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 @ Amazon.com.

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.

Sundress Reads: A Review of Across From Now

Andy Fogle’s book, Across From Now begs us to listen and to listen with our whole selves. Apart from its daring reflections on familial elements and the lives that are often lived as we sift through the marrows of life, this collection of introspective poetry spans the question of what happens to us in the in-between spaces?

This collection covers time to the various environments and lands that occupy that time. Fogle takes us on a ride that fills our head-spaces and heart-middles. From speaking about beaches to discussing mornings to speaking about what makes us alive in living, Fogle allows us access into an authentic world where the minutia of space and feeling intertwine, and where readers can lean into spaces that challenge and inspire them to think about interpersonal dynamics, connectivity, and what it means to be part of a family, as well as to have a family.

In one of his beginning poems, “One Ring,” Fogle drops readers into the symbolism between what once was, and emotionality—how even the positionality of a telephone was something that impacted emotional access, depth, and understanding. Fogle asserts, “Back when phones still had bells inside them / and plugged into walls / back when we were tethered to the box.” Fogle helps readers explore the ways in which history has transformed our relationship to items, the tangible, and the emotional resonance of that tangible.

Each of Fogle’s poems explores a motif of noticing and remembering. Whether Fogle is exploring the way things feel within a family context, how things resonate in the world, or simply how things create themselves in the world, the writing hums and throbs within our bodies, and challenges the way we perceive the world around us.

Fogle invites us to think about how we participate in our humanity alongside other living and breathing entities. Each poem occupies a body of its own and traverses the poem’s corresponding breath, parts, and emotional vibrations. Fogle illustrates the extent of what lies behind the quiet, the everyday, and often reveals common environments to describe things and what is happening inside of them. Fogle is bold in the way he marries the minutia of humanity with its simultaneous thrumming aliveness, in how he conjures a sense of things that happens outside of the page completely.

Fogle’s writing encourages readers to lean into their own minds, to melt into their bodies, as the words are being read. Fogle challenges readers to sit with what is, to stay still with what is and forces us to bend as the poetry too bends, as he implores us to continue looking further. The beauty of this writing is that it keeps us thinking about what is happening between the lines—it keeps us balancing reality and the space we go right before we fall asleep.

The hallmark of Fogle’s poetry is centered around the use of the everyday riddled with emotions behind the banal, the commonplace, the pedestrian. This work takes us to places where the poems begin and end inside themselves. Fogle challenges us to think about ourselves as we are contained within ourselves. We are forced to consider things outside of ourselves, to truly sink into what makes us feel, what makes us yearn, what makes us access our full spectrum of emotions.

Fogle begs us all to occupy a different perspective, to see things through a new lens. Fogle invites us into worlds completely new and fascinating and allows us to move through its time at our own pace. This collection cuts deeply. These poems force us to consider the monotony present in our lives, present in our bodies. These collections are not here to make us comfortable, but rather to help us confront the reality of ourselves. Fogle supports readers in rending a new version of the mundane, in seeing something we might not have considered before in what we see continually.

The best part of this book is how Fogle cradles us in the reverie of quiet language with sharp and loud meaning. There is no shortage of critical thought and intentional feeling throughout this collection. Readers are hooked onto every line and are immersed in the world of being. There is interesting play and daring narrative language used in this work—it never fails to put things for us right in our bodies, or in our experiences. These poems require our attention; they exist on the page and beg us to exist alongside them.

Across From Now is available at Grayson Books


Sabrina Sarro is a social worker in the state of NY. They hold an LMSW from Columbia University and are currently pursuing an MFA from the City College of New York—CUNY. As a queer non-binary writer of color, they are most interested in investigating the intersectionalities of life and engaging in self-reflection and introspection. They are an alumnus of the LAMBDA Literary Emerging Voices for LGBTQIA* Writers Retreat, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Yale Writers’ Workshop, and many others. They have received scholarships from The Martha’s Vineyard Institute for Creative Writing and the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.

Sundress Reads: Review of Cradle and Grave

Despite the world’s current predicament, I’ve been reading a lot of apocalypse-themed literature. Funny enough, I am taking a class on apocalypse literature and have a newfound fascination for subgenres that exist within the genre.

Anya Ow’s Cradle and Grave is set in a post-apocalyptic future ravaged by a genetic mutation-based plague called the Change. Immediately, the premise attracted me because I have presented research on genetic fiction, taken notes on plague apocalypse, and read up on bio-punk. Cradle and Grave fits the bill for all of these sub-genres, creating an intricate narrative chalked full of engaging details. 

From the first page, the reader becomes enraptured by Dar Lien—the main character of the novella who is an experienced scout who has gone on supply runs through a dangerous, yet picturesque landscape called the Scab. She is hired to lead Yusuf and the enigmatic Servertu through the Scab for a generous sum of taels. Along the way, they encounter unpredictable creatures affected by the change, as well as facing conflicts that could alter the course of the Change.

Ow is masterful when it comes to describing the land and her unique characters. The descriptions of the Scab are hauntingly grey and bleak; it’s an atmosphere entangled with horrifying moments, yet I’m drawn in, not willing to miss a word. 

The characters keep the readers engaged every step through the Scab from bickering to proverbs that unveil more about this world devastated by mutations that technology can barely rein in from fully turning someone into their worst nightmare. 

For readers fascinated by new worlds, Cradle and Grave is full of engaging post-apocalyptic details with a fresh mix of subgenres perfectly captured in precise words.

Remember, an apocalypse does not define an end; it’s how a society begins anew to survive. Hope can ring, even at the bleakest moments. 

Cradle and Grave is available at Neon Hemlock.

Born in Singapore, Anya Ow moved to Melbourne to practice law, and now works in advertising. Her short stories have appeared in venues such as Strange Horizons, Uncanny, and Daily SF. She can be found on twitter @anyasy and otherwise at www.anyasy.com.

___________

Emma Hudson is currently a third year student at the University of Tennessee working on her double concentration BA in English: Rhetoric and Creative Writing, along with a minor in retail consumer science. She’s a busy bee; she is the Editor-in-Chief of the up-and-coming Honey Magazine. Emma is also a long-time member and leader in UTK’s Creative Writing Club and on the Executive Board for UTK’s Sigma Tau Delta, Alpha Epsilon chapter. In her free time, she figures out how to include K-Pop group BTS into her research projects and watches “reality” tv shows.