Tag Archives: interview

An interview with 2017 Chapbook Contest Winner Laura Page




I recently interviewed Laura Page, whose collection of poetry epithalamium won Sundress Publications‘ sixth chapbook competition. Page is a graduate of Southern Oregon University and editor of the poetry journal, Virga. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from Rust + MothCrab Creek ReviewThe RumpusTinderbox Poetry JournalTINGE, and elsewhere. She is the author of two previous chapbooks, Children, Apostates (dancing girl press, 2016) and Sylvia Plath in the Major Arcana (Anchor & Plume, forthcoming). Visit her website at www.laurapage.net.

Danielle Hayden: Thanks so much for agreeing to be interviewed! I’d like to dive right in and talk about epithalamium. What was the inspiration behind this work? 

Laura Page: My pleasure. Thank you! I came across the word ‘epithalamium’ in the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics while participating in a project spearheaded by my friend Joshua Medsker, who is also a poet. The term is Latin, and denotes texts celebrating or expounding on marriage, though, as the editors note, epithalamia can be quite varied, both in structure and tonality. Adrienne Rich said something that has always stuck with me: “The moment of change is the poem.” I suppose I wanted to document and compile what is mutable between two committed individuals.

DH: What challenges, if any, did you encounter while putting this collection together?

LP: It’s interesting—compiling this collection was almost no challenge; the poems coalesced, however, out of a difficulty I had been having while trying to order another manuscript. I kept feeling that many poems contained in that collection didn’t seem to ‘fit’ or seemed to belong to another speaker. A large percentage of the poems in epithalamium were those that I eventually realized could become a separate body of work.

DH: If I may, I’d like to ask a bit about your background and your journey to becoming a poet. How and when did you decide that you wanted to be a poet? Who or what were your biggest influences/from whom did you draw inspiration?

LP: I’m not sure there was one pivotal moment. I have always loved literature. As a very young person, I read pretty voraciously. I wish I could devour books now like I did then. I think I wrote my first poem when I was twelve and shortly after that, I decided that I wanted to write fiction. Though I do write the occasional story, poetry is my love. I have to return to Adrienne Rich, here, because I started writing again as an adult after I picked up a book of critical essays on her work. I was maybe 19, and was blown away. After that, it was Theodore Roethke. There were a few gateways. Then I started writing truly awful poetry in earnest.

DH: What/who inspires you today? 

LP: There are many, but recently I’m enamored with Rainer Maria Rilke, Wallace Stevens, Robert Hass, and Ada Limon.

DH: What is your creative process like? I know it’s different for every poet and sometimes for every work or phase of life. Feel free to describe your process more generally or how it was during the writing of epithalamium, if those differed at all.

LP: A poem almost always begins with an image or a turn of phrase that strikes me and then sticks for whatever reason. For some time now, I’ve been keeping one or more Word files open or readily accessible and writing in odd moments, very fast, without letting myself think too much about what’s going down. Everything in a particular file is loosely connected, so I have several little micro-collections going. I rework the poems, occasionally, but I’m less compulsive about doing so than I ever used to be. This is a fairly new thing. It feels more focused compared to past phases, certainly compared to the rather drawn out process of writing epithalamium.

DH: I know that you are the founding editor of the poetry magazine Virga. Congratulations on the launch! What has that been like so far (rewards, challenges, etc.)?

LP: I started Virga because I wanted to be a more involved literary citizen, as cliché as that term might sound these days, and I feel like I’m accomplishing that goal. It’s been very rewarding to read new and emerging poets and showcase their work. We’ve received some great feedback and I’m feeling confident in the future of the magazine, as tiny as we are. I think the challenge, for us, is a challenge any very new publication experiences unless it is very well connected, which is just bringing the magazine to the attention of more readers and prospective contributors. So, a shameless plug: if you’re reading this, we’d love for you to take a look and consider submitting poems!

DH: Why do you write? Why does poetry matter? We here at Sundress don’t need to be convinced of poetry’s importance, but for those naysayers, what do you say?

LP: Poetry is a means of access; what is being accessed is different for every poet. For me, it’s a way of getting at complex emotions, desires, and a way to interrogate my own assumptions. Sometimes it’s a liminal way to converse with elements outside of myself.

 DH: What are you reading now/what have you read recently?

 LP: I recently read Jorge Luis Borges’ This Craft of Verse, which is an incredible collection of essays on the reading and writing of poetry, and am currently reading a strange mix of things: some religious texts—gospels from the Nag Hammadi—some Anaïs Nin, some Gertrude Stein.

DH: And, finally, what are you currently working on? Any forthcoming projects that we can look forward to?

LP: I’m working slowly and quietly on a few things, including the full-length manuscript I mentioned. Virga is also gearing up for issue three coming this spring, so we’re very excited about that.


Laura Page is a graduate of Southern Oregon University and editor of the poetry journal, Virga. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from Rust + Moth, Crab Creek Review, The Rumpus, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, TINGE, and elsewhere. She is the author of two previous chapbooks, Children, Apostates (dancing girl press, 2016) and Sylvia Plath in the Major Arcana (Anchor & Plume, forthcoming).

Danielle Hayden is a freelance writer and editor who grew up in Detroit and now lives in Seattle. Included among all the things she loves are: learning, books, watching films, making lists, and collecting great quotes—sometimes as tattoos. She reads about everything, and writes about almost as much. Danielle is an enthusiastic supporter of the arts and of the Oxford comma.

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AWP Roundtable: Journalism Skills for Fiction Writers

Joan Didion, Maya Angelou, Alex Haley, Stieg Larsson, Charles Dickens, Edna Buchanan, and Mark Twain (among many others) created memorable fiction largely as a result of the skills they honed as reporters. Journalists churn out hundreds of words every day (without the luxury of waiting for inspiration), write to a word count, write to deadline, learn to work with editors, and develop an eye for extraneous words, authentic dialogue, and telling details. They also tend to have pretty solid grammatical skills and a keen sense of story. Is it any wonder they often make brilliant novelists?

A reporter’s toolkit can help novelists and storytellers of all kinds write gripping first lines, create memorable characters, and imagine authentic worlds in their fiction. There are stories in the world far more important—and far more interesting—than those drawn merely from our own experience. With global tensions intensifying, it feels urgent to tell stories that reach beyond our own borders and engage us with both the broader world and other humans.


Jennifer Steil (Moderator): Why don’t we each start off by talking about how the skills we acquired as a journalist are reflected in our own fiction writing?

Jo Piazza: Speed is the first thing that comes to mind. I started out as a newspaper reporter for the New York Daily News right before the Internet completely changed newspapers forever. But even when I was on a daily deadline instead of an hourly deadline I was still crunched to churn out clean, well-crafted copy on tight deadlines.

The Internet has only made those deadlines faster. What that means is that I have never had the luxury of fretting over my words. I just had to write. I do the same thing with my fiction writing. I can get a first draft on paper fast as hell. Then, once the whole thing is written, I take the time to go back and massage it and make it beautiful. I credit my work as a reporter for never getting writer’s block. I laugh when people talk about writer’s block. Who has the time for it?

My work as a journalist has also taught me to take meticulous notes. I used to carry three or four reporters’ notebooks with me all the time to write down my interviews. Now I carry much smaller notebooks that can slip into my back pocket. I am constantly writing down descriptions of things or bits of dialogue and then stashing them away as inspiration for my fiction.

Tom Zoellner: I believe the top trait demanded of a reporter is the ability to listen. You must ask probing questions and not accept superficial explanations. You must develop the ability to understand inference – to understand what is left unsaid. The art of writing fiction is about “listening” to your characters as though they were interview subjects.

Michael Downs: What Tom said is really important – for journalists, novelists, everyone. There’s a quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez – another journalist/novelist – that I often mention to students in which Marquez chides interviewers for relying too much on technology and recording devices and paying attention only to a person’s words. But those things, he says, don’t “hear the beating of the heart, which is the most important part of the interview.” He’s talking about empathy, and I think journalism teaches that. Journalism helped me become a person who knows how to pay attention to another person. It’s empathy, it’s listening, it’s openness to the world and experience. That was a great gift.

But as for skills, I’d say the ability to research and report have primarily helped my fiction writing. I’ve set a lot of my work in other decades – my forthcoming novel is set in the 1840s, and it’s about the early days of anesthesia. It took a lot more than Google to understand the world and the science and my characters’ lives. I had to know where to search, how to search, and why to search. Journalism taught me a lot of that.

Sophfronia Scott: At both Time and People magazines I frequently had to write short articles, like 500 words and less. Those short articles still had to be packed with information and the prose had to pop. Writing like that taught me to respect words. Every word has to pull its weight when you write short, every verb has to be on target. I’ve carried that respect into my fiction writing. My novel may be over 100,000 words but none of those words are throwaway words.

Jennifer Steil: You’ve all made really important points. Like Jo, I don’t have time to sit around waiting for inspiration. I’m very good at writing to deadline. I also carry a notebook everywhere because if I don’t write down a thought the minute I have it, it floats up into the ether. My experience scribbling interviews in my reporters’ notebooks, making sure to record the exact words, was terrific preparation for writing convincing dialogue. Reporting also brought me in contact with people I would never otherwise encounter or get to know. They made me aware of very different lives, different stories. Perhaps among the most important things I learned as a reporter was how to ask questions of the world and how to listen closely to the answers.

My journalism background is also entirely responsible for my career as a novelist. Before 2006, I had written many stories and one entire novel, but none of them felt urgent. When I moved to Yemen in the summer of 2006, I finally found a story worth telling. I became the editor-in-chief of a Yemeni newspaper, which was the hardest and most fascinating thing I had ever done. It felt urgent to tell the world the stories of my reporters, to tell the world that Yemenis are nothing like their portrayal in the media. Thus my first book ended up, to my surprise, being a memoir. After publishing a work of nonfiction, it was much easier to sell a novel. I already had an agent, an editor, and a publishing track record.


Jennifer Steil (Moderator): If you were teaching a masterclass in using journalism tools for fiction writing, what one journalism tool would you teach, and how would you do it? What have students or colleagues really responded to?

Michael Downs: I’ll return to what Tom and I alluded to above: the interview. Becoming a good interviewer requires that you as a writer learn how to move from an answer to a question, to discover in an answer a new question –and isn’t that the direction literature takes? Also, interviewing skills help at parties and receptions and the like. Strangers, it turns out, are more interesting when you ask them interesting questions.

Sophfronia Scott: I would teach the power of detail. We tend to think of description as telling what something or someone looks like—his hair was gray, the sky was blue. But I would teach to choose detail that does more, detail that tells you someone’s situation or state of mind or provides a stunning contrast. I once reported a story about a middle school age student who took a knife to school in her backpack with the intention of harming her teacher. My editor wanted me to try to find out what else was in her backpack: pink lip gloss? Math homework that had been left undone? A crumpled bus pass? She wanted to play off that contrast of a violent instrument placed among a pre-teen’s school things. Detail is so important. I would want students to open their eyes to see more than what they may be taking in now.

Jennifer Steil: Absolutely. That’s a terrific example of evocative detail, Sophfronia.

One exercise my students consistently find useful is a lede-writing exercise. While there is a lot more to writing a good book than crafting a riveting first sentence, a riveting first sentence never hurts. I talk about 13 different types of journalistic ledes, giving several examples of each type. (Many of my favorites come from Pulitzer Prize-winning Edna Buchanan, who wrote memorable ledes such as, “Bad things happen to the husbands of Widow Elkin” and, “His last meal was worth $30,000 and it killed him,” but I also include examples from novels, such as, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet,” from Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.) After we read dozens of brilliant first sentences and learn something about what makes them work, I ask my students to interview each other and write a profile of their partner, starting with one of the lede types we discussed. They do not need to stick to the facts (fiction writing!) but can freely spin off from the material. The interview is just a starting point. Students always come up with some great stuff. Even seasoned authors have let me know they went home and rewrote the first sentence of their book after this particular lecture.

Jo Piazza: Writing on deadline. I guess it’s something I can’t emphasize enough because I keep mentioning it. Right now I’m working on a very quickie project for my publisher. It’s a 75k word novel, and I need to bang it out in about three weeks. Yeah, an entire novel in three weeks. The exercise is daunting every day. I go through the complex emotions one usually experiences writing a novel over the course of a year or two in a single 24-hour span. While you’d think this would dull my writing skills, it has actually done the opposite. It’s forcing my brain to work in different ways. I’m doing a constant sprint now instead of a marathon, and I think the exercise will serve me well on my next big book project. I think reminding people that time is a luxury is really important.

Tom Zoellner: This one is hard to pull off in the classroom except by exhortation, but what helps journalism immeasurably is the simple act of “showing up” – traveling out to see the coal mine, the hospital, the city council chamber, the family home. You are exposed to ten thousand sensory elements and organic connections – the grist of life – that you would never get from reading about it or a phone conversation. Establishing a physical presence first in the places where we seek to create literature is a journalistic habit that fiction writers would do well to imitate.


Jennifer Steil (Moderator): How do you encourage other writers to think beyond their own lives and experiences?

Jo Piazza: I tell everyone who wants to be a writer to set a writing goal every day and make sure to meet it every day for the next month. Mine is between 1,000 and 3,000 words depending on what I am working on. You’d be amazed at how many people come back to me and say they didn’t make it even three days. That’s when I remind them that writing is hard. It’s a craft. It’s a habit. It takes real work. I think from the outside writing looks really easy. Everyone thinks they can be a writer. But when it comes to putting pen to paper on a regular basis (I still say that because I write almost everything long-hand before I type it out) the reality is very different.

I tell people to talk to as many people as possible in a day, but to make sure they’re really listening. Writers are essentially thieves, stealing bits and pieces of other people’s stories and dialogue. I’ve gotten some of my best dialogue from Uber drivers around the world. It’s the listening that is key…and the writing things down. You will tell yourself you will remember something and 99 percent of the time you won’t.

Tom Zoellner: I have never bought into the idea that writers of an assigned gender, race, religion, geography, class, etc. should be confined to only writing about their “identity” (however and by whomever that is defined). Journalism is an excellent way to break those boundaries and establish some empathetic projection – paradoxically enough, through dispassionate observation – with people who live in far different circumstances. And another paradox: getting out of your neighborhood is at once an act of hubris and an act of humility.

Jennifer Steil: I’ve always told young writers that the best thing they could do for their writing is to move somewhere that makes them profoundly uncomfortable and that challenges all of their assumptions. Such a situation is bound to force people to think outside of their own small worlds, from a less nationalistic and more global point of view. It also leads to interesting adventures and relationships, all splendidly rich writing material. One exercise I like to do with students is to have them write a travel story about their home town. Where’s the best pizza place? Where is the best place to throw a birthday party? Which bars would you recommend? What is the town known for? It gives them new perspective to have to describe it to a stranger.

Sophfronia Scott: I tell my students that creativity playdates are just as important as the time they schedule for writing. In fact, their writing time could be difficult and fruitless without them. If they find they are spending much of their writing time staring wordless at the screen or blank page, they’re in need of a creativity playdate. I say if you’re looking for a story idea, ride the subway a few stops or go sit in a park and pay attention. Your next character might step on at West 66th Street, or stroll past you wearing a top hat and walking a fluffy Scottish terrier sporting blue booties on its paws. I know my writing eye is awakened every time I travel the 65 miles south to New York City and take in the energy and movement of a different environment. Suddenly my senses have new sights, sounds, and smells to process. Really the best way to get outside of yourself is to open your eyes and start looking around.

Michael Downs: Creative playdates. I love that. I hope you don’t mind, Sophfronia, if I borrow that one.

This question of moving beyond personal experience is so important, especially for younger writers. Too often they don’t have enough narrative distance from the particulars of their own experiences to be cold about them. A newspaper columnist from California once wrote in Best American Newspaper Writing how he always wrote hot and edited cold. I tell that to my students, but they still often can’t find their way to that cold phase regarding their own experiences.

So I encourage several strategies: change the setting or change the genders of the characters. Change their ages. One thing that often works is to get them to see their particular experience in terms of its abstractions (their experience involved betrayal, or failed hope, or the strange comedy of grief). Then, they imagine a situation different from their own particular experience, but one that allows them to write about those same abstractions. So rather than the profound betrayal they felt in a love affair, they write instead about a betrayal in a workplace having nothing to do with love. That way they still write about their life experience, but the particulars belong to someone else’s life.


Jennifer Steil (Moderator): Do you still work as a journalist? How does that affect and fit in with your fiction writing on a day-to-day basis?

Sophfronia Scott: I write essays and opinion pieces for publication, but I don’t work as a reporter-type journalist anymore. I focus on my own writing now but the lessons I learned from journalism are still within me and at use every day. How could they not be? I wrote many stories, under deadline, for years and years. It’s imprinted in me at this point.

Jennifer Steil: Sometimes. I like to do freelance work when I can, it brightens up my brain. Working to a tight deadline and word count focuses me. I no longer work full-time as a journalist, largely because I find that if I am writing all day long for a paper or magazine, I don’t have the energy for my own fiction work at the end of the day. I’m better off bartending.

Michael Downs: Like you, Jennifer, I find it difficult to balance the two. It’s an analogy that dates me, but I find it’s like Bo Jackson or Deion Sanders trying to toggle between baseball and football. They’re both sports, but they require such different skills and world views. In my case, journalism is about the rush, the deadline, the ability to learn enough that I can simplify what’s complicated. Fiction, though, is more like method acting. It demands that I be quiet and go deep and concentrate, to take what might seem simple and complicate it. But I love and honor both disciplines and their crafts.

Jo Piazza: I do. Up until I had my baby six months ago I was still working full-time as a journalist and writing books on the side. Now I am focusing mainly on books and baby with some freelance assignments. I typically reserve a couple of hours every day to do the fiction writing regardless of what my full-time job looks like, be it editor of a website or a magazine or being a mom like it is right now. But I follow the quota more than I follow the time limit unless I am editing, then I can edit for about eight hours straight. But when I am in creation mode once I am done with that word count I let myself be done for the day. Sometimes I am finished in a half hour and sometimes it takes five hours. My husband is very used to me saying “I have one hundred more words…I can’t do anything until I get one hundred more words.”

Tom Zoellner: I am far more a journalist – by habit, training, and a liking for paychecks – than I am a fiction writer. But I find I am drawn to write fictional characters that embody a certain reserve and clinical distance resembling that of the journalist’s prose. A refusal to participate in the depths of life in favor of observation, much like the existential ambivalence of the protagonist of Richard Ford’s The Sportswriter. This is a dilemma that we don’t much like to talk about, and one whose best expression is through fiction.



Michael Downs’s debut novel, The Strange and True Tale of Horace Wells, SurgeonVersion 2 Dentist, is forthcoming in May 2018 from Acre Books. His other books include The Greatest Show (Louisiana State University Press, 2012), a collection of linked stories, and House of Good Hope (University of Nebraska Press, 2007), which won the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize. His recent nonfiction has appeared in AARP: The MagazineBaltimore Style, and River Teeth. A former newspaper reporter, he has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Maryland State Arts Council, and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation. He lives in Baltimore’s Hamilton neighborhood and teaches at Towson University.

JoPiazzaJo Piazza is an award-winning journalist and best selling author of both fiction and non-fiction. Her novel, The Knockoff, with Lucy Sykes became an instant international bestseller and has been translated into more than seven languages. Jo received a Masters in Journalism from Columbia and has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Marie Claire, Elle and Salon. Her latest novel, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win, will be published by Simon & Shuster in July 2018. She currently lives in San Francisco with her husband, son and their giant dog.

Sophfronia Scott is author of the essay collectionLove’s Long Line, from Ohio State SophfroniaScottUniversity Press’s Mad Creek Books and a memoirThis Child of Faith: Raising a Spiritual Child in a Secular World, from Paraclete Press. She was a writer and editor at Time and People before publishing her first novelAll I Need to Get By (St. Martin’s Press). Her latest novel is Unforgivable Love (William Morrow). Sophfronia teaches at Regis University’s Mile High MFA and Bay Path University’s MFA in Creative Nonfiction. Visit her website, www.Sophfronia.com.

Jennifer Steil
is an award-winning author and journalist. Her novel, The Ambassador’s JenniferSteilWife, published by Doubleday in 2015, won the 2013 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition Best Novel award and the 2016 Phillip McMath Post Publication book award. It was shortlisted for both the Bisexual Book Award and the Lascaux Novel Award. Jennifer’s first book, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (Broadway Books, 2010), a memoir about her tenure as editor of the Yemen Observer newspaper in Sana’a, was praised by The New York TimesNewsweek, and the Sydney Morning Herald. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune chose it as one of their best travel books of the year in 2010, and Elle magazine awarded it their Readers’ Prize. National Geographic Traveler included the book in their 2014 recommended reading list. It has been published in Australia, New Zealand, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, and Poland.

Her freelance work has appeared in the Saranac ReviewWorld Policy Journal, The WeekThe Washington Times, Vogue UK, Die WeltNew York Post, The Rumpus, TimeReaders’ Digest Version, Irish National Radio, France 24 (English), CBS radioand GRN Global Reporter Network Service.TomZoellner

Tom Zoellner
is an Associate Professor of English at Chapman University and the author of four nonfiction books, including the recently published Train as well as A Safeway in Arizona, Uranium, and The Heartless Stone. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, Slate, Time, Harper’s, Men’s Health, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and many other places.



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Interview with Stephanie McCarley Dugger, Author of Either Way, You’re Done (Sundress Publications 2017)


either way you're done

Cass Hayes
: What kinds of things inform and inspire your writing? Are there any specific books or authors that had a big impact on Either Way, You’re Done?

Stephanie McCarley Dugger: I grew up on a farm, which is a big influence on my work; I write a lot about nature and animals and the night sky (it’s vast and gracious in the country). And music—I’m from a family of singers (but since I can’t sing to save my life, I became a flutist). So, music really inspires my work, too. Specific writers? So, so many. Definitely Mary Ann Samyn, Anne Carson, and, of course, Emily Dickinson. I didn’t recognize her influence until I was proofing one of the early drafts of Either Way, You’re Done and noticed that nearly every poem had two or three dashes. They’ve changed a lot since those early drafts, but I believe her influence is still evident in the poems.

CH: What about writing brings you joy?

SMD: Discovery. I write to find out—to investigate something—and when the writing results in some new discovery, some new truth, I get excited. When I wrote the last two lines of “After the Shooting,” “In my daydreams, / I do not beg for mercy,” I realized much of the manuscript is an act of begging for mercy, and refusing to do that is alluring and empowering, but also often impossible. That kind of surprise keeps me writing. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does I get all giddy.

CH: Why do you write poetry, and why did the topics you explore in Either Way, You’re Done need to be explored through poems?

SMD: I’m drawn to poetry in particular because rhythm is a form of meditation for me. It provides me focus to explore what I’m trying to learn about. I write essays, too, but I always return to poetry because the attention to rhythm, language, and space on the page helps me clear out all of the noise. I write a lot about trauma, and poetry seems to work best when I’m delving into those topics. I can cut, cut, cut until only the necessary remains. Often, the necessary ends up being more space on the page than words. That white space gives me (and maybe the reader) a place to breathe.

CH: What has been your biggest struggle in your writing and in publishing your work?

SMD: There are some love poems to women in the book, some about being bisexual in a Southern Baptist home. That isn’t something I’ve shared with many family members, so I have some concerns about how they’ll react. The biggest struggle, though, goes back to writing about trauma. Many of the poems are about my childhood experiences—physical and sexual abuse, my mother’s mental illness—and that’s hard to put out there. It isn’t something I go around talking about, so knowing these poems might be read by other people has been hard. I struggled for a long time with whether or not I should publish them at all. I want to protect my family and my privacy, so I’m torn between writing/publishing my experience or keeping it close. At some point, I had to make a decision. This is what I write about, and I’m going to either release it out into the world or abandon the work. I decided to release it.

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CH: How do you decide what form a poem is going to take? Is there any significance in the form of the poems included in Either Way, You’re Done, or in the structure of the book as a whole?

SMD: I’m not very practiced in choosing a form and writing to that form, so I have to listen to the poem to find the form. I still handwrite the first draft of everything—it feels less restrictive. The handwritten draft is usually a sin

gle stanza, short lines. Then I type the poem out, but keep that basic form. I work in the white space and fragmentation after several revisions. I revise based on sound—I read the poem out loud over and over, and the pauses in rhythm usually suggest the white space. Funny, though—when I read the finished poems in front of people, I usually don’t read them as they appear on the page. The white space is diminished. I don’t always end up with a fragmented poem, but the poems dealing with trauma often end up in that form. It just needs more time, more space on the page. Not more words, just more space.

CH: Why are so many poems in Either Way, You’re Done dedicated to specific people?

SMD: That’s a great question. I didn’t actually intend for those people in the dedications to read these poems (this goes back to your earlier question about the struggles with writing). If they do, fine, but it wasn’t my aim to get their attention. Initially, none of the poems were dedicated, but there are so many different you’s in the first section of the book that it was confusing. No matter what I did, though, I couldn’t get away from second person point of view. Very few of the poems worked in third person. The best solution was to add a dedication when it was necessary to understand who the poem is directed to. In the first section, it’s important to know in order to keep the narrative clear. That information isn’t as necessary in the second section—whether the you’s are all the same or different doesn’t matter as much—so there are fewer dedications in the second half.

CH: Do you have any advice for someone just starting out writing poetry?

SMD: Keep writing. We need your voice, especially now.

And if you’re afraid to write about something, that’s the very thing you need to write about.

Oh, and there is no set path, no set time-table in writing. Go your own pace, no matter what everyone else is doing.

CH: Do you have any advice for revision? How do you go about revision?

SMD: I revise a lot. A lot! I like revising. I like it more than writing something new, so I’ll often put off generating new work by revising. I rarely know when to stop. It’s part of the reason there’s so much white space in my work—I cut and cut words and lines until I have to start the poem over.

My advice for revising: Read it out loud over and over. Reading out loud is the most productive means of revising for me. I get a clearer sense of the diction and rhythm.


Also, keep every draft so you can go back if you don’t like where it’s going, but don’t be afraid to do something drastic in revision. The poem isn’t some delicate thing that needs to be nestled and protected. It’s a process, a product of manipulation. So, blow it up, cut it apart, see what happens. You can always go back if it doesn’t work.

CH: What are you working on now? Do you have any other projects in the works?

SMD: I’m working on a children’s book and an essay collection (slowly). I recently finished my second manuscript, a long poem about mental illness and diagnosis, and I’m working on a third. I’ve been spending as much time outside as possible these last couple of years, and that is heavily influencing the new poems (back to nature!).

You can order Either Way, You’re Done today from the Sundress store!


Stephanie McCarley Dugger is the author of Either Way, You’re Done (Sundress Publications, 2017). Her chapbook Sterling (Paper Nautilus, 2015) was co-winner of the 2014 Vella Chapbook contest. Her work has appeared in The Boiler Journal, Gulf Stream, Heron Tree, Meridian, The Southeast Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and other journals. She is an assistant professor at Austin Peay State University and is Assistant Poetry Editor for Zone 3 Press.

Cass Hayes is a writer from Waxahachie, Texas. She attends the Arkansas Writers MFA Program at the University of Central Arkansas and works as the managing editor of the online literary journal Arkana. Her fiction and poetry appears or is forthcoming in various online and print literary journals, including Five:2:One, Work Literary Magazine, and Déraciné Magazine.

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Cassie Grillon: The poems in Actual Miles are beautifully lyrical, and the way they are arranged on the page varies interestingly from short stanzas to blocks of text similar to prose. In your writing process, do you focus more on lyricism or the visual appearance of the words?

Jim Warner: For me, the visual aspect of the poem is the very last part of the process, simply because it’s the most difficult for me. When I was in grad school, it came very apparent that my poems didn’t utilize the field of action when it came to line breaks and lineation. My poems were like 2×4’s: dense and solid.  In a lot of ways, the look of the poem ran in direct competition with the rhythm of the language. As a result, I spent the better part of the last decade really focusing on the look of the poem. As far as the lyricism of the poem, as an auditory learner, my writing always starts with the play of sound. I am a son of sound, due in large part to being in love with the radio. Growing up, I wanted to be Paul Westerberg, Chuck D, or Tom Waits, I’ve settled on being the best misterjim.

CG: Familial relationships play a large role in the book, and food is often connected to family and memory. What kind of inspiration do you find in your family (and food)?

JW: If you ever had my mom’s fried rice and lumpia, I would challenge you to find better poetry anywhere. It’s in her fingers, and always has been. Spoiler alert, I’m very close to my family, and my relationship with them has informed the way I approach the literary community. My dad worked a seven day swing shift for Pennsylvania Power and Light so my mom could stay home with me. My mom volunteered at my school library from the time I was in first grade all the way through middle school. They taught me to not only seek community, but to be an active, contributing member of it.

CG: How did setting influence the way the book was written?

JW: I’m unsettled, always. For the better part of the last five years or so I’ve been on the move. In the last five years I’ve gone from Scranton, PA to Central Illinois to Knoxville, TN and back to Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, for now). In the next six months, my wife and I will be pulling up stakes again to…? I like being in motion, love the road. Granted, having a giant record and vinyl collection to wrangle each move is intense, but it’s fuel for the fire, right? Travel keeps you honest, forces you to pare down, be neat and compact. I probably do as much writing while behind the wheel as I do behind a desk.

CG: What is a good book you recently read? What did you like about it?

JW: Over the holiday break, I finished Hanif Abdurraqib’s amazing essay collection They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us.  What I love about Hanif’s work is how his voice radiates regardless of personal essay, criticism, or poetry. When I saw him read at last year at the Rock n Roll reading at AWP, I was immediately floored by the marriage of pop culture, underground scene, and identity going on in an essay.

CG: Do you have any upcoming projects you are working on?

JW: Right now, I am working on a collaborative writing project with Beth Gilstrap. We are writing haibun-inspired pieces based on our mutual experiences in punk and hardcore. Over hanging out at AWPs, we discovered that we both spent time in our area’s punk communities. At the time, I had been writing haibun and haiku and was looking for a way to experiment with my writing using them as a base. Since last March, we’ve written nearly forty pieces and have had a real positive response both in publication and reader feedback.

CG: Which part of the writing process do you find the most enjoyable?

JW: The editing after making it public. Usually I pound away on a draft and then share the work either at a workshop, an open mic, or (most often these days) with my wife Aubrie Cox. Getting that immediate response as well as the act of sharing immediately takes the piece out of my head, and on some level, closes the circuit for the work. This isn’t to say that my revisions are reactionary or that I just make changes to satisfy person x,y, or z, but having eyes/ears (both familiar and not) gives me an experience I can’t replicate alone in front of a computer. It fills in blanks for revisions, places the work may be falling apart, and reinforces for me that in order for a piece to be successful that at some point, I have to no longer claim sole ownership over it.  One of the principles of haiku I really dig is the concept that a haiku is not finished until it’s shared with somebody. The revision after making work public then has some additional context. In a lot of ways, the best poems in this book are a direct product of making the pieces public, particularly with Amy Sayre Baptista and John McCarthy (aka Guaranteed Agony aka the best writing workshop I’ve ever been involved with). Every poem that went through the Guaranteed Agony grinder ended up getting published. That’s just crazy.

CG: What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

JW: Swearing in church.

CG: Are there any authors whose work you disliked at first but have now come to appreciate? What changed?

JW: I wouldn’t say disliked but I never really understood haiku until I met Aubrie. I was very much in the mode that 95% of the world is when it comes to haiku: 5-7-fucking 5. We fill in the box, syllabic mad-libs style, and boom: haiku.  That syllable count is a carryover from Western translations: Japanese poets do not count syllables.  It’s all about breath and the juxtaposition of two images. The simplicity is its strength, and its complexity. For comparison, think of the early Beatles catalog or even punk for that matter: simple three chord, three-minute wonders whose style belies the lean muscle working under the surface.  Going back and reading classic haiku like Basho and especially Shiki with this in mind (as well as writers like Alan Pizzarelli, Roberta Berry and Nick Virgilio) has given me a larger appreciation of their work as well as informing how I teach writing.

CG: What advice would you give to new writers?

JW: Make time daily. Writing is a muscle that needs to be worked as much as any other you’re training. Discipline and routine may need to be built into your schedule, even if, and probably especially if you’re not “the schedule type.” Learning about how you write is as important as anything you will write. Learning what time of day, what the writing space needs to be, what pen/notebook/computer/quill/vial of blood will be your best medium–all these things need to be understood in order to maximize both your time and your output. That old chestnut/story of person X telling a writer “I’ve always wanted to write X but…” is a usually product of 1) totally not understanding how much writing means to you and what you’ve done/sacrificed/ruined to commit to being in the life and 2) totally not understanding their own needs/styles/motivations/approaches to best maximize their time.

You can pre-order our copy of Actual Miles now for $2 off the retail price plus free shipping! 


Jim Warner’s poetry has appeared in various journals including The North American Review, RHINO, Hobart, No Tokens, New South, and is the author of two collections from PaperKite Press. He is the Assistant Editor of Frogpond and teaches in the MFA program at Arcadia University. Jim serves as host of the literary podcast Citizen Lit.


Cassie Grillon grew up in the small town of Henderson, KY. She received her BFA in creative writing from Murray State University in Murray, KY and is now focusing on earning her MFA in creative writing with an emphasis on fiction from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. Her short story “Dry Grass” was recently awarded the David Madden Award for Short Fiction (2017), which was judged by ZZ Packer.

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An Interview with Jan LaPerle

Jan LaPerle, a career counselor for the Army Reserves, has published three books of poetry and fiction. On October 7-8, she’ll lead the Sundress Academy for the Arts‘ first writing retreat for veterans and current service members, along with poet Jeb A. Herrin.

Sean Purio, an active duty officer and student in the University of Tennessee’s creative writing Ph.D. program, interviewed LaPerle on behalf of Sundress.

Sean Purio: What advice would you give to people making the transition back into the civilian world? If you were to suggest to them a particular book, poetry collection, author, or film, what would it be?

Jan LaPerle: I’ve never been deployed, never been to war, so I’m not sure my advice here counts for much. But there are other transitions. A few weeks ago my husband and I watched American Sniper. There is a moment in the movie when Chris Kyle had just returned from his third, maybe fourth deployment and he was sitting in front of the TV – the TV was off – and his family was running around him, laughing, screaming through the house and he did not seem to hear them, he did not move, just kept staring blankly. Every time I return from Annual Training or a school or some other mission I’ve been on for the Army, I feel, for several days, like Chris in that chair. It’s like stepping from one world to the next; suddenly I’m just home and it’s just really different. In a few days I’m okay again though. For Chris it took a long time – it took finding new purpose, so that’s what my advice would be: find purpose.

SP: Is there a particular book, poetry collection, author, or film you would suggest people encounter before going into the armed forces? Why?

JL: I’m not really the kind of person who does a lot of preparation for making major life decisions. I joined in 1996 when my parents divorced and my dad cut me off from college funds. I went on Active Duty without having any idea what it would be like – I just needed somewhere to go, something to do. I finished my time, got out completely and 10 years later joined all over again into the Reserves. I joined because it seemed to be the right thing to do at that moment. Turns out it was.

My husband and I listened to Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance on our way to NH last summer. Vance discusses how his time in the Marines sort of straightened him out, forced him to have discipline, and provided him with mentors who cared about his welfare. Last weekend when I was cleaning out our attic, I found a picture of me at my Basic Training graduation. My eyes were red and puffy. I don’t know the name of the Soldier beside me, but I remember the feeling of not wanting to leave because for the first time I really felt like I was part of something. During a 12-mile road march I remember falling behind and looking ahead to PVT Jones who was looking back at me with her hand out, waiting to pull me along.

SP: What do you think is the role of cultivating an artistic sensibility—a way of perceiving the world—for those who serve (or have served) in the armed forces?

JL: Two I can explain right away. The first has to be as a release. I’m a Career Counselor, so I get to talk to a lot of Soldiers. The stories they tell me – I don’t think I could function without getting those stories out in some form or another. And to keep working at getting closer to this. I would think it would be important to remember, to have something to go back to (also to lighten the weight of memory). I’m reading a collection of stories and poems by Soldiers called Warrior Writers: Remaking Sense. This, from the introduction: “there is a deep necessity to create when so much has been shattered and stolen – a profound sense of hope comes from the ability to rebuild.” 

The second reason is because the people who haven’t served, civilians, really want to know. My best friend always asks question after question after I spend time away for Army – she’s curious, and fascinated. Other people I know just make assumptions about what it is a Soldier does, and they’re often terribly wrong. Making connections between veterans, between veterans and civilians, is important, they’re less apt to feel isolated (that’s the hope).

SP: It’s a loaded question if ever there was one, but: Why do you write?

JL: I don’t remember ever not writing – while I was cleaning my attic last weekend I condensed boxes of journals into a storage tub, and there are journals up there dating back to childhood. I write now because I want my next poem (or story) to be better than the last.

I’m reading Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey and, I think, this here where she quotes Barbara Herrnstein Smith helps explain: “varying degrees or states of tension seem to be involved in all our experiences, and that the most gratifying ones are those in which whatever tensions are created are also released.” When I am able to squeeze the juice out of a moment, an experience, a time in my life and make from it a poem (or story), there does seem something more gratifying about the moment/experience.

SP: I’m always curious what books artists are reading. What books have you read recently and what did you find remarkable about them?

JL: Last night I finished The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, which is now one of my favorite books (my husband says I say this at the end of most books). I’m amazed by Walls’s persistence, her determination to succeed when she had everything stacked against her. Her book made me want to be better (this is a big idea, of course, but something I’m constantly working on) and before that book I read Grit by Angela Duckworth and Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – there’s clearly a theme here.

Jan LaPerle lives in East Tennessee with her husband, Clay Matthews, and daughter, Winnie. She has published a book of poetry, It Would Be Quiet (Prime Mincer Press, 2013), an e-chap of flash fiction, Hush (Sundress Publications, 2012), a story in verse, A Pretty Place To Mourn (BlazeVOX, 2014), and several other stories and poems, and in 2014 she won an individual artist grant from the Tennessee Arts Commission. LaPerle was on Active Duty at Fort Campbell for three years and has spent 12 years as an Army Reservist, most recently as a Career Counselor.

Sean Purio is an active duty officer working toward his PhD in Creative Writing. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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An Interview with Jeb A. Herrin

The Sundress Academy for the Arts’ first writing retreat for veterans and current service members will take place October 7-8 at Firefly Farms. A weekend pass includes one-on-one and group instruction, writing supplies, food, drinks, and all on-site amenities for $75. Tents, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment are available to rent. The event will be open to people of all backgrounds and experience levels. Space at the workshop is limited to 15 people, so reserve your spot today!

On behalf of Sundress, Sean Purio interviewed Jeb A. Herrin, a poet and U.S. Army veteran, who will lead the retreat along with fiction writer and current military service member Jan LaPerle.

Sean Purio: What advice would you give to people making the transition back into the civilian world? If you were to suggest to them a particular book, poetry collection, author, film, what would it be? 

Jeb Herrin: As far as advice, I always make sure I tell my buddies to never go it alone. Even if the transition isn’t a hard one to make, we’ve spent so many years working as part of a team that it doesn’t make sense to try and move back into our old lives on our own. Whether it’s just staying in touch with the friends you served with, reaching back out to the friends you had before you joined, or just making new friends, it’s still good to have someone watching your back.

In regards to recommendations, Yusef Komunyakaa. I love his collection, Dien Cai Dau, but I don’t think there’s a bad Komunyakaa piece.

SP: Is there a particular book, poetry collection, author, or film you would suggest people encounter before going into the armed forces? Why? 

JH: Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. It sets a realistic precedent of what to expect from military service; not just the job itself, but the diversity of people you meet, and the expectations placed on you by your peers and the civilians who don’t know what it’s like to do the job.

SP: What do you think is the role of cultivating an artistic sensibility—a way of perceiving the world—for those who serve (or have served) in the armed forces?

JH: I think we spend so much of our time in the military looking at things head-on, looking for the best way to overcome obstacles or to accomplish tasks. Looking at these experiences with more of an artistic eye gives us different perspectives by which to judge them, which is really important for our own mental health. Rather than looking back on our time and dwelling on whether we made the “right” choice or the “wrong” choice, we get the opportunity to see more of how our choices affected us on a more personal level. The downside of that is sometimes we get stuck in the bad, and it’s good to have that backup I talked about before to keep us in the good.

SP: It’s a loaded question if ever there was one, but: Why do you write? 

JH: Because it’s fun. It gives me the opportunity to explore ideas, daydreams, storylines that get stuck in my head; not unlike listening to a song because it’s been stuck in your head for the past week. It also gives me the opportunity to read a story that I wish someone else would write.

SP: I’m always curious what books artists are reading. What books have you read recently and what did you find remarkable about them? 

JH: I finally started getting into Brian Turner’s Here, Bullet. I haven’t gotten too far into it yet, mostly because his poems are really visceral and I want to give each of them time to process. I don’t know if this works in with your question, but I’ve also been reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series to my son. He’s not quite old enough to get into them on the same level I do, but he keeps bringing the books to me to read for him, so I like to oblige; encourage that spirit of adventure and education that comes with reading. What I really like about Pratchett is his ability to delve into all sorts of different personalities and stories for his characters, and build a real world that mimics our own, while still embracing the wonder and discovery that you get with really good fantasy.


Jeb A. Herrin was a medic with the 3rd Infantry Division during Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. He earned his BA in English and MFA in Poetry from the University of Tennessee, where he was the 2016 winner of the John C. Hodges Award for Creative Writing for Poetry. His work can be found in Political Punch and O-Dark-Thirty. Jeb has future plans of blending the world of composition with creative writing as well as finding ways to make the voice of the veteran heard. He lives in Knoxville with his wife, son, and two dogs.

Sean Purio is an active-duty officer working toward his PhD in Creative Writing. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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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:


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



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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Lyric Essentials: Brian Oliu Reads “[asking]” by Barbara Jane Reyes


Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Brian Oliu reads “[asking]” by Barbara Jane Reyes.

Brian, this is a damn beautiful poem you’ve read for us today. Before we get to “[asking]” could speak more generally about Reyes’s poetry and how you came to be familiar with her work?

Brian: Yes! So, I was a graduate student at Alabama when the University brought her in for a visiting writer’s series. My good friend Jeremy Hawkins was extremely excited about her coming to read & so he sent me a bunch of her work. I went to her reading & was really blown away by not only how phenomenal her work was, but how good of a reader she was. I think the thing that I enjoy most about her work is the earnestness of it all; how it is completely unapologetic in how it is crafted. It is something that I always try to strive for in my own writing—this notion of saying exactly what needs to be said without any reservation.

What elements of “[asking]” make it essential to you as a writer? I’m moved by the imagery in the poem, particularly “…water and rock contain verse and metaphor, even wild grasses reply in rhyme” and the bit that follows, “moment of lucidity; summer lightning bugs, sun’s rays in a jelly jar.” Is it the imagery that does it, or is there another quality that resonates with you?

Brian: I would say the imagery too! I really love how Elizabeth Bishop talks about how poems should have more “things” in them & I totally agree—I think strong imagery is what brings energy to a piece. We can talk about our feelings & higher level concepts in a work, but all writing is a confession of some sort—therefore we have to find creative ways to put our emotions into a piece, & for me, it’s the concrete that helps me latch onto the more ephemeral beauty.

Chris: We’ve totally nerded out about Bishop on Lyric Essentials before—definitely one of my favorite poets. What imagery in “[asking]” brings energy to the poem for you? What are your favorite “things” in this poem?

Brian: “some mythic angel” just makes me want to fist pump in the air. “a cove to escape the flux” is a line I wish I wrote. I just keep finding my head bobbing along to it.

Chris: How have you used these ideas and concepts in your own writing? Are there particular things you like to write about and explore, or anything specific you’re writing about now?

Brian: I think a favorite trick that I love to use is negation—to define something by what it is not, & I love that is how the piece ends; there’s so much that the poem “is” that exists just beyond the constraints of what we have. I always like to imagine that each thing that I write is a sneak peek into what is actually going on—it is here, and then it is gone. I was a kid who constantly found myself not wanting stories or poems to end & imagining new endings or moments where I’d ask “where does everything go from here?” & I feel like this does this beautifully. I’ve been writing a lot about running as well as professional wrestling—both are two things that never truly end; there is always more to run in the same way there is always a new show & universe that needs to be explained.

Chris: Where can our readers get more of Reyes’s poetry? Any books or poems you can recommend?

Brian: Well, first & foremost, she has a KILLER blog (http://www.barbarajanereyes.com/blog/). To Love As Aswang is phenomenal. & as for individual pieces, [the siren’s story] hits all the fabulous notes for me.
Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of two chapbooks and four full-length collections, So You Know It’s Me (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011), a series of Craigslist Missed Connections, Leave Luck to Heaven (Uncanny Valley Press, 2014), an ode to 8-bit video games, Enter Your Initials For Record Keeping (Cobalt Press, 2015), essays on NBA Jam, and i/o (Civil Coping Mechanisms, 2015), a memoir in the form of a computer virus. Current projects include two books on professional wrestling, a memoir about translating his grandfather’s book on long distance running, and a nonfiction book about the history of the track jacket.

Chris Petruccelli is still in Northeast Tennessee, but planning–and hoping–to be in Kentucky over the summer. His Rowlet is now a Decidueye. He also has a Metang and a Salazzle. Things are lookin’ pretty good. Chris’s poetry appears in Appalachian Heritage, Cider Press Review, Nashville Review, Still: The Journal, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, and elsewhere. He is also the author of the chapbook Action at a Distance (Etchings Press). He runs his first half marathon in two weeks.

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Lyric Essentials: Lindsay Tigue Reads “Water Sign” by Margaret Hasse


Chris: Welcome to Lyric Essentials, where writers and poets share with us a passage or poem which is “essential” to their bookshelf and who they are as a writer. Today Lindsay Tigue reads “Water Sign” by Margaret Hasse.

This is a neat little poem you’ve shared with us today, Lindsay. When I looked up this poem for reference I found that it was published in a series of three poems about this Charlie character at Verse-Virtual. What can you tell us about these Charlie poems and Margaret Hasse’s work in general?

Lindsay: This is perhaps a bit of a digression, but I feel I need to explain my introduction to this poem. I first encountered Margaret Hasse and this poem in 2009. I heard her read it as part of a panel at AWP in Chicago. It was my first AWP and I was in the midst of my first failed attempt at applying to MFA programs (I didn’t get into a program until my second try a year later).  This poem meant a lot to me, partly for its insistence on this final image, for the way it re-sees a child’s mistake as abundance and beauty.

I was mostly writing fiction at the time, but Hasse’s use of this image reminded me of a prose ending I was working on. I had written poetry in the past and would end up returning to it during my MFA program a year later. I don’t really remember thinking of myself as a poet at this time at all. I don’t remember thinking of myself as a writer even; I was at AWP in a work capacity as an editorial assistant at a nonprofit publisher. I went up to Hasse in the bookfair after the panel to buy a book and my friend told her I was a poet and she wrote “To Lindsay, fellow poet” in my book. The timing of that simple message provided a buoying feeling of hope as, similarly, this poem does for me.

Margarat Hasse is a Minnesota-based poet and the author of five books of poetry. This poem comes from her book, Milk and Tides (Nodin Press, 2008), which includes several poems dealing with motherhood and adoption. The series of poems in Verse-Virtual were reprinted from the book and all feature the character of “Charlie,” the speaker’s son and speak to the experience of mothering a child at various stages.

Chris: By the end of this poem I feel like I’m reading something both cute and innocent, but also something dark and sinister. I can’t quite put my finger on it though—the final lines I feel like they take the slightest twist. What do you make of the ending of “Water Sign”?

Lindsay: I do see something complicating the celebration in this poem. There is a bit of violence in the suggestion of play between Charlie and his brother  “who spray tomatoes with the intensity / of fire fighters at a five alarm fire.” There is also the acknowledgement that Charlie’s enthusiasm is “inconvenient” and it is the narration that suggests the mother and brother have to check their reaction in order to admire Charlie’s unrestrained love of the water he pours through the floor. There is acknowledgement of intensity in this poem and also the nod to the self as source of some of the world’s forces.

Chris: You mentioned that “Water Sign” provides you with a feeling of hope. How do you see the poem achieve that emotion? Are there other elements of “Water Sign” make it essential to you as a writer?

Lindsay: For me, there is hope in this re-seeing the speaker undertakes. It suggests an enlarged empathy, an enlarged love for the world. For me, another essential element of this poem is the title, the way it points toward astrology lends a layer echoing differences in character or temperament. The way the meanings of the title expand out delicately was a strategy that was really useful for me when thinking about titles.

Chris: In addition to “Water Sign”, what other Margaret Hasse poems should our readers look for? What would be on your Hasse must-read list?

Lindsay: Other poems to check out include “After I Tell Four-Year-Old Charlie the Story of His Adoption, He Counters with His Own Version” and “What It Is Like for Me This Fall.”
Lindsay Tigue is the author of System of Ghosts, which was the winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize, is a finalist for the Foreword INDIE Poetry Book of the Year Award, and was shortlisted for the 2016 Julie Suk Award. She writes poetry and fiction and her work appears in Prairie Schooner, Blackbird, Verse Daily, Poetry Daily, Rattle, diode, and Hayden’s Ferry Review, among other journals. She was a Tennessee Williams scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a James Merrill fellow at the Vermont Studio Center, and a former graduate assistant at the Georgia Review. She is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University and is a current PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. She is originally from Michigan and now lives in Athens, Georgia.

Chris Petruccelli is sometimes a park ranger, sometimes a teacher, and takes what he can get the rest of the time—but he manages to stitch it all together. Chris is the author of the chapbook Action at a Distance (Etchings Press) and his poetry appears in Appalachian Heritage, Connotations Press, Nashville Review, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Still: The Journal, and elsewhere. Chris recently started the Alola island challenge with his Rowlet. In his free time, Chris enjoys drinking whisky and smoking cigarettes with older women.

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