino Life magazine.
Learn more about editor and translator Ted Genoways on his website.

Amanda Gomez is a Latinx poet from Norfolk, VA, where she received her MFA in poetry at Old Dominion University. Some of her poems have appeared in Nimrod International Journal, North American Review, PANK, Tupelo Quarterly, and Writers Resist. Her chapbook, Wasting Disease, which was awarded 2nd Honorable Mention in the New Women’s Voices Competition, is now available for pre-order through Finishing Line Press.   

Further reading:

Keep updated about Amanda Gomez by visiting her website.
Read Gomez’ prize winning poem “Grind” in the Academy of American Poets.
Read Gomez’ interview of Azar Nafisi in Barely South Review.

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at http://ericahoffmeister.com/

Lyric Essentials: Amorak Huey Reads Traci Brimhall

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! This week, we welcome Sundress author, Amorak Huey to read poems by Traci Brimhall and talk about the craft and hidden influences of our favorite poetry. Thank you for reading!

Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read these poems by Traci Brimhall?

Amorak Huey: When people ask me my favorite poet, I always say Traci Brimhall. I first became aware of her work at an AWP offsite reading in Washington. I was there to support my friend Todd Kaneko, who was reading, and Traci was reading as well. I found out she was doing her PhD at Western Michigan, where I’d done my MFA—and then she read poems from Rookery, her first book. They blew me away. I bought the book that night, and I’ve read it dozens of times, and I’ve taught it in my advanced undergraduate workshop many times. All of her subsequent books have been similarly important to me, and her newest, Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod, is incredible. So, she’s a super important poet to me, and these poems I think are great examples of what I love about her work—the intertwining of love, intimacy, tenderness, violence, and vulnerability—and on a craft level, the language is immaculate.

Amorak Huey reads “Self-Portrait as Milk Hare in Active Shooter Alert” by Traci Brimhall

EH: On the surface, these poems from Brimhall are strikingly different than your latest poetry collection Boom Box. Are there any influences or similarities that you’ve drawn from Brimhall’s work when writing your own poetry?

AH: Her work I think probably has a kind of hidden influence on my writing. Like, maybe not one that a reader would pick up on, but that’s there for me. I mean, I revisit her poetry all the time, and I will read a poem and sit with it, just trying to wrap my mind around how she uses language, how she puts lines and images together. When I’m stuck in my own head and struggling to make language work on the page, I’ll go back to Traci’s books. I think her influence might be more visible in, say, my first collection, Ha Ha Ha Thump, and possibly in my forthcoming book, than it is in Boom Box, which differs from her poems so much in subject matter, and definitely leans into nostalgia more than most of her work does. Her poems tend to be more urgent and more present than mine are, I think, and that’s something I try to use to push myself. I would never claim my work is similar to hers, but I aspire to do what she does. I would love for something I write to land in a reader’s body the way her work lands in mine.   

Amorak Huey reads “Ars Poetica” by Traci Brimhall

EH: Everyone has a personal relationship with reading poetry aloud. Would you like to share your experience when reading and recording Brimhall’s poems for Lyric Essentials?

AH: Like many people, I hate the sound of my own recorded voice, so I certainly feel a bit awkward recording anything. I also felt pressure to do the poems justice. I love them so much. But I do love reading poems out loud, whether my own poems or someone else’s. I read to my students a lot, and I have gotten more comfortable with it over the years. Robert Pinsky says the medium of a poem is the breath and body of the reader, and I believe that–so reading a poem I love out loud is a great way to experience it.

Amorak Huey reads “Fledgling” by Traci Brimhall

EH:  Is there anything you are working on now that you’d like to share with readers?

AH: I haven’t been writing a lot of poetry this year. But, not entirely coincidentally, I’m taking a 24 Pearl Street workshop led by Traci on poetry and the body, and her prompts and discussions (and having deadlines!) have helped me draft some new poems. But my next big thing is that my fourth full-length collection, Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy, comes out in 2021 from Sundress.


Traci Brimhall is a lyric poet and author of four poetry collections including Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod (2020) and Saudade (2017). Her book Our Lady of the Ruins was selected for the Barnard women’s poetry prize in 2012, and her first collection, Rookery, was the 2010 winner of a Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award and a finalist for the ForeWord Book of the Year Award. Brimhall’s work has been published in The New Yorker, Poetry, Ploughshares, Kenyon Review, and has also been featured on Poetry Daily, PBS Newshour, and Best American Poetry. Originally from Minnesota, Brimhall earned her MFA from Sarah Lawrence and her PhD from Western Michigan and now teaches creative writing at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, where she lives.

Further reading:

Read Brimhall’s latest collection, Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod.
Listen to Brimhall read and discuss her poem “Resistance” on The Poetry Magazine Podcast.
Get to know more about Traci Brimhall at her website.

Amorak Huey is the author of the poetry collections Dad Jokes from Late in the Patriarchy (Sundress Publications, forthcoming in 2021), Boom Box (Sundress Publications, 2019), Seducing the Asparagus Queen (Cloudbank, 2018), and Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress Publications, 2015), as well as two chapbooks. Co-author with W. Todd Kaneko of the textbook Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury, 2018). Huey teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan.

Further reading:

Purchase Boom Box by Huey from Sundress Publications.
Read this interview with Huey from The Kenyon Review on Poetry: A Writer’s Guide and Anthology.
Follow Amorak Huey on Twitter.

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at http://ericahoffmeister.com/

Lyric Essentials: Susan Lilley Reads Eavan Boland

Thank you for joining us again for the latest installment of Lyric Essentials! This week, Orlando Poet Laureate Susan Lilley joins us to gush all about legendary Irish poet Eavan Boland, who passed this spring. Thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: What is your personal connection with Eavan Boland?

Susan Lilley: Eavan Boland has become one of the most important poets to me personally over the last two decades. I first discovered her as a teacher while learning about the AP Literature exam, and her knock-out poem “It’s a Woman’s World” was an essay prompt in the late 90s. I teach that poem to this day, and it is a feast for students to delve into feminist ideas and the magic of the poetic line. A spare, gorgeous, timeless piece.

EH: Has Boland’s work influenced your own poetry or poet’s identity?

SL: I developed slowly as a poet while raising kids and making a living. It always seemed that the same creative energy spent in mothering was also the source of my poetry. Not that I only write poems of domestic life, but the energy stems from the same source–deep deep deep. Boland is that poet, for me, who gave permission to bring all of that experience (and, let’s face it, love and anxiety of child-rearing) into my work. I chose to read “Energies” (from her book Night Feed) here because, like “It’s a Woman’s World,” the imagery of daily rhythms and domestic detail taps at something ineffable and transitory under the surface.

Susan Lilley reads “Energies” by Eavan Boland

EH: What is your relationship with Boland’s poetry?

SL: I have to say that Against Love Poetry is the book that I reread the most. A poem that seems to have come from her sifting through the lives of the past is a desperately sad love story set during a famine, “Quarantine.”  The opening lines are unnerving and bold:  “In the worst hour of the worst season/ of the worst year of a whole people/ a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.”  The terrible challenge of trying to escape famine-related death only to succumb “under freezing stars” and be found dead in the morning is wrenching to read, but most moving in the narrative are the two lines in the third stanza, which describe and interpret the couple’s last moments before dying of cold and hunger:

            “But her feet were held against his breastbone.

             The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.”

After the three four-line stanzas tell this stark tale, the last two bring the story into direct connection with the book’s theme and title:

            Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.

                        There is no place here for the inexact

            praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.

            There is only time for this merciless inventory:

The last stanza lists the categorical facts of the couple’s suffering and death in 1847, and ends with a more sober and powerful definition of love than ever attempted by those courtier-songwriters, Wyatt and Raleigh:  “what there is between a man and a woman./ And in which darkness it can best be proved.” I so admire this poem’s leap from narrative to dissection of what love means at “this threshold”—far from the ditties of romantic dalliances at court Boland so obediently studied in her youth. No wonder she’s “against love poetry”!

Susan Lilley reads “Thanked be Fortune” by Eavan Boland

EH: Boland’s identity as an Irish feminist poet has gained a reputation for giving voice to previously unspoken women’s experiences through poetry—and she gives credit to Sylvia Plath for doing the same for her. Do you feel Boland has given voice with poetry for you and your experiences?

SL: In Boland we have an authentic female voice, a voice both steeped in literary tradition and yet strong enough to buck its patriarchal dominance, a voice that speaks to me both personally and politically as a woman. When Boland says “we [women] were never at the scene of the crime” she is invoking not only Irish history but every woman’s history, and the blessing and curse of the domestic world to which (she says in the introduction to an essential essay collection, Object Lessons) her body led her at the same time she was trying to become a poet. A difficult path, especially “in a country where the word woman and the word poet were almost magnetically opposed.” This divided experience is shared by women in other countries and other generations, and is undoubtedly still a nagging truth in the lives of many women artists today.

Boland’s literary training simultaneously intimidated her and prepared her for the life of a poet. Her historical sensibility is very present in these poems, but now she seems to have control over what used to subdue and even sometimes alienate her. In the second poem I chose to read, “Thanked be Fortune,” Sir Thomas Wyatt is invoked in the title, a line from his 1535 poem “They Flee from Me,” in which a bereft courtier first whines about his falling popularity with the women of the court and then indulges in a sensual memory (“thanked be fortune, it hath been otherwise . . .”).  Even a momentary re-examination of Wyatt’s famous poem reinforces Boland’s assertion in Object Lessons that throughout centuries of male dominance in poetry, women have certainly been present, but as “ornaments” and mythic emblems, which objectified and silenced real women. The first line of this love poem about marriage carries us further into the profound dual existence of the speaker which is glimpsed here in the couple’s book-filled bedroom:

            Did we live a double life?

                        I would have said

                                    we never envied

            the epic glory of the star-crossed

Instead, this couple learned the “code marriage makes of passion–duty dailyness routine.”  Through the bookshelf above their bed, they are vicariously involved in the on-going dramas of all great literature, where “men and women/ wept, curse, kept and broke faith/ and killed themselves for love” only to wake to their own selves at dawn.  Although Boland is never afraid to deal in abstract ideas, her sparing and well-wrought imagery is stunning, as in this poem which ends with such a complete sensory picture of the season, the current era of the marriage, and the enveloping natural world, it is downright Haiku-like in its delicious completion:

                        we woke early and lay together

            listening to our child crying, as if to birdsong,

                        with ice on the windowsills

                                                            and the grass eking out

                        the last crooked hour of starlight.

The image of the grass, complicated and personified by the verb “eking,” takes the poem outdoors but the air is still infused with very human longings and rhythms. I am eternally grateful for how her poems demonstrate the power of women’s experience as poetic material.

And now she is gone. At the beginning of the Covid crisis, she was teaching at Stanford, far from her home and family in Ireland. She chose to go home to weather the pandemic with her family and was enjoying teaching online when she suffered a massive stroke and died at home in Dublin on April 27. For a whole day I sat on my bed with her books all around me. Thanked be fortune, we have this beautiful work in which she lives. Read Eavan Boland!


Eavan Boland is an influential Irish poet and academic, known for being a prominent female voice in contemporary Irish literature. She is the author of over a dozen books of poetry, several volumes of nonfiction, and was the recipient of a Lannan Foundation Award, an American Ireland Fund Literary Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Irish Book Awards, among many other honors. She was also an honorary member of the Royal Irish Academy and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Irish Academy of Letters. A professor for decades at several institutions, Boland was most recently teaching at Stanford University, where she was the Melvin and Bill Lane Director of the Creative Writing Program. She died following a stroke in her home in Dublin on April 27th, 2020 at 75 years old.

Further reading:

Read Stanford’s dedication to Boland following her untimely death.
Watch PBS’ “Conversation: Poet Eavan Boland.”
Check out Boland’s body of work by reading her collections of poetry.

Susan Lilley is a Florida native and is currently serving as Orlando’s inaugural Poet Laureate. Her poetry and non-fiction have appeared in American Poetry Review, Gulf Coast, Poet Lore, The Southern Review, Drunken Boat, Saw Palm, The Florida Review, Sweet, and other journals. Her two chapbooks are Night Windows and Satellite Beach. She is a past winner of the Rita Dove Poetry Award and has held a State of Florida Individual Arts Fellowship. She has taught at University of Central Florida and Rollins College, and currently teaches literature and creative writing at Trinity Preparatory School in Winter Park. Her new full collection, Venus in Retrograde, was published spring of 2019 by Burrow Press.

Further reading:

Purchase Lilley’s first full collection of poetry, Venus in Retrograde from Burrow Press.
Read the official announcement naming Lilley Orlando’s first poet laureate.
Listen to Lilley talk more about her work on the podcast The Drunken Odyssey.

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at http://ericahoffmeister.com/

Lyric Essentials: JP Howard Reads Cheryl Clarke

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! For this installment, JP Howard reads poems from Cheryl Clarke and talks about literary activism, the power of poetry, and the importance of black, lesbian voices in the community. Thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read these poems by Cheryl Clarke for Lyric Essentials?

JP Howard: I know that the Lyric Essentials series provides writers an opportunity to pay homage to poets that have guided us and transformed our work and Cheryl Clarke and her work have spoken to me for many decades. Her writing has consistently inspired my own poetry. I first discovered Clarke’s work when I was a freshman attending Barnard College. I’m pretty sure “Of Althea and Flaxie” was one of the very first poems of Clarke’s that I read. I loved that it was bold and that it celebrated an out-loud love between two women. The time period at the start of the poem (1943) lets the reader know from the start that this was a love that was not easily swayed by society or society’s expectations. Her entry into the poem is quite exquisite with her narrative description of the couple; she paints a portrait of a butch-femme couple who are proud of their relationship. This book was written in the early 80’s  and I believe it was significant and empowering to note that Cheryl Clarke, like Audre Lorde and Pat Parker, all fierce black activist lesbian poets writing during that time period, wrote unapologetically about lesbian love. I choose this poem, in particular, because Clarke painted this couple so vividly on the page, that many years went by before I read the poem again, yet I clearly remembered Althea and Flaxie. It was as if I had actually met them at some point in my life. I also chose this poem to honor my 18 year old self. It’s a way of saying “JP you are still here. You are still living your life out loud too!” The poetry of Clarke, Lorde and Parker, all gave me the  courage to come out to my own family, soon after discovering their work while at Barnard. Ultimately, this is a classic Clarke narrative poem that deserves to be both read and heard. 

JP Howard reads “Of Althea and Flaxie” by Cheryl Clarke

“i come to the city” wasn’t a poem of Clarke’s that I was familiar with, yet it had a strong New York energy that drew me into the poem. It reminds me of the vibe of New York lesbian clubs and bars, that once were in abundance, but sadly, no longer are. This poem, while concise, effectively captures all the promise and sensuality of women making connections in a big city, like New York or San Francisco. It is also infused with Clarke’s acerbic wit and determination in the ending lines “I been in love/six times in the last six months/and ain’t done trying yet.” I think it’s a poem of lesbian desire/longing that many can relate to—also the ending and the speaker’s determination “ain’t done trying yet” makes the reader chuckle to herself! 

JP Howard reads “i come to the city” by Cheryl Clarke

EH: Has Clarke’s work influenced your own work as a writer or educator? 

JPH: Clarke’s work has influenced me tremendously, both as writer and educator. She continues to speak her truth. I love that she is a black lesbian activist poet speaking her truth through generations and to new generations. She proudly refers to herself as a “queer black troublemaker” and I love that description! It’s so on point. Her poems are honest, incredibly sexy, consistency political and often challenge the reader to think about all the intersections in our lives. She makes the reader work and I love her poems for doing that. Her work has and continues to challenge me to speak my truth and also to consistently teach her work, along with other black lesbian activist poets, so that writers of all generations can be exposed to Clarke’s early work and her current work. Much of my own poetry is political and deals with the intersections of being a black lesbian activist poet in America—I try to always bring my full self to the page, the stage and to the classrooms and/or to writing workshops that I facilitate.

Much of my writing and how I move through the world as an activist poet, I owe to Clarke. Discovering her work at a young age made me realize I too can speak my truth and maybe someone will read my work one day, the way I was reading and being influenced by her work. I’m fortunate to now also call Cheryl Clarke friend. During this past April during National Poetry Month (NaPoMo), we were in a small online writing group, Elma’s Heart Circle, founded by another dynamic black lesbian poet, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor. Our small group of women poets exchanged poems daily. Cheryl Clarke’s new poems were political, unwavering in their directness, and often gut-wrenching in their ability to shine a light on painful Her/Histories. She continues to speak her truth and inspire me as a writer and as a friend. 

EH: Clarke’s life’s work is an example of the power of poetry—how important do you think it is to share and highlight the work of such influential activists like her?

JPH: I think it is absolutely crucial to share and highlight the work of influential activists like Cheryl Clarke. Her poetry, her essays, her political activism, her current work as co-founder, with her sister Breena Clarke, of the Hobart Festival of Women Writers, are all models of literary activism. She not only speaks her truth, but each year brings hundreds of women writers together to share their stories and their words at this annual women writer’s festival that centers and celebrates women writers. I think it is important to also highlight when poets and writers are giving back to our writing communities—literary activism is crucial and inspiring. 

EH: Is there anything you are currently working on that you’d like to share with readers? 

JPH: I’m delighted that one of my praise poems was recently selected by Tracy K. Smith, former Poet Laureate of the U.S. for The Slowdown, Smith’s daily weekday podcast series. I’m not sure what day it will be arriving in peoples inboxes, but folks can subscribe on Apple and Google podcasts. I’m working on completing edits for two poetry manuscripts, one full length and the other a chapbook. I’m excited for my second full length collection to find a home. I’m the proud curator and nurturer of Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon, a monthly literary series that usually meets in New York. Since March, I’ve been busy reimagining and bringing the Salon & Open Mic series online during this current pandemic while many of us are sheltering-in. The responses to the online iteration have been incredible. While our online gatherings confirm my belief in the healing power of poetry and community, I still fiercely miss our monthly in-person gatherings. 


Cheryl Clarke is a widely recognized black lesbian poet, essayist, educator and community activist who grew up during the Civil Rights Movement in Washington D.C. Her work is known for its significant cultural impact in black, lesbian, and feminist communities, and has been anthologized and featured in various journals such as The Black Scholar, The Kenyon Review, The World in Us: An Anthology of Lesbian and Gay Poetry, and many others. She is the author of five poetry books, including her most recent, By My Precise Haircut (2016); her book Experimental Love (Firebrand Books, 1993) wasnominated for a 1994 Lambda Literary Award. She holds a B.A. from Howard University and an M.A., M.S.W., and Ph.D. from Rutgers University, and she works as the Director of the Office of Diverse Community Affairs and Lesbian-Gay Concerns at Rutgers, and co-organizer of the Hobart Festival of Women Writers. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Hobart, New York with her life partner.

Further reading:

Purchase Clarke’s most recent book of poetry By My Precise Haircut.
Read an interview of Clarke in Out History
Visit the Rutgers Archives for oral history recordings of Clarke.

JP Howard is an author, educator, literary activist, curator and community builder. She curates Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon, in New York and herdebut poetry collection, SAY/MIRROR (The Operating System)was a 2016 Lambda Literary Award finalist. She is also the author of bury your love poems here (Belladonna*) and co-editor of Sinister Wisdom Journal Black Lesbians—We Are the Revolution! JP is a 2020 featured author in Lambda Literary’s LGBTQ Writers in Schools program and was a Split this Rock Freedom Plow Award for Poetry & Activism finalist. She is also featured in the Lesbian Poet Trading Card Series from Headmistress Press and was the recipient of Lambda Literary’s Judith A. Markowitz Emerging Writer Award. JP’s work is widely anthologized and poetry and essays have appeared (or forthcoming) in The Academy of American Poets poem-a-day series,The Slowdown podcast,Anomaly, Apogee Journal, The Feminist Wire, Split this Rock, Muzzle Magazine, The Best American Poetry Blog, Nepantla: A Journal for Queer Poets of Color, Talking Writing, Connotation Press and others. JP is the Editor-at-Large at Mom Egg Review VOX online and holds a BA from Barnard College, an MFA in Creative Writing from The City College of New York and a JD from Brooklyn Law School.  

Further reading:

Subscribe to The Slowdown to listen to Howard’s feature on the podcast with Tracy K. Smith.
Purchase Howard’s latest collection, SAY/MIRROR.
Learn more about JP Howard and keep up with her work at her personal website.

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at http://ericahoffmeister.com/

Lyric Essentials: Lucian Mattison Reads Juan Gelman

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Thank you for joining us at Lyric Essentials! This week, poet and translator Lucian Mattison reads for us Juan Gelman as he discusses history within Argentinian poetry and the bridge that connects people through poetry translation. Thanks for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: What is your relationship with Juan Gelman’s work? Has his work influenced your own writing at all?

lucian

Lucian Mattison: Although Gelman is a heavyweight back in Argentina, I am quite new to his work. I started off with this book Unthinkable Tenderness because it highlights different time periods in his life in its different sections. In this format, you see his writing actively moving with him and grappling with his being exiled from the country and his son becoming one of the desaparecidos, the victims who were “disappeared” by the anti-communist, military government of the time. My mother grew up in Argentina during the same time and told me stories about living during a time where at any point, one could be snatched from their home if they were seen as sympathetic to radical opposition groups like The Montoneros. The book provides me with another poetic lens through which to view these same kinds of stories which I have always heard about through anecdotes and depictions in movies. As he is a newer addition to my library, I cannot say where [his influence is] exactly just yet. But I can, without a doubt, say he has and is currently doing so.

Lucian Mattison reads “VIII” by Juan Gelman

EH: Of all of Gelman’s collections, why did you choose to read these two poems, both from Unthinkable Tenderness?

LM: I chose to read these two poems because they both deal with the feeling of being exiled in spirit. Gelman wrote these poems between 1974-1980, as he was being chased out of Buenos Aires and finding refuge in Rome. Not being able to go back to his motherland and see his family and children, he worried constantly for their safety, and rightfully so. His son and wife were disappeared in 1976. While other poems directly reference the heartbreak and acidity related to the family tragedy, these two poems bookend the tragedy. The first poem represents a time while there was a certain romance to the persecution, which he defies with the persistence of love and beauty. The later poem comes from a time where he identifies with the deferred dream of an immigrant, where his heart is both displaced and without any place to return. I chose these poems because they are both insistent in their repetition, but come from two very different places, both physically and emotionally.

Lucian Mattison reads “What They Don’t Know” by Juan Gelman

EH: How does your role as a translator and role as a poet work together?

LM: I have been translating poetry from Spanish to English only since 2016, but I’ve been translating my whole life having grown up in bilingual household. In the small amount of time that I’ve been translating poetry, it became much clearer to me just how much Spanish influences my relationship to sound and sentence structure in English. Just like any poet, I defer to sound in a way that is specific to my experience of my languages. The simple fact is, my brand of Spanish is different from the rest of South America’s and, as a result, I relate differently to the world because I’ve been describing it with those terms for as long as I can remember. As a translator, the hardest work is preserving some of the emotional/experiential context inside a voice while working to keep it in line with contemporary English poetics. Being a poet who writes in English, I feel like it is my duty to use my experience in English poetry and craft, and my emotional relationship to my mother language to find an acceptable form for a translated work. I do it because it is important to hear the voices of our contemporaries across the globe and I am lucky enough to be able to build bridges like these.

EH: Are there any creative projects you are working on right now that you’d like to tell us about?

LM: Yes! I am currently looking for a publisher for a translation of Diego Alfaro Palma’s 2015 Santiago Literary Prize-winning collection of poetry, Tordo, published in Buenos Aires in 2016. This is his second collection of original poetry and the first translation of one of his books into English. As far as my own work, I am sending out my third collection of poems titled “Curare” for consideration at publishing houses. I am also writing a novellette that I hope to finish by the end of the year and, as always, I’m writing short stories.


Juan Gelman is an Argentinian poet, translator, journalist, and political activist who lived from 1930 to 2014, spending the last half of his life in political exile. Publishing over twenty books of poetry in his lifetime, he has earned several awards and accolades, including the 1997 Argentine Poetry Prize and the 2007 Cervantes Prize. Gelman is also a widely celebrated political journalist and human rights activist. Upon his death in Mexico City at age 83, Argentina’s president declared three days of national mourning.

Further reading:

Purchase Unthinkable Tenderness by Juan Gelman.
Read this piece on the life of Juan Gelman by Caroline Brothers.
Learn more about translation and Gelman’s poetry specifically at Reading in Translation.

Lucian Mattison is an U.S.-Argentinian poet and translator and author of two books of poetry, Reaper’s Milonga (YesYes Books, 2018) and Peregrine Nation (Dynamo Verlag, 2017), winner of the 2014 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize. He is currently based out of Washington, DC, where he is an associate editor of poetry for Barrelhouse. He won the Puerto Del Sol Poetry Prize and has poetry, short fiction, and translations that appear in numerous journals including CutBank, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hobart, The Offing, Sixth Finch, Third Coast, and have been featured on poets.org.

Further reading:

Learn more about Lucian at his personal website.
Buy Lucian’s most recent poetry collection Reaper’s Milonga from YesYes Books.
Read the announcement naming Mattison the recipient of the 2014 Dogfish Head Poetry Prize

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at http://ericahoffmeister.com/

Lyric Essentials: Chris Moore Reads Sommer Browning

For this installment of Lyric Essentials, we talk with Denver writer Chris Moore. She reads poems from fellow Denver writer and artist Sommer Browning, and talks about the interconnection of written genres, art, and the experience of hearing poetry aloud. Thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read these two poems from Browning’s second collection Backup Singers for Lyric Essentials?

Chris Moore: I remember the first time I saw Sommer Browning read her work at BookBar in the Highlands area of Denver. She stunned me, shook me, and opened some timeless part of my heart that had been long closed off. I chose to read these two poems because of the way they touch such infinite parts of the human experience—loss, death, connection. 

EH: Has Sommer Browning’s poetry impacted you as a nonfiction writer, or writer in general? What is your relationship with her poetry, specifically?

CM: Sommer has absolutely impacted me as a nonfiction writer. Her poetry, like her personality, is deeply philosophical to me and pushes me to take artistic risks in my own work. I think her mind and her work are truly one-of-a-kind, though I’m sure she would argue with me on that. When I want to get a little bit weird or tricky with my work, I look to hers for inspiration.

Chris Moore reads untitled poem from “Friends” by Sommer Browning

EH: In your podcast, The Situation and the Story, you discuss process and purpose with writers and poets. How does keeping writing in conversation play into your own writing?

CM: To me, writing is conversation. We are conversing with one another as writers in the current canon, we are conversing with history, with society, with norms and status quo, and either perpetuating that, challenging it, or something else in the middle. In my one-on-one conversations with writers about their processes and their lives, I have gained more insight into my own process and growth as a writer than I ever could in an MFA program or at a writing conference, for example. Though so much of writing is done in isolation, as my recent guest Adrianne Kalfopoulou said, it really is an act of community.

Chris Moore reads a second untitled poem from “Friends” by Sommer Browning

EH: Is there anything you are currently working on that you would like to share with readers?

For the past 2.5 years I have been working on my first full-length memoir manuscript, which has consumed most of my writing time. Chunks of it have been published in small indie journals, such as the essays This Is Not a Test in Chapman University’s Anastamos literary journal, On Tuscany’s Operatic Magic in Allegory Ridge Magazine (online), and Peregrination to the Antithetical Sound of a Bird Smashing Into a Window in Hairstreak Butterfly Review. I imagine that’s all anyone will see of it for a long time. The first draft is done and the next couple years will likely be invested in a rewrite.


Sommer Browning is a poet and artist out of Denver, Colorado. She is the author of two poetry collections: Backup Singers (2014) and Either Way I’m Celebrating (2011) both from Birds LLC Publishing, as well as three chapbooks. As an artist, she draws comics and directs and curates the popup art space GEORGIA. Her poems and drawings have appeared in The New York Quarterly, Typo, Octopus, The Stranger, and more.

Further reading:

Listen to Brad Listi interview Browning on the OTHERPPL podcast.
Purchase Backup Singers from Birds LLC Publishing.
Learn about Browning’s popup art space GEORGIA in Denver.

Chris Moore is an elementary school teacher and poet-turned-essayist residing in downtown Denver. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Mile-High MFA Program at Regis University. Her work has been featured in the 2018 Punch Drunk Press Anthology, South Broadway Ghost Society, Hairstreak Butterfly Review, and Allegory Ridge Magazine, among others. She is host of the feminist literary podcast THE SITUATION & the STORY. She is currently writing and traveling whenever possible. 

Further reading:

Listen to Moore’s podcast “The Situation & The Story.
Read Moore’s genre-defying piece “hungry ghosts” from South Broadway Ghost Society.
Stay up to date with Chris Moore by following her Instagram: @operaticmagic.

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at http://ericahoffmeister.com/

Lyric Essentials: Stephen S. Mills Reads Frank O’Hara

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! In this latest installment, Stephen Mills reads us Frank O’Hara and talks about how O’Hara’s poetry has not only helped shape queer spaces in poetry, but has most recently provided comfort while living in New York City during the COVID crisis. Thank you for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read Frank O’Hara for Lyric Essentials – and why these two particular poems?

Stephen Mills: From the moment I first read Frank O’Hara as an undergraduate, he’s been a touchstone for me as a poet as he is for many. I did, however, debate choosing him because he’s such an obvious choice for me. But as I was making my selection and setting about to record poems for this project, things took a turn here in New York where I live. 

As I began to deal with the reality of the COVID-19 health crisis in the city, I felt even more drawn to reading Frank O’Hara. I needed his poems and his New York. It’s hard to separate his poems from the city where he wrote a majority of them. He wrote with such joy and excitement, which was often tinged with darker themes or events. Some of his most famous poems are “walking poems” where he’s moving though New York and capturing everything that makes this city so thrilling and alive (though he often does so by reminding us of death). Due to the current situation, I haven’t really been out for four weeks and counting, so reading O’Hara was a way to reconnect with my own love of this city as well as his work. 

I selected “Steps” because it is one of my favorite poems. There’s a thrill and a speed to it that really captures the excitement of New York but also of love. It’s pretty hard to get away with lines like “oh god it’s wonderful / to get out of bed / and drink too much coffee / and smoke too many cigarettes / and love you so much” but O’Hara makes us feel that and believe it so fully.

“St. Paul and All That” is a different kind of love poem. It’s full of an anxious feeling and an exploration of what it means to be with another person but to also be without them sometimes. In this case, O’Hara is writing about his lover Vincent Warren who was a dancer. I like the contrast between these two pieces which showcase O’Hara’s range. 

Stephen Mills reads “Steps” by Frank O’Hara

EH: Has O’Hara influenced your own writing at all?

SM: Yes, in very profound ways. I am especially influenced by O’Hara ability to combine so many different things together from his own life and friends to history to art to pop culture to open declarations of love for another man. And to know he was doing this in a time when most of those things were very taboo in culture and in poetry, makes him a huge inspiration for me. 

As a gay man who often writes about my own life and relationships, I found a deep connection to his approach. When I read him for the first time, it was like nothing else I had ever read. There wasn’t this secrecy or shame around his sexuality or love or life. There was excitement and joy and the thrill of being alive against a backdrop of the changing world of the mid-20th century (one of my favorite time periods). I’m very drawn to the personal set against the historical. 

In a very clear way, you can see a lot of O’Hara’s influence in my second poetry collection A History of the Unmarried, which explores the concept of marriage within the queer community by examining many of the stereotypes of marriage and family from the 1950s and 60s. The book includes direct references to O’Hara as well as Jackson Pollock, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, and the tv show Mad Men, which paid its own tribute to O’Hara in season two.  

EH: What is your relationship with reading poetry aloud?

SM: It is a huge part of my process as a writer. I read all of my work aloud over and over again as part of my writing and revision process. I’ve even at times recorded pieces just to hear them played back to me. Poetry is unique in that way. You want pieces that work both on the page but can also come alive when heard. The experiences can be very different. 

Personally, I’ve really grown as a performer of my own work over the years. It has taken me a lot of practice and a lot of public readings, but I now feel more confident in giving my own work a voice. There’s something thrilling about having that immediate response when you are in front of an audience.   

When I’m reading poetry by others, I almost always read it aloud. It’s very hard for me to read poetry silently, which means I normally have to read poetry books in private. 

Stephen Mills reads “St. Paul and All That” by Frank O’Hara

EH: How do you think O’Hara still speaks to readers, after all this time? 

SM: In many ways, O’Hara was ahead of his time, so his work still feels very contemporary. You could replace a few names in his poems with current celebrities or artists and it would feel like the poem was written today. But I think it is more than that. 

O’Hara is so good at walking a fine line between life and death. In the poem “Steps” he writes “and in sense we’re all winning / we’re alive.” O’Hara was well aware of how fragile life was from the deaths of friends and idols to living through World War II. There’s a rush to his work that acknowledges how close we all are to the end. This is magnified by the fact that O’Hara died young in an accident on Fire Island. 

This exploration of our connection to death is something that still resonates with readers. Something we still seek out in the literature we read or the TV shows we watch or movies we go to. And it connects to this very moment as we face a pandemic like nothing most of us have ever seen. 

Particularly for the gay community, O’Hara holds a special place for a lot of us because of the openness within his work. We don’t have to sit and decode all his poems to see his queerness and that is extremely refreshing and something that can still, at times, be hard to come by in mainstream poetry. Queers writers, like myself, are still questioned and sometimes pushed to the side for writers who are less open or direct.

EH: Do you have any current writing projects that you’d like to tell us about?

SM: I’m currently looking for a publisher for a new book manuscript called Shelter in Place that is my own exploration of our connection and fascination with death through a queer lens. The book looks at current events, historical events, personal events as well as TV and true crime documentaries for inspiration. I’ve also been working on playwriting and completed my first play last fall and I’m currently working on my second. 


Frank O’Hara is a celebrated American poet known for his key role as a leader in the New York School of avant-garde poets and artists during the 1950s and 1960s Manhattan. He wrote ninety poems, and his poetry collections were all published posthumously, with the exception of Lunch Poems. O’Hara was involved with the art scene, and incorporated dance, theater, painting and music into his life’s work, and is known for his poetic observations of New York City. He served as a long time art critic, and was long associated with the Museum of Modern Art in New York City as a curator until his tragic death at age forty in 1966.

Further reading:

Read about Frank O’Hara’s New York in The New Yorker
Purchase the most recent collection of O’Hara’s work
Listen to O’Hara read his poetry out loud

Stephen S. Mills is the author of the Lambda Award-winning book He Do the Gay Man in Different Voices (2012)as well as A History of the Unmarried (2014) and Not Everything Thrown Starts a Revolution (2018) all from Sibling Rivalry Press. He earned his MFA from Florida State University. His work has appeared in Columbia Poetry ReviewThe Antioch Review, PANK, The New York Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, The Rumpus, and others. He is also the winner of the 2008 Gival Press Oscar Wilde Poetry Award and the 2014 Christopher Hewitt Award for Fiction. Two of his books have been placed on the Over the Rainbow List compiled yearly by the American Library Association. He lives in New York City with his partner and two schnauzers.

Further reading:

Purchase Stephen’s latest collection Not Everything Thrown Starts a Revolution
Read an interview with Stephen at The Rumpus
Learn more about Stephen at his website

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at http://ericahoffmeister.com/


Lyric Essentials: syan jay Reads Joy Harjo


For this installment of Lyric Essentials, we are joined by Sundress author syan jay. They read poems from poet laureate Joy Harjo, and talk about the role of storytelling in indigenous poetry. Thanks for reading!


Erica Hoffmeister: What is your personal connection to Joy Harjo that led you to read her poetry for Lyric Essentials?

syan jay: Joy Harjo is the first Indigenous poet I was ever introduced to, my first connection to seeing how storytelling could be done on our terms through poetry. Her book, “Map to the End of the World” was the first poetry book I read outside of school and I instantly felt bonded to it. Her and her work have been integral to my creative landscape since I was a child. I cannot imagine a world without her work.

EH: Of Joy Harjo’s expansive body of work, why did you choose these two poems?

sj: These poems have been sitting in my mind recently. To think of the ways my people, and Indigenous people all over the world, have survived or haven’t survived these apocalypses of settler colonialism and all its violence. I think it’s necessary to look at the ways in which we interrogate the systems that have displaced and dispossessed our people, and the methods in which we continue ceremony and connection to each other. This includes questioning the ways America is seen as America by settlers and non-Indigenous people who may benefit from settler colonialism now.

syan jay Reads “An American Sunrise” by Joy Harjo

EH: How do you think it’s important to experience Harjo’s poetry read aloud?

sj: Her work has unshakable cadence, the ways in which she utilizes line breaks has such concussive force. I love being able to feel the way in which her words form landscapes, the low valleys to high peaks. She is one of my favorite poets to read aloud. 

EH: There is a particular line from “Perhaps the World Ends Here” that reads: “It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human.” Do you make use of that concept of what it means to be human in your own writing, or in your newest poetry collection Bury Me in Thunder, specifically? 

sj: Storytelling in my community, and so in many others, is a reflection of humanity itself, to explain or process the situations we’ve encountered since time immemorial. Bury Me in Thunder specifically looks at how we are made through intergenerational trauma, the experiences of our family members, and how we process our individual life events. In the case of the book, it was the ways in which I came to terms with grief and healing through these facets, and how it reinforces, instead of diminishes, my humanity as a transgender, Indigenous person.

syan jay Reads “Perhaps the World Ends Here” by Joy Harjo


Joy Harjo is member of the Mvskoke (Creek) Nation and belongs to Oce Vpofv (Hickory Ground). An acclaimed poet, musician, playwright, and activist, Harjo was named the 23rd U.S. poet laureate, becoming the first Native American to serve the position. She is also the chancellor of the American Academy of Poets, directs For Girls Becom­ing, an arts mentor­ship pro­gram for young Mvskoke women, and is a found­ing board mem­ber of the Native Arts and Cul­tures Foun­da­tion. She is the author of nine books of poetry, two award-winning children’s books, and a musical play. As a poet, she is best known for writing about vast landscapes and incorporating indigenous storytelling and histories, and social justice traditions into her work by exploring the violence of settler colonialism and the reclamation of her heritage. Awards for her work include: the Ruth Lily Prize for Life­time Achieve­ment from the Poet­ry Foun­da­tion, the Acad­e­my of Amer­i­can Poets Wal­lace Stevens Award, the New Mex­i­co Governor’s Award for Excel­lence in the Arts, a PEN USA Lit­er­ary Award, Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund Writ­ers’ Award, a Ras­mu­son US Artist Fel­low­ship, two NEA fel­low­ships, and a Guggen­heim Fellowship, among others. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Further reading:

Purchase Joy Harjo’s book How We Became Human
Read NPR’s feature, announcing Joy Harjo as the first Native American U.S. poet laureate
Listen to an interview with Joy Harjo, from the Academy of American Poets

syan jay is an agender writer of Dził Łigai Si’an N’dee descent. They were the winner of the 2018 Pacific Spirit Poetry Prize and were Frontier Poetry’s 2019 Frontier New Voices Fellow. Their work is published/forthcoming in The Shallow EndsWILDNESS, and Black Warrior Review. They currently live with their partner in the occupied Massachusett homelands of Nutohkemminnit (Greater Boston). Their debut poetry collection, “Bury Me in Thunder” (January 29, 2020) is out now with Sundress Publications. You can find more of their work at www.syanjay.com.

Further reading:

Purchase Bury Me in Thunder from Sundress Publications
Read Frontier Poetry’s interview with syan jay.
Follow syan jay on Twitter

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently in Denver, she teaches college writing and is an editor for the Denver-based literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019). A cross-genre writer, she has several works of fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, articles and critical essays published in various outlets. Learn more about her at http://ericahoffmeister.com/

Lyric Essentials: Tara Shea Burke Reads Judith Barrington and Donika Kelly

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! In our latest installment, Tara Shea Burke reads poems from two different poets and discusses the connectivity of lesbian poetry, somatic poetry, animalistic poetry, and how important it is for everyone to hear about it all. Thanks for listening!


Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to break the rules and read two poems by two different poets for Lyric Essentials? 

Photo credit: Rae Thweatt

Tara Shea Burke: Well, for a few practical, radical, and metaphorical reasons. Because this trine of things is perhaps how I do everything. When I was thinking about what poems to read, I scanned my shelves and all the poets I love. I could have read from Tim Seibles, Jericho Brown, Mary Oliver, Megan Falley—so many poets and so many poems. But because this was about reading poems I love, I sat and breathed and got deep into my body. The first poem I think about reading aloud when we talk about poems that influence is always, always for me, Why Young Girls Like to Ride Bareback by Judith Barrington. I heard her read this poem at an AWP years and years ago, when I was either still in or just finishing my MFA and realizing how much I needed and responded to poems about the body, the lesbian body, the thrust of us.

I recorded that poem right away, then read the rest of the book “Horses and the Human Soul”, which I haven’t read fully in a while, though I return to my favorite poem often. I love so much of the book, but I was looking for another poem that really rode the wave of my body as I read it in the same way, and I came up short. So, I looked on the Lyric Essentials page and read back through what other poets had done. I was just going to break the rules, like I do, but also wanted to feel in community with other poets that may have gone outside the boundaries, and I found some writers that shared different poets. I break rules and look for shared experiences simultaneously—in life, in poetry, in spirit. I sat for a while again, and asked myself to remember, bodily, what other poems I love feel the same to me in rhythm and texture like this poem. Donika Kelly’s every poem. I immediately wanted to read “The moon rose over the bay. I had a lot of feelings.” So, I read it aloud and felt that ride of body of lesbian body of love of queerness and animal and the rhythm and felt at home, which is what I look for, always. 

Tara Shea Burke reads “Why Young Girls Like to Ride Bareback” by Judith Barrington

EH: How do you feel these two poems or two poets are connected, so that they can be read together?

TSB: I mentioned a little of this above, but when I was first coming out, first writing, first finding my voice in literature and as a student, as a young queer writer full of animal feelings all over the place, embodied writers saved my life. I will always want to place two or more lesbian and queer writers together who bring in animals and animalistic urges, who can write about sex while not writing about sex (I fail at this and speak literally of sex) and what love feels like for oneself, and for another, as a queer body in this dominant culture that strangles everything deeply divine about our bodies and all we crave. Barrington’s poem is a perfect poem to me. Its language matches its form matches its sound and tone and experience as I read, and to me every single poem truly should be an embodied, felt, experience on the tongue aloud as well as on the page. Lesbian and queer writers do this best for me. They have been my teachers. I love so much writing people create, but I want to feel something, you know?

Barrington’s poem is about a young girl riding bareback, and not a single word is about sex and early sexuality, and yet every single word choice, every straddle and whole body singing is about the dance of the body waking up in tune with nature, the whole other world between a young girl’s legs. And that queers the hell out of it, too—so unapologetically inviting us to consider what is unsaid, what we’ve all barebacked before. Wow, this is the power of bringing the unsaid, particularly about young queerness, to life on the page. Some may say this poem is about the joy of riding a horse. I say read it aloud, again.

And Kelly’s poem is about feelings in this very frank and unapologetic way, too. About falling in love with a woman and seeing sex and love and lust and death everywhere, in sea creatures and the water and the sand and the tide. And about naming oneself in the poem! Whew. Most of her poems embrace the animal of us, which has taught me so much about my body, about what is possible when I let my love of things, of women, of creatures into my work despite all the damn rules we think we must adhere to in order to write well. Screw them all, sing the body one with the love that wakes us up, the bodies alive and alive, again. 

Tara Shea Burke reads “The moon rose over the bay. I had a lot of feelings.” by Donika Kelly

EH: What roles have these poems acted as in influencing your own writing? Do you find one more influential than the other, or one poet more impactful to your writer’s identity than the other? 

TSB: I seem to be bleeding one answer into the other before the next question, which feels like me and all the poets I love. I don’t want to compare here, but man, every time I read Barrington’s poem, I stomp my feet on the floor and rock my body and feel alive in a way I can’t quite name, for worry of killing it. The ride that poem takes reminds me what I’m here for in spirit and in relationship to language and queerness and sex and myself and this body I am loving fiercely as a big giant FU to all the powers that be, no matter how hard it is. And it reminds me how little we’ve written about the young girl’s body and how hard it is to name what we straddle. I mean, really. Kelly’s work is influential as hell for me, but in a way that reminds me to embrace deep metaphor, shorter poems that reveal and hold back just enough to make you hungry for more. 

EH: I love how much we can hear your emotional connection to these poems when you’re reading! Who do you imagine is your audience when reading these poems aloud? As in, who do you imagine needs or wants to hear you read these poems by these poets? 

TSB: Um, everyone. We’ve lost so much of aurality in language, at least in the way poetry asks us to consider words and feelings together. But, I know what’s happening there when we hear the same kind of reading over and over. I get it’s hard to read out loud, but really, what the crap are we doing? I feel like it is my job, when reading a poem, to practice it and read both like myself, and also in a way that honors the poem. Each poem has its own tone (I wrote town first) and music, or lack of, and subject matter, and desire. Every poem is a conversation with an audience, and I want us to read even MORE in poet voice. But I want poet voice to be something we can’t pin down anymore because we’re actually reading like ourselves, to people we truly care about reaching, and in a way that honors each poem as it is.

I love these poems. They light me up and turn me on. Why wouldn’t I read them in that way? I have spent a lot of my life wasting my words, and I aim to not do that anymore. What a waste to read these as if they aren’t magical, love-giving, life-giving, climax-giving poems? I’d read these to anyone. And, I think I’ve read the Bareback poem to children. 


Judith Barrington has published four poetry collections, two chapbooks, and the award-winning memoir Lifesaving: A Memoir. She is also a creative writing teacher who has taught in Britain, Spain, and the U.S. and currently teaches literary memoir at The University of Alaska, Anchorage’s MFA program, and is the author of the bestselling book on craft, Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art. She is a recipient of many awards, including the Gregory O’Donoghue International Poetry Prize, the Lambda Book Award, and runner-up for the PEN/Martha Albrand Award.

Further reading:

Purchase Judith Barrington’s collection of poetry, Horses and the Human Soul
Read this interview with Judith Barrington about crafting memoir into literature
Read Barrington’s essay Poems From the Body

Donika Kelly is an assistant professor of English at St. Bonaventure University where she teaches Creative Writing. She is the author of the chapbook Aviarium, and the full-length collection Bestiary, which was the winner of the 2015 Cave Canem Poetry Prize, the 2017 Hurston/Wright Award for poetry and the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and long-listed for the National Book Award and finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.

Further reading:

Visit Donika Kelly’s personal website
Listen to Kelly discuss How to Bring Physicality Into Your Work
Read a review of Kelly’s book Bestiary

Tara Shea Burke is is a queer poet and teacher from the Blue Ridge Mountains and Hampton Roads, Virginia. She’s a writing instructor, editor, creative coach, and yoga teacher who has taught and lived in Virginia, New Mexico, and Colorado. Her writing will appear in Erase the Patriarchy, a book of sexual assault and rape erasures, edited by Isobel O’Hare and University of Hell Press, and was featured in Reading Queer, Poetry in the Time of Chaos, edited by Neil de la Flor and Maureen Seaton from Anhinga Press, as well as many journals and anthologies. She is a board member for Sinister Wisdom, the longest running multicultural, lesbian literary and arts journal. She believes in community building and radical support for any human that wants to tell their stories, and has edited and coached writers through creative work, dissertations, personal projects, and movement-based writing for healing and growth. To find more about her writing and work visit www.tarasheaburke.com

Erica Hoffmeister is is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently living in Denver, she teaches college writing across the Denver metro area and is an editor for the literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019) and writes across genres.

Lyric Essentials: Amy Watkins Reads Carl Phillips

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials! In this latest installment, Amy Watkins, author of Wolf Daughter, reads two poems by one of her favorite living poets, Carl Phillips. Amy discusses the act of reading poetry out loud, Phillips’ poetry’s intricate complexity, and Watkins’ new chapbook.

Of special note to regular readers: Sundress would like to welcome former intern Erica Hoffmeister to our staff as the new editor of LE. We’re excited to have her rejoin the team and know she will create fantastic episodes for the series. Thanks for reading!

Erica Hoffmeister: Why did you choose to read these two poems by Carl Phillips for Lyric Essentials?

Amy Watkins: I wanted to read something by a living poet. Carl Phillips is one of my favorites, and I had just read his new chapbook, Star Map with Action Figures from Sibling Rivalry Press. I chose these particular poems because I love them; “Sea Glass,” in particular, is one I read over and over. Like a lot of Phillips’s poetry and a lot of my poetry, they’re about love and death, but they’re quiet, controlled. I love that calm, thoughtful voice. I love the metaphorical leaps he makes, and the way the careful syntax and punctuation and line breaks hold it all together.

I also chose these poems because, in spite of the heavy themes, they have a little thread of lightness. In “Sea Glass,” when he says, “some things maybe still a little bit worth being sorry for,” it’s not funny exactly, but there’s a little humor in that wry take on regret. 

Amy Watkins reads “Sea Glass” by Carl Phillips

EH: You said in our discussions that you love reading poetry out loud (and your readings of these poems are beautiful!) – how do reading these particular poems express that love?

AW: These poems are not easy to read out loud because Phillips writes such complex sentences, and he uses line breaks and punctuation so masterfully. I don’t know if you can hear it in my reading, because I tend to read through line breaks a bit, but “Words of Love” has short, choppy lines—some only one word long—and if you read some of the stanzas alone, they momentarily contradict the meaning of the sentence as a whole. 

For instance, the middle of the poem without line breaks goes, “I might have added that not only do I respect, I require mystery. Less and less am I one of those who believes to know a thing, first you touch it…” But there’s a stanza break after “Less and less.” For just a second in the middle of saying something, he subtly suggests its opposite. The form and punctuation are all in on the existential reflecting and reassessing the speaker is doing, so you have to read carefully. It’s a beautiful poem to hear, but also really rewarding to read on the page.

I’m a page poet more than a performer, but I do love reading out loud. I used to host a podcast poetry “magazine” called Red Lion Sq. I enjoyed reading the poems myself, but It was better to have a variety of voices. Sometimes poets would submit recordings, or I would ask other writers or actors to read. I prefer a heightened natural reading voice, but every reader has to find their own sweet spot. Making fun of “poet voice” just makes people self-conscious; however, I don’t think you could convey the meaning of a poem like “Words of Love” with a really affected performance—dramatically pausing and up-turning at the end of every line. My unsolicited advice for reading out loud is to remember that the point is to communicate; speak slowly and clearly, and focus on the poem. And if you’re giving a live reading, practice once or twice, have your material ready so you don’t have to fumble for it when it’s time, and pretend you’re not nervous.

Amy Watkins reads “Words of Love” by Carl Phillips

EH: Has Carl Phillips’ poetry influenced your own writing?

AW: I’m sure it has; I’ve read a lot of it! His book The Art of Daring is the craft book I recommend to my smart friends. But I don’t think my poetry is much like his. My poems are more straightforward. Syntactically they’re a lot simpler than Phillips’s poems. Reading him does make me more aware of punctuation and line breaks. It makes me think more about what a powerful tool grammar is. And we both like similes.

EH: Is there any elements in your newly released chapbook, Wolf Daughter, that you find especially connected to what you’ve talked about here?

AW: Like “Sea Glass,” Wolf Daughter is both heavy and light. It’s about parenting an adolescent girl at this moment in America, only my girl has turned into a wolf. It talks about gun violence and fear of the “other” and alludes to sexual assault, but it also talks about radical confidence and self love, singing in the car, making art—many small joys. There are even two poems about reading out loud together!


Carl Phillips is a one of America’s most celebrated living lyric poets and the author of more than a dozen books of critically acclaimed poetry and criticism. Known as an accidental poet, Phillips earned an M.F.A. from Boston University after studying biology and math at Harvard University. A biracial, queer poet, Phillips’ writing explores themes of dual identities, and has garnered numerous awards and honors. He currently serves as a professor of English and Creative Writing at Washington University in St. Louis and was elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2006. His latest collection of poetry Wild Is the Wind (2018) won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

Further reading:

Purchase Carl Phillips’ newest book, Wild is the Wind
Read a feature about Phillips in the New Yorker
Listen to an interview with Phillips on NPR

Amy Watkins is the author of three poetry chapbooks (Milk & Water, Lucky, and Wolf Daughter), a graduate of the Spalding University MFA in Writing, and a parent of a human girl. Find her online at RedLionSq.com or @amykwatkins on Twitter. She lives in Orlando, Florida

Further reading:

Follow Amy Watkins on Twitter
Listen to Amy read more poetry on Red Lion Square podcast
Download and read Wolf Daughter from Sundress Publications

Erica Hoffmeister is originally from Southern California and earned an MFA in Creative Writing and an MA in English from Chapman University. Currently living in Denver, she teaches college writing across the Denver metro area and is an editor for the literary journal South Broadway Ghost Society. She is the author of two poetry collections: Lived in Bars (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), and the prize-winning chapbook, Roots Grew Wild (Kingdoms in the Wild Press, 2019) and writes across genres.