Tag Archives: Cheyenne L. Black

An Interview with Sarah Marcus-Donnelly, Author of They Were Bears

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly is the author of Nothing Good Ever Happens After Midnight  (2016, GTK Press), the chapbooks BACKCOUNTRY (2013) and Every Bird, To You (2013), and the recently released full-length collection They Were Bears (2017, Sundress Publications). Of this collection, Rachel Eliza Griffith, author of Lighting the Shadow said, “They Were Bears gives us a world that is intimate, complicated, and lush in its raw, brutal meditation upon the complexities of Nature, both within and beyond our grasp as both human beings and animals. These poems by Sarah Marcus channel what the world demands of us, and our bodies as we are guided through a startling cartography of desire, trauma, and memory that is both refuge and wilderness.”

Marcus-Donnelly talked with Sundress editorial intern Cheyenne L. Black about this book, bears, the connections of wildness and women, the necessary work women still face in defying boundaries, the illusion of safety, and so much more.

Cheyenne L. Black: What led up to writing They Were Bears?

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: Circumstances with family and lovers and growing up that often felt impossible. I think this book exists in a space somewhat suspended between feelings and facts. Before I could write these poems, I needed to process the pain of a difficult childhood and engender a spirit of forgiveness. Without perspective, I think writing can feel self-seeking instead of like an act of revelation and empowerment. When I write (and act for that matter) I always try to consider what I can give rather than what I can get. I am a work in progress, and I believe this book reflects that journey.

Cheyenne L. Black: There are definitely places where it seems as though you’re pushing against the boundaries of what so often feels safe in poetry. Can you talk about that a little? Were you trying to break down any walls or defy any boundaries in this work?

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: This is an interesting question because in some ways it implies that certain topics (drugs, sexual abuse, & violence) are still taboo, which I think is, in general, an accurate assessment of our literary community. I’ve written a bit about the act of confession and how that label is often used pejoratively against women when it feels so vital to me. How else can we be truth tellers? How else can we explore the human condition or our shared experience? How do we start important conversations without danger?

Also, fuck safety. Safety is something I imagine straight, white, cis-gendered men must feel. Safety is not the experience that many of us have. It’s a narrative we’ve been fed. Something we are taught to desire. Something that always seems just out of reach. Even when we feel safe, is that real? Are we? If safety is the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury, who then is safe?

Cheyenne L. Black: Does this work make you feel exposed, and therefore less safe? Is there less safety in exposure/vulnerability than in restraint? What is your own sense of safety in all of this?

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: My work makes me feel strong. I think the exposure reminds me of the value in striving to be a better listener and reader of other people’s work. I believe that if I am sincere and authentic, that I am safe and protected from other people’s thoughts and feelings. I would call that emotional safety. What my work seeks to reveal is the liminal space between emotional/spiritual safety and physical safety. I don’t think any of us are ever truly physically safe because humans are dangerous. More dangerous than the most ferocious bear.

There is certainly safety and comfort in restraint. There are times that I truly enjoy reading that kind of writing. You can’t have intensity at all times; that’s exhausting. But, I think the diversity of form and tone and topic is what keeps our landscape thriving. Without a variety of voices and experiences being published, we are doing the community a grave disservice. My own sense of safety is this: what other people do or say is not my business. If people support my work, that is wonderful. And, if they don’t; they don’t. My only business is to be the best version of myself and to write as clearly and effectively as I am able. This is freedom.

Cheyenne L. Black: So in many ways, what you’re pushing back against here isn’t so much the topics we consider taboo, but the idea that as women, we are told that we should be careful about how we share our experiences, that we should avoid confessional poetry or other stylistic choices which run contrary to the canon? 

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: Yes. So often in our workshops and by editors and publishers, we are told (by men especially) that our stories of violence, abuse, motherhood, sisterhood, etc. aren’t relevant or interesting to the entire readership. Or that the confessional voice is assumed to be melodramatic. Or that “no one cares about an experience that they can’t personally relate to.” I think that’s absurd. Men’s stories have been the status quo. Non-male identifying people have been required to accept those stories as truth and cannon and shared experience, but why? They are not the experience of at least half of us! Was Lowell somehow less theatrical than Plath or Sexton? It seems there’s this reluctance in mainstream poetry to appear to want to evoke an emotional response from your reader, but isn’t that why we read poetry? To feel something? To gain some new insight or perspective?

Cheyenne L. Black: Do you feel that the act of confronting some of these notions about female obedience helps to dispel them? 

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: At the very least, I hope the confrontation highlights our communal expectation of submissiveness. I seek to challenge our views of “good behavior” and where that gets us. If our narrators always did what was right or good or expected, would they not also experience this world’s devastation and heartache? No one gets to escape the pain of this life. It is a condition of living. So, what does conformity get us? I read something the other day that referred to discomfort as a form of currency. I believe it was something Lilly Singh wrote. She said that it was the price we pay to learn crucial things. As a greater literary community, we are driven by curiosity and a love of learning. If so, we should be making each other feel uncomfortable, often.

Cheyenne L. Black: The ecology in this book is detailed and rich. Appalachia, Alaska, the Alleghenies, and more—are the settings geographically specific in your mind or more generally based on places you’ve been? What is the connection to nature for the speaker?

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: Some settings are specific (the road trips, especially) and some are general. They are all rooted in the same obsession to reclaim the wilderness or become wild once again. I think each place represents a departure and a meditation on indifference and our desire to create meaning or to believe in some natural orchestrated purpose. I like how these wild spaces mirror both the resilience and fragility of the narrator. How everything can change in a moment. The speaker feels closest to her truest self in the natural world and seems to be able to gain perspective there in a way that is less accessible to her in a city landscape. Everything is a bit clearer: her relationships and what it means to protect and to be protected.

Cheyenne L. Black: Tell me more about this speaker. She’s daring, bold, and maybe a little self-destructive? Where did she come from and how do you see her?

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: Yes, like many addicts she can seem to fracture her perception that what is beautiful is also devastating. They must exist together for her; they cannot be bifurcated. I see her as the best and worst parts of myself and of every woman I know. I love her unapologetic, raw, unsettling bluntness and I felt swept away by her longing and almost constant aching. I see her as resilience and perseverance. What I appreciate about having been able to write this book is that a character that is so flawed and yet so admirable in her struggle to claw her way out is, to me, a heroine we can believe in.

Cheyenne L. Black: Earlier you used the phrase, “obsession to reclaim the wilderness” and this bears a certain intensity. Can you go a little deeper here? Do you experience this obsession? 

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: Definitely. On a literal and physical level, it’s no secret that our wild spaces are disappearing at an alarming and irreversible rate. This causes me and many others great anxiety. What will it mean when there is nowhere left to explore and be free? On a spiritual level, it comes back to the idea of submission, what is expected, what we are supposed to do and the damage that type constraint has on us. I think wildness and wilderness are true beauty. It’s the conscious decision to keep chasing those ethereal moments.

Cheyenne L. Black: There are some incredible books on this topic. Susan Griffin’s Women and Nature comes to mind. Do you read in this vein, and if so, can you recommend some titles to our readers who may be interested?

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: There are so many! To begin with, I recommend Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Anne LaBastille’s Woodswoman, Doug and Andrea Peacock’s In the Presence of Grizzlies, and Charlie Russel and Maureen Enns’s Grizzly Heart. Also, who didn’t fall in love with Cheryl Strayed’s Wild?

Cheyenne L. Black: Let’s talk about the role of the bears. They’re covered as physical beings, figurative beings, historic manifestations, metaphoric vehicles, and even verbs. What is your connection to the bears? What brought them to your writing? And what are you hoping they convey here?

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: This is something that I am always trying to better explain and yet feels more and more inexplicable as the years go on. I started writing about them out of a deep fascination and respect. I read and watched and listened to everything I possibly could. I try to have (safe and respectful) wild encounters with them as well. Whatever draws me to them is instinctual and intrinsic. They play an integral role in both of my chapbooks and full-lengths. I think bears, like women, are misunderstood. They are judged and labeled as too wild and too aggressive. They possess, like women, an incredible strength. They are the ultimate predator, but men fear them and their magic. And, because of this fear, they are so vulnerable and fragile. Like women, we are killing them because we don’t understand, or worse… we believe that they exist for us. They epitomize a lack of safety. Yet, my narrators always seem to be moving towards them, even trying to become them sometimes. Bears operate on instinct and need. They don’t judge someone’s character before they decide to attack in order to protect their young, they just do what they must to survive. They represent raw power.

Cheyenne L. Black: There’s that word again: Safety. It feels like you’re taking my hand and running me off into the wilds screaming, “Forget safety!” Is there a thrill for you in taking readers out into a sense of the unsafe? In proving to them they were never safe?

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: I love this! I think that unsettling moment when you realize the danger is when true growth and transformation happen. Maybe the question that many of us are trying to answer is, “What’s the point?” To answer this, I must understand what’s at stake. When we live in an illusion of safety, this heightened sense of awareness is impossible. I was always taught that gratitude is an action, but how do you conjure a true sense of appreciation without exposure to calamity and peril?

Cheyenne L. Black: Speaking of calamity and peril, family plays a challenging role. Especially the female relationships of mother/daughter and sisters. Can you talk about the impact that writing this section had on you as a writer? Was that hard to write?

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: It is always difficult to write about family. It’s complicated and controversial. It’s upsetting to many people. Anne Lamott gives the best advice, I think: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” This is, of course, an even stranger endeavor when dealing with poetry, which is never strictly biographical. I think the harms created and perpetuated– handed down through generations, even–are opportunities for growth and revival. How can we break these patterns if we can’t even name them? I’m so sick of silence and being silenced. I’m grown now. I love my family, and I also stand by what I have so painstakingly recorded.

Cheyenne L. Black: Your writing in this book certainly holds nothing back. Is that your usual style? Would you say its in your nature to write in this straightforward way which comes at the subject head-on? Or is this a new style for you?

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: It is absolutely my nature. Fortunately or unfortunately (depending on who you ask), it is really the only way I know how to communicate. This bothers some people. Others find it refreshing. I think we have such limited, precious time and energy on this earth that it seems silly to waste it on being anything less than direct. One time, a prestigious journal sent me a rejection letter that simply stated: “These poems are not subtle.” Touché, journal. I also consider a poem’s accessibility. I often think about who we are writing for and in service of what message.

Cheyenne L. Black: When you say that you think about a poem’s accessibility, what do you mean exactly? Do you write toward accessibility? Or maybe I should ask, do you edit toward accessibility?

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: I edit toward accessibility. I think about how much work a reader will have to do to be able to follow a poem. I think about the clarity of my images. Can the imagery stand on its own? Can the dialogue? Will my reader be able to feel something even if they aren’t able to follow the narrative exactly? Does the imagery and sound and narrative have a similar impact or evoke a similar feeling?

I also think that there is a type of poem, a more complicated, denser poem, that the Academy tends to favor and teach to. There is value in this writing and in this exercise, but at this point in my life, I am more interested in clearly and effectively communicating a message.

Cheyenne L. Black: What do you hope sticks with your reader after they’ve finished They Were Bears?

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: I don’t pretend to have happy endings and believe deeply in the value of allowing people to feel and process discomfort. I don’t think closure should provide relief or escape. I think closure should do the job of reinforcement. I hope readers feel a sense of connection. There’s nothing better than reading a poem while underlining furiously and whispering, “Yesss.” I love those moments, and I wish them for everyone.

Cheyenne L. Black: You talked earlier about your speaker emerging from her own strife into … into what exactly? Yet you also said you aren’t comfortable with happy endings. What about this speaker? Will she be okay? Does she stand a chance? 

Sarah Marcus-Donnelly: I think she emerges into a clarity and knowledge that are often a stepping stone to action. Maybe she runs away to the backcountry never to be seen again. Maybe she becomes a bear and leaves it all behind. More likely, however, I think her natural trajectory (the book does end on “Revival, Revival”) would be to use her memory and experience and knowledge to finally be a bit more gentle with herself and others.

I’m not comfortable with happy endings because they always feel so contrived to me. To me, happiness is a choice, it’s an attitude. In my experience, happiness (to be maintained long-term) must be coupled with discipline, routine, and hard work. Understandably, most people are simply unwilling to commit themselves to this. This is not to say that we don’t experience periods of joy, but that to sustain contentment, one must take constant, constructive actions.

My speaker has all the tools she needs to make the best choices for her. Isn’t that all any of us really have?

 

They Were Bears is available for sale at:
 https://squareup.com/store/sundress-publications/item/they-were-bears-by-sarah-marcus-pre-order?t=modal-twn

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Sarah Marcus-Donnelly is the author of They Were Bears (2017, Sundress Publications), Nothing Good Ever Happens After Midnight  (2016, GTK Press), and the chapbooks  BACKCOUNTRY (2013) and Every Bird, To You (2013). Her other work can be found at NPR’s Prosody, The Huffington Post, McSweeney’s, Cimarron Review, Spork, The Establishment, Cosmopolitan.com, and Marie Claire.com SA, among others. She is an editor at Gazing Grain Press and the Series Editor for As It Ought To Be’s High School Poetry Series: Gender, Identity, & Race. She holds an MFA in poetry from George Mason University and currently teaches and writes in Cleveland, OH. Read more about Marcus-Donnelly at https://sarahannmarcus.com

Cheyenne L. Black is an editorial intern for Sundress Publications, the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is an MFA candidate and Virginia G. Piper global fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children.

 

 

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An Interview with Sundress Chapbook Author, Lauren Eggert-Crowe

 

Lauren Eggert-Crowe is the author of Bitches of the Drought which was named runner-up in the Sundress chapbook contest of 2016 and was subsequently released this year. Of the chapbook Kate Durbin said, “Bitches of the Drought is Rocky for riot girls—all ecstatic anger and beat-him-to-the-punch puns.” Eggert-Crowe talked with our intern, Cheyenne L. Black, about the unique speaker of this chapbook, feminism, and the dance of writing, among other things.

Cheyenne L. Black: Congratulations on Bitches of the Drought. This is your third solo chapbook, correct? Do you see them as related projects?

Lauren Eggert-Crowe: Yes, it is my third solo chapbook and my fourth altogether. Interestingly enough, I don’t see the chapbooks as related projects at all. Except that there is some overlap in the timing of when I wrote some of the poems. My chapbooks are all pretty independent from each other. I would like to do a series of interrelated projects someday though.

Cheyenne L. Black: Can you talk a little bit about why you’ve pursued this format and if you plan to continue writing chapbooks?

Lauren Eggert-Crowe: I actually know some writers with even more chapbooks than I have! Lisa Ciccarello is the first name to come to mind.

For me, the chapbook seemed like a natural and obvious first step for publishing a poetry collection. I knew people who were publishing these small, ephemeral, and beautiful collections from indie presses. Friends from grad school, writers I knew tangentially, were publishing chapbooks before their first full-length [collections].

I think I will continue to make chapbooks, even if I publish a full-length collection someday, because I like the flexibility of the format. Chapbooks are good opportunities for experimentation in language, form, and production style. They’re some of my favorite objects to hunt down and collect at the AWP book fair.

Cheyenne L. Black: Tell me a little about Galatea’s Pants (GP). You produced this zine for 11 years, right? Did your long running zine have an effect on the writing you were able to produce as well? How formative to your current work was GP?

Lauren Eggert-Crowe: I started making ‘zines when I was 16 years old, and the last issue of Galatea’s Pants came out when I was 28. It started out as a personal/hodgepodge ‘zine of collages, essays, poetry I liked, quotes from my friends, etc.

In 2003 it sharply changed direction and became a very political ‘zine during the years of my radicalization and activism against the Iraq War, and it continued halfway through the Obama years, with certain issues dedicated to one topic, such as labor rights or immigration. It spanned three presidential administrations.

That’s the project I dedicated the most time to over the years, and I would say it shaped my approach to creative work, design, community, and feminism.

Basically, I self-published until I was ready to start working with gatekeepers and publish in other outlets. I no longer wanted my poetry to stay in limited distribution in these personal ‘zines. It was time to close that chapter after eleven years. But making ‘zines throughout my teens and twenties was a good way to keep myself committed to getting my thoughts on paper.

Cheyenne L. Black: Let’s return to the chapbook. In Bitches of the Drought, in the poem, “I Came Back to Shake the Sand Out” you write about the proprietary arm of a partner and then move to “but I was the one / who asked, is this okay?” And likewise in other places in Bitches, you ask questions and probe at the roles of the speaker. Is she questioning her own role within relationships in general? What role does feminism play in her sense of herself?

Lauren Eggert-Crowe: That’s an interesting question. I would say feminism is inseparable from all of my poetry, whether or not I am consciously thinking about it while writing, because feminism is inseparable from myself. I think the speaker in the poems weaves between tremulousness, muted depression, and aggression, but I suppose you’re right, there is always a questioning tone behind it all.

Cheyenne L. Black: Can you talk a little more about your speaker? She has these wide arcs to her that are just wild and amazing to read and experience vicariously. How do YOU characterize her?

Lauren Eggert-Crowe: She’s a bitch, or she wants to be. She tries to be and often fails. She’s angry but lethargic, but defiant, but also very romantic.

Cheyenne L. Black: What was the process of writing this speaker like for you? Did it bring up connections to your own life?

Lauren Eggert-Crowe: The process was cathartic but also circular. All [of] this time I was writing, I didn’t feel like I was actually writing. I thought I was making these poetic exercises that weren’t going anywhere. I certainly was connecting with my own life and sometimes I had a line here or there that I liked, but for the most part, I felt like I was off my game. Sometimes the process felt wild and all over the place. Sometimes it felt very controlled.

Cheyenne L. Black: What do you really love about this chapbook?

Lauren Eggert-Crowe: I love the atmosphere I was able to create with some of the images. I think I managed to nail it with a handful of metaphors. I love that the speaker gets kind of sassy and flippant and uses foul language or internet slang. I am proud of myself for trying to make poems that didn’t necessarily have a conclusion or clear meaning. I mostly love that it came out of a year of writing in which I didn’t think I was actually writing.

Cheyenne L. Black: Is a year pretty typically your time-frame for your larger projects? How much of that is spent in active writing and how much is spent in revision?

Lauren Eggert-Crowe: It varies. In the Songbird Laboratory was a shorter version of my MFA thesis from grad school which I had worked on for a few years in school, and then shelved for five years, and then lightly edited before submitting to dancing girl press. The Exhibit was written in a burst of creative inspiration over one summer and fall, and pretty much immediately submitted to Hyacinth Girl press. Rungs and Bitches of the Drought, and the chapbook I’m currently working on, were written over a few months and then subjected to years of editing.

Cheyenne L. Black: Can you talk about your process a little bit? Were the poems for Bitches written in roughly the same time-frame then?

Lauren Eggert-Crowe: The bulk of the poems were written in the same year, and then I forgot about them for awhile until I came back to them to try to organize them into a chapbook. That’s generally my process for poetry lately. I write when I don’t think I’m writing. Then I come back to it and realize I have some decent material. Then I added a few other unpublished poems that were written about three years earlier because I felt that they fit the theme.

Oddly enough, the title is the first thing that came to me, months before I started writing many of the poems in the chapbook. Sometimes that happens. Titles flash in my brain first and then I try to follow them.

Cheyenne L. Black: So it sounds like your titles are more than street signs pointing to the poems, but rather are a kind of content marker or even content generator?

Lauren Eggert-Crowe: Yes, I think that makes sense.

Cheyenne L. Black: You spoke earlier about the effort to make poems that didn’t conclude or have clear meaning. What led you to want to move in that direction?

Lauren Eggert-Crowe: I really want my poetry to be multivalent, and I have this feeling that as soon as you make it obvious what the poem is “about,” you have killed the poem. I want my poems to feel more like dancing than walking, and dancing is a form of movement that relies on expression and interpretation.

Cheyenne L. Black: You’ve released three chapbooks, one of those a collaboration, and now another chapbook, in just a few years. Are you writing constantly?

Lauren Eggert-Crowe: I’m not! I really wish I were. The chapbooks I have created have come from a time when I was writing almost every day for a month or so. Imagine what I could make if I sustained that effort for a year or more. I think I am moving in that direction though.

Cheyenne L. Black: What are you working on now? Can you give us a line or two? A sneak-peek?

Lauren Eggert-Crowe: A collection (maybe chapbook, maybe full-length), the bulk of which is from poems I wrote in the summer of 2014 and then left alone for three years. As of now, they are all going to be untitled. Here’s a sneak peek:

I leave places like it’s going out of style
Trash on the ficus-broken sidewalk
Women slapping each other on TV
Hyphenated hoods and the interlopers in their cars
The dust comes into my house and never leaves
My feet charcoal the sheets, my bird-pecked
pomegranates swinging like lanterns beyond the curtain
Where are you dark and gleaming

 

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Lauren Eggert-Crowe is the author of three previous chapbooks: Rungs, (co-authored with Margaret Bashaar), In the Songbird Laboratory, and The Exhibit. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Black Warrior Review, DUM DUM Zine, horseless review, Springgun, Sixth Finch and DIAGRAM. She is the Reviews Editor for Terrain.org: A Journal of the Built and Natural Environments, and she serves on the leadership team for Women Who Submit.

Cheyenne L. Black is the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is an MFA candidate in poetry and a former Virginia G. Piper global fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, the American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others.

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Meet Our New Editorial Intern, Cheyenne L. Black

This is how far I have come to be a Sundress Intern:

When I was five, my mother took me to see The Lawrence Welk Show, live. He picked me out of the audience, did a little dance with me and complimented me (to my mother—not to me) and then kissed my cheek. The left side of my face is still my best side, photogenically speaking, and the right, not so much. My mother thought the kiss had something to do with it, and I still wonder if he should have kissed the right, too.

Since then, and probably not because of that kiss, I dropped out of high school; had three kids; raised them as a single parent (until I married again in 2013); buried my mother; traveled full-time in an RV for three years with three kids, two cats, and a dog; was diagnosed with a disability; enrolled in community college at 39 (first generation students rock!); bought a house; subsequently went to university where I graduated with a double-major in creative writing and interdisciplinary studies at 42; and am now pursuing my MFA at Arizona State University where I am the editor-in-chief of Hayden’s Ferry Review and a Virginia G. Piper fellow. Although I am enrolled in the poetry program at ASU, I write cross-genre and my current projects are a novel-length experimental long poem about growing up in the Sonoran desert, and (when I have time) a novel.

I’m pretty interested in the ways that our lives interact with space and place, with nature and our seeming need to conquer or tame or label as a means of taming (and by this I mean not just nature but children, women, and everything we put in this “wild” category)—so most of my work is place-based as a foundation to explore these ideas, and I’m also fascinated by the ways we create and destroy utopias and dystopias in reality. The intersections I can see for all of my work are women and primitivism; place and pain; naming and taming; spit and anger.

In what seems like another life, I owned a tea company and was also sea kayak guide in the islands off the coast of Washington state (which I still call home) and where I still love to paddle (and drink tea). So if I’m not writing or building something out of mud (vernacular architecture buff), I’m probably swimming, kayaking, or canoeing, or otherwise trying to catch a ferry to the islands. I’m an advocate for women in every area, a community activist for disability rights, for the importance of the arts, the right to equal food access, and a puzzler of the ways we hold and make space.

Honestly, I could not be more excited to join the Sundress team as an intern. This is a collective organization which I admire deeply. To be a part of things which we love already is a treat and an honor.

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Cheyenne L. Black serves as the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a third-year MFA candidate and Virginia G. Piper global fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelterand In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobilityamong others. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children where she brutally and with much zeal strikes the ‘s’ from directionals like toward, afterward, and backward.

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Project Bookshelf: Cheyenne L. Black

If I’m trying to look cool I’ll say this is my bookshelf:

And it’s true. When I bought the house in 2010, one of the first things we did was install these shelves. Note how I can never change the size of my television. Which is probably okay since we never turn it on. It’ll last forever I think. Note too that these are in perfect order, there is a fiction section, a poetry section, and a reference section. Most of these books haven’t been touched in at least six years—since I started school. Most of these books don’t even belong to me. They were inherited from my mother or belong to my now-adult-once-teen daughters.

But if I’m being honest about the current state of MY books I’ll show you these instead: 

And I’ll add that there are at least twenty more stacks of books that look exactly like this, on my desk, on my nightstand, on the floor near both of these, and anywhere I regularly try to stake out space in a house full of people. Because right now I’m always bouncing back and forth between home and school, my actual books, the ones I use, read, reference, and sleep with, aren’t on that wall at all. (See also: lesesucht.)

I’m currently in a constant state of flux between Washington state and Arizona, so I’m always carrying whole boxes of books back and forth. I carry more books back and forth than I do items of clothing. And because I’m only in each place for a few months at a time before I have to return to the other, I don’t really bother to unpack them exactly. I more distribute, stack, and scatter strategically. Moreover, when I’m in one place I will inevitably, never mind how many books I brought, need one that is in the other location and will pay shipping to have one of my kids send me the book or will buy another copy. Thus I now have two copies of many books, too, but I can never remember in which state. . . So the truth of my bookshelf presently is that it’s more box than shelf, more floorstack than display, more misplaced panic—than leisure. But I’ll probably pretend I have no idea what you’re talking about if you mention this to me in public.

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Cheyenne L. Black serves as the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a third-year MFA candidate and Virginia G. Piper global fellow. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and children where she brutally and with much zeal strikes the ‘s’ from directionals like toward, afterward, and backward.

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