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Poetry Prompts to Inspire New Blooms — For National Poetry Month

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Poetry Prompts to Inspire New Blooms for National Poetry Month

T.S. Eliot may have famously christened April “the cruelest month,” but here at Sundress, we tend to associate April with the celebration of poems and the talented poets who give them life. In honor of the 23rd year of National Poetry Month, we’ve gathered up an assortment of prompts that introduce compelling topics, questions, and frameworks intended to catalyze the growth of nascent poems. We present these prompts — each written by a Sundress author, poet, or staff member — with the hope that instead of “breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land,” the month of April inspires fresh work to emerge from all of that creative soil gone fallow in the winter.

Amy Watkins

– “All the poems in my chapbook Lucky use questions from the Facebook ‘Did You Know’ widget as prompts. They’re ‘getting to know you’ type questions like ‘What’s some advice your dad gave you?’ or ‘If you were a musical instrument, what would you be?’ ”

– “I love the one where you write a persona poem based on a Weekly World News headline.”

Donna Vorreyer

– “Choose a book you love. Choose a letter or vowel sound and make a word bank of words starting with/using that sound. (At least 12 words). Then draft, forcing [yourself] to use those words in the order you wrote them down.”

Sarah Marcus Donnelly

– “A poem/letter to your younger self.”

Ashley Elizabeth Evans

– “A burn poem, a poem that no one will read but you. Burn/destroy after writing.”

– “Mother knows…”

– “Where we hide our wild things”

– “Write a letter to the broken parts of yourself.”

Katie Bell

– “Flip to page 58 in the book closest to you. The fourth line down must open/close your piece.”

Emily Capettini

– “Open your text messages and pick the most recent one that you also feel comfortable sharing, including emojis, GIFs, and other images. This is the first line of your poem.”

Sarah A. Chavez

– “Take two lines, the third line from the last song you listened to & the third from the last poem. Use those as the repeating lines in a villanelle.”

– “[I] also love doing literary Mad Libs. I most often do this as group work. Take 2 lines from famous poems, the group picks the word then needs to make a group poem, one line used as the title & the other either the first or last line of the poem.”

 

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Vintage Sundress with Danny M. Hoey, Jr.

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Vintage Sundress is back with another installment, this time featuring Sundress author Danny M. Hoey, Jr.

Danny wrote his debut novel, The Butterfly Lady, in 2013, and he took some time to speak with intern Lauren Sutherland to touch base on life since his first publication and take an honest look at the struggles of publishing and the literary community.butterfly lady

Sutherland: What has changed for you since The Butterfly Lady was published?

Hoey: Since The Butterfly Lady was published, honestly, I have become a little more anxious. Not because I can’t write or produce, but because I am afraid that what I write next won’t be good enough. I have been invited to a lot of readings/panels; people have taught my book, and I have gotten great feedback about the work. And, every time, the question comes up, “When is the next book?” So, that makes me anxious and nervous and fearful that I can’t write a good enough book again.

Sutherland: Has the publishing of The Butterfly Lady altered your perspective on the literary community?

Hoey: Honestly, I thought more folks in the literary community would be more supportive. I support other artists by reading their books and telling folks publicly that I read their books. I have folks who read my book and tell me in private that they loved it but never say it publicly. That bothers me, and I hate that I feel bad about that.

Sutherland:  Was your rise to publication smooth or a struggle? What obstacles did you face?

Hoey: It was rough—I got a lot of rejections that were “positive” with remarks like, “I like the book, but it’s not for us.”  Also, because of the subject matter, I was fearful of folks not accepting the work. But once it was accepted, things moved smoothly, and the book was received very well. And, I am thankful for that.

Sutherland: What is something worth noting about being published that you would want unpublished writers to know?

Hoey: You must keep going—keep producing, writing, creating—even when the book is out. Because the work must continue.

Sutherland: Have you published other full-length works or chapbooks since being published at Sundress?

Hoey: I have not.  I have had some stories published as well as some academic articles. Also, my book was a feature at a Writing Festival at Broward College in South Florida—all students in the ENC 1101 courses read my book and did various projects/research/responses over the work.

Sutherland: What are you working on now?

Hoey: I have a complete draft of my second novel, and I am in the process of polishing it. I am kind of superstitious, so I don’t want to divulge too much information, but it is about a soul singer and race riots.

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Dr. Danny M. Hoey, Jr., an Associate Professor of English, joined Indian River State College in 2011 as an Assistant Professor of English. He most recently served as the Administrative Director of Minority Affairs and English Department Chair in addition to his professorship. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy degree and a Master of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing, along with a Master of Arts degree in Africana Studies and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. He actively participates in the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, the Modern Language Association, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. His stories have appeared in WarpLand, Women in REDzine, Mandala Journal, Connotation Press, African Voices Magazine, SnReview, The Writer’s Bloc, and The Hampton University First-Year Writing Textbook. His pedagogical essay, “Dutchman, The Black body, and The Law,” is forthcoming from the Modern Language Association’s Series Approaches to Teaching Amiri Baraka’s Dutchman. The Butterfly Lady, his first novel, won the ForeWord Firsts’ Winter 2013 debut fiction award and the Bronze Award in the IndiFab Book of the Year Award. He is currently at work on his second novel.

Some of Hoey’s work:

“The Watermelon Eating Contest” on Mandala Journal‘s website

“What Do We Do?” on SnReview‘s website

The Butterfly Lady from the Sundress store online

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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 and 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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Sundress Roundtable on Plagiarism in “After” Poems: Part 3

In this 3-part series, E. Kristin Anderson has convened a diverse group to discuss the challenges of “after” poems in the poetry community. This roundtable is in response to the plagiarism discussion of 2018 in which several poets found their lines directly used in other works by a particular poet. For details, including E. Kristin Anderson’s opening statement, please see the first in the series. The second in the series is here. What follows is part 3, the final in this series.

Participants:

  • E. Kristin Anderson
  • Chen Chen
  • Wanda Deglane
  • Teo Mungaray
  • Jeanne Obbard

EKA: Do you think epigraphs play into this at all? What’s the best way to use an epigraph?

TM: I think I’ve said a lot about epigraphs already, haha.

JO: I think epigraphs are very straightforward and clear. I like seeing what the poet was reading, what they were reacting to, what they were pinging off of, or what made them mad. It gives me a little window into the preoccupations of the mind that wrote the poem and thus a better entré into what the poem that follows is trying to do. From an ethical standpoint, I like that an epigraph is directly quoted.

I think as long as you’ve got two sets of quotes and the writer’s name attached, you’re above-board. Now from another point of view, if you are quoting a very famous or successful poet, you might be putting your own work in a bit of a shadow by using an epigraph, but that’s really another topic.

CC: Epigraphs can be gorgeous. Startling. Or, unnecessary. Again, I have to think about the conversation generated—the relationship between the quotation and my work.

By the way, I have a whole collection of potential epigraphs. For instance, these lines from Federico García Lorca: “Like a snake, my heart has shed its skin. / I hold it here in my hand, / full of honey and wounds.” And these lines from Louise Glück: “It was a time / governed by contradictions, as in / I felt nothing and / I was afraid.”

One small, pesky problem: the poems to which these epigraphs belong have yet to be written. You know, by me.

EKA: One of the major issues with the recent plagiarism we’ve seen in poetry is that many of the poems that this author lifted lines from lead to not just stealing words but also appropriation of culture and trauma. Do you think this is something that poets need to think about even when writing otherwise ethical response poems?

TM: It depends. If the poem is truly a response poem, then inherently it is empathizing with the original poem and entering into that dialogue.

I think a poem by someone who’s never experienced the trauma the original poem is expressing, and [that] isn’t doing the work to unpack that lack of experience, is going to write a disingenuous, superficially pitying poem. If I wrote a poem in response to someone’s child dying (something I’ve never experienced), I’d have to do a lot to justify why I’m responding, right? I probably wouldn’t write that poem anyway—what would I have to say?

WD: I think that, had this been an appropriately written and credited response poem, it wouldn’t have nearly been such an egregious appropriation.

But, like Teo mentioned, I would feel nervous about writing in response to something I’d never experienced. Perhaps a line or image from the original text would inspire me, but to try and put myself in conversation with trauma I’ve never faced? Oof. It might be helpful to try and really understand who the original poet is, and what they’re trying to say.

JO: I think this is just about boundaries, right? And our boundaries as artists are of necessity somewhat porous.

But the ethical thing to do with other people’s trauma or experience is just to listen, not to attempt to co-opt it. This is true for poetry; also for life in general. There are poets I read whose experience and language are very different from mine, for instance, who are people of color or LGBTQ or don’t have the same set of privileges I have.

If we are looking at the reading of poetry as a conversation or a social transaction, then what I get from reading them is that their stories inform my view of the world, that their language sinks in and changes my brain a little. That’s what I get out of the interaction—that I am transformed. It’s not my job to transform their experience.

CC: I think poems come from deep vulnerability … and reach toward readers’ deep vulnerabilities. So it seems to me that there is, with every poem, this relationship or a relationality between self and other. And how can I write anything true if I’m only drawing from someone else’s vulnerability and experience—without risking anything from myself?

I’ve been working on poems in response to the Pulse nightclub shooting back in 2016. I’ve been asking myself: what is at stake here, for me? What is my relationship, as a queer Asian American living in Lubbock (and then in Rochester and the Boston area) to the gunned down queer people in Orlando, many of them Latinx? I can’t write these poems as though I am them, or their families, their beloveds. I’m not. In writing these poems, I have to be clear about my subject position and what my relationship is to these specific folks and this specific violence.

EKA: How can editors do better at spotting plagiarism, especially when it comes to response poems?

JO: I hate to think this comes down on editors, who already are mostly doing what they do for no money, and for the love of the art form, and often to the exclusion of their own work. But I do think, as Rachel [McKibbens] recently tweeted, that any time a poem gets submitted with an “After” notation, the journal should look at the original artwork.

TM: I agree with Jeanne. I think it’s important for a journal to investigate and respond ASAP if any concerns are raised, but there’s a certain amount of trust between the editor and the author that what they’re submitting isn’t a cheap rip-off. If I can’t trust a submitter to submit their own authentic work, then my job as an editor becomes almost impossible.

WD: I’ve started my own tiny journal the same week as this plagiarism incident, so it’s definitely made me wary. I’ve put in my own guidelines that anyone who submits a piece drawing inspiration from another should be prepared to show me the original material, which I think is pretty fair.

On the other hand, I agree with Teo and Jeanne. It’s terrible that editors would have to be responsible for catching someone else’s misdeeds, especially since, before all this happened, most editors seemed to trust that the work they receive is original. It’d be a whole lot of added work if every editor had to check if each piece submitted to them was plagiarized. Like Teo said, it’d basically be impossible.

CC: Yes, as others have said, journals need to do their own homework. It is part of the job of editors to spot plagiarism, before publishing. If it comes out after that plagiarism has occurred, then editors need to respond quickly—apologize (without excuses) publicly, as well as privately, (to the author and/or to the publisher, if possible) and remove the piece(s).

With print editions, a note of apology could be inserted. At the very least, editors should acknowledge what has happened across the journal’s social media platforms.

EKA: To wrap this up, what are some of your favorite response poems that you’ve written? Drop a link or two here:

TM: I don’t really have any out there, but I have a few drafts I’m working on.

JO: I usually write from a very internal motivation. But I wrote an entire poem in “response” to a phrase that was floating around the cultural conversation about gun control. There was (and is) this paranoia being voiced by conservatives, that liberals are “coming for your guns.” It’s such a dumb idea, but the phrase has a great sort of shorthand syntax. I wrote the whole poem out of both embracing and refuting that phrase. And the second layer—I was inspired by the incredible poem by Elisa Chavez, “Revenge.” I wasn’t trying to respond specifically to her poem (that’s impossible; it says everything), but her poem’s angry, confrontational, funny voice shook up my brain when I read it.

http://www.glass-poetry.com/poets-resist/obbard-guns.html

WD: I recently wrote a poem in response to a phrase I’ve seen a lot of people tweet, “a group of men is called a threat.” I think originally it was supposed to be a kind of dark joke, like “a group of whales is called a ____, and a group of men is called a threat!” But it seriously spoke to me and the fact that I’ve been raised to constantly be on my guard and steer clear of men, and so have many other women I know.

https://rosequartzmagazine.wixsite.com/magazine/blog-1/3-poems-by-wanda-deglane

CC: “The School of Joy / Letter to Michelle Lin,” which borrows a phrase from Pablo Neruda:

https://westbranch.blogs.bucknell.edu/chen-chen/10/2018/

“I am reminded via email to resubmit my preferences for the schedule,” which responds to “The Singers,” a story by Ivan Turgenev (in particular his haunting ending).

https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/i-am-reminded-email-resubmit-my-preferences-schedule

An excerpt from “A Small Book of Questions,” a longer, essayistic piece which uses Bhanu Kapil’s twelve questions from her book The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers as an organizing device.

https://www.natbrut.com/chen-chen

EKA: I’d like to share this selection of poems I’ve been working on in response to episodes of The X-Files that were published at Yes, Poetry at the end of last year since I referenced them in some of the discussion.

For me, these are a way for me to engage with and access contemporary social issues and my own trauma while responding to and engaging with an iconic TV series.

http://www.yespoetry.com/news/e-kristin-anderson

 


EKAauthorphoto2018-3.jpgE. Kristin Anderson is a poet, Starbucks connoisseur, and glitter enthusiast living in Austin, Texas. She is the editor of Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture and Hysteria: Writing the female body (forthcoming). Kristin’s poetry has been published worldwide in many magazines and she is the author of nine chapbooks of poetry including Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night, 17 seventeen XVII and Behind, All You’ve Got (forthcoming). Kristin is an assistant poetry editor at The Boiler and an editorial assistant at Sugared Water. Once upon a time she worked nights at The New Yorker.

 

Teo HeadshotTeo Mungaray is a queer, chronically ill, latinx poet. He holds an MFA from Pacific University of Oregon and is pursuing his doctorate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is a co-founder and co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph. His poems have recently appeared in or are forthcoming from Sycamore Review, Five:2:One Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. He has a cat named Lysistrata.

 

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWanda Deglane is a Capricorn from Arizona. She is the daughter of Peruvian immigrants and attends Arizona State University. Her poetry has been published in Rust + Moth, Glass Poetry, L’Ephemere Review, Former Cactus, and elsewhere. Wanda is the author of Rainlily (2018) and Lady Saturn (Rhythm & Bones, 2019).

 

Jeanne Obbard_author photo_colorJeanne Obbard received her bachelor’s degree in feminist and gender studies from Bryn Mawr College, and works in clinical trial management. A 2001 Leeway Seedling Award recipient, her poetry has appeared in Barrow Street, Cider Press Review, IthacaLit, and The Moth, and has been nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart awards. She is a poetry reader for Drunk Monkeys, and can be found on the web at jeanneobbard.com.

 

Chen+Chen+by+Jess+Chen+copyChen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, the GLCA New Writers Award, the Texas Book Award for Poetry, and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. Bloodaxe Editions will be publishing a UK Edition in June. Chen’s work appears in many publications, including The Best American Poetry, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best of the Net, and Bettering American Poetry. He holds an MFA from Syracuse University and a PhD from Texas Tech University. He co-edits Underblong and teaches at Brandeis University as the Jacob Ziskind Poet-in-Residence.

Sundress Roundtable on Plagiarism in “After” Poems: Part 2

In this 3-part series, E. Kristin Anderson has convened a diverse group to discuss the challenges of “after” poems in the poetry community. This roundtable is in response to the plagiarism discussion of 2018 in which several poets found their lines directly used in other works by a particular poet. For details, including E. Kristin Anderson’s opening statement, please see the first in the series. What follows is part 2 in this series.

Participants:

  • E. Kristin Anderson
  • Chen Chen
  • Wanda Deglane
  • Teo Mungaray
  • Jeanne Obbard

EKA: I want to talk for a minute about found poetry, which comes up every time the poetry community talks about plagiarism. I work a lot in found poetry and know that creating work in your own voice out of another author’s work is hard, but possible. How is this type of work different from the plagiarized “after” poems we’ve seen in recent weeks? Or is there a similarity?

JO: For me, the similarity is that when I see a found poem, I want to get a look at the “raw material.” I’m just very curious about the process used, and I can’t look at the poem on its own without wanting to understand the origins and technique. Maybe my curiosity has always been a little bit about mistrust of found forms. I think my mistrust is unearned and maybe a bit unfair. Certainly, I’ve read books of found poems and individual found poems, and the form has nothing to do with the “MadLibs” approach that happened in a couple of cases recently.

TM: I work in erasure/found poetry myself, though it’s not my main form of writing. I know I’m repeating myself by saying that the key is transformation, but that really is the crux of it all, isn’t it?

You [EKA] wrote a Manifesto on found poetry for my magazine, Cotton Xenomorph, in which you said, “You have to intervene on and diverge from the source.” That’s transformation right there. It’s possible to write erasure poetry that, essentially, replicates the source in a shorter form. That’s not transformation, and I’d argue that [that] person made a reader’s digest version of the source rather than making an authentic, authoritatively new work.

CC: I love the verb “intervene” above—in Teo’s response, which quotes from Emily’s manifesto. Yes, how does your work intervene? A crucial question. I think manifestos can be so useful here: to write out as clearly and firmly as one can what one’s intentions are with found poems, erasures, any work that heavily relies on source material.

Too often we do not take enough care, enough time, with this step of the process: contemplating aims. True, fixed intentions often get in the way of fresh discovery, especially in earlier, generative phases of writing. But we can keep returning to some kind of outline of intentions, of aesthetics as well as ethics. Even just a couple sentences stating where you are and where you’d like to go (however much you end up detouring) can be helpful.

Of course, there are limits and pitfalls galore to good intentions. So I also recommend calling on a reader or two, and maybe someone who isn’t a close friend. Someone who won’t just tell you, “Yep, this project is great. Full steam ahead!” Often, what we need is to hear someone else pose those important questions—the questions we know, or should know, need to be posed—back to us. Not just, “Is this project okay to do?” but also and really, “What parts of this project work best?” and, “How does this work use erasure effectively? How could it do that better?”

EKA: What are some rules you keep in mind when you do quote or reference another text in a poem? How does fair use work for you?

TM: I ask myself first why I need to reference anything. Can I achieve the end-product without using anyone else’s words? That’s a difficult question to ask at the outset of writing, especially since it falls into the neoliberal trap of writing to a purpose or for a disseminable product. That said, it can be a good guiding question in the editing process. I think it’s fair to do whatever in your journal or draft doc, but when editing, revising and thinking about publication, it’s important to critically self-examine the purpose of the reference.

Typically I cite everything that contributes a large portion of the text, such as the title and sections I and III of this poem. I have an upcoming poem that I call a “dialogued cento,” in which I intersperse my own writing between borrowed text. The borrowed text is actually March 2018 news headlines in which the words “Boy Found Dead” appear. I cite that simply as March 2018 headlines. If I wanted to quote someone (and I found it essential to the meaning or reading of the poem) and citing within a text was too cumbersome, I’d probably make it an epigraph with attribution.

JO: Well now I’m questioning my use of “wine-dark streets”! ARGH. I rarely use epigraphs, but I don’t have any issue with them. When I write, the body of the poem is my language—my attempt to interpret the world—but I do often write in response to Popular Science type articles. Sometimes it takes me as long to write the explanatory reference at the bottom as it takes to write the poem; it’s that important to represent the science clearly.

CC: I ask the meta-questions, the craft questions, and the ethical questions. Most importantly, as Teo says, “Why?” Why do I need someone else’s language or form or approach? What is the conversation I’m trying to have here? And yes, I do my best to cite everything, including paraphrases. Often, rather than use epigraphs or footnotes or endnotes, I try to bring those citations into the poem itself. I’m not sure why more folks don’t do this—just say in the poem itself whom and what you’ve been reading! Like, “Today Mary Ruefle and Marilyn Chin sat with me by the window.” Doesn’t that sound like a fabulous day?

EKA: In some of my response poems, I’ll try to use a word or short phrase that appears frequently or prominently in the original text and put it into my poem in a completely different context. I think because a lot of my response poems are pop culture related, these are more like “Easter eggs,” pointing readers to a specific song or episode that will spark something for fans of the original material but that won’t alienate a reader who doesn’t know the reference.

I try to make sure these phrases are not particularly unique when I’m using this method. I want them to be common enough phrases or sayings that borrowing them isn’t something I would need to cite. Like in an X-Files poem, the phrase “I want to believe” is an obvious nod to the series but the context that I give the phrase in my poem should be what makes it interesting or unique.

EKA: Often in workshops, students are encouraged to try to imitate the voice or style of another writer. How do we take this technique out of the workshop so that we are paying homage or critiquing the source author rather than plagiarizing?

JO: I’m just grateful nobody ever asked me to do this! I have minimal experience being taught poetry inside academia, and I suspect I would have been an oppositional a-hole about an assignment like that.

TM: I mean, I have a fundamental issue with the standard creative writing pedagogy which has resulted in this cycle of imitation, workshop, and formal exercise, but I think that’s a very different issue.

I think imitation is fine in the sense that it’s an exercise. It’s trying on someone else’s shoes. I’ve never heard of an imitation where you borrow someone’s words, per se. The first imitation I was asked to do in undergrad was to replicate the syntax of a poet I admired. I believe I used Sylvia Plath’s “Tulips” as a syntactic skeleton for my writing. My work was nowhere near what Plath was writing about, and I think you’d be hard-pressed to say it was plagiarism. Similarly, I’ve seen imitation exercises in which students write a poem of all questions à la Carl Phillips’ “As from a Quiver of Arrows.” These imitations borrow a sort of framework or mindset but are totally devoid of the original’s context, meaning, or words.

If an imitation borrowed so much from a poet that it became a question of originality, I think the exercise failed, and the student misunderstands the very intention of imitation exercises.

WD: I think this exercise sounds a little iffy to me. Writers should be taught to cultivate their own styles, develop their own voices. Perhaps it would be better to encourage students to try on the particular form the original writer is working with.

JO: I’m with Wanda in that this type of exercise makes me a bit uncomfortable. I’d ask, are there other exercises that could achieve the same ends of understanding a poet’s technique?

Granted, I’m not in academia and haven’t been in twenty years. I feel, though, that haste is almost always the enemy of quality work. I’ve found that I learn slowly, over years, by close reading and by repeated encounters with a poet’s work. Poets in academia are put in the position of reading a poem and needing to immediately react to it, to parse it, to uncover its techniques; this is an artificial, kind of antisocial way to interact with art.

Of course, people need to get their degrees and move on, so perhaps it’s a necessary sacrifice. But I wonder if an overall atmosphere of haste has contributed to some of the recent plagiarism issues we’ve seen.

CC: I think imitation can lead to wonderful, ecstatically original new poems. The “original” is often something that has been steeped in the old, the very old, and then breaks off or leaps into—what? We don’t have the descriptors for it quite yet. Innovation is a dialogue with tradition, many various traditions, perhaps. A dialogue of appreciation. Or, an argument. Or, both appreciation and argument. Frequently both, I think.

It seems to me a myth that imitation is an amateur’s game and more experienced writers stop imitating altogether. My sense, based on my experiences and those of folks I’ve read and/or spoken to, is that we can’t help but be influenced 24-7 by whatever we take in, pay attention to. So we may be imitating without even consciously, deliberately doing so. It’s in revision that we need to reflect on how much we’re imitating and why.

I worry, though, about a sort of fetish for originality. I’ve encountered folks who don’t read widely because they believe other texts will somehow disturb or take away from their particular voice/vision. Maybe when we’re obsessively working on a piece, sure, we need to hone our focus. But there’s usually all this time in between those feverish moments of making. And besides, I think interrupting ourselves is great, sometimes very necessary—reading something radically different and maybe attempting to imitate that text, in order to rupture, upend the trajectory of our own writing.

EKA: Sometimes I think of writing “after” another work as ekphrasis—and perhaps this is just that in my own practices I’m often writing after pop culture works like songs or TV shows. Do you think that response poems are a form of ekphrasis?

TM: No. I regard ekphrasis as writing after another medium. So as you write after TV shows or songs, you’re engaging a different medium. For me, an “after” poem enters into dialogue with the original and so never crosses that mediary boundary.

JO: I have to agree that I don’t think “after” poems qualify as ekphrasis. I’ve written a lot of ekphrastic poems after visual art. In fact, I think painting may be the art form most similar to poetry in some ways; paintings are out-of-time; they happen all at once, the way a poem does. They can be logicless and strange; they reward re-seeing; they have layers of meaning. And of course, if you respond to visual art, that certainly avoids any sticky issues with language or accidentally repeating someone else’s voice, unless you’re transcribing Cy Twombly or something. Please don’t plagiarize Cy Twombly, hahaha. :p

CC: I’m so intrigued by this idea of “after” as ekphrasis. Sometimes, another poet’s work and vision are so far from my own—I could see calling a borrowing from them a kind of ekphrasis. As though they are working in another medium. Maybe I would feel this way with borrowing from a poem not written in English, and leaving those words untranslated in my own poem (written in English or written in a hybrid of English and not English … the same not English as the borrowed text—for me this would be French or Mandarin). I’d love to try this!


EKAauthorphoto2018-3.jpgE. Kristin Anderson is a poet, Starbucks connoisseur, and glitter enthusiast living in Austin, Texas. She is the editor of Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture and Hysteria: Writing the female body (forthcoming). Kristin’s poetry has been published worldwide in many magazines and she is the author of nine chapbooks of poetry including Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night, 17 seventeen XVII and Behind, All You’ve Got (forthcoming). Kristin is an assistant poetry editor at The Boiler and an editorial assistant at Sugared Water. Once upon a time she worked nights at The New Yorker.

 

Teo HeadshotTeo Mungaray is a queer, chronically ill, latinx poet. He holds an MFA from Pacific University of Oregon and is pursuing his doctorate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is a co-founder and co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph. His poems have recently appeared in or are forthcoming from Sycamore Review, Five:2:One Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. He has a cat named Lysistrata.

 

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWanda Deglane is a Capricorn from Arizona. She is the daughter of Peruvian immigrants and attends Arizona State University. Her poetry has been published in Rust + Moth, Glass Poetry, L’Ephemere Review, Former Cactus, and elsewhere. Wanda is the author of Rainlily (2018) and Lady Saturn (Rhythm & Bones, 2019).

 

Jeanne Obbard_author photo_colorJeanne Obbard received her bachelor’s degree in feminist and gender studies from Bryn Mawr College, and works in clinical trial management. A 2001 Leeway Seedling Award recipient, her poetry has appeared in Barrow Street, Cider Press Review, IthacaLit, and The Moth, and has been nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart awards. She is a poetry reader for Drunk Monkeys, and can be found on the web at jeanneobbard.com.

 

Chen+Chen+by+Jess+Chen+copyChen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, the GLCA New Writers Award, the Texas Book Award for Poetry, and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. Bloodaxe Editions will be publishing a UK Edition in June. Chen’s work appears in many publications, including The Best American Poetry, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best of the Net, and Bettering American Poetry. He holds an MFA from Syracuse University and a PhD from Texas Tech University. He co-edits Underblong and teaches at Brandeis University as the Jacob Ziskind Poet-in-Residence.

Sundress Roundtable on Plagiarism in “After” Poems: Part 1

An opening statement by roundtable moderator, E. Kristin Anderson: Last year, shortly before Christmas, a plagiarism scandal hit the small press poetry community hard when Rachel McKibbens, author of several collections and chapbooks including blud (Copper Canyon 2018) revealed on Twitter that a poem that had directly lifted lines of hers from blud had been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. It subsequently came to light that McKibbens was not the only victim of this person’s plagiarism.

Within hours, four more poets came forward—including roundtable participant Wanda Deglane—identifying their own work in poems by the plagiarist. Within days, the number of poets who had been plagiarized by the same writer as McKibbens—mostly women and people of color, often writing work about their own traumas—had entered into the double digits.

The story was picked up by media outlets outside the literary community perhaps in part because of the plagiarist’s tattoo of “her own words.” Words that were—yes—plagiarized. Or perhaps because everyone loves blood in the water.

But as a result of this discourse, a lot of us were discussing one thing many of the plagiarized poems both published (and in the aftermath, unpublished) in online lit mags had in common—they were “after” poems.

“After” poems are written in response to another’s work, but in this particular case with this particular writer, “after” was used not only to inspire but to steal, which has lead to many discussions on the practice of “after” and other response poems and what ethical boundaries we need to have in place.

While there have been many valuable conversations on social media, I wanted to gather a handful of poets from across the poetry-verse who are diverse culturally and academically and generationally, and each coming from different places in their careers to see what we think an “after” poem is, and to consider where we go from here.

I think we found some wonderful answers. I think we also found some intriguing questions. I hope this is helpful, not only for folks in their creative process but in terms of offering a bit of healing as we move forward as a community.

Roundtable Participants:

  • E. Kristin Anderson
  • Chen Chen
  • Wanda Deglane
  • Teo Mungaray
  • Jeanne Obbard

EKA: How would you define a response poem, written “after” another author or artist?

JO: There was this book I read about 20 years ago (whose author and title I can’t recall, ironically) whose thesis was that all writing is in response to reading. This was an idea that was new to me at the time, and which I still have to remind myself of. But I think it’s true; all writing is in response to other writing, whether that response is immediate or much delayed. I think an “after” poem is one that makes that act of response much more particular and explicit.

TM: You know, responding to a poem is a very specific, intentional act that brings into stark relief the sourced material. Using a line of a song or a poem or a what-have-you as a title, employing an epigraph, dedicating a poem, whatever, et cetera, immediately recalls that foregrounding material.

To do so effectively, as Kwame Dawes once told me (and I’m paraphrasing), means you’ve got to be on equal terms with your art entering in conversation with that original work. An “after” poem is just that: a conversation. “After” poems don’t pull in material unless it’s dialogue, is quoted/sourced. There can (maybe should) be echoes, but echoes, after all, are not replications with substitutions. They are distortions that create a layered heteroglossia. That is, they add a voice to the mix, they don’t parrot.

WD: Okay, I’ll say this right off the bat: I’m probably the least experienced person here. Pretty much all I’ve learned about poetry has been in the last year or so from reading and writing and learning from the people around me. So … here goes!

I don’t think anybody ever explicitly told me what a response poem was, but what I gathered was, that, well, it’s a poem written in response to another! Meaning some part of the original poem inspired you to write your own, be it a title or a line or what have you. Like Teo said, it’s not a replication, it’s you saying, “This poem has inspired me. Here’s how I’ve taken that inspiration and created something my own, in my own voice.”

CC: There are so many different, wonderful kinds of “after” poems. I’ll just comment briefly on two kinds that come to mind—1) borrowing form and 2) borrowing language. Of course, these two kinds of “after” poems can overlap. And it seems that when they do overlap, there is the danger of borrowing too much.

The first category, borrowing form, is perhaps more common, and I’m thinking of “form” very broadly. So the resulting poem may not look like its inspiration visually, on the page, but there is still a structure or even a tone that is being echoed. This type of borrowing is not always acknowledged—every poet, after all, inhabits formal structures that precede them, and to what extent is each of us aware of these influences? We are dreaming alongside so many dreamers and dreams. That said, I believe that poets should do the homework, the research; if you suspect that your dream follows too closely in the footsteps of another’s, follow that hunch and reread that earlier work. Check. I think there’s some internal compass that kicks or ought to kick in. Give credit.

As for borrowing language, this type of “after” poem tends to be an homage to an older work (or sometimes a contemporary one), though it can also be an argument with that work. To echo what others have said in this roundtable: it is a conversation, loving or otherwise. In saying “after,” there is a response, an engagement with “before” or “beside.” Again I suggest doing your research and checking. And consider how these words are residing with(in) yours. Is it a certain type of phrasing, type of syntax you’re bringing in? Or is it entire lines? Why? To what degree have you transformed that borrowed language by putting it into a new context? Sometimes, borrowing is a helpful step in a process of imitation—it gets us to a new draft of a poem. But then perhaps we need to take another step: shedding that outer, borrowed layer of language and style, to get closer to our own skin, or closer to the thing we are trying to touch.

EKA: Recently in the poetry community, we’ve seen an author use “after” to plagiarize work of other poets, lifting lines and using a sort of “mad libs” formula in what they called their own work. But there are plenty of successful response poems out there. What are some that you have seen, and how do you think they are successful?

JO: I’ll probably get booed for using this, but there’s a Billy Collins poem I go back to frequently – “Litany.” Collins writes a poem in response to these lines by Jacques Crickillon, “You are the bread and the knife, / The crystal goblet and the wine.” He does something very funny and somehow touching in the poem, but I think the main thing I’d say is that I always trusted that the lines Collins writes—after quoting Crickillon—are his lines, and that the only thing he’s imitating is the general structure of “you are the [insert inanimate object here].” This is, to my mind, above-board and obvious. I’ve trusted Collins’ poem for 16 years. I’m now wondering—should I have trusted it? And how did Jacques Crickillon feel about it?

TM: One of the things that comes to mind right away are epigraphs. Poets love epigraphs, and of course it’s always attributed with at least the author’s name, but when those epigraphs are deployed, are we not immediately responding to the quote? I think that’s a successful form of response. There’s books like Chase Berggrun’s R E D, which is a negotiation and erasure of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Berggrun’s poems have no added text, and I believe, only some slightly altered punctuation. The order of words doesn’t change throughout. Berggrun has written, in effect, a whole book “after” Stoker. The key difference is transformation.

Once upon a time, I studied fanfiction and fan communities. In those spaces, fanworks were considered “transformative works,” which means that though some form of content or framework was derived from original material, in its reproduction it was transformed. E.g., the Twilight movies as source material for a fanfic called “Master of the Universe,” which in turn would go on to become Fifty Shades of Grey, is considered transformed. Part of this discourse involves “archontic” literature” or literature from an archive. Everything is part of a larger archive, so Romeo and Juliet is in the archive of Pyramus and Thisbe and West Side Story belongs to the Romeo and Juliet archive. Fan Scholar Abigail Derecho borrows the term “archontic” to describe fan literature from Derrida who wrote, “By incorporating the knowledge deployed in reference to it, the archive augments itself, engrosses itself, it gains in auctoritas. But in the same stroke, it loses the absolute and metatextual authority it might claim to have. One will never be able to objectivize it with no remainder. The archivist produces more archive, and that is why the archive is never closed. It opens out of the future.”

I’m digressing a bit, but what I mean to say is that in something like fanfiction, which lifts characters, or erasure poems, which lifts text, the key point is dialogue and transformation. The aforementioned poet who lifted lines and substituted words did neither. Transformation is not merely substituting “topography” for the original “landscape” (a near synonym), nor altering the line breaks within the poem. Duplication of connotation or sentiment is not creating dialogue, but rather co-opting that expression for one’s own use.

WD: The first response poem I ever came across was Ocean Vuong’s “Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong.” He wrote that it is both after Roger Reeves and Frank O’Hara. Both Vuong’s and Reeves’ versions are something like love letters written to themselves, but the original source material, Frank O’Hara’s poem “Katy,” had nothing to do with that. The line “Some day I’ll love Frank O’Hara” appears like it is actually spoken by someone else within the poem. Thus, these three poems seemed to me a good example of what a response poem should be: two people used a line from a poem to create new poems, ones with entirely different meaning and in their own unique styles.

CC: I love Aracelis Girmay’s “On Kindness,” after Nazim Hikmet … and also after Rassan, an important person (the poet’s partner?) who appears in the work. I’m fascinated by this mix of literary influence (referencing an older work by a dead poet from another country) and personal … is influence the right word, here? A beloved who acts with a kindness that moves the speaker deeply moves the poem into its core aliveness. Fullest, tenderest aliveness. And living in this poem by Girmay is Hikmet’s meditative way and love for kindness in (as?) action. But Girmay constructs an idiosyncratic life-world, her own: Brooklyn and Mother’s Day and a brownstone window. What a kindness, to be welcomed into this life-world. Read or reread this poem and listen to Tracy K. Smith (!!) read it (“On Kindness” was recently featured on her podcast The Slowdown): https://www.apmpodcasts.org/slowdown/2019/01/28-on-kindness/. And get the brilliant collection it’s from—Kingdom Animalia.

I also love Sarah Gambito’s “Rapprochement,” which borrows translated lines from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. I’m thinking of recent tweets from Phillip B. Williams—he offers a helpful distinction between borrowing language from older, widely recognizable sources versus borrowing language from contemporaries. The former, Williams suggests, has greater potential for transformation, since one would be carrying older handfuls of language into a new poem, likely set in a contemporary time. Gambito’s “Rapprochement” is a stunning example of this type of borrowing, taking lines from The Art of War and placing them in between (sometimes surreal) moments of immigrant struggle. As the poem progresses, Sun Tzu’s strategies for the battlefield sound more and more personal, more and more urgent, desperate, wounded.

What “Rapprochement” manages to show us is how the immigrant battle for dignity and safety begins far before arrival in the new country. There is preparation and preparation, and there is what no one could/should prepare for. Read or reread this poem: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/142183/rapproachement. And listen to Gambito read it: https://youtu.be/wgbWxYvt-Q4?t=264. And get the incredible collection it’s from—Delivered.

EKA: So we do have ways of referencing another piece of media—a poem, a song, a film, visual art—without stealing or appropriating. What do you think are good ways to do this?

TM: Allusions, which are side-references, I’d say. An allusion is subtle. It references but doesn’t copy. In Carolyn Forché’s poem “Mourning,” she calls the sea “wine-dark,” an allusion to Homer. In fact, she indirectly cites him by calling him one of “the ancients.” I’ve mentioned epigraphs above, of course, which pull into conversation the poem one is writing “after,” but includes none of the original work in the new poem, except maybe small allusions needed to rebut or continue discussion – a sort of “you once said, now I’m saying” situation. And perhaps you can go the cento/pastiche route as well. Look at TS Eliot. As much as his notes on “The Wasteland” aren’t quite reliable, he does source many of his references. As well, centos tend to cite their lines, creating a collage/cut-up of the lines. Again, though, that pastiche transforms the lines by putting them in direct relation to the other lines from different poets and transforms their meaning.

JO: From a practical standpoint, I think poets should take a different approach between using what Teo describes as the “archive” versus using the recent work of your peers. Quoting and referencing the archive, the words of Homer or Shakespeare, is safer, ethically, than quoting or referencing the present-day works of the poet next to you in the MFA program.

Most people recognize where “wine-dark sea” comes from; I’ve used “wine-dark streets” in a poem of my own called “Epic” and I didn’t cite the source, but I have a reasonable expectation that readers will know that I am quoting Homer, rather than trying to pass that description off as my own. With the poetic conversation you’re having with your contemporaries, I think a stricter standard of citation should be used; we should err on the side of respect and caution.

At this particular moment, I hope people are thinking about how syntax and sentence structure are part of a poet’s created object, whether or not syntax is strictly copyrightable. “After” poems should be in conversation, and mimicry isn’t really a conversation.

What is a conversation? Developing your own opinions, pulling from your own bank of images, saying something in your own words.

CC: As I said before, do your homework and give credit. Along with that, ask yourself the meta or critical questions: do I need to borrow this form or this language in these ways? Why? What am I adding to the history, the legacy, the larger/longer conversation of these words or ways of saying? Is this reference an homage or an argument or…? Whose art am I amplifying by citing them? Are there artists, people I would be harming by citing or borrowing from them, in this fashion? Ask and ask again.

EKA: I like what Chen says about asking. What is motivating the poet to write the poem? I think this is a good place to consider the “after” poem as a way to approach resistance or protest. A poem written in response to a quote or text (or another piece of art) that I find harmful or offensive or jarring is certainly going to be a different poem than one written in reverence of a poem or show or song. I feel like this is actually a really good place (but very much not the only place) where response poems can fit. In fact, we might even need this kind of response poem. The above ethical notions still apply, but one approaches this kind of poem from a different angle.


EKAauthorphoto2018-3.jpgE. Kristin Anderson is a poet, Starbucks connoisseur, and glitter enthusiast living in Austin, Texas. She is the editor of Come as You Are, an anthology of writing on 90s pop culture and Hysteria: Writing the female body (forthcoming). Kristin’s poetry has been published worldwide in many magazines and she is the author of nine chapbooks of poetry including Pray, Pray, Pray: Poems I wrote to Prince in the middle of the night, 17 seventeen XVII and Behind, All You’ve Got (forthcoming). Kristin is an assistant poetry editor at The Boiler and an editorial assistant at Sugared Water. Once upon a time, she worked nights at The New Yorker.

 

Teo HeadshotTeo Mungaray is a queer, chronically ill, latinx poet. He holds an MFA from Pacific University of Oregon and is pursuing his doctorate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is a co-founder and co-EIC of Cotton Xenomorph. His poems have recently appeared in or are forthcoming from Sycamore Review, Five:2:One Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. He has a cat named Lysistrata.

 

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWanda Deglane is a Capricorn from Arizona. She is the daughter of Peruvian immigrants and attends Arizona State University. Her poetry has been published in Rust + Moth, Glass Poetry, L’Ephemere Review, Former Cactus, and elsewhere. Wanda is the author of Rainlily (2018) and Lady Saturn (Rhythm & Bones, 2019).

 

Jeanne Obbard_author photo_colorJeanne Obbard received her bachelor’s degree in feminist and gender studies from Bryn Mawr College, and works in clinical trial management. A 2001 Leeway Seedling Award recipient, her poetry has appeared in Barrow Street, Cider Press Review, IthacaLit, and The Moth, and has been nominated for Best of the Net and Pushcart awards. She is a poetry reader for Drunk Monkeys, and can be found on the web at jeanneobbard.com.

Chen+Chen+by+Jess+Chen+copyChen Chen is the author of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, which was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize, the GLCA New Writers Award, the Texas Book Award for Poetry, and the Thom Gunn Award for Gay Poetry. Bloodaxe Editions will be publishing a UK Edition in June. Chen’s work appears in many publications, including The Best American Poetry, The Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best of the Net, and Bettering American Poetry. He holds an MFA from Syracuse University and a PhD from Texas Tech University. He co-edits Underblong and teaches at Brandeis University as the Jacob Ziskind Poet-in-Residence.

Sundress Announces the Release of Leah Silvieus’ Collection, Arabilis

Sundress Announces the Release of Leah Silvieus’ Collection, Arabilis

Sundress Publications announces the release of Leah Silvieus’ collection, Arabilis. Through detailing her experiences with nature, religion, and violence, Silvieus finds that their underlying connections reveal much that goes unsaid.

arabilisArabilis integrates the ordeal of othering into the fundamental uncertainty of life to produce a collection that is honest in its pain, confusion, and joy. Beautiful and desolate as a rural upbringing, these poems delve into the complex relationship between the self and the indifferent world it inhabits. In this cogent work, the lonely thrill of existence is characterized by gunpowder, bone, and Bud Light empties. Presented through the perspective of a person of color adopted into a white family, this collection simultaneously acknowledges the senselessness of life and demands an explanation for it. Silvieus’ poems advance through the changing of the seasons, paralleling the introspective nature of youth and adulthood alike through an examination of faith, nature, and memory. Sacrilegious discourse is converted to sacred invocations as this collection examines the viscera of life and loss. Belying each poem is a tenacious grasping for answers to questions impossible to express, validating the intuition that though we turn to God, Earth, or another person, we may never receive a fulfilling reply. In the face of this apparent helplessness, these poems continue to stumble in the dark, reaching with the God-want of their hands, relentless in their search for that which might finally reach back.

Jericho Brown, author of The New Testament, says, “Arabilis … champions the idea of poetry as prayer. Each page Leah Silvieus writes holds a yearning that seems to ask how we can survive what we know of the world without losing the power of that knowledge no matter how traumatic it may be … This is a gorgeous debut!”

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Leah Silvieus is the author of Arabilis (Sundress Publications), Anemochory (Hyacinth Girl Press) and Season of Dares (Bull City Press). She holds a B.A. from Whitworth University and an M.F.A. from the University of Miami. She is a Kundiman Fellow and currently serves as Books Editor at Hyphen magazine.

Arabilis is available for order HERE.

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Teow Lim Goh Reads Three Poems by Ansel Elkins

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In this conversation poet Teow Lim Goh and I discuss three poems from Ansel Elkins’ first book, Blue Yodel. We talk about how a life can change when it’s put into words, and Goh recalls how her life changed when she began writing. Goh also talks about her current project, and about how Blue Yodel served as a model for Goh’s interest in persona and writing from the archive.  Thank you for joining us!

 

 

Teow Lim Goh reads “The Girl with Antlers” by Ansel Elkins:

Jessica Hudgins: “You are fearfully and wonderfully made” is a fantastic line. It’s sort of like describing a poem’s tone, rather than identifying it as a sonnet or an elegy. How has Ansel Elkins’ work influenced yours?

Teow Lim Goh: The first time I read Blue Yodel, I was between projects, trying to figure out the approach and tone that I wanted to bring to my work. This book just blew me away. I’m not sure if I can put a finger on it, but I shall try: I think I am most drawn to the ambiguity of her stories. And I think of these poems as short stories in verse. She creates a dream-like mood and at the same time, she touches on something visceral and corporeal.

It strikes me that many contemporary poets write autobiographical free verse. I don’t have a problem with it per se – I enjoy a quite a bit of it – but it sometimes feels like an expectation rather than just one of many modes of poetry. It’s not my place to say whether Blue Yodel draws from Elkins’ life, but it reminded me that I don’t have to write about myself to be a poet.

I tend to write persona poems and draw many of my characters from history. My first book Islanders imagines the lost voices of the Chinese women detained at the Angel Island Immigration Station in the San Francisco Bay – I joke that it is about current affairs. My second manuscript, which is currently in submissions hell, is based on the real story of a Chinese prostitute in Evanston, Wyoming.

I feel that I allowed more silence and ambiguity into China Mary than Islanders. I’m sure a part of it is the subconscious influence of Blue Yodel, but who knows.

Teow Lim Goh reads “Autobiography of Eve” by Ansel Elkins:

JH: What are some of your favorite moments in these poems?

TLG: “Autobiography of Eve” is one of my favorite poems, period. Elkins takes a well-known story – arguably, the creation story of Western civilization – gives Eve a voice, and turns the story on its head. She gives Eve her agency, and look how that changes everything:

I stood alone in terror at the threshold between Paradise and Earth.
There I heard a mysterious echo:
my own voice
singing to me from across the forbidden
side. I shook awake – at once alive in a blaze of green fire.

Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.

I leapt
to freedom.

“Devil’s Rope” is based on an old ballad, but here Elkins creates a sestina in the voice of the man who killed his girl Ruby. I like to challenge myself to write from unsympathetic perspectives, so I appreciate Elkins’ approach here, but more than that, she did it with an intricate fixed repeating form. I aspire to write a story in sestina form one day. Meanwhile, I reread lines like this:

In my own dreams I battle with the devil.
He and I could be blood brothers.
He leads me into the ground, down a pitch-black mine,
guides my hand over an earthern wall that spells your name, Ruby.
I touch the ember letters, leave my hand to bear the heat. Dawn
be damned, I will remain here, buried.

I have to say that Elkins’ stories are so intricately layered that it is difficult for me to pick selections from them. Her poems build on themselves:

The devil’s rosined bow begins to fiddle at dawn
as his brothers pick banjo. I carve your name in the stump below mine.
I’ll sing for you, Ruby, and lay you in the shade where the rooster’s buried.

Teow Lim Goh reads “Devil’s Rope” by Ansel Elkins:

JH: These poems each explore how a life can be changed by the words we use to describe it. The last two stanzas of “Autobiography of Eve” make a powerful point: change the speaker and a fall from grace becomes a leap to freedom. The mother figure in “The Girl with Antlers” says, “What you are I cannot say,” and lets the girl be uncategorized. Finally, “Devil’s Rope” is a song written for a woman, Ruby, by the man who has killed her. Was there a kind of watershed moment in your life when you realized the way that language can influence experience?

TLG: In some ways I think of my life as Before Writing and After Writing. I was a math major in college and began writing after I graduated and went into the workforce. Looking back, I was in a place where I felt powerless. I did not have the language to describe even simple everyday things, much less the complexities of my own experiences. It was survival instinct that led me to the glorious struggle of making language.

This much I know: my memories are much sharper and deeper After Writing. I really don’t remember a lot of my life Before Writing. The verifiable facts I know; it is the texture of that life I find elusive. Last fall I spent a weekend in Nashville. It was my second time there – the first was Before Writing – and I felt as if I had never been to the city before. My husband, who was my boyfriend on that first visit, talked about the things we did and the places we went and the only thing I could remember was that we watched the Rockettes at the Opry.

Writing gives a shape to my thoughts and experiences. It has enabled me to reclaim my agency and take charge of my life. And I am beginning to reap these benefits.

JH: Have you adapted other texts, as Elkins does with “Devil’s Rope,” into your work?

TLG: As I have said, I often write from history, which means that on some level or another, I am adapting other texts. In Islanders, I drew on the poems the Chinese men wrote on their barrack walls. (There are no records of poems the women might have written, as their barracks was destroyed in a fire.) I did not even attempt to imitate the classical Chinese lyric form of the original wall poems, but I used some of their images and emotional moments.

I also dug into a trove of oral histories with former female detainees. Many of the most harrowing stories in my book are drawn from the records; I could not make them up even if I tried.

I am currently trying to write about the 1885 Chinese Massacre in Rock Springs, Wyoming. I have a box of archival documents: speeches, newspaper articles, and even telegrams between Union Pacific officials and the Wyoming territorial government. I haven’t quite decided how I want to handle it, but I am leaning toward incorporating direct quotes into the verse. There is a bleak and ironic poetry in these source texts.



Teow Lim Goh
is the author of Islanders (Conundrum Press, 2016), a volume of poems on the history of Chinese exclusion at the Angel Island Immigration Station. Her work has been featured in Tin House, Catapult, PBS NewsHour, Colorado Public Radio, and The New Yorker. She lives in Denver.

Read three poems from China Mary at Diode
Read Teow Lim Goh’s Essay “On Borders and Citizens” at Catapult
Purchase Islanders at Conundrum Press

Ansel Elkins is the 2014 recipient of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize, judged by Carl Phillips. Her work has appeared in several publications, including Virginia Quarterly Review, Oxford American, and Boston Review, and has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Discovery/Boston Review Prize. Elkins currently serves as visiting assistant professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Read “The Autobiography of Eve” at Poetry
Read Ansel Elkins’ poem “Tornado” at Oxford American
Purchase Blue Yodel

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

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Elizabeth Metzger Reads Two Poems by Lucie Brock-Broido

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Elizabeth Metzger, student and devotee of Lucie Brock-Broido, writes here about discovering Brock-Broido’s work, studying in her graduate seminar, and remembering her after her death last year. Of Brock-Broido’s influence, Metzger says, “I found my self, my voice, my poems within and against and of hers.”

Jessica Hudgins: Can you talk about how you came to know Lucie Brock-Broido and her work?

Elizabeth Metzger: I was writing my undergraduate thesis on silence and the posthumous in Emily Dickinson when I came across Lucie Brock-Broido’s The Master Letters, which is, to use Lucie’s own term, deeply in “Widerruf” with Dickinson’s Master Letters. The poems were incantatory, disorienting, uncannily déjà vu to me, and uncontainably pained. I wanted to know Lucie—as morbid as it sounds, to work with Lucie felt like the only way in life to know and live with the dead.

I ended up at Columbia a couple years later, too intimidated to even speak a word to Lucie. She was magical in long black gloves and red velvet when we met. Her earrings were silver talismans and she seemed untouchable, ensconced in smoke, almost dangerous. At the same time I was drawn to her the way one might instantly draw an evacuation map in their mind during a bomb scare. She seemed to always have one hand beckoning, pulling each poet in her sphere closer to her. We all gathered one of those first disorienting “orientation” nights in her small office, window cracked for whatever cold we could conjure. I believe she had a teacup pig on her desktop screen, a million trinkets, a lipsticked cigarette, and a roaring laugh.

I was sitting a few feet from where she sat at the head. “Come closer,” she said, “are you scared of me?” “Yes” I said awkwardly, not catching the wink of her. “See me after class” she said, in a faux-stern tone. Terrified, I entered her office after our long late class—Lucie was nocturnal, but more impressively given her carefully calculated seasonal writing schedule (writing only in the winter months and leaving 1,001 days ritualistically between books), she lived outside of time, in what we, her students, called Lucie Standard Time.

In my first experience of this phenomenon, Lucie took me around her dim office, standing shoulder to shoulder as she showed me various artifacts, looking up a word in her favorite edition of Roget’s Thesaurus, showing me a “portrait of her” by Thomas James, and last, full circle, a drawing of Emily Dickinson—given to her by Helen Vendler and Seamus Heaney—which now hangs on the wall behind my desk. I got to know Lucie on her red couch in the middle hours of the night for the three years I spent at Columbia, but in many ways even now after her death I feel I am still getting to know her, and I welcome more than ever the secrets her poems disclose, the agonies made amber, the mysticism, hilarity, and mammalian artery. A soul that spent her time on this earth offering asylum to the living, the dying, and the dead, Lucie lived a life of unimpeachable promises to seek out and protect the suffering, the odd ones out. She made me feel lucky to be one.

JH: There are so many things that jump out at me as I’m reading these poems. Her use of pronouns, her engagement with form, her sense of humor – What’s an example of something you’ve discovered in reading Brock-Broido’s poems, and have experimented with in yours?
 
EM: Yes! Lucie’s poems are full of idiosyncrasy, shockingly pop archaism, and most important to me in terms of my own journey as a poet, irony. In a way it’s hard to talk about discovering Lucie’s work and the elements within it because to some extent I found my self, my voice, my poems within and against and of hers—a way of being a poet in between the poems.

Also quite literally Lucie and her poems taught me everything—her way of teaching was truly selfless in the sense that she gave her self, her “secrets” away. She broke it down into lessons, topics, techniques: the terrible not, the numinous, the feral, cutting out the elephant. And she provided us with the material she herself took to the writing table: the poems, the letters, the images, even sometimes the music or hot cocoa or perfume.

Her teaching was invaluable I think for so many poets with such differing voices because the lessons were metaphorical themselves, often mystical. Like a poem, the technique was one the spirit often had to tightrope to understand. She taught me that “the line is a station of the cross” and to let the poem have its way with you. She introduced me to the conscious and unconscious conversation between whittling bone and “letting birds.”

I think I discovered the important balance, maybe even the lack of distinction between disclosure and transformation. The poem “You Have Harnessed Yourself Ridiculously to this World” ends on the image of a marmoset in an ape suit, the smallest primate exiting the largest. It’s absurd and so vulnerable, the self confronting the self.

Lucie taught me half-gently half-teasingly when I was too drunk on her, as many of us were, and how important it would be “to kill her off eventually” She told me I was withholding when I didn’t know I was—that like an anatomy textbook a poem needs every system of the body to overlap to build an understandable human. She made the concept of transparency tangible. I discovered in “baring my soul” I wasn’t letting my sense of humor onto the page. I also learned for every rule of Lucie’s (her dislike of ragged lines or the word blank) it was all about earning it–by which I mean being religious enough to ritualize doubt—and constantly raising the stakes. She claimed she didn’t believe in “intelligence” but it is in her poetry, each book of it, that I have come closest to inhabiting another’s intelligence, a dark neural stained glass only as ornate as it is abnegating.

Elizabeth Metzger reading “Am Moor” by Lucie Brock-Broido

JH: “Am Moor” is especially strange and kind of exhilarating to me, I think because Brock-Broido uses all these rare, archaic, or technical words with a sense of playfulness. What are some of your favorite words or lines from these poems?

EM: “Am Moor” is full of mystery and playfulness and a fascinating example of Lucie using another persona or perspective as a lens to the self. There’s connection in loneliness. A lover of Georg Trakl, Austrian World War I poet, Lucie takes his poem, titled in German “Am Moor,” which translates to “On the Marshy Pastures” and uses the sound as a trigger for the music of her own being, the repeating “am,” blurring the biographical reality of Trakl’s life with her own multilayered identity. I love the persistence and variation of the “am” and “was” phrases with the “I” deleted, how it lets the I be multiple and multiplying. And it thrills me that this is a sonic rather than semantic “translation” of a German place. The mind can’t help but associate music into sense.

My favorite moments in Lucie’s poems feel intuitive and irrevocable. Their sense begins within the ear—I trust them though they can be full of bite or bomb. What seems beautiful is the next moment grotesque. What is absurd is the next moment obliterating. Anything full-frontal is later slanted. Language has the soul on a leash. It can be bold or skittish but the soul is always the tethered guide. A few of my favorite phrases from “Am Moor” are:

“wind at withins”: the consonance of wind that surprisingly makes the preposition within into a plural noun, playing with the abandoned farmhouse from Wuthering Heights (Top Withins) as the landscape of the interior.

The build-up of archaic music to the generic simple Saxon of “Was Andalusian, ambsace,/Bird.” I love the mixing of registers and the warning song of it. Sometimes I find the need for a dictionary means a poem stumbles or I am pulled away from rhythm or sense. Here it is textural. Understanding precedes definition, not unlike the feeling of holding a Dickinson poem.

I love inversions like “Am kept./ Was keeper of…” and “furious done god,” the blunt godly done of it, and admire the horror image of “was hospice/ To their torso hall.” Trakl did in fact see war horrors as a triage nurse to wounded soldiers in a country barn. I love the swerve with internal consonance of the medical “Am anatomy” into the I dare you to get away with this pun bloody lamb of “Am the bleating thing.” The word “thing” ends this litany of exacting diction! There’s this mischief to Lucie’s poetics of getting away with things, emotion so intense and attuned it permits extravagant word play.

The lines that give me actual goosebumps when I read or even think them: “…Am numb./ Was shoulder & queer luck. Am among.” It’s the rhyme of numb and among, the total loss of sensation that brings one together with. In her poems and her classrooms, Lucie brought the haunted back together. The poem is a self, and shareable.

And since you picked it out below, my absolute favorite line from “You Have Harnessed Yourself Ridiculously to this World” (and one of my favorites she ever wrote) is “For whom left am I first?”

JH: I really like the line “For whom left am I first,” in “You Have Harnessed Yourself Ridiculously to This World,” because it uses that “am” to connect the people who remain to the person who will be gone. Has Brock-Broido’s work influenced how you think about death?

Elizabeth Metzger reading “You Have Harnessed Yourself Ridiculously to This World,” by Lucie Brock-Broido

EM: Lucie wrote Stay, Illusion after being orphaned, losing her mother. It just totally devastates me to think that, for many of us there comes a point in losing others (and Lucie traveled to death’s door with so many dear ones), we may no longer be the most loved for anyone left living. People go on to have their own children, marry, etc. Lucie didn’t marry or have kids but she could love (sisters, friends, cats, and students) as strongly and loyally as anyone I’ve met on Earth. The line also calls up that connection between the ones who leave and the ones who remain as you point out—the ones who have left and the ones that are left. There’s the sense of first to go and first in terms of significance.

From the start, my attraction to Lucie’s work and to Lucie’s mind has involved death. There’s a morbidity and terror that I recognized in her work. I think she found a way of including it visually in her lines, in the shapes of the poems in Stay, Illusion, but it’s all over all the books. Even in surviving loss, the speaker’s strength is in demanding everything of herself in language when language is impossible, when she lives near and within the unspeakable. This blurring of grief and death—surviving and dying—is also Dickinsonian: “Tell all the truth I told me             when I couldn’t speak.” The following “Sorrow’s a barbaric art” makes that chaotic grief beautiful and cruel, composed and reckless.

Lucie’s art is made from sorrow obviously and I think I learned from Lucie that the moments and sensations when we are most deeply wrecked or wounded are the ones we must run toward, steep ourselves in, speak from, be transformed by. There is both fate and will in it.

Another line I love in “Stay, Illusion” comes from the first poem of the book: “The rims of wounds have wounds as well.” It is not optimism or healing that poetry brings but the wound made everlasting, boundless fear and pain made containable, sometimes even coy. More than once she described the form of the poem as an “alabaster chamber,” a coffin.

My relationship with Lucie was as much about death in the end as it was about poetry. I was losing my best friend, her astonishing student Max Ritvo, and then of course it was not long before Lucie herself had to face death. Lucie believed in heaven and it’s through this lens that her fear and fascination with death makes the most sense of her poetics: It is always worth decorating the darkness, laughing or tearing one’s hair into it, while cutting away any unsharpened excess, any aspect of living that doesn’t remember it will end. Lucie’s work teaches me that poetry and death are both omniscient and unknowable. I am no less afraid, and gladly.


 

Elizabeth Metzger is the author of The Spirit Papers (University of Massachusetts Press, 2017), winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry, and the chapbook The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death (Horsethief Books, 2017). Her poems have recently appeared in The New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, American Poetry Review, and The Nation among other places. Her essays have recently appeared in Lit Hub, Guernica, Boston Review, and PN Review. She is a poetry editor of The Los Angeles Review of Books Quarterly Journal.

Elizabeth Metzger’s website
Purchase Metzger’s book, The Spirit Papers
Read Metzger’s poem, “The Inmate of Happiness” at Poetry

Lucie Brock-Broido was an American poet and author of four collections: A Hunger (1988), The Master Letters (1995), Trouble in Mind (2004), and Stay, Illusion (2013). She taught at several universities and served as the director of poetry in the writing division of Columbia University’s School of the Arts. Her work received recognition from the Academy of American Arts and Letters, American Poetry Review, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Stay Illusion was a finalist for both the National Book Award and National Books Critics Circle Award.

“Doing Wicked Things,” an interview at Guernica
Brock-Broido in the New Yorker
An interview with The New School


 

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

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Vintage Sundress with Kristin LaTour

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Up next in our blast from the past is an author who has fought her hardest not to stay in the past. Kristin LaTour, author of poetry collection What Will Keep Us Alive, is no stranger to the world of publishing. As the author of four other chapbooks, one being an e-chap published in December of 2018, LaTour has certainly had her highs and lows in the past few years, and she graciously spoke with intern Lauren Sutherland about what she has learned and how she has kept moving forward.

Sutherland: What has changed for you since What Will Keep Us Alive was published?

LaTour: Looking back over the three years since What Will Keep Us Alive was published, some things have changed, and others haven’t. I still write free verse poems which tend to focus on word choice around sound and that have themes around marginalized people or current events. I’ve been trying more experimental forms like erasures and footnotes to real texts. I think my reading has become wider, even though I still read mostly female poets. Since I’ve stopped having the time or energy to go to readings around my area, I find that instead of hearing the same voices at readings every month, I’m forced to read, and that gives me more options in whom I choose to read or hear. Sadly, I am submitting fewer poems to journals, but maybe I’ll make that a goal in the coming year—to send more work out.

Sutherland: Has the publishing of What Will Keep Us Alive altered your perspective on the literary community?

LaTour: Overall, people were very supportive of What Will Keep Us Alive when it came out. I had a big release party and some smaller readings around my area. I was also having health issues that made promoting it difficult. I think the glow was off about six months after it was published like it was time to move on to the next thing.

Sutherland: Was your rise to publication smooth or a struggle? What obstacles did you face?

LaTour: Publishing was, and is, hard. I graduated from my MFA program in 2007 thinking my thesis was a fully-formed manuscript. It took a couple of years of it being rejected for me to realize it was not. I kept writing, revising, sending out individual poems. I published a couple chapbooks. I lost time teaching at a community college and being braindead from grading papers so I couldn’t write much most of the year.

I stopped sending out a manuscript for a couple of years. At AWP in 2014, Kristy Bowen, who published my third chapbook, Agoraphobia, asked me to read at a joint event with Sundress Publications and Hyacinth Girl Press. Erin Smith approached me after the reading and asked me to send her a manuscript. I was elated but also cautious, knowing her request didn’t guarantee publication. I went home, worked on the neglected manuscript, and put together my best effort. It was accepted later in 2014 and then published in 2015. Altogether that’s ten years if you count the time in my program writing toward my thesis. I think if Erin hadn’t asked for my manuscript, I would have kept writing, publishing, and getting rejected, but her request was a huge boost to the dismay of being rejected for seven years.

Sutherland: What is something worth noting about being published that you would want unpublished writers to know?

LaTour: Not much changes after getting a full-length book published. You have to start from zero again: writing new poems and getting them published, which also means getting rejected. There is some consolation in knowing that I did it once so I can do it again, but the work is still there.

I would say my advice to unpublished writers is to not take for granted that because your manuscript is published, your job is done. I worked with Erin for months in 2015 leading up to the book coming out. We reordered poems, argued about section headings, figured out where the “holes” were in the book. That meant I had to write more poems.

Writers should be very nice to their editors who are working for little to nothing to make the best book they can. However, writers should also stand firm for what they believe in their work. They need to be ready to compromise and cooperate.

Sutherland: Have you published other full-length works or chapbooks since being published at Sundress?

LaTour: I have published a very short chapbook with Sundress as an e-book with drawings from a friend. I wrote the poems in 2014, and Angel Perez did the artwork in the same year. Since it was artwork and poetry together, I looked for publishers who worked with that kind of collaboration, and the chapbook was rejected by about 5 of them. I let the file sit on my computer a while, and then I realized Sundress might be a good fit for them. Sometimes it’s right under my nose. Again, I didn’t expect Sundress to automatically accept the work, but I was so happy when I got a positive response. The book came out in December of 2018 and is called Mend.

Sutherland: What are you working on now?

LaTour: I have a lot I’m working on. I’m sending out a second full-length manuscript, The Whaler’s Wife. It’s been rejected several times too. Every time, I tweak things, making it better. It’s a series of narrative poems that tell the story of a New England couple who meet as kids, fall in love, and struggle to be together and build a family.

I’m working on a non-fiction book for lay people on how to appreciate poetry.

Teaching at a community college, I meet a lot of reluctant learners. I think there needs to be a book for people whose friends drag them to a poetry reading so they can enjoy what they hear and maybe be encouraged to read some on their own. Most “how to read a poem” books are very academic, long, and not exciting. I’m trying to write a short, fun book.

Not to ignore my poetry, I’m working on a third manuscript inspired by sideshow performers from the early-mid 20th century, when the traveling carnival was starting to fade, and people weren’t as comfortable paying to see “freaks.”

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Kristin LaTour’s most recent collection, Mend, illustrated by Angel Perez, is available as an e-chap at Sundress Publications. Her full-length, What Will Keep Us Alive, was published in 2015 with Sundress. Her work has been included in anthologies, three chapbooks, and many online and print journals. She teaches comp and literature classes at Joliet Jr. College and has a loving home full of pets, a husband, and books in Aurora, IL.

Follow these links to find more of Kristin’s recent work on the web:

“October 15, 1834” on Tinderbox Poetry Journal‘s website

“Writer’s Block,” a craft essay, on the Sundress blog

IMG_9471Lauren 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 and writing poetry, but her ultimate passion is for editing. She has been an intern with Sundress since July and loves getting the opportunity to have a hand in the literary community.

 

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Sundress Academy for the Arts Announces Winners of Summer Residencies

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Sundress Academy for the Arts Announces
Winners of Summer Residencies

The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is pleased to announce Jane Wong, Muriel Leung, Fox Frazier-Foley, and Nicole Shawn Junior as the winners of their four summer residency scholarships. These residencies are designed to give artists time and space to complete their creative projects in a quiet and productive environment.

Screen Shot 2019-03-20 at 10.30.44 PMFox Frazier-Foley is the author of two prize-winning poetry collections: The Hydromatic Historics (Bright Hill Press, 2015), which was selected by Vermont Poet Laureate Chard deNiord as the recipient of the Bright Hull Press Poetry Award, and Exodus in X Minor (Sundress Publications, 2014). Her most recent volume of poetry, Like Ash in the Air After Something Has Burned (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2017) was nominated for an Elgin Award. She edited the anthologies Political Punch: Contemporary Poems on the Politics of Identity (Sundress Publications, 2016) and Among the Margins: Critical and Lyrical Writing on Aesthetics (Ricochet Editions, 2016). Fox was graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Binghamton University, and was honored with merit-based fellowships at Columbia University, where she earned her MFA. She was a Provost’s Fellow at the Univeristy of Southern California, where she earned a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing. Fox created and manages Agape Editions. She is currently at work in a long-form journalism project about violent crime in upstate New York, titled Carousel.

Screen Shot 2019-03-20 at 10.30.51 PMMuriel Leung is the recipient of the Alternating Current sponsored fellowship. She is the author of Bone Confetti, winner of the 2015 Noemi Press Book Award. A Pushcart Prize nominated writer, her writing can be found or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Drunken Boat, The Collagist, Fairy Tale Review, and others. She is a recipient of fellowships to Kundiman, VONA/Voices Workshop and the Community of Writers. She is the Poetry Co-Editor of Apogee Journal and co-host of The Blood-Jet Writing Hour podcast. Currently, she is a Dornsife Fellow in Creative Writing and Literature at University of California. She is from Queens, NY.

Screen Shot 2019-03-20 at 10.30.35 PMNicole Shawan Junior (Smith College BA, Pace University MST, Temple University JD) is a storyteller who was born & bred in the bass-heavy beat & scratch of Brooklyn, where the Bed-Stuy cool of beautiful inner-city life barely survived the crippling caused by crack cocaine. She is a black, queer and hood-born Womanxst. Nicole puts pen-to-paper to capture the journeys of around-the-block black girls. Nicole’s writing has appeared in For Harriet, Rigorous Magazine and The Feminist Wire. Her work has been supported by The Hurston/Wright Foundation, African Voices and the Black Film & TV Collective, to name a few. She’s currently completing Cracked Concrete, a coming of age memoir, and Block Girls, a play. A filmmaker, Nicole directed and co-produced the documentary short Boundless: A Celebration of Black Women and co-produced the YouTube web series This. That. & the Third. Nicole is currently bringing her short film, To Touch A Moth, to production. When off set, Nicole is also the creator of Roots. Wounds. Words. Writing Workshop. Check her out at www.NicoleShawanJunior.com.

Screen Shot 2019-03-20 at 10.30.56 PMJane Wong’s poems can be found in Best American Poetry 2015, POETRY, American Poetry Review, Third Coast, AGNI, and others. A Kundiman fellow, she is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the U.S. Fulbright Program, the Fine Arts Work Center, Hedgebrook, Artist Trust, and Bread Loaf. She is the author of Overpour (Action Books, 2016) and is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Western Washington University.

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. Find out more about our residency program and current openings here.

 

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