Project Bookshelf: Crysta Montiel

I’ve scattered parts of my bookshelf all over Toronto. Sometimes, on random weekend trips to the west end, I visit local book stores to window shop. I always tell myself that I won’t buy anything, but the city’s talented booksellers tempt me with rare gems. Gems that I have an unfortunate habit of losing.

As Murphy’s law famously states, “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” Sometimes I forget my books in transitory places—buses, trains, and planes. Other times, I forget my books at friends’ places, vowing to retrieve them until the statute of limitations finally applies. Either way, I suppose that every book I’ve ever lost goes through a long cycle of finding, trading, borrowing, gifting, and re-gifting. I’m a firm believer in the idea that a book comes to life again every time a new pair of eyes reads it.

Because I’m so giving, and not at all because of my tendency to misplace books, my personal collection remains fairly small. Above my desk, I have a shelf of academic books on English literature, poetry, and philosophy. I keep these on hand because they’re writing resources that I flip through and cite whenever I need to. On an adjacent wall, I have a shelf stacked with fiction, which is mostly untouched because I’ve read them all.

Libraries are a magical place where people breathe life into literature over and over again, which is why I gravitate toward them. Toronto Public Library has annual book sales, where they sell donated books and books from their collections. All the profits are used to support library programs, so it’s basically guilt-free shopping. My most prized books are the ones that I picked up there in my youth.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman was my first coming-of-age book. The protagonist, an orphan boy, is raised by an ensemble of quirky graveyard monsters. Imagine Boyhood (2014) if it was a dark whimsy children’s book. Likewise, I felt seen by Adam Green’s Satsuma Sun-Mover, a comedic tale about a Cambridge philosophy student caught between two warring factions: the Hegelians and the Positivists.

It’s strange to verbalize my love for these books because the feeling is so intimate. For me, the select few books that I keep in my collection are the ones that I’ve attached to core memories.

And, yes, I’ve alleviated my forgetfulness by using an e-reader for most books I buy today. I like being able to highlight and save quotes, bookmark pages, and ctrl+f search for words. The screen also brightens at night if I ever want to read in the dark.

On my e-reader, I probably have over 5000 books now. Even though it’s just a tablet and the books are digital, I like to envision my personal collection looks something like Jorge Luis Borges’ “Library of Babel.” This romantic image makes me feel a lot better about having a collection scattered over the city with books I can’t actually see.


Crysta Montiel is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto in Canada, where she studies English Literature and Philosophy. She previously worked as an editorial intern at Ayesha Pande Literary Agency. When Crysta’s not digging through treasure troves of queries, she’s completing her Criterion Collection bucket list and playing with her cat. 

Interview with Mackenzie Berry, Author of Slack Tongue City

With the recent publication of her debut poetry collection, Slack Tongue City, Sundress Publications author Mackenzie Berry sat down with our intern, Katherine DeCoste, to discuss how her Southern roots, food, and regionality inform her writing. This collection of poetry explores sensory manifestations of longing, transforming ideas of the “homeland” from a physical place to a place of memory.

Katherine DeCoste: The poems in this collection frequently returns to food—grits, coffee, mac & cheese. Can you speak to how food informs identity and community in your work?

Mackenzie Berry: To know any place, I think you have to taste it. And it feels especially important when talking about the U.S. South. So, I had to talk about it when talking about Louisville. At every church potluck, it was all on the table—who made what, hurrying up to get something before it’s gone. Food is so transitory and still so important. Food feels like the concrete manifestation of nostalgia and longing, and my writing has a lot of longing.

KD: You use a wide range of forms here, from prose poem to ghazal, sestina, and pantoum. How did you arrive at these specific forms, and how did they shape these poems?

MB: Honestly, the form poems came out of assignments to write specific form poems in college, when I wrote most of the manuscript. I used the space of form as a means to have musicality or give direction to particular content I wanted to write about. The jug band poem felt like it had to be a sestina because the repeating six words could tell a long story but remain with emphasis. The ghazal is my favorite form, because it’s so musical, so there are a couple of them. It has a chorus built in—something to return to and anchor the poem. The forms also gave the poems a direction to arrive at by the end of a line, something to write toward, so that helped the poems come into being. Writing some of them was writing a puzzle, which felt accurate to the content.

KD: Can you tell me more about the “after” poems in this collection, and how other creatives influenced your work?

MB: Sure—the “after” poems here are citations. A few gesture to some poets I’ve read and their work—John Murillo, Frank X Walker, Brigit Pegeen Kelly. A couple others reference an event as a starting point, as a head of the poem, and don’t return to it in the body of the poem. I’ve drawn from so many poets for their music, for their song. Joy Priest was the first Louisville poet I read on the page, and her work Horsepower has the hum and the engine, as the title suggests.

KD: In “Mama Said Louisville’s not the South Because it Dresses Grits Fancy,” you tease out tension around regionality, especially concerning the South and Midwest. Can you speak more to this?

MB: Louisville’s always been in a geographic struggle with which region it belongs to, and with its relationship with Kentucky as a whole, so I wanted to play that out in this poem with some humor and with specificity. It was funny to me that my mom’s singular and unequivocal criteria for why Louisville is not the South is on account of grits. And yet, of course it is.

KD: Tell me about the book’s three sections. What moved you to structure the collection this way? 

MB: I saw three clear groupings of poems—Louisville poems, childhood/upbringing poems, and grief/heartbreak poems. I tried weaving them all together so that the collection wouldn’t read as disconnected, then tried sections, then returned to no sections, but once my editor Tennison suggested putting them into sections to see how it read, it felt like each one built on the last and that the collection had a clear arc.

KD: You write “if a city is a body it’s redrawing its anatomy” in “Three Truths & A Lie.” How do you see Louisville as a character, as well as a place or setting, in these poems?

MB: I see Louisville as a sky, as an overlook, as an underground, as actually an arbitrary thing—a defined city with borders—as another place which only exists from displacing Indigenous peoples, and that is where I come from. It has many people acting upon it and stretching it into something else, and all it can do is watch it happen in some instances, but in other instances other actors refuse that.

KD: “On Being From Nobody” details a violent encounter between the speaker and “the boy who is almost a man.” Can you tell me how you see femininity and masculinity at play in this poem, as well as throughout the collection?

MB: I don’t see masculinity in this poem but a caricature of it. This caricature is used by “the body who is almost a man” as leverage and as a threat, as something that rages and laughs about it. In the collection as a whole, girlhood and womanhood is something that multiplies and becomes abundant the more it feeds itself. It makes itself, in the absence of and in the howling for. 

KD: Slack Tongue City is as concerned with history as it is with location and place. With that in mind, how do you see these poems engaging with the notion of being “from” a place?

MB: Yes. I’m caught up with archives, and I felt such a need to archive this place as I’ve known it and put my finger on the map, knowing it will never return back there. I think these poems live at the tension of simultaneously being from a place and being beyond it. Of being attached to a physical place as a reference point, as a landing ground, and knowing that ground is ever shaking. I’ve always thought that the best way to read history is to read the poets of the time. Because poetry will bring you into the house, into the kitchen, whereas other depictions may stop at the street, or only go as far as the front door. I’ve always thought of poets as historians from the first collection I ever read, which was Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney.

KD: The collection’s second section presents several recollections from the speaker’s childhood, like their mother’s cookies and purchasing a bike at a garage sale. What is poetry’s role in engaging with these kinds of memories?

MB: Poetry can be used as an archive of the personal. I certainly use it for that. It’s great for memory because by genre it can be incoherent and jarring and parsed and jumpy, which memories often are. Poetry is good for making a quilt. 

Order your copy of Slack Tongue City today!


Mackenzie Berry’s poetry is inspired by Louisville, Kentucky, her hometown and subject of her debut poetry collection, Slack Tongue City. Her poetry has been published in Vinyl, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Hobart, and Blood Orange Review, among others. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Poetry at Cornell University.

Katherine DeCoste is an MA student at the University of Victoria, on the stolen lands of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples and the WSANEC peoples. Their poems have appeared in Grain MagazineThe Antigonish ReviewContemporary Verse 2, and elsewhere, and their play “many hollow mercies” won the 2020 Alberta Playwriting Competition Novitiate Prize. When not writing, reading, or answering emails, you can find them baking vegan snacks and forcing their friends to play Dungeons and Dragons.

We Call Upon the Author to Explain—Saida Agostini

Saida Agostini’s first collection of poetry, let the dead in, moves between mythology and day-to-day life as if there are no boundaries between. A radical act of love for self and community, the poems imagine the fantastic in terms of beauty and a blending of realities. Saida was kind enough to take the time to sit down and answer some questions for this column, and her answers here are as thoughtful and gorgeous as the poetry itself.

Alex DiFrancesco: Saida, I just finished your book, and I was so incredibly moved by it—by the fabulist poems, by the love poems, by the death poems, and by the murder poems. I suppose my first question is that, as I read the first section, “Notes on Archiving Erasure,” it occurred to me, at first, that I was reading speculative poetry, then my feelings on it shifted towards it maybe being magical realism, then finally to the idea that I was perhaps reading creation mythology in poetic

Saida Agostini: I suppose it’s really a hybridization of all those forms. On some level, I would argue that the presence of Black love and its ability to not only survive but expand in the midst of white patriarchal violence is a miracle worthy of not only interrogation but deep study. In writing this collection, I’ve explored the mythology surrounding not only my creation but the creation of my kin and ancestors. I come from a line of powerfully stubborn, deeply rooted, and loving people who keep moving towards freedom. The stories we have told to ourselves to survive are astounding—everything from kidnapping mermaids and whispering jumbees to the half-buried histories of our own evolution. I remember a few years ago, I heard Sapphire speak about Push, and how it is the story of literacy—a young Black girl who comes into her power through learning the written word. The first section chronicles my own journey to emotional literacy: it explores how I became fluent in the histories and emotions of my family, abuse and love.

AD: There is a sense in this book that family is not something that one can separate from, even if the family in question engages in physical abuse, or, in the case of “Bresha Meadows Speaks on Divinity,” a variety of abuses (I’m thinking here of Meadows holding her father after/as she murders him). Can you speak more to this intrinsic link to family, whether one desires it or not?

SA: Families of origin feel inescapable to me. I am a social worker, and always interested in how others make sense of their kin. I have always felt a deep necessity to honor my family—even in the moments where harm is happening. I think in the retelling of great and small wounds, we tend to move into binaries that do not serve us, or reflect the complexities of human emotions. I was formerly a member of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, a collective that organized the Monument Quilt, a collection of over three thousand quilt squares from survivors and allies. In the workshops I held, so few people spoke, or felt, in absolute terms. It’s complicated, hard and tricky—especially when it’s family. My work tries to move beyond reductive narratives about abuse, and explore what happens when survivor’s voices are given room to express everything. And that’s what family is right? A tricky, hard, difficult space that generates so much love, confusion, and hope. I have experienced great harm in my family. And yet, I have experienced great love. When I talk about the things I have survived, I need room to make you understand all of it: the ability to move back and forth throughout time, to shift between love, pain and, joy. No matter how we are connected or disconnected from family, those stories and lineages stay with us.

AD: I absolutely adored the persona poems from the series of monsters and spirits in “We Find the Fantastic.” I also noticed and loved, though, that this section holds some poems on Black lesbian love and sex—and I’m wondering about the melding here of fantastic in the “fantasy” and the “wonderful” sense.

SA: As a baby queer, desire and pleasure felt very much in the realm of both fantasy and the fantastic. Raised in public schools by conservative immigrant parents, I very much remember the only conversations we had about sexuality were grounded in the mechanics of reproduction. I couldn’t tell you very much about pleasure, but I could tell you about the zygote. As I grew up, so much of my agency and sense of self came from discovering how I could generate pleasure in myself and others. To this day, I have a sense of awe in thinking about it. In a culture where we are constantly taught to revere production, outcomes, and capitalism, it is an act of liberation to engage in acts that have no intended purpose other than joy. As I meditate on fantasy, whether I am speaking on mermaids, Harriet Tubman’s pursuit of Sojourner Truth or Black queer love, what I am really speaking about is building a world that revels in deep joy.

AD: God is seen again and again as a Black woman in this collection. Harriet Tubman and Sojourner truth become lesbian lovers and heroes. I want to ask you to talk more about Black women’s power and love for each other here, about these ideas of Black women, particularly fat Black women and lesbians, as gods/heroes.

SA: There are very few days that I don’t hate my body. That’s not shocking—I am a fat Black woman in a culture that derides any body that doesn’t fit within audaciously restrictive and fatphobic standards of beauty. I don’t ever remember seeing a fat Black woman in popular culture that was not a figure of derision or mockery. Whether we are talking about the Klumps in Nutty Professor or Madea, what I learned about fat Black women is that we are not worthy of pleasure. Toni Morrison’s often repeated edict, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” brought me to the page. I wanted to see myself in the pages. I wanted to fall in love with me as I am. To witness fat Black women who revel in their bodies and the pleasure it brings. There is something divine about that, right? To articulate a way of being that centers Black womanhood and pleasure as intoxicating and lovely, worthy of worship. The creation stories in let the dead in are about bucking any gaze that cannot celebrate the expansiveness of Blackness and our bodies.

AD: There is a series of poems in section three, “American Love,” about Black people who are murdered by the police, or otherwise brutalized by the justice system in America. You make, what I felt, was an extremely bold move of not just memorializing these folks, but also, particularly in the poem “If Tamir Rice and Eric Garner Wore Heels,” of calling out who is often left out of the extremely righteous rage people have expressed over these murders. Can you talk more about who is left out?

SA: It is unbearable that the daily lives of Black folks attract such profound and lethal risks. It is unforgivable to know that the lives of Black folks who exist outside of the white gaze will not be grieved. We all know the brutal calculus behind public grieving in American culture. The precarity that Black women, queer folks, trans and gender non-conforming communities face is so absurd, they go without comment or care. The gymnastics that must be proved to merit grief, let alone a public response to the harm Black folks face outside of cis-heteronormativity is exhausting. Makhia Bryant should be alive. CeCe McDonald should never have been incarcerated. Breonna Taylor should have woken up that morning. I am no longer interested in inviting white culture to meditate on why these realities exist. I am however demanding that our community explore how white gaze limits our ability for great love.

let the dead in is available through Alan Squire Publishing


Saida Agostini is a queer Afro-Guyanese poet whose work explores the ways that Black folks harness mythology to enter the fantastic. Saida’s first collection of poems, let the dead in, was a finalist for the Center of African American Poetry & Poetics’ 2020 Book Prize as well as the New Issues Poetry Prize. She is the author of STUNT (Neon Hemlock, October 2020), a chapbook exploring the history of Nellie Jackson, a Black woman entrepreneur who operated a brothel for sixty years in Natchez, Mississippi. Her poetry can also be found in the Black Ladies Brunch Collective’s anthology Not Without Our Laughter, Barrelhouse Magazine, Hobart Pulp, Plume, and other publications. A Cave Canem Graduate Fellow, Saida has been awarded honors and support for her work by the Watering Hole and Blue Mountain Center, as well as a 2018 Rubys Grant funding travel to Guyana to support the completion of her first manuscript. She is a Best of the Net Finalist and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee.

Alex DiFrancesco is a multi-genre writer who has published work in Tin HouseThe Washington PostPacific StandardVol. 1 BrooklynThe New Ohio ReviewBrevity, and more. In 2019, they published their essay collection Psychopomps (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press) and their novel All City (Seven Stories Press), which was a finalist for the Ohioana Book Awards. They are an assistant editor at Sundress Publications.

Meet Our New Intern: Crysta Montiel

When I was a child, I imitated the many books that I read, silently narrating my day-to-day. Although my personal stories were always mundane, to me, they were never boring. My unpleasant French teacher, who I won’t name, became Miss Trunchbull. My childhood crush was as dashing as Prince Caspian. A walk with my best friend had the potential to be as riveting as an adventure with Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins. I clung to these stories because they prescribed me a sense of order and predictability as a child. When a narrator speaks, one can usually expect a happy ending. While I now know that that’s not always the case in real life, cultivating an inner “literary” monologue allowed me to better interpret the outside world.

As I grew older, my child-like narrative voice slowly faded away. Instead, I had an intense longing to engage with others’ storytelling. I wanted to understand how they perceived the world, but, most of all, I wanted to help them master the necessary tools to tell their stories. I imagine that everyone has their own inner narrative voice, and that the task of a good editor is both to nurture it and to help writers clearly convey their tales to readers.

With this in mind, after high school, I decided to enroll as an English and Philosophy major at the University of Toronto. As an undergraduate, I refined my literary criticism by studying theory and reading the classics. However, my real schooling began last semester when I was fortunate enough to intern at a literary agency based in New York City—this experience solidified my passion for the publishing industry.

With revitalized vigor for the opportunities that lie ahead, I’m excited to join the Sundress Publications team this year and learn more about what literary publishing entails.


Crysta Montiel is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto in Canada, where she studies English Literature and Philosophy. She previously worked as an editorial intern at Ayesha Pande Literary Agency. When Crysta’s not digging through treasure troves of queries, she’s completing her Criterion Collection bucket list and playing with her cat. 

Sundress Announces the Release of Jason B. Crawford’s Year of the Unicorn Kidz

Sundress Publications is pleased to announce the release of Jason B. Crawford’s Year of the Unicorn Kidz. Crawford’s poetry delicately details the thrills and dangers of self-discovery on the margins of reality.

Jason B. Crawford’s Year of the Unicorn Kidz beautifully explores existence on the intersections of gender, race, and sexuality. Their profound navigation of identity, violence, and desire transcends boundaries and binaries. Vulnerability takes the centre stage as the speaker of these descriptive and passionate poems unburies old relationships and haunting memories. Year of the Unicorn Kidz reads like a coming-of-age story for marginalized youth in America, sketching the body in terms of disconnection, loss, and the explosive nature of desire. From burning rage to healing friendships to the thrill of forbidden encounters and the regrets that follow them, Crawford revisits the reckless elements of youth that capture the inner and outer conflicts of self-discovery. They bring incredible depth to their poetry with urgent and vivid storytelling that delicately reveals the complexity of reality, while also leaving room for readers to reflect on their own.

torrin a. greathouse, author of Wound from the Mouth of a Wound, and boy/girl/ghost says, “In Year of the Unicorn Kidz, ode and elegy coexist by necessity. Crawford crafts for us a poetic landscape sat at the intersection of violence and desire, drenched in neon and horror movie fog. Even in this book’s happiest poems, risk is always in the periphery, whether they are writing about beloved friends, cruising, or childhood memories. Undergirding the entire collection is Crawford’s particular talent for writing through violence with stunning tenderness, rendering knives and teeth blunt even as they speak them sharp into a poem.”

Pre-order your copy of Year of the Unicorn Kidz on the Sundress website: https://sundress-publications.square.site/

Jason B. Crawford (they/them) is a Black, nonbinary, queer writer. Crawford is the author of three chapbooks: Summertime Fine (Variant Literaure, 2021), Twerkable Moments (Paper Nautilus, 2021), and Good Boi (Neon Hemlock, 2021). Crawford is a current poetry MFA candidate at The New School in New York, NY.

Sundress Reads: Review of Luz at Midnight

Somewhere in the night, a dog wanders. Somewhere in South Texas during a blackout, the dog gives birth. Somewhere in America during a global climate crisis, a man finds the dog and brings her home.

In her genre-hopping novel Luz at Midnight (FlowerSong Press, 2020), Marisol Cortez tells a story of the passionate, exhausting search for hope and perseverance against desperation, frustration, injustice, and hopelessness. In this striking climate fiction book with a love story, idealistic and thoughtful Citlali “Lali” Sanchez-O’Connor falls fervently—and in her mind, unfortunately—in love with journalist Joel Champlain, who uncovers the slow-acting political and economic leaders in a fast-moving climate crisis affecting the inhabitants of San Antonio. Lali has a husband, a child, and a job lined up across the country, and she grapples with the badly-timed discovery of a passion she had never felt before. Both Lali and Joel are navigating their dissatisfaction with unfulfilled promises—within their lives and from the people who have the power to stop the climate crisis they are both fighting in personal and professional capacities.

Lali’s confessional opening hints at the passion, reflection, and uncertainty to come. Her discovery of love dawns with the realization that it is “something that in its very inexplicability could not be controlled or reckoned with or understood.” Joel’s introduction is striking, too, presented in second-person point of view with vivid details. We learn about his struggles with mental health and the cognitive dissonance between his ideals and the reality of his work. He questions himself, and his ennui permeates his narrative, speaking to those who have ever questioned their impact, especially those who work against injustice. He struggles to belong and find connection with like-minded people, asking “How can I be part of something but not of something?”

Weaving masterfully between numerous narrative styles and genres—including poetic prose, contemporary storytelling, poetry, theatrical script, musings on physics and human interconnection, research notes, and even news articles—Cortez takes us through multiple perspectives, seeing romance and climate change through various lenses. Lali’s growing understanding of “the complex political interweaving of oil and water and money and color” tie the book’s many elements together. Stylistic choices also treat the text like artwork; dialogue isn’t set off by quotation marks, and the characters’ speech blends into the narrative. The text invites readers to place themselves into the story, using focus and context to derive its meaning. It shifts between past and present tense, showing time’s many links to itself. Every new section begins with another Chapter One—a resetting of time, an acknowledgement of a new beginning amidst many beginnings and endings.

The many characters of Luz at Midnight are well fleshed-out, both memorable and familiar. With stories told with nuance and empathy, these characters comprise people from all backgrounds, from activists to those simply doing their jobs and hoping they do them well. For a brief time, we walk with each character, seeing the world through their eyes and understanding how their experiences have shaped their views and dreams. We see how these characters interact with each other and how their stories intertwine, always drawing back to the idea of connection. The story highlights connections between people, between history and the future, between nature and humanity, and between legacy and damage. Human thought and relationships are explored with artistic, whimsical writing that is at times thoughtful, solemn, or humorous. The characters lean on humor in some of their darkest moments, especially when they feel they have nothing else—yet instances of this humor, like those in the narrative, are weighed down by more sobering realities:         
                                                                                        
“He laughs and waves back. Alto a los rate hikes!
But it really wasn’t funny.”

The characters fight for and live in a San Antonio that is both realistic and fictionalized. Multiple references are made that show the author’s familiarity with the city, and the setting imagines what might happen as the city’s political and economic leaders and citizens respond to issues brought about by climate change—and ultimately by the people themselves. As they delve into the issues plaguing the city, Joel, Lali, and their colleagues grapple with the knowledge that “whoever decided what happened to the land decided the future.” The story’s timeliness and relevance are uncanny; just months before a snowstorm and Texas’ electrical system would lead to prolonged blackouts in multiple areas, disproportionately affecting poorer and more marginalized communities, Cortez warns of those very risks in Texas’ electrical grid plans. These incidents are described in compelling language that personifies nature with “her” instead of “it,” and the narrative frequently ponders nature’s overarching power, extending into every life and permeating the landscape.

Ultimately, Luz at Midnight is thought-provoking, and its many twists and forays into multiple narrative styles ensured my constant reflection and focus. The characters are raw and genuine, and I deeply felt their passion and exhaustion as I followed their stories. The story lovingly and thoughtfully explores human relationships, how they impact and are in turn impacted by the earth, and imagines a near future dealing with climate issues, but ultimately, it is a book about desire and love, whether those are between characters, between people and their city, between animals and humans, or between humans and our world. “When we’re held like that, unconditionally—that’s when our pain becomes endurance, courage. That’s what allows us to survive in the face of violence and to do this work year after year, decade after decade.”

Luz at Midnight is available at FlowerSong Press


Stephi Cham is a freelance editor and author. She received her BM in Music Therapy and Minor in Psychology from Southern Methodist University and is pursuing her MA in Publishing at Rosemont College, where she is the Fiction Editor of Rathalla Review. She wrote the Great Asian-Americans series, published in 2018 by Capstone Press, and her writing has been featured in Strange Horizons.

Sundress Reads Review Series Looking for Recently Published Books

As part of Sundress’s ongoing commitment to service, we recognize that COVID-19 has caused hardship by cancelling readings, launches, tours, and other needed promotional efforts. To combat this, Sundress Publications continues to accept submissions for consideration for inclusion in our review series, Sundress Reads. We’re looking to write featured reviews for any books published or to be published from July 2021 to June 2022. We at Sundress hope to champion writers whose work highlights human struggle and challenges misconceptions.

Authors or publishers of books published within this date range are invited to submit books, chapbooks, or anthologies in any genre for consideration by our reviewers who are standing by. Submissions will be considered on a rolling basis.

For immediate consideration, please forward an electronic copy of the book (PDFs preferred), author bio, photo of the cover, and a link to the publisher’s website to sundresspublications@gmail.com with “Sundress Reads: Title” as the subject line. In addition, we request that one print copy be mailed to Sundress Academy for the Arts, ATTN: Sundress Reads, 195 Tobby Hollow Lane, Knoxville, TN 37931.

Submissions to Sundress Reads will remain eligible for selection for one year. Hard copies will become a permanent part of the Sundress Academy for the Arts library and will be made available to SAFTA residents and staff as well as by request to affiliate journals for further reviews.

Interview with Inès Pujos, Author of Something Dark to Shine In

In anticipation of the release of her collection Something Dark to Shine In, Inès Pujos spoke with Sundress Publications’ editorial intern Ryleigh Wann about the use of the speculative and macabre in writing, animals, and survival.

Ryleigh Wann: The manuscript for Something Dark to Shine In was, at some points, also known as Against Porcelain and Lilly of The Valley. Could you speak more about the title of the book and how it encompasses the collection?

Inès Pujos: When I originally finished writing the manuscript post-MFA, I named it Against Porcelain after the title poem, which captured this urgent and macabre perspective that seemed to thread the collection as a whole. There was something eerie about porcelain, in the color and the fragility nature of it all. After submitting to several contests, a few editors pointed out that they thought a different title would be better suited. So I began submitting it as Lilly of the Valley, a nod to another title poem that was added after the first draft of the manuscript. But as time went on, I felt that title felt a little too mundane. My manuscript was previously picked up by another press and the editor suggested that I just lift my opening quote from Frank Standford’s The Battlefield Where The Moon Says I Love You: “I’ll just bleed so the stars have something Dark to Shine In.” This quote has always resonated with me and really encompasses this idea of making something special out of one’s own martyrdom and trauma…which is what my whole collection discusses, and so the manuscript officially became Something Dark to Shine In.”

RW: Can you speak about the use of the speculative in this collection, found in the wolf
character in “Breaking Winter” or the meandering nature of “Patron Saint of All Lost Things”?

IP: I first began writing because I was not able to draw…or at least draw well. I always loved the surrealist painters and gravitated towards the surreal in my writing. It was in those early writing days that I created whole alternative worlds with these more fantastical characters all living in a village by the sea. As the years went on, more of these surreal characters began to emerge and I’ve carried them with me in various poems. Interestingly ,the wolf character appeared in my writing as a predator, in relation to the narrator. But over time, the wolf also became a feral protector. A few years out of writing “Breaking Winter,” I was working on my trauma with my therapist through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) and the wolf character came to my protection…in all of his feralness he was able to be protective and at times nurturing so my relationship with this character changed.

As for “Patron Saint of All Lost Thing,” that poem was written in one sitting. I was on the train from NYC to New Haven and “Says I Love You”… I just remember having written one line and then it all flowed out of me, very much stream of consciences…which also could have been facilitated by the movement of the train. It was here that I explored a bit more of my personal family folklore and the long form allowed for a more whimsical approach. By the time I reach New Haven, I had the first draft done…my friend and I spent the afternoon walking through a graveyard …which was peak gothic and writerly and was able to make its way into sections of “Patron Saint of All Lost Things” after that.

RW: Can you tell me about the use of form throughout the collection, specifically in “Breaking Winter” or “More Blood in the East Village” and your use of space on the page?

IP: I find writing in certain forms to be very motivating when I experience writers block and although I am comfortable with more traditional form, I do like creating a hybrid out of it… taking something traditional and adding a twist to it. Yes…I love using white space…whether it is through erasure poems or using the space to create an erasure type esthetic. I use spaces as a way to add a bit more breath in my poems…often I find that my work has some manic energy to it and I rush to get everything on the page. The use of white space in “Breaking Winter” or “More Blood in the East Village” acts almost like the beat cue in screenplays. I want to add more tension between the manic/more urgent pacing with the use of white space.

RW: This haunting and haunted collection employs morbid language and imagery to discuss the impacts trauma has on the body. Can you discuss the influence of the macabre in your writing of such visceral language, themes, and imagery?

IP: My use of the macabre in my writing is a direct influence from my thought process and I’ve turned to writing to explore and destigmatize my own intrusive thoughts from previous traumas. But I also think that I’ve always been a bit morbid. As a child, I was fascinated by animals and wanted to be a surgeon. Growing up, my cats would often leave their prey lying around our yard and I would take their bodies back inside and try to examine their bodies and blood under a microscope. When I saw a dead bird on the road, I would put it in my bag and examine its wings, tried to sew it back. My desire to be a surgeon stopped the moment I experienced some medical trauma when I was thirteen. Though I still poured over my own surgery notes and pictures…I just didn’t feel comfortable inflecting harm on someone even if they medically need it. I find the body fascinating, whether human or animal and am curious to witness its inner workings. Post numerous surgeries and medical treatments, I took a lot of those experiences and put them into writing. That lived experience combined with intrusive thoughts only further fueled my more visceral images in themes. I think there’s a link between the macabre and trauma, In Esme Wang’s The Collected Schizophrenias, Esme teases out this connection beautifully…of consuming more macabre media and even true crime following a trauma. I think it’s my brain’s way of finding attunement, so I’m naturally drawn to morbidity.

RW: Tell me about the particular syntax of these poems, particularly the use of enjambment and blank spaces between phrases in individual lines like in “Good Faith.”

IP: I approached “Good Faith” in a similar manner to “Breaking Winter” and More Blood in the East Village”…in terms of the form and use of white space. Though, in this later poem, many of the spaces are not so much about creating tension and rather using the space to emphasize the intimacy between my partner and I…kind of like when we look at each other and I know what she’s thinking and vice versa.

RW: Something Dark to Shine In almost reads like a grimoire. Can you discuss the balance of the personal and cosmic mythologies (or magic) occurring within these poems?

IP: I grew up in the United States with just my immediate family…all my extended family was in France and so the only constant connection to my larger family was through old photographs. I used to take them out and look at my relatives, create narratives as a way to feel closer to my relatives. At an early age I found out about my grandmother’s suicide, which occurred when my mother was fourteen. My grandmother was so tragically beautiful and the stories surrounding her depression, her mental illness, and her family dynamics captivated me. So those stories always appeared to have some scene of mysticism/ family folklore. I would say that this folklore is very present in “Patron Saint of All Lost Things”, where I explore family grief and trauma and making something bright out of something so terribly tragic. It all ties back to the need to make something special, it’s very human.

RW: What truths do you think the book is searching for?

IP: I think a lot of personal truths were written within this manuscript by my own unconscious. When I first wrote the poems within my second and third semester of my MFA, I had not come to terms that during my first semester, I was raped. And yet, looking back at the poems now, almost ten years later, it was so clear that my body processed the rape earlier than my own mind…so there are so many personal truths hidden throughout the poems. Same goes for my own gender identity…I look at the lines that are in this book and I am stunned at how clearly I knew myself within that realm of the poem, but that it took me a little longer to come to terms with these truths.

RW: Many of the truths in these poems include a consideration of place, such as the East Village, Tompkins Square. I found it interesting how this ecotone is written about; the speaker or language of these poems interacting with a location. What does it mean to you to write about a place?

IP: I find location to be a very important part of my writing process. Perhaps it’s the influence of screenwriting, but I almost always need to ground myself in a physical space…whether imagined or real…I need the reader to be able to see where I am. And a great deal of these poems from the manuscript were written at coffee shops in the East Village, on my walks through Tompkins Park, and throughout the Lower East Side. I think there’s something inherently special about the East Village…so many great art movements were born there, and it was the first time that I saw a
large city function as literally a small village. I talk about my friend’s mother, Leslie, who I never met while she was alive…but having heard so many stories about her while in High school,  always imagined the neighborhood as Avant Garde and feral. When I first spent more time in the East Village, I felt instantly connected to it, and to Leslie, and I began writing my own folklore narrative between us.

RW: Which poems compel you the most?

IP: This answer has changed so many times of the years. Looking back, I notice the difference in my work the most with the poem entitled, “The New Frontier.” While the subject matter is about grooming and sexual assault, a subject that I cover in other poems, It’s the first poem that I am more direct about the subject itself. It was written after I had realized and began to process that I was a rape survivor, and I was more comfortable with claiming that trauma and had the words to articulate what I had survived. Previously, my unconscious didn’t’ have that clear cut language and I tended to rely on metaphors and more surreal settings. While there are some
surreal aspects to this poem, it felt like a turning point in my own trauma processing and writing.

Order your copy of Something Dark to Shine In today


Inès Pujos holds an MFA in Poetry from NYU. Their poems have appeared in The Adroit Journal, Gulf Coast, Puerto del Sol, and Verse Daily, among others. Their manuscript was a finalist for multiple prizes, including Alice James’ 2017 open reading period and Semi-finalist for The 2017 Berkshire Prize by Tupelo Press. For more information visit inespujoscreative.com.

Ryleigh Wann is an MFA poetry candidate at UNC Wilmington where she teaches creative writing and is the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in Rejection LettersFlypaper Lit, and Kissing Dynamite Poetry, among others.

Sundress Announces the Release of Inès Pujos’ Something Dark to Shine In

Knoxville, TN— Sundress Publications announces the release of Inès Pujos’ Something Dark to Shine In, a debut poetry collection that considers the impact of pain while maintaining an unwillingness to surrender. 

In Something Dark to Shine In, trauma manifests in body horror. Skin strips away from flesh; blood stains floorboards; and teeth fall out to become toys. Death and religion hover constantly in the background of this haunting and haunted collection, even as the speaker reminds herself, “I am not dead yet.” Faced with the alienation and the horror of sexual violence, these poems resist the impulse to romanticize. Here, rot is marked by “a black wool of flies,” soil is laced with “chips of plates or lead paint,” and feral wolf-women refuse to be tamed. The classically beautiful becomes frightening such that a bee’s sweet honey is a reminder of the pain of their sting, and a golden crucifix is a symbol only of a calvary’s violence. Something Dark to Shine In refuses to look away from pain, from violence, yet to read these poems in a world where such atrocities become banal and commonplace, is to witness a profound refusal to die, a wish to find beauty, and even hope, in one’s own terror. 

Eileen Myles, author of I Must Be Living Twice and Inferno, (among many others) says, “Inès’ book is very pregnant and raggedy. I like it like I liked Lars Van Triers’ Nymphomaniac I & II. It’s medieval but darker like if a painter explained how he liked to cook—using skulls. So cavalier but with these tiny blots of light. Plus, she builds her poems with these good, great, organic lists that are never corny cause she’s seriously counting things in the world.” 

Order your copy of Something Dark to Shine In

Inès Pujos holds an MFA in Poetry from NYU. Their poems have appeared in The Adroit Journal, Gulf Coast, Puerto del Sol, and Verse Daily, among others. Their manuscript was a finalist for the following prizes, among others: BOAAT Press’s 2018 open reading period and Alice James’ 2017 open reading period, and semi-finalist for: The 2017 Berkshire Prize by Tupelo Press and the 2017 Pleiades Press Editors Prize for Poetry, among others. For more information, visit inespujoscreative.com


Interview with Akua Lezli Hope, editor of NOMBONO: Speculative Poetry by BIPOC Poets

Cover Image for NOMBONO

Ahead of the release of the speculative poetry collection NOMBONO: Speculative Poetry by BIPOC Poets, Akua Lezli Hope spoke with Sundress Publications editorial intern Stephi Cham about how the meaning of “nombono,” the number 10, and the roots of speculative poetry influenced her editorial approach to the collection.

Stephi Cham: What was your primary thought process as you put this collection together? Is there a larger narrative you hoped to achieve?

Akua Lezli Hope: I envisioned a collection of BIPOC speculative poetry last fall, when I entered the competition to create an anthology. I was privileged to be included in a number of speculative poetry readings and panels at SF/F conventions last year. I was inspired by both the presence and absence of BIPOC creators. I committed myself to remedy the twin absences of speculative poetry and of BIPOC creators of speculative poetry. I created Speculative Sundays Poetry Reading Series and conceived my idea for this anthology.

SC: How did you choose the title? How did the word “nombono” speak to you?

ALH: I went in search of a title. One of my favorites was already taken, so then I went in search of non-English words. “Nombono” means vision. It is lovely in the mouth and it’s a “false friend” as it resembles “name good” (“bono” is used in English pro bono—for the public good and “nom” means name in French). So the Zulu has all these western evocations as well as the wonderful meaning. Vision speaks to the ability to invent, imagine, intuit. NOMBONO.

SC: You write that speculative poetry started as “humanity’s first literature.” How do its roots influence the writings in NOMBONO?

ALH: I can’t speak for or to each writer’s influences, having only read a few poems by each. That would be most presumptuous of me. There is myth making and myth telling and retellings among the poems in the collection. Encoding myth/beliefs and folkways was the role of humanity’s first literature—which was in verse. These poets are performing the role of humanity’s first poets, creating art that encodes and reports their experiences, ideas and vision.

SC: Can you talk about your process in dividing this collection into 10 sections? What is its significance?

ALH: There were more sections. I sought to have poems be in conversation with each other, to create a flow, to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. 10 means a return to unity, the fusion of being and non-being, it is a divine number.

SC: What role does the recurring theme of societal denial play in these works?

ALH: There are many roles that societal denial plays — it is propulsive, introspective, motivating, meditative, informing, deconstructive, instructive, inspiring, underpinning, undergirding, catalytic. It spawns the affirmation, avowal,  achievement. It is the sad stage setting that is shred, overturned, overcome, repudiated. It is that which is overcome.

SC: In “Mmádu Si Àlà Putá,” Ogbuji writes, “It’s time to push away the teat and forage / the void, to answer scarcity with courage—” How can we answer scarcity with courage in our lives?

ALH: We answer scarcity with courage by being undaunted and undeterred in our creating, by making good and peace manifest, by loving fully both ourselves and the world we inhabit. There is no scarcity, there is only the lack of will and imagination.

Download your free e-copy of NOMBONO here or order a print copy from the Sundress store.


Akua Lezli Hope is a creator and wisdom seeker who uses sound, words, fiber, glass, metal, and wire to create poems, patterns, stories, music, sculpture, adornments, and peace. Her honors include the NEA, two NYFAs, an Elgin and SFPA Award, and Rhysling and Pushcart Prize nominations. Her first collection, EMBOUCHURE, Poems on Jazz and Other Musics, won the Writer’s Digest Book Award. She is the editor of Eye To The Telescope #42 on The Sea.

Stephi Cham holds a BM in Music Therapy with a Minor in Psychology from Southern Methodist University. She is currently working toward her MA in Publishing at Rosemont College, and she is the Fiction Editor at Rathalla review. She is a freelance editor and the author of the Great Asian-Americans series published by Capstone Press, and her work has appeared in Strange Horizons.