[poppy red] from When I Wake It Will Be Forever

[poppy red]

A soldier in World War I brings
a German bride back to America,
but he does not love
women and she stays locked
her whole married life in a
language she cannot learn.
There are children who leave and don’t
come back, even when the mother dies
and the father’s health fails. What kind
        of children are these? people ask, who
still consider the husband a kind man –
remember, the wife spoke only silence.
What kind of children? you ask, and I
look away – I have already shared
what I know, and there is nothing one
will not do to another, again and again.


Buy When I Wake, It Will Be Forever at the Sundress store!


Virginia Smith Rice earned her MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University. Her first full-length poetry collection, When I Wake It Will Be Forever, was published in 2014 by Sundress Publications. Her poems appear in Cimarron Review, Cincinnati Review, Denver Quarterly, Meridian, Rattle, Stone Highway Review, Superstition Review, and Third Coast, among other journals. She is co-editor of the online poetry journal, Kettle Blue Review, and associate editor at Canopic Publishing.


Following the Trail: In Memory of Mark Strand

Mark Strand

Two weeks ago, as I write this, Mark Strand died. His poetry has been an incredible influence on my development as a poet. He was also a friend whose support and encouragement has been no less important to me than his writing. And even though I knew how ill he was, it was still indescribably sad to realize Mark was gone. I think it will take me awhile to come back to his poetry – his newly released Collected Poems will be an invaluable resource when I’m ready.

In the meantime, The Weather of Words, Mark’s collection of essays on the craft of writing poetry, has been a good companion. As always, his conversations here are starting points that quickly lead to other writings and other ways of thinking. And so, in addition to his collection, I now have Wallace Stevens’ Owl’s Clover to consider, and what Mark describes as Paul Valery’s ‘peculiar’ essay, “Poetry and Abstract Thought” – which is indeed a strange and fascinating exploration of process.

I’ve had the privilege of reading some exceptional poetry collections this past year, still stacked by my bedside table, and having scanned the ‘Best of 2014’ poetry lists, I know I have many wonderful moments of discovery to look forward to in the coming months. But for now, my impulse is to look back and spend some time with those writings that are not newly written, but new to me, and to explore those places that are ageless, timeless, and constantly open to renewal.

Virginia Smith Rice earned her MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University. Her first full-length poetry collection, When I Wake It Will Be Forever, was published in 2014 by Sundress Publications. Her poems appear in Cimarron Review, Cincinnati Review, Denver Quarterly, Meridian, Rattle, Stone Highway Review, Superstition Review, and Third Coast, among other journals. She is co-editor of the online poetry journal, Kettle Blue Review, and associate editor at Canopic Publishing.

Sorting the Boxes by Virginia Smith Rice



I dreamt last night that I was moving out of my house. The new owners were arriving in the morning and I was checking to make sure nothing had been left behind. First I found an unemptied desk, then a closet, then whole rooms overlooked. The dream grew, unfolding itself into an array of incredibly detailed items nearly forgotten, and in a panic I rushed back to every house in which I have ever lived, only to find them still filled with my family’s things, as if they had been left suddenly without explanation.

It was not a difficult dream to decode. The previous evening my husband had commented on the overflowing file boxes in my closet. When I first began writing poetry, someone suggested that I save every draft of my poems in order to get a sense of how the drafts evolved and cohered into a poem. And so I began meticulously labeling and filling manila folders for each poem in progress – a habit I have found difficult to break. The boxes continue to accumulate, despite what I considered a ruthless culling while writing my thesis and first collection.

Phil gently mentioned that at some point I might want to look through them again, salvage what I could, and perhaps weed out a few of the weaker non-starters. A good suggestion, but one that struck me as overwhelming – the kind of task likely to expand exponentially once the lid was lifted and the sorting began: all those desk drawers, closets, rooms, and houses… In my dream, I desperately salvaged items based not just on what was meaningful to me, but on what I guessed my children and their children might find of interest. And many times, those decisions (in our writing as in life) have to do with the glimpses they offer of who we were and how we lived. In a poem, these glimpses are often not central to the poem – and so, easy to forget – but become more valuable as the poem moves further away from the time and place of its writing.

I am thinking at the moment, of poems like Robert Frost’s “Home Burial” and “Mending Wall” – poems that explore large ideas and question our shared human experience, but also fascinate me in their moments of domestic detail. The fact, for example, that at one time in a particular place, deceased family members, including those children who didn’t survive infancy, might be buried in a small plot on the family’s property in graves dug with the help of neighbors. And that some of those neighbors may not be particularly friendly, including those who hold to the belief that ‘good fences make good neighbors’ while patiently re-building each spring the walls of boulders loosened by frost-heave, but who are there, nevertheless, to help in these shared tasks.

Very few of us will experience our losses in this way, but Frost captures the experience of loss itself in poems expansive enough to include us without omitting the specificity of his own time and place. So much of our writing struggles with detail: what to include that reaches toward and connects with readers outside our own experience, and what to weed out that is more likely to distract and become irrelevant over time. Not easy to do, or even attempt. These poems that are rooted and enduring, inclusive while specific to a place, a time, but not to you – at least, not specific to the you that is the “I” we each cling to, but to the you moving in tomorrow, the you who came before us and the one already loading up boxes and signing a lease that we know nothing about.

Virginia Smith Rice earned her MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University. Her first full-length poetry collection, When I Wake It Will Be Forever, was published in 2014 by Sundress Publications. Her poems appear in Cimarron Review, Cincinnati Review, Denver Quarterly, Meridian, Rattle, Stone Highway Review, Superstition Review, and Third Coast, among other journals. She is co-editor of the online poetry journal, Kettle Blue Review, and associate editor at Canopic Publishing.

National Poetry Month Poetry Playlist: Virginia Smith Rice’s Picks


To celebrate National Poetry Month, our Sundress editors are sharing some of their favorite poems, most influential poems, and poems that they are really digging right now. Put them all together, and you have the Sundress Poetry Playlist!

Today’s picks come from one of our Sundress authors, Virginia Smith Rice!

Here are two Tranströmer poems. He has been an incredible influence on my work, and these are two (of the many) that continue to resonate with me throughout the years.

Tomas Tranströmerfrom Friends, You Drank Some Darkness,  tr. Robert Bly


2am: moonlight. The train has stopped
out in a field. Far off sparks of light from a town,
flickering coldly on the horizon.

As when a man goes so deep into his dream
he will never remember that he was there
when he returns again to his room.

Or when a person goes so deep into a sickness
that his days all become some flickering sparks, a
feeble and cold on the horizon.

The train is entirely motionless.
2 o’clock: strong moonlight, few stars.



I have been walking a while
on the frozen Swedish fields
and I have seen no one.

In other parts of the world
people are born, live, and die
in a constant human crush.
To be visible all the time – to live
in a swarm of eyes –
surely that leaves its mark on the face.
Features overlaid with clay.

The low voices rise and fall
as they divide up
heaven, shadows, grains of sand.

I have to be by myself
ten minutes every morning,
ten minutes every night,
– and nothing to be done!

We all line up to ask each other for help.



Virginia Smith Rice will be reading from her debut collection tomorrow at 7PM at Powell’s Bookstore in Chicago!





Virginia Smith Rice earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Northwestern University, where her poetry manuscript, “One Voice May Survive the Other,” received the Distinguished Thesis Award. Her work appears, or is forthcoming, in 2River View, Denver Quarterly, Rattle, Southern Poetry Review, Stirring, Stone Highway Review, Superstition Review, and Weave, among others. She was the Assistant Poetry Editor at TriQuarterly, and currently works as an art teacher in Woodstock, IL. Her first full-length collection, When I Wake It Will Be Forever, was published by Sundress in 2014.

An Interview with Virginia Smith Rice


Early in my conversation with poet Virginia Smith Rice, she revealed that she has four children. I was surprised by the number—four being, well, a lot. “When I decide to do something,” she said, “I don’t do it half way.”

Once you read Smith  new poetry collection, When I Wake It Will Be Forever, you’ll understand this declaration as pure fact. When I Wake is a diverse collage of voices, forms, imagery, and obsessions. There is no single narrator, no one theme, no sense of omniscience or rightness. As diverse as the collection is, these are poems unified by intention—stories vividly imagined and well told.

Some of this is due to Rice’s job as a middle school art teacher, where she witnesses the art of self-description on a daily basis. “Students so often use passive language when they speak,” she said. “They often feel like they are bystanders of their own lives. I want them to be more active in their own stories.”

Rice’s story is one of action and reinvention. She began her academic career as a visual artist, but shifted focus once her children were born. As a committed stay-at-home mother, Smith found that her creative impulses didn’t wane—they actually became stronger and harder to ignore.

“I was always jotting down lines and ideas, waiting for a few moments where I could create something. As a visual artist, I had a tough time finding the space and money to do this. Materials were expensive and I didn’t have a lot of time, either.”

Her sisters—both writers—encouraged her to attend a few summer workshops at The University of Iowa. It was there that she started writing abstract prose pieces and decided to attend graduate school at Northwestern University with a focus in literature.

“Poetry really took me by surprise. I didn’t intend for it to happen that way—it’s the way my art wanted to go. I enjoyed my classes,” she said, “but I found myself wanting to talk to my professors about the poems I’d been writing. That’s all I wanted to do.”

On the advice of those professors, Rice joined the MFA in writing program, where new relationships formed between her experience as a visual artist and her emerging talents as a writer.

When I Wake is filled with references to Rice’s first passion. Part III is entitled Curiosity Boxes, a nod to Joseph Cornell’s boxed assemblages. These works, created from found objects, are not unlike centos, poems assembled from the words, lines, and phrases of other sources. This form is found throughout Rice’s collection.

“You look at poems you’ve loved for so many years and you see them differently. It’s often what you decide not to use that is most instructive. It’s always surprising to see what resonates with you at the time.”

Through the guidance of her professors, including Simone Muench and Ed Roberson, Rice began to repurpose lines from her own work into centos. This approach allowed her to write with a newfound freedom. “I recognized that I didn’t have to bring a poem to closure each time I sat down to write; every line could move the poem in a different direction,  and the poem could eventually arrive somewhere entirely unexpected. I started just writing and collecting. It reminded so much of collage and the visual arts.”

The cento could also be the perfect form for Rice’s life. She is a mother and a teacher, an artist and a poet, seemingly disparate elements brought together in one curious box.

“If there’s a theme to my work, it probably includes the impulse for connection,” she says. “That need to be active in our own stories and to have someone listen to us.” (That’s what it’s about.”)

You can purchase her debut collection at Sundress Publications.

Sara Lovelace received her MFA in Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004 and is an editor at Sundress Publications. Her work is published in the Smith Magazine anthology, The Moment. She also writes for various online publications, including a weekly blog on elephant journal. She is currently working on a project about the healing effects of yoga on victims of sexual abuse.

Press Release: When I Wake It Will Be Forever by Virginia Smith Rice


Knoxville, TN— Sundress Publications is pleased to announce the release of Virginia Smith Rice’s first full-length book, When I Wake It Will Be Forever. Rice’s debut collection collapses the natural and material world into instances of loss, longing, memory and sensory expression.

Rice investigates the emptiness of language with a lyrical and alliterative force with a jarring, poignant, and distinct ability to deconstruct place through the linguistic fabric it emerges from, to create a more intimate presence with the physical landscape of existence. Rice builds her ethereal and imagistic poems with a deep engagement of the senses.

“Both shimmering and seething, haunted and haunting, the complex, dazzling contours of When I Wake It Will Be Forever beckon the reader with the imperative of ‘listen’; and we do, because Rice’s poems vibrate with a ‘voice thorned and singing / but not human.’ Like her poetic parentage—Desnos, Szymborska, Tranströmer and Csoóri—there is a wisdom contained in this work that transcends a singular being’s experience; ultimately elegiac, yet ‘lit by inner, hidden suns,’ this book is a stellate network of memory, loss, longing, silence, and voice. Often serving as witness (to an aunt’s suicide, a stranger’s suicide, ‘the suicide in my voice’) Rice pays tribute to the manifold ghosts that clamor inside us. This is one of the most solidly exquisite and lingering first books I’ve had the honor of reading.”
-Simone Muench, author of Orange Crush, recipient of the 2013 NEA Fellowship in Poetry

“Virginia Smith Rice has created a tremblingly precise, intricate, bright-edged evocation of a world both ecstatic and ominous, grieving and vital, broken and mending, but rarely mended. Her poems are richly colored and intensely focused on the shapes and forms of the world and of inner life and relationships. They are crowded with living plants and creatures and intense feeling, and Rice can even describe the color of solitude. Her language is sensuously complex, her angle of vision is oblique and finds the memorable touch of reality off-center, at the edges, just this side of perceptibility. She has created a delicate yet vivid response to what she calls the ‘percussed absence’ that haunts human life. This is a marvelous first book.”
-Reginald Gibbons, author of Fem-Texts and professor of Humanities at Northwestern Univeristy

Virginia Smith Rice earned her MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University, where she received the Distinguished Thesis Award for her poetry manuscript, “One Voice May Survive the Other.” Her work appears in Cincinnati Review, Denver Quarterly, Meridian, Rattle, and Third Coast, among other journals. She currently lives in Woodstock, IL, where she teaches art and serves as co-editor of the online poetry journal, Kettle Blue Review.

When I Wake It Will Be Forever is now available at www.sundresspublications.com.