Tag Archives: publications

VIDA Residency Fellowships Winners Announced

VIDA Residency Fellowships Winners Announced

Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is pleased to announce the winners of the VIDA fellowships for the fall residency period, Raena Shirali and Nicole Connolly. SAFTA paired with VIDA, a research-driven organization aiming to increase issues in contemporary literary culture, to offer these fellowships for two women writers in any genre. This year’s winners were chosen by guest judge Elissa Washuta.

View More: http://giniaworrellphotography.pass.us/rshiraliRaena Shirali is the author of GILT (YesYes Books, 2017), winner of the 2018 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award. Shirali’s honors include a Pushcart Prize, the Philip Roth Residency at Bucknell University’s Stadler Center for Poetry, and poetry prizes from Boston Review , Gulf Coast, and Cosmonauts Avenue. Raised in Charleston, South Carolina, the Indian American poet earned her MFA from The Ohio State University. She currently lives in Philadelphia, where she is a coorganizer for We (Too) Are Philly, a summer poetry festival highlighting voices of color. Shirali also serves as Poetry Editor for Muzzle Magazine and is on the editorial team for Vinyl.

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Nicole Connolly lives and works in Orange County, CA, which she promises is mostly unlike what you see on TV. She received her MFA from Bowling Green State University, and her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in such journals as ANMLY, Fugue, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, and Glass: A Journal of Poetry.

Applications for spring residencies at SAFTA are now open and can be found at sundressacademyforthearts.com.

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Poetry Broadsides of Ina Cariño’s poem “Feast” Available for Pre-Order

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Sundress Publications is thrilled to announce that broadsides of Ina Cariño’s poem “Feast” are available for pre-order. “Feast” was the winner of our 2017 Poetry Broadside Contest. The broadsides will be printed at Sundress Academy for the Arts on a full-size working 19th century Challenge copy of a C&P old-style letterpress.

The broadside publication of “Feast” is now available for pre-order for $15 at our online store.

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Josephine “Ina” Cariño’s work has appeared in such journals as New American Fiction (New Rivers Press), One (Jacar Press), and december. She grew up in the mountains of the Philippines, a folkloric and aesthetic background to many of her poems. Cariño currently resides in Raleigh, NC, where she is pursuing her MFA in creative writing at North Carolina State University.

Like much of Cariño’s work, “Feast” is built on childhood memory, the natural world, and the interplay between life and death. The broadside edition combines her work with an original piece by Mariana Sierra, graphic designer at Sundress Publications.

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Order yours today at: https://squareup.com/store/sundress-publications/item/feast-by-josephine-ina-carino-broadside

Find out more about our publications, contests, and submission calls at sundresspublications.com.

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Sundress Releases Actual Miles by Jim Warner

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Sundress Releases Actual Miles by Jim Warner

Sundress Publications is pleased to announce the release of Jim Warner’s new book, Actual Miles. Order your copy today from the Sundress store!

Part travelogue, part power pop catharsis, Actual Miles is Jim Warner’s third collection of poetry and his first book in nearly a decade. Criss-crossing Rust Belt mining towns and Filipino rice paddies, Actual Miles finds Warner disassembling home and extracting language from record grooves and Mason jars to reclaim his identity as a bastard son of the highway.

“With Actual Miles, Jim Warner is all texture, flavor, and heart, a shock of senses and cultures, and always searching for family and identity, and the best ways to make them sing.”
–Ben Tanzer, author of Be Cool, Sex and Death, and host This Podcast Will Change Your Life.

Jim Warner’s newest poetry collection, Actual Miles, embodies Galway Kinnell’s famous line about time: ‘…Everything he loved was made of it.’  A sense of impermanence—and a respect toward that impermanence—centers these lyrical poems on various topics, including bum hearts, multiracial identity gaps, medical interventions, dislocation, and familial deaths. Other poems make permanent a flash of love or beauty, often in the form of haiku and haibun. Although Warner is often discussing the slow fade of our days, he does so with searing focus, pushing toward the flames rather than pulling away once too hot. Through a beautiful mix of form, this collection refuses to let go with its close-up and hold-up descriptions that embraced existence where mornings are brick-red, hearts are trapped in durian rinds, and elegies come second-hand.”
–Charlotte Pence, author of Many Small Fires

Jim Warner’s poetry has appeared in various journals including The North American jim warnerReview,RHINONew South, and is the author of two collections (PaperKite Press). His third collection Actual Miles will be released in 2018 by Sundress Publications. Jim is the host of the literary podcast Citizen Lit and is a faculty member of Arcadia University’s MFA program.

Order your copy today from the Sundress store!

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An interview with 2017 Chapbook Contest Winner Laura Page

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DH: What/who inspires you today? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Graphic Design Internship for Sundress Publications

 

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Sundress Publications is Hiring
for a Graphic Design Internship

Sundress Publications is an entirely volunteer-run 501(c)(3) nonprofit publishing collective founded in 2000 that hosts a variety of online journals and publishes chapbooks, full-length collections, and literary anthologies in both print and digital formats. Sundress also publishes the annual Best of the Net Anthology, celebrating the best work published online, and the Gone Dark Archives, preserving online journals that have reached the end of their run. .

The design internship position will run from March to October, 2018. The design intern will assist with creating flyers & brochures, constructing graphics, book-making, etc. Responsibilities may include designing the interior and exterior of e-books, formatting manuscripts, and/or designing and editing promotional materials.  Applicants must be self-motivated and be able to work on a strict deadline.

Preferred qualifications include:

  • Familiarity with Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, and/or Illustrator
  • Experience with book-making, print-making, and/or letterpress
  • Graphic design experience
  • Knowledge of contemporary literature a plus

Applicants are welcome to telecommunicate and therefore are not restricted to living in the Knoxville area.

While this is an unpaid internship, all interns will gain real-world experience in the designing books and promotional materials for a nationally recognized press while creating a portfolio of work for future employment opportunities. Interns will also be able to attend all workshops at the Sundress Academy for the Arts at cost.

To apply, please send a resume and a brief cover letter detailing your interest in the position to the Managing Editor, Erin Elizabeth Smith, at erin@sundresspublications.com.

For more information, visit our website at sundresspublications.com.

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Meet our Newest Intern, Cass Hayes

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The first book I fell in love with was The Pearl by John Steinbeck. I was thirteen or so, frustrated with having to interrupt my sport-filled summer with reading for an English class I hadn’t even had yet, but when I first read Steinbeck’s lyrical prose and the simple tale of a pearl diver who finds a beautiful and expensive pearl beyond all his dreams that leads to a tragic end, I was hooked. It was miraculous—reading a book that made me forget I was being forced to read it for a class. I realized stories can be powerful. Just words put together in the magical right way can be powerful. I decided then that I wanted to be a writer and pursue the literary life.

Even though that’s the first book that made that powerful an impact on me, I’ve always been a reader fascinated by books. There are pictures of me as a little kid, probably before I could even sound out words, arranging books in the floor, rearranging them on the shelves. I just liked the way books felt in my hands, the weight of them, the weight of their words. As a kid I was in love with stories, too—whether it was my favorite movie that I watched over and over (on VHS), The Lion King, following my favorite baseball team, the Yankees, through a season, or listening to my grandparents talk about life as farmers and sharecroppers before I was born. Stories seemed to be what gave life its color. It made life way out in the country on an old farm-to-market road in North Texas, a cement plant smoking in the distance and the pastures spotted with cedar trees, a little less colorless and flat.

And the books themselves seemed to give life its dimensions. I forced my mom to read me Green Eggs n’ Ham so much that she had it memorized. I liked reading about science and history, and followed several topics of interest before I really fell in love with fiction with The Pearl. My interests ranged from zoology to astronomy to marine biology to archeology to code-breaking and forensic science. I only realized later that I was less interested in the real-world explorations of all these topics, and more interested in what the books had to say about them.

My first writing outside of school was probably songwriting—I remember scrawling down words to go along with my frantically out-of-tune strumming when I was taking guitar lessons. Songwriting for me, though, was relatively short-lived, and around ten or so I became fascinated by comic books. I created elaborate worlds filled with magical powers and superheroes, and would create short comics with these characters.

This experimentation of multimodal writing has followed me today, where I study online literary magazines and the different modes they can bring to writing as a part of my job as managing editor of the lit mag Arkana. I’m still fascinated with stories, and I’m still writing plenty of poetry and prose—for the time being relying less in my own work on pictures or music, and instead focusing on perfecting my craftsmanship with words. My pursuit of craft is what led me to the Arkansas Writers MFA Program at the University of Central Arkansas, where I am currently a student. It’s also led me to Sundress Publications, where I am excited to be interning at a place that values stories as much as I do.

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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Meet Our Newest Intern, Danielle Hayden

 

SundressHeadshot_DanielleHayden I learned to read at a very early age, and I’ve been a word lover ever since. In my burgeoning logophilia I would, with great fervor, read Dr. Seuss books–Green Eggs ‘n Ham was my favorite–aloud to my father. And we’d have spelling bees in the car sometimes: ‘Anthology’ was my favorite word to spell; ‘Massachusetts’ the word I kept getting wrong. I amassed a large collection of books, devouring everything I could get my hands on so long as it wasn’t boring. Some kids dragged blankies from place to place, but I carried a book pretty much everywhere I went, a trend I still continue today on occasion (one reason I carry large handbags).

If that wasn’t nerdy enough, I’d often sit at the dining room table and I’d read the encyclopedia as I ate my food. Other times I’d read my brother’s Calvin & Hobbes books while eating, a fact that I hope regains some of the coolness points I lost when I mentioned encyclopedias. The bottom line is that I had my head stuck in a book pretty much every day, which was fun in and of itself but also well-suited to my introversion and shyness. Reading gave me such joy, probably more than anything else did growing up.

My writing came a bit later. I was reading all these stories and I decided that I wanted to start creating my own. They weren’t very good, of course, and endings were always hard for me (they still are, actually), but I had fun making up tales. I decided in high school that I wanted to be a writer, but that I would write only on the side–just for fun. I was going to become an amazing, life-changing English teacher (the kind they made movies and Oprah episodes about) and then I’d publish a bit here and there. Despite the judgment I received for not going into a STEM field, I declared a major in English Language & Literature, with a minor in philosophy (just ’cause it’s so fascinating) and headed out into the field of education to start what I was sure would be a decades-long career exploring the canon of William Shakespeare (fun fact: he and I share a birthday).
Like so many other things in life, stuff didn’t go according to plan.

I did become an English teacher (as well as an Algebra and French teacher; I really, really love math and foreign languages too) but I realized that pedagogy was not for me. I even went to graduate school and then came back to try teaching again in a different environment, but I still couldn’t stick with it. I taught for a little while but I concluded that I had the heart for it, but not the stomach. I still worked and volunteered on occasion as a tutor, and I helped launch a blog, Lolly’s Classroom, where teachers could write about children’s books; education was still important to me. Unfortunately, however, I had to leave the classroom.

So, I was back to square one. I took some odd jobs here and there, trying to figure out my proper place. Eventually I ended up at a 9-5 office job and I was pretty miserable; I liked my colleagues a lot but the work itself was suffocating. I always had a passion for the written word that had never waned. But I would always dismiss it as just a hobby, not something that I would pursue full time. Then a couple years ago, I got tired of going from job to job to job only to leave dissatisfied and unfulfilled. I decided to take the plunge and follow my heart (a very Millennial thing to do, yes, but I refuse to feel bad about it). Working with words was what I really wanted to do. Words, I reasoned, have been consistent in my life. I have many goals and many interests, and I identify strongly with Emilie Wapnick’s idea of a “multipotentialite”, but words are still number one on my list and will likely always be.

…Which leads me to where I am now. A freelancer’s life can be difficult and demoralizing–especially for a sensitive soul like me. But I’m not giving up, at least not yet. I’ve worked with an art museum, I worked with a local press. I sent some of my writing out, reached out to some websites to see if I could help with copy, I applied to this and to that. Some things have worked out, others haven’t. But I’m still here, and I’m determined. My main responsibilities right now are as editor for the online literary magazine Pif, as a grant writer for the non-profit organization Our Golden Hour, and as a research assistant on a linguistics project. I’m very excited to begin working with Sundress Publications so I can fill my life with even more words.
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Danielle Hayden is a freelance writer and editor who grew up in Detroit and now lives in Seattle. Included among all the things she loves are: learning, books, watching films, making lists, and collecting great quotes–sometimes as tattoos. She reads about everything, and writes about almost as much. Danielle is an enthusiastic supporter of the arts and of the Oxford comma.
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Project Bookshelf: Emily Corwin

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My boyfriend, Joe and I just got this bookcase from a friend who is moving to Poland. We’ve been looking for an extra bookcase for months since we both have so many books (and, let’s face it, we’re going to keep buying them). For now, I’ve been putting favorite books and recently-read books on this shelf. My goal this summer is to read through all of the poetry collections I gathered during the school year. Some recent favorites on here:Blues Triumphant by Jonterri Gadson, Forest Primeval by Vievee Francis, Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open by Diane Seuss, Gilt by Raena Shirali, Careful Mountainby Sara June Woods, Take This Stallion by Anaïs Duplan, Meet Me Here At Dawn by Sophie Klahr, Wasp Queen by Claudia Cortese, Bestiary by Donika Kelly,Wunderkammer by Cynthia Cruz, Landscape with Headless Mama and Protection Spell by Jennifer Givhan, and Sugarblood by Liz Bowen.

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Emily Corwin is an MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University-Bloomington and the former Poetry Editor for Indiana Review. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Gigantic Sequins, Day One, Hobart, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, THRUSH, and elsewhere. She has two chapbooks, My Tall Handsome (Brain Mill Press) and darkling (Platypus Press) which were published in 2016. Her first full-length collection, tenderling is forthcoming in 2018 from Stalking Horse Press. You can follow her online at @exitlessblue.

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Sundress Publications Seeks Outstanding Non-Featured 2018 AWP Panels

 

Sundress Publications is excited to continue the tradition of celebrating non-featured AWP panels on our blog in 2018. We know that there are dozens of worthy and important panel proposals that weren’t accepted for AWP in Florida next spring, so let us be your platform instead!

Do you have an excellent AWP panel that didn’t make the final cut for 2018? Please send your proposal to us for consideration at sundresspublications@gmail.com. Submissions will be accepted on a rolling basis. Multiple submissions and simultaneous submissions are acceptable. Please include the names of all of your contributors within your submission.

We want to host your panel as an online roundtable in order to present them to an expansive audience and create an archive for your necessary voices. We’re looking for topics that are driven by passion, inclusivity, forward-thinking, collaboration, and hybridity. (In fact, you tell us what we’re looking for; bring us something completely fresh and unexpected!) We look forward to hearing from you and your colleagues.

Feel free to check out our wonderful 2017 AWP roundtables here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

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