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Sundress Reading Series Presents Kristin Robertson, Tasha Fouts, and Arlyn Dunn


The Sundress Reading Series is excited to welcome Kristin Robertson, Tasha Fouts, and Arlyn Dunn for the February installment of our reading series! This event will take place from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, February 17th at Hexagon Brewing Co., located at 1002 Dutch Valley Dr STE 101, Knoxville, TN 37918.

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Kristin Robertson is the author of Surgical Wing (Alice James Books, 2017). Her poetry appears in Ploughshares, The Southern Review, The Threepenny Review, The Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review, and Five Points, among other journals. Winner of the Laux/Millar Poetry Prize, Kristin has received scholarships from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Squaw Valley. She teaches at Tennessee Wesleyan University.


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Tasha Fouts is the 2018-2019 SAFTA Writer in Residence at Firefly Farms. She received her MFA from Bowling Green State University. Her work has appeared or forthcoming in Salt Hill, Bateau, Glass, Birds Piled Loosely, and Fact-Simile. She is a cofounder and editor at Packingtown Review and hosts the podcast Getting Drunk with Writers which will air someday.


Screen Shot 2019-02-14 at 11.07.28 AMArlyn Dunn was born and raised in Knoxville, TN. A recent graduate of Roane State Community College and 2017 recipient of the President’s Award. She depicted her journey of resiliency to overcome personal struggles in her commencement speech.  She currently works as a full time pediatric occupational therapy assistant and is relocating to Detroit this spring. She is on a nontraditional trajectory through spoken word and literary arts to reclaim language through poetry and what it means to emerge from profound grief to resurgence in hope. She is currently working on her first collection of poetry.

The Sundress Reading Series is an award-winning literary reading series that is held monthly at 2 p.m. at Hexagon Brewing Co. just outside of downtown Knoxville. The Sundress Reading Series is free and open to the public.


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Lyric Essentials: Leslie Miller Reads Paisley Rekdal

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Here Leslie Miller and I talk about poetic range, how influential place is, especially that place where a poet started out, and Elizabeth Bishop (it always comes back to Bishop!) and James Wright. Thank you for joining us.

Leslie Miller reads “At the Fishhouses” by Paisley Rekdal

It’s so apt that you chose “At the Fishhouses,” because it’s exactly in the spirit of this series. The poem even begins with “And!” How has Paisley Rekdal’s poetry influenced yours?

Very simply, Paisley Rekdal’s poems give me faith in the future of the art—and that’s something we all need to go on producing it. Her poems, as you can see here, have tremendous range; they are keenly aware of the poems and stories of the past on which she builds, and they break new ground while honoring the work of poets gone before. And this: they not only make poetry feel vital and new, but they carry out the important work of feminist critical positions with the tremendous range of emotion necessary to the complexity of the issues.

I taught Imaginary Vessels (2016) in a women’s literature course, and when I chose it, as with many books I love, I worried my students would not love it as much as I do. Maybe I secretly suspected that as budding feminists in their late teens and early 20’s, they would find Rekdal’s allusions hard to reach. Many of them did not know who Mae West was, for example, but we had a pretty good time looking at YouTube mashups of Mae West one liners, and then watching Paisley’s film of her poem “Self Portrait as Mae West.” I also worried that Rekdal’s work might strike them more as a poet’s poetry—by which I mean the way poets love other poets for their astonishing dexterity with aspects of craft— images, sound, form. General literature students can sometimes seem less wowed by these craft details that creative writers love. Rekdal’s over the top sound devices are so much fun—because even as they go overboard and get some laughs for their absurdity (as in “Dear lacuna, Dear Lard”), they manage to haunt, to maintain an edge, a tone of serious inquiry. In the end, I think the book went over well with my class because I loved it so much (or maybe my students were too kind to admit that my love for the book was itself an entertainment).

These poems are so different from one another! “At the Fishhouses” deals with how slippery memory is, and it uses long lines and a sort of associative logic, whereas “Vessels’” focus is intent on its very specific subject, and its thinking seems to be more controlled. You said in our emails that you had a hard time choosing which poems to read – what made you choose these two?

I had a hard time picking poems of Rekdal’s to share because I like them so much in the context of the book as a whole. If I could have chosen a poem of hers that I think most representative of what I admire, it would have been the long “Nightingale: A Gloss” that appeared in APR recently. That’s the poem I have been handing over to smart young feminist poets lately, and I’m still marveling at its range and power. But I chose two from Imaginary Vessels, one lyric and one more meditative/narrative because one of the things I admire most in Rekdal is the ease with which she moves among the various modes. “At the Fishhouses” has another signature Rekdal feature—the layering of other poetry, other traditions, stories, pop icons, and yet doing this without fanfare, without having to pound down a conclusion about what that allusion means or lends to the poem. I suspect she knows, and hopes we know too, but that she’d also wish our knowing differs from hers.

It’s something we love Bishop for, especially in her poem of the same name, or in her famous poem, “The Fish,” the way the elements of story are so clearly delineated and yet not driving at a single “meaning.” A dozen critics can all come up with a different read on it, and none of them is really any more “right” than the next. The ability to make a poem that observes the world and includes elements of story so precisely that the reader buys into it at the same time that the reader cannot be sure of a “point.” You’re constantly asking yourself as you move through the poem whether you’re tracking the story or the images, and sure, you are tracking both, but one dissolves easily into the other and back again, so that when you reach the final image of the taste of the friend’s mouth in Rekdal’s poem, it isn’t exactly a kiss so much as it is an amalgam of kissing Bishop, the grandmother, the berries picked with the grandmother—it’s all those things, and none of them alone, so you understand that you have to rest on that perilous place between close observation and story and just be there, be present to the way those things mix in the mind.

At the Fishhouses” is at once a complex and entirely clear trajectory from an initial moment that is both the here and now of the poem and a memory of Bishop—from the start, it’s not cleanly one or the other. The story of the friend follows on the establishment of place/time, so the friend is set in the memory/literary allusion fusion as well. The friend quickly segues into a memory of the speaker’s grandmother in a way that fuses, yet again, a past memory and a present character, and Rekdal brilliantly gets us out of the impasse with the image of the raspberries:

were raspberries. Very red, very sweet, furred
like my friend’s upper lip I remember
between my teeth as we stood
on the docks. The smell
of iron and winter mist, her mouth
like nothing I have tasted since.

There is no line at all between what is happening in the now and what is happening in the mind. Rekdal has prepared us incrementally for this moment of sheer erotic joy in a taste and texture that is neither here nor there but a fusion so precise that we’re there tasting it too.

It’s almost as astonishing as Bishop’s close:

It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:
dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,
drawn from the cold hard mouth
of the world, derived from the rocky breasts
forever, flowing and drawn, and since
our knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.   

But Rekdal has made it her own, rearranged the elements, feminized the memory from a grandfather to a grandmother and held on to what is most fetching in the original: a moment of fusion between the self, the past, the erotics of the present environment—and, of course, it’s a moment of transcendence that is gone as soon as you’ve noticed it because it was made of all these contingencies, the ugliness and the beauty, the real and the remembered, and nothing else will ever again quite match it.

Do I love the Rekdal because I love the Bishop so much? Maybe. But I also love that she doesn’t damage the beauty of the Bishop in channeling it for her own. It’s a beautiful homage, and I love Rekdal for loving Bishop exactly as I think Bishop ought to be loved. If I were truly picking a poet whose influence over my own work has been long and deep and ongoing, Bishop wins every time—but I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in that, so I wanted to pick someone writing now that everyone could go out and read!

Leslie Miller reads “Vessels” by Paisley Rekdal

I love that the first sentence in “Vessels” is, “Shouldn’t it ache…,” and then the very next sentence begins, “It hurts/to imagine it…” Rekdal asks a question, and then almost answers it, until we read across the line-break. Can you point to a couple moments you particularly admire in this poem?

Vessels” is a very different poem, and yet a few of the tactics of slide and fusion happen here too, but I chose “Vessels” for its lyric qualities. Rekdal has dozens of poems that play sound devices forward, and truth be told, I’d love to read them all out loud (we did in my class, and maybe that was part of their success with my students), but Rekdal herself must have thought of this poem as special, key to the collection with which it shares part of its name. Like “At the Fishhouses” “Vessels” turns on a single image, only in this case with a bit less narrative, and reprises that image in ways that allow it to be simultaneously lovely, vulnerable, ugly, wounded . . . The poem’s subject is an oyster, though it isn’t named right away, and, in fact, the short lines here allow her to feature “slit” at the end of the first line in such a way that we who own these body parts know instantly in our flesh that it is our own genitalia we are seeing/feeling, even as we are watching the oyster be parted from its “vessel” and understanding our own bodies as vessels as well—as entities that both contain and are contained. The sound here, though, is amazing, because the word “slit” is harsh, and that harsh sound gets picked up again fast in all those following “t” sounds, “sweet,” “salt,” “water,” “meat,” “hurt,” “abductor,” “harvest,” “cyst”—the violence just keeps hitting as it morphs into different iterations of the same sound, even as what we’re seeing is undeniably beautiful.

I also admire the precision of diction in Rekdal’s poems. In “Vessels,” words like “adductor” and “caisson,” are not only precise terms for the mussel’s parts, but even if a reader doesn’t know their meaning the first time through (I had to look them up myself), their sounds give us just as much to go on—“adductor” sounding so much like “abductor” and suggesting female abduction, “caisson” sounding so much like “case-on.”

Do you have a poem that is in as close a conversation with another poem as “At the Fishhouses,” that you can excerpt for us? Or, what are you working on now that you’re excited about?

Oh, this question is so hard to answer after having spent the last few questions in the minds of Rekdal and Bishop! I certainly have written a lot of poems that work in conversation with poets of the past, and to some degree, it’s hard for me to imagine any strong poem that isn’t, even in some very sublimated way, having that kind of conversation.

One recent poem of mine that is more direct in its conversation with an existing poem might be one called “Sumac.” I love that moment in autumn when sumac turns bright red, and when I see it, I always think of the poet James Wright. I grew up in Southeastern Ohio, not far from where Wright grew up, and though I didn’t discover Wright until after I’d left Ohio for good, his poems have always held a special place for me because they’re so good at evoking where I came from—and sumac is common in Southeastern Ohio river valleys, so it shows up in his work more than once, particularly in his prose poem, “The Sumac in Ohio,” which uses sumac as a metaphor for the particular beauty and toughness in the landscape and people of the region. The final sentences of the poem are a signature Wrightian declaration: “ The skin [of the sumac] will turn aside hatchets and knife blades. You cannot even carve a girl’s name on the sumac. It is viciously determined to live and die alone, and you can go straight to hell.”

Though I’ve loved that poem and those lines for years and felt deeply attached to the vision of my geographical home offered by Wright, recently, I reread those lines and saw them differently– as a woman who grew up in that environment and ran as fast as I could away from it, even though I retain a very complicated relationship to it, as to Wright. It’s hard to excerpt from my response poem without giving you all the dimensions of that complication, but here’s a snippet:

and when
I came of age in words, I married
his enduring spell of rivers, mills,
our hills scraped white by monster
draglines, and dusted in the mist
of steel spit and soot.

You could say I had a bit of feminist awakening about the need to give the sumac a different reading, also a loving but stern critique of a poet and generation of poets, really, that was ultimately a boys’ club. There was something about that “You cannot even carve a girl’s name on the sumac” that made me wince. For one thing, it absolutely assumes a male reader, and for another it conjures a place and time in which casual violence against women was commonplace. I can’t read these lines anymore without thinking about the women, girls really, who got stuck in it—as an actual place and as a way of thinking about place. I might have escaped the former, but I didn’t escape the latter!



Leslie Miller’s sixth collection of poems is Y from Graywolf Press. Her previous
collections include The Resurrection Trade and Eat Quite Everything You See (Graywolf
Press), and Yesterday Had a Man In It, Ungodliness and Staying Up For Love (Carnegie
Mellon University Press). She has been the recipient of the Loft McKnight Award of Distinction, two Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowships in Poetry, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, and the PEN Southwest Discovery Award. She has also held residencies and fellowships with Le Château de Lavigny, Fundación Valparaíso, Literarisches Colloquium, and Hawthornden Castle. Professor of English at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, she holds degrees in creative writing and English from Stephens College, the University of Missouri, the Iowa Writers Workshop, and the University of Houston.

Paisley Rekdal is author of five poetry collections, A Crash of Rhinos (2000), Six Girls Without Pants (2002), The Invention of the Kaleidoscope (2007), Animal Eye, and Imaginary Vessels (2016), as well as the book of essays The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee: Observations on Not Fitting In (2000), and a hybrid memoir, Intimate. She has received several awards for her work, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She teaches at the University of Utah.

Further Reading:

Leslie Miller’s website
Leslie Miller at Crazyhorse
Interview with Leslie Miller on Words Without Borders

Paisley Rekdal’s website
Paisley Rekdal’s forthcoming book Nightingale on Publisher Weekly‘s Top 10 Poetry Book of 2019 list
Pre-order Nightingale here

Jessica Hudgins is a writer currently living in Georgia.

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Sundress Academy for the Arts Announces 2019 Summer Poetry Writing Retreat

Sundress Academy for the Arts Announces
2019 Summer Poetry Writing Retreat

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is thrilled to announce its Summer Poetry Writing Retreat, which runs from Friday, May 24th to Sunday, May 26th, 2019.  The three-day, two-night camping retreat will be held at SAFTA’s own Firefly Farms in Knoxville, Tennessee.  All SAFTA retreats focus on generative poetry writing, and this year’s poetry retreat will also include break-out sessions on: writing about issues of identity and heritage; accessing memories; kicking writer’s block; publishing; and more.

A weekend pass includes one-on-one and group instruction, writing supplies, food, drinks, transportation to and from the airport, and all on-site amenities for $250.  Tents, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment are available to rent for $25.  Payment plans are available if you reserve by March 31, 2019.

The event will be open to writers of all backgrounds and provide an opportunity to work with many talented, published poets from around the country, including workshop leaders Emari Digiorgio and Karen Craigo.

Emari DiGiorgio is the author of Girl Torpedo, winner of the Numinous Orison, Luminous Origin Literary Award, and The Things a Body Might Become. She’s the recipient of the Auburn Witness Poetry Prize, the Ellen La Forge Memorial Poetry Prize, the Elinor Benedict Poetry Prize, RHINO’s Founder’s Prize, and a poetry fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. She teaches at Stockton University, is a Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation Poet and the Senior Reviews Editor for Tupelo Quarterly, and hosts World Above, a monthly reading series in Atlantic City, NJ.


Karen Craigo is the author of two Sundress collections: Passing Through Humansville (2018) and No More Milk (2016), as well as three chapbooks, and her poetry, fiction and nonfiction have appeared in numerous publications. She is the editor of The Marshfield Mail newspaper in Marshfield, Missouri.


We have one full scholarship available for the retreat as well as limited 20% scholarships for those with financial need. To apply for a scholarship, send a packet of no more than (8) pages of poetry along with a brief statement on why you would like to attend this workshop to Erin Elizabeth Smith at no later than March 15, 2019. Winners will be announced in April.

Space at this workshop is limited to 15 writers, so reserve your place today at


The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is an artists’ residency that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers, actors, filmmakers, and visual artists. All are guided by experienced, professional instructors from a variety of creative disciplines who are dedicated to cultivating the arts in East Tennessee.

For more information, find Sundress Academy for the Arts on our websiteFacebook, or Twitter.

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Sundress Holler Salon presents Ruth Awad, Ian T. Hall, and Jim Warner

Sundress Holler Salon presents Ruth Awad, Ian T. Hall, and Jim Warner

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is excited to host a new Holler Salon with a poetry reading and dinner at Firefly Farms. An extension of our award-winning Sundress Reading Series, Holler Salon aims to encourage conversation and collaboration between creative individuals in a variety of disciplines. The event, to be held Saturday, February 9th from 6-10 p.m., will be free and open to the public and will feature poets Ruth Awad, Ian T. Hall, and Jim Warner.

screen shot 2019-01-28 at 4.17.08 pmRuth Awad is a Lebanese-American poet whose debut poetry collection Set to Music a Wildfire (Southern Indiana Review Press 2017) won the 2016 Michael Waters Poetry Prize and the 2018 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. She is the recipient of a 2016 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Rumpus, The Missouri Review Poem of the Week, Sixth Finch, Crab Orchard Review, CALYX, Diode, Southern Indiana Review, The Adroit Journal, Vinyl Poetry, Epiphany, BOAAT Journal, and in the anthologies Bettering American Poetry Volume 2 (Bettering Books, 2017), The Hundred Years’ War: Modern War Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2014), New Poetry from the Midwest 2014 (New American Press, 2015), and Poets on Growth (Math Paper Press, 2015). She won the 2012 and 2013 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and the 2011 Copper Nickel Poetry Contest, and she was a finalist for the 2013 Ruth Lilly Fellowship. She has an MFA in poetry from Southern Illinois University Carbondale, she copy edits for Button Poetry, and she lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her Pomeranians.




screen shot 2019-01-28 at 4.17.01 pmIan T. Hall was born and reared in Raven, Kentucky. He is currently an MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Tennessee, where he serves as an assistant poetry editor for Grist: A Journal of the Literary Arts. He has published poetry and fiction in Kentucky Monthly Magazine, The Louisville Review, Broad River Review, Gravel, Bluestem, and Modern Mountain Magazine, among others.





screen shot 2019-01-28 at 4.16.54 pmJim Warner’s poetry has appeared in various journals including The North American Review, RHINO Poetry, New South, and is the author of two collections (PaperKite Press). His third collection actual miles was released in 2018 by Sundress Publications. Jim is the host of the literary podcast Citizen Lit and is a faculty member of Arcadia University’s MFA program.







While dinner is provided, attendees are invited to BYOB.

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is an artists’ residency that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers, actors, filmmakers, and visual artists. All are guided by experienced, professional instructors from a variety of creative disciplines who are dedicated to cultivating the arts in East Tennessee.

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Subscriber Notice


2019 Sundress Subscriptions Now Available!

Sundress Publications is excited to announce that our 2019 subscriptions are now available!

This year’s catalog includes full-length poetry collections from Leah Silveus, Amorak Huey, Aaron Graham, Ruth Foley, Zoë Estelle Hitzel, HK Hummel, and Moira J. as well as a copy of our handprinted letterpress broadside!

Subscribers receive all of these upcoming titles, complimentary merch, plus FREE entries into all of our 2019 Sundress competitions, open reading periods, and Sundress Academy for the Arts residency applications for themselves AND a friend.

From now until the end of the February, you’ll receive not only the entire 2019 catalog but also a FREE Sundress title of your choosing!

Subscribe today at:

A 501(c)3 non-profit literary press collective founded in 2000, Sundress Publications is an entirely volunteer-run press that publishes chapbooks and full-length collections in both print and digital formats, and hosts numerous literary journals, an online reading series, and the Best of the Net Anthology.



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Interview with Letitia Trent, Author of Match Cut

Ahead of the release of Match Cut, her newest collection of poems, Letitia Trent took timematch cut cover to speak with Sundress editorial intern, Lauren Sutherland, to discuss the themes, imagery, organization of the collection, and the darker shadows of writing and psychology that continue to inspire Trent’s work.

Lauren Sutherland: Movies clearly inspired this collection of poems, from the title to each of the poems themselves. How was it incorporating films into your personal ideas for individual poems?

Letitia Trent: I didn’t really choose to write about film, it was the only way I could write poems for a long time, from around 2008 to 2011. I started the movie poems after I got out of my MFA program and moved back to my home state of Vermont. I’m pretty sure I was depressed around this time, and my writing started to suffer, or at least my old vision of myself as somebody who could pretty easily write a poem faltered. I couldn’t figure out how to write the kinds of poems I was writing during my MFA, and I started to feel isolated from community and frustrated with myself. Movies saved me during that time. My husband and I lived walking distance from the local movie theater, so we saw a movie almost every weekend. I also started to revisit films I’d always wanted to watch in the past but had never gotten to.

When I was a kid, I was wild about movies. When I was around ten, my mom bought me this enormous “Rating the Movies” book and I read it straight through, marking all the movies I wanted to watch with a check mark. We would go every week to the video store, and I tried to get all my checked movies in, so at one point, when I was about eleven, I found myself watching Taxi Driver with my horrified parents. Then, I went to college for literature and grad school for writing and kind of lost track of my love of movies for a while. When I got out of grad school, I felt lost, so I came back to movies again. The writing itself came out of the movies–I didn’t really have a pre-conceived notion of what I wanted to write but instead, let the poems come from
the material in the film. Once I got going, almost every movie I watched produced a poem for a period of a couple of years.

Sutherland: Was there a particular strategy for ordering your poems or did it just happen organically?

Trent: I went through so many attempts to organize these poems. I’d say that was the hardest part for me. I had a lot of help from the editors here at Sundress, as organizing a book is probably one of the biggest struggles for me, and I needed as much help as I could get. I usually try to feel it out and organize intuitively, but the more suggestions I got, the more the poems seemed to separate based on theme. There are a lot of poems about gender, particularly about how films define women. Film noir and horror, in particular, have these conflicting ideas about gender, ideas that both appeal to me and feel uncomfortable. I’m interested in these tropes and how we (as a culture and individually) use the raw material of film to build identity. I also wrote a lot about mothers and children and sex. I did not realize that these were my themes until I began the work of reflecting on the poems. Writing and organizing this manuscript was an excavation, sometimes a surprising one.

Did your poems come first or did you like the idea of working with the genre and mold your poems to fit that?

Trent: I’m an enormous fan of horror and tend to be attracted to the murky, the dark, the noir-ish—and since the poems came from the film, those themes were bound to show up. These are wells I’ve been digging for most of my writing career in a variety of genres. All I know is that
these themes have always attracted me.

Sutherland: How did you come to love the darker side of writing and integrate that into your poetry?

Trent: I think an interest in more shadowy parts of life and consciousness pairs with my interest in psychology. I like to wrestle with things that trouble me. Poems have been a way for me to work through the more confusing, slippery, and troubling parts of myself. I think that’s why I’m attracted to genres at the fringe of “respectability,” like film noir or horror or exploitation films. I think they can often access the parts of us that we push away or keep in the shadows because these are genres that don’t use tasteful or acceptable ways of framing the more volatile parts of human life (sex, death, fear, etc.).

Sutherland: Your exploration with form in this collection is vast, including your creativity with capitalization (in “Blue Velvet”), line-breaks (in “The Brood”), and spacing (in “The Dreamers”). Do you find this kind of variation to be necessary when compiling a book of poems, and do you feel like it’s a challenge to branch out from the more comfortable forms?

Trent: When I was writing these poems, I was really interested in OULIPO writing techniques. A couple of the constraint-based poems are in the manuscript, including “Secretary”, which I think was an attempt at a snowball, a poem that increases word count gradually (though I think I messed the word count up and just kept the mistake in the poem) and an N+7 poem (“Kairo”), where I used a dictionary of sexual terms to replace most of the nouns in the poem. I have a few poems where I would initially write a poem response to the film and then do a collage or
OULIPO exercise on the poem I’d just written. I found constraint-based writing to be incredibly freeing. I started to get excited about writing again. While I don’t think it’s necessary for everyone, it was exciting for me to try new ways of writing.

Sutherland: What did you find to be more of a battle, and what did you find to be more innate when writing the poems that make up Match Cut?

Trent: It took me a really long time to make this manuscript exactly the way I wanted it, despite having a pretty clear organizing principle (film poems) right from the beginning. I have to thank my proofreaders and editors for that, as it was really initially just a mess of poems about movies without a lot of shape. Also, because so many of the poems were made in a rush of excitement after watching a film, they were sometimes a bit raw and unformed. It took me a while to have
enough distance from the manuscript to see the themes and to see my way forward for revision.


Order your copy of Match Cut today!


letitia-trentLetitia Trent’s work includes the novels Echo Lake and Almost Dark and the poetry collection One Perfect Bird.  Her work has appeared in The Denver Quarterly, Black Warrior Review, 32 Poems, and Waxwing, among others. Letitia works in the mental health field in a small town in the Ozarks with her husband, son, and three black cats.

Pre-order your copy of Match Cut, today.





Lauren Sutherland is a recent graduate of Lee University in Cleveland, TN and proudly has a Bachelor’s degree in English with a writing emphasis and a Deaf Studies minor. Lauren enjoys reading, writing poetry, but her ultimate passion is for editing. She has been interning with Sundress since July and loves getting the opportunity to have a hand in the literary community.



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Project Bookshelf: Stephanie Marker

When I peruse the titles housed in my bookshelves, I see the rooms in which I first stacked and sorted them, hear the music that was playing the first time I cracked their spines. These books have traveled with me widely, from state to state, from life to life.

I’ve had them piled against countless walls across countless uneven, warped wooden floors. I’ve had them packed away in totes and torn Amazon boxes in the back of my car. I’ve stacked them on makeshift bookshelves, in kitchen cabinets, under bathroom sinks. As my life has taken on new and unfamiliar shapes, so, too, have my book stacks.

I have friends scattered throughout these stacks and professors that I’ve admired. I’ve edited a couple for publication. I’ve reviewed one or two for literary journals and zines.

My own work is packed away in these volumes, tiny notes scribbled in narrow margins that turned into articles and essays and degrees. Hours and hours of solitude stretched across years upon years upon years. Like most writers, I live through words. These are the books through which I’ve constructed my ever-expanding reality.


These books are heavy with history. I didn’t write, or even contribute to, the overwhelming majority of them. But there is a sense of ownership that comes with collecting literature. These are my books. Not just in physicality, but in spirit. The stories I’ve shaped in my readings of these texts are mine alone. Nobody can see what I see in these spines. This is the intimacy of accepting the life of a writer, of choosing to experience the world through the internalized processes of a dedicated reader. There’s plenty of pain in these shelves, but there’s comfort there, too. These books will continue to take on new shapes and new lives as I do. There’s breath in these shelves.







Stephanie Marker received her MFA in fiction from Bowling Green State University in 2010, and her PhD in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2017. Originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, she now resides in Tuscaloosa, Alabama with her partner and their two puppies. Her work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Third Coast, and The Collagist, among others.


Interview with Sundress Author Karen Craigo

Ahead of the release of Passing Through Humansville, her new collection of poems, Karen Craigo spoke with Sundress Editorial Intern, Nikki A. Sambitsky to discuss the collection’s running themes, subject matter, imagery, motherhood, spirituality, and how God is a compelling subject throughout the poems.

Nikki Sambitsky: There appear to be some strong themes that run through your poems in this collection. Can you speak a little bit about them and why it was important for you to address them within this particular collection? What do you want your readers to take away from reading Passing Through Humansville?

Craigo: The title attempts to convey it, but I’m writing about my personal journey through “humansville,” really—what it means for me to be human right now. And it really is that personal. These poems are about my life, simply. There is the motherhood material that readers of my first book will recognize, and I also write about my spiritual life and my work life. As I get older, I’m really beginning to internalize the fact that we’re only passing through, and that dailiness is a privilege we should embrace while we inhabit our human forms. We should pay attention to it.

Sambitsky: What formatting/layout considerations were important to you in Passing Through Humansville? Did you use formatting/layout as a tool to bring certain ideas to the forefront within the body of the work along with the subject matter of the poems?

Craigo: My most important tool is the line, which I try to wield like a switchblade. I want the last word of a line to be a sharp turn, maybe one that casts an extra layer of meaning on a sentence. The poems are mostly solid blocks—short, without breaks—and that’s because my attention is really directed to the little independent poem contained within a line.

Sambitsky: What types of imagery did you craft while writing these poems? In what ways were you able to make those images tangible and vibrant to the reader?

Craigo: As I grow in my writing, I think I’m learning to lean into imagery a little bit more—to trust the images I receive when I’m working, even if they don’t make a lot of sense. The poems I’m writing now really exhibit that trust, but these are the poems that helped me get where I am. A lot of what I’m getting at is the permeability of boundaries, especially between people who love each other, or between me and source energy.

Sambitsky: How did you use your craft in this collection to make the un-relatable relatable to readers who may not have had the same experiences, but may have gone through something that felt similar or something that actually may have been similar? I am thinking about why and how your work successfully reaches so many different audiences, which is so important in the current state of the times.

Craigo: You phrase this as a craft question, and that’s an interesting angle—how does craft help me to relate to readers with my poems? I don’t know how to answer the question, though I’m intrigued by it. I try to be very honest, though honesty isn’t exactly craft. What I think might accomplish this connection is the precision I try to use to get at the feelings behind a poem, because even if we’ve not had the same IEP meetings or firings or parent fails, we’ve all felt confusion, defensiveness, loss, and all the rest.

Sambitsky: As a poet, what sort of subjects in general do you feel strongly drawn to that you cannot help but regularly address within your poetry? Which of your poems and on what subjects/themes have you gotten the strongest reactions to from readers?

Craigo: God. That’s not an interjection, by the way; that’s my compelling subject. I was raised in conventional churches, so that’s in my background, but I completely reject old-man-in-the-sky theology, and I refuse to sing any song that forces me to say the phrase “a wretch like me.” I find that I am interested in the idea of God or source energy as a stream of everything that links us and that lasts. This theology shows up in unexpected places—actually, I see this connective force in all of my poems. This stream of everything (that’s a phrase I can’t shake, by the way) is what causes the perfect word or image to bob to the surface sometimes so a poet can haul it in. I believe some readers recognize this stream as one they are part of and that they tap into, too. It’s just how we know.

Sambitsky: How did you come up with the title for this poetry collection? Does the title have a special meaning or significance that ties into your own life experiences?

Craigo: I was actually driving one morning from Springfield to Kansas City, and the highway had these blankets of fog layered over it. It was right at the exit for Humansville, Missouri, a city of a little over 1,000 that is named for a guy named Human. (I had to look it up. What a name!) It seemed really significant that I was “passing through Humansville,” as I’m often conscious of being in transit through my human experience.

Sambitsky: Family, life experiences, and nature play an important role in these poems. Did you have a difficult time writing about subjects that can sometimes be too difficult emotionally to write about? What were some stumbling blocks for you and how did you overcome them? I’m thinking in particular of “a student meeting the eligibility criteria for emotional disturbance.” Can you speak specifically to the formatting of that poem and why it looks the way it does, since it visually stands apart from the rest of the poems in the collection?

Craigo: I really do have a hard time approaching some subjects. The poem you mention shows one way of going at such a topic diagonally, sort of; it’s a found poem, and the title and each line is taken from an individual education plan (IEP) document. When you see your dearest person discussed coldly in several pages of clinicalese, it’s hard to take in. I saw the person in the pages, but that young boy was clearly just the subject of a report. By isolating lines, I try to make a portrait of him. You really did pinpoint the hardest poem in the book for me, emotionally speaking.

Sambitsky: Can you explain the significance of each section of poems? Why and how did you end up dividing the poems into the three sections that you did?

Craigo: Well, as a practical matter, breaks are useful to readers. My dense little poems can be a lot to take in, and everyone needs a breather. These breaks aren’t strictly necessary; the book would be very similar without them. But each section has a different feeling to me. The first section is largely about motherhood; the second deals with the spirit, largely. And I think the third is about other connections—work life, larger family, friendship. If you see these groupings as a little arbitrary, maybe they are. I feel like every poem I’ve ever written can fill a single section. It’s just that books don’t work like that, at least not if you want to serve the reader.

Sambitsky: What type of work do you do outside of writing poetry? Can you please also explain the impact that that work has on your life and on your writing?   

Craigo: I do two things: I’m the editor and general manager of a small weekly newspaper in Marshfield, Missouri—The Marshfield Mail—and I also teach writing and editing online. I’m surrounded by words all day, so it keeps me limber as a writer. The newspaper work provides inspiration—even in a small town, there is so much to see and to experience—and the teaching lets me practice new ways of connecting, of getting through. I work pretty constantly, and family also requires energy. Heck, I’m even the PTA president. Sometimes I suspect that with my busyness, I’m actually trying to place a barrier between me and the page. Writing is hard, and it makes me feel so exposed. I’ve given up judging myself and my practices, though. How I live is who I am, and that’s the person who wrote these poems. No one else could have.


Order your copy of Passing Through Humansville today.


Karen Craigo is the author of two Sundress Publications titles, No More Milk (2016) and Passing Through Humansville (2018). She is also the author of Escaped Housewife Tries Hard to Blend In (forthcoming from Tolson Books, 2018), and three chapbooks. She is the editor of a weekly newspaper, The Marshfield (Missouri) Mail, and she maintains Better View of the Moon, a blog on writing and creativity. She lives in Springfield, Missouri.

Nikki Sambitsky earned her MFA in creative writing, specifically focusing on the lyric/fragment essay, from the University of Southern Maine’s Stonecoast MFA program. She holds a BA in journalism and is currently working on a collection of essays, which center on mental illness, her family, and two autistic children. Her journalism work and creative nonfiction have appeared in publications such as The Helix, Gravel Magazine, West Hartford Magazine, ​and Longridge Review, where her essay was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives with her husband, two children, and way too many animals in a peaceful, rural, area of Connecticut.



Lyric Essentials: Clodagh Beresford Dunne Reads Two Poems By Jan Beatty

i84a1802-2-webWhen Clodagh Beresford Dunne sent me these poems, I found “The Kindness” right away, but couldn’t find “T-shirts.” None of Jan Beatty’s books were at my library, and I couldn’t figure out which book the poem was in, anyway. I emailed Clodagh to ask if she could send me a picture of the poem. She replied, “I’m afraid I don’t have a book excerpt of T-shirts, and I can’t seem to find the name of the collection it comes from, either. All I know is that it was sent to me by my friend Thomas McCarthy just following my own father’s death. A poem I sent him, about finding my father’s spectacles a month after he died, prompted Thomas to send me the Beatty poem.”

Jessica Hudgins: Both of these poems begin with a physical object—the elk, the bag—that gives Jan Beatty a starting point. She describes where these things are, and where she is as she looks at them, and then why she’s looking at them. It’s a really simple, really expansive way of approaching a poem. When you write, do you begin in a similar way? How has Beatty’s work influenced yours?

Clodagh Beresford Dunne: This is a really good observation, and you’re right, it’s a wonderfully expansive way of entering a poem. I believe it stems from the brilliance and sincerity of Beatty’s grounded narrative.

This entrance mechanism is beautifully filmic if you think about it—it instantly creates a sense of place, of truth, of measured step – the essential components of the perfect poem. With Beatty’s poetry there’s always a sort of reassurance that she’s a poet who has properly experienced life—that she’s been in a familiar place, that she has taken the time and care to accurately record its dimensions, that she can constantly triangulate the what, the where, and the why if you like.

There’s a brilliance in the clarity of her imagery, in all of her work. The precision and concision of her language generates a real and physical force.

In terms of my own approach to writing, I suppose, yes, I sometimes begin in a similar way – not that it’s ever a conscious decision, of course. I think the storyteller in each of us will always take the same beaten path. Sometimes, the clarity of the narrative won’t be straightforward, to begin with, though—I’ll notice, after a few drafts perhaps, that the strongest entry point might be hidden in the middle of the poem. I have a habit of “throat clearing” when I begin to write a poem and it’s almost a given that I’ll scrap early lines or stanzas as I begin to edit. I find it really helpful to leave poems for weeks or months or even years and go back to them when I’ve forgotten what I was trying to say. Your inner ruthless critic is great at locating the cleanest line from A to B.

In terms of how Beatty’s work has influenced mine, I would say that it’s her fearlessness and the breadth of her voice that I’ve been inspired by the most. She’s given me the confidence to write with courage—to say what I feel, to avoid my self-censor, to write from my heart, and, at all times to be authentic and human. She’s taught me that to write is to be engaged in a warfare of sorts – that you must endure through the pain, and make it to the other side – that there will be momentary peace, that there will be full-on battles, and that it’s perpetual.

The poems I’ve chosen to record for you, are tender poems—two poems that mean a lot to me, but Beatty is probably best known for her kick-ass poetry (I’m thinking of her work in The Switching/Yard, in particular—poems like Dear American Poetry, Letter to a Young Rilke, Why I don’t Fuck Intellectuals, for example). I’ve been privileged enough to hear her read to packed audiences in the U.S.—to witness her, in her own inimitable, gentle way,  instill a crowd with a fire and energy like I’ve never seen before. And that’s what I love about Beatty and her work – that she addresses subjects like suicide, abortion, misogyny, kindness, love, grief all with the same precise and balanced pen. Her lyric is so wonderful, too, of course, and, for me, she symbolises the excellence that women writers should continually strive for—the courage to speak up.

The dedication in Beatty’s most recent book, Jackknife reads like this:

“For women everywhere
who are told to be nice
and to shut up.”

JH: These poems are gentle with their subjects. Especially in “The Kindness,” when the poet describes the calves, “as they bend to eat grass / look up / at the mother at the same time.” Can you point out a few other moments that you admire in these poems, and describe what you admire about them?

CBD: I admire so many moments in both poems. They’re both so intricate and work on a multitude of levels, yet both have this wonderful accessible ordinariness about them, too.

Clodagh Beresford Dunne reads “The Kindness” by Jan Beatty:


In “The Kindness,” what I might admire most is that one might think that Beatty has been gentle with her subject, yet, the reader has, in fact, unwittingly, been taken on a terrifying, physical, reverse-journey with Beatty, and, by the end of the poem, they end up being equal beneficiary of the small act of historic kindness, that Beatty has been shown.

This physical pull is created in lots of very clever moments in the poem. For example, Beatty instantly places her juxtapositions on common ground, if you like: calf and mother, city dweller and rural dweller, fragility and strength, looking up, looking down, liberty and preclusion … so, with the mere mention of football fields, we’re off! And the poem becomes a rapid and physical episode.

The language used creates moments of beautiful unification with the scene and the movement: e.g. “run into each other” “hold” “steal” “bumping” and I love the moments of false peace that emerge in the poem—e.g., the gentleness of the title and the bucolic opening scene of “The mother elk & 2 babies” that is quickly toughened up and cancelled out by “sniffing / the metal handle of the bear-proof trash bin.” and again when the poet dwells on the elk babies’ beauty, only to be jarred into the realisation that she’s still not at a safe enough distance from the elks.

There’s remarkable effectiveness in the three indented sections of the poem, too – where the kindness actually occurs—and where Beatty captures the physical pushing-in of the door, within the poem’s architecture.


“a hand on the door,
I was walking in”


“a hand on the door
from around my body”


“a hand on the door
& the bottom of me

Beatty also has brilliant pacing and distancing in this poem and she guides the slide and reversal into memory with her use of movement:

“they bend”

“I’m backing up slowly/”

“The sloping line of their small snouts & /”

“…backing /into the woods past the lodgepole pines”

“Stripped down”

“The bottom of me


I read recently that Solzhenitsyn once said that courage and kindness were the greatest virtues. It’s as if “The Kindness” is a lesson in both. It’s a very real and very beautiful poem.

In “T-Shirts” I really admire the moments where Beatty offers her reader the specifics of what she’s retained and what she’s given away. It creates a heightened sense that although the subject matter is universal, this is a unique and individual experience. We’re told exactly how and where the T-Shirts are stored in her apartment, their size, the slogans they carry, how they’re speckled, stained etc. We’re given precise colours, fabrics etc. of the items she’s given away, too.

“I keep my father’s  T-Shirts
in a brown bag in the hall
in between the bathroom and the bedroom.”

“They are big, extra large”

“One says ‘The Best Beer Drinkers Are From Whitehall’”

This sort of detail is so brave and honest and we’re given a calm and composed, yet deeply sad, explanation as to why the poet is keeping the T-Shirts, how they were a huge part of her relationship with her father,  how her engagement with them or attention to them, since he has died, is much the same as the way in which one encounters grief: a mere glance or a fixed stare, depending on the day.

What’s particularly lovely is how Beatty so simply gets a hold on one of the most difficult aspects of grief—that part of loss which is so personal to the bereaved; the texture and touch of the loved one, their smell.

“Sometimes at night when I can’t sleep,
I go to the bag and sort through them,
hold them to my face
and say hello”

Clodagh Beresford Dunne reads “T-Shirts” by Jan Beatty:


JH: “The Kindness” is such an interesting title because it at once points to the specific gesture in the poem, and elevates it by referring to it more generally as kindness. We would expect “Kindness,” or “The Act of Kindness.” Obviously, the one Beatty chose is a better title. With “T-Shirts” it’s the opposite. The poem is about grief—why title it “T-Shirts”?

CBD: It’s an indelibly perfect title, isn’t it?  The simplicity of what Beatty chooses as the tangible in order to illustrate the intangible is what makes the title so effective, I think.

T-Shirts are such universal and light items of clothing—they’re garments we’d normally wear on sunnier days, in casual, home-life, relaxed settings and this instantly suggests the familiar, something with which the reader can immediately connect and feel at ease, and the grief becomes so painfully understandable, almost unbearable, as a result. There is no longer any use for the T-Shirts here—there are no more T-Shirts to be purchased, to be worn, to be speckled with paint, “There is no place for them since he has died.”

There’s nothing extraordinary about a simple speckled, sloganed T-Shirt, yet when its owner dies it becomes an irreplaceable item connecting this daughter with her father, the only remaining evidence of the love that existed between the two, a holdable item that carries the essence of the departed, in every sense of that word.

The T-Shirts are suddenly rendered surplus, defunct, useless after death. If one thinks about the word T-Shirts, they’re so-called because of the shape they make when laid out flat—(t-shirts would be incorrect) and there’s a poignancy in that, too—a surrendering to death, and to grief, in a way.

Clodagh Beresford Dunne is an Irish poet, living in Dungarvan, Co Waterford in the southeast of the country.  Her poems have appeared or are upcoming in Irish and international publications including Poetry (Chicago), The Irish Times, Poetry Ireland Review, and The Stinging Fly. Her work has also been recorded for broadcast in Ireland and the USA. She was the recipient of the Arts Council of Ireland Emerging Writer Award, in 2016,  and her poem “Seven Sugar Cubes”  was voted Irish Poem of the Year at the 2017 Irish Book Awards. A former lawyer and award-winning public speaker, she is currently working towards publication of her first full collection.

The poet Thomas Mccarthy has said of Beresford Dunne: “She is a writer of immense seriousness and purpose. Her poems announce a new vision to us, a new vortex of energy that localises human experience and domesticates genius.”

Further Reading: 

Clodagh Beresford Dunne’s website
Clodagh Beresford Dunne at Poetry Ireland
Clodagh Beresford Dunne at the Irish Times

Jan Beatty is an American poet. Her books include The Switching/Yard (2013), Red Sugar (2008), Boneshaker (2002), and Mad River (1995), published by University of Pittsburgh Press. She is a recipient of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, the Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, and the Creative Achievement Award in Literature. She directs the creative writing program at Carlow University and lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Further Reading: 

Jan Beatty on WQED’s “Voice of the Arts” series
Jan Beatty reads “The Kindness” at Split This Rock Poetry Festival
Jan Beatty in conversation at Cold Mountain Review
Purchase Jan Beatty’s Jackknife 

Jessica Hudgins is a writer and teacher currently living in Georgia.

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Sundress Academy for the Arts Now Accepting Summer Residency Applications for Writers Coop

Sundress Academy for the Arts Now Accepting
Summer Residency Applications for Writers Coop


The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is now accepting applications for short-term writers residencies during the summer residency period for our Writers Coop. These residencies are designed to give writers and artists time and space to complete their creative projects in a quiet and productive environment.

Open weeks for the spring dates include May 27 – August 11. Residency weeks run from Monday-Sunday.

SAFTA is located on a working farm on a 45-acre wooded plot in a Tennessee “holler” perfect for hiking, camping, and nature walks. Located less than a half-hour from downtown Knoxville, an exciting and creative city of 200,00 in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, SAFTA is an ideal location for those looking for a rural get-away with access to urban amenities.

The SAFTA Writers Coop is a 10×10′ dry cabin approximately one-fourth of a mile from the SAFTA farmhouse. This tiny house is furnished with a twin bed, a desk, a wood-burning stove, a deck that looks over the pasture and pond, as well as a personal detached outhouse. While the cabin has neither electricity nor running water, residents will have full access to the amenities at farmhouse—which also has Wifi, printing capabilities, and a fully stocked kitchen—as well as solitude from other residents to write in the rolling hills of East Tennessee.

Each residency costs $150/week and includes your own private dry cabin as well as 24-hour access to the farmhouse amenities.

All other applications for this residency opportunity are free and rolling. Apply today to get preferred dates!

SAFTA is an artists’ residency on a 45-acre farm in Knoxville, Tennessee, that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers of all genres, visual artists, and more. All are guided by experienced, professional instructors from a variety of creative disciplines who are dedicated to cultivating the arts in East Tennessee.


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