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An Interview with Sundress Author, Colleen Abel

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As a poet, Colleen Abel is a shape-shifter. In her chapbook, Deviants, you’ll find couplets, flash CNF, lists, lyric essays, sectioned verse, and poems that morph across the page. What takes this formal variability to another level is that Colleen’s work is also about form—about the human body, about boundaries and celestial bodies and the Venus of Willendorf. These thirty pages are about a lot. We talked with Abel about Deviants, the way these forms find themselves, and how she found her way to poetry.

Colleen Abel’s Deviants won the 2016 Sundress Publications 5th Annual Chapbook Contest. Her first full-length collection, Remake, won Unicorn Press’ 2015 Editors Prize and is forthcoming in fall 2016. She is also the author of Housewifery, a chapbook (dancing girl press, 2013). A former Diane Middlebrook Poetry Fellow at UW-Madison, Abel has published work in Pleiades, Colorado Review, The Collagist, Southern Review, West Branch, and elsewhere. She lives in Wisconsin with her student loans.

Sundress: What did you want to be when you were a kid?

Colleen Abel: I have always wanted to be a writer, from the time I was four. I wrote my first short story around that time, about a vampire and his wife. (I illustrated, as well, but happily I abandoned notions that I was a competent illustrator pretty much immediately.) But even though I always wrote poetry, when I was a kid, I saw myself becoming a novelist. It wasn’t until college when I was encouraged to do an MFA in poetry that I thought, hmm, maybe this is going to be my path. Not that you have to pick a genre and stick with it! The older I get, the less interested I am in staying within genre boundaries.

Sundress: How do your pieces find their form? Do you draft in the form a piece eventually takes, or do you think about form later?

Colleen Abel: I almost always draft a piece in the form it ends up with—the form dictates the intellectual and sonic moves the poem makes, usually, so I like to find the form first. It’s sort of like picking a vessel to hold the thought. But sometimes in revision, I do figure out that the vessel is wrong! “The Photographer’s Model” is an example of a poem that was restless in the original form I had chosen for it.

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Sundress:Formally, Deviants is a very eclectic bunch of poems, but the book’s foundation seems to be the 18-page piece titled “Fat Studies.” Speaking of genre, how do you classify “Fat Studies”?

Colleen Abel: I would say “Fat Studies” is a lyric essay. I have been trying to write about obesity for over a decade in my poetry and it never worked–not once. I couldn’t really figure out why. It wasn’t until I shifted my thinking about form that I was able to write about obesity in a way that I was happy with–and “Fat Studies” was the result.

Sundress: In “Fat Studies,” the speaker’s body is described as “deviant.” The piece goes on to investigate the speaker’s life and mind within this “deviant” body. How did this piece come about? Is this stigmatized subject you’ve dealt with before, or is it something that required the building of experience and courage to write about so directly, frankly, and beautifully?

Colleen Abel: As I mentioned, I’ve been wanting to write about obesity for a long time, but could never make headway. A couple of things happened right around the same time that broke open the essay for me. I was sitting in on a fiction class at the school where I was teaching at the time, in 2014. So I was thinking a lot about prose. Then I stumbled across the theories of stigmatized identities by the sociologist Erving Goffman. He had this list of ways that people could respond to having a stigmatized identity, and I immediately thought: that list would make a great backbone for an essay. The third thing was that I had read an essay about physical fitness by John F. Kennedy and was trying to write a poem about it (and failing; see above.) Somehow those three factors collided and “Fat Studies” was born.

Sundress: In “Poem Beginning With A Zen Proverb,” (which, is such a great title), you create a list poem of places to “hide your body.” What are other list poems you have loved or that have influenced you?

Colleen Abel: Great question. The list poem that I think I go back to the most is Kenneth Koch’s “One Train May Hide Another.” I’m fascinated by how list poems make their way toward endings. They are so hard to write!

Sundress: What’s something you used to believe about writing that you no longer think is true?

Colleen Abel: Wow. I can think of probably a hundred things, from small to hugely philosophical. I was very young when I went into my MFA program and for a while I think I absorbed a lot of the aesthetic preferences of my teachers and saw those as rules of a sort. Eventually, I shook those off–as writers need to do with their mentors, often. I had a teacher who thought poems shouldn’t have questions in them, for example, and for a long time I was scared to ask questions in poems. That’s a small example, but I think the more I read and write and live in the world, the more expansive my idea of poetry becomes.

Sundress: What are three things that every poem needs?

Colleen Abel: 1. Attention to language 2. Attention to arrangement 3. A desire to communicate something to an audience.

Sundress: Can you tell me a little about writing community? Where is yours? What is it like? What were the best writing communities you’ve ever encountered, and why?

Colleen Abel: I am about a month into a two-year writing fellowship. There are about a dozen of us who comprise the inaugural class of Tulsa Artist Fellows, so I am excited to see this fledgling community grow and evolve, especially since it’s multi-genre. I was very, very lucky to be a part of a small group that met frequently for several years in Chicago. I probably won’t ever find anything quite like that again, but I still carry their generosity with me even a decade later.

Sundress: What projects are in the works for you now?

Colleen Abel: [My full-length collection] Remake is coming out this spring! I’m super excited. I have a full-length collection called Caryatid that’s seeking a home, and right now I am just trying to generate work without thinking too much about how it will shape into a book. Wish me luck!

Colleen Abel is the winner of Unicorn Press’ 2015 Editors Prize for her collection Remake, which is forthcoming in fall 2016. She is also the author of a chapbook, Housewifery (dancing girl press, 2013) and a former fellow at University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Creative Writing. Her work has appeared in Colorado Review, Pleiades, The Southern Review, Phoebe, West Branch, and many other outlets. She was recently named a 2017-2018 Tulsa Artist Fellow.

Tyler Barton is one half of FEAR NO LIT, a literary organization focused on community-building, surprise, and discomfort. An MFA candidate at Minnesota State University, he edits fiction for the Blue Earth Review, co-hosts the radio show Weekly Reader, and leads writing workshops for senior citizens. He’s currently creating a flash-fiction podcast called SHOW YR WORK that will be available online this summer. This winter, you can find his short stories in Midwestern Gothic, Little Fiction, matchbook, NANO Fiction, and No Tokens (and you can always find his jokes at @goftyler). Tyler is originally from York County, Pennsylvania, where, once, as a teenager, he saw a sweatshirt that read “York’s Not Boring…You Are,” and his life changed.

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Project Bookshelf: Lauren Perlaki

Last month, I moved to a new place. It was much to my surprise (and delight) to discover that one of my bedroom walls came adorned with a set of built-in shelves. What a perk. What I failed to realize was that because these shelves were without sides, I would need bookends to keep my things propped and in place. Alas, I did not have bookends to spare, so I made do (as you can see) with books for bookends – my “book-bookends.” While they aren’t the prettiest set of shelves, they do the job. From stacks of old journals to beloved books, these shelves house all that I currently have space to hold dear. They also function as a place for my Post-it® sticky notes, mason jar of writing utensils, and trusty alarm clock to call their own. Hands down, the bookshelf wall is the coolest wall my bedroom has to offer.

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Lauren Perlaki is a senior at Kalamazoo College double majoring in Art History and English with an emphasis in Creative Writing. She is also pursuing a concentration in Media Studies. When she isn’t furiously working to meet a deadline, or cramming 500+ years worth of art into her noggin, she can be found singing with her a cappella group, searching for a decent cup of coffee, or going on about how great the music scene is in Kalamazoo. She is a co-editor-in-chief of Kalamazoo College’s annually published literary and visual arts magazine, The Cauldron, and a lover of modernist literature.

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An Interview with Katie Longofono

Katie Longofono is the author of Angeltits (Sundress Publications, 2016). Her poems traverse between intimate and breathtakingly visceral imagery, between narratives on the body and the objectification of bodies, into a lyrical testament and commentary on sex and modern-age relationships.

Longofono spoke with our editorial intern Brianna McNish to discuss her literary inspirations, her writing process, and the influences that helped create the poems in Angeltits.

Brianna McNish: What were your biggest literary inspirations while writing Angeltits, and why?

Katie Longofono: As I recall, I was reading a lot of essays and fiction at the time I was working on these poems. I had just finished my MFA, so I guess that was my rebellion from soaking in poems pretty much exclusively for two years. Specifically, I think I was re-reading Mary Reufle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey, which has some great thoughts on sentiment which stuck with me. I was (and remain) super into being overly sentimental, or obvious, on purpose, in poetry. I’m the kind of weirdo who thinks it’s fun to see how many times I can say “very” in a poem without inducing gagging (or maybe in order to). I played with that idea a lot in these poems, I think.

I also was very inspired by Plath’s journals, which most people would be able to point to immediately. Lots of anger at men, etc. You know the drill!

BM: What left me in awe about your poems was how your fixation on bodies creates beautifully visceral language. What does the body represent in your poetry, and why do you use it as a common motif in your work?

KL: I guess this might be a disappointing answer, but really the body represents… the body. These are all poems that are pretty explicitly about sex. Sometimes it’s joyful, but now that I’m looking at it, yeah, these are poems about the ways a body can be in pain, the ways a body can let itself be hurt, the ways sex reveals the bodies’ soft spots and the aftermath of that vulnerability. I’ve always been fixated on the body in my work. I’ve written ecstatic body poems in the past, but for this collection, the central idea was objectification—hence the title, Angeltits—because so often women are reduced to their bodies. Fine, dudes, you wanna play that game? I’m gonna lean into it, then. Here’s an entire book about tits. It’s not sexy. You’re welcome.

BM: How would you describe your writing process?

KL: It’s definitely a cycle—I’m not one of those people who can sit down and write every day. I have, for short bursts of time, been able to force myself into that routine, but mostly I just try to remain aware of when I feel ideas forming and allowing myself a moment to write them out. I was lucky to have a pretty low-pressure job at the time I was working on Angeltits so I could easily switch into writing mode for the amount of time it took me to at least jot something down.

BM: What’s also striking about your chapbook is how the poems develop from “Who can fault me for loving / the fault, for tonguing the crack / we crumble within?” in “Dollface” to “I am not a bird or a symbol. / I am a woman burning,” in “We Grind Ourselves Out”. The poems unravel in a linear fashion with effortless transitions from the next poem to the next, which leaves me curious about how you would describe the development of the women who inhabit these poems from “The Outline” to “[When a man says no]”?

KL: Well, people are complicated. It’s amazing and weird that a person can hold defiance, rage, and two middle fingers inside the same body that also holds shame, loneliness, and hurt. It’s really difficult to capture all of that in one poem, let alone one book, so this was my attempt at trying to get all of those angles. A big part of this series was thinking about how (personally) I often feel victimized because of my body, but not like a victim—I really resent that label. That comes out in these poems—there’s a lot of anger here, a lot being challenged because I think it’s reductive to put people into boxes.

BM: What is the best piece of advice you have received as a writer?

I’ve received a lot of helpful advice over the years, so this is hard to narrow down—but what comes to mind is early on somebody told me, at the end of the day, you get to call the shots. You can (and should) listen to advice, tips, workshopping comments, whatever, but you don’t have to use it all. It’s your writing and your process. It was really helpful for me to basically be given permission to ignore advice if I didn’t think it was coming from a useful place for my writing.

KL: If you could describe yourself as a poem, which poem would you be?

A dirty limerick. I think this question was probably meant for a specific poem but I don’t feel justified in comparing myself to any of the poems I admire!

Katie Longofono’s Angeltits is available as an e-chapbook on Sundress Publication’s website here.


Katie Longofono received her MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College, where she directed the 2014 SLC Poetry Festival. She is the co-founder of Dead Rabbits Reading Series, a monthly literary salon that takes place in NYC. Her first chapbook, The Angel of Sex, was published by Dancing Girl Press in 2013. She has a chapbook forthcoming from Sundress Publications titled Angeltits. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Tinderbox Poetry Journal, South Dakota Review, Juked, Midwestern Gothic, and more. She may or may not be on Twitter. She lives in Brooklyn.

Brianna McNish is an undergraduate student studying English and literature at the University of Connecticut. Her fiction has previously appeared in or forthcoming in Literary Orphans, Juked, Unbroken, among others.

 

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2016 Sundress Publications Open Reading Period Results

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Sundress Publications is thrilled to announce the results of the 2016 Open Reading Period. Following is a list of the winners, finalists, and semi-finalists chosen from this year’s submission period. Our staff has picked the following manuscripts for publication as part of our 2018 catalog: Citizens of the Mausoleum by Rodney Gomez, Phantom Tongue by Steven Sanchez, and The Minor Territories by Danielle Sellers.

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Rodney Gomez’s chapbooks are Mouth Filled with Night (Northwestern University Press, 2014), Spine (Newfound, 2015), and A Short Tablature of Loss (Seven Kitchens Press, forthcoming). His work has been awarded the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Prize, the Gloria Anzaldúa Poetry Prize, and the Rane Arroyo Prize. His poetry has appeared in various journals including Denver Quarterly, Barrow Street, Blackbird, Pleiades, Diode, Puerto del Sol, Salt Hill, Drunken Boat, and RHINO, where it won the Editors’ Prize.

stevenSteven Sanchez is a CantoMundo Fellow, a Lamb
da Literary Fellow, and his first full-length  poetry collection, Phantom Tongue, was selected by Mark Doty as the winner of Marsh Hawk Press’ Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award.  He is also the author of two chapbooks: To My Body (Glass Poetry Press, 2016) and Photographs of Our Shadows (Agape Editions, forthcoming).  His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Nimrod, Poet Lore, Crab Creek Review, Assaracus, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, and The Cossack Review, among other journals. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Fresno State University and teaches at Fresno City College.

Danielle Sellers is from Key West, FL. She has an MA from The Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and an MFA from the University of Mississippi where she held the John Grisham Poetry Fellowship. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, Subtropics, Smartish Pace, The Cimarron Review, Poet Lore, and elsewhere. Her first book, Bone Key Elegies, was published by Main Street Rag. She teaches Literature and Creative Writing at Trinity Valley School in Fort Worth, Texas.

 

 

 

FINALISTS

River Mouth, Heather Dobbins
Get Sorrow Out If That’s What That Blackbird Is, Susan Grimm
Suturing the Dark, Megan Merchant
Book of Levitations, Jenny Sadre-Orafai and Anne Champion
Afakasi Half-Caste, Hali F. Sofala
Chiaroscuro, Vanessa Stauffer
Shahr-e-jaanaan Adeeba Talukder
The Woman Reader, Theodora Ziolkowski

SEMI-FINALISTS

Rare Wondrous Things, Alyse Bensel
The Ghosts of Lost Animals, Michelle Bonczek
A Drugstore Blue, Susan H. Case
Delhi Documents, Declan Gould
From the Hotel Vernon, Lea Graham
Eyelets Under Sun, L.I. Henley
How the Letters Invent Us, Rebecca Olande and Elizabeth Paul
Momentary Turbulence, Brad Rose
Indoor Horses, Sarah Sloat

Sundress Publications is a (mostly) woman-run, woman-friendly non-profit publication group founded in 2000 that as well as publishes chapbooks and full-length collections and hosts a variety of online journals anthologies including Best of the Net Anthology.

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An Interview with Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo

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Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is the author of the forthcoming collection of poetry Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge  (Sundress Publications, 2016). Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge is a feminist collection of poetry straddling borders, and arose when daughter of Mexican immigrants, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, traveled from Los Angeles to the Tucson-Sector of the U.S.-Mexico border in August 2011 to volunteer with the humanitarian aid organization, No More Deaths. She hoped to gain a concrete understanding of the “wall,” and the result was a book illustrating a speaker driven to activism by a need to honor her family’s journey.

Bermejo spoke with our Editorial Intern, Kristin Figgins, about her influences, her family, the work that helped inspire the collection, and more.

Kristin Figgins: Cacti are present throughout Posada.  What do you find so intriguing about the cactus as a plant or as a symbol?

Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo: Before I went to the Tucson-sector of the border, I imagined it as a sandy, desolate plain vacant of any life. But when I got there, I found breathtaking peaks and canyons as well as all kinds of animals and vegetation. I think I was drawn to the cacti for their resilience in inhospitable terrain, and I found their blooms hopeful. They turned into a symbol for the people crossing in the area.

With the prickly pear cactus, the nopal, I feel a connection to my grandmother and my Mexican heritage when I see them. I like how they grow wild all throughout California, and how they can thrive with so little. They make me feel proud.

KF: Many of the poems in Posada are after other poets.  Who are your biggest inspirations or influences as a writer, and why?

XJB: The biggest influence is Carolyn Forche’s The Country Between Us. She doesn’t have a poem in my book, but when I read her poetry in grad school, it was the first time I saw how my passion for activism and my poetry could marry. I don’t know that there would be a Posada without Forche. Another great influence was Michele Serros’ Chicana Falsa. I thank her in the acknowledgements because I read her book around my 3rd or 4th revision, and I fell in love with her voice and how unpretentious she is. After reading Chicana Falsa, I went back into my poems and tried to simplify–to look for those spots where I was trying too hard. I’ve always felt dumb, and had a fear of people discovering that, and because of that I sometimes overcompensate, so I was really thankful for the reminder.

KF: There are many beautiful relationships in Posada: mothers, daughters, aunts, and grandfathers.  How much do you draw upon the real relationships in your life in your poetry?

XJB: This collection was written for my grandparents and my parents. I don’t know what will happen with future poems, but this one was all about them. From a young age, I knew my parents were immigrants, and I was interested in their stories and celebrating immigrant stories. I think I was always acutely aware of negative words, sentiments, and policies toward immigrants when I was a kid because that meant mom and dad. I wouldn’t have gone to the border if it weren’t for them. They are a huge part of my poet identity, and they are huge supporters of my work. In Sandra Cisneros’ new memoir, A House of My Own, she talks about how she had to move away from her family to be a writer. But for me, I couldn’t be a writer without my family.

KF: You write at the end of Posada that you were influenced by your work with the humanitarian organization No More Deaths, which polices the Mexico-U.S. border.  How did that experience inspire or influence your writing?

XJB: I wouldn’t call it policing. They patrol migrant trails for support, medical care, and to be a witness to Border Patrol atrocities–but they aren’t policing anyone. They are fighting for accountability.

When I went to the border, I was two years out of an MFA program. I thought I was writing a book, but I didn’t really know what I was writing about. When I went and worked with No More Deaths, my book got its center, and I had something to put the other poems into context. I didn’t really have a book until I went, and though only half of the book is about the desert, it’s all in context with that journey, who the speaker is, and why she went.

KF: Posada is very interested in borders, not just in the sense of the Mexico-U.S. border, but also in the sense of pathways, being lost, and not quite fitting within the tidy borders of the world.  Do you think poetry can help people feel like they have more structure, tidier borders as it were, or can help them feel found?  Is this true for you?

XJB: Gregory Orr’s book, Poetry as Survival, talks about how writing a poem helps to bring order in chaos, and I definitely think that’s true. Through a poem, I think it is possible to create new structures, new understandings, and break out of old patterns. I think I wanted the poems about being lost or not fitting in to be a comfort.

KF: Throughout Posada, you play with language and what it means to be bilingual.  One of my favorite poems is “to chew     the empty spaces,” which omits articles and some prepositions, a common grammar “mistake” of bilingual individuals.  How does being bilingual influence the way you think about language?

XJB: I wouldn’t call myself bilingual. I grew up in a Spanish speaking home, the youngest of four, and though my two oldest brothers are fluent, me and my other brother aren’t. I was spoken Spanish to my whole life. My grandparents only spoke Spanish, but with my parents, I always answered them in English. So I know Spanish, and when I speak it, it sounds pretty good, but I’m not fluent. I tried to show that with “Ode to Pan Dulce” with the way the Spanish weaves in and out. I feel like that’s how Spanish feels in my ear and on my tongue, it comes and goes without much thought. With the first half, I was trying to illustrate that sense, but with the second half, I wanted the Spanish to honor the language of the people I came into contact with as their first language.

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KF: “Meditation for Lost and Found” opens with a quote from Jorge Luis Borges and then follows a labyrinthine pattern.  Other poems, like “Photograph of a Secret” seem to flirt with magic(al) realism.  Do you ever find yourself inspired by Latin American authors like Borges, who use magic(al) realism as a way to portray the emotional reality of the daily lives of people living in countries that are dealing with economic and political upheaval?

XJB: Those two poems are heavily influenced by Borges and the possibilities held in a moment. I like to use magical realism to find possibilities when there don’t seem to be any, or to create some purpose, honor, or visibility when there isn’t any. “Meditation for the Lost and Found” is for the desaparecido, a word that has no direct translation in English, but means those who cease to be, disappear from the world without a trace, usually at the hands of a corrupt government. My hope with that poem is that by forcing the reader to focus on the words through its strange form, I am making a journey, a life visible again. I try to do something similar in “Our Lady of the Water Gallons.” The poem is intended to be the safe place because there are no safe places in the desert.

KF: What book is on your nightstand right now?

XJB: I just finished the YA novel, Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan. It’s about a 13 year-old girl who immigrates to the US from Aguascalientes, Mexico when her family experiences a tragic change of fortune. It’s a Depression era book, and I’m reading it for inspiration for my current project, which is a novel set in 1930s California.

KF: What piece of advice have you been given that was instrumental to your development as a writer?

XJB: Eloise Klein Healy told me to push myself to be personal and to do the work. It was her advice that encouraged me to volunteer with No More Deaths, so it was pretty instrumental in the development of this book. Before that, I was doing a lot of persona poems on immigrant stories I found in history books, mostly from the Chinese Exclusion Act and Japanese Internment. Her advice made me realize why I cared so much about immigration rights and reform, and it all stemmed from my own parents.

Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge is now available for pre-order with free shipping from Sundress Publications!

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Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo is a first generation Chicana born and raised in San Gabriel, California, who fondly remembers weekends spent haciendo traviesos with her cousins around her grandparents’ Boyle Heights home. She wrote this collection while living in a house in the shadows of Dodger Stadium in historic Solano Canyon.  Bermejo is a 2016-2017 Steinbeck fellow and was previously honored as a Poets & Writers California Writers Exchange poetry winner, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund/Money for Women grantee, and Los Angeles Central Library ALOUD newer poet. Her poetry received 3rd place in the 2015 Tucson Festival of Books literary awards and has been published with The American Poetry Review, The Acentos Review, CALYX, Crazyhorse, and Tahoma Literary Review among others. She has received residencies with Hedgebrook, the Ragdale Foundation, and is a proud member of the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. In Los Angeles, she is a cofounder of Women Who Submit, a literary organization using social media and community events to empower women authors to submit work for publication, and curates the quarterly reading series HITCHED. She received a BA in Theatre Arts from California State University of Long Beach and an MFA in Creative writing from Antioch University Los Angeles where she is currently a book coach and workshop instructor with the inspiration2publication program.
Kristen Figgins is a writer of fabulism, whose work has appeared in such places as The Gateway Review, Sleet Magazine, Hermeneutic Chaos, Sakura Review, Menacing Hedge, and more. Her story “Track Me With Your Words, Speak Me With Your Feet” was winner of the 2015 Fiction Award from Puerto del Sol, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Micro Award, and Write Well Award. Her first chapbook, A Narrow Line of Light, is available for purchase from Boneset Books and her novella, Nesting, is forthcoming from ELJ Publications in the Summer of 2017.

 

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On Poetry, Motherhood, and Bad TV: An Interview with Karen Craigo

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Montreux Rotholtz: Could you tell me a little bit about your process? Is there a guideline or a series of rules you impose upon yourself or use to edit your poems? And finally, what kind of generative exercises do you use to create new work?

Karen Craigo: When you’re really busy, it’s best not to be too married to process. The only thing I’m consistent about is writing every day. Sometimes it’s first thing in the morning; sometimes it’s in bed by the light of my phone. But I always write, and by this I mean that I write something with a purely creative purpose—neither my blog nor my journalism counts, although that writing, too, is a creative act. I try every day to try to express something essential in writing.

Of course, I do have to feel like writing when the occasion strikes. Because all of that writing has kept me in condition, so to speak, I tend to just jump right in. It hasn’t always been like this. In those periods when I’ve been away from the page for a long time, I’ve found it incredibly difficult to start anything. That’s where prompts come into play. I make a word bank from a failed poem, or I use something my son has said as a first line. (Lately his thing is to ask me to take him to imaginary places—“Let’s go to the egg house!” or “Take me to the place where they keep the bells.”) I make a mental note of these things, and when I have time to write, they provide an interesting germ of an idea—a starting point.

Incidentally, I’m not big on revision. I labor like crazy over small poems, and I tend to wrestle them to the ground in one sitting. I may make small changes after that, but for the most part, the poems are completed in a single occasion. I credit the fact that I’ve been quietly prewriting between writing sessions. I’ve been composing without pen or keyboard since the last time I sat down to do that.

MR: Reading No More Milk gives us some clues about your obsessions, the things you are grappling with and working around. Could you talk more about the themes you return to again and again; the topics you find your poetry reaching toward; the objects, people, or places that haunt your work? What are you obsessed with right now?

KC: I’m so transparent! Motherhood is magical to me, and I like to approach it mindfully. It’s perfectly fair to characterize that as an obsession. I’m also obsessed with spirituality and the body, and also with working life, and these themes dovetail throughout No More Milk. I consider myself the poet laureate of the electric bill. Someone needs to sing those ordinary songs—or at least that’s what I tell myself.

Right now, I’m all about television. I’m very excited about a manuscript-in-progress of poems based on characters from classic TV—Bewitched, The Addams Family, The Munsters, Happy Days, Sanford and Son. Whether it’s a love poem to the Professor from Gilligan’s Island or a paean to the Gooch from Diff’rent Strokes, I’ve been inspired by this project, and I even get to honor some important figures from my youth. The fact that Fonzie is fictional is no reason not to thank him for being magical.

MR: What are you reading at the moment? 

KC: I recently bit off a bit more than I could chew with a National Poetry Month book review project. I solicited books, intending to read one a day and then offer an appreciation (not a review—just an expression of where I found the most enjoyment in each collection). But I had sort of a tough April in some respects, and the job loomed very large—so I’m taking a more leisurely approach, reading any new collection I can get my hands on and reviewing them as I go. This project may stretch through the summer, and maybe I’ll never stop. But what I’m reading now is, quite simply, all the things. It’s been a great education for me.

MR: Do you find that what you’re reading changes or informs your work, or do you seek out specific reading material because your work is tending in a certain direction already? 

KC: I put a lot of stock in the value of randomness, both in my poems and in my reading. The best poems happen when you approach them in an uncalculated way, and I think reading whatever my gaze lands on helps with that. The trick is to buy lots of stuff and keep it around, near at hand. I guess you could say that I plan for serendipity to happen; there are poetry collections near every chair in my house, including the porcelain ones.

MR: Which poets do you see as formative for your work, and why? In particular, are there any underrepresented or rarely discussed authors who’ve really informed your poetry or perspective?

KC: This answer may be surprising, but I most enjoy poets who are very intuitive about form and content. Carl Phillips is one favorite. Larissa Szporluk is another. I don’t write like either of them; maybe I’m not bold enough to lean on intuition the way they do. I aspire to that, though—to trusting myself and trusting my readers enough to let us co-create a bit more than I do now.

MR: What, besides other poetry, influences your writing? Do you find yourself drawing inspiration from film, television, music, dance, or other art forms? What are your secret influences?

KC: You know what I love? Mystery novels and bad TV. I’m very lowbrow—like, astonishingly so. I sometimes turn on an NCIS or Bones marathon as background noise while I write. I was a newspaper reporter for a lot of years, and I do really well with a low hum of noise in the background. A movie or TV show I’ve seen a hundred times can be just the ticket.

I have another set of habits, though, that may seem a little contradictory. I like to keep a dream journal, and I’m very invested in meditation and breathwork. I can’t exactly call my dreams a secret influence, since they’re probably the product of too many television detectives themselves. But I do like to dig deep within sometimes, and to turn away from overt outside influences. I have this idea of God as a force we can immerse ourselves in if we pay the right sort of attention, and I guess I think it’s good practice to tap her on the shoulder every now and then. Or maybe, more accurately, to curl up in her lap. I like the writing that follows this, and I guess I kind of like going back and forth between the spirit and the world. It would probably be a mistake to dwell permanently in either sphere.

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MR: Tell us a little about No More Milk’s creation. Would you say that these poems were written to be together, to flesh out a story or theme, or did you write each one individually and see the connections between them later? How do you approach the process of creating a whole and complete book?

KC: No More Milk can probably be described as a true first book, in the old mode. These days people seem to write collections from the start, but I feel like there was a time when first books were more like a designer’s lookbook, offering lots of different styles, from day to evening to cocktail to red carpet. My obsessions (which you mentioned earlier) sort of unify the work—there’s a lot about parenting, a lot about money, a lot about the body—but I think I approached them somewhat individually. I guess I’m lucky, in a sense, that I get a little stuck—a little fixated—and also that I write a lot. I had plenty of poems to choose from, and they hung together pretty well, sort of by accident.

MR: What about the titles? How do you see them working together, opening the way for a reader or closing it off? How do you go about writing titles for your poems? 

KC: Titles are really hard for me, and I admire poets and other writers who excel at them. Sometimes I begin with a label title—“Milk” or “Money” or “Happiness”—and then obviously I have to revisit it and try again. It’s agonizing for me. A title sort of delineates a poem, and if you’re not careful, a careless one or a too-specific one can shut the windows on a poem, taking away a possible vantage point.

I’ve become much more loose with titles recently. I used to drag the lake of the poem, looking for a phrase that I could stick on top. These days I let myself be more inventive when titling—I just generate an appealing phrase—and I’m finding that much more satisfying.

MR: Can you reveal a secret to our readers? It can be about anything you’d like.

KC: I have three unusual phobias: revolving restaurants, the state of Wisconsin, and those old-timey desk spikes people once used to collect receipts and stuff. One of these days, I’m nearly certain I’ll be found dead with a desk spike in my eye.

MR: What is the best advice you’ve ever received (writing-related or otherwise)?

KC: So much advice turns out to be worthless—not even harmful, just baseless and dumb. You can swim after eating; the weight of a corndog is not going to pull you down. You should have sex before marriage, and with lots of different kinds of people—you’ve got to check yourself before you wreck yourself. Eggs are bad for you, eggs are good for you—we go back and forth, but we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they’re yummy in a McMuffin, so I’m eating those sonsabitches.

I’ve received some good advice, though. My dad told me to read a lot so I wouldn’t be dumb. And my mom told me to always make sure I had some money in my pocket and an alternate way home. My best friend in college convinced me to stop what I’m doing and get down in the grass to check out the bugs. One of my favorite professors instilled in me the importance of not judging people’s utterances by their grammar and conventions. 

Writing-wise, the best advice I ever received was to do it—write, I mean. All real writers say it. They’ll swear by one method or another for themselves, but particulars aside, the spirit of the advice comes down to this: Sit your butt down and be a conduit for the words. That’s the best writing strategy, and it works for all of us, regardless of skill level or genre or anything else. Sit and write and see what appears. That advice has always paid off for me, whether spiritually or artistically.

You can pre-order No More Milk today at the Sundress store!

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Karen Craigo is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Someone Could Build Something Here (Winged City, 2013) and Stone for an Eye (Kent State/Wick, 2004), and her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals. She is a three-time recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council, and she is a former summer fellow with the Fine Arts Work Center. A freelance writer and editor, she also teaches writing in Springfield, Missouri. She maintains the blog Better View of the Moon. Her debut full-length poetry collection, No More Milk, will be released from Sundress Publications in 2016.

Montreux Rotholtz is a poet and an editorial intern with Sundress Publications. Her poetry collection, Unmark, was selected by Mary Szybist as the winner of the 2015 Burnside Review Press book award. Her poems appear in Prelude, jubilat, The Iowa Review, the PEN Poetry Series, Fence, and elsewhere. 

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Interview with Donna Vorreyer

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Donna Vorreyer is the author of Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story (Sundress Publications, 2016) and A House of Many Windows (Sundress Publications, 2013) as well as seven chapbooks, most recently Encantado, a collaboration with artist Matt Kish from Redbird Chapbooks. She is the reviews editor for Stirring: A Literary Collection, and she works as a middle school teacher in the Chicago suburbs.

Sundress: Tell me about your process: Do you plan what you want each poem to accomplish, or does your writing evolve as you are working on it?

Donna Vorreyer: I rarely go into a poem knowing what I want it to accomplish. Each poem starts with some trigger –a piece of language, an idea, an image, a prompt, even –but then takes on a life of its own. I can start free-writing about tomatoes and end up with a long poem about a persona unearthing childhood trauma. I think that, once the poem lives on the page for a while, I can perhaps shape it to my will, but in a draft, the ideas and images of a poem have to be allowed to spread like ripples in a puddle. I believe that intellectualizing the poems too much at the beginning of the process can lead to stilted work. That’s why, during dry spells in my drafting, I don’t force ideas on to the page. The minute I say, “I’m going to write a poem about…” is the minute that I will draft a lousy poem. My initial drafts tend to be pretty rambling and somewhat prose-y in nature. In revision, I tend to hone image with particular attention to sound. And, as you have seen, most of my completed poems end up fairly short. So one could say I am more of a whittler than an architect.

Sundress: What’s on your bookshelf? Who are the main writers who inspire you and inform your work?

Donna Vorreyer: My bookshelves (there are many, all over the house) have a lot of poetry, of course, but also everything from biographies to novels to strange non-fiction topics like deadly plants and museum artifacts. In terms of main writers who inspire me, there are many, but I have a shortlist. Classic favorites, I would say, are Shakespeare, Whitman, Dickens and Melville. The richness of their language and syntax teaches me something new each time I read and re-read. In terms of informing my work, anything that I am reading is an influence. When I was reading the journals of Lewis and Clark, the language of nature was an inspiration. Reading Melville, the long sentences make my brain move differently. Reading Katie Ford or Traci Brimhall makes me consider image, emotional urgency, and surprise. Reading Amorak Huey and Diana Goetsch teaches me about humor and movement from idea to idea. So, I can’t honestly say that one particular writer influences me more than others.

Sundress: You often reference an unnamed “you” in your poems. Do you consider it the same “you” throughout, or does the title imply that these poems are many different “apocalypse stories”?

Donna Vorreyer: It could be read either way. I’d like to leave it to the reader to decide.

Sundress: You use water imagery throughout the book: “of the sea pulling into itself, the science of tides,” “Useless life, wharf/ with no docks” “When we wake, we walk to the river,” etc. Did you intentionally use water as a theme, or is it an image you are drawn to as a writer?

Donna Vorreyer: I do not intentionally return to water as an image, but I am drawn to water in a personal way, so I think it creeps into many poems (hopefully not in a clichéd way). I love the sound of waves and rushing falls, the fact that water can be both transparent and opaque, its colors, its moods…As someone who grew up near enough to Lake Michigan to know water but far enough away to yearn for it, water holds a sense of mystery and grandeur for me. Of course, there is also the human dependence on water –we are, after all, made of those atoms of hydrogen and oxygen, and anytime one is writing about the human condition or relationships, the body looms large. And the body contains oceans.

Sundress: Tell us a little about the title of the book and its significance.

Donna Vorreyer: The book was conceived as a way to explore how society tends to escalate any problem or obstacle to the level of apocalypse. I work with teenagers, and their tendency to inflate the size of a problem is normal. But I’ve also noticed serious issues with scale in all aspects of life today, especially on social media. Everything is either great or a crisis, and that idea needed a story to frame it.

A love story is the most universal of all stories, and love is rife with problems, so in that sense, every love story is an apocalypse story.

Sundress: How were the subheadings chosen, and how do they affect the progression of the book?

Donna Vorreyer: The subheadings are lines from different poems in the book and are meant to guide the reader through the stages of the relationship: a sweet beginning, typical ups and downs, a betrayal, a descent into crazed almost feral mourning for what was lost, and then a reconciliation of sorts. The sections were originally numbered, and my editor Sara Henning suggested section titles, something that had also worked well for me in my first book.

Sundress: What is one thing you wish people knew about you?

Donna Vorreyer: I started writing poems by writing song lyrics when I was in junior high school. I play the piano (pretty well) and the guitar (badly) as well as sing, and I had teenage angsty heartbreak enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. (Damn you, Mike Dalton!) I stopped writing in college and didn’t start again until I was in my early 30s. It’s never too late to start over when it comes to something you love.

You can purchase Every Love Story is an Apocalypse Story at the Sundress store!

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2015 Best of the Net Anthology Released

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Sundress Publications is pleased to announce the release of the 10th anniversary edition of the Best of the Net Anthology! This year’s anthology includes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction published in 27 different journals and features work by Claudia Emerson, Chen Chen, Jennifer Givhan, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Sandra Meek, Eric Tran, Harmony Neal, Jesse Goolsby, Kimi Traube, and many more!

This year’s judges included Bruce Bond, Brian Oliu, and Kate Schmitt.

Bruce Bond is the author of fourteen books including five forthcoming: Immanent Distance: Poetry and the Metaphysics of the Near at Hand (University of Michigan Press), For the Lost Cathedral (LSU Press), Black Anthem (Tampa Review Prize, University of Tampa Press), Sacrum (Four Way Books), and The Other Sky (Etruscan Press). Presently he is Regents Professor at University of North Texas.

Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey and currently teaches at the University of Alabama. He is the author of three full-length collections, So You Know It’s Me (Tiny Hardcore Press, 2011), a series of Craigslist Missed Connections, Leave Luck to Heaven (Uncanny Valley Press, 2014), an ode to 8-bit video games, & Enter Your Initials For Record Keeping (Cobalt Press, 2015). essays on NBA Jam. i/o (Civil Coping Mechanisms), a memoir in the form of a computer virus, is forthcoming in 2015. His works in progress deal with professional wrestling and long distance running (not at once).

Kate Schmitt‘s Singing Bones won the 2013 Zone 3 Press Creative Nonfiction Book Award. A writer and visual artist, Kate Schmitt has an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. from the University of Houston’s Creative Writing Program. Her work has been published in a number of anthologies, including Earth Shattering Poems (Holt, 1998), Light Gathering Poems (Holt, 2000), I Just Hope It’s Lethal (Houghton Mifflin, 2005), and The Weight of Addition (Mutabilis Press, 2007), as well as the literary journals Paradigm, Birmingham Poetry Review, Southern Poetry Review, and Louisiana Literature. She was a nonfiction editor of Gulf Coast and served on the journal’s Board of Directors in 2008-2009. She has also edited and written for the companion website to a pilot television series created by Shelley Duvall, a wind energy company, and most recently for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Her courses include nonfiction and poetry workshops, 20th-century literature, young adult literature, and Chinese literature in translation.

You can read the newest edition of the anthology online.

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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

 

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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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Sundress Publications Presents a Night of Three Celebratory Off-Site Readings

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Sundress Publications is pleased to present three readings celebrating the launch of our Political Punch anthology, the tenth anniversary of Best of the Net, and Sundress’s Sweet Sixteen.

This event will take place on Thursday, March 31, at 7pm and will be held at The Lexington Bar located at 129 E 3rd St, Los Angeles, California 90013.

From 7PM-8PM, we will launch our new poetry anthology, Political Punch: The Politics of Identity, with readings by Timothy Liu, Cam Awkward-Rich, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib, Lee Ann Roripaugh, and Chen Chen.

At 8PM, we will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the Best of the Net Anthology with readings by previous contributors and judges, including Traci Brimhall, Matt Hart, Nicole Walker, Alix Olin, Emily Jungmin Yoon, Sarah Einstein, and more!

In our final hour, we will honor Sundress’s Sweet 16 with readings by our authors, including Fox Frazier-Foley, Amorak Huey, Letitia Trent, Jill Khoury, Saba Syed Razvi, Jessica Rae Bergamino, and M. Mack.

Sundress Publications is a (mostly) woman-run, woman-friendly non-profit publication group founded in 2000 that hosts a variety of online journals and publishes chapbooks and full-length collections in both print and digital formats. We also publish the annual Best of the Net Anthology, celebrating the best work published online.

RSVP today!

 

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