Tag Archives: poetry

AWP Roundtable: “1.41421…: A Conversation Among Math Poets”

Welcome to our Sundress Roundtables, a celebration of exceptional, not-so-lost AWP panels which did not make the AWP final cut for 2018.

Math poetry (sometimes called mathematical poetry) can be loosely defined as poetry that connects in some way with math, other than poetic structure in general. There is a community of math-poets; some of us are actual mathematicians and some are  poets who “merely” enamored with math. Some of us know one another through conferences and publications. Some of us write a lot about or via math, while others write an occasional math poem.

In answering the questions below (developed by Marion D. Cohen), the four math poet presenters on this panel share their individual connections to math and poetry.

Do you identify more as a poet or as a mathematician, perhaps both equally? Which did you become first? Did either one give rise to the other?

 Sarah Glaz: The answer to this question differed at various times in my life. Before I started college, I considered myself an artist, poet and painter, who liked and was good at mathematics. I wrote poetry from a very young age, almost as soon as I learned to read and write, and also drew and painted with watercolors till I went to college. In fact, my intention in choosing mathematics as my major in college was to achieve some balance between my artistic side and my mathematical/scientific side. All this changed as I learned more advanced mathematics and developed a serious interest in exploring it. After graduating from college with a double major in mathematics and philosophy, I continued my education in mathematics and completed a PhD degree at Rutgers University. Throughout graduate school and for the first ten to fifteen years of my career as a teacher and researcher in mathematics, poetry took second place to mathematics.

I still had an interest in it, but I stopped writing poems. This may have also had to do with the adjustment to a new language and a new culture; I was born in Romania and my first poems were written in Romanian, and with the fact that I was too busy raising a family to do meaningful work in two disparate disciplines. I came back to writing poetry, this time in English, in 1991. By then mathematics has been an integral part of my world for many years, and the poetry I have written since 1991 is strongly influenced by the mathematics I have been involved in and by my life as a mathematician. Nowadays, I still consider myself more a mathematician than a poet. But poetry is very important to me, and I cannot imagine being just one and not the other.

JoAnne Growney: As a girl, I wanted to be a writer, but it was a math scholarship that paid for my college and I stayed in math through my doctorate and more than thirty years of teaching. But during my teaching years I began to write poems – some of them related to math – and I began to collect poems pertinent to my courses, offering them as outside readings and alternative viewpoints.

Gizem Karaali:  I think it is fair to say that I see myself as a mathematician first. In fact I have difficulty seeing myself as a poet, or rather seeing being a poet as something different from being human with feelings, which occasionally overflow. Perhaps this is because I am not a very disciplined poet. My poetry is random, and appears infrequently and almost always unexpectedly. For math and other things, I put aside time. For poetry, things bubble up and out and other things have to stop. Then of course I work with what came out but the initial impetus is unscheduled, unexpected, and unavoidable.

For me mathematics came before poetry. That is, I had already fallen in love with numbers and other mathematical structures before I put together a few words to write my first poem. However if I think further back, I can see that even before math came the words. I did  (and still do) love words first and foremost.

Marion Cohen: This question reminds me of the proverbial chicken and egg! My main passion is math, always has been. But most of my publications, meaning most of my interactions with the world, are poetry and memoir. As to which I became first… well, they kind of went together; each pushed forward the other. My math passion began when I first took algebra, or at any rate that’s when I consciously knew about my math passion. Through algebra, I realized that there are reasons why various math things worked; math things could be proven. In particular, all the little “number tricks” that my friends and I had played on each other could be explained, and I also asked myself the question, which pairs of numbers have the same product as sum? It seemed to me that math might be able to explain everything, even non-math things like emotional stuff from my personal life or political things like the issues of my teenage-hood (segregation, capital punishment…), not so different from societal issues today…  Mostly, math to me expressed the mysteries, existential and so on.

I began writing my feelings about math in my diary, alongside the other teenage-girl diary things. What I wrote wasn’t poetry with line breaks but it was poetic. (Some of it I’ve had published in my adulthood.) That’s how I got started with poetry in general, though that didn’t show up ‘til my early 30’s. So math brought on the poetry. And the poetry brought on more math – math itself and more writing about math. My first poetry collection, “The Weirdest Is the Sphere”, was of math poetry (published by Seven Woods Press – very mathematical!), and another book, also entirely of math poetry, titled “Crossing the Equal Sign” (Plain View Press), came out about ten years ago. My other books (probably all of them) contain math poems, too, because math can connect with regular non-math life; it all keeps coming on!

Do you write poetry that you view as not particularly mathematical? Do you feel that perhaps ALL poetry is math-poetry? Or perhaps some poems are more “math-y” than others? Is there, in your view, some rule, or some definition of math-poetry?

Sarah Glaz: I do write poetry that I do not consider mathematical. But it is not easy to define what a mathematical poem is. Different people have different definitions. In 2010, I was asked to define mathematical poetry by Kaz Maslanka, who is a different kind of mathematical poet from me, and has a different definition of what mathematical poetry is. Below is a slight editing of the answer I gave Kaz at the time, which, for me, is still valid:

Mathematical poetry is an umbrella term for poetry with a strong link to mathematics in either imagery, content, or structure. The mathematics involved in mathematical poetry does not have to be mathematically significant. Some poems I would call mathematical involve just arithmetic, or counting. Also, just the inclusion of a certain mathematical component does not make a poem mathematical. For example, all formal poetry has a built-in mathematical structure, but we would not call a sonnet a mathematical poem just because it has 14 lines. The link of the poem to its mathematical component has to be strong. If the link to mathematics is in the poem’s structure, there has to be something non-standard, or unusual, about the use of mathematics in the poem’s structure to make the poem a mathematical poem. I left, on purpose, the term “poetry” undefined because I want to include in this definition poems that have only mathematical symbols. Although my preference is for poetry that includes words, I would like the term mathematical poetry to embrace all poetic mathematical forms, even those that come to us from the depth of mathematical silence in symbol form. (a variation of this definition appeared on Kaz’s website: http://mathematicalpoetry.blogspot.com/2010/08/sarah-glazs-definition.html)

JoAnne Growney: When I began writing poetry much of it was not mathematical in its content – I was writing about my family, my relationships, my dreams.  But as I read biographies of famous math women – like Emmy Noether or Sofia Kovalevskaya – I also began to write about them.  In addition, mathematics is one of my strong vocabularies  – and often math terms are what seems best to express an idea.

I do not see a rule or definition for the term “math poetry” but see many ways in which poems may have mathematical connections.  The metrical and rhyming patterns that underlie many poems involve counting and permutations – and are thus linked to mathematics. Some poetry is linked to mathematics via mathematical terminology.

I do NOT see ALL poetry as math poetry.

Gizem Karaali:  I have written poems that are not mathematical. Indeed most of my poetry is not mathematical, I’d say. When the well is full, the next poem comes out, and it does not have to have math in it, because my life is not only mathematical. So no, I’d say not all poetry is math poetry. Math poetry, for me, is poetry that engages with mathematics one way or another. It is poetry that either in its form, or in its content, or in its language and metaphor has something intentionally mathematical in it.

Marion Cohen: Some of my poems are more mathematical than others. And people have said, from reading or hearing my relatively non-mathematical ones, that “I can tell you’re a mathematician.” But there’s other subject matter that I’ve written several books about and that I’m known for in certain circles, such as pregnancy loss (my third baby died at the age of two days – for the record, I have four living children) and spousal chronic illness (my first husband had multiple sclerosis).

I’ve often said that, whenever anything happens to me I write many books about it! And math happened to me. Math wasn’t a tragedy, though for me there are poignant and sometimes sad or disturbing and/or existential things about it (math itself, not only the struggle to prove things or to have a career).

I also don’t believe that all poetry is math poetry. Some mathematicians , including me, feel that all math is poetry (well, poetic). At any rate, my own math poetry is poetry about math. And among my “non-math poetry”, I’d say some poems are more math-y than others. Some, e.g., contain a line or two of poetic images from math. And some just have, perhaps, more logic in them than most poems.

To me, the definition of math poetry is poetry that has to do with math in some way, either is about math or one’s mathematical life, or mathematical aspects of one’s non-mathematical life, or loving or hating or fearing math, or, again, has some poetic structure that is mathematical, or is a concrete poem which uses math symbols (integral signs, limits…), or is about, say, a woman mathematician. There’s a wide range.

Has writing math poetry (and/or poetic prose) helped you to understand, or to like, math more than you did before you wrote math poetry? If so, can you describe how?

JoAnne Growney: I do not see a way in which writing poetry about mathematics has helped me to understand or like math BUT reading the math poems of others has helped me understand how they think of math, and that has been very interesting.

Gizem Karaali:  YES! I think math poetry has allowed me to connect with my mathematical self more generously, in a humorous and gentle way. It has allowed me (and still does allow me) to think of and understand better the human aspects of doing, learning, teaching, and living mathematics. It also has helped me connect with other math poets who have opened up new windows for me to see.

Marion Cohen: As I said in my answer to #1, in my teenage years, math inspired poetry, which in turn inspired math. Back in the 90s I was working on a particular math problem (It had to do with graph theory but I didn’t realize that at the time…). It was a difficult problem, I had to dig deep, and as I dug deep I described the feeling of it in poems. Each lemma (or attempted lemma…) gave rise to a poem or two. Many, probably most, of the poems in “Crossing the Equal Sign” come from working on that math problem.

And yes, I love math more because of the math poetry. The poetry cements and enhances the math, also commemorates it in some way that the math itself doesn’t. (And of course if the math turns out to be wrong, or to not ever be published, then at least I have the poems!) Sometimes, when I prepare a lecture for a class, I write a poem (sometimes a limerick) that helps me (and the students) to better understand that piece of math.

As a teenager I couldn’t think of math in terms other than poetic. That, to me, was what math was. It took me awhile to realize that not all mathematicians were poets or poetic, or conscious of being poets and that was, at certain stages of my life, disappointing to me.

Do you feel that you’re part of the community of math poets? If so, to what extent?

Sarah Glaz: I am part of an international community of mathematical poets. I would like to call this international community “The Bridges Poets.”  Not only do we create a bridge between poetry and mathematics, but also most of us come to the annual conferences of the Bridges organization (http://bridgesmathart.org/) to read and listen to mathematical poems, to present and attend talks, and to participate in workshops on the connections between mathematics and poetry. I serve as the poetry reading coordinator of the Bridges organization and make an effort to discover and bring to the Bridges conferences mathematical poets who write in English or had their poems translated into English. But the community of mathematical poets is larger than those who attend the Bridges conferences. Fortunately, computers allow for communication among us even if we do not meet in person. There are a number of “online centers” where people with interest in mathematical poetry can read, and sometimes also post, mathematical poems, related writings, and news of relevant events. One such center is JoAnne Growney’s blog: Intersections — Poetry with Mathematics (http://poetrywithmathematics.blogspot.com/). A number of journals also act as meeting centers by publishing mathematical poetry and related scholarly papers on a regular basis. Among those are: The Journal of Humanistic Mathematics (http://scholarship.claremont.edu/jhm/), The Mathematical Intelligencer (https://link.springer.com/journal/283), Talking Writing (http://talkingwriting.com/), and last, but closest to my heart, The Journal of Mathematics and the Arts (http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tmaa20/current), for which I serve as Associate Editor. In addition, in 2014, I acted as guest editor for a special issue of the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts on mathematics and poetry (http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/tmaa20/8/1-2#.VJMDFnACAeA).

JoAnne Growney: In a general sense, since I know and socialize with some other people who write poetry that connects to mathematics, I am part of that “community.”  But through my blog (“Intersections – Poetry with Mathematics” at http://poetrywithmathematics.blogspot.com) I am connected to a broader community of many, many persons who write and/or appreciate a selection of mathy poems.

Gizem Karaali: I would say so. I know quite a few math poets through my work with the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics and the poetry readings at various annual mathematics conferences. I certainly know more math poets than non-math poets. I feel that there is a kinship between people who love math and poetry and who engage in math poetry.

Marion Cohen: Yes, I feel very much a part of the community of math poets. This community came together relatively recently – say, in the past 25 years. It began for me when I was teaching at Drexel U; a colleague told me about Viewpoints Art/Math Conference and I partook of that. That initial Viewpoints Conference developed into several other Viewpoints Conferences, and it was probably through someone there that I learned about the Bridges Math/Art Conferences, held annually the last week in July. At first Bridges was essentially about visual art; I might have been the first to present writing/poetry. Now the poetry component of Bridges is surviving bigtime, thanks in huge part to Sarah Glaz, who’s on this panel.

Also, the math community in general is more interested in poetry than it used to be. E.g., math journals publish math-poetry and review books of math-poetry.

For many decades I was isolated with my math poetry (during my teen age years I was isolated, by choice, with both my math and my writing), and with my poetic take on math. Now it feels great, and very interesting, that a math poet community exists – and that I’ve matured enough to be part of it.

How do you see the significance of math-poetry – in the math, the poetry, and the societal arenas – and of its recent emergence?

Sarah Glaz: : Only the future can tell which art form has a lasting impact.

JoAnne Growney: I am not sure that I understand the question. I find that almost everything I learn has connections to almost every other thing I have learned; in short, “everything connects!”

Both poetry and mathematics are language forms in which it typically occurs that lots of information is packed into a few symbols. And so, for both of these, coming to understanding often takes several re-readings and a sustained effort.

Gizem Karaali:  In the mathematics world math poetry is helping us humanize the discipline, make the community a more welcoming one, one which encourages people of mathematics to connect with their emotions and personal experiences related to mathematics. In the world of poetry, math poetry is still a tiny drop, but if I am allowed some optimism, that little drop can help others, those who would not call themselves mathematical people by any stretch of the phrase, to appreciate that mathematics can be a humanizing life force, for at least some people.

Marion Cohen: The emergence of math-poetry and the community of math-poets seems significant for at least three reasons: (A) It helps prevent students and the general public from feeling that math is a cold unfeeling subject, and thus helps people feel less alien-ated from math (and other sciences). This makes a dent in the phenomenon known as math anxiety. (B) It encourages women and other minorities who either aspire to become math-people, or who simply would benefit from trusting math more than they do. (C) Math teachers on the elementary and high school level often often have math anxiety! This is partially because teachers’ colleges teach more about teaching than about math. So math-poetry could help these math teachers feel more comfortable with math, which is good for both teachers and students.

If you incorporate poetry into your teaching of math, tell us more!

Sarah Glaz: : I use mathematical poetry in all my mathematics classes. In general, the most common use of poetry in college math classes is in general education courses designed for students who intend to major in the humanities. The aim is to reach out to students through a medium they love, in order to develop an appreciation for mathematics, or develop the mathematical thought process, rather than to teach specific material. My first use of poetry in a math course was for such a general education course. In this course, I assigned group-works in which the mathematical problems were written in verse. Several years later, I developed a course in remedial college algebra. I prepared a number of group-works for this class in which the poems were chosen for their ability to enhance students’ capability to perceive patterns and develop strategies for turning “word problems” into “math problems.” In other words, each poem acted as a go-between the words and the equations.  In more advanced classes, like Calculus, Linear Algebra, Abstract Algebra and even graduate courses, I use a small number of mathematiccal poems to pique students’ curiosity as well as to enrich their learning experience by placing what is learned in the classroom in a broader historical, artistic and social context. A different kind of mathematics course in which I use poetry is my History of Mathematics course. At the University of Connecticut this course is restricted to math majors and is designed not only to teach the history of mathematical ideas, but also to improve students’ writing ability. I use historical mathematical poetry and contemporary mathematical poetry on history of mathematics topics, and also use a number of well written scholarly papers highlighting connections between mathematics and poetry in historical context. My aim is to deepen students’ involvement in the subject, and also to add some magic spark to the classroom exposition that only poetry can achieve.

I have written a number of papers on the uses of poetry in math education which provide more technical details. Interested readers can access those from my website (http://www.math.uconn.edu/~glaz/).

JoAnne Growney: When I was teaching mathematics, I enriched my classes with outside readings  – sometimes history and biography, some-times poetry – and related discussions or papers. The poems I gathered led me to start my blog (“Intersections – Poetry with Mathematics” at http://poetrywithmathematics.blogspot.com) so that I could share them with others.

Gizem Karaali: In several of my classes I ask my students to engage with math poetry, both as readers and creators. I have written about this elsewhere, see for instance: Can Zombies Write Mathematical Poetry? Mathematical Poetry as a Model for humanistic mathematics, Journal of Mathematics and the Arts, Volume 8 Issue 1-4 (2014), pp. 38-45  available at http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17513472.2014.926685 .To summarize, I find poetry to be a great way to help students connect with their emotions about and experiences with mathematics at a deeper level.

Marion Cohen: I teach a course that I developed, Mathematics in Literature, which is just what it sounds like! So naturally I use poetry in that course. Since I hope that students will someday write “math literature” (as some wind up doing for their term papers), I tailor the homework/class conversation questions such that they encourage, but not force, students to write and talk about their own experiences; to further encourage that, I talk about my own experiences, including the two tragedies in my life but also my passion for math. (This means that I include one of my own  “math memoirs” as course material, “The Night I Didn’t Grow Up”, Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, available at: http://scholarship.claremont.edu/jhm/vol2/iss2/9. I also hand out copies of math poems, my own and others’, that pertain to things we study but are not course material.)

Some citations for articles about my “Math/Lit” course are:

Dear Math: I Hate You: For the Learning of Mathematics, Marion Cohen, Vol. 36 Num.

2 (2016)

Truth and Beauty: Mathematics in Literature: The Mathematics Teacher, March 2013,

Vol 106, Issue 7

Math in Poetry: Half of a Course: archive.bridgesmathart.org/2012/bridges2012-73.pdf

When I have taught plain-ol’-math courses like calculus… well, I’ve written limericks about every topic I’ve taught and I share these limericks with students (these are handed out in the spirit of “presents”, no obligation to read). Writing these limericks and reading them as part of lecture preparation helps me to understand the material in a new way, and the totality of them gives me a good, short, overview that helps in lecturing.

At first I didn’t specifically use the limericks in the body of my teaching. Modesty, plus time considerations, caused me to simply hand them out either at the very beginning or the very end of the course. I also prefer to be non-invasive in my teaching, to not force limericks or other poetry on students who might not want them, or who might view them as something else to keep track of. So I’m careful to quip, “the limericks are optional”, and not to over-use them as pedagogical tools. Even so, one student wrote on the end-of-term evaluation form, “I would prefer not to have poetry in the course”. Ouch!

On the other hand, one student told me, “I learn well from you because I know that you relate to me as a writer”. I hadn’t known this student was a writer but she still felt that I related to her in that way.

If the following applies: do you incorporate poetry into your teaching non-math subjects?

JoAnne Growney:  When I lead poetry workshops, I often include information about the structure of poems – about syllable counting and permutations, for example — in such gatherings.

Marion Cohen: I haven’t taught non-math courses, but I have facilitated non-math workshops in various capacities, and several of these involve poetry. Most recently I have facilitated “Well Spouse Writing Workshops”, in which well spouses (meaning people who are spouses of chronically ill people) come together to write about things they might have formerly thought forbidden. I begin by recounting my experiences as a well spouse writer and by sharing a short (and poetic) paragraph from one of my well spouse memoirs. Participants thus feel comfortable sharing their own “forbidden” thoughts and feelings. I also believe that my experience as a once-upon-a-time isolated writer has sensitized me to some of the hesitancies of my workshop participants.

If you’re a parent, do you incorporate math poetry into your parenting? If you’re not a parent, do you incorporate math poetry into your interactions with children?

Sarah Glaz: Sorry, I don’t think I ever did, but it might have been absorbed by osmosis. My son started as a math major and later completed an MFA in Creative Writing, and is now a writer who teaches English at college level.

JoAnne Growney:  Many children’s rhymes are mathy and I have enjoyed them with children and with grandchildren.

Gizem Karaali: My children are quite young, and they do not yet know that mathematics is not a standard theme in poetry, so they do not know the difference between poetry and math poetry. And I kind of like that! At this point we are playing around with poetic forms like haiku but I have not intentionally introduced math poetry to them.

Marion Cohen: Mostly, I share my poetry, math and otherwise, with my children, now grown, via just-plain writing it and not keeping that any secret. Recently my youngest son Devin has identified as a poet (he’s also a visual artist), and he and I have given readings together. I also remember making up a babychant for Devin when he was an infant. “Zero times one / is zero. /Zero times two / is zero. /Zero times three / is zero…” Also, math has fed into my feelings as a mother – pregnancy, birth, motherhood in general. Some of my poems in “Crossing the Equal Sign” strive to express “the mysteries” of motherhood as they relate to the mysteries of math and of existence.  Finally, as a home-schooling mother I taught math, or at any rate arithmetic, via a card game. The game is called Casino; my parents played it with my sister and me when we were kids. I made up an “ex-tended” version, in which not only addition but subtraction, multiplication, division, even exponentiation, is permitted; my youngest had much to gain by learning that anything (other than 0) to the 0th power is 1, since playing 1’s got him aces, worth special points!

How has knowing about the community of math poets affected your own math, writing, and living?

Sarah Glaz: It is important to me to feel part of a community of mathematical poets. The relation between mathematics and music was established by Pythagoras in about 500 BC. There is also a long-term traditional connection between visual arts and geometry. Musicians and visual artists, who are also mathematicians, can easily find kindred spirits. The relation between mathematics and the literary arts is more complex. Throughout history, this relation waxed and waned. In some periods of time they were considered complimentary and supporting disciplines, while at other times they were seen as conflicting ways of seeing the world. Not long ago, in 1959, the well-known British novelist and scholar, C. P. Snow, described the sciences and the humanities as forever divided into “two cultures”. In our own time, many of us seem to have crossed the great divide and embrace the similarities along with the differences in a creative and joyful way. Still, mathematical poets are a relative minority.  It is easy to feel isolated when you love both words and numbers, particularly if what you create from words are poems. I am very grateful for the growing community of mathematical poets for comradeship, support, and inspiration.

JoAnne Growney: I enjoy discovering common interests with people I meet – and find that when I share interests with friends it often encourages that interest in me.

Gizem Karaali: Math poetry helped me connect with some beautiful people. It has also opened up ways of writing that I had not allowed myself before. My voice in my more recent articles is a lot freer, a lot more like me. All in all I think it has enriched my life, mathematical and otherwise.

Marion Cohen: The math poet community has caused me to do it more (all three mentioned above: math, writing, and living…). I feel justified, I feel encouraged, I get published! It helps me feel that I’ve done my part in bettering this world. And of course I’ve made some great colleagues and friends.

 

SOME MATH POEMS BY THE PRESENTERS:

Sarah Glaz

Sample poem from ODE TO NUMBERS, poems by Sarah Glaz (Antrim House, 2017).

√2  = 1.41421…

We started our voyage on the gulf of Tarentum.

The sea was choppy
and the brothers were restless.
At dawn, we gathered on the deck
intent to solve the conflict like rational men.

Hippasus still refused to keep the secret.
He had discovered that
the diagonal of a square
is incommensurable
with its side.

Alas! Our world had collapsed
and so did our geometric proofs.

Too much to lose, we heaved him overboard.

from ODE TO NUMBERS (Antrim House, 2017)

Historical Note:  In the 5th century BC, the Pythagorean Hippasus of Metapontum discovered the existence of irrational numbers. Particularly, he had shown that   — the length of the diagonal of a square with a unit side— is an irrational number. For his sin, legend has it, Hippasus was thrown overboard during a sea voyage. The poem plays with the imaginary possibility that his murder occurred before he breached the Pythagorean code of secrecy and made his discovery public. The line count of the poem’s stanzas follows the decimal expansion of √ to 5 decimal places.

Like a Mathematical Proof

A poem courses through me
like a mathematical proof,
arriving whole from nowhere,
from a distant galaxy of thought.
It pours on paper
impatiently
faster than my hand
can write,
stretches wings,
flaps,
twists and turns,
strikes sparks as it forms.
It is a creature
of indescribable
mystery
like a mathematical proof   ̶
its passage
fills me
with
inner peace.

 

JoAnne Growney 

It had been my plan to include the second poem below (“A Baker’s Dozen,” a villanelle that has fun with rhyming related to numbers one through thirteen) but, in the midst of my development of answers to these survey questions, I got an email from a teaching friend who said that he had asked his students in a Quantitative Reasoning class to read a bit of poetry, including “Which Girl Am I?” – and that poem had generated a large amount of important class discussion about math attitudes and feminist views, and he felt that some important insights has occurred because of that poem.  And so I present it also.

Which Girl Am I?

The girl who’s not forced to divide
into the good girl and the real one
is a lucky one.  I was eleven
when I felt a crack begin.
In time I fully split — two minds
took on two heads, two faces,
two cuts of hair.  Mock feelings
serve as well as true ones,
I told myself — but buried parts
still surface like cicadas in their year.

Long division is difficult
and plagued with remainders.

A girl with two heads
is like a bird with one wing.

 

 A Baker’s Dozen

Counting likes to start with number one.
An easy mate to pair with one makes two –-
and three can be a triangle of fun.

Four enumerates my daughters and my sons.
I have five fingers on the hand I give to you.
Counting likes to start with number one.

With six the perfect numbers are begun.
Seven names a rest-day, breaks the queue —
and three can be a triangle of fun.

I sometimes call on eight to make a pun.
Nine numbers lives I hope will see me through.
Counting likes to start with number one.

When ten years pass, another decade’s done.
Eleven’s the hour I hope for my rescue —
and three can be a triangle of fun.

Twelve counts a dozen — eggs or hot-dog buns.
Thirteen offers luck that some eschew.
Counting likes to start with number one
and three can be a triangle of fun.

 

Gizem Karaali 

A Mother’s Math Is Never Done
        September 20, 2017

Beyond dark clouds is the blue sky.
The day will come to do your math.
Once you put away the clutter.
Someday again you know you’ll fly.
Now’s not the journey’s end, just a detour on the path.
Only today, hold your breath, for you are a mother.

Today you are the mother.
Today she reaches for the sky.
Today your job’s to clear her path.
Today your job’s not at all math.
Today it’s not you who will fly.
So you hold her hand, and stand still amidst the clutter.

You still stand amidst the clutter:
Is this what it means to mother?
Where have your wings gone now? Did you really ever fly?
You cannot hear the wind, or even see the blue sky.
Today is not a day for math.
Today math is not your path.

So you want math to be her path.
You seek patterns in her clutter.
You know one day she’ll just say “Math!”
She’s the daughter of her mother.
Looking up to the deep night sky.
She too is dreaming surely of learning how to fly.

She’s dreaming of learning to fly.
Of taking off, charting her path.
Cutting through a summer eve’s sky.
Numbers left behind, a clutter.
Who’ll clean it up but the mother?
And who, you ask, will do the math?

Then “I”, you say, “will do the math!
“Isn’t it time for me to fly?”
Quick, do shake up your wings, mother!
Math’s ready to become your path.
Leave aside the toys, the clutter.
It’s time again to touch the sky!

So once again math is your path.
Now you can fly together, leave behind the clutter.
And reach up to the sky, a daughter and her mother.

 

Marion Deutsche Cohen

(untitled)

I am no workaholic. But I’m collecting points and lines.

Not like stamps.
No, I wouldn’t trade them.
I simply have to have them.
I need a group portrait
all of them smiling.

I have to have a hand
with these beauties as fingers.
I have to hold a vase
with these cuties as flowers.

I should contact a colleague.
I should go online.
But – don’t you see?
I have to do this alone.

I am based in reality.
But God created these lambies
set them out to green-pasture
and maketh me
to lie down.

from Crossing the Equal Sign (Plain View Press, 2007)

 

(untitled)

What is this business of things existing?
What is this business of people existing?
What is this business of math existing?
When I get that far gone I imagine a piece of paper with math written on it.
I imagine cutting out the math
cutting around all the numbers and symbols.
I imagine the cut-out math and I imagine the stencil.
The paper is very white.
The math is also white.
Maybe I even imagine cutting out the math without it having been written.

from Crossing the Equal Sign (Plain View Press, 2007)

  


BIOS AND PHOTOS OF THE PRESENTERS

SarahGlaz

Sarah Glaz’s first poetry collection, Ode to Numbers, was published by Antrim House in 2017. Her poetry and translations appeared in: Ibis Review, Convergence, The Mathematical Monthly, The Ghazal Page, Recursive Angel, The Humanistic Mathematics Journal, The London Grip, Talking Writing, and other periodicals and anthologies. Among her publications are three anthologies of mathematical poetry. Sarah is Emerita Professor of Mathematics at the University of Connecticut. As a mathematician she has published books and articles in the area of Commutative Ring Theory. Sarah serves as Associate Editor for the Journal of Mathematics and the Arts, and is the coordinator of the poetry readings at the annual Bridges conferences. For more information visit Sarah’s website.

 

JoAnneGrowney

Shown above are JoAnne and her diverse group of eight grandchildren, seven of whom are girls — all of whom like math and most of whom like poetry.

As a child, JoAnne Growney supposed that she wanted to be a writer – but she was good at math and a science scholarship earned her a college BS in mathematics from Westminster College in PA.  As a high school math teacher, she stumbled into graduate school – where she eventually earned an MA at Temple University and a PhD from the University of Oklahoma.  During sabbaticals while a mathematics professor at Bloomsburg University she became aware of the importance of history and the arts to mathematics and began to offer outside readings for her students in both history and poetry.  When her children left home, she found time to write poetry – and sometimes it was related to mathematics.  Eventually she found time to study poetry –- some classes at nearby Bucknell University and then on to an MFA in creative writing at Hunter College in Manhattan.  Lots more information about her  — and her math and her poetry — is available in her blog and at her website.  One of her guiding hypotheses is “Everything connects.”

blog: https://poetrywithmathematics.blogspot.com
website: https://joannegr.dot5hosting.com

GizemKaraali 

Gizem Karaali is originally from Istanbul, Turkey, where she graduated with undergraduate degrees in electrical engineering and mathematics. She earned her mathematics PhD at the University of California, Berkeley. Today she is an associate professor of mathematics at Pomona College, a highly selective undergraduate institution in the United States. Karaali’s research lies in the representation theory of Lie superalgebras, super quantum groups, and algebraic combinatorics. Her scholarly interests include humanistic mathematics, quantitative literacy, and social justice implications of mathematics & mathematics education. Karaali is a founding editor of the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics and serves as an associate editor of the Mathematical Intelligencer and Numeracy. In the last decade, she wrote over fifty articles and she received federal grants for her research and teaching (from the National Security Agency and the National Endowment for the Humanities). Through her career, she has made connections within and outside of her academic discipline and served her professional societies as well as her community.

 

MarionCohen

Marion Deutsche Cohen is the author of 26 collections of poetry or memoir; including two controversial memoirs about spousal chronic illness, a pregnancy loss trilogy, and  “Crossing the Equal Sign”, poetry about the experience of math. Her math Ph.D. is from Wesleyan University and her short memoir about the unusual way that she got it appears on the Humanistic Mathematics Journal site. She teaches math and writing at Arcadia University in Glenside PA where she has developed the course, Mathematics in Literature. A chapbook of poetry, “Truth and Beauty”, about the interaction in that course among students and teacher, was released in December 2016 from WordTech Editions. Currently (and for her entire adult life) she has worked on something which she calls “associative arithmetics”. She writes reviews of math books and her limericks about women mathematicians are on her website. Other interests are classical piano, singing, Scrabble, thrift-shopping, four grown children, and five grands.

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Lyric Essentials: Patricia Colleen Murphy Reads Terrance Hayes’ “Fire” and “Whatever Happened to the Fine Young Cannibals”

Trish Murphy’s book, Hemming Flames is a deft exploration of trauma and incredibly difficult topics with a rich topography of image and language. Pretty much, I consider her a true adept at wielding her words. And this is exactly what she had to say about why she admires Terrance Hayes as a poet as well as loving his work. We got to talk about the surprise of his lines, and the way his stance makes the poem completely trustworthy.

 

 

 

Black: What draws you to Terrence Hayes as a poet?

Murphy: Terrance is a brilliant, generous, and funny human being. I love how many times his poems surprise me with unique phrases, strong images, but also deeply personal touches. In a reading he gave here in Phoenix in 2016 he said something that really moved me. He said that when he writes poems he keeps, “one foot in reality and one foot in imagination.” That is the way I like to posture myself as a poet as well.

His poems are full of musicality, masculinity, sensuality, whimsy, insight, AND moments of profound tenderness. How does he do it? He is a poet I read and wonder, how does his mind work? A line like, “Has your memory ever been / an unfenced country?” or “I know decent lies in the word descent.” There are so many moments in his work that I am thankful for. I picture him sitting at a desk—do these lines fall from the sky? How does he access them!?

Black: What is it about these poems that draw you to them? Do you connect with them personally, professionally, both? And in what ways?

Murphy: I’ll start with “Fire.” Now let’s be honest. I love dropping what I call the “M” bomb. There is no word quite like “mother” to stir emotion in the reader. It’s a cheat word in some ways because it’s so heavily weighted. I write about the mother a lot.

But I love the way the mother appears in Terrance’s work. In “Fire,” she is part of the landscape, but she is also a mythic savior. The way he reaches the mother as a topic is subtle and quiet and natural.

I do connect with this poem personally and professionally. When I’m reading submissions for my magazine [Superstition Review], or even when I am teaching writing of late, I talk about the 3 C’s: content, craft, and composition. In this poem there is a mastery across the board—the poem paints an image of a dream scene that allows the poet to portray the mother as a mythical hero. The poem is full of sensory detail and image and metaphor. And the writing at the word level is stunning. I love the line, “There was the calm & discretion / of giving up.”

In “Whatever Happened to the Fine Young Cannibals” we get even more evidence of craft—the language here takes on more sophistication and playfulness. I love the line “I will remember my / brief career as an infant.” I love how socially aware this poem is without being self-conscious or self-important. These poems are so deeply personal that the reader is drawn into the experience on an intimate level. In this particular poem, I am attracted to the use of repetition, the play with words, the imagery, the refrains. I have tried to write a poem like this.

 

 

Black: Do you see connections from “Fire” or “Whatever Happened to the Fine Young Cannibals” with your own poetry? And if so, how so?

Murphy: I can only say that I wish I could write like this. Maybe I have succeeded a few times with a few lines here and there.

Black: What are your feelings about the use of the first person in a poem?

Murphy: I write mostly in first person, though I do have several epistolatory poems. When I talk to students about first person in poetry, I talk about the main problem as I see it: that overuse of the “I blank” construction becomes repetitive and it also can indicate a level of self-centeredness. So in revision (or in editing even), I also recommend a ctrl-F for “I.” A lot of times sentences can be reworded so that they are simply more interesting.

What I like about these two poems and the way they use first person is that I feel so connected with the speaker. I believe the I. I believe the poet.

Black: What else would you like to point out about these poems? The language, the use of imagery? I’m interested in knowing what else moves you about his craft? What do you want students to take note of?

Murphy: It strikes me that the poets I admire most are the ones who take the time to imagine through to image. Perhaps that’s why I feel that these poems are so generous and thoughtful. The poet works through concept, “For house pets being American / is a cinch.” But also through image, “what I have eaten of you tastes like mint and damp clay, tastes exactly like the soil / I ate in my grandmother’s yard as a boy.” I really appreciate work that feels intentional and genuine, and Terrence Hayes is a poet who delivers every time.

__________________________________________

Patricia Colleen Murphy founded Superstition Review at Arizona State University, where she teaches creative writing and magazine production. Her book Hemming Flames (Utah State University Press) won the 2016 May Swenson Poetry Award judged by Stephen Dunn, and the 2017 Milt Kessler Poetry Award. A chapter from her memoir in progress was published as a chapbook by New Orleans Review. Her writing has appeared in many literary journals, including The Iowa Review, Quarterly West, American Poetry Review, and most recently in Copper Nickel, Black Warrior Review, North American Review, Smartish Pace, Burnside Review, Poetry Northwest, Third Coast, Hobart, decomP, Midway Journal, Armchair/Shotgun, and Natural Bridge. She lives in Phoenix, AZ.

Terrance Hayes is a MacArthur fellow, a National Book Award winner, and the author of six poetry collections including his newest, American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assasin. Hayes has been awarded a Guggenheim fellowship, won the National Poetry Series in 2001, and has achieved many other landmark accolades. In 2017 he was made a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He teaches at the University of Pittsburgh.

 

Links to some good stuff:

Terrance Hayes at the Poetry Foundation

Terrance Hayes’ Website

Terrance Hayes at the MacArthur Foundation

Trish at the Academy of American Poets

An Interview with Trish at Diode

 

Anna Lys Black is the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow, a graduate excellence awardee, and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. 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.

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An Interview with Ruth Awad

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The Sundress Academy for the Arts‘ 2018 Summer Poetry Writing Retreat will run from Friday, May 25th to Sunday, May 27th. The three-day, two-night camping retreat will be held at SAFTA’s own Firefly Farms in Knoxville, Tennessee. All SAFTA retreats focus on generative poetry writing, and this year’s poetry retreat will also include break-out sessions on writing political poetry, writing confession, kicking writer’s block, publishing, and more.

We’re getting excited about our Poetry Retreat this May! Editorial Intern, Anna Moseley, asked Ruth Awad, retreat leader a few questions about creative outlets, confessionalism, and more!

RuthAwad

It seems that between writing, cooking, jewelry, and tattooing, you have a lot of very creative outlets. What about writing has appealed to you more than other creative pursuits?

The satisfaction I derive from writing is different than my other outlets. When I write, I feel for a fleeting second that I’ve glimpsed some tiny, elusive truth. Pinned it down or held it up to the light. That’s not something I get from tattooing or jewelry making, where my aim is namely aesthetic.

In your new book, Set to Music a Wildfire, issues such as war, immigration, and belonging are prominent figures. Did you draw inspiration wholly from your father’s experiences, or have current social issues played a role in the poems? How much of your own experiences have blended with others’ in the retelling of your father’s story?

Ongoing social issues – the Iraq War (and its aftermath), the Syrian Civil War, rampant xenophobia/Islamophobia in the U.S. – definitely informed how I thought about and wrote about my father’s experiences during the Lebanese Civil War. One of my goals for this collection was to examine the civilian cost of war, from trauma and survival to displacement and the work of making a home in another country. I am privileged enough to not have these experiences firsthand, but I have witnessed throughout my life the toll they took on my father ­– the guilt he felt over leaving his family and country, the hostility he faced (especially after 9/11 – I remember the classmates who said my father was a terrorist). Later in the collection, the poems follow my mother and father’s relationship. Those are mostly my experiences and memories at work.

Between your book and your essay, “In the Skin,” you speak a lot about your relationships with your parents and how those have affected you. Would you consider yourself a confessionalist, and if not, how would you describe your approach to writing about personal matters?

It seems most contemporary poetry has some confessionalist impulse, so while I see that at work in my own poems, it feels a little imprecise as a label. My hope for my work is to observe the grief and truth and cruelty and joy in this stupid world, to create something that makes these things more bearable for others. Sometimes examining the self and the personal are a means to that end. Sometimes it is necessary to turn the lens outward.

Sign-ups are happening now for this year’s retreat!

 


Ruth Awad is the author of Set to Music a Wildfire (Southern Indiana Review Press, 2017), which won the 2016 Michael Waters Poetry Prize. She is the recipient of a 2016 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and she won the 2012 and 2013 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and the 2011 Copper Nickel Poetry contest. Her work has appeared in New Republic, The Missouri Review, CALYX, Diode, The Adroit Journal, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. Learn more at www.ruthawadpoetry.com.

Anna Moseley is currently a senior at the University of Tennessee majoring in English Literature. She has a glorious waitressing job downtown and writes as a contributor for the Arts and Culture section of the Daily Beacon. When she bothers to extract her nose from a book, Anna’s hobbies include engaging in wine-fueled political debates and looking at pictures of dogs she can’t afford.

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Submissions Now Open for 2018 Chapbook Competition

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Sundress Publications is pleased to announce its fourth annual chapbook contest. Authors of all genres are invited to submit qualifying manuscripts during our reading period of January 15th to April 15th, 2018.

We are looking for poetry, fiction, nonfiction, or any combination thereof. Manuscripts must be between twelve to twenty-six (12-26) pages in length, with a page break between individual pieces. Individual pieces may have been previously published in anthologies, print journals, online journals, etc., but cannot have appeared in any full-length collection, including self-published collections. Both single-author and collaborative dual-author manuscripts will be considered. Manuscripts must be primarily in English; translations are not eligible.

The entry fee is $10 per manuscript, though the fee will be waived for entrants who purchase or pre-order any Sundress title. We will also accept nominations for entrants, provided the nominating person either pays the reading fee or makes a qualifying purchase. Authors may submit and/or nominate as many chapbook manuscripts as they would like, so long as each is accompanied by a separate reading fee or purchase/pre-order. Entrants and nominators can place book orders or pay submission fees at our store.

The winner will receive a $200 prize, plus publication as a beautiful full-color PDF available exclusively online for free. Runners-up will also be considered for publication.

This year’s judge will be Wren Hanks. Hanks is a trans writer from Texas and the author Wren_Headshotof Prophet Fever (Hyacinth Girl Press) and Ghost Skin (Porkbelly Press). A 2016 Lambda Emerging Writers Fellow, his recent work appears in Best New Poets 2016, Gigantic Sequins, Jellyfish Magazine, The Wanderer, and elsewhere. His third chapbook, gar child, is forthcoming from Tree Light Books in 2018. He currently lives in Brooklyn.

All manuscripts should include a cover page (with only the title of the manuscript), table of contents, dedication (if applicable), and acknowledgments for previous publications. These pages will not be included in the total page count. Identifying information should not appear in any part of the manuscript. Authors with a significant relationship to the judge (friends, relatives, colleagues, past or present students, etc.) are discouraged from entering.

To submit, attach your manuscript as a DOCX or PDF file along with your order number for either a Sundress title or the entry fee to contest@sundresspublications.com.

Simultaneous submission to other presses is acceptable, but please notify Sundress immediately if the manuscript has been accepted elsewhere. Multiple submissions are allowed, but a separate entry fee must accompany each entry. No revisions will be allowed during the contest judging period. Winners will be announced in Summer 2018.

 

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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!

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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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Lyric Essentials: Sonya Huber Reads “Revenge” by Elisa Chavez

Anna: What are your feelings around this poem? What sparks for you?

Sonya: This poem both speaks to a certain moment in time, post 2016 election, but also to wider issues of resistance and identity. And I love its attitude and voice—a very subtle braiding of confidence, humor, and a kind of prophetic voice summoning the will to resist.

Anna: There is this moment in the seventh stanza where the speaker asks, “what are we but a fire?” And you can hear poets snapping agreement, assent, cohabitation in this phrase. And given what I know of your work and activism, I imagine you’re one of them. Can you speak to your own feelings about activism and poetry? Where do they intersect and where (if at all) do they dissect?

Sonya: I love the overlap between writing and activism in general, though when I was getting my MFA in 2000-2004, I was often ashamed about my activism in some weird way, as if I were leaving art behind when I was getting my hands dirty with real-world ideas. Even at the time that idea didn’t make sense, as I knew of so many political poets and writers, but I didn’t necessarily have the confidence to put my own political issues in my work without those issues coming off as partisan or didactic. I did it anyway, but with anxiety. I think these days that concern seems kind of quaint, as there are so so many political poets. And as poet Danez Smith has recently articulated, all poetry is political. I think where literary writing and poetry and activism diverge is that sometimes, one has to use language as a blunt instrument in activism, whereas in literary work, you’re always tending toward complexity. That said, even while those two aims are not the same, they are not diametrically opposed. They’re still kin. So I am of the school of thought that says that all art is political; sometimes a work’s politics is just more visible than others.

Anna: What is your impression of the reception of the poem?

Sonya: I found this poem after dozens of people forwarded and posted it on social media when it was published. It was covered on Quartz and on the Stranger among many other outlets and proclaimed a “rallying cry for the next four years.” I definitely agree. It seemed like such a fiery balm at the time I read it, and it remains that way.


Anna:
Can you offer some of your impressions of the poet and Chavez’s work overall?

Sonya: Chavez, as far as I can find her online, is a slam poet based in Seattle who has inspired huge devotion with a few poems in print, and I am waiting for more from her. I can’t wait to read a book of her work if one comes out.

Anna: Is there a connection from this poem to your own work? What are some of Chavez’s technical moves that you’d like to embrace or in which you see a connection to your own work?

Sonya: I’ve been obsessed with voice for a long time, because I struggled to find my own writing voice and my voice in activism; I struggled to find a strong stance from which to speak. Whenever I see this kind of powerful stance related to activism, the combination of beauty and toughness and humor and focus, I take notice, because I need this myself. So I hope I am doing this work with my own writing, using beautifully voiced works like this as a model. What I admire most is the modulation in voice. Yes, this is a rant of resistance, but it’s also theory and humor and a snapshot of real life and a reminder to stay human.

I love the mix of colloquialism and dense language, like this pair of lines: “because real talk, you didn’t stop the future from coming./
You just delayed our coronation.” That use of “real talk” runs up against “delayed our coronation,” offering a wide range of tongues that the author has in command. The “delayed our coronation” is a kind of regal pause, a celebration. I love the line about “folks arguing ideology until even I want to punch them” because yes, that happens in activism, and so she’s stepping to the side of activism to laugh with it, and then she steps right back into the river: “but I won’t, because they’re my family.” She’s continually complicating and confounding, without making a big show of it; that folding of voices is in the DNA of the poem itself. The line “you brought your fists to a glitter fight”: gosh. If I could ever have a line like that. I love this so much, also because it’s so politically astute. In this poem’s “anxious America” is the analysis of all the different explanations for why Trump got elected. This complexity combined with confidence is my hope for my own essays and nonfiction.

Anna: When I asked you to do this, you mentioned that you’d have a hard time choosing. Which poems were some of the runners up?

Sonya: I love the poetry of Jack Gilbert, especially “Tear it Down.”

I love a lot of Wislawa Szymborska, Alice Walker, Adrienne Rich. Also this one by Marge Piercy, “To Be Of Use.”

Anna: Thank you, Soya, for being our guest today. To our readers, know that I invited Sonya because I am in love with her work and I’ve included some links to her work below her bio for your perusal so that I might share some of why I am such a fan of hers.

Sonya: Thank you for allowing me to think about and refuel on poetry!!

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Elisa Chavez on tumblr

Sonya Huber is the author of five books of nonfiction, including the new collection of essays on chronic pain, Pain Woman Takes Your Keys and Other Essays from a Nervous System. Other books include Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir, Opa Nobody, The Backwards Research Guide for Writers, and The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, The New York Times, The Atlantic, O: The Oprah Magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and other outlets. She teaches at Fairfield University, where she directs the low-residency MFA program.

Sonya’s Website
Her Shadow Syllabus
Pain Woman Takes Your Keys
Dear Thrasher

Anna Lys Black serves as the editor-in-chief for Hayden’s Ferry Review at Arizona State University where she is a Virginia G. Piper global fellow and mere weeks from completion of her MFA. 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.

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INTERVIEW WITH JIM WARNER, AUTHOR OF ACTUAL MILES

 

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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! 

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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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Summer Poetry Writing Retreat

SAFTALOGO

Sundress Academy for the Arts Announces
2018 Summer Poetry Writing Retreat

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is thrilled to announce its Summer Poetry Writing Retreat, which runs from Friday, May 25th to Sunday, May 27th, 2017.  The three-day, two-night camping retreat will be held at SAFTA’s own Firefly Farms in Knoxville, Tennessee.  All SAFTA retreats focus on generative poetry writing, and this year’s poetry retreat will also include break-out sessions on writing political poetry, writing confession, kicking writer’s block, publishing, and more.

A weekend pass includes one-on-one and group instruction, writing supplies, food, drinks, transportation to and from the airport, and all on-site amenities for $250.  Tents, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment are available to rent for $25.  Payment plans are available if you reserve by March 31, 2017.

The event will be open to writers of all backgrounds and provide an opportunity to work with many talented, published poets from around the country, including workshop leaders Ruth Awad and Stevie Edwards

RuthAwadRuth Awad is the author of Set to Music a Wildfire (Southern Indiana Review Press, 2017), which won the 2016 Michael Waters Poetry Prize. She is the recipient of a 2016 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, and she won the 2012 and 2013 Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize and the 2011 Copper Nickel Poetry contest. Her work has appeared in New Republic, The Missouri Review, CALYX, Diode, The Adroit Journal, Sixth Finch, and elsewhere. Learn more at www.ruthawadpoetry.com.

Stevie Edwards is the founder and editor-in-chief of Muzzle Magazine and senior editor in book development at YesYes Books. Her first book, Good Grief (Write Bloody, 2012), Stevie_Edwards_ (1)received the Independent Publisher Book Awards Bronze in Poetry and the Devil’s Kitchen Reading Award from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Her second book, Humanly, was released in 2015 by Small Doggies Press, and her chapbook, Sadness Workshop, is forthcoming from Button Poetry in January 2018. She has an M.F.A. in poetry from Cornell University and is a Ph.D. candidate in creative writing at University of North Texas. Her writing is published and forthcoming in Indiana ReviewCrazyhorseTriQuarterlyRedivider32 PoemsWest BranchThe JournalRattleVerse DailyPleiadesNinth Letter, and elsewhere.

We have one full scholarship available for the retreat as well as limited 20% scholarships for those with financial need. To apply for a scholarship, send a packet of no more than (8) pages of poetry along with a brief statement on why you would like to attend this workshop to Erin Elizabeth Smith at erin@sundresspublications.com no later than March 31, 2018. Winners will be announced in April.

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

https://squareup.com/store/sundress-publications/item/poetry-retreat

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

Web: http://www.sundressacademyforthearts/                     Facebook: SundressAcademyfortheArts

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Sundress Picks: Best of Poetry Books of 2017

Like every bookworm, we love to ring in the new year with a new read. To help get your 2018 off to a great start, we asked our authors, editors, and staff to choose some of their favorite books published in the past year.

Here’s a list of our top choices for your consideration–and from all of us at Sundress Publications, have a warm and happy new year.

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Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

Whereas-bestof

Graywolf Press, available in paperback

“WHEREAS confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations.”

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Graywolf Press, available in paperback

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“Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a groundbreaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Deadopens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love, and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality—the dangers experienced in skin, body, and blood—and a diagnosis of HIV positive. ‘some of us are killed / in pieces,’ Smith writes, ‘some of us all at once.’ Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing collection, one that confronts America where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.”

Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar

bestof-callingawolf

Alice James Books, available in paperback

“Akbar proves what books can do in his exceptional debut, which brings us along on his struggle with addiction, a dangerous comfort and soul-eating monster he addresses boldly (‘thinking if I called a wolf a wolf I might dull its fangs’). His work stands out among literature on the subject for a refreshingly unshowy honesty; Akbar runs full tilt emotionally but is never self-indulgent” (Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal, Starred Review)

Saudade by Traci Brimhall

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Copper Canyon Press, available in paperback

“Inspired by stories from her Brazilian-born mother, Traci Brimhall’s third collection—a lush and startling ‘autobiomythography’—is reminiscent of the rich imaginative worlds of Latin American magical realists. Set in the Brazilian Amazon, Saudade is one part ghost story, one part revival, and is populated by a colorful cast of characters and a recurring chorus of irreverent Marias.”

Surgical Wing by Kristin Robertson

Alice James Books, available in paperbackbestof-surgicalwing.png

“In Surgical Wing, surrealistic poems visit an experimental hospital ward, manifesting visions of winged angels and medical tests, as we bear witness to a doctor’s meddling and miracles. Robertson’s poems challenge the internal and external metamorphoses of the human condition and the juxtaposition between death and life by personifying the soul through images of birds.”

Hemming Flames by Patricia Colleen Murphy

Utah State University Press, available in print and ebook

bestof-hemmingflames “Throughout this haunting first collection, Patricia Colleen Murphy shows how familial mental illness, addiction, and grief can render even the most courageous person helpless. With depth of feeling, clarity of voice, and artful conflation of surrealist image and experience, she delivers vivid descriptions of soul-shaking events with objective narration, creating psychological portraits contained in sharp, bright language and image. With Plathian relentlessness, Hemming Flames explores the deepest reaches of family dysfunction through highly imaginative language and lines that carry even more emotional weight because they surprise and delight. In landscapes as varied as an Ohio back road, a Russian mental institution, a Korean national landmark, and the summit of Kilimanjaro, each poem sews a new stitch on the dark tapestry of a disturbed suburban family’s world.”

Sycamore

by Kathy Fagan

Milkweed Editions, available in print and ebook

bestof-sycamore“Meditative and richly written, this collection of poems by Kathy Fagan takes the sycamore as its inspiration―and delivers precise, luminous insights on lost love, nature, and the process of recovery.

“It is the season of separation & falling / Away,” Fagan writes. And so―like the abundance of summer diminishing to winter, and like the bark of the sycamore, which sheds to allow the tree’s expansion―the speaker of these poems documents a painful loss and tenuous rebirth, which take shape against a forested landscape. Black walnuts fall where no one can eat or smell them. Cottonwood sends out feverish signals of pollen. And everywhere are sycamores, informed by Fagan’s scientific and mythological research.

Spellbinding and ambitious, Sycamore is an important new work from a writer whose poems “gleam like pearls or slowly burning stones” (Philip Levine).”

Ordinary Beast by Nicole Sealey

Ecco, poetry, available in print and ebook

bestof-ordinarybeasts “The existential magnitude, deep intellect, and playful subversion of St. Thomas-born, Florida-raised poet Nicole Sealey’s work is restless in its empathic, succinct examination and lucid awareness of what it means to be human.

The ranging scope of inquiry undertaken in Ordinary Beast—at times philosophical, emotional, and experiential—is evident in each thrilling twist of image by the poet. In brilliant, often ironic lines that move from meditation to matter of fact in a single beat, Sealey’s voice is always awake to the natural world, to the pain and punishment of existence, to the origins and demises of humanity. Exploring notions of race, sexuality, gender, myth, history, and embodiment with profound understanding, Sealey’s is a poetry that refuses to turn a blind eye or deny. It is a poetry of daunting knowledge.”

Afterland: Poems by Mai Der Vang

Graywolf Press, available in paperback

bestof-afterland

“Afterland is a powerful, essential collection of poetry that recounts with devastating detail the Hmong exodus from Laos and the fate of thousands of refugees seeking asylum. Mai Der Vang is telling the story of her own family and by doing so, she also provides an essential history of the Hmong culture’s ongoing resilience in exile. Many of these poems are written in the voices of those fleeing unbearable violence after U.S. forces recruited Hmong fighters in Laos in the Secret War against communism, only to abandon them after that war went awry. That history is little known, but the three hundred thousand Hmong now living in the United States are living proof of its aftermath. With poems of extraordinary force and grace, Afterland holds an original place in American poetry and lands with a sense of humanity saved, of outrage, of a deep tradition broken by war and ocean but still intact, remembered, and lived.”

Incendiary Art by Patricia Smith

Northwestern University Press, available in paperback and ebook

bestof-incendiaryart  “One of the most magnetic and esteemed poets in today’s literary landscape, Patricia Smith fearlessly confronts the tyranny against the black male body and the tenacious grief of mothers in her compelling new collection, Incendiary Art. She writes an exhaustive lament for mothers of the ‘dark magicians,’ and revisits the devastating murder of Emmett Till. These dynamic sequences serve as a backdrop for present-day racial calamities and calls for resistance. Smith embraces elaborate and eloquent language— ‘her gorgeous fallen son a horrid hidden / rot. Her tiny hand starts crushing roses—one by one / by one she wrecks the casket’s spray. It’s how she / mourns—a mother, still, despite the roar of thorns’— as she sharpens her unerring focus on incidents of national mayhem and mourning. Smith envisions, reenvisions, and ultimately reinvents the role of witness with an incendiary fusion of forms, including prose poems, ghazals, sestinas, and sonnets. With poems impossible to turn away from, one of America’s most electrifying writers reveals what is frightening, and what is revelatory, about history.”


Small Crimes
by Andrea Jurjevic

Anhinga Press, available in print

bestof-smallcrimes.png“Andrea Jurjevic’s Small Crimes begins during the Croatian war years of the early 1990’s.  In the midst of bombings, sniper shootings, and firing squads, the speaker of the poems manages to live an almost normal adolescence, thanks to her grit, her attachment to family, and her skepticism.  The book then moves to the postwar years and onward into America, which is not without its own perils.  This is a collection that is often dark but just as often beautiful. Jurjevic’s language crackles with energy, and she lingers lovingly over the intimate details of a life that is lived with the eyes wide open.”

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Sarah A. Chavez’s Hands that Break and Scar Now Available for Sale

Sundress Publications is pleased to announce that Sarah A. Chavez’s debut full-length collection, Hands that Break and Scar, is now available for preorder at at the Sundress store.

The author of Blood Sugar, ire’ne lara silva, had this to say about Hands that Break and Scar:

“In language that is both achingly honest and meticulously poetic, Chavez chronicles the passage from childhood to young womanhood in California’s Central Valley, negotiating culture, language, identity, sexuality, love, and meaning. It is not that these poems reveal the secret profound nature of things—in Chavez’ world, the lines blur between violence and love, joy and struggle, memory and transcendence, the sacred and the mundane. One thing flows into another and back again. Hands That Break & Scar will leave an indelible mark on your heart, reminding you that poetry, beauty, and life are everywhere—within and without.”

Sarah A. Chavez, a mestiza born and raised in the California Central Valley, is the author of the chapbook, All Day, Talking (dancing girl press, 2014), a selection of which won the Susan Atefat Peckham Fellowship. Her work appears in such publications as Imaniman: Poets Writing in the Anzaldúan Borderlands, BrevityNorth American Review, Fourth River, Acentos Review, and VIDA Exclusive, among others. She holds a PhD in English with a focus in poetry and Ethnic Studies from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Along with teaching at Marshall University, she serves as coordinator of the A.E. Stringer Visiting Writers Series.

Other advance readers include Corinne Clegg Hales, author of To Make it Right, who said:

“The poems in Hands That Break and Scar work as a sort of mosaic, vividly portraying a bi-cultural, working class—and often precarious—childhood in the rough world of California’s hot Central Valley.  This community is as stressed as it is vital—and children become vigilant and self-sufficient at an early age. […] Chavez celebrates the moments of true joy and grace to be found in simple physical acts and otherwise ordinary situations. “I climbed the ladder,” she says, “reached out my arm / placed my fingers on the fruit’s smooth skin, / twisted it away from the stem / and handed it down to my grandmother / whose hair danced lightly in the breeze.” This is a stunning first book, filled with brilliant images, hard truths, and honest hope.”

Order your copy today!

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