Sundress Reads: Review of Future Sarcasm

In Future Sarcasm (Tolsun Books, 2020) through a series of short, connected poems, Michael Buckius prophesizes a future where all is bleak and desolate. The speaker acts as a tour guide to this reality, guiding the reader through a dystopic new normal, where donuts at a conference table are a nostalgia of the past, and body cryogenics is a favored hobby. Each scene is mimicked or depicted in some way through Doug Bale’s explosive art, line-drawn figures, and faces that are made strange by floods of color and oddities like clouds within heads or tree trunks as skeletons. Most of these interlinked, title-less poems are anaphoric, including the book’s refrain “in the future.” All of the poems—or perhaps it’s one poem cutting in and out like an old static radio—are fairly prosaic in their language and simple in their forms: short stanzas with conventional line breaks. The title of the collection plays prominently across the poems, sarcasm dripping heavily through the scenes Buckius depicts. In one, he writes:

Before the world ends
consider investing
in a suit of glass
It isn’t very comfortable
but damn, it looks good
Sometimes you have to suffer
for fashion (35)

Though the imagery is unrelenting and ominous, there is a dark wit that makes the sharpness of this future feel bearable or navigable. It’s as if the new landscape is an amalgam of George Orwell’s 1984 and Mitchell and Webb’s Peep Show; yes, “The future is a rat race” (3) but those who remain still have humor in their grasp: “Check out the / end of the world! / Bummer” (21). Much of Buckius’ future world is unidentifiable and foreign to people today:

In the future we will have four brains
a regular one
the government one
the one attached to your hand
and the heart-brain (13)

This strange concept is accompanied by its own illustration from Bale of a colorfully-headed person with a brain full of easter egg shapes, picked out in all the shades of a child’s paint pot, with additional faces and brains spilling forth, line-drawn in black and white. Indeed, every short poem by Buckius is preceded by an image from Bale in some vibrant hue, blasting back against the mundanity of the proposed future, as if the images have pilfered the color right from the words. But that is not to say that Buckius’ poems are bland or completely bleak.  A personal favorite is one of the only poems that points back to the America we know and love to critique, centering on New York City. Buckius declares: 

New York City is a great place to live
if you have a cool hat
That’s true now
and especially in the future (7)

This time the preceding image is not of Manhattan’s skyline—as one might expect—but a male figure fading into a desert heatwave, upending the reader’s understanding of how this text operates. America has been reimagined into a climate change wasteland, and these figures are barely existing in it.  There is a charm to this mundane new way of living, though many of the images are haunting or horrifying or both. The everyday has been turned on its head: the public pool has become “a suicide chamber” (19), implants “turn / multiple personalities / into multiple people,” (17) and “physical intimacy” is just a link back to the familiarity of the womb, easily replaced by computers (29). But there is still an impulse of humanity here, a sense of belonging or wanting to belong to something bigger, among this society’s chaos and collapse. 

Yes, these poems capture the memetic, pseudo-destructive energy that seems to have become the fight song of the Millenial generation. Towards the close, Buckius decrees:

It also shows your indifference
to the end of the world
Like, whatever dude
right? (33)

Buckius has a brilliant ability to build a world by using language sparingly, and Bale somehow pulls the seeds of these scenes into vibrant and vivid depictions that satiate even as they surprise. Buckius is a writer and filmmaker from Pennsylvania, who earned his MFA at Northern Arizona University, while Bale is a multimedia artist who illustrates, paints, and murals in his local Phoenix community. The poems in this peculiar and eclectic collection will tickle you and fill you with dread and delusion all at once. Welcome to the future.

Future Sarcasm is available at Tolsun Books

Shannon Wolf is a British writer and teacher, living in Louisiana. She is currently a joint MA-MFA candidate in Poetry at McNeese State University. She is the Non-Fiction Editor of The McNeese Review and Social Media Intern for Sundress Publications. She also holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction (which can also be found under the name Shannon Bushby) have appeared in The Forge and Great Weather for Media, among others. You can find her on social media @helloshanwolf.

Sundress Reads: Review of Gravity & Spectacle

Half-photography and half-poetry, Gravity & Spectacle is the killer combo that you didn’t know you needed. This collection is a truly cinematic experience made possible by a collaboration between self-professed college dropout and poet Shawnte Orion and Asian American poet and photographer Jia Oak Baker, both based in Arizona. This work seeks to make sense of its atmosphere: at times thick and suffocating, at others, colorful and intriguing. These pieces work in cohesion, like the cogs of a turning, anti-capitalist wheel, in order to critique the world in which they find themselves. As Orion writes: “we will begin by taking scissors to the strings of kites” (55).

The first half of this collection—Gravity—is filled with Baker’s photos, often featuring metropolitan locales or arid dustbowls, where light and contrast set the tone at every stage. What’s most striking is the central figure, the same in each photograph, a man (presumably Orion from interviews given), wearing a gigantic mask on his head. This almost Orwellian mask, created by Phoenix artist J.J. Horner, resembles something between a many-eyed octopus behemoth, or a mutant saguaro. Saguaros and Arizona’s Sonoran Desert feature prominently in both these photos and Orion’s own lines in the second half of the book: Spectacle. Even urban Arizona becomes some recast version of this barren wilderness: “the official / State Bird of Arizona / is the Ceiling Fan” (46). The masked figure becomes a looming presence, both speaker and spectator as the reader moves back and forth between image and lyric.

Certainly, these connections are distinct and vibrant. In Baker’s “Elliptical Proximity,” the masked figure takes a selfie at a fairground, mid-air with just a few inches of himself in the frame, a disconnected father and son in the background, lit by brightly colored bulbs that juxtapose a sense of American nostalgia beside many of the more muted photographs (29). This same photograph is nodded to in Orion’s poem “You’ve Gone Supernova but Nothing Burns Brighter Than Itself,” where he alludes to the discovery of Neptune: “like how the presence of other people in your elliptical proximity is the only way to understand that you are alone” (56). Many of the poems contain winks, nudges, and nods to the images that precede them.  There is something both cheeky and somber about Baker and Orion’s united perspective.

Orion’s poems are as close to punk rock as we can get in 2021. When he isn’t taking shots at a certain former president—“Make Orwellian Dystopia Science Fiction Again (79)”—he’s unspooling social and class commentary: “a guide to which fifty states in America / women who care about their rights should avoid / ranked in no particular order” (64). This collection is witty and wry even as it is biting. In a piece where the speaker wonders about the flat earth conspiracy, Orion grounds us in reality, back to blue-collar workers and the mundanity of the everyday: 

My supervisor still believes
the earth is flat and we fall
off the edge every night
when we clock out (59)

It is the outliers who are the key players for Orion and Baker. The reader cannot take their eyes away from the masked stranger in the grayscale laundromat (18) or under the lit-up letterboard at Phoenix’s Rebel Lounge (5). With short clipped consonant sounds that call to mind the grinding skaters who are dotted throughout these pages (perhaps pro-boarder Rodney Mullen, whose name and words crop up once or twice) as well as piled-on metaphors that are somehow both sumptuous and gritty, every Arizonian doldrum is made sharp, funny, and irreverent.

Should you read this collection? If not for the strangeness of Baker’s composition, or Orion’s “Desert Tarot Six-Card Spread”—first in Spanish and then in English—that so perfectly recalls that familiar, rehearsed mystic phrasing, then do it for those striking, heartbreaking moments tucked away amidst the cleverly virgule-d prose poems:

don’t wait for second responders / like you waited for dad to return
from the bar with that elusive gallon of milk / like you waited
for mom’s hair and smile / to return from the oncologist’s office
don’t wait for the world to stop spinning (53)

You might end up with repetitive strain injury after flipping back and forth so often to search for the photographs that link to the poems you’re immersed in. You’ll find yourself unable to forget that alien-headed man under the fairground lights. Orion writes that “The eye is the quickest muscle” (49). It’s clear that in Gravity and Spectacle, perspective is everything. 

Gravity and Spectacle is available at Tolsun Books

Shannon Wolf is a British writer and teacher, living in Louisiana. She is currently a joint MA-MFA candidate in Poetry at McNeese State University. She is the Non-Fiction Editor of The McNeese Review and Social Media Intern for Sundress Publications. She also holds an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University. Her poetry, short fiction, and non-fiction (which can also be found under the name Shannon Bushby) have appeared in The Forge and Great Weather for Media, among others. You can find her on social media @helloshanwolf.

Sundress Reads: Review of That Ex

The title is set in Visby, but I think it is more apt to fondly call it an Avril Lavigne font. The cover of That Ex by Rachelle Toarmino (Big Lucks, 2020) immediately sets a loud, confident, unapologetically femme tone that I cannot disengage from. Toarmino masterfully layers dozens of clever, understated cultural references to create a cohesive and fun portrait of the life of a 20-something in 2020s America. That Ex, Toarmino explains, is titled as such because every man has a story about a “crazy ex” who, more likely than not, was human, and her poems reflect the human intimacy of sincere self-confidence others may look down upon. Toarmino­­­­’s engagement with form helps the book embody a wholly contemporary experience, immersing her audience in the emotional weight of finding love, family, and yourself while being bombarded by phone notifications and the plight of social media.

Toarmino, Editor-in-Chief of Peach Magazine, swiftly summarizes this experience in 103 weighty pages of poetry. While the collection moves quickly, themes and emotions building between pages, each poem is worth sitting with individually. Holistically, this book reads like tending to a plant stretching up under the neon purple of a grow light—something tender, assisting natural growth and life through artificial means to supplement that which we cannot get otherwise. Individual poems read like lip gloss shimmer catching the light from below in a bar; the light that cracks through pre-installed starter apartment curtain blinds; streetlights smearing onto the wet pavement of an empty parking lot at night. Lines become enjambed and run over each other, interrupting one thought with another, fast callbacks and callouts and calls for attention to the minutiae of daily turmoil. And it is beautiful.

With references from Anne Carson to the Twitter account @SheRatesDogs (which posts anonymous screencaps of male entitlement, often in dating app screenshots or private messages on social media), from Anish Kapoor and Stuart Semple’s color privatization disputes to Marie Kondo’s concept of items sparking joy, Toarmino captures the whirlwind of constant cultural references that comes with living in the digital age. These references come in quick succession, and the reader is expected to keep up. Both of the above sets of references occur within the same line, rocketing us back and forth between flickers of the cultural imagination. Toarmino’s spry connections are not just for immersion, but to lend an anchor point for empathy: understanding the subversions, inversions, and thick vacillations between optimism and pessimism about the situations at hand often feels like staring at someone else’s life through a thick pane of glass. In “People You May Know,” the speaker calls interpersonal interactions “looking at each other / through the wrong end / of binoculars” and comments that “it is so gaudy / and gruesome.” Toarmino is right, and That Ex consolidates this experience, tracing the move from putting yourself together to falling back apart to putting yourself back together but for real this time, I promise.

That Ex uses physical forms, in all its shifts and breaks and shapes, to its advantage throughout the book. For example, “If You Love Attention Make Some Noise,” is composed only of one phrase—“I am easy to love,”—that is repeated 104 times. The final line cuts off the phrase partway through: “I am easy.” The repetition creates a perfect block of text, a rectangle easy enough to skim through like a mantra you have to tell yourself even when you don’t believe it, followed by an interjection, or perhaps an intrusion, of what you really do believe, or what others tell you that you should believe.  

“I Said Okay” is the first of two poems where single lines and stanzas stand on their own, spread across eighteen pages, a handful of words and images swimming in blank space. The last image, “okay / I said okay / I will Okay” uses capitalization for emphasis, as though we’re hearing one side of a phone conversation with a disgruntled mother. These fragments feel like reading texts pop up on someone else’s phone screen—stripped of context, yet deeply intimate and emotional. You cannot know what that context is without intruding, and Toarmino doesn’t shy away from the bombardment and interference that has become a cornerstone of young contemporary lives. Other shapes, literal images of a ravioli food truck or a computer mouse bringing the speaker’s body to the trash described as bracketed asides in “Week of Waking Thoughts No. 2” or the lightning-bolt zig-zag of alternatingly off-centered lines in “You Up?”, are emotional touchstones without ever feeling self-serving or self-sacrificing. In particular, “[visual of mouse cursor dragging my body to Trash] / mark yourself safe” from “You Up?” highlights the speaker’s feelings of catastrophe by moving herself to the electronic disposal system and, in the very next line, clarifying that she is okay by means of Facebook’s algorithm for updating family and friends after a disaster.  

“there is the first moment / when you realize // that someday you will know this person / very intimately // but it will feel like / returning to something.” That Ex brought me back to shuffling through profiles on Tinder, keeping my fingers crossed for the prospect of finding someone worth my love, and trying to convince myself that I was just as worthy of it as others. Its lyric stirrings brought that purple light overhead, returning me to an intimate corner of myself I’d nearly forgotten about, but never truly could.

That Ex is available at Big Lucks

Lee Anderson is a nonbinary MFA student at Northern Arizona University, where they are the Managing Editor of Thin Air Magazine. They have been published sporadically but with zest, with work appearing or forthcoming in The RumpusColumbia Journal, and Back Patio Press.

Sundress Reads: A Review of The Burning Where Breath Used To Be

In The Burning Where Breath Used To Be, Jen Karetnick offers a collection of semi-autobiographical poems that mixes emotion with logic in its examinations. Ruminations on culture, experience, womanhood, and science ground the reader in Karetnick’s poems.

The collection’s opening poem, “23andMe Says My Body Is a Sanctuary City,” encapsulates the speaker’s relationship with her DNA results translated across different universal contexts. She wonders: “who have better prospects at being made into widows on refugee / boats that have been returned to the wholesale of war,” echoing the sentiment in the next stanza: “from the cyclic pitch of death flights, in the in-flux policies in / detention rooms at airports, where green cards change to red.” The ache of this kind of awareness, coupled with the beauty of the language, runs through every poem, allowing the reader to notice and glean the truth in each line.

Biological and mathematical terminology is expertly used throughout the poems, as well. In “Extreme Value Theorem”, the speaker reminisces on the reactions to her tattoo being visible while wearing her wedding dress: “I’d intended to hide it, I confess / but had it placed too high up on the shelf / of my scapula.” An extreme value theorem guarantees there is a maximum and minimum value, which is clearly shown in the poem based on the high-intensity reactions and the speaker’s overall nonchalance: “the rabbi nearly belched / the prayers as if he had lox for breakfast; my mother attempted to ignore, herself, the tattoo framed by my wedding dress.” Instances like these are sprinkled throughout each poem, allowing universal experiences to become framed in a new light with precision and elegance.

Finally, Karetnick utilizes ailing organs or biological processes in relation to her experiences in life. The poem “Dyskinetic” compares her aching soldier to America: “Frayed and inflamed, your parts do not like to work / together.” Current political and social issues are examined closely: her experience of being a teacher, specifically during fearful times of the ever-rising school shooter, provide an example of the ways in which Karetnick seeks to connect on a universal level that which is specific to her speaker. In her poem “How to Dis/Arm a Female Teacher”, the opening stanza boldly states: “Don’t offer me the Chic Lady Handgun / with a barrel the color of bubblegum, / faux alligator case included / to carry with tests and term papers done.” These tongue-in-cheek reflections of modern times are prevalent throughout the collection. Sometimes they are balanced with the past, such as in “Sonnets for Code Red”, a poem which finds its speaker drawing comparisons between nuclear bomb drills in 1975 and school shooter drills in 2015. Sometimes these poems are in response to articles, art, or statements. “Nobody Dies Because They Don’t Have Access to Health Care” serves as a title for one of the poems, yet it is also a quote attributed to Rep. Raúl Labrador. “Economic Understandings” is in direct response to Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want.” She questions: “Who will be the first to move this glass? It’s clear / no one pays attention to the Irish maid / lowering like a willow the dragging weight / of a bird bigger than the space it’s allotted”, pushing the reader to wonder the same.

Womanhood is also emphasized, specifically in Karetnick’s experiences. She writes about Botox, anorexia, menopause, motherhood, and sisterhood. Judaism is also a part of her life and this collection’s poems.

The Burning Where Breath Used To Be was a riveting read with its nuance of normality. Karetnick brings attention to the importance of the present moment while reflecting on the past and the universal worries of humanity. She catches your breath, and she won’t give it back.

The Burning Where Breath Used To Be is available at David Robert Books

Bethany Milholland is a senior at The University of Evansville majoring in Creative Writing. She is the former Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Evansville Review. She is also a former intern for her University’s magazine The Crescent. In her spare time, she enjoys earning a cat’s love and shopping at every thrift store within a thirty-mile radius.

Sundress Reads: A Review of Escape of Light

In Escape of Light, Deborah Kahan Kolb merges modern contemplations with grounding visuals to persuade the reader into a state of ever-present attention. While Kobe’s collection collides concepts such as identity, personal exploration, social issues, and inherent connection, she allows for intermittent moments of air between her stanzas: a place for careful breaths of introspection as her speaker explores the depth of the world surrounding them.

Carefully and with genuine precision, Kolb’s Escape of Light unearths a world forged from moments of unraveling. A world of striving to find answers within its own questioning: what is emergence? Where are the limitations of exploration, of breaking open? And are we allowed inside them? Grief and contemplation, rage and loss, are all balanced to form a staple connection between each poem, linking the thesis of exploration on each page. Escape of Light is a collection of revealing consequences just as it is one of action; each of Kolb’s poems are movement, action backed by vivid scenery that beckons their reader closer to ask: what, in all of this, is coming through? Questions of what remains are molded within the perspective of the speaker’s strength, positing that, in wake of the violence done, there is still connection: there is still hope.

Kolb’s collection opens with an emergence, an action of revealing a personhood apart from a sense of finality. Emergence, Kolb argues, is a process of creation: collected moments of driven action that do not end in a simply packaged result. Escape of Lights first poem begins the collection with a center of continuous evolution, allowing the reader to take a breath just as strong as the speaker themself: “What must the torpid caterpillar do to emerge / from its glistening chrysalis a laurel-crowned monarch?” Here, the speaker directs the reader’s attention to the pained practice of emergence. Again, the process of becoming is presented as a pathway to creation. Emergence becomes not a pathway to an end result but rather a focus on the continuous process and its varying details: “Self-immolation, it seems, is a requirement / for emerging.”

Awareness of the self, of gaining a self, is also something Kolb’s collection manifests well. The “bleeding knuckles” and “tamped / down spirit” become noted costs of this self-actualization within the process of “emerging.” What then, Kolb’s speaker poses, makes the process worth it? Well, in a collection that thrives from its ability to find an answer already in its question, the next stanza presents the daunting answer: “be prepared to extinguish / yourself in a phoenix fire before you can emerge. / Established.” The cost, Kolb’s speaker states, is a heavy burden, but one that the speaker strives to redefine and exhibit in all its trials. “Emerging, Art of,” is a poem that not only succeeds in setting a tone for the collection but one that captures the hefty process of unearthing. This process of becoming allows for a connection to be made between speaker and reader; a tether spanning the gap between desire and action, with the speaker beckoning from the other side.

There were multiple instances where Kolb’s collection left me speechless. Witnessing her ability to evoke carefully crafted images, ones that welcomed as well as educated the reader, was an enthralling experience. Kolb does not shy away from difficult concepts or experiences; rather, she faces them in ways that allow her speaker spaces for grief and reclamation. Poems like “Psalm for a Son’s Burial” and “Showering at the Swiss Hotel” address difficult concepts in the form of complex poetics. They allow the speaker to emerge from the confines enforced on them and to speak and feel the injustices and horrific experiences imposed upon them: “You understand, dear guest, neutral is no more. / We are obliged to prevent / your / stain / from / spreading.”

Kolb’s ability to condense these moments of horrific injustice into potent stanzas enthralled me as I read along. I was heartsick; I was furious. Escape of Light’s speaker embraced humanity in its full view, revealing its naked face and offering its readers the opportunity to behold it. Kolb’s speaker seems to tell us: Look. What I have seen, you must also face. And who are we to look away? See what I have seen, Kolb’s speaker argues, and be aware. It is, after all, the least we can pay as readers: to both engage and learn from the consumed work. In this way, Escape of Light is both a warning and a revelation of emergence; perhaps what strengthens the collection further is the blend of these aspects. As readers, we are left to wonder whether the speaker is sharing these moments of introspection to warn of these great griefs or to welcome the potential of a changed, more humane future. Kolb ensures this everlasting presence of thought in her linkage between poems, between the personal and the collective. Whatever the “correct” answer may be is relative in comparison to the collection’s lasting image, arguing that, regardless of this answer, one aspect of Escape of Light is for certain: no one who enters the collection is left untouched. 

Escape of Light is available at Finishing Line Press

Mary Sims is an undergraduate senior at Kennesaw State University working towards her BA in English. She is a poetry editor at Waymark Literary Magazine and has been published in Josephine Quarterly, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Poetry Annals, and more. Currently, she splits her time between working as a student editor, piling her shelves with poetry collections, and laughing over raspberry cappuccinos with friends.

Sundress Reads: Peripheral Visions and Other Stories

In her recent short story collection, Peripheral Visions and Other Stories, Nancy Christie assembles an amalgamation of brief moments. Aside from the title story, each tale unfolds over mere hours in the life of each character, but those hours are full of the years preceding them. They are laden with sadness, fear, resignation, and hope. Christie has done the work; she’s taken the time to get to know and understand her characters so that her readers can feel the weight of the choices—and in many ways, the absence of choice—that brought them to these hours, showcasing her adeptness of capturing the life that occurs almost beyond our view.  

Some of the intimate moments in Peripheral Visions arise from substantial, life-altering events: the death of a child or imminent death of a parent, a kidnapped child’s courageous step toward freedom, the murder of an abusive spouse. But many reflect the everyday humdrum of existence, like having a day already heavy with household responsibilities disrupted by a door-to-door salesperson, the stressfulness and concurrent dullness of being responsible for a parent with dementia, the challenges of a simple ice cream outing for a disabled adult child and her reluctant parent.

Through the stitching together of the trivial and the significant in the everyday lives of twenty fictional characters, Christie reveals a universal truth: the substance of life takes place largely out of view, whether it be behind closed doors or entirely internal. The events that occur in the public sphere are a mere fraction of what comprises a life.

Christie tackles emotionally intense topics through primarily female characters, frequently showcasing the compassion and kindness women show others through the care they provide. MaryLynn assumes responsibility for her ex-husband’s elderly aunt in Aunt Aggie and the Makeup Lady. In I Remember. . .Melanie visits her husband’s disagreeable grandmother—who doesn’t pretend to like Melanie—when her husband can’t and brings the grandmother a thoughtful birthday present that softens the woman, connecting her to a past that no living person shares with her. In Remember Mama, Maggie spends another indistinguishable day caring for her mother, who suffers from dementia, adhering to the menu that her mother never seems to forget. Though centered around relatively unremarkable moments, these stories acknowledge the sacrifices many women make, selflessly rising to the requests of everyday life when people need them.

In other stories, Christie gives us a glimpse of the guilt and fear felt by women needing self-care—women who have been raped or physically and emotionally abused by spouses, women who have fallen terminally ill or succumbed to drug addiction. Christie’s focus in these stories is never the physical. She doesn’t bring the reader to the doctor’s office for a diagnosis, revealing the patient’s terror or emotional paralysis, or describe a husband’s first shocking act of abuse toward his wife. Rather, Christie exposes the impact on the woman’s psyche after she has wrestled with these traumas for months or even years, allowing the reader to understand their battle to get to the other side, to appreciate how much helplessness has been felt before hopefulness sets in.

The collection includes a handful of stories that Christie writes from a male’s or child’s perspective, which come as an interesting twist among the female-led stories they reside among. Despite perspective, all are unified by the collection’s theme: what we see of one another is only a fraction of the total life, and probably not a very accurate representation. We see what’s directly in front of us, but much of life happens in the interior of our mind. The outside observer has, at best, a room with an obstructed view.

Christie could have left the reader with that message, but through the title story, which was placed last in the collection, she takes the reader one step further. Having shown through micro-glimpses into nineteen different characters’ lives that the substance of life occurs in the periphery, Christie communicates a piece of advice through Lena, the main character in “Peripheral Visions”.

When seventy-two-year-old Lena is diagnosed with cancer, her well-meaning niece creates a treatment plan and finds her a nursing care facility. But Lena’s not interested. She decides to forgo cancer treatment, seeing an alternate ending that her niece would never understand or approve. Lena sneaks away, driving from Ohio to Florida to live out her remaining days in solitude by the beach. But on her journey, she opens to the possibility that life has a different plan her, and her flexibility is rewarded. She befriends a young mother and shares her remaining months with her. At the conclusion of a life made full in a way she never could have envisioned, Lena advises: “Follow your heart and keep your eyes wide open.  . . . Use your peripheral vision. See the possibilities.”

Peripheral Visions and Other Stories can be found here.

Natalie Metropulos is working concurrently on a middle-grade fiction chapter book and a nonfiction picture book series about wildlife photography. She holds a B.A. in English from the Pennsylvania State University and a JD from Duquesne University and is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University. Metropulos has been published (nee Natalie Rieland) in Kalliope, Research/Penn State Magazine, and Pitt Magazine.

Sundress Reads: A Review of How The Water Holds Me

Growing up Iranian-American, there was this sense of division within the diaspora community I grew up in: of what came before and what came after the traumatic conflicts that led us to the United States. In Tariq Luthun’s collection How the Water Holds Me, his poetry delves into similar ideologies that I had noticed in my community, but from the unique experience of the Palestinian diaspora. Published by Bull City Press and selected for publication in the 2019 Frost Place Chapbook Competition, Luthun’s poems explore the devastation that Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans have faced, giving life, memories, and meaning to a group of people that are often reduced to and judged by the conflict they are trapped within, even when they are displaced far away from their original homeland. 

The very first poem in the chapbook immediately sets the tone for what’s to come. Titled “The Summer My Cousin Went Missing,” the Luthun uses language like “buried” to describe how busy their khalto (which is Arabic for the aunt on your mother’s side) was. The lines “Child upon child goes, and someone’s mother / is no longer a mother.” The pivot from the speaker’s aunt to a generalization encompasses universal grief, one felt among an entire community. It is here where we, as readers, come to realize that this isn’t an isolated incident. As the poem continues onwards, it shifts again. The focus is no longer on their aunt’s suffering, shifting from “she” to “we.” The speaker asks “how will we ever stay fed” and “how ever / will we live long enough to grieve,” leaving a sense of lingering for both the reader and the speaker. 

Throughout the collection, something that caught my eye was how Luthun weaved together his personal experiences, one as a Palestinian-American coming of age, to touch upon universal themes. In the poem “Al-Bahr,” he says “but I saw / a boy that could have become / me wash up on a shore.” A common story among refugees, particularly Palestinian ones, is drowning in the act of seeking a new home. This is a stark juxtaposition to the poem “Upon Leaving the Diamond to Catch 14 Stitches in My Brow,” where Luthun describes how when struck with a bat, how their “off-white noise” showed division between “us” and “them.” Their accented English, their darker skin, makes the neighbors “see us / bleed and think: / prey.” Comparing “Al-Bahr” to “Upon Leaving the Diamond to Catch 14 Stitches in My Brow,” Luthun navigates between the personal and the political. While the conflict in youth may have been the fourteen stitches, it evolves into something more, something so much more sinister, by seeing boys like him drowning and leaving their community behind to seek out a new community that might not ever even accept them.

There are moments in the book that act as cultural preservation as well. Even long after Luthun is gone, his poems have preserved mundane practices and rituals, such as going out to pick mint leaves for his mother, or, how he says in the poem “We Already Know This”: “I want to be sure / everyone knows where my parents / hail from.” This is particularly evident in the poem “After Spending an Evening in November Trying to Convince My Mother That We’ll Be Fine,” where the poet describes how “it isn’t easy / to accept that the coverage of / the world outside can be spun so much.” The final lines of that poem are “a country that cannot have him–/ a country that does not want him.” “Him,” in this line, refers to Luthun’s father. Palestine is the country that cannot have him, while America is the country that didn’t want him. For marginalized communities like Palestinian-Americans, it is brave to speak out like this, to say that this isn’t what they experienced. This their truth and reality, not what is on television.

In Tariq Luthun’s collection How the Water Holds Me, while it explores the tragedy of the Palestinian diaspora, it offers hope and preservation to their unique experience. In the actual formatting of the book, next to the page numbers, there is a little key. This represents the Palestinian right of return; keys have become a symbol for Palestinians, as many kept the keys to their original home, to represent how one day they will be able to return to their ancestral home. While many Palestinians cannot go home, Luthun offers a metaphorical home in his work, one that comes from a place of both loss and understanding. In the poem “People, Drunk at Parties, Tell Me Love” he says it’s difficult for him to say “I love you.” The poems in How the Water Holds Me show this devotion, this unspoken love. 

Tariq Luthun’s How the Water Holds Me can be purchased here.

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is an undergraduate at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Her work has appeared in/forthcoming from Rust+MothInto the Void, Corvid Queen, and cahoodaloodaling, among others. She attended the International Writing Program’s Summer Institute and was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow. Currently, she is trying to figure out a happy intersection between her writing, film, and photography endeavors.

Sundress Reads: A Review of Every Possible Thing

Every Possible Thing - Kindle edition by Poppy, Karen. Literature & Fiction  Kindle eBooks @

Karen Poppy’s stunning collection Every Possible Thing begins with an opening of offerings. Proposed by imagery dominated exchanges, her use of themes such as sacrifice, transformation, and renewal offer her readers an immediate sense of connection to her work. Her collection’s first poem “Every Possible Thing” begins with this same sense of sacrifice and renewal by immersing her audience in the imaginative and hypnotic exchange between the speaker and their subject.

The collection’s opening line sets a tone of intention throughout, displaying a sense of coated devotion unique to the poem’s own movement: “What I promised, I gave you: / Silver-skinned gloves, my hands / Loosened from life became twin fish.” From there, the speaker catalogues devotion through their physical actions and movements. Throughout her collection, Poppy continues to employ this same precise movement to embrace the action within each of her poems. No poem, Poppy assures us early-on, is ever stagnant. 

Every Possible Thing is never still. The collection begins in motion and continues to guide its reader by cataloging the duality of action and movement. This use of movement throughout her work offers insight into the depth of implication. Poppy’s poem “Your Words” is an opening to the collection’s themes, but it is also a record of just how carefully emotion channels through action.

When communicating with the reader, the speaker offers more than physical objects or images to converse. In fact, the speaker’s sense of dedication is painted behind the physical action of each offering, a new unique twist behind every new image displayed: “I want you / To speak to me, / In fact, / As you would speak / To your animals.” “Your Words” is a poem of communication as much as it is of desire. There is a need to be seen, to be regarded as gravely as can be allowed. The speaker directs us to see her, and who are we to turn away?

As I read Poppy’s collection, I found myself immersed in her use of mythology. Even more so in her use of it in creating reclamation narratives. Her poem “Badass Mermaid” explores the complexities and empowerment of transformation through the lens of a mythological mermaid within Odysseus’s tale. The speaker reclaims her narrative outside of Odysseus’s story and establishes the idea that her agency does not stem from being an ‘accessory’ to a hero’s quest but rather her own power outside of it: “Homer’s / Odysseus / Told it wrong, / Or his men / Told it, / Innocent.” It is here that we see the speaker reclaim her own identity within Odysseus’ story after being alienated from the tale. 

The speaker retells her story by crafting her own narrative in wake of the chaos left by Odysseus, thus attaching a sense of authority to her own lost story. Agency, Poppy tells her audience, is more than a necessity; rather, it is a value that cannot afford to be overlooked. The speaker’s narrative is one of power, of danger, and more than ready to peel out of the confines of her established erasure. 

Poppy’s use of line breaks within the poem further add to these implications of power. Every moment is calculated; every space, line break, and punctuation are brimming with not only intention but with assurance that truth is lurking around the corner, waiting for an opening to break into.

In addition to mythology and reclamation narratives, connection is a vital theme within Every Possible Thing. The ability to join together, to meld ideas and images, is not only a powerful device Poppy employs. Rather, it is also the basis of understanding in a place where the mere idea seems impossible. Her poem “What We Find” exemplifies this concept openly: “Our own voice, / Each other. / To sing uniquely, but not alone. / Eerie electricity. Connection. / Through the song: / Everything is the right choice.” The poem, like her collection, becomes a moment of connection, reaching out to include the reader in this narrative of understanding. 

Through her collection, Karen Poppy draws in her audience by the speaker’s ability to not only connect but their desire to understand. Searches for understanding, the power of reclamation, and the concept of connection litter the pages, leaving the reader haunted even after the collection has been finished. There is something warm and vulnerable within Poppy’s use of connection. Her poem “I Like When You Speak” perhaps displays this best as the speaker weaves a moment of pure humanity: “I like when you speak / When you are here / Saying all that you want to say, and nothing more.” There is an ever-present ache buried between the lines, a moment so openly human we cannot turn ourselves away from the carefulness of the moment. 

Where Every Possible Thing is a collection of connection and understanding, it is also a journey of being human. Reclamation narratives, paths of renewal, and movements shaped in the form of devotion collide to create a bond so intricate it becomes innate. All of these multitudes and more, Every Possible Thing is a conversation between speaker and reader– an opening made just small enough for the reader to want to join, without having to be invited directly. Poppy’s collection is a meticulous warmth. More than anything, it is an invitation into the experiences of humanity and an exploration to all of the crushing and beautiful depth they offer.

Karen Poppy’s Every Possible Thing can be found for purchase here.

Mary Sims is an undergraduate senior at Kennesaw State University working towards her BA in English. She is a poetry editor at Waymark Literary Magazine and has been published in Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Poetry Annals, Peach Mag, Kingdoms of the Wild, Rising Phoenix Review, and more. Currently, she splits her time between working as a student editor, piling her shelves with poetry collections, and laughing over raspberry cappuccinos with friends.

Sundress Reads: Magnolia Canopy Otherworld

Erin Carlyle’s debut book of poetry, Magnolia Canopy Otherworld, compels readers to ask themselves where the line between animalistic and humanistic lies. This book shows the blurred lines between human and inhuman, especially in relation to young girls and the objectification of their bodies. 

Carlyle’s poetry beautifully presents growing up as a young girl in the impoverished South during the opioid crisis. These poems, shown through an animalistic and naturalistic lense, seamlessly presents themes of death, womanhood, motherhood, sexuality, and nature. 

The book opens with the quote “Family is family, but even love can’t keep people from eating eachother” by Dorothy Allison. It perfectly sets the tone of the book and constantly floats in the back of the reader’s mind. There are multiple poems within the book about watching parents struggle with  alcohol and opioid addiction as well as connecting with their children. 

The collection consists of three parts, the first one showing the overall themes that will be present in the parts that follow. The majority of them are about the problems women face for simply being women. Carlyle writes “you are on a bed/ he made of other women’s bodies. He tells you not/ to look, but you can’t/ shut your eyes” in her poem titled “Tales.” 

The second part opens with the poem “On the Horizon of Recollection” and shows the reader a soothing image of women in white skirts raising you up from the water, almost like a baptism, but it’s not. “This is not a baptism,/ but a call back to your life after you crawled out of the cave of your mother,/ that old danger.” This is also where the reader’s are introduced to “The Animal” which is a representation of the narrator herself, however the pronouns for The Animal is it/its. The Animal is trying to navigate life and dealing with things such as first blood, sexual awakening, and family trauma.

The majority of part three is about the search of a girl who the narrator had a connection with. This part is the most haunting; the feeling of hopelessness and helplessness reaches out from the page. The book ends with the narrator standing among the dead in the poem “The Afterlife of Women” and they can “smell the oldest/ danger in the air– magnolia on the wind” but their mother calls them home. This theme of motherhood opens the book and closes it. The circularity of motherhood is embraced in this book as well as the hardships and comforts that comes with it. 

These poems are based on the stories of Carlyle, the stories of women Carlyle has known in her life, and the stories of women Carlyle has seen on the news. Carlyle’s poetry of these women, including herself, are raw, uncensored, and unapologetic. It’s real, they’re real, and they need to be heard. They need to be felt. 

Magnolia Canopy Otherworld magnificently shows the importance of place. The poetry is sharp in the right places, always ready to strike and expose the gory interior when necessary. The collection is a delightful and impactful read, the beauty of the poems perfectly juxtaposes with the darkness of the content. I highly recommend this book, especially to those who understand the animalistic tendencies of men. 

Magnolia Canopy Otherworld is available at Driftwood Press

Bethany Milholland is a senior at The University of Evansville majoring in Creative Writing. She is the former Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Evansville Review. She is also a former intern for her University’s magazine The Crescent. In her spare time, she enjoys earning a cat’s love and shopping at every thrift store within a thirty-mile radius.

Sundress Reads: A Review of You Do Not Have to Be Good

Madeleine Barnes’ debut collection You Do Not Have to Be Good, which was published by Trio House Press this year, takes the unspoken rules of living and turns them into gentle but firm poems. With images of space scattered like constellations throughout the collection, as well as the occasional medicinal term, it isn’t just about what one does not have to be—the potential of what they can be is also explored.  Even if one doesn’t understand the nuances of such jargon, it is still impactful and striking, an inner glimpse into a compassionate world. In this world envisioned by Barnes, we do not have to always conform to a standard; rebellion should be in our hearts; that there is hope within acts and words of vulnerability. 

The book is set up in sections, such as “You Do Not Have to Generate Capital,” “You Do Not Explain Tenderness,” and “You Do Not Have to Be Captive.” As the poems within the sections weave in and outside of these abstract themes, the speakers of the poems are searching for reasons, answers for the existence of such concepts. But, as we continue to read on, we realize that sometimes there are no clear-cut reasons for existing. In the poem “New York in June,” it is written, “I’m not sure how I stayed alive / the summer I lost you…I never asked god about you.” Here, as the speaker struggles with the death of a loved one, they continue to go through a routine of mourning. It is through this process they learn how to move on, to linger in a space and live without this person. 

Combining personal and impersonal narratives, such as the one in “New York in June,” Barnes sets up intimate scenes that empowers both speakers and readers. In the poem “Tenderness is all I Remember,” the speaker states, “Sister, what do you think will happen to us? / Do you think it is plausible that we, / winged, will trim the ghosts’ gowns / from snow?”  In the acknowledgements, Barnes writes that the collection is geared towards queer disabled women, non-binary individuals, girls and non-binary teens, and to those who are unknown and suffering silently. It is poems like “Tenderness is all I Remember” that this is particularly evident, as there is a particular type of vulnerability and smallness trapped within the speaker’s voice. 

I found many of these poems to come from places of pain, whether they are rooted in the poet’s personal memories, or in the ambiguous poems that seem to touch upon broader experiences and topics. My favorite poem of this collection is one of such poems, one that seemed quite raw and real. 

A favorite poem from the collection, “Some Answers I Wrote on a Long Term Disability Questionnaire,” gets into the nitty-gritty life of someone who lives with a disability. This poem alternates between the questionnaire format, asking questions like “Are your illnesses, injuries, or conditions related to your work in any way?” and if the condition will impact future work. Barnes then answers these questions with the terminology of astronomy, astrology, and physics. With haunting lines like “I have been here so many times before” and “If an object is moving towards us, its spectral lines shift to shorter wavelengths; / if it’s moving away the lines swing to longer wavelengths,” Barnes juxtaposes something that seems so small—a physical disability—with the weight of the entire universe. It is in this part of the book, in the section dubbed “You Do Not Have to Generate Capital,” where I began noticing the medical and space terminology. It is here, in this section, where the speakers begin to dig deep into themselves and tries to find answers within these grand scientific words and concepts. But, in the end, it seems quite futile, only providing answers on what could be, not what is. 

Madeleine Barnes’ You Do Not Have to Be Good layers memory and the metaphysical in order to create a thought-provoking collection. It gives a voice to those considered to be within marginalized groups, offering ideas of their potential in a beautiful, lyrical manner. Instead of focusing on the pain of living with a disability, or the burden of an identity, they can the equivalent of a shining galaxy. 

You Do Not Have to Be Good is available at Trio House Press

Ashley Hajimirsadeghi is an undergraduate at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Her work has appeared in Into the Void, Corvid Queen, and cahoodaloodaling, among others. She attended the International Writing Program’s Summer Institute and was a Brooklyn Poets Fellow. Currently, she is trying to figure out a happy intersection between her writing, film, and photography endeavors.