Sundress Interview with Our New Chapbook Editors

Sundress Publications is excited to announce that Anna Black and Brynn Martin will be taking the helm as our new chapbook editors. The two sat down with our editorial intern Nicole Drake to talk about some of the exciting titles and projects ahead of them. Black and Martin discuss their most treasured writing advice, some of their unique passions (natural building, embroidery), and the idea of editing as working toward a shared vision with the author.

Nicole Drake: How did you come on as an editor for the Sundress chapbook series?

Brynn Martin: I’ve worked for SAFTA since 2016 in a couple of different roles but I’ve always expressed to Erin that I’m interested in publishing/editing and the whole process of how a book comes to be. So when the editor position came open for the chapbook series, I jumped on it. 

Anna Black: Sundress brought me on as an intern a long time ago. Since then I have worked as the editor of the Lyric Essentials series, the Poets in Pajamas curator, and now the Staff Director. Not all at once! I’ve been the assistant editor for most of our books over the last couple of years, and Erin knew I loved the editing side so of course when she asked me to, I was happy to be able to take on some chapbooks as an editor.

Drake: Can you give us an introduction to you and what you’re excited to bring to Sundress as an editor?

Black: My favorite works to read (and write) are eco and nature-based blow-your-hair-back-lick-your-neck words that rock with hard-core intersectional feminism and at least some hint of the grisly or magical. I love art and things that are weird — hybridity thrills me to the point of glee. I’m not sure what else there is to know about me. I’m a disabled, bi, animist, vegan Libra married to a Scorpio — we live in the PNW.

As an editor, I like to think that I’m looking not for what’s wrong (though that’s what people think of when they find out you’re an editor) because the book made it through our board and our judges to get selected in the first place (and we’re rigorous) so there’s not much wrong by that point. 

But more that I’m hoping to use whatever vision I may possess by letting the writer look through my eyes. As when you point out new things to visitors in your town — you share with them a bit of the magic you’ve picked up by living there and knowing the space and when you point out the sculpture made by your friend or share the violent histories of your town, you see them shift, come alert, and spark with a connection born through seeing anew. I guess that’s what I hope to do as an editor more than anything — to let our writers see through my eyes and see their work in a new or deeper way. If we make a few changes here and there, together, along the way, then it’s because we shared a vision. So I guess that’s what I’m hoping for above all.

Martin: I’m a poet, Kansan, cat person, emerging foodie, and amateur macaron baker. I find a lot of peace in painting, embroidery, and other creative pursuits as well.

I’d say I bring my sense of humor, my passion for poetry, and my queerness to Sundress. The teams at Sundress and SAFTA are easily the most representative and welcoming that I’ve ever been a part of and it’s been refreshing to find a space that honors who I am while also allowing me to grow into my voice more. 

Drake: What is the difference between a poetry collection and a chapbook?

Martin: The difference is primarily in the length; poetry collections are book-length manuscripts that run about 80+ pages. Chapbooks are often much shorter, between 10-30 pages. Because collections are longer, they will cover several topics and balance many themes, whereas a chapbook typically focuses on one theme or idea.

Black: Primarily the difference is the length. Full-length poetry collections are 45+ pages and chapbooks are “something less than that.” But it’s not as if chapbooks are unfinished collections. A good chapbook works within a shorter length and makes it a strength. A reader shouldn’t feel like the work has been cut short or that something is missing — so I guess rather than focusing on the length alone I would say that a chapbook is a book of poetry (or something else) that is at its best around 20-35 pages.

Drake: What projects are you working on now and what do you have coming up?

Martin: I run the Sh*tty First Drafts podcast with my roommate and friend Stephanie Phillips. We release new episodes about every two weeks, so follow us on social media and/or Spotify/iTunes/Google Play to see when we drop a new episode! 

I’m also working on a manuscript of my own that I hope to send out this summer. Keep your fingers crossed for me. 

Black: We just launched Hannah V Warren’s [re]construction of the necromancer which is an incredible chap that retells the Hansel and Gretel story in a skin-tingling feminist way. It’s witchy and wonderful in every way and Hannah and I made a few changes along the way that were just what I mentioned above: a shared vision. I’m really proud of this book and I know Hannah is, too.

Coming up: I’m still the assistant editor for most of our books so I’m buried right now as we try to get everything out the door for AWP. But if you have the chance, you should also check out Bury Me in Thunder by syan jay. which is just — wow — it’s an incredible honor to be a part of this book in whatever role. And we’re about to release The Familiar Wild, an anthology on dogs edited by Rachel Mennies and Ruth Awad. We’re about to release our first fiction title, too, by Robert Long Foreman, I Am Here to Make Friends it has charts. Oh! And Maps of Injury is coming out, too. Chera Hammons’ writing is a pleasure. As a person who deals with chronic illness, this is a collection that will just shatter the ideas most people have of what an ill body is like. 

Personally, I’m working on a few projects including a novel, my second poetry collection, and a couple of visual art and photography projects. I need more sleep.

Drake: Do you have a favorite poetry collection or chapbook from 2019 still rattling around in your head?

Martin: Oh man, so many! I read The Carrying by Ada Limón most recently on a trip to the mountains. I admire her work so much. Franny Choi’s Soft Science is also stunning — no surprise there. I Can’t Talk About the Trees Without the Blood by Tiana Clark was also a favorite, though I think it came out at the end of 2018. I could go on. There’s so much kick-ass poetry happening right now.

Black: Ruth Foley’s Dead Man’s Float was a world rocker for me. And Amy Watkins’ Wolf Daughter. Oh and Lessons in Breathing Underwater by HK Hummel. They were so good! I liked all of our 2019 titles, to be honest. This is too hard.

Drake: What book have you reread the most in your life?

Black: Oh um…okay you’re going to laugh. Probably Clan of the Cave Bear—the series up through the Mammoth Hunters. Though I haven’t reread it in many, many years—I’m afraid to. It would probably offend me now. I’d say it probably has the record though given my recollection of my twenties. There’s something about a book that grips you in your early years in a way that never leaves you and changes your view on the world. That’s special. I’d also have to say Mists of Avalon but not in many years and that was before I knew there was a controversy around the writer. In more recent years I turn to Loba, Woman and Nature, Bright Dead Things, The Chronology of Water, Gathering Moss, Object Lessons, We Who Love to Be Astonished—I’d better stop.

Martin: The most honest answer is probably The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I loved that book so much and had it read to me so often as a kiddo that I’d memorized the words and would “read” it to myself before I’d ever learned how to actually read.

In more recent years, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Breaks my heart every time. 

Drake: What do you look for in a chapbook that really sets it apart from the rest?

Black: Well, the chapbooks aren’t chosen by an acquisitions editor at Sundress. They go through readers which include our board and then after the initial winnowing to the finalists, to a judge. So it doesn’t matter much what I like in that sense except that as a board member I do read like everyone else. I guess, though, that I’m always hoping for a chapbook that causes me to make little grunting sounds—which I do when something strikes me as I read. It’s like an “ungh” sound. Something like a person makes when they take the perfect bite of their favorite dessert. Which is to say, I want to be touched. I want to cry. I want to be mad or hurt or surprised as I read. I want to feel for the speaker. I want to feel present and absorbed. I want to hear it breathe in my head. I want to forget I’m reading.

Martin: I appreciate chapbooks that hone in on one thing: whether it’s an exploration of a relationship, or a theme, or even one image. Chapbooks that are focused and feel like one complete unit. Which is not to say that they can’t do weird or experimental things. In fact, I think a narrowed focus allows for more room to play and explore. 

Drake: Do you favor the classically excellent or more innovative, experimental works?

Black: When I make my personal choices for reading it’s probably obvious by now that I bend toward the experimental, the strange, and the things that have been hidden from us all for far too long. But that’s just how I lean personally and not a rule. I’m not usually going to reach for things that aren’t pushing boundaries but when they happen into my life, I’m no less glad to have read them. As an editor, I honestly have no preference. I think there is room for all of the words except the hateful kind. There is incredible joy in an accessible poem. I love those, too. And just as much. 

Martin: It probably sounds wishy-washy, but I have to say both. Innovative and experimental works can be really exciting and captivating, but only if those choices are grounded by craft. Using something like caesura for its own sake, rather than to illuminate or complicate something in the poem, is counterproductive in my opinion.  

Drake: What is the most useful editing/writing advice you have ever received?

Black: Sally Ball taught me to read manuscripts in side-by-side view and I use this every day now for Sundress and with my other work as an editor, and I’m so thankful she taught me that and much more about close reading and pulling things out from the back edges of your brain so you can look at them…about when to fight over a cow, and when to let it go—she really is an incredible editor and one I aspire to be more like. 

Martin: That it’s okay to not be writing all the time. So often advice to young writers is about a schedule and producing as much as possible and all these arbitrary things that you can only really do when you’re in a position of extreme privilege. Letting go of the expectation that I had to sit down and write for two hours every day to be considered a “real” writer was incredibly freeing. Everyone works at their own pace and in their own way.

Drake: If you could live as the villain in any book–across all years and genres–who would you choose?

Martin: Probably someone like Professor Moriarty. Having seemingly unlimited access to money and power is pretty sexy, not to mention getting to mess with and outsmart the hero. Plus, Andrew Scott’s portrayal in the BBC adaptation is spectacular. 

Black: In Griffin’s Woman and Nature there is this horse. While not exactly a villain, it’s being tamed, or rather, some man is trying to tame the horse. And the horse is resistant and full of fight and passion and has these threatening hooves. And I guess it’s not really a villain but it is to the man, right? I want to be that horse. That daring, blasphemous, dangerous, wild horse. Or Medusa. I’m probably already Medusa.


Drake:
As an editor, have you ever experienced regret at a line you absolutely adored but had to cut for the greater good? A literary “one that got away”?

Black: Hmmm, no? Not one that comes to mind anyway. Cutting is a good thing. It should be done when called for, and without compunction when necessary. But the trick is to know when it’s necessary, right? It may seem it, but then you read it back and realize that something was lost. So you put it back in. Cutting is never permanent. It’s like being able to try on any haircut with no regrets. That’s what makes editing fun — it’s not risky unless you’re mean to the author. 

Martin: In my own work, absolutely and all the time, especially as a young(er) writer. I wrote lots of lines (even whole poems) that seemed, at the time, completely genius but were ultimately too saccharine or abstract to work. You have to be willing to be pretty brutal with your own work, in my opinion. Most of the poems that I’m proudest of are ones that were completely overhauled in their structure, form, image systems, etc.

As an editor for Sundress, not so much. Most of the work we accept is polished and more-or-less ready to go. Much of what I do is more about copy-editing, small edits for clarity, and working on ordering.

Drake: Finally, what is one non-editorial, non-bookish thing that you truly enjoy doing?

Martin: I mentioned this before but something I’ve gotten into recently is embroidering. It’s something to keep my hands busy while still allowing me to feel creative. The rhythm of it is really calming, too. I post my pieces up on Instagram @BrynnsieCrafts, if that’s something you’re into.

Black: Non-bookishly I love to kayak. I’m also a photographer. I love boats, natural building (cob, earthships, strawbale, earthbag and anything that equalizes housing). I frequently blast music like I’m still 17, so I must like it. I can easily be convinced to go to art galleries and studio tours, to spend time gardening, and doing anything that involves me getting to hang up my hammock. I can break the bank in an art supplies store. I’m not good at math.


Anna Black

Anna Black‘s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Collagist, The Seattle Times, Hotel Amerika, 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, SWWIM, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. Black received her MFA at Arizona State University. She works as an editor and web operator based in the PNW as well as the Staff Director and an Associate Editor at Sundress Publications, and the poetry editor for Doubleback Review. More of her work can be seen at http://bylineblack.com.

Brynn Martin is a Kansas native living in Knoxville, where she received her MFA in poetry from the University of Tennessee. She is an Associate Editor for Sundress Publications and co-host of the podcast Shitty First Drafts. Her poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from Contrary Magazine, Rogue Agent, FIVE:2:ONE, and Crab Orchard Review.  

Nicole Drake is a graduate of Florida State University with a BA in Creative Writing. She has served as a reader for the Southeast Review and the Seven Hills Review and currently works as the Social Media Manager for Capital City Tattoo’z. She teaches dance and works her way through her endless “To Read” list in her spare time.