Project Bookshelf: Saoirse

Three wooden bookshelves side by side against a white wall. They are completely filled with book and have built 3D puzzled on top of them.
The bookshelf I shared with my parents

I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of building collections recently. As much as I love to see a cupboard (or an apartment or a house or a life) full of books, an empty bookshelf holds such wonderful possibilities. I’ve never had to build (read: populate) a bookshelf from scratch until this last year. As a child, I first began reading by dipping into my parents’ books—with or without their permission—and adding my own to their collection. I wasn’t allowed to read any books my parents wouldn’t read themselves. Our books were shared and thus, so were our tastes in reading material.

So many people talk of finding their voice at college but I found my ears. Finally, the chance to have a bookshelf of my own helped me develop a reading sensibility informed by my own identity, experiences, and preferences. Between readings at the Rose O’Neill Literary House, visits to the Dodge Poetry Festival, and research trips to New York, East Anglia, and Havana, I picked up an extensive collection of books that could serve as an introduction to me on its own.

Multiple large stacks of books on a desk.
Some of the books I left in storage

Until May 2020, when I received a call from the Indian Embassy. They said they would be airlifting me from the States back to India. My flight was to take off in five days. My first thought: what am I going to do with my extensive book collection? So, I painstakingly chose a handful of books to bring with me that have since created the foundations of my current bookshelf. (The rest are safe in storage, don’t worry).

A book (A Brief History of Fruit by Kimberly Quiogue Andrews) on a desk with an apple and a small bottle of orange juice next to it.
A quarantine breakfast

The first three books I chose because of my admiration of both the contents and its creators: A Brief History of Fruit by the inimitable Kimberly Quiogue Andrews, The Court Dancer by Kyung-Sook Shin and translated by the inspirational Anton Hur, and finally, Bla_k by no other than M. Nourbese Philip. A book of poetry, a translated novel, and a collection of nonfiction. I was clearly working hard to curate as varied a list of texts as possible written/translated/created by folks of extraordinary character.

If there is one thing I can confidently say about my current book collection (other than its diminutive size), is that it continues to speak to my identity and current lived reality. I read books almost immediately after acquiring them, and thus, my book purchases reflect my priorities. Given the socio-political realities of the pandemic in India and the world writ large, Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents have become Afrofuturist necessities. So has Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police, trans. Stephen Snyder. I have also taken to engaging with my books on a more involved level by writing them out longhand so you will find a stack of notebooks containing (part of) Toni Morrison’s Beloved written in my hand on the bottom shelf. A benefit of repatriation: my shelves now also hold classic books from my homeland that are hard to find in the US, like फ़ैज़ अहमद “फ़ैज़” जी की मेरे दिल मेरे मुसाफ़िर (My Heart, My Traveller by Faiz Ahmed Faiz).

I must admit, I am cautiously enjoying this short liminal period of having a half-empty bookshelf. It’s so full of possibilities and wonder. Every so often, I feel a jab of resentment or irritation, finding myself wishing I’d packed a specific book or wishing I hadn’t had to leave my life behind. The thrill of curating a new collection tempers the loss of the old but it never truly resolves it. Someday, I will open those boxes again and perhaps rediscover a younger version of myself in those pages. Perhaps even combine these collections despite the Pacific Ocean in the way. Until then, on to the next one!


a brown femme person sits at a table. They have a drink in their hand and a tattoo on their wrist. They are wearing spectacles. They have shoulder length black hair.

Saoirse‘s name and passion are the same: freedom. As an exophonic writer, their academic interests revolve around linguistic power dynamics, especially in connection to the land. They are always trying to write, and find, poetry that breaks the English language into articulating its own colonial violence. They are a freelance editor and serve as the Guest Editor for Emerging Voices in Poetry at Oyster River Pages. They are a 2021 Brooklyn Poets Fellow and a finalist for the Sophie Kerr Prize. They find excitement in travel, comfort in a good cup of coffee, and love in their newly adopted puppy, Malaika. Find them at saoirseedits.com or on Twitter @saoirseedits.

Sundress Reads: Review of Grieving for Guava

In her collection of short stories Grieving for Guava (The University Press of Kentucky, 2020), Cecilia M. Fernandez captures the grief, longing, and hope of Cuban immigrants and diaspora in 10 poignant vignettes. These stories, though different in length, style, and perspective, are connected by lingering yearning and loss. The title Grieving for Guava hints at the evocative imagery that highlights the vivid, small details that the characters long for—that sweet scent of guava in their homes.

Home. The word, though often unspoken, permeates these stories, which span the divide between two countries, offering glimpses into the lives of those who are leaving, have left, or are returning to Cuba. The nostalgia-tinged prose of each narrative allows readers to experience the sense of both community and isolation felt by immigrants old and young and in between. 

In her foreword, Fernandez speaks about capturing the stories of the past before it is “utterly lost.” Although fictional stories, the truth of each family’s struggle comes through; so much so that one feels as if they are reading real-life accounts of various lives. Fernandez’s love—for her family, for these first waves of Cuban people coming to America, for these lives—is evident in her thoughtful, earnest prose and detailed characterization. 

Grieving for Guava opens with the story of the three Marusas in “Marusa’s Beach.” Both memories and yearning span their generations, where Cuban immigrants find community with each other amidst their own dashed hopes, struggles, and dreams. Multiple families are broken—both during and after the move to Cuba—and many are separated by distance, time, or beliefs. The story ends with a sense of irrevocable change, grief, and regret that carries through the rest of the stories.

The next stories, “Mad Magi” and “The Last Girl,” surprised me. They move from the powerful first story’s thoughtful, reflective grief into an ever-present sense of restlessness and dissatisfaction. These stories detail the stagnancy and confusion of trying to adapt to lives different than what one may have hoped for and expected. As the book moves forward, so do the characters, and watching them realize that what has changed is not only their circumstances but also themselves is striking.

“Summer of My Father’s Gun” focuses on another young girl trying desperately to regain stability, safety, and belonging. She lives in a neighborhood of many Cubans, and Fernandez briefly but effectively tells stories within this story, detailing the backgrounds of each family in the community. Though the story is from one person’s perspective, it showcases an experience shared by many. I felt the communion of shared past and present similarities, and the division that even those can cause.

“Button Box” shows the trailing sense of loss and confusion upheavals leave behind. The story gives us our first real-time glimpse within the book at Cuba, which has changed significantly since Castro’s takeover. Details and plot unfold to reveal the loss felt by both those who left and those left behind, along with the solace of memories and loved ones as we watch someone visit the island and reunite with family. The character’s hope kept me hooked. Seeing her revisit previously familiar places and people reminded me of my own trips to my mother’s home country where I grew up—that fear that everything will have changed, combined with the knowledge that some things inevitably have already, is one I imagine is familiar to many immigrant families.

“Where Do You Go, My Lovely?” veers back to younger diaspora, this time painting the differences between generations of immigrants. Whereas the Marusas are connected by their longing for home, Susana and her parents and grandparents grapple with their contrasting backgrounds and goals. Fernandez shows how the struggles and stories of first-generation immigrants sometimes get lost down the road, harkening back to the foreword’s statement that the past must be written before it is lost. Susana’s story itself seemed symbolic of this, a way to preserve the past while moving forward.

In two former lovers’ dual perspectives, “Flags and Rafts” crosses back and forth between the port of Cojímar and the shores of Miami. One left for America near the beginning of Castro’s takeover, while the other stayed, yet both hoped for a better future. The story is a tribute to the hopes maintained and thwarted over time, uniting Cuban people on and off the island even while separating them, and the endurance of hope sustained through love. :Flags and Rafts” delves into old loves, while “Rocking Chair Love” explores the discovery of new love after loss, painting a picture of renewal found even through grief.

“Dime-Store Date” reveals the trickling effect of an older generation’s struggles and trauma. Amid the disappointment and isolation of a broken family is a younger teenager driven by the same desire for love and belonging and wounded by its loss. The glimpse into young Mari’s world traces a day that Mari will not remember but that I and other readers certainly will. With subtle heartbreak and narrative, Fernandez implores readers not to forget.

The stories come full circle with “Here in Havana.” Decades after the events of “Marusa’s Beach,” Iraidita continues to hold close her memories of the day, her longing for home, and her hope for a better life. As we make the journey with her back to Havana, seeing Cuba and the world change through her eyes, we learn what it means to rediscover home.

Overall, the collection is full of gripping, moving vignettes that tugged at my heartstrings. I felt deeply invested in many of the characters, feeling as if I were hoping, grieving, and wondering with them. Fernandez painted a vivid picture of that unsettling restlessness that comes with the yearning for something we can’t have; in the characters’ case, it’s their old lives. Whenever I’ve missed the smell of Taiwanese pork chop or the sweetness of aiyu, what I’ve really missed is home. This collection took me through every step of that vivid nostalgia. In Grieving for Guava, all the details—the smells of local guava, the sounds of family members in casual conversation, the sights of the ocean from a Cuban coast—captured the pervasiveness of the constant longing that stays forever, and the comfort of all that’s left.

Grieving for Guava is available at The University Press of Kentucky


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, where she manages the publishing program’s communications as a graduate assistant. She is a freelance editor and the author of the Great Asian-American series published by Capstone Press, and her work has appeared in Strange Horizons.

Meet Our New Intern: Victoria Carrubba

For as long as I can remember, storytelling has been an essential part of my life. Whether through avidly reading books well past my reading level, performing on stage for theatre and dance, or writing my own stories by hand in my mother’s notepads, expressing and sharing stories in any way I could was more a necessity to me than a hobby. All throughout elementary and middle school, I would sit in the grass and read instead of joining my friends on the playground during recess, and I’d always have a book in hand wherever I went just in case I could find a couple spare minutes to read. I was a timid child, opting to keep to myself and observe. However, by immersing myself in fictional narratives, it was as though I had the world at my fingertips, which encouraged me to be as brave as the characters I read about and push the bounds of my comfort zone.

It is only fitting that, eventually, I would begin to consider pursuing a career that involved books. Initially, in middle school, I dreamed of becoming an author, of writing my own stories that could one day touch readers like the books I have read touched me. It wasn’t until my freshman year of high school that I was introduced to the brilliant world of publishing and the people who work tirelessly behind the scenes to make writers’ dreams come true by bringing their stories to life. I attended a book release event for Rick Riordan’s Blood of Olympus, the concluding novel to my all-time favorite series growing up, where he described the different roles in publishing and how each contributes to the creation of a novel. Sitting in the audience, it was as though a lightbulb went off over my head. I knew in that moment, at only fourteen years old, that working in publishing is something that I not only wanted to do, but needed to do.

Now, seven years later, my publishing dreams have started to become a reality. I am currently majoring in English Publishing Studies at Hofstra University, where I take classes about literary genres and the industry. My studies have only cemented my desire to work in publishing, a feeling of rightness falling over me the moment I nervously stepped into the classroom of my first publishing course. Since that day, I have gotten the opportunity to work with writers on their own storytelling. I am a copyeditor for my university’s newspaper The Hofstra Chronicle and a tutor in our Writing Center, and I have also worked for literary magazines Font, Growl, and Windmill Journal. I am extremely excited to work as a Social Media Intern with Sundress Publications to continue doing work that I am passionate about and to show the world the incredible stories and writers that are published by the organization. Now, I am able to work with others to express and share their stories.


Victoria Carrubba is a senior English Publishing Studies student at Hofstra University. She is currently a tutor at her university’s Writing Center and a copyeditor for The Hofstra Chronicle. She has also worked on her university’s literary magazines, Font and Growl, and was previously a fiction editor for Windmill Journal. Outside of work, Victoria can be found reading, dancing, or drinking chai.

2021 Chapbook Contest Winner Announced

Sundress Publications is thrilled to announce that anaïs peterson’s chapbook, for the joy of it, was selected by librecht baker as the winner of our tenth annual e-chapbook contest. anaïs will receive $200 and publication.

anaïs peterson (name/they) is a poet and organizer currently based on occupied Osage land. Their people love pretty skies, are barefoot in the summer, and are queers, especially those who view gender as a game. anaïs’ words have appeared in Sampsonia WayMixed Mag, and You Are Here, among others, with upcoming work in SLICE. anaïs writes in black pen and Garamond size 11 and tweets from @anais_pgh. A full list of anaïs’ publications and more information may be found at: anaispeterson.weebly.com

Arielle Cottingham’s Machete Moon, Joan Glass’ If Rust Can Grow on the Moon, and Carolyn Supinka’s When I interview fire were selected as runners-up.

We are also excited to announce that Arielle Cottingham’s chapbook, Machete Moon, was this year’s Editor’s Choice and will receive $100 as well as publication.

Texas-born Afro-Latinx poet, editor, performance artist, and educator, Arielle Cottingham has toured four continents in five years, giving performances and teaching workshops across Europe, North America, Australia, and Asia. Their work explores the fluidity of intersectional identities and has appeared in multiple literary journals both in print and online. Notable performance spaces have included 48H Neukölln, the Alley Theatre, the Museum of Old & New Art, and the Sydney Opera House, where they won the title of Australian National Poetry Slam Champion in 2016. Their work has been published in Stellium Literary JournalBOOTHPressure Gauge PressAbout Place Journal, and elsewhere, and their chapbook, Black and Ropy, was published by Pitt Street Poetry in 2017. They are currently pining for falafel at their desk in Berlin.

The entire Sundress team would like to thank librecht baker for serving as this year’s judge.

librecht baker is the author of vetiver (Finishing Line Press, 2017). baker frolics with Black Girl Magic Creative Series and joined Radar Productions’ Sister Spit 2020 tour. baker’s one-act dramedy, “Afterlife or Bust,” was part of Q Youth Foundation’s 2021 Eastside Queer Stories Radio Plays. her full-length play, “Taciturn Beings,” was a semi-finalist for the 43rd annual Bay Area Playwright’s Festival and part of The Vagrancy’s Blossoming: A New Play Reading Series 2019. baker’s other writings appear in ACCOLADES: A Women Who Submit AnthologySolace: Writing Refuge, & LGBTQ Women of Color, Bone Bouquet, Sinister Wisdom, and other publications, but can also be encountered via Women Who Submit’s IGTV for their ACCOLADES online reading series and June Carryl’s one-act play, The Life and Death Of, via The Vagrancy’s YouTube page. baker is a Professor of English, who earned an MFA in interdisciplinary Arts from Goddard College. 

We would also like to thank everyone who sent in their work. Finalists and semifinalists include:

Finalists:

Secret Hallelujah Amen, Marcia LeBeau

Dela Torre, Dani Putney*

Semifinalists:

DREAMWAKE, Leanne Dunic

the effulgence of my body means I have or give off light, Cameron Gorman

Various Scenarios, Gianmarc Manzione

Huginn & Muninn, Clare O’Brien

Two New Years, Joyce Orobello

Subject Lessons, Nnadi Samuel

Hollowed, Lucy Zhang

*also selected for publication

Sundress Academy for the Arts Presents “Magical Realism & Cultural Context”: A Writers Workshop

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to present “Magical Realism & Cultural Context,” a workshop led by Jessica Reidy on August 11, 2021 from 6-7:30PM. This event will be held over Zoom. Participants can access the event at tiny.utk.edu/sundress (password: safta).

This workshop will challenge the idea of magical realism as something imagined within reality with Marquez’s assertion that “surrealism runs through the streets,” and invite students to consider various cultural perspectives on what is real, which include magic or spiritual phenomena as inseparable from reality. The format of this workshop will be part lecture, and part generative. In the lecture, we will examine works by Rajko Đjuríc, Edwidge Danticat, and Joy Harjo as examples of the magic and the mundane coexisting, and we will examine the cultural elements of the story that inform these specific realities.

The second part of the workshop will be focused on generating material through writing prompts that guide students to writing their own magical realism, incorporating their sense of heritage, place, and cosmology into their work. The goal of this workshop is to free up ideas around what is real and what is magical, allowing students to access all forms of their and their characters’ lived experiences, and create a holistic narrative.

While there is no fee for this workshop, those who are able and appreciative can make direct donations to Jessica via Venmo @jezminavonthiele or PayPal at jessica.s.reidy@gmail.com .

Jessica Reidy (she/they) is a writer and educator with works in Narrative Magazine as Story of the Week, Prairie Schooner, The Kenyon Review online, RomArchive, and other publications. She is the winner of the Nancy Thorp Poetry Prize, the Penelope Nivens Award for Creative Nonfiction, and the Glenna Luschei Prize, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart and Best of the Net. She is a co-host of Romanistan podcast alongside Paulina Verminski, a celebration of Roma, rebels, and roots. Under the name Jezmina Von Thiele, she is a dancer, healer, artist, art model, and fortune teller, dealing in tarot, palmistry, and tea leaves. She tells fortunes in her mixed Roma/Sinti family’s tradition. She is a queer witch, and can be found at jessicareidy.com and jezminavonthiele.com

Nominations Are Now Open for 2021 Best of the Net Anthology

Nominations are now open for Best of the Net, an awards-based anthology designed to grant a platform to a diverse and growing collection of writers and publishers who are building an online literary landscape that seeks to break free of traditional publishing.

In addition to poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, for the first time, we will also be accepting art nominations!

Nominations must have originally been published online between July 1st, 2020, and June 30th, 2021. See guidelines for more details on eligibility. Submissions must be received between July 1st and September 30th, 2021.

See the full submission guidelines here.

To submit, please use the following forms:

Poetry submission form
Fiction submission form
Nonfiction submission form
Art submission form

This year’s judges are Mai Der Vang (poetry), Amber Sparks (fiction), Krys Malcolm Belc (nonfiction), and Rhonda Lott (art).

Asian woman with black glasses and long black hair and navy blouse, viewed from waist up, standing in grassy field with sunset in horizon.

Mai Der Vang is the author of Yellow Rain (Graywolf Press, 2021), and Afterland (Graywolf Press, 2017), winner of the 2016 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets, longlisted for the 2017 National Book Award in Poetry, and a finalist for the 2018 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. The recipient of a Lannan Literary Fellowship, she served as a Visiting Writer at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry, Tin House, and The American Poetry Review, among other journals and anthologies. Her essays have been published in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. Mai Der also co-edited How Do I Begin: A Hmong American Literary Anthology with the Hmong American Writers’ Circle. A Kundiman fellow, Mai Der has completed residencies at Civitella Ranieri and Hedgebrook. Born and raised in Fresno, California, she earned degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Fresno State.

White woman with shoulder-length blonde hair standing in front of bookshelf with both hands on hips, wearing navy cardigan, cream blouse, and orange pants

Amber Sparks is the author of four collections of short fiction, including And I Do Not Forgive You: Stories and Other Revenges and The Unfinished World, and her fiction and essays have appeared in American Short Fiction, The Paris Review, Tin House, Granta, The Cut, and elsewhere. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband, daughter, and two cats.

White man with shaved hair and beard and gray glasses smiling directly at camera in front of white background

Krys Malcolm Belc is the author of the memoir The Natural Mother of the Child: A Memoir of Nonbinary Parenthood (Counterpoint) and the flash nonfiction chapbook In Transit (The Cupboard Pamphlet.) His work has been featured in Granta, Black Warrior Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere, and has been anthologized in The Best of Brevity: Twenty Groundbreaking Years of Flash Nonfiction (Rose Metal Press), Wigleaf Top 50, and Best of the Net 2018. Krys lives in Philadelphia with his partner and their three young children and works as an educator in a pediatric hospital.

White woman with dark hair and glasses smiling slightly at camera, wearing an off-the-shoulder navy blouse and large necklace with silver leaf

Rhonda Lott is an artist, code developer, and writer based in Knoxville, Tennessee. As a lifelong lover of the arts and sciences, she holds a master’s degree in computer science from the University of Illinois at Springfield and a doctorate in creative writing from Texas Tech University. Her poetry has appeared in the Southern Humanities Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Whiskey Island Magazine, among others. She has contributed cover art to Best of the Net for twelve years.

Meet Our New Intern: Stephi Cham

Children have an uncanny way of latching on to specific snippets and remembering them for the rest of their lives. As a child, I once came across a quote that never quite lost its effect on me: “Chase your passion like it’s the last bus of the night.” I knew I would, so at age 11, I told my mother I wanted to be a writer. Today, I work as a book editor and a writer, and above all, I am still a lover of stories and words.

I completed my undergraduate education at Southern Methodist University, where I majored in music therapy with a minor in psychology. My music therapy work further solidified my goals. Everyone I worked with had unique struggles, hopes, and dreams, each person a main character in their own story. Though I loved my clinical work, I wanted to help people who tell their stories in their own ways. As a music therapist, I learned to focus on patients’ goals and avoid imposing my own perspective on them while gently providing guidance as needed; as an editor, I found that my professional relationships with authors were much the same.

In Dallas, I worked at Student Media Company, at the time a small private company that managed the SMU newspaper and yearbook. I trained under the editors there, then eventually became chief copyeditor and stepped in as a writer when needed. There, I found my passion for helping writers organize their thoughts, revise their writing, and realize their visions.

Editing became my focus. Working full-time with reading, writing, and editing showed me that I wanted to take the next step and become further involved in the publishing field. Now, I’m working on my MA in Publishing at Rosemont College, where I’ve picked up more industry knowledge and become a better publishing professional.

The first books I held in my hands that I’d authored were five books published by Capstone Press about Asian-American historical figures. The experience of writing about people from my own ethnicity, along with the publication process from an author’s perspective, motivated me to be part of creating these opportunities for other Asian-Americans. Having seen the numerous barriers to publishing for many disenfranchised and historically marginalized people, I hope to be part of the ongoing change to remove these barriers and increase the publishing world’s accessibility and diversity.

With this in mind, I’m so excited and grateful to join the Sundress Publications team as an editorial intern. The Sundress team has done a lot, and with this incredible opportunity, I hope to be not just a better and more knowledgeable editor, but also someone who contributes actively to the publishing field with compassion, insight, and care.


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, where she manages the publishing program’s communications as a graduate assistant. She is a freelance editor and the author of the Great Asian-American series published by Capstone Press, and her work has appeared in Strange Horizons.

Sundress Reads: Review of Capable Monsters

In a work of queer Black boyhood and manhood, Capable Monsters (Bull City Press, 2020), a chapbook by Minnesota-based poet Marlin M. Jenkins, directly engages with the Pokémon franchise. This collection interrogates what it means to be drawn as a monster, bringing a fresh and animated perspective to the Black experience in America. It is playful and familiar, especially for fans of the Poké-world, whether that’s the movies, the games, or even the television show, yet it stands on its own merit, too. While Jenkins’ love for these creatures shines through (he names Umbreon as his favorite Pokémon in his bio), the Pokémon are merely a cultural touchstone that serves to open up this movement from boyhood to entry into a harsher, more ruthless environment where all must learn to evolve.

Yes, the Pokémon act as a framework, a backbone, a spine of this work, all while examining class and race structures. A handful of these poems bear regular titles, like “Tall Grass” and “Evolution”, but all of the others are labeled by their Pokédex names, i.e. “Pokédex Entry #1: Bulbasaur”. Following these titles, each creature is introduced by what characterizes them, not merely their color or power but a larger description that gives room for reader curiosity and edifying ambiguity. For Lapras: “People have driven Lapras almost to the point of extinction” (19). For Jigglypuff: “When this Pokémon sings, it never pauses to breathe. If it is in a battle against an /opponent that does not easily fall asleep, Jigglypuff cannot breathe, endangering its life” (20). The allusions to Black adversity are subtle yet deep-rooted—Jigglypuff’s description recalls the dying words of Eric Garner, Elijah McClain, and George Floyd.

Early on, Jenkins sets the stage with markers of class that serve to link childhood to adulthood:

Boy-man proclaimed man
of the house—with second-hand clothes
from black garbage bag, used copy
of Pokémon Blue Version (4).

This game and all of its characters act as a key for the speaker(s) of these poems to make sense of memory and trauma. Much of the language is informal, and Jenkins does not shy away from contemporary references—one poem speaks to Kendrick Lamar and the death of Michael Brown, pushed up against the disconcerting experience of being “the only Black person in the room” at a party (19).

Forms are varied throughout—Jenkins makes use of white space in some pieces, and works creatively with the use of obliques that splinter and conjure thought-provoking line breaks. In “All The Better”, Jenkins alludes to Red Riding Hood:

Boy with TV screens
for eyes / with
pixeled frown / What big holes
there are
in your memory / (17)

To place a young Black boy in the position of prey reveals a deep measure of vulnerability, and this clever back-and-forth and undercutting of expected syntax is complicated and richly rewarding—it feels as if the reader and Jenkins are developing inside jokes together on the page.

A concrete poem bears Squirtle’s shape, its two stanzas forming the sleek curve of a shell, without feeling gimmicky or forced. The shell acts as a comment on the poem’s content—Jenkins’ speaker is self-indicting and fearful, learning to craft protection from his own physicality. This poem (and many others) must have been created to be read aloud—there is quick word play, smart cuts, and tight language to bolster a rhythm that feels reminiscent of spoken word poetry. His sense of cadence is enviable.

Like all remarkable first chapbooks, this work is not just a collection of poems with a good hook, but drills down much deeper. Jenkins flawlessly braids aspects of the Poké-world with the bitter realities and small joys of his speaker’s real world. In the final piece, which takes its name from Generation I Pokémon, Clefairy, we see that same bearing-down on language and rhythm, with a searingly sharp, and somehow hopeful, outlook:

they want to hear
our cries, keep us
owned and docile,
but they can’t
follow us home.
We have learned (35)

In Capable Monsters, the monsters are all around us, and they are us. The Pokémon embody the speaker’s multifaceted life and the way he is able or forced to adapt, whether it is social convergence at a party lacking diversity or watching gas stations in Milwaukee go up in flames. Being a Pokémon fan is certainly not a requirement to read and enjoy this collection, but it does feel like Jenkins has written the book he wanted to read himself—anyone who has loved Pokémon will find a kinship with the figures in these pages, and remember too, how they recognized themselves in the softly drawn lines of monsters on the screen of a handheld Game Boy.

Capable Monsters is available at Bull City Press


Shannon Wolf is a British writer living in Denver, Colorado. She received a joint MA-MFA in Poetry at McNeese State University and also has degrees from Lancaster University and the University of Chichester. She is the Non-Fiction Editor of The McNeese Review, and Social Media Intern for Sundress Publications. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction (which can also be found under the name Shannon Bushby) have appeared in The Forge, Great Weather for MEDIA, and No Contact Mag, among others. You can find her on social media @helloshanwolf.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Foxlogic, Fireweed by Jennifer K. Sweeney


For the brown widow who laid her eggs
under my son’s bicycle seat

You are searching the domed
curves of shelter, a haunt
of darkness to forge

a pair of eggs larger
than your body.
Anchor and parachute,

wisp and captor,
you cast your nets
cast and cast all directions

then time unspools before you.
Under lip of flowerpot
a lawnchair’s crook

against the weighted clanger
of the chime,
I’ve never spotted your starry

orbs without your fiddleback
your hollow mouthparts
perched in the filigree.

How I’ve dug the stick in
crushed the papery shells into dirt
then pulled you through the wreck.

My apology is thin. I don’t know
where to let you live.
He practiced in the driveway.

It only took a few yards
before he found the midpoint,
that precarious balance of belief

in the center of everything.
One foot pushes off
and the other pumps back,

divine symmetry.
I took him out to the track
where once he circled, he lit,

purposeful. Windmaker,
looping the afternoon to dusk,
how could the sky not

have been an anthem?
He wheeled;
you held. The eggs

spackled in their basket
feeling what of this world.
Laying the bike on its side

we saw your sticky lair,
he had reached under
earlier as he propped himself on.

Had we not dismantled
you would have continued
through the mornings,

the late afternoons,
as he learned how to take a hill
a fall, you would have stayed

until the breaking open
your divine
teal-metal entrance.

A wind here can take
down a litter of palm branches,
overturn the bottle-

heavy garbage cans
but you, feathery mass
of intricate making

remain on such silks
beneath the highway-bound car
the victor of a boy’s

lengthening body
coming into its power.
We head indoors and I am sure

you are more with us
than we see
nestled in the stashed corners

of our lives, mending.
Under the arch
of a thirty-year roof

built by whose hands,
we survive beyond
our knowing

all the wild and immersive
gestures of the earth
too large for us to perceive.


This selection comes from Foxlogic, Fireweed, available from The Backwaters Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Kimberly Ann Priest.

Jennifer K. Sweeney is the author of three other poetry collections, including Little Spells, How to Live on Bread and Music, and Salt Memory. The recipient of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and a Pushcart Prize, she teaches at the University of Redlands in California. Twitter: @jksweeneypoet

Kimberly Ann Priest is the author of Slaughter the One Bird (Sundress 2021), Parrot Flower (Glass 2021), Still Life (PANK 2020), and White Goat Black Sheep (Finishing Line Press 2018). Winner of the New American Press 2019 Heartland Poetry Prize, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as North Dakota Quarterly, Salamander, Slipstream, The Berkeley Poetry Review, Borderland and many others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry and Embody reader for The Maine Review. Find her work at kimberlyannpriest.com.

The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Foxlogic, Fireweed by Jennifer K. Sweeney


Foxlogic, Fireweed

When I say it breathed inside the house 

I mean I felt the air swell around me. 

I was upstairs; it was behind me. 

I was downstairs; it was roiling across

the room. From all angles, I was turned. 

When I say it breathed

I mean also that it shrieked, the sound 

so dislocating and new, it was heat 

and certainty like steam shearing up 

out of the earth, like lightning 

branding snow. 

My feet were strange to me. 

My hands careless and flimsy. 

It was behind me, at my neck 

as if I could reach out and tremble 

its vapors. I was circling, 

my arms lifted when I saw 

the tribe of foxes 

press at the back door 

searing their cries upward into the house. 

We locked in awe, wild eyes 

until the darkness stole us 

back to our separate worlds.

This selection comes from Foxlogic, Fireweed, available from The Backwaters Press. Purchase your copy here! Our curator for this selection is Kimberly Ann Priest.

Jennifer K. Sweeney is the author of three other poetry collections, including Little Spells, How to Live on Bread and Music, and Salt Memory. The recipient of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets and a Pushcart Prize, she teaches at the University of Redlands in California. Twitter: @jksweeneypoet

Kimberly Ann Priest is the author of Slaughter the One Bird (Sundress 2021), Parrot Flower (Glass 2021), Still Life (PANK 2020), and White Goat Black Sheep (Finishing Line Press 2018). Winner of the New American Press 2019 Heartland Poetry Prize, her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as North Dakota Quarterly, Salamander, Slipstream, The Berkeley Poetry Review, Borderland and many others. She is an associate poetry editor for the Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry and Embody reader for The Maine Review. Find her work at kimberlyannpriest.com.