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Sundress Releases Marvels by MR Sheffield

Sundress Releases Marvels by MR Sheffield

Marvels by MR Sheffield

Sundress Publications announces the pre-release of MR Sheffield’s new collection, Marvels. An “irreducible kind of book that pivots on every page, refuses to be pinned down” says Julie Marie Wade, author of Catechism: A Love Story and SIX, cautioning that “this book will wild you, Reader, gently.”

MR Sheffield’s Marvels is a séance; a chant of snake bites, wrens, and spiders, nesting and untangling; the instinct of a mother disoriented by her grief; a daughter finding her way in sex and obsession; a family broken and searching for something to pull it back together. Sheffield utilizes H.D. Northrop’s found poems, which describe various creatures, to reveal the wild, instinctive nature of human emotion by repurposing Northrop’s descriptions and applying them to a family. Sheffield couples the poems with manipulated original images from Northrop’s text to drive the skepticism of the poems. Multiplied spiders in the wrong color, transposed boa constrictors, and streaked antelope eyes are juxtaposed with poems about familial grief and resentment, alerting the reader to her instincts. This is the collection that steps back and reveals that instead of visiting an exhibit, admiring the lifelike animals from the soft fur to the magnetizing eyes, we are the exhibit, propped up and trapped behind the glass.

“When the narrator of MR Sheffield’s collection imagines “making a nest of you,” we are invited to make a nest back. Each word and image in this text builds a found and invented structure, layer by layer, for us to writhe around inside of. This multimodal work aims to enthrall us with a nontraditional, visual magic, both human and animal.”

— Nicole Oquendo, author of Telomeres and some prophets

“‘…there is no grief like this and no name for it,’ Sheffield’s speaker confesses in ‘the boa-constrictor,’ which, like all poems inside Marvels, uncoils to reveal monstrous truths about love and loss in a wilderness haunted by the familial. I have yet to find my way out of Sheffield’s collection, months after entering—I don’t believe I’ll ever want to. Between admiring the partnering images and found language from H.D. Northrop’s book of the same name, this collection asks readers—no, dares them—to put their face close to its glass and tap.”

— James A.H. White

MR Sheffield’s work has been published in Black Warrior Review, Hayden’s FerryReview, The Florida Review, and other publications. This is her first book.

Pre-order at https://squareup.com/market/sundress-publications

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Lyric Essentials: Julie Marie Wade Reads Two Poems by Maureen Seaton

Julie Marie Wade is the author of ten collections of poetry and prose and a longtime reader of Maureen Seaton. When we sat down to talk about Seaton’s work, Wade had deeply valuable insight which took us down roads from the epiphanous to the Blunderbuss. Wade looks deep into the heart of Seaton’s work and evidences the grace and good humor with which she connects. This interview is as much a tribute to Seaton by Wade as it is an instructional for anyone who hasn’t yet considered the importance of Seaton’s wide-ranging body of works. This interview made me wish I were one of Wade’s students.

Black: What made you choose the work of Maureen Seaton?

Wade: I think there are poets each of us have needed for many years before we find them, and when their poems appear before us at last, the experience is almost mystical—a feeling of having known someone before you knew them, of being deeply affirmed by the epiphany of their presence in the world. Maureen Seaton is just such a mystical, epiphanous, much-needed poet for me.

I went to high school and college in the 1990s, at a time when Maureen was coming out as queer and coming into her own as a poet who worked as diligently in form (sonnets, villanelles, et al.) as she did in the most envelope-pushing, experimental spaces. She was taking risks, in her life and in her art, that I didn’t yet realize a person, let alone a woman-person, could take.

Somehow I did not encounter Maureen’s writing until after I had already taken the greatest plunge of my own life, though—not going through with my marriage to a man at the end of my first year of graduate school and continuing my journey through life with my true love, a woman named Angie, to whom I am now happily married.

Not long after that plunge, in 2003 or 2004, I read a poem by Denise Duhamel called “When I Was a Lesbian,” which I found stunning and thrilling, a poem which opened doors for me to imagine my own life as formerly (for all intents and purposes) heterosexual. I took that poem as an invitation to begin exploring more consciously the first twenty-two years of my life “when I was straight.” But what I didn’t realize until I delved deeper into the collaborative poetry written by Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton (Exquisite Politics indeed!) was that Denise’s poem was written as a response to Maureen’s own “When I Was Straight,” which belongs to an ever-growing series of other poems—“When I Was Avant-garde,” “When I Was a Jersey Girl,” “When I Was Bi(nary),” etc.—that opened onto the vast landscape of Maureen’s work in conditional, circumstantial, and subjunctive spaces.

Years later, I had the privilege of meeting and coming to know both of these poets, long-time friends and collaborators, in real life, and I was audacious enough to ask them to bless my own book-length project, a collection of poems called When I Was Straight. Not only did they bless it—they blurbed it, collaboratively!

 

Black: Why these particular poems of Seaton’s?

Wade: I have never read a Maureen Seaton poem where I didn’t have the sensation, at one point and usually at many points, of hearing a gong reverberate inside my head. When I read Maureen’s “When I Was Straight,” the gong struck loudest at this moment: “there is no lover like a panicked lover.” It was one of those moments—the best moments for readers of poetry, I think, or readers of any literature—where I sketched in my notebook, How did she know?!?! There was a cosmos in that line, one I recognized in my own life but had never even attempted to name, let alone in such a concise and elegant (and witty—I love the omnipresence of Maureen’s sense of humor across her canon) way.

So I knew I wanted to record this poem because it was the first, though by no means the last, of Maureen’s poems to seize me in that visceral and oracular kind of way. Then, I started looking at other aspects of the poem, particularly the diction and the juxtapositions. Who describes heteronormativity as “that Old Boyfriend Theory of Headache and Blunderbuss”? Who uses the word “blunderbuss”? I started noticing the little sparks coming off of pairings like “linearity and menthol” (an abstraction paired with a potent concrete), “pretense and fellatio” (there again), and chewy Anglo-Saxon words and phrases like “crowded with cleavage,” “fickle,” and “winged clavicle.” Which is to say I fell in love with this poem on all levels: conceptually, sonically, stylistically. It’s also meta, as the poem performs its own “trapeze art and graceful aerobics.” The poem is that art, those aerobics.

For the second poem, I ran into the challenging fact of the enormous range and depth of Maureen’s body of work to date. With so many gongs striking inside my head, so much marginalia scribbled on every page, I decided to choose a poem that moves in diametrically different ways than “When I Was Straight.” That poem is pulled taut like a tightrope in its shape on the page—all those lovely tercets upon which the speaker-as-tightrope-walker is performing her remarkable feats, turning somersaults and riding unicycles and juggling torches. I wanted to showcase something different. There were so many poems I considered— “What She Thought,” “Impatiences,” “The Nomenclature of Wind,” “He Crossed the Hallway with a Soul in His Hand,” and “Red” standout among them—but in the end I chose “The Realm of the Wide” as exemplar of Maureen’s wide-realm poetics. Instead of a tightrope, this poem is the circus tent, a canopy she opens over the whole world of her knowing and longing and wondering. If this poem were a horoscope, it would describe something essential about every Zodiac sign.

 

Black: “The Realm of the Wide” is particularly unique in its scope. This is a winding long-poem with a lot of great turns. What about it do you want to call particular attention to?

Wade: Through all my years as a student, there was an incongruity—really a snobbishness—that I never understood in the realm of literary theory. We learned there was a school of criticism called reader response, but then we learned, both explicitly and in a variety of subtle ways, that this school didn’t “count” as a real school. We could deconstruct and post-structuralize. We could go through mimetic doors and intertextual doors and feminist doors in our examination of texts, but we couldn’t go through that primary door of our own personal experience of intellectual-emotional-visceral engagement. As a teacher of creative writing, I know I don’t stand a chance of encouraging my students to “write as readers”—to cultivate an awareness of their audience—without acknowledging and anticipating a reader’s response to their work. And if we are writers, we were readers first and also readers in a state of essential perpetuity, let’s hope! So how can I ask my students not to cross the threshold of reader response, which I value not only as a doorway to meaningful analysis but also as a doorway to meaningful emulation?

Which is to say: “The Realm of the Wide” speaks to me directly as a poet with similar intellectual and emotional investments to Maureen Seaton. It also speaks to me as a poet who is always studying the possibilities of poetic form and the elasticity of poetry as a genre. It speaks to me as a teacher of poetry for similar reasons—the thrilling range of invitations and permissions the text offers to fellow and future writers. This poem further addresses me as a person with multi-genre and hybrid-text infatuations and commitments. I wonder whether poem is really only one name this text might answer to. Is it a micro-lyric-essay, too? A micro-lyric-segmented-braided essay? Some or all of the above?

This imperative alone: “Feel yourself mingle with the word you love beside you.” That’s what poets do, and lyric essayists, too. The words are alive. They can lose cells and run temperatures.

I’m also obsessed with finding new ways to talk about the moon, something that crystallized for me when I read Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s extraordinary memoir, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. She invites readers to tell her something she hasn’t heard before about that much-romanticized heavenly body. Maureen does it here, seamlessly: “this moon has got me up the way someone comes in and drags you out of bed to play cards or eat mayonnaise on toast at 3 AM…” Yes! That way. That moon. Exactly.

There are bullet points in this poem, denoting the list from “baby pigs” to “a shaman in a wheelchair.” The blanks that follow the chorus of adjectives “Sorrowful,” “Joyful,” and “Glorious” are actual blanks, not the word “blank,” which changes the experience of reading the poem on the page versus listening to the poem read aloud. These visual poetics in Maureen’s work instantly transform the ranch house poem into a multi-floored mansion: rooms on top of rooms, a ceiling that is also a floor, etc.

And then the two quotes juxtaposed at the end, the high-art intellectual sound of Magritte’s statement about “symbolic meanings” and the profound yet directly accessible statement about vanilla attributed simply to “Nick,” the famous artist in conversation with the Everyman or Anyman. This is Maureen’s hierarchy-neutralizing power as a poet. She validates so many ways of knowing simultaneously. She rejects high horses. Her work is full of dark horses and wild horses. Her work epitomizes for me what Magritte means by “the inherent mystery” that many people sense in an image but are also frightened by because it can’t be easily named and thereby tamed. I find that inherent mystery everywhere in Maureen’s work, so I’m just holding up this poem as a representative example. When she says, “It mattered, but only slightly,” she is making a spectrum out of a taken-for-granted binary. If we are used to thinking of things mattering or things not mattering, as many of us are, then here come those surprising hoofbeats of “slight mattering,” the invitation to a thought experiment of mattering on a sliding scale.

Maureen’s is a luminous, curious, capacious, unrelenting mind. I would follow her anywhere because she has never used her intellect as a weapon or crafted her rigorous, expansive poems with only an elite readership in mind. On the contrary, I find Maureen Seaton to be one of Poetryland’s most generous guides. If she takes her readers into a swamp, she supplies the waders. She also grows and tends the orchids we are destined to find there.

Black: Does this work connect to your own in some way?

Wade: Perhaps more than any other poet, Maureen has taught me that you can write as and from all your varied versions of self, including the most seemingly contradictory. Many poets become known for writing a certain way, a certain kind of “signature style,” a recognizable shape to the content and/or appearance of their poems—but not Maureen. I think her poems are deeply fluid, within and across every book project and sometimes even within a single poem. These poems are queer in the truest and deepest sense of the word—spectral, rhizomatic, protean, “all-of-the-above” poems. And this fact alone has given me tremendous permissions in my own approach to writing. I’m not trying to make my work into something that stays put after it’s placed on the page. I want to make work that feels like a living organism, the way Maureen’s poems do. Instead of the poem (or lyric essay, or hybrid form) as art object, I want to learn how to make the most porous and anti-static kinds of creations. If the poem is likened to a painting on the wall—vivid and imagistic—let it also be a painting where the eyes move, where the frame slants, where it is never the same painting twice that the viewer looks upon.

I often talk to my students about entering their own writing “through the smallest door,” and sometimes the smallest door is a single word. I like to get as close as I can to individual words, and Maureen’s poems bless and press that enterprise further. One whole stanza from “The Realm of the Wide” consists of: “The word: Outlandish.” And what a word! I love the invitation to stare at the word, to see the “out” and the “land” and the “dish” in it just by lingering in that long pause. I’ve never asked Maureen if she is synesthetic, but her poems are, and as a synesthete who experiences the world of language in vivid colors, Maureen’s poetry amplifies my synesthetic experience of the world as well, adds another tier/floor/skylight. “You could jump the fire and ride to where the words are backdrafting,” she writes. How visceral and invigorating and absolutely true!

Finally, I think it’s Maureen’s own biomythography she’s drafting and revising and reimagining across these pages. (I hope Audre Lorde wouldn’t mind my invoking her term here, as I know Maureen and I both deeply admire and write as grateful readers of Lorde.) Maureen’s poems resist stasis because she has resisted stasis—staying put in any one role, category, or geographical location. Maureen is candid about falling into and out of love, marriage, divorce, sexual awakenings, motherhood, faith, doubt, and always, the complexities, dare I say “the inherent mysteries,” of gender, desire, and the body. There is much in her life’s reckoning and recurring themes that overlap with my own. In another salient capsule of experience that seems to denote the way she was raised, Maureen writes, “Everything/ should be Disney or saintly.” That was my first imperative, too. With every poem and hybrid form, Maureen is teaching me how to write my way beyond those initial strictures of conventional beauty, contrived happiness, and religious dogma.

Black: What are you working on now?

Wade: On the prose front, I’m writing essays for a collection called “The Regulars,” which is another slant on my own bildungsroman. At a certain point in time, I realized that I have stories I tell and stories I write, and it occurred to me that some of the stories I tell—which are often the most absurd glimpses of my childhood, darkly humorous but also intimidatingly sad—might have another kind of life on the page. The title is a reference, in the most literal sense, to being regular customers at the Old Spaghetti Factory every Sunday, my parents and I, but also to the relentless quest for normalcy—or at least to be perceived as normal and consequently likable, admirable, and good—that governed my upbringing. (“Everything/ should be Disney or saintly” indeed!) Angie, my spouse, suggested the title, which I love, and so I’ve been writing my way into some of my own personal oral tradition, the stories I have only shared with close friends who say, “Tell us about the time you had to …” or “What was it your parents did when …”

On the poetry front, I’m writing a lot of secular psalms for a sequence that I think will belong, eventually, to a collection called Quick Change Artist. That project might also subsume some or all of the poems from When I Was Straight, which illustrates the before-and-after experiences of someone, essentially the same someone, who was first perceived as heterosexual and trying very hard to tow many tacit heterosexual lines, and then who, in the second half of the project, reckons with all the new ways people respond to her as an out lesbian, a woman marked by sexual difference.

There’s also a hybrid-form memoir about food that I’ve been toying with for years called The Western Family. (I grew up on the West Coast, and the brand of most of the food products we ate in our home was “Western Family.” Food as source of pleasure, shame, ritual, family connectedness and family discord, and food as marker of a particular zeitgeist is something I intend to explore.) And eventually, I plan to write a collection of poems that mirrors the question-and-answer clues on Jeopardy!, the game show that seems to have played ceaselessly at the dinner table throughout my youth and is now playing throughout my adulthood, recording daily on our DVR, in fact!

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Maureen Seaton received her MFA at Vermont College and is the author of nine poetry collections and a memoir, Sex Talks to Girls among many other projects. Her work has notably appeared in Best Small Fictions and Best American Poetry among many other places. Seaton has received multiple awards and recognitions for her work. Among them, several Lambda awards, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Iowa Poetry Prize. Her most recent collection, Fisher was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2018. Seaton is Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Miami, Florida.

Julie Marie Wade is the author of ten collections of poetry and prose, including Wishbone: A Memoir in Fractures, Small Fires: Essays, Postage Due: Poems & Prose Poems, When I Was Straight, Catechism: A Love Story, SIX, Same-Sexy Marriage: A Novella in Poems, and the forthcoming The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose, co-authored with Denise Duhamel. She is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Florida International University in Miami.

Links to the good stuff:

Seaton at Black Lawrence Press

Seaton’s Newest Collection, Fisher

The Rumpus Interviews Maureen Seaton

Seaton at Lambda Literary

Julie Marie Wade’s Website

Julie Marie Wade at The Academy of American Poets

Julie Marie Wade at Tupelo Quarterly

Wade’s When I was Straight

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Anna Black has served as the editor-in-chief of the magazines Hayden’s Ferry Review and Inkspeak, and is a twice awarded Virginia G. Piper global teaching and research fellow. She received her MFA at Arizona State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the anthologies We Will be Shelter, edited by poet Andrea Gibson and In Sight: An Ekphrastic Collaboration, as well as the journals 45th Parallel, Bacopa Review, Wordgathering, SWWIM, The American Journal of Poetry, and New Mobility among others. She has taught composition, creative writing, and/or publishing at Arizona State University, Western Washington University, Perryville Women’s Prison, and the National University of Singapore.

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An Interview with Jessica Rae Bergamino

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Jessica Rae Bergamino is the author of The Desiring Object or Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering of Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them (Sundress Publications, 2016). She sat down to talk to our editorial intern Adam J. Gellings about process, influence, and more!

Adam J. Gellings:  The Desiring Object OR Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them, is a wonderful combination of space & scientific exploration, crafted beautifully into these light, almost buoyant poems that float across the page. Could you speak about the conception of these topics, & how they all came together?

Jessica Rae Bergamino: First, thank you Adam for such a generous reading of The Desiring Object and for these thoughtful questions!

I first became interested in the Voyager mission’s emergence as contemporary mythology while listening to Ann Druyan’s discussion of the project on WNYC’s Radiolab.  These antiquated robots — without enough memory to play an MP3! — are floating through space with a golden record encoded with, among other things, the brain waves of a woman falling in love.  I wanted to explore what would happen if that knowing of oneself as something that can both desire and be desired was transferred on to their robot bodies. As the project evolved it became my love letter to queer femme resilience and the ways femmes constantly evolve the boundaries of desirability.

AJG: Other than poets, were there any other outside influences that were formative to the poems in this collection coming together?

JRB: Along with re-watching the original Cosmos, I read as much about the Voyager project as I could. I was lucky to have access to some amazing primary source material through a university library, including recordings of the congressional hearings on the project and maps of moons made from the Voyager observations and flybys. Two books, though, were particularly instructive: Murmurs of Earth, which explores the contents and creation of the Gold Records, and The Voyager Neptune Travel Guide, which is a weird little book prepared by NASA to orient Earthlings to the interstellar mission. It has a flip book of Voyager’s approach to Neptune!  It also has incredibly detailed explanations of what each of Voyager’s scientific instruments do and how they work.

AJG:  There is a playful rhythm to many of these poems as you read through them. Most notably in pieces such as ‘Ultraviolet Spectrometer” & “Triaxial Fluxgate Magnetometer,” where the reader is brought back to a single word or sound to bounce off of from each line. I wondered if you could talk a little about the construction of these poems in particular? How did you know when they were complete?

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JRB:  Each section of The Desiring Object is titled after a scientific instrument that composes the Voyager’s bodies and the corresponding text explores, however tangentially, the work of that instrument.  I wanted to anthropomorphize Voyager Two without stripping away her scientific realities and hoped I could reverse engineer Charles Olson’s ideas about projective verse as if the typewriter were experiencing the text, not the poet. The ultraviolet spectrometer measures light, so it lent itself to the opening poem, and I loved the visual rhyme between the ultra-poetic O – invocation and exhalation, whole and hole, planet and a mouth, boundary and unending loop, etcetera, etcetera  – and the binary 0.

At the same time that the list of scientific tools provided a great constraint, I knew I couldn’t commit to a linear narrative of psychological development wherein each section had a clear resolution and the next section presented an entirely new challenge — the poems needed to experience technical glitch, repetition, and failure. The triaxial fluxgate magnetometer measures magnetic fields, so I knew that had a great potential to gravitate – pardon the pun – back to an earlier section of the poem.  I knew each section was done when I could no longer see the seams where the poems were knit together, but I could still feel the strain against them.

AJG:  Could you tell us a little bit about your writing process?

JRB:   I read drafts aloud to my cat.  A lot

AJG:  Who are your ‘go-to’ authors, or specific books that you reach for when you’re in a crunch?

JRB:  It utterly depends on the type of the crunch, but Elizabeth Bishop, Brenda Hillman, Sina Queyras, Lucie Brock Broido, and Alice Notley are among the constants.

AJG:  What upcoming projects do you have on the horizon?

JRB:  I have been working on – dare I say completing? – a full length manuscript which imagines both Voyager One and Two as they grapple with the ethical and intimate limitations of the interstellar mission.  I’m also beginning a project which explores the intersections of haunting, anxiety, and girlhood.

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Jessica Rae Bergamino is the author of The Desiring Object or Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering of Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them(Sundress Publications, 2016), The Mermaid, Singing (dancing girl press, 2015), and Blue in All Things: a Ghost Story (dancing girl press, 2015).  Individual poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in Salt Hill, Willow Springs, The Journal, Gulf Coast, The Offing, Colorado Review, and The Cincinnati Review. She is pursuing a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing at The University of Utah, where she is poetry editor for Quarterly West. 

Adam J. Gellings is a poet from Columbus, Ohio. He is currently a PhD student in English at SUNY Binghamton & he received a MFA in Creative Writing from Ashland University. You can find his work in Quarter After Eight, Rust + Moth & forthcoming in Post Road Magazine.

 

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An Interview with Sundress Author Amorak Huey

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Amorak Huey is the author of the poetry collection Ha Ha Ha Thump, which was published by Sundress Publications in August, 2015. He sat down to talk to our editorial intern Adam J. Gellings about process, influence, and more!

Adam J. Gellings: What is your writing process like? Do you have a routine?

Amorak Huey: My writing routine is the absolute lack of a routine. I envy those writers who are all like, “Oh, yes, I arise and write from 5:30 to 7 every morning. The sunrise and the quiet house are so inspiring!” My life is far too chaotic for any such thing, and probably I lack discipline for all that anyway. I write when I can fit it in around the edges of things. Sometimes early mornings. Sometimes late at night. Sometimes with Criminal Minds on TV, or while the kids are doing homework, or in the car while waiting to pick up the soccer-practice carpool. Often when I’m supposed to be grading or doing the laundry. There’s no better recipe for getting writing done than having something else I need to be doing. Conversely, there’s no better motivation for getting other stuff done—the house cleaned, the checkbook balanced—than having writing I need to do. It’s a weird life. I don’t write every day, but I write more days than not. Maybe this fragmented writing life is why I mostly write poems and not longer things that might require a more sustained kind of focus.

AJG: When did you first become interested in writing poems? Who were your early influences?

AH: It’s hard to pinpoint a true first moment. I grew up in a family of readers, talkers, storytellers, so words and books and writing have always been important to me. The first contemporary poet I was captivated by was Raymond Carver, whose work I came to through his short stories. I know his poems are not especially well thought of these days, but when I was in college, they opened up verse for me. He showed me that poems can be narrative, can be personal, can be driven by voice, can be clever, can be readable. These things are probably self-evident for most poets, but I had to learn them, and have to continue to relearn them over and over. Other poets I read with hunger early in my writing life included Maya Angelou, Sharon Olds, Adrienne Rich, David Kirby, Tess Gallagher, Bob Hicok, Jorie Graham.

When I was a senior in college, I had plans to be a novelist and short story writer. One of my mentors and writing professors sat me down in her office and asked if I was serious about writing prose, because she thought maybe I should write poetry instead. I don’t know exactly how she meant it—probably as a compliment to my poetry—but I was kind of devastated, despairing about how crappy my prose-writing must be for her to say this. In hindsight, this conversation probably was kind of a turning point for me, and gradually I started writing more poetry and less prose. I started grad school in fiction right out of college, but dropped out after a few semesters, and by the time I went back to do my MFA 10 years later, there was no question I was going to study poetry.

AJG: You have previously worked as a newspaper editor & reporter. What experiences as a news writer shaped your voice as a poet? Is there a bond between your creative writing & your work reporting the facts?

AH: The biggest connections between news writing and poetry have to do with language. They share the aim of achieving your purpose in as few words as possible. Wasting not a syllable. The demand that each word have maximum impact. My years as a copy editor taught me a lot about how sentences work and how to express a complex thought with clarity. Clarity isn’t always the goal in a poem, but it helps to have that ability in your writer’s toolbox.

The contrast between news writing and poetry comes in context and purpose. I’m always telling my students that if someone asked them, say, what happened at a meeting or where they wanted to go for lunch, and they wrote a poem in response, that would be weird. A poem is not the best way to handle the straightforward delivery of information. A poem is not a memo, or a news article, or a status update, or a text message to a friend, right? I mean, it can look like those things, it can take the shape of those things, it can borrow from those things, but as soon as you call it a poem, it becomes something else. I won’t say something larger, because I’m not sure about the hierarchy there, but definitely something other. So then the purpose of a poem must be something else, and it’s tough to articulate, but it’s along the lines of: a poem exists to create an experience for the reader, to use language to explore and evoke some event or emotion or memory, some facet of human existence, and in doing so the poem will necessarily bump up against the limits of language. The role of language in a news article is to be as invisible as possible, to deliver the goods and get out of the way. In a poem, the language is the goods.

My poetry voice is definitely shaped by my years as a journalist. It’s sometimes an obstacle I have to overcome, a tendency to over-explain or oversimplify. In a news article, it might be enough to write, like, “I was sad,” or whatever. But that straightforwardness isn’t always what a poem needs, though it can be. I have to create sadness (or happiness or lust or hunger or whatever). Invent it almost from scratch, using language, which is an incredibly imperfect medium. So then I have to reach for image or metaphor or another rhetorical device. Have to find something new in the language. Express something in a way it hasn’t quite been expressed before. And it’s so much fun. I am pretty terrible at it most of the time, but I love the attempt. It’s invigorating.

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AJG: Could you talk a little about how you came about choosing Ha Ha Ha Thump as the title for your collection & the decision behind starting each section with a poem of the same name?

AH: That title came fairly early in the process, even as the book went through numerous drafts and revisions. I liked the tone of it, the idea of humor followed by something more alarming. I like to think that’s a metaphor for what some of the poems in the collection achieve. You’re laughing along then you’re like, wait, what?

I was interested in the idea of using a joke in a poem—not just wit or cleverness, but a straightforward joke with a set-up and punchline—and that’s what I was trying to do in the first “Ha Ha Ha Thump” poem I wrote, to go back to this childhood joke: What goes ha ha ha thump? Someone laughing their head off.

Then, when I was working with the amazing Erin Elizabeth Smith, my editor at Sundress, on the final shape of the collection, she wanted me to reorganize it to fight against my tendency to shape collections like narratives, because this isn’t a book with a single coherent speaker or storyline. So I was making piles of poems that felt like they could be sections and seeking some device, some structural mechanism by which to organize the piles, and I thought, What if I come up with other answers to the question? What else might go ha ha ha thump? I came up with a Hollywood marriage, a hyena falling out of a tree, a clown having a heart attack, and laughter to measure the silence between lightning and thunder. Those became the opening poems for each section, with each answer loosely—very loosely—connected to what I see as the uniting themes or tones within the sections.

AJG: Do you have a favorite poem in the collection?

AH: All my babies are beautiful! But since you asked, I’ll say the last poem in the book, “Ars Poetica Disguised as a Love Poem Disguised as a Commemoration of the 166th Anniversary of the Rescue of the Donner Party.” The absurdly long title makes me smile, and I think the poem comes pretty close to doing everything I want it to. I’m also happy with the hopeful chord it strikes at the end of this book, which I suspect at times might come across as somewhat cynical about love.

AJG: Are you part of a writing community where you live? How do you know when a poem you have written is officially done revising?

AH: I am so fortunate to have a built-in community of writers in the Writing Department at Grand Valley State University. How awesome is it to go to work with colleagues and students who value what I value, who want to have the same conversations I want to have about language and teaching and learning and writing?

I also am part of an online writing group with about a dozen other poets, where someone comes up with a prompt each month and we all write a poem for that prompt. Some of the poets in the group are local, but others are spread across the country. Each April, some friends and I do the poem-a-day thing, sharing our poems with each other for accountability.

So, yes, I am part of lots of writing communities, these that I’ve mentioned, but also being engaged with other writers through social media, reading their work and the work they find and link to. Reading literary journals and books published by small presses and discovering new writers and new poems, even submitting my own work, attending the AWP Conference—it’s all part of engaging with a larger community of writing and writers. Without these communities, I don’t know how I would keep writing.

I suspect that since you linked your question about a writing community with a question about revision, you’re also asking about a workshop-like group, a set of readers who offer feedback and help answer that “how do you know when it’s done” question. That, I don’t really have. In the online group, we offer encouragement and some feedback to each other, but the main point is to keep each other writing; if you’re in the group, you know you’re writing at least a poem a month. Similarly, our April thing is mostly about having someone on the other end who expects you to email them a poem every day. We do get together in May over burgers and beers to rehash and talk about the poems, but it’s more about celebrating having survived the month than about offering detailed feedback.

So when do you know you’re done revising a piece? The flippant answer is the real answer: You don’t. And you never have to be done. Even publication doesn’t mean you have to stop. Robert Lowell was famous for tinkering with pieces even after they appeared in prestigious journals, often to the irritation of his editors. But, yeah, at some point, you want to stop, right? You want to feel like you’ve reached some milestone, some point where the poem is ready for its close-up. And eventually, you do gain a sense of confidence that you can tell when your work is some approximation of finished, a felt sense of things having clicked into place. There’s no shortcut to that felt sense, though. You have to read literally thousands of poems and write thousands of poems that fall woefully short of your ambitions for them. Then read some more and write some more. Eventually, you’ll learn to trust in your feelings about a piece.

AJG: What upcoming projects do you have on the horizon?

AH: A new chapbook, A Map of the Farm Three Miles from the End of Happy Hollow Road, is coming out later this year from Porkbelly Press. I have two other full-length manuscripts in circulation, with all the revision and revisiting and rejection that process entails, and of course the most important project is always merely—merely—to write the next poem.

__

 
You can purchase a copy of Ha Ha Ha Thump from the Sundress Publications store.

 

Amorak Huey, a former newspaper editor and reporter, is author of the poetry collection Ha Ha Ha Thump (Sundress, 2015) and the chapbooks The Insomniac Circus (Hyacinth Girl, 2014) and A Map of the Farm Three Miles from the End of Happy Hollow Road (Porkbelly, forthcoming in 2016). He teaches writing at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. His poems appear in The Best American Poetry 2012, The Southern Review, The Collagist, Oxford American, The Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere.

Adam J. Gellings is a poet from Columbus, Ohio. He is currently a PhD student in English at SUNY Binghamton & he received a MFA in Creative Writing from Ashland University. You can find his work in Quarter After Eight, Rust + Moth & forthcoming in The Tishman Review.

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Interview with Sarah Jane Sloat

sloat

Sarah J. Sloat’s chapbook, In the Voice of a Minor Saint, showcases small moments that belie great significance and trumpet the author’s ear for the specific. This collection is rich with metaphor, and Sloat uses form in a way that emphasizes the lyric. Broad in scope, while still giving the reader intimate insight into the speaker’s psyche, these pieces are touched with the divine. In the Voice of a Minor Saint was re-released earlier this year from Doubleback Books, an imprint of Sundress Publications.

 

Sundress: Do you have any writing rituals or routines?

Sarah Jane Sloat: I don’t. I just try. If I’m stuck, which I often am, I read.

 

Sundress: Your poems often deal with smallness and small things: tongues, bees, grains of rice. “My heart is small, like a love/ of buttons or black pepper” and “Mine was a small world, small/ and flawed.” Tell us a little about how this theme developed.

Sarah Jane Sloat: I have a button collection. And the world’s smallest Indian pot. I like things you have to get close to to appreciate. I like “things” in general. After “In the Voice of a Minor Saint” I put together a chapbook focused on things found in the home – the whisk, the faucet and toothbrush.

In the case of this chapbook, smallness has to do with the minor saint, patron of the overlooked and unassuming, who fail to get much attention. S/he’s their champion, though they probably would never ask for that.

 

Sundress: Tell us about the process of writing a cento like “Naked, Come Shivering.” Did you build the poem around one line, or did you find lines to fit what you wanted to say?

Sarah Jane Sloat: A cento shouldn’t use more than one line from any single poem. That’s the only rule I’d pay attention to.

Every cento I’ve written so far, including “Naked, Come Shivering,” I’ve done by  pulling lines I loved from French poets, mostly the surrealists. I am always struck by their beauty, their oddness, how many lines seemed self-sufficient and self-contained. I put the lines together in a way that rings right, without any goal in mind.

In “Naked, Come Shivering,” the line I started with was either “not wanting anything to die of hunger” or “the whole town has come into my room.” Both evocative, bust-down-the-door kind of lines. The title came last.

 

Sundress: What is your favorite poem in this collection, and why?

Sarah Jane Sloat: This is very difficult. Probably it was “Ghazal of the Bright Body.” I’m a big fan of the ghazal. This was the first one I wrote, and for me it shrugs off all its could-be burdens. It avoids becoming overwrought, which my less successful ghazals (hopefully unpublished) do not.

inthevoice

Sundress: Besides writing, what is your favorite way to participate in the literary community?

Sarah Jane Sloat: After writing, I participate, if you can put it this way, by reading. I really believe  reading is a way to interact with the world. In reading, I feel I’m participating in the past, present and future. And you can chose your company. And be introverted to your heart’s content.

I recently got the latest issues of The Journal (Ohio) and the annual RHINO. I’m not ass-kissing when I say they’re really wonderful publications, and in both of them I found work I loved by poets I’d never read before, who are now my imaginary friends.

There are also dozens of online journals I read and love – DMQ Review, Adroit, Plume, Birdfeast, etc etc.

I live in a foreign country so my participating in an English-focused literary community excludes physical presence! I’m not terribly outgoing or social, I must admit. But I keep up, like most everyone, on social media.

 

Sundress: What is the best writing advice you have ever been given?

Sarah Jane Sloat: There’s no right way.

 

Sundress: If you could tell the world one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Sarah Jane Sloat: It would be what most poets who want anyone to read their poems would say:

I want to everyone know that I have not died

that I have a golden manger in my lips,

that I am the little friend of the west wind,

that I am the immense shadow of my tears.

-Lorca

 

You can find In the Voice of a Minor Saint for free here.

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Sarah J. Sloat lives in Frankfurt, Germany, a stone’s throw from Schopenhauer’s grave. Her poems and prose have appeared in West Branch, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and Beloit Poetry Journal. Sarah’s chapbook of poems on typefaces and texts, Inksuite, is available from dancing girl press, which also published Heiress to a Small Ruin in 2015. 

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Call for Submissions–Pretty Owl Poetry

POP

Pretty Owl Poetry is now open for submissions of poetry, fiction, and art for its summer issue, slated to launch in late June.

Send us:

-something shameful. something surreal. a deluge of desire. confessions of crimes & hearts teeming with rattlesnakes. a merry-go-round that makes you dizzy.

-send us your yellowed sweet tooth in a plastic bag. or lockets filled with tiny twig hairs. tell us everything we don’t want to hear. say it in a way that’s sweet to the ear. send us a flash, a jolt, a tickle in your belly. something simple but ahh. give us something that slaps & stings.

-keep the quiet for the mornings & make us dance, twist, shout, & fold around our bodies. send us something to slink into. show us a basket full of molded fruit & take a picture of your mother’s grey, stained socks. tell us about the time you dreamt & flailed.

-keep us up in words. tell us every little thing.

-The Editors

Please submit all work through our submissions manager, which can be found on our website: https://prettyowlpoetry.com/submit/

Pretty Owl Poetry is an online quarterly journal that publishes new, emerging, and established writers in poetry, fiction, and the visual arts. We support all approaches to writing, be it collaborative or individual. We’re interested in experimental and traditional forms and flash fiction masquerading as poetry, all with a lyrical quality.

 

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The Desiring Object OR Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them by Jessica Rae Bergamino Released

Sundress Publications is pleased to announce the release of The Desiring Object OR Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them by Jessica Rae Bergamino, which was the runner-up for the 2015 Sundress Chapbook Contest.

“In Jessica Rae Bergamino’s The Desiring Object OR Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them, each word carries a heavy weight. This chapbook forced me feel every vibration in order to fully experience the hybrid collage of science and sound. From the epigraph that contextualizes the ambitious theme, and through the immediacy of every line down to the last, I traversed the stars.”
-J. Nicole Oquendo, 2015 Sundress Chapbook Contest Judge

“We rarely ask about the instruments behind scientific discoveries, but perhaps we should. Or, better yet, perhaps we should ask them how they feel about themselves and their work. Jessica Rae Bergamino’s The Desiring Object imagines the inner workings of a Voyager Two who—like Star Trek‘s V’ger and Welcome to Night Vale’s Fey—has become sentient and pursues desires of her own. As she wonders ‘what body knows what’s left of herself / when she’s drifting from her shadow,’ we can’t help but turn skyward, dream of probes barreling through interstellar space and how, if they spoke as beautifully as Bergamino, they’d answer our questions.”
-T.A. Noonan, author of The Bone Folders

 

bergamino

Jessica Rae Bergamino is the author of two previous chapbooks: The Mermaid Singing and Blue in All Things: a Ghost Story (dancing girl press 2015). Individual poems have most recently appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Slice, So to Speak, West Branch, and elsewhere. She splits her time between Seattle and Salt Lake City, where she is a PhD student in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Utah.

 

The Desiring Object OR Voyager Two Explains to the Gathering Stars How She Came to Glow Among Them
is available free download from the Sundress Publications website!

 

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The Wardrobe’s Best Dressed: Allie Marini’s Before Fire: Divorce Poems

allie and george


Streuselküchen, Prasselküchen, Butterküchen

Some say, lying is done with words & silence,
but it is also done with küchen, streusel
something scattered or sprinkled:
flour, cinnamon, butter, sugar, crème, nut meats, cherries, fat—
all the makings of happy marriages or happier funerals.

Simple cakes, these—though the baker knows better.
Yeast & milk, the freud-und-leid, mixed together to form dough,
which though silky to the touch, takes heft & might to make smooth.
In the kitchen, the baker kneads by hand, flipping & punching
until every knot turns soft & velvet.
Leave it still, heart-warmed, until it doubles.

Zuckerküchen assumes nothing.
Flat cakes for oblong unions, lopsided loves & slivered luck.
Most of the time, it’s more crumb than cake;
though sometimes—a puff pastry or short crust foundation,
a dough formed from shortening, more pie than küchen
it’s up to the baker to decide: Sweet is sweet.

Years ago, a Silesian baker tied her apron strings,
pulling rolled pastries & butter-sugar tartlets,
veined & studded with pockets of cinnamon,
out of the warmth of her oven—to get to a husband’s heart,
travel a path from his tongue, & when he wrongs you,
invent Käseküchen; soft cheese will mask the salt.
Emboss it with cherries. Show him how sweet it is to sit at your table.

When he strays & comes back to you, celebrate the ripe fruit of reconciliation,
a bit sharp, sour-sweet as the reddest of strawberries in your famous Erdbeerküchen.
Lace it with an edge of whipped cream—
forget the way the crust crumbles under the tines of your dessert fork.

Later, use a flat pan for a simple confection:
Baumküchen, whose layers are the rings of a tree,
gone from acorn to oak in the oven—
mature & ripe, its filling pinwheels vanilla, nutmeg-glazed apple slices,
the pinch of occasional jealousies & the remaining scars of old fights,
strident as an unexpected spike of ginger or cinnamon—
softened by a flutter of cardamom &
a skillful piping of sweet white icing on the top.

What’s left, in the kitchen,
after the husbands have been wedded, forgiven & buried,
after the kids have moved out &
the guests have come & gone:
just crumbs, & the memory of desserts not always sweet.
Beerdigungsküchen; the baker grieves.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

This selection comes from Allie Marini Batts’ collection Before Fire: Divorce Poems, available now from ELJ Publications!  Purchase your copy here!

Allie Marini holds degrees from Antioch University of Los Angeles & New College of Florida, meaning she can explain deconstructionism, but cannot perform simple math. Her work has been a finalist for Best of the Net & nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She is managing editor for the NonBinary Review, Unbound Octavo, & Zoetic Press, and co-edits for Lucky Bastard Press with her man, performance poet B Deep. She has previously served on the masthead for Lunch Ticket, Spry Literary Journal, The Weekenders Magazine, Mojave River Review & Press, & The Bookshelf Bombshells. Allie is the author of  Unmade & Other Poems (Beautysleep Press), You Might Curse Before You Bless (ELJ Publications) wingless, scorched & beautiful (Imaginary Friend Press), Before Fire (ELJ Publications), This Is How We End (Bitterzoet), Pictures From The Center Of The Universe (Paper Nautilus, winner of the Vella Prize), Cliffdiving (Nomadic Press), And When She Tasted of Knowledge (Nomadic Press), Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide To Beasts Of The Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press), Here Comes Hell {dancing girl press}, & Heart Radicals, a collaborative collection with Les Kay, Janeen Pergrin Rastall & Sandra Marchetti (ELJ Publications).  Allie rarely sleeps, and her mother has hypothesized that she is actually a robot fueled by Diet Coke & Sri Racha. She met George R.R. Martin & did not die. Proof of immortality? Not sure, but it does make a compelling argument…Find her on the web: https://www.facebook.com/AllieMariniBatts or @kiddeternity.

Erin Elizabeth Smith is the Creative Director at the Sundress Academy for the Arts and the author of two full-length collections, The Naming of Strays (Gold Wake, 2011) and The Fear of Being Found, which will be re-released from Zoetic Press later this year. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Mid-American, 32 Poems, Zone 3, Gargoyle, Tusculum Review, and Crab Orchard Review. She holds a PhD in Creative Writing and teaches a bit of everything in the English Department at the University of Tennessee. She serves as the managing editor of Sundress Publications and The Wardrobe.

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“Quaker Meeting: Cambridge/Rangeley, Maine” from Gathered

gathered


Quaker Meeting: Cambridge/Rangeley, Maine

There you are, purchasing
the Sunday paper. Ibuprofen.
Ajax. Pampers. Peanut butter.
Margarine. Clorox. There
you are, baby squalling, holy
voices in the IGA,
in Sarah’s kitchen tasting oatmeal-
raisin bread, yearning
for pies and chocolate frosting. You
will not forget the Wednesday corn
line. You must choose: How
many? and are the kernels
small and sweet?

“Almost died,” he
said, “fever of 106, down to
the hospital.” “Going to rain, trees
need the water, I guess.” “Thanks be
to God, my son got out, the night my store
burned down.” “Geologist dug up this
here rock, said it was from the time
of the Grand Canyon. Used to be this land
was all under water, back then.”
“Learned me the Internet at
the library—looked up my condition
on the Medline, they call it. Ain’t
no reason, just old age, they say, doctors
don’t know, but I’d have gone blind, it said,
if they hadn’t of given me the Cortisone
in time.” “I’ll think on it awhile, let
you know if I can fix it for you.” “The locksmith
out Rt. 4, he was a Baptist preacher,
died last June, you know. The schoolbus driver
he’s out 16 across from where the diner was,
the widow sold him all the molds. Lock
stock and barrel, you could say.” “Those wasps
you got, just spray ‘em with Raid and run
like hell.”

-Marian Kaplan Shapiro

You can purchase a copy of Gathered: Contemporary Quaker Poets, edited by Nick McRae, from the Sundress store for only $16!

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

wheniwake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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