Blue Mountain Review May 2023

Page 18


Issue 28 MAY 2023


Jared Beloff on Who Will Cradle Your Head


The Liberty Trust Hotel Welcomes You Home

Mirabai Starr’s Wild Heart

Justin Warfield Slides Away from She Wants Revenge

New poetry by Chen Chen, Joan Kwon Glass, Caridad

Moro-Gronlier with fiction, essays, and microfiction


JARED BELOFF Mirabai Starr Andrej Kaminsky
TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTIOn ................................................ 1 There Is Light Somewhere by Jack Bedell LITERARY INTERVIEWS.......................................5 Brooke McKinney .............................................................. 7 Bryan Fry ............................................................................ 9 Betsy Thorpe .................................................................. 13 Gabrielle Bates ............................................................... 15 Hannah & Erica Harlee ................................................... 19 Jared Beloff ....................................................................... 21 Michael Shewmaker ......................................................... 25 Mirabai Starr .................................................................... 29 Nathaniel Rosenthalis ..................................................... 33 West Trade Review Editors: Ken Harmon, Mary Sutton, D.W. White & Kelly Harrison .................... 37 MUSIC INTERVIEWS......................................... 43 Alicia Blue ......................................................................... 45 Leo Lerner of Odd Prospect’s ............................................ 49 Justin Warfield of She Wants Revenge ............................ 51 Faces of Faith: Chris Blanton ........................................... 57 FILM ............................................................ 61 Allen Constantine ............................................................. 63 Movie Review: Fences ...................................................... 69 VISUAL ART INTERVIEWS................................. 73 Hashim Clark .................................................................... 75 Kevin Garrett .................................................................... 79 SPECIAL FEATURE INTERVIEWS......................... 81 Echo Garrett ..................................................................... 83 Felix Charin & Andrej Kaminsky of GRIM....................... 85 Michael Spake ................................................................... 87 Katrina Kujawa of Transparent Classroom ..................... 89 William Rossow ................................................................ 91 Andy Schlosser & Vishal Savani, Managers of Liberty Trust Hotel ...................................... 95 N.A. Windsor .................................................................... 99 FASHION INTERVIEWS .................................... 101 Gustavo Lomelli .............................................................. 103 BOOK REVIEWS ............................................ 107 Small Fish in High Branches by Annette Sisson ............................................................ 109 The Gospel of Rot by Gregory Ariail .............................................................. 113 MICROFICTION .............................................. 119 Swivels by Natasha Heller ............................................... 121 Gingerbread House by Natasha Heller .......................... 122 The Old Person’s Friend by Susan Knox ................................................................. 123 The Barn by Brian Beaty ................................................. 125 The Night Of by Brian Beaty ........................................... 127 Romance Language by Caitlan Rossi .............................................................. 129 FICTION ........................................................131 Accidental Poetry by Lockie Hunter ............................... 133 Walking William by Michael Spake ................................ 137 At Eternity’s Gate by Brent Atchinson ........................... 145 Essays ....................................................... 149 Why I Wrote “Money, Plain & Simple” by Steven J. Spence ......................................................... 151
Riley and Lucille by Ann S. Epstein ............................... 155 A Grief Denied by Marilyn Kriete ................................... 159 When Your Rare Disease Suddenly Becomes Famous by Annie McDonnell .......... 163 POETRY ....................................................... 167 Ode to My Husband’s Parasomnia by Adrian Dallas Frandle ................................................ 169 I Hold My Breath by Alison Lubar ................................. 171 Respira by Ana Martínez Orizondo ................................ 173 Advice to a Daughter I Will Never Have by Caridad Moro-Gronlier ............................................... 175 Midwinter, Midmissing Everbody by Chen Chen .................................................................. 179 In Pandemic January I Am, Once Again, Sitting In My Swivel Chair by Chen Chen ...................... 181 Hello, Death: Year of the Rat At the County Dump by Clayton Jones .............................. 183 Erasure: All at Once by Whitney Houston by Joan Kwon Glass ........................................................ 185 Week 15: Apple by Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach .......................................... 187 Park Drunk by Lauren Theresa ...................................... 191 Ode to My Father by Lyynne Kemen .............................. 193 Leaves by Mitchell Nobis ................................................ 197 Akin to Pain by Sarah Stockton ...................................... 199 St.Elmo’s Fire by Sean Murphy ...................................... 203 The Way Things Should Have Been by Skye Jackson .............................................................. 205 Just Trying to Get Home by Terri Linton ............................................................... 207 When the Rain Asks If You Remember a Name by Zachary Kluckman ....................................... 211


Since I first began publishing and presenting poems in my early twenties, I’ve been asked one question more than any other: “What’s your favorite line of poetry?” A few times I’ve answered that with lines from one of my teachers’ poems— Heather Ross Miller, Jim Whitehead, Miller Williams—or Frost or James Dickey. The vast majority of times, though, I’ve offered a quote from the ending of Randall Jarrell’s “90 North”: “Pain comes from the darkness/And we call it wisdom. It is pain.”

Like much of Jarrell’s work, I always admired these lines’ brutal, direct honesty. I thought this poem’s sentiment was edgy and more realistic than most poems I encountered. No romanticism, no hyperbole, no figuration. Just clear-eyed truth. But, truthfully, what did I know of darkness or of pain at 25? Or 35? Or 45? Both of my parents were still alive. I had my health, the love of a fine woman, a supportive extended family, a job where I was surrounded by caring, accomplished mentors and colleagues. My poems found homes easily, and I was blessed to have publishers eager to put my books in print. Easy, I guess, to spout lines about suffering when the river flowed my way so often.

Over the past decade, however, that flow has changed its direction more than a little bit. I’ve lost both of my parents and both of my in-laws to old age and disease. I’ve lost the closest of friends to drugs, and others to pointless arguments. Colleagues have retired and moved on, leaving work for what it is. Though not near enough to touch me, that darkness Jarrell wrote about crept into my range of vision. But I still had my health, my wife, a house full of beautiful kids, a fine dog. Plenty of light in my life. Maybe even something that passed for wisdom.

Then in the middle of spring semester 2022 I noticed some swelling in the back of my throat and a lump under my right ear at the edge of my jawline. At the time, I was riding my mountain bike 10 miles per day at least three times a week, feeling as good as I’ve felt since my twenties. I went to see my family doctor for some antibiotics thinking I had caught a bug, or at worst had finally come across Covid. A little bit concerned with the site of the swelling, the doctor sent me for an MRI and set up a consult with an ENT in the city, figuring it was better to be safe and take a close look.

Two days later, the ENT took less than a minute to read the MRI results, peek into my mouth, and tell me I had advanced stage tonsil cancer. Talk about darkness. I swear I blacked out as soon as he put his hand on my shoulder after delivering this news.

The next day, the ENT did a biopsy to see what kind of cancer we were up against. Then a PET scan to find out how far along it was. And though I didn’t understand the meaning or significance of it, he was happy to report my cancer was HPV-related and had spread to “only” a couple dozen lymph nodes in my head and neck area. Cancer. Lymph node intrusion. When I was growing up, those two things meant your ticket had been punched. And that’s how darkness finally got close enough to put its hand on my shoulder.

A week later I was sitting in an oncologist’s office getting instructions for a medi-port placement surgery that was happening in three days to get me ready to start high-dose chemo and daily radiation treatments the day after that. The doctor’s exact words were, “You’re a 220 pound healthy man. Let’s punch this thing in the face and see how much fight it wants to put up.”

The first week of June 2022, I began three rounds of chemo and eight weeks of daily radiation. All complicated with a 35mile drive into Baton Rouge for treatments. I’ll spare everyone the blow by blow of all that, but let’s just say the opponent took a hell of a punch. Chemo made me feel poisoned and dying inside. Radiation took every bit of energy out of me, torched my throat, stole my voice, and left me struggling to take in 2000 calories of Boost drink a day to avoid having a feeding tube put in. Something my oncologist thought I was an absolute fool to avoid.


Breathing hurt. Talking hurt. Swallowing hurt. Having my wife and kids see all this hurt. So, yeah. These were “dark” times. No work. No writing. No reading. Just a lot of forcing calories in, and the hard slog down the steps from bed to sofa and then back when the days were done.

Then August came and the treatments ended. I rang the bell, but the fight wasn’t done. Even though all the doctors and staff warned me the first month after chemo and radiation ended would be the worst, I had somehow convinced myself August was a finish line, not an exit ramp.

Without the daily grind of riding to the hospital for treatments or the security of having the staff there around all the time to help whenever I needed anything, my days got really long, and it seemed like even the most basic things—staying clean, getting calories, using the restroom, sleeping, waking, sitting—became torture. I have to admit, everything Jarrell wrote seemed right on the money.

What I did to make it through the fall I’d call surviving, not living. And I can’t say any part of it led me toward the good in the day, or the light, or any kind of wisdom.

Then, out of nowhere I started dreaming about food every night (butter chicken from our local Indian restaurant, actually) and riding my bike and reading my poems in front of audiences and throwing the ball with my kids. Dreaming, not doing. But it was always brightness and joy. And I’d hear my father’s voice every morning saying, “Hop up, boy. Day’s wasting.” And I would.

Slowly, everything began to lighten up. I ate some butter chicken. Went on a slow, short bike ride. Wrote a few poems. Walked the dog. Got my first clean PET and CAT scans. Even went back to work to put a journal issue together and get a book designed and ready to print for my press.

I know it would be cliché to say I appreciated it all, that I was grateful to pass out of all that darkness into some kind of light, but I’d be a damned liar to deny it. And while I’m not sure I’ve gained any wisdom, I can tell you more than pain came from that darkness. There was plenty of fight, punches taken and thrown. More to come, I’m sure. There was compassion and concern all around me. There was fear. Acceptance. Hope. A good bit of anger, yes. Doubt, but also a lightness of being I can’t/won’t shake.

I’ll just say this—Jarell’s poem is still a damn fine poem to me. It’s dark and brutal. But any time I’m asked what’s my favorite line of poetry from here on out, having now lived through what I’ve lived through, I’m going to quote a couple of my own lines from the poem “Amano”: “As long/as there is light somewhere, it’s worth the reach.”


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The Time Binder Series, Book One

Andrea Faye Christians

Fantasy/Time Travel Thriller

2023 Book Excellence


Finalist: Paranormal



MONEY PLAIN & SIMPLE: What the Institutions and the Elite Don’t Want You to Know

2022 Book Excellence

Awards Winner/Finances

Updated and Revised March 2023



ANNIE’S SONG Dandelions, Dreams and Dogs

Annie McDonnell Memoir/Creative Fiction/ Poetry

THE BOX MUST BE EMPTY A Memoir of Complicated Grief, Spiritual Despair, and Ultimate Healing

Marilyn Kriete Memoir/Women’s Biography


AS THE SYCAMORE GROWS: A Hidden Cabin, the Bible and a .38

Jennie Miller Helderman Memoir/Suspense

THE RENAISSANCE SISTERS: The Inn at Verde Springs Trilogy, Book One

Wendy Cohan

Contemporary and Western Romance/ Women’s Literary Fiction





an interview with


As a storyteller, what has been your inspiration? (Who are you as a storyteller?)

It’s hard to say where inspiration comes from, but I believe where I grew up had a lot to do with it. My grandmother worked as an in-home caregiver and I’d stay with her sometimes in these homes. I remember sitting by her patients’ bedsides in their last days, listening to their stories. That’s all they wanted, so that’s what I did—listened. There seemed to be a yearning to be heard. They talked of love, loss, regrets, and dreams. When one passed, my grandmother moved on to the next home. I can’t remember then what went through my head, but I remember feeling close to them by getting to know them through their stories, but also sad, even terrified, when that life had gone. I became attached to these people through their stories. I guess I’ve always been that way, so even now I feel an urgency to preserve a life anyway I can. I don’t want to lose any of it.

How does your poetry collection, The Distance Between Birds, play a role in your storytelling?

The collection is a dedication to my stepfather and uncles who served in the Vietnam War. In some ways, the book struggles with that trauma and how contagious it can be, making its way through a family. When my uncle Jack was sick, he was staying with my grandmother, and one night he’d gone out into the front yard, crouched down behind a row of boxwoods and the memory must have taken over him. He thought he was back in Vietnam. My stepfather had to join him in order to bring him back out of it. It’s a strange thing to even try to understand, that something can grab ahold of you like that on the inside and not let go. I wanted to write about it in order to keep trying to figure out how war shuffled the insides of these men, holding them captive it seemed for an entire life. I don’t think I’m supposed to understand, but writing keeps me wanting to find out. Poetry, I think, is an endless attempt to know something we can’t know, to get to something we can’t get to. Their stories will never be truly mine to tell, but it’s the only way I know to keep them around.

How has your stand-up comedy become a part of your writing life?

It’s a different style of storytelling for sure. I enjoy it even though it terrifies me. I’ve always wanted to try it, but I have horrible stage fright. As a writer, I’ve always been associative in thought, so one thing I like about comedy is that I don’t


feel forced to be linear in my storytelling, I can jump around as long as I get to the callback. You can tell a story on stage in five minutes. And if you make people laugh during that time, there’s no better feeling than a room swelling with laughter. Nothing. My writing, especially poems, seems to have an ongoing grief that I just can’t get rid of. I can’t help it, I don’t think. In comedy, there’s a chance to turn little tragedies into big laughs. It’s the only way I’ve ever been able to cope. I’ve only being doing it for two years, but stand-up has been a place where I feel like myself. It’s a vulnerable place to be and I like it. I can enter a room full of strangers and crack open that part of me and just let it go. I don’t have to hide.

What new projects are you currently working on?

The memoir in progress, Creatures Like Us, has been under construction for some time now. The book chronicles a thirteen year journey with my dog Max, the twenty one homes we lived in during those years and the beauty and terror we experienced in the place I grew up in South Georgia. And there’s a reconciliation that happens when I return to that place after years of being gone, then finding my stepfather in poor health and troubled by his own losses. The story of Max and reconciliation with my stepfather collide at some point in time, unfolding during a single Father’s Day conversation we have about the heart of a dog. I’ve had a couple chapters from the book published in The Florida Review and Copper Nickel. I’m very happy to have pieces of this story out and about in the world. It’s the closest thing to me. When I think of my grandmother and those folks she waited on, I think about what I want to tell someone in my last days? What’s that story? Max was my only stabilizing force for thirteen years. Together, I learned a lot about love and survival. It’s a story I don’t want to lose.


an interview with BRYAN FRY

What’s the story behind Bryan Fry? Give us some of the high points.

When I was in first grade, we were given an assignment to bring a hat to school and explain its purpose. I grew up in Western Montana, so most kids brought cowboy hats and old Victorian-style bonnets and discussed some aspects of ranch life. I brought a black ski mask and—when it came time for me to share—I held it up proudly. Then the teacher asked me to discuss the hat. Having forgotten the second part of the assignment, I was entirely confused. What exactly was I supposed to discuss?

“It’s a hat,” I said. “It’s black and has holes so when you pull it down over your face you can still see.”

“That’s right,” my teacher said hesitantly. “But what do you use it for?”

I grew up in a large family, and we didn’t have money to ski. I didn’t know what a ski mask was. After some quick mental inventory, I recalled the criminals on Hill Street Blues—my mother’s favorite televised drama—and promptly shouted, “It’s used to rob banks!!”

And at that, the entire class fell over laughing.

I love this memory because it’s so vividly clear, and I believe there is a reason why we hold onto such clear things, why we drag them into adulthood. It also represents my early struggles with school, which is a weight I carried as a child, always sensing I was different, peculiar with memory and reason.

And yet, over thirty years later, here I am—a writer, an editor, a professor. I can’t tell you everything about the journey between here and there, only that every highpoint in my life is rooted in some sort of humiliation, an eccentric mannerism, a backward slide, a collection of stigmatic moments, a memory that ends with a teacher turning to my classmates for help, and my classmates, in turn, shouting with complete certainty, “It’s a ski mask! It’s a ski mask!!”


How did you come to the wheel of Blood Orange Review?

That’s a complicated story and starts with the increasing number of submissions we started to receive after writers began to trust, and even prefer, online publications. The journal was founded by two of my best friends, Stephanie Lenox and Heather K. Hummel and they asked me to come on board about two years after their first issue. We met once a week to discuss submissions over the phone. It was amazing how we’d all gravitate to the same pieces, even after reading hundreds of submissions. In our conversations we’d always pause to articulate what we were searching for, and I think this work lead right into the internship I established at Washington State University.

In 2008, I hired five students to read submissions with us. This turned into the early stages of using the journal as an educational tool. We’d still read every submission, but the internship helped us articulate what we publish even further. In order to build their editorial ears, I’d ask interns to answer three simple questions of every submission: 1) Is the writer making any decisions? 2) What are those decisions? 3) How do those decisions (or lack of decisions) impact the work? Thinking about submissions in this way allowed students to build a vocabulary centered around craft.

Over the next few years our journal really started to gain attention. Writers liked our journal because we provided a beautiful space to hold their work, but they also liked how social media allowed them to immediately share their publications with family, friends, mentors, other writers. It’s important to remember, we were still in the era of print, but social media was changing all that. It enhanced our visibility and allowed writers to suddenly copy and paste a link and share their work with friends, family, and fellow writers.

As our submissions grew from 100 to 200 to nearing a thousand a month, we started to burn out. That’s when I offered to take the journal to Washington State University where we would have more resources and more faculty who could help us thoroughly read submissions and keep the journal afloat. It’s been eight years since the transfer of operations to Washington State University. In that time, we’ve gone through two design changes, built a stable editorial team around WSU’s creative writing faculty, and enhanced our internship. We also established bylaws to ensure the journal maintains our original vision.

We were able to test those bylaws three years ago when doctors discovered a malignant tumor in my brain and our Managing Editor, Lauren Westerfield, seamlessly took over operations. Last summer, I officially retired my position as Editor-in-Chief and stepped into a new role as Senior Editor, which allows me to work more as an ambassador for the journal where I have more time to strengthen the many relationships I’ve developed with multiple foundations, fellow editors, and adjacent publications.

You mention your brain tumor, which is something you recently battled and recovered from. Do you mind sharing your experience, how it changed your worldview, and your writing now?

Sure. Three years ago, I awoke to paramedics letting me know I had just had a seizure. After a series of questions, they drove me to the hospital where doctors found a lemon-sized tumor in my brain. If the tumor hadn’t grown just big enough to hit my brain stem and cause the seizure, I wouldn’t be here today—I was days from it encroaching on a part of my brain that would have been inoperable. Ultimately, the seizure saved my life.

After the operation, I woke up in an entirely new world. People were arguing about Covid-19 and masks and social distancing. This was three years ago February, and we were only days from going into lock down. I felt a bit like the main character from The Walking Dead, but instead of waking up in a hospital during a Zombie Apocalypse, I woke up in a pandemic. It was extremely surreal.

I haven’t written about my experience yet. I’m working on some projects I started before the surgery. But the cancer memoirs are bouncing around. I’m searching for the right way in, those early sentences that will lead to the rest. For now, I’m simply grateful for each clear MRI.


Are there any other personal creative projects you are working on?

I am working on two manuscripts, a book of essays entitled Between Here and There and a chapbook of poems entitled My Father is Wearing the Pajamas I Think He’ll Die In. Most of the essays in the collection have been published in small presses. I’m starting to organize them and sort out what’s missing. I need to add one or two more essays to make the collection feel more cohesive. The poems are a more recent endeavor. It will take some time to figure out what I’m doing there. But whatever I’m working on I simply trust in the process—a line turns into another, and another, until I step back, brush myself off, and listen to what I’ve put down and what it’s trying to tell me.

What are you reading right now?

I always have 2 or 3 books nearby. I just finished Robert Wrigley’s The True Account of Myself as a Bird and am currently in the middle of José Olivarez’s Promises of Gold and Patricia Smith’s Unshuttered. I like what I call the “Ear Poets,” writers who hear the music.

What is your philosophy of good writing?

I guess I would start with music. Every word we speak is simply a sound we attribute to meaning. In the history of language, we have discovered ways to string those sounds together to create sentences and paragraphs and longer narratives. But we shouldn’t forget: when we write—just like when we speak—we make music. Whether the music is any good depends on the choices we make—choices about rhythm, diction, line breaks, sentence variation.

And repetition.

Nikky Finney likes to quote novelist A.J. Verdelle who once said, “Repetition is holy.” I love this line and steal it as often as I can. And I’ll add this: Repetition in the hands of a good writer—like A. J. Verdelle, like Nikky Finney—is not simply about repeating a phrase. It’s about knowing when to break from it and when to come back to it. And sometimes it’s knowing how to make readers forget about it all together, so we can return one final time and be reminded of what we already knew.

How do you find peace in the world?

My grandpa used to tell me: “holding resentments is like peeing down your leg—you’re the only one who feels it.” I like the simplicity in the statement, knowing what I can control and what I can’t control. I can’t keep my neighbor’s dogs from barking at 4:00 am, but I can figure out why it makes me so irritated. I find peace by emptying out my pockets, by letting go.

How can we keep up with you on social media?

I’m not on social media as much as I used to be, but Blood Orange Review is active on Instagram (@bloodorangereview) and Twitter (@bloodorange_wsu).


Are you, or someone you know on the spectrum?

Do you constantly feel out of place due to Autism?

Did a late-in-life diagnosis give you some peace of mind, but leave many more unanswered questions?

Adulting with Autism

Lectures and Mentorship on How to Thrive on the Spectrum

- About Your Instructor -

Clifford Brooks is founder of the Southern Collective Experience and Editor-in-Chief of The Blue Mountain Review. Aside from his business ventures he is also a poet. To date Clifford has two full-length collections of poetry, The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics and Athena Departs: Gospel of a Man Apart, Exiles of Eden is a limited edition chapbook available solely from its author. Over the last twenty years Clifford traversed the traditional route in publishing and learned how to create, sell, and market creative writing. Throughout his tenure as writer and educator, Clifford stands as an advocate for those on the autism spectrum. As board member of Autism Speaks, he is intimately aware of the need for greater community and understanding.

Here on Teachable, Clifford shares his wisdom on living the creative life and adulting with autism.

MAY 2023
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an interview with BETSY THORPe

Thanks for agreeing to talk with us. Let’s start by asking you about Betsy Thorpe. Please tell us what you do for a living.

I’m a developmental and line editor, book consultant, and ghost-writer. A developmental editor looks at the big picture of the story (how does the story work, how are the characters functioning, I examine the plotting, pacing, chapter by chapter), as well as looking at the technical aspects of their writing. A line edit is where I make cuts, make suggestions to tighten the writing, ask questions in the margin for explanations, or ask for better word choices or even new scenes.

This is truly a “line” edit as I go line by line. As a book consultant, I help people decide whether they should try for the Big Five Publishers by first finding a literary agent, and assist them with query letters and book proposals, or guide them through the world of indie book publishing. I have my own suggestions for trusted freelance copy editors, proofreaders, and book designers, and help people make choices around the kind of publishing to do. (Note: marketing and publicity are not in my wheelhouse). Ghostwriting – well, I think everyone knows what ghostwriters do – but in a nutshell, it’s to get a story out of the client and make it as close to their own voice as possible.

How did you decide to become an editor?

When I first got out of college, I thought I would be a writer for magazines and joined Conde Nast. I realized I was more interested in books than magazine editing, and when an Editorial Assistant job opened up at Atheneum Publishers, I was happy to start learning the business. Later, as I moved up the ranks of editor positions, I was allowed to acquire books for the publisher, so instead of finding books for my boss to acquire, I was trying to build a “list” of books that I would be known for, so that agents would start coming to me with those types of projects. In addition to acquisitions, you also have to edit and then shepherd your books through production and review marketing/publicity plans.


What sort of educational background do you have?

I was an English major and history minor at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, I spent my junior year abroad in London at King’s College London and returned there to get my Masters in English Literature before 1525. All the literary criticism I learned helped me to become a good editor, as well as reading extensively for my major (so many novels!).

Tell us about you as a writer (as opposed to as an Editor).

I was lucky enough to have an Op-Ed published in The New York Times as a senior in college, which I think helped get me some of my first jobs in New York. As an editor, you write a lot of the back cover copy and jacket copy, and a lot of sales materials. But I put my own desire to become a novelist on hold once I saw the books that we were rejecting – they didn’t have the “it factor” that publishers are looking for. When I became a freelance editor after the birth of my first child (back then, they wouldn’t negotiate for remote work), I also immediately started ghost-writing, thanks to my former colleagues and agent friends who sent me work.

With fiction, I started writing my first novel when I was going through my divorce. I had two small children, and it gave me something fun to do after they went to bed at night. However, I got bogged down in research, and it wasn’t until I joined a writers’ group that I finished the book, found an agent, got rejected from the larger publishers, and then found a boutique romance publisher and got a three-book deal from them. My books really straddle genres – time travel, historical, romance. I’ve got three books for the “Ladies of the Labyrinth” series published by Dragonblade under the pen name “Hope Carolle.” And I’ve got another book I’ve written that’s more straight fiction titled The Writer’s Cottage that I haven’t had the time to submit widely.

What’s the best piece of professional advice you were ever given?

Janet Goldstein, my boss at HarperCollins and Broadway Books, told me to dig deeper on my first few forays into editing. Every book needs a lot of scrutiny, suggestions, and attention to detail.

What are you reading for pleasure?

I don’t ever read just one book at a time. I’m reading Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, The Maid, by Nita Prose, and The Time Traveler’s Guide to Elizabethan England by Ian Mortimer.

How do you spend your free time? What brings you joy?

Writing, cooking, landscaping work (I love my mini chainsaw!), my dog, reading, and time spent with friends and my kids!




us how we can find you on social media.
Betsy Thorpe

an interview with Gabrielle Bates

What role does desire play in your work?

Any desire that contradicts an authoritative “should” becomes art eventually.

You are originally from Birmingham, Alabama, but you live in Seattle now. Do you consider yourself a Southern poet? If so, how does that identity influence your poetry?

The South has always been, to some extent, an imagined place, inextricable from the stories told about it and told within it. I think that geographical distance from the South has made me, if anything, more Southern, not less.

As for how the region influences my poetry, all my formative memories and experiences took place in the Deep South, so the roots of my aesthetic leanings, core questions, fundamental nightmares, and earliest enchantments will always lead back there.

What are you working on next? Any preview you can give us regarding themes, form, or subject matter?

I’m collaborating with my mom on a short film adaptation of one of my poems (“The Bridge”) right now, which is really interesting. She’s a photographer, and I’ve been on the other side of her lens before, but this is the first time I’ve really felt like an active collaborator, rather than just a body modeling. I’m excited to see what the film becomes.

In my book, which explores a lot of fairytale tropes, the mother figures are often absent, erased, and haunting, so it feels really meaningful to get to collaborate with my actual mom, who is so creative and passionate, on this iteration of one of the poems. I’ve wanted to play with film for a long time, and this feels like such a fun way to enter.


What are you reading right now, and what poets (living or dead) most inspire you?

Right now I’m reading the poetry collection Bluest Nude by Ama Codjoe, the novel Stoner by John Williams, and I’m about to begin the nonfiction book Wolfish by Erica Berry. I’m also about halfway through a lot of other books that I’m probably not going to finish because they aren’t compelling me at the moment. With reading, so much is about timing.

A few poets with work that inspires me somewhat endlessly: Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Linda Gregg, Vievee Francis, Sharon Olds, and Aracelis Girmay.

What does a perfect day look and feel like to you?

One kind of perfect day would involve writing by hand in the sun outside an Italian villa with donkeys grazing nearby and a light breeze on my face fluttering the leaves and a vista of olive trees and bitter kas on ice with an orange slice to drink and live music rising faintly up from a little village in walking distance and my hot spouse reading a novel in silence beside me, hand on my thigh. I’ve never experienced this day, but I’ve been lucky enough to experience many of the components individually, and having them altogether would be divine, I’m pretty sure.

How do we keep up with you online?


Twitter: @GabrielleBates

IG: @gabrielle_bates_



I’ve been visiting again the cemetery with a sunken southern corner.

Fish smaller than first teeth, birthed from the soil, maneuver in the glaze where rain pools, covering the lowest stones.

Behind him, in a cracked white tub, my knees to his sides, left ear pressed to the stack of bones in his neck,

I was once so terrified of my own contentment I bit my shoulder and drew blood there

to the surface—past it—

What I have wanted most is many lives. One for each longing, round and separate.

Sometimes I bring figs here, asphyxiating in plastic, for their distant echo of your humid, ghost-flesh air— that almost-a-human air—

I was born in autumn as it fled underground to be fed to a body of water that only swallows.

(As published in Judas Goat, out now from Tin House.)


Gabrielle Bates is the author of Judas Goat (Tin House), named by Vulture and the Chicago Review of Books as a must-read book of 2023. A Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship finalist, Bates’s poetry has appeared in the New Yorker, the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, Ploughshares, the Best American Experimental Writing anthology, and elsewhere. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she currently lives in Seattle, where she helps out at Open Books: A Poem Emporium and co-hosts the podcast The Poet Salon.


an interview with HANNAH & ERICA HARLEE

Welcome, Hannah and Erica Harlee. Please tell us about your beautiful digital magazine, ARTWIFE (include when it was established and how often you publish).

Thank you so much for having us! We love your publication and it’s a pleasure to be here. ARTWIFE is a brand-new digital literary and arts magazine—we launched in November of 2022. We publish new work on a rolling basis, several times a month. We’ve been deeply honored to have wonderful submissions from all types of artists right from the beginning.

Please tell us about your background and how you decided to form your magazine.

Hannah has worked on literary journals before; she was the managing editor of the Sierra Nevada Review when she was getting her MFA at Sierra Nevada University, which was a great experience. Since graduating, she’s been submitting her work to other magazines, but wanted to do more.

The idea of launching a journal of our own was thrilling because we’d be able to have complete creative control and have the chance to create a platform for different mediums, like video. One of our favorite things to do together as a couple is engage with art, so this project gives us an opportunity to do that in a more formal way.

How do you divvy up the responsibilities of running ARTWIFE? Is there anyone else involved in the company?

It’s just the two of us! It’s a lot of work but so far we’ve found a sustainable way to manage it. Hannah focuses more on the day-to-day operations of the magazine, like reviewing, accepting, and declining submissions; publishing work; and managing our social platforms. Erica focuses more on big-picture business concerns, like researching and setting up the services we subscribe to, filing our taxes, and managing operating costs. Ultimately, though, the project is extremely collaborative. We’re continually asking each other for input on both editorial choices and business decisions.


How did you meet? I’m always interested in how people decide to undertake a publication.

We’re married! We met at a lesbian dance party during Pride weekend in San Francisco almost six years ago and we’ve been together ever since that night.

I love the name, how did you choose it?

This one took some time and a lot of free association. Originally we wanted to call the magazine “Artform,” but there are too many organizations with that name or something similar. So we brainstormed together and throughout the day we’d say things to each other like, “Artclass? Artlight? Arthouse?” Eventually we found ARTWIFE and it felt exactly right. It works because we’re wives to each other, of course, but also because we like the idea it evokes of being wedded to artwork and orienting one’s life toward art and beauty.

What kind of material do you accept, and what are you looking for in submissions? Is there anything that you don’t accept?

We accept submissions of prose (fiction and creative nonfiction) up to 4,000 words. We love flash too. We’re also open for submissions of visual art in all mediums, as well as video art. In all disciplines, we’re looking for high-quality work with clear attention to craft. We love strangeness, subtlety, depth, and work that’s unafraid to be honest about the human condition, in ways both beautiful and brutal.

Our magazine’s very first publication was a short story called The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo by Josephine Mitchell. We love this work so much and we were incredibly fortunate to receive this submission because it’s the perfect embodiment of ARTWIFE’s aesthetic—layered, emotional, unusual, and impeccably written.

We don’t accept submissions of poetry and we’re very unlikely to publish genre fiction.

How does someone submit to ARTWIFE? Are there any things that you particularly look for or don’t want?

We accept submissions via Submittable, and it’s free to submit. Right now, we’re especially seeking literary nonfiction with clear intention and structure. Essay writers, come find us!

Are there any special projects or plans that you are cooking up?

For us, this year is all about establishing the magazine and connecting with others in the literary sphere. We’re members of CLMP, which is a great community, and we participate in various local literary and arts events. In the future, we’re considering hosting in-person readings and live community events.

Tell us about what you do when you’re not working on the magazine.

We both work full-time—Erica as a technical recruiter for a robotics company and Hannah as a writer and editor for a women’s health company. Outside of work, Erica trains martial arts and Hannah teaches writing courses. Together, we do a lot of camping, hiking, cooking, and movie-watching at home with our dog and two cats.

How do we find you on social media? (please include website, email, FB, Instagram, Twitter, etc)

You can visit the magazine at, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and reach us via email at contact@



What does your writing life look like? Do you have a particular schedule, habits, or process?

First, thank you so much for taking the time to interview me, Nicole. If you asked me this question a year ago, I would have had a very easy answer with a clear schedule and goals. I wrote somewhat nightly after my kids went to bed. I write on my laptop and I would usually get a single poem written, which I’d send to a few friends for feedback. Recently, with the publication of my book, this process has vanished. I am heavily focused on reaching out to bookstores and promoting the book and figuring out readings for this Spring.

I wrote only a single poem last month and it was by accident. I tweeted something somewhat poetic and I sent it to a friend and they said delete that and write it as a poem, so I did. I am not worried about these changes anymore. I think it is a part of growth and circumstance. I am learning that the words will be there when I reach for them, and, even when they aren’t, they will still be there another time.

How do poems come to you? Do you have any specific muses?

My mind is very associative. I will read something or someone will say something and if my first instinct isn’t to go to a text I’ve already read, it will often go to an idea or image I might want to convey in a poem. Once I have a larger project in mind, this haphazard process is more honed in and I write almost exclusively about the topic in productive bursts. For a year and a half, it was all the dire climate news leading to absurd poems for my book, then it was me cleansing my mind with some fun poems about famous poets eating, ordering or hanging around Dunkin’ Donuts. So I wouldn’t say I have a specific muse outside of the feeling like I’ve caught onto something that I can’t let go and should write more about.

Your debut book Who Will Cradle Your Head (WWCYH) is out now from ELJ Editions. Congratulations! Tell us what inspired you to write it.

Thank you! There are a few different inspirations that all came together and made me realize I had to write this into a book. First, for years I would hike the Hudson Valley area and really felt like I was a part of a larger eco-system. This was reinforced by the reading I was also doing at the time; books about nature like American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee or Rising

an interview with

These books reorganized my thinking away from an egotistical or anthropocentric view of the world toward something more immense and interconnected that will shift and exist even after humanity is gone. Introduce the pandemic and the pervasive and communal mourning, especially here in Queens, and that sense of human fragility became unavoidable. I started keeping a journal of strange events related to climate at that time: glacial melt destroying an ancient bridge and surrounding buildings in Pakistan, the orange skies from forest fires in San Francisco.

I realized that I didn’t want to just witness these things, I wanted to have poems that expressed the mourning and the love I have for the planet and my children who will be here through possibly worse conditions when they are my age.

What role does grief play in your work?

With the exception of a few fun poems, the majority of my poetry is dealing with grief. My grandmother, Dolores Barraclough, died about 5 months before I started writing poetry again. While we were cleaning out her things, we found a folder where she had kept all of my work from when I was in high school and college. I wrote about her for a while and still do. Since then, my poetry has been more anticipatory. I experience grief ahead of the actual event. I think I’m preparing myself so I don’t have to feel the deluge I would if I pushed it off until the actual loss. This is what WWCYH is doing, anticipating the loss of our way of life after climate change.

I asked a friend what they thought my next manuscript reminded them of and if it was really about grieving and they rightly pointed out that 90% of the text was about different forms, so I guess I’m always processing my losses, both real or still to come.

What are you working on next? Any preview you can give us regarding themes, form, or subject matter?

I have a chapbook about donuts and famous poets that I’m shopping around. I am also working with Laurie Marshall on a poem and collage hybrid chapbook that focuses mostly on animals and our interactions with eco-systems.

BUT, I just finished my second manuscript! It is vastly different from WWCYH (except for the grief) in that my focus is on my heritage as an interfaith child who identifies with his Jewish heritage. It has some of my “trademarks:” a mix of lyrical image-driven poems, prose poems and shape poems that attack the themes in various ways. I also have a golem walking around witnessing and processing, which you might see as a cousin to the sasquatch that wends its way through WWCYH. The truly new style I am working on in the collection is a series of polyphonic poems where multiple speakers add layers to the themes in the poem from different personalities and angles. I’m very excited about it.


Any particular advice you would give to aspiring authors trying to get a manuscript published?

Be audacious about your prospects but humble about your losses. What I mean is that you should try to get your work out there and be ok with the rejections because that will happen. Both of my manuscripts emerged out of chapbooks getting rejected quickly and thoroughly by everyone. This forced me to reflect and realize what was and wasn’t working. You will need to be ruthless about letting go of the poems you love. They will have to exist outside the finished work. Make friends who will read for you and be honest with you.

I have readers I know who will fine tooth comb a poem and I have readers who are fantastic at the larger work of placing poems in order. When you find those friends, don’t let them go and treat them well! Finally, write for you. What are you invested in? What needs to be written by you? If you are trying to mold to a press or a reader or be like another writer, it will show and it won’t work and it won’t be you.

In addition to writing, you also teach. Tell us how teaching fits into your life, where and what classes you teach.

I’ve been teaching for roughly 20 years through grad school as a PhD candidate and adjunct, then a high school English teacher here in Queens. I teach 9th grade English and 12th grade Advanced Placement Literature at the Academy for Careers in TV and Film in Long Island City. It is the only profession I felt called to. Teaching has taught me how to be more patient and to think intentionally about what I am saying and how it should be said. I actually enjoy thinking about how an individual student thinks and reacts emotionally, and how best to reach them personally. This has made me a better father and husband and in reverse seeing my children struggle with homework and organization allows me to better empathize with what effect I am having upon my students.

What are you reading right now, and what poets (living or dead) most inspire you?

I am reading several things all the time. Some books are physical, others on my kindle and others on Audible during my subway commute to work. I just started Kafka’s Diaries, which are mind blowing and I just finished Chen Chen’s Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency and Erika Meitner’s Ideal Cities. Both of these poets are favorites and help me think about writing in new ways. I’m also inspired by Diane Seuss (who isn’t?) and Ilya Kaminsky. I’ve probably reread Deaf Republic more than any other book of poems.

As a teacher I have the pleasure of returning to poems I love over and over and watching kids have revelations about them. This year I taught Brigit Pegeen Kelly’s “Song” for the first time and it was fantastic to watch the kids work through the intricacies of that poem.

What does a perfect day look and feel like to you?

On a poetic level: one with sunshine that surprises you across the room and that quiet way a sky can pass by slowly in the summer. On a practical day: good coffee, good meals and laughter with my family. They bring so much joy and the best days are the ones I can look back at night and it’s just a list of all the silly things they’ve done.

How do we keep up with you online?

At first, I thought this was a commentary on me being online way too much! No one can keep up with the shameless selfpromotions and random pictures of moss!

Twitter: @Read_Instead

Instagram: @Jared_W_Beloff




Gabrielle Bates is the author

Last summer’s pulse nudged the tide, noticeable as salt graining the seawall. But the mangroves are pulling back, their roots like frayed brooms holding on to detritus. Spoonbills, gangly and roseate, have already left Biscayne Bay for higher ground. Somehow this hasn’t been registered as a fact we can grieve. It is my job to collect the dead that circle Miami’s mirrored light: Black-throated Warblers lit by a night’s shine, Northern Parulas searching out a distant home. Each bird crashes dreaming of a windowed horizon, not realizing the sea and its dotted green is already behind them. Everyone here is looking for more space and time. A group of warblers is called a confusion, spoonbills are called a bowl. I lay them out in lines like ruffled silver, a tide of feathers, a confusion of bodies, their mouths clattered open in search of food, a name lilting their small tongues. They stare out as if wondering which species is called a drawerful.

(As published in Who Will Cradle Your Head, out now from ELJ Editions, and Night Heron Barks.)

About JARED:

Jared Beloff is the author of WHO WILL CRADLE YOUR HEAD (ELJ Editions, 2023). He is the editor of the Marvelinspired poetry anthology, Marvelous Verses (Daily Drunk, 2021), and has been a peer-reviewer for Whale Road Review since 2021. His work can be found at Night Heron Barks, Barren Magazine, River Mouth Review, The Shore, Contrary Magazine and elsewhere. He lives and teaches high school English in Queens, New York, with his wife and their two daughters.

Jared Beloff is the author of WHO WILL CRADLE YOUR HEAD (ELJ Editions, 2023). He is the editor of the Marvel-inspired poetry anthology, Marvelous Verses (Daily Drunk, 2021), and has been a peer-reviewer for Whale Road Review since 2021. His work can be found at Night Heron Barks, Barren Magazine, River Mouth Review, The Shore, Contrary Magazine and elsewhere. He lives and teaches high school English in Queens, New York, with his wife and their two daughters.


an interview with Michael Shewmaker

Leviathan is a retelling of the Book of Job set in East Texas. Before we get to the book itself, please tell our readers a little about your relationship with this particular area of Texas, Kilgore, and maybe why it made such a perfect backdrop for this ancient story.

I was born and raised in Texarkana, and I’ve spent most of my life in and around East Texas. I also spent a year teaching at Kilgore College between my MFA and PhD. It’s a complicated place that I know and love, a place that will always be home to me.

I chose Kilgore specifically because of its history. It was founded in 1872 but became a ghost town during the Great Depression. In 1930, though, Columbus “Dad” Joiner, an early wildcatter, struck oil on its outskirts. (My version of Job, J—, is an imagined descendent of Dad Joiner.) Almost overnight it became a boomtown. In short, there’s a lot of old oil money there. It made sense for J— to be a product of that.

To be honest, though, the poem began for me as a theological question: What would the experience of Job have been like if he was, say, a Southern Baptist Christian with the figure of Christ to consider during his suffering? (The Job of the Old Testament obviously had no such figure to lean on.) How would his experience have been different? Or would it at all? Any responsible Christian must reconcile—at some point in their faith—the difference between the God of the New and Old Testaments. The God of grace and the God of law. There are a lot of Baptists and a lot of oil in Kilgore.

You really get the sound of East Texas, but you also pull in the headlines. Ellis brings up “the teacher at Pine Tree who got knocked up by one of her own freshmen,” and anyone who has spent time here knows that sort of thing is not a one-off; I don’t think a year has gone by since I moved here when something like this wasn’t in the paper. It’s a despicable thing, but also a


sad sort of thing. Job is a book laden with sadness, and Leviathan just makes that so much more real and present. What are you hoping readers feel when they read Leviathan?

Thank you. That means a lot to me (to get the sound right). And that’s a great question. More than anything, I hope Leviathan helps readers feel less alone, even in its sadness. Any walk of faith can be a lonely experience—largely because people are afraid to talk about their doubts. We often bury them because of the pressures of our communities. (It’s taboo to air out our uncertainties.) That can make us feel terribly alone. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why we see so many headlines like those above. But those headlines exist everywhere; maybe they’re a little more visible in Texas because we have such a knack for the dramatic.

Wow. When you figure this out, please let me know. It’s obviously complicated, but, if I had to say, one needs to be emotionally honest. Tell the truth as best you can. It sounds so simple when you say it out loud, but telling the truth is often one of the hardest things to do, especially regarding the most difficult subject matters. (No one likes to admit their doubts about the things they most desperately want to be true.) We need more complex experiences on the page that remind us we aren’t alone.

If honesty is the venom, though, the language itself has to be the fangs. Honesty won’t mean much if there’s no rigor behind the words, no sharpness, no compelling way to deliver the venom.

In Job, if there is a villain outside of Satan it’s probably Job’s wife. Yet, in Leviathan, in your Fever Dream sections, you make her presence more ambiguous. Because these are feverdreams, the reader isn’t sure if the cruelty is hers or if it is J—’s imagination. Are you looking to, like Milton, “justify” the wife (Callie) or the friends or God or humanity or all of them?

I’m not sure I was looking to justify anyone. I was much more interested in painting what I believed to be an honest and accurate picture—even if in a dreamscape. If anything, I wanted Callie to come across as a resilient presence, especially since there are so few women in the poem. For me, even behind the moments that could be interpreted as most cruel,

There’s this great line where J—says, “you’re all dry bite and no venom.” It made me think of sermons and stories like Job, how the “venom” gets lost. In retelling of stories like this, and in writing in general, how do we ensure we are not “all dry bite?”

there’s a complicated but undeniable love. I suppose I just wanted everyone in the story to feel more human. If I’m honest, in the original, everyone but Job feels like a cardboard cutout, like a prop. I wanted to breathe some life into them. It was important to me that every character possesses their own personality, their own quirks, bad and good.

When the Unnamable speaks, it sounds like the original, but then J—answers and everything changes. A theological debate happens, and there’s no real winner (as is probably the case in all theological debates). Job is often seen as a book that “answers the big questions about God” but also does so unsatisfactorily. Do you agree with this? Is Leviathan a remedy?

I absolutely agree, but I’ve never been one to think that the original answers the big questions about God. (I’ve certainly had conversations with Christians who would say otherwise, of course.) It’s quite the opposite for me and one of the reasons why I love the original, one of the reasons it still haunts me. It asks so many important questions about human experience and how to fathom something greater than ourselves. It’s also terrifying—especially when you consider its premise and resolution.

Whether or not Leviathan is a remedy depends on what you feel like you’re suffering from. If you want to be more certain in your faith, whatever that faith is, then no. Leviathan won’t help you there. If anything, it only raises more questions. (The good kind I hope.) But, if you feel isolated or lost in your communities, because of doubts you have, then maybe it will help you feel a little less alone. I believe that the best writers are trying to write the books they want to read, the books they don’t already see in the world. Leviathan is the sort of book I wish I could’ve read when I was feeling isolated in the different Christian communities I was raised in.

Please let our readers know how they can get their hands on Leviathan (and your first collection, Penumbra). And please let them know what you are working on and where to follow you online.

You can find my books through all the usual venues, and at my website: Right now, I’m working on a book of love poems. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what happens in a relationship when both parties were raised Christian and taught to build their relationship on the foundation of their belief and trust in God, but then one, or both, begin to doubt that foundation. Where does that faith go? Into each other? Or elsewhere entirely? It’s been nice to focus on some shorter poems after spending so much time with Leviathan. I also lurk occasionally on Facebook and Instagram.

About Michael:

Michael Shewmaker is the author of Leviathan (2023) and Penumbra (2017), winner of the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize. Born in Texarkana, Texas, he is the recipient of fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow. His recent poems appear in Best American Poetry, The Believer, Harvard Review, Oxford American, Ploughshares, Southern Review, and elsewhere. He is a Jones Lecturer in poetry at Stanford University and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, Emily.


Leviathan A Poem

Michael Shew M aker

P ra ISE FO r Leviathan

“Leviathan is a retelling of Job in which the enduring story is made both painfully familiar and frighteningly strange, and so the poem strikes one as Job might have struck its first readers, which, it seems to me, is more than one can reasonably hope from any book.”

“J. Joiner, a rich and successful oilman in Texas who has lived ‘as right as a man can,’ has lost his family, his fortune, his health, and is surrounded by unsympathetic friends and the stench of his own failure. Sound familiar? Michael Shewmaker’s Leviathan is the latest addition to the ancient genre exploring Job’s suffering. What is new is that his Job’s frame of reference ranges from the fiction of Vladimir Nabokov to the poetry of R. S. Thomas to the classic horror film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A scathing critique of the cost of survival, Leviathan takes its place among those works of literature that would dare plumb the depths of the divine will.”—Mark Jarman

Leviathan, the highly anticipated second collection by Michael Shewmaker, offers an innovative reimagining of the book of Job. Set in the landscape of modern East Texas, the poem unfolds in four cycles of interchanging monologues, each compounding the difficulties of a faith placed in a distant God. With an accomplished music wholly its own, Shewmaker’s verse shifts effortlessly between song and story, unearthing beauty from the deep well of loss and doubt.

Michael Shew M aker is the author of Penumbra, winner of the Hollis Summers Poetry Prize. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Stanford University, where he served as a Wallace Stegner Fellow. Born in Texarkana, Texas, he teaches creative writing at Stanford.

Yesterday, I watched the shadows lengthen across the wall. And when the sun was setting in the pines, the needles’ shadows branched over my bed—like blooming thistles, or swallows scattering in the wind. I felt relieved and I imagined what the light must look like in the pasture. How beyond the trees, beyond the fenceline, on the pond, the light swells to a brightness only the bass can know, before it dwindles and they sink into the coldest dark water, where they sleep, alone.

—from Leviathan

January 2023

96 pages, 6 x 9 978-0-8071-7772-3

Paperback $18.95, ebook available

LSU Press Paperback Original Poetry

of TH e 2023
e. P HILLA b A u M Poe TRY AWAR d
photo by Emily Shewmaker

an interview with Mirabai starr

Who is Mirabai Starr? What about your life created you as a writer?

I grew up in the 1960s in a non-religious Jewish family that worshipped at the altar of literature. My parents were peace activists. The “lullabies” my mother sang us were protest songs. I thought every kid went to sleep to “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Recently, I sat with my 88-year-old mom and recorded as many of these songs as we could recall. It was both hilarious and deeply moving.

My parents were not only agnostic, but they actively disdained religiosity. They felt religion was responsible for much of the suffering in the world, both historically and now. I was attracted to every single religion I encountered, which was embarrassing. While most kids were hiding that they smoked cigarettes or pot, drank beer and had sex, I felt like I had to hide my Buddhist meditation practice, my Sufi chanting and Hindu guru, my fiery desire for God.

The seeds of activism were planted early, and have flowered in my adult life. Action and contemplation have come together in me. And so have my literary voice and my spiritual path. I have no patience for preachy, pedantic spiritual books, for theology devoid of beauty. Last week my old Middle School teacher, Natalie Goldberg, who went on to become a wellknown teacher of writing (with her best-selling Writing Down the Bones) sent me copies of the school literary journal we put out in the early seventies. I read a poem I wrote when I was twelve. Among all the psychedelic imagery was nestled line after line that showed my concern for people who are oppressed, my love of animals, my fears for the environment. That was 50 years ago! These are still my essential themes.

You’re an acclaimed translator of Julian of Norwich, John of the Cross, and Teresa of Ávila— what drew you to each of them?

A lifetime of many losses has shaped me as both a writer and a translator. But the loss that catapulted me into a different universe was the death of my teenaged daughter Jenny. The only way I knew to survive this experience, to bear the unbearable, was to write my way through it. Naked and vulnerable writing, fierce and no-bullshit writing.


I’m still untangling and integrating the events of that day. Less than an hour after I received the first advance copy of my first book, a translation of Dark Night of the Soul by the sixteenth-century Spanish mystic, John of the Cross, the police came to the door to tell me that they had found my daughter, who had been missing since the night before, and that she had died in a single-car crash. And so, the release into the world of my new version of this classic text on the transformational power of suffering coincided exactly with the deepest darkest night my soul could have imagined. Did it help? Not really. Nothing did.

How did you walk through that dark night of the soul?

Throughout my first year of mourning my child, I translated Teresa of Avila’s mystical masterpiece, The Interior Castle, and it saved me. When I could not bear to do a load of laundry or return a phone call, I could go to my desk every day, light a candle, spread out my dictionaries, and translate a page. And then another page, and another.

The truth is, Teresa could be talking about anything—how to embroider a tea towel or the life cycle of the trout—and I would have found solace in her company.

After the Castle came out, I translated Teresa’s autobiography. Years later, after a few books about the mystics written in my own voice, I translated the medieval English anchoress, Julian of Norwich, who lived through wave after wave of the Plague and knew something about transforming sorrow into deeper compassion and greater aliveness.

What I love about translation is how it engages the whole of me: my love of language and my connection to spirit, the art of crafting a beautiful sentence combined with a sense that I am making these great wisdom figures accessible to a whole new audience who may or may not be religious. I try to bring up the universal notes in the texts, and frankly minimize the piety.


Do you want to give us a preview of your next book, Ordinary Mysticism?

The subtitle of “Ordinary Mysticism” is “Your Life as Holy Ground.” As I grow older, I find myself drifting farther away from the mystics of all the world’s religious traditions, who experienced exalted states of union with God, and toward the center of everyday life as the real dwelling place of the sacred. I’m interested in helping people reclaim their ordinary experience as a portal to spirit, imbued with beauty and meaning, just as it is. I use many examples from my own life, and I also draw on the lives of ordinary-extraordinary people I know, from a Vietnamese nail technician to a Catholic priest who loves former gang members back into belonging.

How do we keep up with you online, and what projects and programs are on the horizon that we should be aware of?

I guide an online community called Wild Heart and have created a program called “Holy Lament” that explores grief as a spiritual path. There is an emphasis on writing our way into and through shattering loss. It feels like our culture is finally ready to turn toward grief rather than peddle endless ways to bypass this essential and transformational fact of the human condition. You can visit Wild Heart at, my website at, and you can find me on Instagram at @mirabaistarr, Twitter at @MirabaiStarr, or Facebook at

About Mirabai:

Mirabai Starr is an award-winning author of creative non-fiction and contemporary translations of sacred literature. She taught Philosophy and World Religions at the University of New MexicoTaos for 20 years and now teaches and speaks internationally on contemplative practice and interspiritual dialogue. A certified bereavement counselor, Mirabai helps mourners harness the transformational power of loss. Her latest book, Wild Mercy: Living the Fierce & Tender Wisdom of the Women Mystics, was named one of the “Best Books of 2019.” She lives with her extended family in the mountains of northern New Mexico.


nathaniel rosenthalis

In many of the poems of IWon’tBeginAgain,your speaker becomes one with their surroundings or musings. As I was reading through these poems, (especially your final poem in the collection, “A Shirt for Today”) I kept coming back to your title, thinking about “where we begin and where we end,” and I want to know if this was your intention?

What are you trying to say about our relationships to the world around us? Between our real life and our thought life?

From “A Shirt for Today”

[…] It says resilience is no new vision. I’d rather not square off against blue air. A man walks by, looking, on repeat, to meet my eyes.

This is the immediate intelligence of nothing new.

Thank you for reading and for asking! The speaker in the poems often does become one, for a moment at least, with whatever he is looking at. Call it a constant ontological litmus test. Am I or am I not a part of this streetlamp? What is the contour of that handsome man’s profile to me as he’s with me in bed, and can I be it or have it and why am I already not it or him or myself? If I am the clock over the staircase at midnight and a towel is floating on its hook nearby, what am I seeing and how can I also be over there looking at the whole scene at the same time? These are impossible vantages. Impossible, vexing circumstances.

Whatever I look at I hope to truly see, in its place in the world and in me. It becomes a question that pinches, and the poem is the verbalized ouch. Writing a poem therefore has a lot in common with

an interview with

acting in a scene. Many poems in the book take place in response to visual art, where I cast myself as a kind of character in the world of the art. The opening poem is set in a David Hockney painting, “Medical Building.” The series of prose poems throughout the book are set in Jennifer Bartlett paintings, “Air: 24 Hours.” Any given surrounding becomes an opportunity to muse.

Going along with the theme of relationships, these poems take on the calculation and regret of romantic and sexual exchanges. There’s this line from “On Side-A-Longing” where you say, “I put on my body and not for a judgment and not for a body. It was rare that I lived outside myself long enough. I knew what was next. Now not.”

Many of these poems end like this, with an opening. Where many poets would want to be the didact, impart some wisdom, it seems like you actively refuse the role. Is this the case? Do you want to teachor lead your readers somewhere?

Yes, you’re right – I refuse the role. I don’t want to teach or lead my readers somewhere, unless I’ve found a way to let the poem force my hand, and the lesson or journey has happened almost despite myself. Then any wisdom or journey is hard-won, rather than rehearsed, pre-planned. Another way to describe it, using the framework of drama, is that I play the role of being a speaker in an impossible, challenging circumstance, trying to overcome something big and real, and having to change my tactics in response to what keeps happening in real time as I work, as I put all my attention on something or someone outside myself.

A poem fails when these circumstances aren’t met. My journey as a poet has been to learn how to create these challenging, imaginary circumstances so that real poetic drama happens, and I am really, actually alive in it. There’s nothing artificial about what happens in the moment to moment exhilarating spontaneous composition in it. In other words, I Won’t Begin Again is consumed with the dramatic moment. The statements that might embody that: “Here I am, but where am I?” “Why am I?” “Who am I in relationship to what I am seeing?” “How could you treat me that way?” “What am I really even seeing and what am I really feeling?” “Now what? What was that that I just saw ripple in front of me?” “What do I know?” I admit to allowing ambiguity to be a central presence in my work, so as to aim to make a space for a reader to


see themselves. Or to walk alongside me. If the reader learns something or gets led somewhere by a poem I wrote, that’s wonderful. I hope it happens.

You have a remarkable way, in these poems, of implying place without ladening your lines with adjectives. I am thinking specifically of “The Blizzard” and “The Story Was Always Architectural” – the poems are taut, but still layered. What parameters, if any, did you give yourself in composing this collection? Were things like word economy or shape on your mind? What, essentially, was your process with I Won’t Begin Again?

“There were three buildings and two spaces between them so it went like this: life life life/ / /nice nice nice”

What a great question, thank you! Economy and shape and layering and tautness were indeed on my mind while composing this collection. As were parameters and constraints.

Many, if not most, poets know how useful constraints are to writing poems. Anyone who does anything creative is probably aware of the usefulness of constraints. Using the vocabulary of acting, though, I’d say that constraints make poems doable and actionable by giving you something to put your attention on so as to become less self-conscious and more outward focused, allowing the subconscious mind to take things personally in an unlikely bending.

For example, the long poem “A Ten-Minute Moment” is made out of several interlocking constraints. It’s a ten-section poem, where each section lasts a minute when read out loud (time is the major philosophical concern in the book); each section is made of six couplets, and those couplets themselves have a metrical regularity often (a lot of the poem falls into dactyls). I had a bit of a phrase come to me: “one minute was small.” Some additional language got jostled into being, but I didn’t know how to shape it into something longer. Once I gave myself some constraints, the poem fell into place. The constraints were arbitrary at first, but then when you repeat anything, it becomes significant and emphatic. So, the rest of the poem filled in, by itself, because that’s what the imagination just does when you get out of the way. It seems magical but it’s a principle anyone can access in themselves.

(Well, not quite. To access that magic, you have to not be a perfectionist, you have to not be putting a lot of pressure to write something great right away, you have to have what Brene Brown in Atlas of the Heart calls “grounded confidence,” you have to have a way of living where you are not numbing yourself with coping mechanisms all the time, you have to be able to feel vulnerable and take off the kind of armor you might need–and truly, you might need it– in daily life. So–that’s quite a lot that has to be in place for a very simple principle to operate without you fussing too much. And the principle is this: you do something and you stand back and let in the next beat.)

Anyway, that’s how I wrote “A Shirt from Today” where the book gets its title from the line in it (and shout out to my friend Kay Gabriel who pointed it out as a potential title idea when I asked her for help with titling the collection; I really struggled with titling the whole book). I remember I sat on my bed one night, well after midnight, rereading “A TenMinute Moment.” The feeling: I felt proud. I’d made something great and monumental. And I wanted to see what would happen if I inverted my own monument. (‘Inverts’ is what they used to call gay people). So that’s what I did. Very simple. I wrote out the inversion of the constraints. Instead of ten sections of six couplets, let’s do six sections of ten couplets. Instead of the “he” point of view, let’s bring in the “I.” And so on. That’s how I unlocked one poem into another.

And this simplicity is what made my revision process sort of glittering. That revision method was, I admit, intense: I wrote every poem by hand and rewrote it dozens of times (sometimes more) until I could write out the poem by hand a few times in a row without feeling the impulse to change a word. The test for when a poem was done was when I could write out a given poem a few times and feel the resonances shift as I wrote it out, but without me feeling any desire–whatsoever!--to change a single word or line break. If I sensed something off, bam–back to the beginning.

From “The Blizzard”

Please let our readers know how they can get their hands on I Won’t Begin Again (and your other books coming out soon). And please let them know what you are working on and where to follow you online.

Buy I Won’t Begin Again from Barnes and Noble, from Bookshop, the publisher’s website, or, if you want to support me directly, from me the author on My Instagram, @nrosenthalis, is for my career / writing / theater / artistry work.

I’ve got two other books coming out in the next year from Broken Sleep Books, a fantastic, robust avant-garde-y publishing house in the UK. It feels great to have three books come out in such a short period of time; it’s the ‘when it rains, it pours’ result of writing in an almost daily way for well over a decade and submitting work consistently until it found the right readers in the right mood at the right time.

In terms of what I’m actively working on, music is the big one: you can find me more often than not in a rehearsal room or a recording studio. The other big one is creativity consulting: I’m helping people who want to make creative work feel unstuck, to find the simplicity and ease and self-trust that is required to make work in a sustainable and satisfying way.

Un-Manhandling When It’s Late

I sat a man and me down at the table and said “Eat.” I suspected this default setting. Here were some receipts. Some dumb money to the right of my hand. What could I buy became a question. Its other side was an image I knew not to cultivate constant contact with. When my two cats brushed my leg, I was not exactly disturbed but made to bristle. He was going on about the need to love the self less arbitrarily, please. At which point I stopped him to say I.

York, with his wife and their two daughters.


Nathaniel Rosenthalis’ first book, I Won’t Begin Again (Burnside Review Press, 2023), was selected by Sommer Browning as the winner of the 2021 Burnside Review Press Book Award. He is the author of several chapbooks, including 24 Hour Air ([PANK] Books, 2021), as well as two forthcoming books: The Leniad (Broken Sleep Books, 2023) and Father Figures (Broken Sleep Books, 2024). He lives in New York City, where he works as an actor and singer.


an interview with WEST TRADE Review Editors:

KEN HARMON, Mary Sutton, D.W. White & Kelly Harrison

What has been the most surprising aspect of your role as poetry editor for WestTrade Review so far?

Mary Sutton, Poetry Editor:

I want to preface my full response by noting that I don’t approach the curatorial process with any expectation other than that of finding quality work. That’s my responsibility. That’s the responsibility of everyone on this team. And when we find that work, we do everything we can to elevate those writers. No editor who’s been performing these tasks for a while, as I have, would be surprised by any aspect of this process.

Having said that, I believe that we on the poetry team steadfastly keep our eyes open to new possibilities, new voices, which I don’t think is common in publishing. I cut my teeth as an editor in the New York publishing world which, despite its patina of cosmopolitanism, can often be provincial, elitist, and narrow-minded. This attitude is changing, but not fast enough. At West Trade Review, we’ve read and published superb work from all sorts of people, even high school and undergraduate students. I put it that way because young poets have long been overlooked.

This has only recently begun to change with the elevation of state and national youth poets laureate, thanks to Amanda Gorman. I think about the young poets we’ve published, and I’m reminded of the first time Gwendolyn Brooks handed her work to Langston Hughes, who saw her talent and encouraged her to keep writing. Or when Linda Pastan and Sylvia Plath took first and second place, respectively, in the Mademoiselle magazine contest that launched their careers when both were students at Seven Sisters colleges. I like to imagine that our journal might play a similar role in a young poet’s career—taking the world by surprise, if not me, because I know when the talent is there. My job is simply to give it a platform.


How do you ensure your readers the highest quality of fiction features for each issue?

D.W. White, Fiction Editor:

We can only work with what comes into our submissions list, so there’s not much we can do besides read everything and discuss those stories that connect with us as a team. Having a deep and skilled team of readers who know what they’re looking at, and can engage in sophisticated, learned discussion of stories based on their literary merit and technical-mechanical aptitude is the best way to find those most compelling pieces. We center our fiction team meetings around substantive discussions of work and try to keep in mind what a given story is attempting to do and how effectively it meets those goals. We of course have some elements and styles that interest us more than others, but on the whole, we don’t have a niche or specific thematic concern, which allows us to simply take the best fiction we find, as determined by collective conversation.

In the sea of literary journals, what makes WestTrade Review unique?

Kelly Harrison, Associate Editor:

Yes, the sea has a lot of excellent journals. WTR has many things that differentiate us. I think the most important thing we do is that we work with authors on several levels. Sometimes, we help develop a piece, revising over several rounds and working closely with the writer. All of our authors and poets also get to review and approve a PDF proof of their work before we print it in our print edition, a process normally done in large publishing houses.

We ensure the typesetting and design are professional level, too. I could give you a side note about the differences between hyphens and dashes (ha ha), but the point is that readers see a professional and polished product either in print or online. One result of our close work with authors is that sometimes we invite them to join our editorial team after getting to know them and their work. We have built a solid team of people who care about literary arts.

While many literary journals publish multiple genres as we do, WTR pairs visual art with literary pieces and often publishes interviews with both writers and visual artists. We also publish these interviews on YouTube, or on a webpage, and we often offer audio of writers and poets reading their works as well, so that our readers can hear the piece in the author’s own voice. Online, we also publish book reviews of texts from independent presses and primarily focus on the work of writers from historically marginalized groups. All of these endeavors work in sync to make our community more than the average literary journal.

Mary Sutton Kelly Harrison D.W. White

Does WestTrade Reviewhave a particular aesthetic?

Ken Harmon, Editor: As Mary, Dan, and Kelly have already noted, our focus in general is on quality writing. To us, quality writing is fearless work—work that is unafraid to risk something. This could mean experimentation with form or genre expectations, but in most cases, it simply means that the writer is completely unafraid to speak their truth with brutal honesty while also engaging the reader on an intellectual level. Speaking one’s truth matters, and particularly in times like these when politically so many people are divided, literary journals are more relevant than ever, and we’re excited and honored to be a part of the process.

Fearless writing is needed now more than ever, and our goal is to bring that work with a fresh perspective and voice to an audience. Literature has the power to bring people together. It invites readers to see through someone else’s eyes, to walk in their shoes, and to experience the world as they do. It fosters empathy and understanding. In a time where so many are attempting to silence voices through book banning, preventing certain courses from being taught in schools, etc., we’re doing the important work of uplifting important voices that need to be heard and providing them a platform for that. As evidence of our success with this, two of our recent debut writers were recently awarded the PEN/Richard J. Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers, and their work will be featured in the anthology Best Debut Short Stories 2023 due out from Catapult Books in September. We also recently had an essay selected for Best American Essays 2023.

What perhaps do some writers not understand about the submission process?

Ken Harmon, Editor: I’m haunted by a recent email exchange with a writer related to this question. He mentioned to me that he had stopped writing completely. He has received a lot of rejection letters, too many in his estimation. He

ABout Mary:

Mary Sutton is senior content editor at the Academy of American Poets and poetry editor at West Trade Review. She was formerly the NEH Scholar in Public Humanities at Library of America where she worked with Kevin Young on African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song and the book’s companion website www.africanamericanpoetry. org. entity and Nature/Environment/ Place.

ABout KElly:

Kelly A. Harrison, MFA, teaches technical communication at Stanford University and works as a writer and consultant in San José, CA. She edited West Winds Centennial, an anthology of works by the California Writers Club, for which she won the Ina Coolbrith award. Her works have appeared in literary journals and anthologies, including Reed Magazine, Hidden Compass, and Celebrate Creativity, and she writes for Technical Communication. She is the Associate Editor for West Trade Review.

Ken Harmon

explained that at one point he was also a visual artist, but that his work wasn’t appropriate for someone’s living room wall. As a result, his basement is full of unsold canvases. He also noted that he was older and now at the end of his life, so he no longer creates in any form, written or visual, and, apparently, he feels his life is almost over because of his age.

What haunted me about his story was that he viewed himself as a failure and seemed filled with regret. Instead of seeing all those hours he spent creating as rewarding work that he did for the joy of the work itself, it seemed he only wanted public notoriety and didn’t actually value the process of creating for oneself before it’s ever presented to others (if, in fact, it ever is). I mention all this to say that I think writers need to question why they create and what they hope to gain from it. It’s also important to question why you want to publish your work with a wider audience (other than an audience of one—yourself) and what you hope to gain from that.

Before you send something out, clarify what you are attempting to say with the piece. Know what that is and produce a well-crafted, polished version before sending it out into the world. Get feedback from a writing group or a group of readers that will offer constructive criticism. And understand, if you aren’t really excited by the thrill of creating, don’t expect readers to be excited by the work either, especially if you didn’t risk anything as an artist.

If you do submit and get rejected, though, don’t take it personally, although I certainly understand that feeling. After receiving a string of these, it can sometimes lead one to question their life choices, especially if a writer is fairly new to the submission process. A rejection doesn’t mean that you lack talent. It doesn’t mean that you lack vision. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that what you submitted wasn’t well crafted either. It means that it didn’t resonate with those readers and editors at that journal on that day/week that you submitted, or maybe it just wasn’t what they were looking for. That’s all it means. Send it somewhere else. Maybe it will resonate with another journal. Keep sending it out and send new work to that journal that rejected you in the past.

Just because one piece you previously submitted was rejected, doesn’t mean that the new piece you’ve been working on won’t resonate with them. Many writers submit to us multiple times and receive a number of rejection letters before finally getting an acceptance. Just be persistent, and, above all else, whether a piece is ever published or not, find joy in the process of creating because at the end of the day that’s what really matters.

ABout D.W.:

D.W. White writes consciousness-forward fiction and criticism. Currently pursuing his Ph.D. in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he serves as Founding Editor of L’Esprit Literary Review and Fiction Editor for West Trade Review. His writing appears in 3:AM, The Florida Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Necessary Fiction, and Chicago Review of Books, among others. Before returning to Chicago, he spent nine years in Long Beach, California.

Ken Harmon is founder and editor of West Trade Review. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is Associate Professor of English at Johnson and Wales University where he teaches literature and writing. His work has recently appeared in Humana Obscura and Montana Mouthful. He is currently at work editing an anthology of ecopoetry, Ecobloomspaces: Poetry at the Intersection of Social Identity and Nature/Environment/Place.

ABout Ken:

the redheaded stepchild a home for rejected poems

The Redheaded Stepchild only accepts poems that have been rejected by other magazines. We publish biannually, and we accept submissions in the months of August and February only. We do not accept previously published work. We are open to a wide variety of poetry and hold no allegiance to any particular style or school.

visit for more information & submissions



an interview with ALICIA BLUE

How do you view music as a vehicle? What’s the purpose of it for you?

The purpose is freedom. It is the vehicle for my ideas. Music is one true place I can claim and navigate for myself, telling it the way I see it. It is my world to control and drive. Words and poetry are the fuel, but the song is its own vehicle. And the music is the engine that brings it all together and gives movement to the ideas, like the way a river flows. It’s a natural event.

Your music tends to focus on the deep interior of your world, in a way that contrasts the zoomed-out POV of some of your heroes like a Bob Dylan. Is that on purpose ?

I honestly can’t help it. I’ve always been acutely aware of what’s happening inside of me, which can at times be a burden. I think it started with these big feelings as a child, which I became more aware of as a teenager and young adult. Allen Ginsberg would say, “Catch yourself thinking,” which I try to practice whenever I can. I think I recognized that Dylan’s words would reflect the birdseye view, whereas I was naturally inclined to express every detail of my world, no matter how ordinary. I’m sure there is a deeper reason for this. It sounds cliche, but I believe there isn’t a true difference between a single drop of water and the whole ocean. Every time I look too far ahead or start thinking of myself as a woman of deep wisdom, something rolls around to humble me. So, I take that as a sign that I’m meant to write about these things, to track them, like a researcher, so I can balance the scales. It’s a spoke on the wheel sort of thing.

I heard you say in an interview that a song should feel like a prayer for you. What do you mean?

I used to be afraid that my depth was a turn off to people…too much, too heavy, too remote. I’ve always been attracted to songs that knocked me off the horse, so to speak, songs that make you want to get on your knees with reverence. Those are heavyweight tracks that stay with you when the lights are off. Not that I don’t ever partake in the more playful side of things too, but the real work, for me, has that heft. You hear it in Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” or “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” or, of course, “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen. Then, there’s the ultimate example for me, “Woodstock,” by Joni Mitchell.


We heard you sing a song called “John Wayne” last week at your show. It touches on some political and human rights issues in a heartbreaking, but also thought-provoking manner. How is it living in Tennessee, where the drag ban was just passed, versus only 15 months ago, leaving your hometown of Los Angeles?

I was curious to see how that song would land the first time I played it publicly. For some reason, the crowd gets extra quiet when I say the title without any preface, and they tend to stay in that place right till the end. I like to think the gods are in control of it. Why or how that happens, I still do not know. I guess it has something in it that demands attention.

I love Nashville and the people here. There is a kind heartedness that is something I hadn’t known before from a place I’d lived, all combined with a creative intelligence that lifts it higher. The drag ban is in total contradiction to the best parts of the South’s spirit. It’s bullshit and somehow doesn’t match how the spirit feels around us. The fact that abortion is illegal here is just so hard for me to reason. It doesn’t feel real. The politics here don’t line up with mine, but I still have this feeling that I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

Is the Joan Baez and Linda Ronstadt influence connected to your shared Mexican heritage? How did they become influences for you considering both are defined more as interpreters of songs, rather than writers? How’d you find yourself in their company?

My therapist always says I come from the same soul pod as Linda Ronstadt. My dad had been playing her mariachi album, “Canciones De Mi Padre,” since I was in the womb. Linda’s mariachi record reflects my culture. My father is from Guadalajara and I actually knew her only as a Spanish-language singer growing up. Without her making that album, which record execs deemed career suicide, I don’t think I’d be here doing this right now. Not because I’m a Spanish-language singer, because I’m not. But because I’m a Mexican-American who makes American music, but still has this other side that will always be beloved.

Joan Baez came around later when I was 17 and represented an entirely different mode for me. It wasn’t about the Mexican heritage. She represented for me a sadness, depth and soberness that transformed me during my adolescence and young adult life. She was my first introduction to folk ballads that were full of tragedy, drama and heartbreak. Her interpretations could make any song sound like an alarm and informed me about that power of delivery. I still try to strive for that to this day.


When was the first moment and how old were you when you looked at something you had written and knew you were good?

I was in the 6th grade and wrote a poem based on Dorothea Lange’s photograph “Migrant Mother.” The assignment was to write a paragraph about the woman in the picture. I wasn’t supposed to have written a poem, which I then wrote from her POV. My teacher called my mom into the school to ask if someone had written it for me. My mom had no clue what she was talking about and hadn’t read my poem. That was also the year my parents got divorced. I remember that all fitting together and knew I could express myself with words.

How would you describe your style?

Someone described me as Wednesday Addams meets Laurel Canyon after they saw me play a show. I thought that was pretty funny on a superficial level. But I guess it stayed with me, since I’m repeating it here.

How did you go from poetry to being a songwriter? How did the influences of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Didion make sense for you to transfer into a musical career? That doesn’t seem totally obvious.

It doesn’t seem totally obvious, but it was for me. The moment the door opened, I knew I had to go through. I didn’t recognize that it was who I was until I was already there. The song is the perfect vehicle for me to deliver what’s in my head. Kerouac or Ginsberg or Didion perform in novels and books, as words on a page in the heads of their readers. Singing is my mode of performance and delivery. Sometimes it feels like I’m conversing with them, as well as my audience, in one long conversation.

48 BLUE MOUNTAIN REVIEW MAY 2023 Use coupon code MUPNEWS online for 20% discount off your entire order or call 866-895-1472 toll-free —Shipping charges will apply—

What’s your story? How did you guys form?

an interview with LEO LERNER

Two of us are brothers and we both grew up playing piano, drums, and guitar. I met Clark through a mutual friend in college, and we started a different band together. Unfortunately, that band dissolved during COVID, but turned out to be a blessing in disguise. About six months after the band Clark and I had broke up, we started to jam with my brother, who already had several songs written. After just a couple jams, we all wanted to start playing live shows. Not long after that we started recording our music as well.

How would you describe your band’s sound? What’s unique about it?

It’s kind of a mash up of all our musical interests. We like to call ourselves a “RnB Punk band” mostly because us three have such distinct music tastes. We felt that naming our sound from two very different genres describes our sound accurately! We are a three piece the number of instruments we can use tends to be limited. Because of this, our sound revolves around huge guitar sounds, melodic vocals, and a tight rhythm section.

What’s it like being in a band with your brother? Do you fight like the Gallaghers (Oasis)?

{laughs} No not really. Unlike the Gallagher brothers, we don’t seek out drama or conflict, especially when it comes to our music. At the end of the day for all three of us, playing music and being in a band is for pure enjoyment; anything beyond that doesn’t really mean anything to us. Also, Clark is basically our adopted brother and between the three of us we are able to sort of tame whatever fires break out whether it be musical disagreements, marketing strategies, or even just doing the dishes. We all live together. {laughs}

What’s your song writing process like?

Ariel is the main songwriter, so it usually starts with him bringing a somewhat finished song to practice. Clark and I then try to figure out the chord progression, rhythm, and any major changes that happen in the song. We often try and run


through the song several times to get the feel of it. After about a couple weeks, we can start playing the song live and eventually record it!

You are from Rogers Nelson (Prince) country. Is he an influence? Do people talk about him? Any stories?

Prince has an influence on us, but probably not in the way you’d expect. What many people overlook about Prince was his ability to get people excited, whether it be about a show or an album or even what his next outfit would be. I think his work ethic and talent were unparalleled, we hope that one day we can play at First Ave, Minneapolis’ most revered stage that Prince made famous.

One of the more interesting facts I’ve heard about prince was that he had the live room part of Paisley Park built first before building the rest of the compound so he could work on music while it was under construction, hearing about his commitment and work ethic is super inspiring and also love that he served his guests pancake at the parties there.

What’s in a name? Why are you called “Odd Prospect”?

We started jamming in Clark’s old house which was in a neighborhood called Prospect Park. I was listening to a Bob Dylan Song called “Odds and Ends” and I thought that would be a cool band name. So it kinda came from a combination of both, although we mostly just have the name because it sounds cool and I guess we could be called odd people as well!

What are your plans for?

2023 what what’s exciting what’s coming up?

We just want to keep growing and stuff and we’re currently planning a summer tour in the Midwest, so we’ll be going through Wisconsin like Madison and Milwaukee and end up in Chicago. And so that would be in like late July. Plus, we’re trying to like strategize how to best release these like next batch of songs. We’re gonna look to do like a string of like singles rather than like releasing everything at once just to see how like people respond to that.

How influenced are you by poetry?

I went to college and I got a minor in English, so I’ve been in a lot of poetry classes. I think honestly we’re maybe more influenced by sort of the culture that surrounds poetry. Sort of like just free thinking and being able to share those ideas without having much judgment between each other—just building a community built around literature and free thought—just expressing people’s own individual ideas.

Are you guys lovers or fighters?

I would say Clark and Ariel are definitely more lovers while I am a fighter, although we all tend to change relatively often. I will say none of us love to fight, but we would all fight for love.

an interview with



What’s your story? How did She Wants Revenge form?

Adam and myself got together in 2003 with the intention of starting a production team. Mainly to make beats for rappers and making hip-hop. After a mutual friend had been urging us to do so for years, we finally got together one day, went over to my apartment, played some records that inspired us, talked influences, traded favorites, and eventually, made a beat. After months of hanging out every day making music, going record shopping, and eventually DJ’ing in clubs together, we formed our own hip-hop group when we couldn’t find any MC’s to rap over our tracks. We were pretty serious about it, made a demo, even sat with Def Jam about signing us, but in the end, our hearts weren’t in it. We had fun doing it, but it wasn’t allowing us to express the kinds of emotions we wanted to.

One day while playing me some stuff he was working on, Adam pulled up a song he’d made for our friend, an artist named Kenna. Upon hearing it I was pretty blown away, as I’d never heard Adam do anything of that ilk. It was a sort of minimalist, hard electronic music, but in a very 1983 way, and far from the electro-clash which was prominent at the time. For me, I was immediately drawn to it, as I’d been mining a similar style with a project I’d done just before with an exgirlfriend called Sex in Cars. The difference was, I was writing and producing that stuff, but never singing on it. So when I heard this track, I told Adam, “you can’t give this to Kenna. Let me take it home and try something.” He didn’t know what I meant, but later that day I took it home, played guitar on it, wrote some pretty direct, heartfelt lyrics, and recorded it. I brought it to Adam the next day and he was totally taken aback. He knew it was something special, and almost immediately said, “we should do a band or something.” Within months we’d written and recorded some of the biggest songs from our 1st record which we still play to this day.

What’s in a name? Why are you called She Wants Revenge?

Upon deciding we wanted to formalize things, we decided we needed a name. I suggested, The Wonderland Murders, as that was a name I’d had for a short-lived project with our bass player, Thomas. Adam was like, “no way, that’s way too gnarly…..what about something feminine. Like, “Girl Revenge?” - to which I replied, “How about She Wants Revenge?” His eyes widened, I tagged it on my desk, we looked at the way the letters looked together, and we said, “there it is.”


Which of your songs defines your sound? Why?

Such a good but tough question. I would say there’s songs which if pressed I could say define eras. The first era could be “Red Flags and Long Nights.” The second, “Written In Blood,” and the third, “Take The World.”

From what I’ve gathered you’ve been through a lot together—on and off the stage. You’ve broken up a time or two. How do you keep it together?

Well for a long time we didn’t. haha. Jokes aside, honest answer: communication. A band, let alone a duo, is a partnership like marriage or any other intimate relationship. If you’re not communicating honestly, and if you’re not both growing and moving forward in similar directions, it’s either not going to work, or it’s going to be turbulent at best, and toxic at worst. For us, having done this for 17 years, there’s so much history, so much water under the bridge that if we don’t make an effort to communicate from a place of love and service, and openness and understanding, then a look, a glance, a word, a gesture could trigger a knock-down-drag-out that ends in chaos, hurt feelings, and carefully written statements to fans with words like, “indefinite hiatus” or “time apart.” At this point we’ve both done the work to be able to coexist and appreciate what we have as something unique and special, and not to be taken for granted. We’re super fortunate and no one’s ego, defensiveness, personal baggage or character defects are going to get in the way of what we both want to share in and create.

How has the band—and how have you—changed since the beginning?

Musically we started as a very stripped-down, minimalist group who were looking at things through an intentionally limited sonic palette. Combining driving rhythms like Suicide, heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics and romanticism like The Cure or Smiths, the intensity of Joy Division and New Order, and a dash of Giorgio Moroder. We were very orthodox and strict. Not a ton of melody in the vocals, no fuzz or real distortion to speak of. We stuck to the script in a way to have creative boundaries. As we grew so did our sound. I was writing lyrics about past relationships, current entanglements, and weaving stories of a man in his early-30s.

Now, on the verge of turning 50, having a family, being a much better musician with a lot more life-lived and without self-imposed limitations, I’m coming from a place of creative and artistic freedom, and knowing who I am in a much deeper way than when I was 31. Singing about meeting a girl in a club just doesn’t have the same appeal when themes like mortality, love, loss, and redemption are actually a part of the human experience, myself, and those around me. For Adam I’d impinge it much the same. We weren’t kids, but we sure were a lot younger. I think we’re in a place now where we just don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks, and we feel like we’re at the peak of our powers, so why not give it a go?

What’s your song writing process like? Do you write lyrics or music first?

Except in very rare instances the lyrics come last. Sometimes I’ll have a lyric written down which I’ll pull out, bits or scraps in a notebook. But for the most part I like to put a song on while driving on the freeway, and record the first thing I start singing, as quite often, that will become the melody, the theme of whatever subconsciously comes out will dictate where it goes thematically, and in many instances, the first line is whatever came out. Sometimes I’ll sit down and write without that process, and sometimes I’ll freestyle on the mic singing gibberish to find the rhythm and melody. But those are generally the ways it goes down. With the music, we either jam and improvise with instruments or with instruments over a beat, or one of us brings something in and the other contributes. There are also instances when I just pick up a guitar and start singing and playing something at the same time, and when that happens, you gotta push record fast because that type of lightning doesn’t come easily or frequently, but when it does it’s special and you have to pay attention.


Who are your influences? What about favorite song(s)? Can you name a few?

I mean, the core stuff, the earliest is kind of most interesting. Everyone can tell you their favorite cool groups, but it’s the formative stuff that matters most. Thinking back, I remember being profoundly moved by the chords and melody of Donna Summer’s “On The Radio.” It was used in the movie, Foxes, and it still breaks my heart to this day. I remember feeling like “Tainted Love” was a sound I had never heard before when that synth first sounded on the radio. Lifechanging. As a kid (and to this day) Abbey Road was always my favorite Beatles record. ELO made a massive impression on me both melodically, in my ideas about production and arrangement, as well as the sonics that made sense to me and which I could almost see in colors. The Red Hot Chili Peppers were an important band as a teen from LA. I discovered them in 7th grade when a kid gave me a copy of Freaky Styley to take him and dub onto cassette, and those records through Blood Sugar were deeply important to me. A Tribe Called Quest, Rakim, The Jungle Brothers, Soul II Soul. There’s so many. Bowie is the GOAT and the gold standard. I heard “Let’s Dance” when it came out when I was 10 and have been learning from, studying, ripping-off, and mining him ever since. Neil Young, Prince, in later days, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Music finds you when you need it, and whether it was falling in love with Blonde Redhead just before Adam and I started working together in 2003, or hearing Barbara Streisand sing with Barry Gibb as a kid, some shit just hits you.

What can you tell me about WARFIELD?

One day in March 2020, while trying to record for an upcoming SWR record, I found myself sitting in a home studio, stuck and unable to find inspiration, feeling creatively stuck, as if I was trying to write and sing for some character I

no longer was, riddled with fear trying to navigate the health and safety concerns of a once-in-a-hundred-year global pandemic, the economic and health implications of that, wondering how I’d support my family, whether our lives (and all of our lives) would ever be the same, watching injustice and violence against marginalized people come to a head and resulting civil rights uprising, riots and revolution which followed, and facing a type of intolerance (in myself and others) and division unlike anything I’ve ever felt and had only previously read about, and feeling like the guardrails of democracy may not in fact hold, I stumbled onto a keyboard riff on a new 70s synth I’d bought, and was so taken with the melody that I stopped working the the song I was stuck on, and began writing, and following that riff.

What followed was a song about everything I just mentioned. The canceled graduations, the proms that never would be, the fear, uncertainty, distrust, disillusionment, and confusion of what it was to live in one’s skin in 2020 - all to a track that felt like a John Hughes movie. haha. It was pretty surprising. Until that moment I didn’t know I needed to make a solo record, but once I started, it came fast and furious and I couldn’t, and didn’t stop. I needed to document my version of the human experience during this generational moment. I’m actually pretty shocked how little recorded music and films documented this part of our existence. It’s as if it never happened, which is fucking crazy to me. I honestly felt then and now that it’s our social responsibility to reflect the times, even if indirectly. 2020 changed the way I wrote, and it most certainly changed me as a person. Once the fear, uncertainty, sense of doom, and all of the dystopian stuff faded away (as much as it can with the way the world is), the desire to distill things to their absolute essence and core of truth remained.

So yeah, I’m the guy that made a concept album about 2020. Super original. Hahaha. The good news is it’s hands-down the best record I’ve ever made. I played almost all of it by myself in a room, sat in a chair….the same chair I sat in for a thousand Zoom meetings, I got some of my close friends to play on it, and I wrote and sang my ass off in a way I’m immensely proud of. So moving forward I’ll be playing live shows in support of that project, while also having the ability and freedom to throw in anything else from my past catalog of non-She Wants Revenge music. Having made records since 1991, there’s a lot to draw from, both known as well as unreleased. So while I don’t plan on doing some supper club, “an evening with…” I do think there’s value in the freedom of being able to do what I want without compromise or contribution. So WARFIELD is the forum for that. One night it could be that album, another it could be covers, stuff from past records, hip-hop, or whatever feels right. I’ve done a lot of records, and I would love to keep it loose and easy, revolving musicians, friends, family. Who knows. I’ve been dreaming it up lately, so we’ll see.


What creative outlet does it offer that makes it necessary to be separate from She Wants Revenge?

That latter part of what I said. She Wants Revenge is without a doubt the most known of any project I’ve ever been a part of, but I’ve also made lo-fi hip-hop, psychedelic rock, garage shoegaze, and everything in between. The good fortune we’ve had with SWR by writing and releasing songs people consider “hits” means we get to (I say that instead of “have to”) play them night-after-night. We can change things up, switch things up, and be as creative as we want, but there’s a ballpark and a field of play with given rules. But as a musician, sometimes you don’t want to play by the rules, and you don’t want to be limited by boundaries and sidelines of that field. You just want a wide-open expanse. Well, WARFIELD is for me that.

I’m actually prepping for a covers EP of 70s stuff right now. Just the type of songs I love, which move me to my core, and which I was listening to every day on playlists anyway, so I said, “why not record them?” That’s the kind of freedom I’m talking about. But having said that, I need to keep it separate from SWR so that fans of the band don’t show up and yell out, “Play Tear You Apart!” I want them to know, there’s a place for that, and it’s at an SWR show, but when we get together (in obviously much more intimate venues), we’re gonna do something else. So I think for me and for them it’ll be a great exercise and a way for them to get to know me better as an artist.

What can people expect from both She Wants Revenge and WARFIELD in 2023?

Adam and I are currently writing and recording our long-awaited 4th album, and we plan to start releasing music, be it singles, one-offs, and of course the album as soon as it’s ready. We’re taking the time to explore and be as creative as possible, but also don’t want to be too precious. Just get it out there. Life is too short, and though we’ve been around for more than two and a half decades, we’ve also been away for some of that time, so we have some catching up to do. We have a lot of music in us that’s been sitting, and which is more ready than ever given our solo and individual efforts of the last 10 years, so to release a proper album for the first time in over a decade is massive, and we can’t wait.

As for WARFIELD, I’ll be dropping a single asap, making videos, playing shows, releasing the record, and then doing other solo stuff. I don’t want to get too caught up in labels, but I’ll probably reserve my full name for hip-hop releases, and WARFIELD for this type of thing, but who knows, maybe there’s other projects to be done. It’s all about time. Never enough time. We’ll see. I’m overdue for a hip-hop album as well. It’s the 30th anniversary of my 1st album, so maybe I’ll drop a hip-hop album. I started making beats for one a few years ago, but then you get busy. Looks like I’ve just decided. Guess I have work to do….





"Christopher Swann never disappoints . . . A must read."

—J. T. Ellison, New York Times bestselling author


P h o t o b y : S t e v e P e o s i

Is the church full of hypocrites?

an interview with CHRIS BLANTON

In a sense, yes. We are all on a journey of allowing the Lord to undo our various flavors of selfishness. And in faith, we are sometimes asked to speak things that are not yet as though they were. At any point in this journey, if you take a social snapshot of a community of believers, you’ll find bits of self-focus that certainly seem hypocritical.

But the Christian faith cannot be understood from assembling a few random spiritual snippets; no, it is a necessity that we meet together often, face to face, if we are to move beyond our selfish patterns and form new, life-giving habits that drive true community, surrounding ourselves with folks who not only speak the truth to us in love, but who are themselves willing to receive that same love-laden truth.

Sometimes in community, we might discover that a particular person’s flavor of self-focus deeply offends our own flavor of self-focus, and then we must decide if we are going to extend to them the same grace and opportunity for redemption that we hope to also one day receive from them. It’s a tough pill to swallow. But it sure seems like we’ve been given the Spirit tools needed for success: slow to speak, quick to listen, constant in prayer, humbling ourselves in the sight of the Lord… It’s important for people of faith to thoughtfully spur one another on to good deeds, remembering that all of us are somewhere on that self-lessening expedition.

Let’s not get trapped in replaying a temporary moment in someone else’s faith-journey, presuming them to be allconsumingly hypocritical based on a handful of distant snapshots. We should know better. We can do better.

In a church, do musical preferences matter?

Far be it from me to offer an acceptable universal answer to this age-old, seemingly divisive topic. At face value, I would hope that we are all far enough along in our self-crucifying experience that we would all want to answer, “No! How preposterous!” It seems like wisdom to acknowledge God’s providence in placing us into a community where the very gifts and talents He’s given us can be a blessing to that community.


Following that logic, every house of worship should sound unique. In Western cultures, similarities of style will certainly abound because of the common training of our music schools and the gear-resourcing that is so readily available. But if your current community is blessed with a skilled Southern Rock guitarist, then your collective expressions should sound extremely different from the nearby community that has been blessed with a skilled classical harpist.

Both instruments have strings, but the way those players use those strings is neither better nor worse, simply different. As maturing believers, it seems right that we would sometimes be called to lay down our personal preferences for the sake of the group. I’m pretty sure the heart of the artist and the hearts of the people are supposed to be our primary focus when we gather for corporate worship. I fully understand the desire of church leadership to favor one musical style over another, and I agree that the real location of a church community should certainly be considered when “choosing” a stylistic expression of music. But for us to adopt a consumerist mindset seems rather limiting to the possible moving of the Spirit, both in our personal journey of faith and in the corporate journey of the community.

Does technology hinder or help corporate worship?

Much like a well-played instrument, technology in the hands of a skilled technician can enhance the worship expressions of a community of believers. It would seem like wisdom for church leadership to determine their “must have” technologies for their own weekly gathering. An artistically bent congregation can craft beautiful displays of lyrics and backgrounds that lift the collective soul.

The proper use of punctuation can reinforce confidence in the musical experiences of the theologically focused congregation. The important thing to remember is that technologies are created to serve the common good; if any piece of audio, video, or lighting gear is becoming the Master of the service elements, then that gear’s purpose needs to be addressed by leadership as quickly as possible.

Faith, hope, love: do we really need all three?

While living in central Florida for four years, we quickly learned one of the weather patterns. If it was pouring rain outside, you’d still see almost everybody with a pair of sunglasses either perched atop their head or hanging from the neck of their shirt. The temporary rain didn’t skew the reality of pending sunshine. Faith is kind of like noticing the weather patterns; you can learn a ton about God’s modus operandi by paying attention to your fellow believers’ first-hand accounts and reading historical biographies.

Just like we can’t predict the specific time a rainstorm will turn to sunshine, we can’t foresee the exact timing of God’s promises fulfilled. But as we begin to recognize that His promises are true in the lives of others, in faith we prepare to experience those promises in our own lives, in due season. One of the archaic uses of the word ‘hope’ includes a flavor of trust. It seems fitting that when we say our hope is in the Lord, that we would really mean that we trust His provision and leading in our lives.

The old hymn says, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Reworded: I can trust that my relationship with the Creator God is complete because of the atoning sacrifice that Jesus made in payment of my debt; therefore, I am building my life on the perfect expression of unfailing love: redemption. We do not (yet) grasp the many facets of the English word ‘love’ with its exorbitant variations and subtleties. We must still rely on the Greek words for greater definition. When Paul said that “faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love” he was using the love-word agape. Agape is concerned with benevolence, or charity, and affection.


This passage is speaking of the kind of positive family-bond that would cause one sibling to donate an internal organ to another. This is the kind of lifelong friendship-bond that is created when we appropriately bear our souls to each other, receiving each other just as we are, and believing that God has each other on an ever-increasing path of redemption and transformation.

So, yes, faith and hope are essential, but you can see why agape is the greatest. In order to become reality in our lives, agape requires action on our part. Is it possible to have a passive faith, or a passive hope? Maybe. But there is no such thing as passive organ donation. When we are truly operating in agape, we are fulfilling the design that was originally set forth for humans: community. And our sense of community is made complete when we toss in our collective journeys of faith and hope.

What’s your favorite Bible verse?

Since late high school, it’s been James 1:22—“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” That one is pretty straight forward.

If we’re not actually attempting to put into practice all the things we hear in sermons and read for ourselves, then we’re tricking ourselves into becoming more hypocritical than when we first began. But wouldn’t it be amazing if we were part of a community of messy humans who are truly trying to do all the humanity-loving things we read about! Lord, help us.


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Writers • Artists • Musicians • Performers


an interview with allen COnSTANTINE

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to chat with me! The multi-faceted world of Film scoring is ever expanding and evolving as a craft. For you, what is the key motivation that drew you into becoming such a talented artist in this field?

First of all, thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to be interviewed. As for your question, what drew me to become a media/film composer was based on a combination of passion, creativity, collaboration and an enormous amount of love for the art of storytelling through music. I wanted to go deeper by exploring this field of work and understand the relations between music and visuals.

I have a deep love and appreciation for music and films, for cinema and storytelling and I have an immense desire to collaborate with directors, producers and other creatives in order to bring a project to life. In addition to that, I love having the opportunity to explore different genres and styles of music, experiment with different instrumentation and techniques, and create music that reflect my vision.

Let’s back it up a bit. What would you say was an integral part of your artistic foundation? How did your musical education prepare you for your professional career?

Since childhood, I have been drawn into the mesmerizing world of classical and film music. I have to mention that my uncle and grandfather played both keyboards and guitar, self -taught. And they played with heart, that is what I loved about them!

After much reflection, I have come to the realization that my true calling in life is to use music as a means of creating stories that touch people’s hearts and offer glimpses of hope in a world that often seems dark and overwhelming. I remember that my uncle gave me a guitar to practice on, and from there on, I started learning on my own as much as I could about music theory, orchestration, palette of sounds and their frequencies, digital audio workstations, MIDI, the required building blocks of musical education.

I was 9 years old and Music just stuck with me from that point. Never went to a music college or university, no music


teachers. As I grew older, the one thing that helped me build a more intimate connection with music and understanding the cinematographic world, was studying about film and theater at the University of Theater and Arts. Right now, looking back, I don’t regret a thing. The challenges that come through soaring and haunting melodies, driving rhythms, I believe that music has the power to move us, to uplift us and to heal us in ways that we cannot yet imagine.

You’ve had quite a career thus far....How would you describe what you do?

As a media/film composer, my primary responsibility is to craft original music for a variety of projects, ranging from films and television shows, to video games and advertisements.This process involves collaborating closely with directors, producers and other creative professionals to fully comprehend the specific requirements of each project and create music that enhances the visual and emotional impact of the production. In order to achieve this, I draw on a wide range of musical styles and techniques, from orchestral scoring to electronic sound design, to develop a unique sonic palette that captures the essence of each project. Throughout the creative process, I work closely with the creative team to ensure that the music is perfectly aligned with the vision and goals of the production. As a media composer, I often engage in multiple revisions to match the pacing, tone and emotional arc of the project. Overall, my ultimate goal is to compose music that complements and enhances the visual and emotional elements of a production, bringing the story to life in a powerful and impactful way.

For many artists, there is the quintessential “I’m really here” moment when an important milestone has been reached. What was that for you?

To me, my “I’m really here” moment is always present as I approach each project with a lot of commitment. Of course, I was extremely happy when I heard my music played on the radio or saw a short ad or film with my music on it. But to summarize, I think that coming over to the United States and meeting up with some big names in the industry made me feel like I really belong in the industry.


Musical artistry is one of development and iteration. How would you describe your creative process?

Simplicity is the hardest achieving form in any domain. In music, I really think that having an understanding of how the instruments work is the key to understanding yourself and thus, responding to your own questions. Personally, I have a very deep connection with the piano, as each note summarizes the mood or feel I want to expand further in creating a story.

I don’t have a specific recipe when creating, it’s all about discovering new territories in this infinite spectrum of frequencies. I look at music as a “ghost” that is always present in my life! Frequency waves empower different moods and once I accept that “ghost” to be part of my daily life, that is when I daydream. Evading into this capturing world of sound is a very healing process for the human mind.

The projects you’ve been involved with typically have very detailed and striking orchestration on display. What are some of your favorites and why?

I am often asked which project or piece of music is my favorite, but I find it impossible to answer. From the smallest indie short films, to composing music for advertisements, I approach each project with the same level of care and attention, knowing that the music I create will be an integral part of the final product. They are all a part of my creative journey. In the end, they each have their own challenges and rewards. It’s like having multiple children. You can’t love one more than the others.

One of the perks of working on films is meeting big stars!! Who are some of the coolest people you’ve had the opportunity to work with?

It is indeed a rewarding thing to meet up with big stars in the industry. During my career I have met with many known professionals. I had the opportunity to work with director Nick Wall on two short films (Retribution, GAIN). Nick (Nick Wall Photographer) is an acclaimed international photographer based in London. He primarily works in the film and TV industries, capturing filmmakers and actors at work on set. He has worked with some of the biggest names in the industry.

I also had the pleasure of working with actor and bodybuilder champion Daniel Stisen (Daniel Stisen), the leading role in those aforementioned films. Stisen also appeared in minor uncredited roles in popular films like Maleficent, Edge of Tomorrow, Spectre, Now You See Me 2.

I have been fortunate enough to work for many years with my dear friend Doug Wood (Doug Wood, Meet Doug Wood).


Doug had one of the biggest music production libraries in the U.S “ Omni Music for Media”. Now the company is owned by EMI Production music. Doug is the man who wrote the famous BBC snooker theme “Drag Racer”. He is also a member of the Board of Directors at the American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers (ASCAP).

I also had the honor to meet some amazing musicians and performers, such as Tina Guo (GRAMMY Award nominated and BRIT Female Artist of the Year nominated, Tina Guo). She is mainly known as one of the most recorded solo cellists of all time and can be heard on hundreds of Blockbuster Films, Television and Game Soundtracks. Tina recently completed recording for DUNE, Top Gun: Maverick (2022), Minecraft Legends (2023), Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023), The Flash (2023), and Tomb Raider Reloaded.

Gutrie Govan (Guthrie Govan (Official))is a modern guitar virtuoso whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a Hans Zimmer concert in Sofia, Bulgaria. Carl Rydlund (Carl Rydlund - IMDb) is a famous orchestrator for many productions, known for Men in Black, Man of Steel, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Interstellar, etc.I had the pleasure having breakfast with Carl on Ventura Blvd, Los Angeles CA., and chatted about film music.

My good friend Sam Estes (Sam Estes - IMDb), a known sound designer, tech wizard for many famous productions such as Inception, Mad Max - Fury Road, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Dark Knight Rises, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. I had the honor of meeting up with him at his studio in Los Angeles, had so much great time.

The one and only Hans Zimmer (Hans Zimmer - IMDb) is an OSCAR Winning film composer known for so many blockbuster films, including Dune (Oscar winner), The Lion King (Oscar winner), Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk, The Dark Knight, Rain Man, Gladiator and many more. I had the pleasure meeting up with Hans in London after his concert at the Wembley Stadium. We discussed film music, art and music. We keep our communications open through social media even now and then.

Working in that field can be quite intense dealing with schedules and deadlines. What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the job?

Getting the job done is always a hard task to achieve, but once fulfilled it can be really rewarding. During the course of my career, I have worked with many different clients and partners and everyone is different. Some of the clients know exactly what they want to hear, others can not explain, therefore as a composer you need to get creative and have great communication skills.

As a media/film composer, some of the hardest tasks to achieve can include really tight deadlines and revisions. The media industry is very fast paced and deadlines are present in almost every project. The ability of working quickly and efficiently to meet deadlines while still producing high - quality music is a must. Overall, being a media/film composer can be a highly rewarding career path for those who have a passion for music. The ability to collaborate, showcase work and make an impact through music can be highly fulfilling.

How do you balance your time with projects and other commitments such as family, friends, personal endeavors, etc.? Everyone needs a way to decompress after a job well done. What hobbies do you have to help you relax, refocus and recharge?

As a composer, maintaining a balanced lifestyle is critical to ensuring a healthy and productive creative process. Among my preferred leisure activities are skiing, painting, video games and nature trips. Each of these pursuits offers a unique opportunity to unwind and recharge, while also providing a source of inspiration for my musical composition. Skiing, for example, gives me a chance to connect with the natural environment and I love the fact that this sport has a physical exertion that helps me clear my mind. Painting is also a meditative and relaxing activity that I like to do from time to time. It allows me another way of creative expression outside the realm of music.


Video games are just fun, you can’t argue with that. Especially fast paced action games or single player based. They have such immersive environments and engaging storylines giving me a vast wealth of thematic material to draw upon. Finally, nature trips are the most rewarding just because they provide a needed break from the stresses and distractions of modern life and allow you to connect with the natural world on a deeper level.

What advice would you give to up and coming composers who are inspired by your work?

I like to think that anyone can achieve artistic mastery but that will require a regular commitment to building skills over a long period of time. For aspiring composers and artists pursuing careers in this field, my advice is to work diligently without giving up. Focus, Creativity and Obsession are essential elements in this industry and as an artist in general, you must be somewhat obsessed with your craft.

By obsession I mean dedication and immense patience. We already have a strong “creator” basis in our DNA. We love to explore the unimaginable, be able to build and pursue things. We just have to keep the flow going and to maintain this creative momentum, it’s very important to constantly expose yourself to music, regardless of the genre. Orchestration and arrangement are also critical.

In my opinion, art, in any form, is founded on the principle of freedom of expression. As a result, the more an artist allows themselves to be drawn to their innermost being, the quicker they will be free to explore and create.

What’s next for you?

At the moment, I have several solo piano EP’s that need to come out on all streaming platforms, as well as releasing my second full length album Opus 85, consisting of ten modern classical experimental songs. In addition, I have finished writing a third full length album, which is undisclosed at this stage and can’t share a thing about it. Stay tuned for more news by following up on my socials. References to my music can be found here: Allen Constantine Website



Fences, August Wilson’s heartbreaking and gut-wrenching play about a working-class black family in Pittsburg, debuted in 1987 and still resonates today. Through the themes of threatened masculinity, financial struggle, and the elusive American dream, the play speaks powerfully to audiences. It is the language of August Wilson’s writing that is extraordinary, and its powerful speeches remind you why it earned the Pulitzer Prize. But attempting to adapt Wilson to the big screen turns out to be a tricky proposition. The play is focused on dialogue which intrinsically suits it for the theatrical.

Plays are capable of depth, expression, and experience that films simply cannot duplicate. In contrast, films can depict characters and visualize scenes in a way that plays cannot. The “conflict” in reviewing this wonderful piece of work lies not in execution, but in format. It’s almost like it was filmed as an impeccable version of the stage play rather than a movie. This is a minor quibble given the stellar work produced but one can imagine how it may have been fully re-imagined for the silver screen. The majority of the cast already performed in a 2010 Broadway revival of the play, but the play never becomes stale. There are, however, some omissions that effectively help to manage the staginess on and offscreen. Neither frills nor flights of fancy are included, nor is there anything to distract or relieve the experience. With precision and ambition, this is a work of substance and meat.

As the central character of the play, Troy Maxson is a man gripped by patriarchal pride, which defines much of who he is negatively. A star of the professional Negro Baseball League at one time, Troy was unfortunate to have come along before Jackie Robinson’s meteoric rise. The game never brings him fame or fortune, and thus, his bitterness blinds him to the opportunities that are growing for his peers...including his teenage son. As a result of his frankly honest perception of racism, his bullheaded ego won’t allow others to celebrate the success he feels was denied. Fences takes place before the Jim Crow laws were abolished and before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but also in a time of rampant change when the Civil Rights Movement would begin to pick up momentum.

His deeply internalized belief that the world will never accept the black man forms his self-fulfilling prophecy. This leads him so far as to squash a potential opportunity for his son, Cory, effectively killing a dream before its inception. One of the film’s most powerful aspects lies in its sober depiction of the way economics play a crucial role in household stability.


Troy’s devotion to his wife of 18 years, Rose, is evident in the fiery and downright saucy interactions between each other. With a graceful balance, Viola Davis brings feminine strength and iron will to the character of Rose. She is a beautiful paragon of a woman torn down by time and disappointment. She has remained by Troy’s side amid the toxic combination of ego, internal struggle, and injustice which proves to be the undoing of a man and his marriage. Rose deftly maneuvers the landmines surrounding Troy until the inevitable explosion of passion during a particularly emotional reveal near the film’s end.

In the history of film, the now infamous “I’ve been standing with you” scene will be remembered for being one of the bestacted scenes in history thanks to the emotional levee she releases on the audience. However, it’s the smaller moments, which make her performance, as a whole, great. She carries the weight of her 18 years of marriage on her face. It is the looks that she gives when he reminds her of the terrible hubris which has defined his life and decisions. Outside of Washington and Davis, Russell Hornsby’s Lyons (Troy’s son from a previous relationship) simmers with resentment and neediness. The character of Gabe (Mykelti Williamson), Troy’s disabled brother, doesn’t translate to screen as fully or seamlessly as he should, but this is a relatively small note in an otherwise excellent film. There is a moment where it is said “some people build fences to keep people out and other people build them to keep people in.” It’s an unsubtle reference to the metaphor in the title, but it perfectly describes Troy’s unspoken issues and Rose’s attempts to address them. Playwriting and screenwriting are two completely different disciplines, as Wilson’s prose and dialogue demonstrate. In the end, it’s lines like those that remind us why plays can be so effective. There is an honesty to their words that often feels out of place in cinema. Mr. Washington seemingly keeps a dogged loyalty to the source, never changing a single word of what Wilson has written.

The majority of the film transpires within Maxson’s backyard, but thanks to Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography we never feel cramped. Wilson’s dialogue is soulful and naturalistic, almost musical in the flow of its cadence. Under Washington’s direction, the cast commands the material with strength and ferocity, maintaining an urgency and snap to the dense dialogue.


Troy is taken to the brink of redemption and back again, fully exploring a man’s dual complexities without losing sympathy. Through outbursts and confrontations, Wilson’s often punishing dialogue reveals deeply internalized emotions through the cast’s performances. And while the acting is superb, there is a feeling of untapped potential regarding the cinematic aspect.

In a stage production we as an audience are asked to open our imaginations to fill in settings limited by the stage. Rather than having lengthy monologues delivered from the same chair five times, why not flesh out a living world? Only Denzel can answer that question. Imagery in the film seems almost avant-garde; the polished-looking Pittsburgh of the 1950s suggests nothing more than a series of stage backdrops. Washington, Henderson, Viola Davis, Russel Hornsby, and Mykelti Williamson still have a chance to work through some astonishingly poetic dialogue in this film, despite its limitations of imagination, exploring the internal and external traps that are particular to each member of Troy’s family.

Fences is an intimate story told epically. It features characters who are unnoticed by mainstream society, living as garbage truck drivers, hustlers, low-income mothers, and damaged war veterans. Though Wilson’s characters work unglamorous jobs quietly bolstering our American infrastructure, they are imbued with the tragic heft of Shakespeare. It is a story of how fractures can deepen within a family until beyond repair. As one of the most famous plays in Wilson’s “Century Cycle”, chronicling 100 yrs of the family in black America, its narrative remains as relevant and resonant as ever.

**8/10 stars**



“Kevin Cantwell’s masterful poems are built for the ages...”

Frank Bidart, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry


“These poems help us all see the world as it is—with its broken hearts, its tumors, its ugly politics, its war. From Bond and John Wick to Deborah, Queen Esther, and other warrior women, each page here offers us the saviors our fragile world needs today. Most importantly, these poems make us know we can be right there with them in the fight. And I can’t think of a more valuable gift a poem, or a poet, could give us in these times.”

Jack Bedell, author of AgAinst the Woods’ dArk trunks


“Sometimes reflective, other times, philosophical or perplexed or tongue-in-cheek about the existential vagaries of what we call life, this narrator always achieves a certain wisdom that only a seasoned poet like Cathryn Hankla can bear witness to. We can always expect the unexpected and original from Hankla.”

Peter Johnson, author of old MAn hoWling At the Moon and shot


“Each poem in tAMp is a world in its own right: each a timeless praise song to the earth, to solitude, loss, and love. With bucolic sensitivity shared by few, Loving has crafted the most convincing wake-up call—gentle, surefooted, hypnotic, and insistent. Tamp is a rare trove of honest, measured assurance, a blessed reminder of what matters most.”

Shawna Kay Rodenberg, author of kin: A MeMoir

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an interview with HASHIM CLARK

How has life created the artist in you?

I have been largely transient as far back as I can remember, partly due to bouncing back and forth between divorced parents and only having enough room to keep some comic books and drawing supplies. I would mostly make private cartoon strips of either myself dealing with slice of life adventures OR avatars of me and my friends as superheroes. Constantly being on the move got me into the habit of learning tricks and techniques so I can do something creative on the fly using whatever is available. Much of my childhood was trying to redraw the comics or toys I was traveling with.

By the time I was a teen, my Mother and I were in a more stable position where I could take art and music classes. My original choice of study was sculpture as I had a knack for bringing form from clay and I’m pretty sure that stemmed from studying action figures closely as a kid. I later switched to studying illustration as it was the most accessible vector I had to potentially get into comic books.

What rituals do you go through to find the niche to create?

I’ve found myself leaning on high energy music when painting or working on a piece in general. Finding the right vibe of any genre to pair with a visual piece is worth its weight in gold. Sometimes I’m lucky enough to visualize a piece from the start of a song or I might get luckier and witness the music sync up with real life then immediately try to catch up to the magic I’m witnessing.

What are you listening to now? How does music play into your creative process?

Well for the past decade or so I’ve been listening to Electro Hip-Hop Soul and creative mixes by DJs in general. I am largely a hip-hop fan and while I hold reverence for all of the legendary artists of yore, I do enjoy a classic song being reimagined in other creative ways that doesn’t diminish the soul of the source intention.


What truly Real World advice do you have for artists who strive to break into the business?

Sometimes I feel like I could do a whole series on this topic and still not cover everything. Similar to advice given about “when to get married” or “when to have a kid”, there’s no amount of preparation you can do in advanced to be ready to work on your “dream project/ job”, you just have to go for it and BE PATIENT as you build it up over time. Do every little bit you have the time for and over time the project will keep growing. It likely won’t be perfect to your internalized standards but it will improve the further you go.

How does natural talent and formal study play together in order to build a solid foundation?

Natural talent is nice and super helpful when getting started but eventually may run the risk of being more stylized than intended. Formal study can accelerate any student’s growth when it comes to technical skill but it can be like adding rocket fuel to natural talent. It’s easy (now more than ever) to self-study but a huge benefit of formal training will still teach concepts, techniques, meeting deadlines, honest critiques and learning from/with skill-level peers.

What’s your favorite book and why?

“Scud the Disposable Assassin” by Rob Schrab. It’s a black and white psychedelic comic about an assassin robot who works odd jobs to keep his original target on life support because if he completes his mission, he will self-destruct. The entire series is visually kinetic as it is bonkers. The book being my favorite is because it was the first comic I remember picking up and immediately resonated with. It inspired me to want to do something, ANYTHING as close as fun. The book ran as a series for a few years until the creator left it off at an incredible cliffhanger for a decade till he completed the series.

If you could sit down with 3 artists alive or dead to share ideas - who would they be?


1. Salvatore Dali because he talks like an insane sorcerer but he unlocked the ability of having his work impress upon and warp the viewer, so I’d like to learn that because I’m not going to read his memoirs backwards for the answer.

2. Banksy and go with him on an unauthorized mural-run because he’s the Zorro of artists. I could tell everyone it happened and in great detail and no one would ever believe me.

3. Postman Ferdinand Cheval - his story is the epitome of natural talent realized when it comes to his monuments. Although I know most of his works were “vision” inspired, I would still love to pick his brain.


How do you find peace?

Often in brainstorming. I find brainstorming up ideas for projects or “just because” is always fun. I find it’s practical practice for the times you find yourself knee-deep into a book or painting and you need to make a quick decision (or series of decisions) against a problem. Anything to keep the mind creating is where I find my peace.

CHESTNUTREVIEW.COM Accepting submissions 365 days a year



In May 2020, my son Connor, then 28, and I pulled out all the tools needed for an evening of making art. Shortly after the pandemic began, he left Marina del Ray, California, to weather it in our Marietta, Georgia, home. We were amid the final edits on our first literary collaboration, “Spellbound Under the Spanish Moss: A Southern Tale of Magic.”

When he saw my latest work – a Polaroid manipulation of salt huts on Bonaire digitized and printed on 47-by47-inch metal and mounted on a 3-inch oak box and then layered with heavy resin over that—he stopped in his tracks. He declared it his favorite fine art photography pieces I’d ever produced. “Dad, you’ve got to teach me how to do this,” he said. Within a day, he’d researched and discovered that Polaroid Instant Style film was being produced again and purchased several packs of it.

I put on Jack Johnson. We tried the first few images and disappointment quickly set in. The company that acquired bankrupt Polaroid had changed the formula. I was sad not to be able to share my process with my son, who was eager to learn.

My wife Echo broke the silence. “Well, you have about 100 of your special creations, and this means that this process can no longer be replicated,” she said. The mood in the room shifted considerably.

Two decades earlier I’d taken a one-day Polaroid art workshop with Corinne Adams, who taught making image transfers, image manipulations, and emulsion transfers. I was fascinated. The next month I was on a magazine assignment on the island of Bonaire for Caribbean Travel & Life. A confluence of events gave me an entire week to experiment with these techniques: I missed my plane, and I’d run out of film. I’d shot everything in my camera bag on the job.


All I had was a Polaroid SX-70 camera and several cartridges of Polaroid film with me. To amuse myself, I set off around the island and shot beach scenes, wooden fishing boats, florals, a world-champion windsurfer named Elvis, and the historic salt huts. My driver thought I was crazy when I asked him to turn on the heater high in his Toyota Corolla when the temperature was already above 90 degrees. I’d jump in the car with the windows rolled up and manipulate the emulsion on the 3 inch-by-3-inch Polaroid with a toothpick and a single chopstick. That gave me an extra sixty seconds to work the image while the emulsion was still soft.

After that first experiment, I was hooked. Whenever I had a break in my schedule from my work as an advertising and editorial photographer, which took me far and wide, I spent many nights in our kitchen with my favorite music playing (Moby, KebMo, Lenny Kravitz, Bonnie Raitt) and all my tools (toothpicks, a steak knife, watercolor paper, colored pencils and markers).

One of the beautiful things about art is that sometimes the best work comes when you are put in a situation where you cannot do what you’d normally do. What I find interesting about the process now is that I can merge an old tactile technique that’s been brought forward with the new digital technology and give it a whole new life.


Kevin Garrett is an awardwinning international photographer, whose fine art photography and mixed media pieces hang in corporate collections and hotels around the world. Visit




an interview with echo garrett

Welcome, Echo Garrett. Please tell us who you are.

I’m a 40-year journalist and that’s been the majority of my career. I’ve been a magazine editor, an author, a ghostwriter, a book coach, a content provider, copywriter, and now a book publisher as the CEO of Lucid House Publishing in partnership with my son, Connor Judson Garrett. He originally started Lucid House to publish his own work and publish for a few friends (he’s a poet and a novelist). I became involved in Lucid House Publishing in 2020.

I wanted to create a different sort of book publishing house. The wide range of genres represented by Lucid House reflects my curiosity and taste. I limit the number of authors to those who write books that I believe could inspire movies, video series, documentaries, and/ or the academic community. The other requirement: You also have to be as kind as you are talented to join our little group. I’ve never been one to want to be put in a box, and I encourage our authors to pursue whatever stories speak to them without limiting themselves to one genre. Most importantly, I plan to support Lucid House authors for the long-haul. I’m too busy and I work so hard that I need to enjoy the people I’m working with. And I love our authors. They’re all amazing people. They’re just super-talented. Kind. I couldn’t ask for a better group of people.

An early influence was your father, Bob Montgomery.

My father had a 60-plus year career in music. I grew up around music, the music business and songwriters, and worked for my father in his music publishing company. He was many things. He started as a teen in a rockabilly duo with his best friend Buddy Holly. He was a songwriter, a producer, a musician, and record label executive. And then in the late 1960s, he started House of Gold Music. We were the number one hit maker in Nashville for many years. So that’s where I got a lot of my feelings about how to treat writers fairly and how to respect their work.

Please tell us about your not-for-profit work.

Several years ago, I happened to connect with Sam Bracken. He was vice president of marketing at Mohawk Industries. And I found out that he had been homeless as a teen. He’d come from an abused background and was abandoned at age 15.


I have always been involved with the foster care world because my family took in two foster kids when I was a teen, a brother and sister. And so I’ve always had a heart for that issue. When Sam and I met, it was just an instant connection.

We wrote a book, My Orange Duffel Bag: A Journey to Radical Change. When Sam and I met, it was pretty grim out there for teens and older kids who were coming out of high poverty, foster care or homelessness. And if you added the word “teenager” to that, neuroscience was telling the world that if those kids didn’t have the proper resources by the time they were three or four years old, they were out of luck.

Sam was living proof that you can live an amazing productive life. He was in special ed until he was 13, and a caring teacher figured out that he simply needed glasses. He ended up earning a full ride football scholarship to Georgia Tech. We wanted to share his story.

At first, we had to self-publish, and later our book became the first self-published book ever acquired by a Random House imprint. In 2013 the book earned the American Society of Journalists & Authors (ASJA) Award for Writing that Makes a Difference (awarded every three years). In 2011 it also won ASJA’s Outstanding Book of the Year in Young Adult category; My Orange Duffel Bag was also named a National Indie Excellence Book Awards Winner in two categories: New Non-Fiction and Young Adult Non-Fiction and won the Independent Book Publishing Association’s Benjamin Franklin Award for Young Adult Non-Fiction and Self-Help.

We decided to not only write this book together, but also to start a nonprofit because we looked out there and we saw very few organizations that were trying to help older young people. In 2010, I co-founded the Orange Duffel Bag Initiative (ODBI), a 501-c3 nonprofit, to do life-plan coaching and provide ongoing advocacy for young people ages 14-24 who are experiencing homelessness, high poverty or aging out of foster care. We set out to create an evidence-based program that provided our students internationally certified executive level life coaches. I’m still in touch with some of our students from class one, which was in 2010.

What a wonderful story! When you’re not doing all these things, what do you like to do?

I’m obsessed with gardening. I have an orchid collection. My husband and I walk the boardwalk along the Chattahoochee River almost every morning. I do iPhone photography. Oh, and I love to cook. I don’t pay attention to recipes, I just make up my own.

How do we find you on social media?

Our publishing company is:

Lucid House Publishing Website

Lucid House Publishing Twitter

Lucid House Publishing Facebook

Lucid House Publishing TikTok

Lucid House Publishing Instagram

Orange Duffel Bag Initiative: The Orange Duffel Bag Initiative Website

Orange Duffel Bag Twitter

Orange Duffel Bag Facebook

Thank you for talking with us. I love the quote on your website: Wordsmatter. Choosethem carefullyand usethemwell.

Orange Duffel Bag LinkedIn

Personal Website: Echo Montgomery Garrett




Felix Charin, tell us your story - the narrative that forged the man we see today?

I grew up, like Andrej, in a family that is half Russian, half German. I grew up in quite polar, juxtaposing forces. Whatever I do I try to combine things that have not been combined before. Maybe that’s why now you see criminals giving life advice haha

GRIM, give us the rundown on that.

GRIM. Why grim? I do believe that remembering the dark, harsh forces in life, will make you more appreciative and gentle in the outcome. That’s why I make films in the setting of organized crime, that’s why I also make horror films, and I seem to be a better filmmaker in the dark realms, than the light realms.

What gives you peace?

Anything without humans. The forests, the lakes and rivers, the mountains, the deserts. Silence is peace.

Who do you want to be?

So hard to answer. I want to keep my soul open, for everything this life has to offer, to let these forces transform me everyday, while remaining kind, calm and productive every day.

How do you stay calm in this society?

Once a week I spend the day in nature, and twice a day I need to meditate to stay somewhat sane in this mad world we have to live in.

an interview with


What beautiful things do you remember about your childhood?

I will always remember my summers in Ukraine, in Cherniyskiy oblast. I remember my grandfather, and how we caught my first pike. I remember how we fell a spruce, for wood needed to fix the garden fence. My parents were in the GDR, the summers were full of freedom and exploration for me and my sister.

Your ethical, Machiavellian directness with personal and business matters is liberating. How do you hold such a brilliant, pragmatic mantra in this mad world?

In such a mad world simplicity and pragmatism is the only thing that keeps one sane.

You wear death on your hand. I’ve heard you say it’s because death is your friend. Please tell me more about that.

Death is the exit for everyone, for everything. I do try to live in such a way that I could leave earth everyday with a smile and with no debt. The more I can live prepared for death, the better I live prepared to live everyday.

What are the pros and cons of doing business above board and that in the more ambiguous endeavors?

I love the gray areas, and every business based on your word, on honor, lies not under the control of the state, but under the control of interpersonality and god.

How can someone look the beast within themselves unflinchingly in the eyes, embrace it, but still remain a kind person?

If you hold the mantra, that being helpful and good to others is the only way of being good to yourself, then you understand that the beast within wants nothing more than love, no matter how vicious it might look.


an interview with


Welcome, Michael. Please introduce yourself. I know you are a man who wears many hats, please tell us about them and how you came to be a member of the Southern Collective Experience.

I have been a health care attorney for 20 years. Currently, I am the Senior Vice President of External Affairs for Lakeland Regional Health (Lakeland, Florida). I oversee the strategic management of governmental relations and manage the Corporate Compliance Program.

My friend Kathy Harvey introduced me to the Southern Collective. I met Kathy in 2020 when my wife, Mary Lucia, and I visited the Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, SC. She has been like a “mother/sister” encouraging me to do more. She sent me a FaceBook post about submissions to Blue Mountain Review with a formidable directive to submit. From there SCE and I shared some ideas and discovered a lot of connections with arts and culture.

I joke that while I stood contemplating the line dividing the Great Yes and the Great No, Kathy pushed me over. She understood my call more than I did.

Finally, I refer to myself as an everyday mystic. I have experienced the intersection of Time and Timeless. The world for me is dualistic. As a result, I see things in wholes rather than parts.

My first work, Living Close to the Bone, is scheduled for publication this fall. It engages the complexity of the South from its early textile mills to its modern southern landscape.

After the Civil War, South Carolina lays barren. Farms fail. John Keyt, a broken farmer follows Shoal Mill’s seductive promises. The Mill’s owner, James Rex, and his henchman Judge sow seeds of discord. They exploit farmers and their

“An emerging fiction writer, Michael writes about the post-Reconstruction South and its textile industry.” Please tell us about your upcoming novel.

families. Men, women, children, all owned by the mill. Robert Henry and his daughter, Ruth, survive until they cross the line separating the lintheads from the wealth who dictate their lives.

In the end, Robert Henry forced to leave returns home and finds the family farm swallowed by a man-made lake making way for progress – electricity and commerce. Ruth loses her child and her life. Her child returns creating a legacy of intentional forgetting and shame as the past, too much for the human consciousness, becomes a source of suffering.

Personally, this story is a dedication to my grandparents, who grew up and worked in the textile mills. There are so many parts of their lives I never understood because they never talked about it.

When did you first start to write or know that you wanted to be a storyteller?

I have tinkered since college at The Citadel. In 2020, I read Cassandra King’s, Tell Me A Story. Her stories about life with her husband, Pat Conroy, inspired me to get serious. Also, Mary Lucia has always told me a time will come when I am ready to tell my story.

Do you remember the first short story you read that made an impression on you?

My Middle School English class was given a reading periodical. An October issue containing horror stories. One was TellTale Heart. I was amazed at how reading Poe’s words made me feel.

Favorite writers? What are you reading right now?

I love reading stories about where I grew-up, Upstate SC.

I enjoy Ron Rash and the places he writes about.

Another great SC story is One Good Mama Bone, by my friend Bren McClain. Also, Trouble the Water, a story about Robert Smalls, by my friend Rebecca Bruff. Unbelievably, as a South Carolinian I was not familiar with Robert Smalls until I read Rebecca’s story. Both stories tell about beautiful relationships. Estelle Ford-Williams’ Rising Fawn, too.

I am reading Tim Gautreaux Same Place, Same Things and John Donne. I love 17th Century Literature thanks to my English advisor at The Citadel, E.F.J. Tucker.

What have you learned from your time raising chickens?

Fresh eggs have an incredibly better flavor. I understand the terms, “henpecked,” “pecking order,” and “going to bed with the chickens.” For years, I have wanted to live on a farm. For now, I am making do with chickens.

Please tell us your favorite way to spend a day off.

Nap and look and listen for the genuine. I also garden.

Where can we find you on social media?

I have a personal FaceBook Site, but building an author website with FaceBook, Instagram, and LinkedIn sites. A good friend, Chrissanne Long has a business, Maximize Digital, helping me connect.


an interview with KATRINA KUJAWA

Who are you, and how do you fit into the Transparent Classroom program?

My name is Katrina Kujawa. I currently work as a user support and content specialist with Transparent Classroom. I have been working with Transparent Classroom since 2012, first as a teacher and admin, then in the capacity of sharing it with other Montessorians and offering user support. As most human beings, I also have a variety of other interests, such as experimental archeology, knitting and creating historical garments, hiking, reading, and being an auntie. Oh, and I’m a musician. I play double bass, ukulele, kazoo, and I sing (mostly early 20th century Jazz, and children’s songs).

What gave birth to the Transparent Classroom platform?

My friend from my Montessori training was disappointed with the lack of any digital record keeping programs that were intuitive and easy to access (such as a website). Their husband, Jeremy, was a programmer and they asked him to build something. When I moved to Seattle in 2012 to teach at the school they had opened, Jeremy had a functional website that we used just at our school to keep records and share what was happening in the classroom with our parent community. Jeremy continued to build features and make tweaks as we told him what else would be “awesome and really helpful”. Eventually I started helping Jeremy introduce Transparent Classroom to other schools and that was that.

Tell us about the Transparent Classroom team.

We’re a unique team here at Transparent Classroom. The easiest way to describe our structure is non-hierarchical, or collectively managed. There are no bosses or managers and we make most of our decisions about the company together. We do have a board and different “hats” that people wear, such as operations manager, and executive director, but we elect


people to those positions and we can always put down a role if we want (and pick up new ones!). To be honest, it feels very Montessori to me. Collective management can be very difficult and it takes a lot of trust and work, but I am so grateful to be able to experience this type of work environment with this particular group of amazing humans!

What drew you to the Montessori program?

I was a Montessori child until 1st grade, then I had to go to public school. I struggled a lot with the public school structure and the lack of trust that teachers and administrators showed toward students. This frustrated me throughout my schooling. I constantly looked back on my Montessori primary and early elementary experience and wished that I was able to follow my interests in the same way. After receiving my degree in Pure Mathematics, I eventually made my way back to Montessori and finished my Primary 3-6 training in 2008. I absolutely loved my time in the classroom, and I draw on those experiences daily both in my interactions with our users and my colleagues.

How do we find you online to learn more and contact you for questions?

Transparent Classroom is a web based record keeping system, so you can find us online at www.transparentclassroom. com! You can read about myself and my colleagues on our About Us page, and you’re always welcome to email us at info@transparentclassroom. com with questions.


an interview with


Welcome, William Rossow. Thanks for agreeing to talk with us. Let’s start by asking you about your career. How did you decide to become a scientist?

I don’t think one learns what “being a scientist” really means until at least in high school where you hear about famous examples. By that time you have only encountered general fields of study, so I decided to major in physics and mathematics in college at Hanover College. In college you come to understand that the only career seems to be that of college professor, so you go to graduate school as the pathway to that end. Once there you not only find out about all the sub-disciplines in a subject like physics, but also that there are many more career choices.

In fact, my summer jobs during college and before graduate school had been two stints at the US Health Department compiling data for the annual water pollution and air pollution reports, running experiments on an ocean research ship in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, and developing a set of physics laboratory experiments to illustrate the principles of calculus. For it all to work you need to be flexible enough to follow whatever opportunities come up that also look interesting. The broader your range of interests the better.

What jobs have you had?

Although I went to graduate school at Cornell to study advanced physics, after a few years I became more interested in astronomy (not a new interest) and applying physics to that field. At first I worked on cosmology; this was about the time that the theory of black holes was being formulated. However, I ended up with a Ph.D. in planetary astronomy working with Carl Sagan, since the early 1970s was the beginning of a series of planetary spacecraft missions to Venus, Mars and Jupiter. From there I went to work at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton University to study planetary atmospheres, but while there I got to observe the beginnings of organization of a major push of climate research (the recent Nobel Prize winner, Suki Manabe, was there).

Next I went to the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York City to continue studying planetary atmospheres as part of the Pioneer Venus and Galileo Jupiter mission teams, but also to begin using weather satellites to study Earth’s clouds. GISS was also one of the early leading centers of climate studies under James Hansen. I ended my career becoming a Distinguished Professor at


the City College of New York (so that I could access more sources of funding) and working on a large range of topics, but mostly the role of clouds in weather and climate. From the early 1980s until I retired in 2017, I participated or led several activities in the World Climate Research Program, especially in its Global Energy and Water Experiment.

What sort of educational background do you have?

The mainstream studies included physics, mathematics, some chemistry, astronomy and various Earth sciences, especially atmospheric dynamics and cloud physics. My B.A. degree was a double major in physics and mathematics, my M.S. degree was in physics. The Ph.D. was in astronomy. However, during my undergraduate years I also studied history, literature, theatre, philosophy/theology and economics, topics that I still follow today in my reading. I was also the Technical Director of my college theatre and President of Cornell Savoyards in graduate school.

Tell us about you as a scientist. What specifically interests you? Are there questions you are still interested in solving?

I think the best way to characterize my scientific interests is to say that they encompass the whole subject of how a planet works, especially a planet with life on it. I focused more on the physical aspects of a planet rather than life processes, since most planets that we know about so far appear to be lifeless, but on Earth you cannot ignore biological process effects on the planet. More specifically, with the data that we now have, I think we should be able to determine the specific effects of Earth’s clouds on weather systems and on the climate’s sensitivity, a goal of the whole research effort since the 1970s.

What’s the best piece of professional advice you were ever given?

Don’t listen to advice, but develop a broad range of interests and skills so that you can pursue opportunities that interest you.

What are you reading for pleasure?

I read three types of things, scientific materials often outside my area of expertise, science fiction and history.

How do you spend your free time? What brings you joy?

Reading and cooking; holding my cats and gazing out the window.

Tell us how we can find you on social media.



“How Fires End is a raised fist of a novel, one filled with men’s brutal tenderness and tender brutality. It is both a subtle and powerful indictment of the silences between generations and a poignant testament to the bond between sons and fathers of all kinds. A blazing debut by an important new Italian-American voice.

“ Beautiful, mesmerizing, consoling, and under immaculate control, Marco Rafalà's How Fires End is a powerful novel about the religion we create for ourselves as we face that which perhaps even God has not imagined for humanity.

—Alexander Chee, author of Edinburgh, The Queen of the Night, and How to Write an Autobiographical Novel

Marco Rafalà “

“Marco Rafalà’s debut novel, How Fires End, avoids Mafia tropes for a moving depiction of multi-generational loss and love, grief and gratitude, heartbreak and hope.

-Kirkus Reviews

BookClubPick First SCE purchase your copy here purchase your copy on Amazon

an interview with


What’s your story? How did you wind up working at the Liberty Trust?

I’ve been a lifelong restaurateur and chef. I owned several restaurants in the Roanoke Valley up until 2017. I then spent 5 years as a Corporate Business Development Director for Foodservice Partners LLC. I noticed the ribbon cutting article online and responded with congratulations to the owners after seeing what an amazing restoration they created from a property I have known and loved for years. I ended up consulting on the restaurant and, as luck would have it, ended up as the General Manager of The Liberty Trust hotel.

What’s it like working at a place with so much history?

Such a rich history inspires us to create a level of service and cuisine to match.

What about the Liberty brings you joy?

The smiles on the staff and guest faces! I love working with these people and love the service we provide for our guests.

What is your favorite thing to eat at The Vault?

I’m a big fan of the soba noodles right now but that changes daily!


Vishal Savani, Managing Director

What makes the Liberty stand out?

The Liberty Trust is really a one-of-a-kind building in Downtown Roanoke, VA which we converted to a 54-room boutique hotel in 2022. The project entailed a full historic restoration of the interior and exterior of the building, originally constructed in 1910. The hotel’s design is significantly inspired by its original standing as the First National Bank headquarters. Sharing the rich history of Roanoke and the building that the hotel calls home, The Liberty Trust offers a locally-focused lodging experience to out-of-town visitors while serving as a vibrant gathering spot for area residents.

What are your long-term plans for the Liberty? Where do you see things in 10 or even 50 years?

Our goal at The Liberty Trust, whether for our hotel guests or dining guests, is to offer a memorable experience. In 10 or even 50 years, we envision ourselves continuing to be a dining and gathering destination for locals and visitors alike. The property has been standing for over 100 years and we expect it to continue to be a landmark for decades to come.

What’s special about the Liberty Trust?

The Liberty Trust building has been meticulously preserved, highlighting the grandeur of its marble-filled lobby with its magnificent columns and high ceilings. The lobby space serves as home to The Vault at The Liberty Trust, our restaurant featuring craft cocktails and sharing plates from around the world. The original walk-in safe has been converted into a private tasting room with a wine cruvinet, while guest rooms feature repurposed design elements such as the building’s original copper doors. The initial demolition of the property was featured in an episode of Salvage Dawgs television program on DIY Network, now airing on Discovery


Plus. The Liberty Trust is proud to be a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts, a collection of over 700 boutique and independent hotels around the world.

What’s in a name? Why is the hotel named “Liberty Trust?”

The Liberty Trust building was originally built as the headquarters for First National Bank, the first financial institution to be founded in Roanoke. First National Bank facilitated the commercial transactions of the Shenandoah Valley Railroad, which eventually became the Norfolk & Western Railway. First National Bank was sold to the Liberty Trust Co and the building has since proudly displayed the name Liberty Trust. The Liberty Trust building has since served as home to a variety of financial institutions and businesses, and considered to be one of the best-appointed Edwardian era bank buildings in Virginia. The property is on the National Register of Historic Places.


WINDSOR I Became a Writer

When I Fell in Love with Nancy Drew

I was nine when I fell in love with Nancy Drew. The books, not the character. It was a rainy Monday afternoon and to avoid getting picked on by my classmates yet again; I hid in the library. Among the stacks, I discovered a set of books—all with the same yellow spine. I slipped one off the shelf. The Secret of the Old Clock.

What nine-year-old can resist secrets? Naturally, I had to find out what the old clock was hiding. I plopped on the floor and started reading.

I guess the old clock was hiding the secret to making me forget. Because as I got sucked into the story, I forgot that lunch was only an hour long, that I had a math quiz right after, and needed to ace it so as not to fail the subject. I even forgot I was a student.

I’d read many books before, but none had gripped me the way this story had. The mystery of it all riveted me. I wanted to know what happened next. I checked out the book and finished it that same evening. And the next day, I borrowed another book in the series.

By the time the quarter ended, I’d finished reading all the Nancy Drew books in our little library. We never know what it’s like to lose ourselves until we fall in love. I know because I’d never lost myself in a story until I fell in love with Nancy Drew.

When I Made My Classmates Cry

People only ever cry when they’re sad, or angry, or hurt. At least that’s what I thought growing up. Tears were a sign of weakness, a lack of emotional control. I learned that from being raised by strong women who had to prove themselves in a world ruled by men. I’d watch these telenovelas and scoff at the tears shed by these characters— mostly heart-broken women— who were abandoned, betrayed, or depressed.

I never got why people allowed themselves to be hurt that much. And I didn’t understand why anyone would hurt another to make them sob and wail that way. Monsters, all of them. And then in High School I discovered that a beloved friend had gone through something horrific. She’d trusted the wrong guy who’d raped her and gotten her pregnant. I only found out because she wept silently in our Health class while we watched a documentary on abortion. She’d gotten one just a week before.

UCLA Writer’s Extension Spotlight

A rage for this injustice left me gasping for breath. I felt helpless, useless, weak. But I did not weep. Instead, I reached for a pen. I wrote a story about a young woman and the child she was forced to give up. I wrote it from the perspective of the child, watching her mother’s life from the other side of the veil. My tears dripped onto the page, and I wrote until they dried up.

The next day, a mischievous classmate got a hold of my story and passed it around in class. Every single person who read my piece cried.

I’d gotten it wrong. Crying is a sign of strength. It is the allowing of emotion, the acknowledgement of one’s humanity, the assertion of our innate resilience.

I only understood this truth when I made my classmates cry.

When I Found My People

Thirteen years ago I attended my first writing conference. While my 250,000 word middle grade novel did not find an agent at that event, I did learn a lot of valuable lessons:

1. The word count for middle grade novels is 20,000-50,000 words.

2. Publishing professionals do, in fact, expect you to summarize your 500-page tome into one-sentence.

3. Getting feedback for your work is a necessary part of a writing process.

4. I wasn’t ready for publication.

5. I should join a writing organization like SCBWI.

After the conference, I took others’ advice and joined SCBWI and began attending mingle meetings. Being around other writers was inspiring and energizing. I felt a sense of belonging unlike anything. I’d found my people.

When the meetings halted for the summer, I was aimless. I missed support and encouragement of other writers. So I started my own writing group, and the Children’s Book Writers of Los Angeles was born.

When SCBWI Los Angeles invited me to volunteer, I said yes, too. Every writing event I helped organize for both CBW-LA and SCBWI fed my love for writing, and I discovered the joy of serving my people. My work with these two groups eventually landed me a job with the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. I was ecstatic! I got paid to do something I would do for free and I was constantly surrounded by writers. As my community grew, so too, did my writing skills.

Writing is a community activity. It is all about finding your people: Fellow writers who will happily give you feedback, share advice and give you support. Publishing professionals who will help turn your words into books. Readers who will appreciate your voice and your stories.


N.A. Windsor was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. Her love for books developed early through her education in Miriam College Grade School and High School, and was cultivated further during her college years in the University of the Philippines (Diliman).

N.A. is the Program Manager of the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and the CoRegional Advisor of the Los Angeles Region of SCBWI (Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). In both posts, she organizes and produces various writing events and conferences. N.A. is also a member of LA Doce Pares, where she is currently ranked as a black belt in the Filipino martial art of Eskrima. N.A. enjoys photography, sketching, watercolor painting, occasionally playing a tune on her guitar or ukulele, and baking. She lives in Los Angeles with her (very patient) wife, their four indoor cats (who get jealous of the many strays they feed outside), and her aunt (who was her former English teacher, and who nurtured her love of books at a young age). She is represented by the East West Literary Agency.




an interview with GUSTAVO LOMELLI

For many years, even still today, there has been a debate in the men’s business and formalwear sector of fashion as to which tailoring style is better: Italian or British. Tailoring history gives credit to the British for the development of the modern suit, thanks to Beau Brummell in the 19th century, but we cannot overlook the innovations produced by Italian tailoring houses that have given more diversity to the basic suit structure. Italian Vincenzo Attolini created what we know today as the iconic Neapolitan suit. This suit is lighter, unlined, and has no padding in the shoulder. This suit also reflected the warmer and more relaxed Italian climate.This is a stark contrast to the British suit, whose suit designs were heavily influenced by their military uniforms and were better suited for frigid temperatures. While I don’t have the answer as to which suit is better than the other, I am going to ask my good friend and Italian sartorialist Gustavo Lomelli for his thoughts on the topic.

Gustavo, it is an absolute pleasure to have this opportunity to speak with you on this topic that I know you have a passion for. I wanted to begin by asking what started your love for finetailored suits?

Growing up in the 1960s, all young adults, middle aged, and elderly men did not go out without a suit and hat. My parents were born in the 1920s, and my grandparents in the late 1800s. Jeans and T-shirts were not a choice! I wore suits at birthday parties and family events. It was a way of life then. It was not a fashion intrend, it was more than that. It was a lifestyle!

Wow, just that is so amazing to have grown up at a time where a lot of today’s styles are drawn from. For me growing up, the suits the men wore at my church ignited my curiosity, but it wasn’t until later in life I started studying it. Who would you say was, or is, your greatest influence when it comes to your style of dress?

I don’t really have a particular name because my fathers and uncles all wore suits, same as everybody else at the time.


Having such an extensive collection of suits and knowledge of tailoring, can you tell me in your own words, what you notice as far as the differences in British and Italian tailoring styles?

British style is very classy, elegant, but very conservative and formal at the same time. Italian style is also classy and elegant, but less conservative and less formal, while keeping the right balance between class and elegance to express the style in a unique way, namely mixing details with the right fabrics and colors to let the world know how you feel that day. Italian tailoring allows us to dress up with a nonchalant attitude in a more simple way than British tailoring will. Sprezzatura is just easier with an Italian suit!

Ah yes, sprezzatura, the art of looking as though it was effortless. My favorite style word for sure. Now that the groundwork has been established, Gustavo I have to ask, which form of tailoring do you prefer: Italian or British? Italian!

Do you believe there is still a love for finetailored suits today?

Love for tailored suits today? No, really! Not many men are wearing tailored suits anymore. You can see in airports,


restaurants, churches, etc. that men are not dressing up. They are just covering themselves, like wearing a uniform without any statement other than, “I am not naked!”

Ha, so true. I can totally agree with that. Most men just wear suits as a necessity for work, or an event, but not for the love of looking classy. Final question: In your own words, how would you describe today’s men’s fashion? Not just suits, but overall style?

Men’s fashion is just terrible today because everybody is following fashion trends instead of following their own instincts, their own style! When we create our own style we create authenticity, and authenticity is what we are missing in men’s fashion today.

My friend, grazie mille! I hope that we can continue to inspire men (and women!) to express themselves in a more classy and elegant way, not by following trends, but rather by drawing inspiration from what was once, in my opinion, when fashion was great and meaningful. Stay classy, friends!




ANNETTE SISSON’S Still-Life in Words:


The pivotal line in Annette Sisson’s “Metal and Glass,” a poem that begins with a dream and ends by defying death, burns a space in existence into which the poet inserts her work. Once the peril of a car teetering on a mountain pass with “a flatbed barreling toward you” (64) has been survived, all that remains is light. And it’s just this caught-breath-reflection on nature and love that Annette Sisson’s Small Fish in High Branches celebrates. Nothing is too small, nothing too mundane. Sisson’s meticulous observation discerns every shade of meaning in the natural, but remains innocent enough to be wonder-struck by “glints of small fish” dangling from the beaks of herons in the highest of branches.

Sisson’s book is divided into four sections: “Language of Water,” “Confederation of Wind and Tree,” “Gravity’s Lease,” and “More than Fire.” For Sisson, nature illustrates her relationships with those she loves. In bringing the two poles together, she illuminates both the natural object and the human. For example, in “Your Desire a Loaded Spring,” Sisson faces her daughter leaving home at first with mundane images: the “driveway cracks...widening,” and the bedroom “half-vacant,” but by the second stanza she finds the composure to shift into the maternal tone:

I imagine a cross-section diagram of a bird I’ve never seen but don’t need to. The poet has taught me what I need to know, even as she gives her daughter an image she wants her to understand. As we move through the second stanza we begin to

“Hear me: no one ever knows anything for sure....”
“Did I tell you, the vocal cords of Sandhill Cranes measure five feet, their bodies just three?” (31)

see the daughter in the description of the birds, they are “light and strong-legged—ballerinas with scarlet turbans.” The particular cry of the Sandhill Crane becomes a corkscrew at the center of these beautiful birds whose “wings [unfurl] as they leap” (31).

The third stanza pushes the meditation out to the physical world by recalling a sighting poet and daughter shared when they “launched clamoring...becoming invisible” (31). The connection is made. The cranes’ rush upward equals the daughter’s desire to head out into the world, to leave her mother behind. I have called this my favorite poem in the collection, but I keep changing my mind.

Without its “hue and profusion,” Annette Sisson reminds us, “the world is an orphan.” And often these poems seek to clothe some austere loneliness in the multiof life’s visions and illusions. There are dramas of the natural landscape and lives of urban isolation. Like all good poetry, Sisson’s shows that everything matters, whether tragic, as in her poem “Eclipse,” or buoyant, as in her poem “Résistance,” takes place on earth, in our world. This book is a loving celebration connections and tensions that help us to live our lives.

Other figures inspire consideration during the course of these poems, Sisson’s father, her sister and brother, but the figure that resonates most is her mother, whom we first encounter in “Postcard From The Mother Ghost,” an imagined message in which the mother challenges the poet to build a ladder and climb, to “rise into twilight, its pockets/emptied of fireflies” (30). As the poet accepts this challenge, the ghost assures her not to worry “that you’re alone.” They are on this journey together, as they have been all along. The maternal

Mark Jarman, author of The Heronry and Dailiness can I be lonely?” Annette Sisson asks in the opening line of  Small Fish in Branches.  Loneliness does not at first seem like it should belong in a place of beauty, alongside the peach preserves and Spanish wine. What follows poems of both praise and mourning, which with quiet assurance work to soothe the tumult of living. This poetry is rich with layers: from the overlapping of frogs and trains and water; from the mountains to the soil to the “earthy chamber in the beet”; from the elemental struggle of leaving home, to the unique of returning to it. Even the light here—whether its source is celestial, fire, or electricity—has depth. These carefully crafted and arranged poems answer Sisson’s question in reverberations: we are “not born for loneliness” but it is a part of our experience nonetheless, and thereby has value.  Sisson’s work, despite acknowledgdeep grief, “risk[s] loving it, ourselves—the fruit, pit and all.”

Chera Hammons, author of Maps of Injury

painterly pieces render both human and natural landscapes in near pointildetail. In the riotous white Cosmos abloom by the door Sisson discovers the gambol and sway of our universal cosmos, the ties that bind as well as the forces throttling us towards constellations of loss assuaged. It’s there, in that scant light, the poet becomes her own keen lantern, “starlit from the inside out.”

first learn about in “Birds and Trees, My Mother’s Paintings.” The poem begins on a drive to visit the poet’s mother as she approaches the end of her life. The poet observes birds in trees from the car window and realizes her “mother’s paintings of trees lack birds,” and further that while the mother has gifted the poet several paintings of trees and even one of birds, she has never created a painting

author of American Ghost Roses

of this poem. The poet knows she can no longer ask why, and further, that perhaps her mother “confided in [her]/and [she] forgot to remember.” She realizes, as we all do sooner or later, “I have waited too long to inquire” (30).

Annette SiSSon lives in Nashville, TN with her partner Jimmy Davis, two dogs, and five hens; she and Jimmy have three adult children. She is Professor of English at Belmont University, where she has taught for 32 years. Her chapbook, A Casting Off, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2019, and her poems can also be found in many literary journals and anthologies. She was awarded a Mark Strand Scholarship in Poetry for the 2021 Sewanee Writers’ Conference, named a 2020 BOAAT Writing Fellow, and awarded The Porch Writers’ Collective’s 2019 poetry award. Small Fish in High Branches is her first full-length book.

Small Fish in High Branches

Two poems that stand in contrast to each other in the exploration of Sisson’s mother are “My Keen and Doleful Heart” and “Silver Links.” “My Keen and Doleful Heart” beings with a detailed inventory of the mother through behaviors her daughter now shares. The poem begins, “You threaded the machine,” but “...I sort your stacks of fabric” (52). The poet drinks the mother’s tea, copies her recipes. There are other habits the poet has adopted as well, a keen observation of nature and time—the migration of butterflies, birds, and life. This poem is an uncanny analysis of how we do become our own mothers, ending with the mother’s stitches measuring the poet’s footfalls (52). It just couldn’t be more beautiful.

But then, in “Silver Links,” while sorting her mother’s belongings, the poet is reminded of “dress up dates” the two of

A nnette S i SS on S m A ll F i S h in h igh B r A nche S g l ASS l yre P re SS

them shared, including “pizzas made/with hot dog disks and Colby,” and of course, “tricycles overturned to churn/ice cream” (55), these two poems separated by only one intervening poem, and that about the poet’s brother, are enough to memorialize the mother we all wish we had. Which is not to say that the relationship is perfect. In “December” we learn a bit about the strain between mother and daughter, and the responsibility foisted onto the daughter comes through in poems about her siblings; but nothing in these poems can dim the love we’ve already learned about in “Fog:”

It is incumbent upon you to read the last lines of this inimitable poem of loss.

There is so much more to say about this collection. Every time I turn a page, I fall more in love with the work. It’s iron-clad proof that small presses publish a world’s worth of first-rate poets that are not to be missed. Every poem in this collection is beautiful. Every image is constructed perfectly. There are no rough edges.

I don’t think it can get any better than Sisson’s description of her writing life with her husband by her side in the “The Color of Light.” The poem begins “Water ripples.” Why shouldn’t we begin with a perfect, unassailable fact presented as an image so strong it carries us through the collection? By the middle of the poem, we are canoeing with poet and husband “through schools of iridescent trout,” an image so captivating we revel right along with the poet and her husband. But by the close of the poem, we have been relegated to voyeur, a position the reader often occupies moving through this collection so often a still-life only thinly veiled in words:

As when you sidle up to my back while I write at my desk, your slow breath in my hair, fingers on my neck, mouth over my ear. Your nearness, grace, your astonishing Fidelity, familiar as the melt of afternoon sun, as startling, as diaphanous, as the mist of a waterfall’s aura, as Radnor’s dazzling glister, as a trout, its exuberant rainbow scales leaping into light. (5)

Annette Sisson’s SmallFish in High Branches

Glass Lyre Press, 2022, 80 pages $16.00

ISBN 978-1-941783-80-1

(1250 words)

Available at Glass Lyre Press and Powell’s Books

...How her wide eyes in the bones of her gray face fix themselves on me as she says my name, her thin voice wailing “sorry, sorry, sorry.” How can she know this lament is my own? (39)


The Gospel of Rot, Gregory Ariail’s debut novel, follows the seventy-one-year-old recluse, Amelia, through a weird, semi-religious apocalypse in the North Carolina mountains. In it, the secular, sacred, and profane swirl together. As Amelia reflects on the death of her father and a tragic love affair that sent her into seclusion for fifty years, she encounters a neighbor turned into an apple tree, the ghosts of children trapped in mica, shadows of mountains that have come to life, and even a time-stranded Sir Walter Scott, who becomes her companion.

On the one hand, The Gospel of Rot draws from surrealist traditions, yet it is also grounded and controlled. It resists and undermines conventional representations of Appalachian experience. It deals with broken and forgotten things and is a moving, unforgettable fantasy adventure.

How does a man speak with authority within the chords of a woman and also gay?

It’s the project of fiction to imagine those who are different from us, yet Amelia and I share many traits (her reclusiveness, love of Appalachian landscapes, and passion for Romantic literature, for example). And I think most people, if they’re honest about their sexuality, lie somewhere between the poles of the Kinsey scale.

Explain the personal value of the Mother Mary key.

The Virgin Mary key, which erodes throughout the book, has many meanings; she has something to do with a Christian tradition that was passed down to me in fragments, the joy of iconoclastic thinking, and the sanctity and silliness of religious archetypes.

Who speaks to you in dreams?

During the day, I’m haunted by Franz Kafka, especially his “A Country Doctor.” Also by Dante’s Divine Comedy. Unfortunately, my dreams consist mostly of tedious conversations.


Beyond the worthlessness of an MFA, what’s your nuts and bolts of inherent need (and follow through) of craft.

An MFA—which I turned to later than most— was useful mainly because it gave me time and incentive to write. In my twenties and early thirties, I was training to become a literary critic, and fortunately jumped ship on that profession at the last possible moment. In terms of craft, carefully sculpted sentences give me pleasure. I like the challenge of writing novels. It’s like climbing a mountain for an entire year, full of beauties and boredom and countless obstacles.

How do we keep up with you online?

You can find links to my stories and essays at (more novels are on the way, so stay tuned!). I’m on Instagram @gariail.


Green Writers Press , a small, Vermont-based publishing company, is dedicated to spreading environmental awareness and social justice by publishing authors who proliferate messages of hope and renewal through place-based writing and environmental activism. In the past five years, Green Writers Press has expanded significantly, publishing such authors as Julia Alvarez, Chard deNiord, John Elder, and Clarence Major. Read more at

If you’d like to buy any of the books listed here, just contact your local, independent bookstore. We are located in Brattleboro, Vermont | |

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The open road simmered mirages.

Before packing the go bags for the children and herself, Lucy had seen the Miata on fire near the side of the road, upholstery melted and smoked away, and only the metal frame left -- she could even feel the heat in her driveway.

“You have to keep your head on a swivel, with men,” she said, out loud to her girls. “I mean it!”

On the road to Tennessee now to find a new place, she pulled her shorts down to cover goose-bumps and bruising (from her husband’s closed fists on her butt and thighs, all of it overdue for refusing sex, he’d explained).

Her two girls on the middle bench seat were young, Cosette and Vera, full of vim, cheeseburger wrappers laying on the seat between them to make a neutral line neither of them was allowing the other to cross.

Lucy itched the space of earlobe around one of her earrings. “It teaches them things, that they can’t hit you.” She waited until neither of the children were looking, and threw an apple core she’d been chewing onto the sun-softened highway.

Lucy thought of her husband struck still like stone, Nabal-in-the-Old-Testament style, the husband of Abigail, boorish as they come. She imagined herself as Abigail, in prone supplication to King David, on her knees, her hands accidentally ever so slightly burying themselves in the sand.


Quite newly postpartum, with my husband Hansel vacationing, I had only crumbs from fresh chapati in my pockets to keep me going, and I was ravenously hungry. I tried to ignore the enchanted roar of Uganda’s Bujagali Falls, its cold, white-flecked spray.

“Your shillings, mzungu-girl.” My soon-to-be ex-pat husband poised as if to jump. He’d fallen in love with Africa, and told me American tourists sometimes pay the locals to cross the falls, perilously.

But I only wanted my last pregnancy back -- a witch’s hand of placenta grown into my poor uterus had lost me nine total units of blood and a blond baby boy.

“So I’m not your Gretel!” I yelled, scattering bits of bread as I fell, purposefully, over the side of the cliff. The way home with him had been tainted gingerbread house candy, after all.


Natasha Heller has won honorable mention in a Glimmer Train flash fiction contest, and has had flash fiction and micro-fiction published in Scribble and The Centifictionist. She has had multiple poems published in Blue Earth Review, Critique, and Relief: A Quarterly Christian Expression, as well as non-fiction published in the periodical GreenPrints. She lives with her husband and LabraDane in eastern Kansas.



She sits in a wheelchair near the nurses’ station, old, an old woman with brown spotted hands, faded lips, drooping eyelids, nursing home hair, a once elegant woman, wise, that’s the impression she gives, a wise woman who knows how to hold her tongue; she holds her tongue now as her daughter enters the nursing home dressed in tight black pants and silky black blouse and cheerily greets her mother, bends down to kiss each cheek, her breath wafting red wine, and she peers into her mother’s face craving attention and her mother sighs, unable to muster the energy to give her daughter what she needs and she knows her daughter is incapable of granting her what she most wants and later, when she again comes down with pneumonia, she will be carried to the hospital in an ambulance and she will be given antibiotics and oxygen and fluids and, recovered, she will be returned to the nursing home where she will wear a diaper and a stranger will bathe her and feed her soft food when all she longs for is peace, a peaceful place where she can embrace the old person’s friend, pneumonia, and leave this world.



Susan Knox’s stories and essays have appeared in Blue Lyra Review, CALYX, Cleaver, The Forge, The MacGuffin, Sequestrum, Zone 3, and elsewhere. She has been nominated for a Pushcart and Best of the Net awards. She and her husband live in Seattle, near Pike Place Market where she shops most days for the evening meal.


Old Man Jackson a mile down the road died on the afternoon of his hundredth birthday, struggling to maneuver his wheelchair out to his barn without any assistance from his oblivious senior citizen kids inside enjoying their grocery store bakery cake. A few mornings after his old neighbor’s minimal newspaper obituary caught Hurley’s attention at breakfast, the phone rang. The other end of the call was one of his deceased neighbor’s offspring.

“I suppose you heard about Dad,” said the youngest if not exactly young Jackson daughter. “We’re wondering if you want to come take a look through his barn. To see if you want anything. He was a hoarder like you. Some of his junk won’t be worth the estate sale company’s bother.”

Hurley had always loved Old Man Jackson but had little use for the man’s snob children. He could hear them bickering with each other in the background, behind the voice on the phone. Some of the siblings sounded less than thrilled about Hurley coming over to pick through their father’s so-called junk. All five were older than Hurley, so far from children. Considerably more successful, too, by traditional measures, as Hurley understood it. But out of respect for his friend, Hurley swallowed his opinions and simply answered, “I’ll stop over afterwhile.”

The barn, when Hurley got there, looked like it was held upright by mere stubbornness. What Old Man Jackson kept stashed inside, behind the two huge padlocks clasping the giant doors, Hurley had no idea, but he was indeed curious to see.

The daughter who’d called him escorted Hurley out toward the barn, but stopped short. “Dad rolled himself out here balancing a plate of birthday cake in his lap.” The daughter shrugged. “When he tried lifting himself up to unlock the doors, the whole arrangement tipped over sideways. He was gone before he hit the ground. The coroner assured us. One hundred years old.” Shrug with a baffled shake of her head this time, as if she was a beleaguered librarian weighing a curious child’s umpteenth question. But Hurley hadn’t asked anything. Only nodded. He was always not talking to people, because that was easier than most conversations.

The other Jacksons had all stayed up at the house. Comparing greed to greed, Hurley figured.

The daughter handed him a ring with two ancient padlock keys on it then turned to go.

“Don’t think we don’t know what his junk might be worth,” she said over her shoulder. “Serious offers only, please.”

Hurley unlocked the padlocks, dropped them into his jacket pocket and opened the doors.

He found the clutter and cobwebs he’d expected, knowing Old Man Jackson. Plus a pin-up centerfold yellow with age. Also an inquisitive raccoon with two bright eyes shining in the shadows. Which maybe explained the slice of birthday cake Old Man Jackson had been carrying out to the barn when he dumped over dead.

“Nice place you’ve got here, fella. Or are you just the welcoming committee? Any more critters I need to worry about?” Hurley asked the raccoon, half expecting a reply.



Women old enough to be their own mothers or grandmothers had decorated the high school gymnasium with draped crepe paper and colored light bulbs. Hurley could tell the reunion committee members responsible for the sad décor by their self-satisfied smiles in the shadows. He could tell the horrible band on stage by its loud, tuneless din. Otherwise he didn’t know what to make of the unfamiliar folks milling around in the dark. The couples attempting to slow dance to the musical racket irritating Hurley baffled him as well. Was he up to this foolishness?

“I need your ticket to let you in,” said the exasperated woman stationed at the gym entrance. “This evening’s refreshments didn’t pay for themselves.”

“It’s here somewhere.” Hurley patted at the pockets of his secondhand tweed sport coat.

“Don’t you worry,” the exasperated woman continued. “Marjorie arrived an hour or so ago. She’s inside, I swear.” She made a face. “On the prowl for husband number four, I’m guessing.”

Hurley handed over his ticket. “Somebody sounds jealous to me. I’ll just take my name tag.”

He had the name tag peeled and applied before the exasperated woman could utter a protest. Lapel freshly labeled, Hurley strolled into the gym as if for once in his life he belonged there.

Hurley would’ve directed himself toward the makeshift bar over in the corner for a drink, but booze didn’t interest him tonight. Sobriety was key to keeping up his nerve.

Marjorie was sitting by herself rearranging fake centerpiece flowers when Hurley found her.

He made two passes out of her sightline before he felt brave enough to stand his ground and say something his one-time beau might consider sweet.

Unfortunately, his mouth fired faster than the romantic synapses in his brain.

“Are those the same plastic flowers from prom?” Hurley said. “They look like they could be.”

Marjorie didn’t bother looking up from her project. “Forty years later, wouldn’t that figure? The cheapskates. You’re the first person to talk to me. I’m apparently toxic. One divorce too many, maybe? Sit down. But first, I would love another martini.”

Hurley wasn’t sure Marjorie even knew who she was talking to, she seemed so focused on the flowers spread out in front of her like a game of solitaire. Then he noticed the four empty martini glasses also scattered around the table.

“You’re something else, Hurley,” she laughed at last. “You probably think the worst of me, too, but that doesn’t stop you. And you clean up much nicer than folks might imagine. I need to keep drinking or I’ll keep talking. I promise to save you my next dance. It’s not like anybody’s lining up.”

When they did finally make it to the dance floor, while the band played an oldies CDs during their intermission, she was like a feather in his arms. She didn’t seem to weigh much more than her dress. And she didn’t slosh around like a drunk, much to Hurley’s surprise.

Each time she tossed back her head to laugh at something he’d said, Hurley was amazed Marjorie didn’t barf up a bucket of martinis.

Talk about tolerance. Hurley couldn’t fathom it.

It was nearly midnight when Marjorie cackled loudly enough for everybody within earshot to hear, “Hurley, you need to take me home. Now!”

Then she leaned close and whispered into his ear, “Unless you’d prefer to jump me here. Not like that, you perv. I tried to bail right after I arrived, but my car battery is apparently kaput. If you’ve got a truck that starts, I would really appreciate a ride home. I can get my car tomorrow. You’re such a sweetheart. Let everybody talk.”

Then Marjorie planted a kiss on his cheek.

Hurley got her home safely. He’d been drinking ginger ale all night, like he typically did on airplane trips. Nothing else happened. Or so they both insisted when people nerved up to ask.



Quaeris, quot mihi basiationes tuae, Lesbia, sint satis superque.

The language of the Romans was too fine for our overly air-conditioned classroom, so new that every pencil mark on a white wall showed. And how could we ever pay proper homage to the poems of Catullus, blisteringly tender, during seventh period, the sun so bright through the windows it felt like regret? And the obstacle of myself, buoyant in opaque tights, folding my right leg under my jumper like a spring.

You ask how many of your kisses, Lesbia, would be enough and more to satisfy me…

Mr. DeLuca emphasized each verse—quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae as many as the grains of Libyan sand in awe at the rarity of such confessions.

Give me a thousand kisses…

I knew that Catullus’s real lover wasn’t named Lesbia. She was older, married, from a formidable Roman family. Again and again, she tried to break things off, but his love was as relentless as death.

…and then a hundred…

Against the backdrop of my all-girls, Catholic high school, I delighted in these details as if they described my own cumbersome affair.

and then another thousand…

Translating by sight, my dictionary was a portal. I fiddled with the permutations, subbing out synonyms, manipulating the pace.

and then a second hundred…

Weren’t the poems my own, in a way? The still words that became a moving sentence, the pattern of vows in the text. then another thousand without resting…

I felt the acute, nearly physical pleasure of translation—the urgent concentration, the strained pursuit of meaning, the relief of comprehension as declensions made way to declarations of wrong, delectable love.

as many of your kisses kissed are enough, and more, for mad Catullus.



Caitlan Rossi writes about medicine for MedPage Today and other outlets and recently received an MA in Professional Writing from Carnegie Mellon University. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in The Louisville Review, Evening Street Review, Weston Magazine, and others. A native New Yorker, Caitlan currently lives in Pittsburgh.




I think of my mother as untranslatable. It’s not just her accent, but her word choice, her intent. Surely she didn’t mean to say that! I often think as I watch words tumble from her lipsticked mouth. She is fearless when speaking her mind and bold with creating her own conventions. Her comments are off-color, libelous.

“That women’s dress is so short, you can see to the gloryland.” Or

“Careful honey. I’m about to say every swear word I know... alphabetically.” Or

“I swear, he’s not worth shooting.”

Or a peculiar favorite:

“Do you know the new neighbors? They named their dog Asso. How do you call that dog? Come here, you Asso! He’s a real Asso!”

My relationship with my mother is complex, not complex like a fine wine, full bodied, a bit fruity, leggy, satisfying… but complex in a what-the-heck-are-you-talking-about sort of way. With my mom, I find I need a translator. With the help of recent technology, it seems I finally have my answer! I subscribe to a computer service that automatically transcribes all my voicemails into text messages and forwards them to my inbox. Like every good computer, it tries its best. The processor is fine with some words. It seems to know pronouns and articles, most common nouns and quite a few verbs. The translator, however, seems to have the most trouble with southern accents, and it is here that the fortuitous poetry of lost translations really shines.

The translator inside my computer could never be prepared for the complexity and sheer length of the voicemails my mother leaves for me,

Nevertheless, my computer attempted translating my mom. Since she does not pause while speaking, the conversions offer no punctuation, giving her translations a shade of Faulkner. A recent voicemail letting me know she was going to deliver something was morphed into “down river.” The result is a poem that is stark in its beauty while a bit menacing. I’ve taken this exact translation of my mother and added poetry line breaks.

hey honeybear

we gonna down down river river tonight see her there down river tonight call in me soon soon honey

Another mom-machine collaboration begins, “lake is in my ears and in my eyes.” Echoes of the Beatles Penny Lane. These harmless and lovely poetic renditions are a welcome alternative to my mother’s real messages—filled with subtext and odd requests for me to eat more blueberries, vote Republican, wear makeup, dye the white streak out of my



The latest translation from my mom was perhaps the most obscure. My voicemail must have been channeling Robert Frost when mom-computer wrote: The way a bird looks down from a higher place takes away the light Away

I no longer listen to the real version of my messages, preferring instead this computer-mediated-poetry. If mom has something truly important to say, she can tell me in person.

Hi darling, it’s Mom we got to worry about Wednesday it does not have a hello and I was wondering if you can put it in and I need to call you soon


Lockie Hunter holds an MFA in creative writing from Emerson College in Boston and has taught creative writing at Warren Wilson College. She is from the hills of East Tennessee and is proud to call the mountains her home. Her work has appeared in The Baltimore Review, Christian Science Monitor, Quarter After Eight, Gulf Stream Literary Magazine, New Plains Review, North Carolina Literary Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and elsewhere. She serves as co-host of the Queer Girls Reading Series and as associate producer of the poetry and prose radio program Wordplay on 103.3 FM in Asheville. Lockie has received scholarships/grants from the North Carolina Arts Council and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.


Kissing the WOUND

here’s the scoop

In J.D. Isip’s second full-length poetry collection, KissingtheWound, readers are asked to look at “this long life” through a multiversal lens, to consider how our lives and our loves, our traumas and our triumphs, fold in on one another, how we are all connected to and reflected by one another. Isip crosses genres and poetic styles, nods to X-Men and Star Wars as well as Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and the Bible; he shows readers what wonders we miss between breaths and days. “When you pay attention,” Isip seems to tell us, “You just might find the healing you were looking for.”

If our memory could shatter like glass and be reassembled with no regard given to time, it would look like these poems: a shimmering window of stained glass whose patterns and glow create unexpected resonances of the many lives one voice can be given. As identities—familial, sexual, spiritual, amicable—intersect and intertwine, time folds in on itself. Everything can and does happen at once. Kissing the Wound is expansive, enveloping. With cross-genre bravery and unfettered honesty, J. D. Isip’s collection examines, at its core, a question of love: for each other, and for ourselves.

- Charles Jensen, Author of Instructions between Takeoff and Landing and Nanopedia

There is a palpable struggle against powerlessness in J.D. Isip’s Kissing the Wound, and in its expertly crafted poems, the path to victory in that struggle always originates from within. Although its external expression varies from poem to poem (telekinesis, immense empathy, razor-sharp wings, conquering love), Isip shows us that the greatest power we have is our ability to remember, to render, and to navigate the “mess of lights and music” that is the human experience.

J.D. Isip is the author of Pocketing Feathers (Sadie Girl Press, 2015) and several other works of poetry, fiction, and theater. His second full-length poetry collection, Kissing the Wound will be out in January 2023 from Moon Tide Press. He is also a full-time professor in Plano, Texas, and a contributing editor to The Blue Mountain Review.

new poetry release from J.d. ISIP & Moon Tide Press
receiving rave reviews Now available for Pre-Order Here


Sickness, miserable condition of man. This pestilence of darkness possesses me.

Solitude. It torments me with agony and fever.

Mother calls the doctor. She cries. Three days. By then, I will need the preacher. The ways of God, not our ways.

A sick bed, a grave of cold melancholy. I, my own ghost now, with little consciousness. * * *

A hideous ghoul visits me. Never speaking, it only stares like a towering vulture. I smell its hot, reeking breath. It grabs me. Stupefied with terror, I yell.

It releases a wild cry and flees.

The next day, I hear a noble voice. The shutting of the door disturbs me. Crying, the natural sorrow of a mother for the loss of a child. Yet, I remain.

My mother comforts me. “Don’t worry, Tom. The preacher made him go away.”

“William it come back?”

“No, he’s in a safe place. You have nothing to worry about.”

Yet, my disease grows. * * *

The Spanish Flu, a dreaded death sentence. Like a ravaged animal, disease and horror stalk all ages. Fevers, nasal hemorrhaging, pneumonia, and death. A host of violent maladies, moral and physical. No vaccine. Little hope.

Hospital beds, full. Widows, wailing. The morgue, stacked with cold bodies full of fluid. Families dig graves. Businesses close. Crops die. Confusion, worry, and fear abound. Some pray, expecting the apocalyptic prophecy of Saint John.

Misery, manifold. A deep slumber overcomes me. I see the horsemen. * * *

Sherman marches south. Everything burns. Columbia, South Carolina, and a treasury branch rest in his path. Authorities divide the treasury and hide it. They hide a portion on College Heights within Sumter Academy.

Rumors of hidden gold flourish.

The Calvary arrives in town, intrigued by the rumors. They overtake a small arsenal of teenage cadets from The Citadel. They look everywhere.

Diabolical in their interrogation methods, local men hang by their arms until their toes barely touch the floor. One man, hung by his neck and beaten with the flat end of a shovel. Others face faux firing squads.


Homes, looted. The only treasure, wine, and liquor. Union troops, drunk until orders to depart the town. The town, saved by a cache of wine and liquor.

A legend that transcends time.

Spared from death, I remain vile with malaise and apathetic depression. When I rise, each step is a determined effort.

My mother forces a spoonful of willow bark tincture into my mouth. I gag. At night, she brings it in a spoon of my uncle’s moonshine. I enjoy the drowsy feeling. I ask my mother for more moonshine. She responds, “You are definitely your father’s child.”

Parents worry the pestilence William infect their children. Friends do not visit. My parents, too old to play. My father once published the local newspaper, The Daily Messenger, but he abruptly stopped. He no longer works. I ask, “Why?”

His only response, “We have family money now.”

Our house overlooks College Heights, South Main Street. An elegant two-story brick Georgian manor. My bedroom, upstairs behind a gable dormer. A Palladian palace, I use my telescope to spy on College Heights with deep meaning and curiosity. I seek any device or typology to rivet my attention.

Another upstairs room, the only room in the house is always locked. My mother says, “It’s where we keep old valuables.” I never find the key. I cannot pick the lock.

I remain confined to my room. My brain, restless and agitated. I ponder the legend. Is it true?

Each day, I place my telescope on the windowsill. I peer down South Main Street, where the cavalry entered the town. I mark on a map the homes and buildings they searched.

After days of study, the house of the former President of Sumter Academy intrigues me. The academy, a female college founded by the town. It closed at the onset of the war.

Mystery of a beautiful sixteen-year-old girl’s death surrounds the house. Her death still covers the town in a dark cloud of misery and despair.

Her erudition, profound, always seeking intellectual curiosities, especially in math and science. The townspeople think her unnatural. Neighbors gossip about the equipment and chemicals she takes. They claim she performs experiments in the house’s basement. She carries On the Origin of Species. No one knows how she got it. Darwin, prohibited in public libraries.

Her talents, rare. An accomplished pianist, she conjures forbidden spirits. Neighbors listen to her practicing mystical chords and irregular movements of quiet lament set to deathly tones.

Her beauty, the radiance of an opium dream. Her long slender arms and fingers rival the purest ivory. Her voice, melodious. Her loveliness, exquisite.

Vain, to portray her brilliance and quiet demeanor. Majesty divine and beyond Earth.

Each day, suitors visit. A rational man will not ignite the fires of Eros. Fate will not bind her to the altar.

One day, the music stops.

Slumped over the piano, her eloquent body lies still, a departed shadow.

* * *
* *

Her body, buried beside her mother in Asheville, North Carolina. Her father never returns. The bewildered town whispers accusations of suicide and murder.

The sheriff investigates. He discovers nothing unusual except for one thing. A lower bass piano string, missing. No one finds it.

The sheriff questions the neighbors. No answers. No witnesses. No fingerprints. An unsolved crime.

During my idleness, I consider the retold speculations. I watch the house when another mystery captures my mind, a middle-aged man. Mystified, he holds an expression of determined malignancy upon his countenance.

A rumpled coat covers his torso. His pants hide the heels of his worn leather shoes. He walks with purposeful strides with nowhere to go. He swings one arm. The other stays fixed deep in his pants pocket.

A character of morbid melancholy hangs over him.

I watch his unusual gloom. His face, always hidden by looking only at the sidewalk. He walks to the train station. I fancy him with intrigue. I ask my mother.

“Oh, that’s just Walking William,” she replies with indifference. “Pay him no attention.”

“But mom? Why does he walk to the train station every day?”

“I told you to leave it alone?”

I do not relent. “But mom”

Before I finish, she interrupts, “Tom! This is the last time! Drop it and leave that man alone.”

My mind buzzes, a hive of infinite thoughts.

The summer solstice. Released from my malady, I meet my friends. We gather in a large hollow bramble to share secrets and plan adventures.

I speak up, “Y’all seen the guy who walks around town every day? My mom says he’s called Walking William.”

“Yea,” replies one of the boys. “My mom said he’s crazy. She told me he killed someone.”

Another boy adds, “My dad said he killed the girl they found dead at the piano, and it made him go crazy.”

“I heard someone say he found the gold in the girl’s house, and that’s why he killed her,” shares another boy. Sudden silence. I look up. William walks by the bramble. Everyone, quiet. A sense of dread fills the air. He walks out of sight. Icy chills run through my veins. Insufferable anxiety oppresses me. Yet, curiosity consumes my soul.

Each day we stand at a different street corner and watch William. I carry my telescope to get a close look.

William walks towards women and children. They cross the street. He does not talk. A few shop owners say hello. He only nods. I never see his face.

William walks the same route to the train station. He sits until the Ashville line stops. Once the passengers alight and the train departs, he leaves, and walks towards the rest house on the edge of town.

Another week of watching. My friends, now bored. I remain intrigued. There must be a story.

I enter the tall mahogany doors of the town library. Adults sit in Windsor chairs studying books. Several read papers and busily write. I, the only child.

The damp air and musty smell of mold engulfs me. The shelves of books reaching the ceiling make me uncomfortable. I

* *
* *
* *

pause and gather my thoughts.

I approach the librarian’s desk and clear my throat. My echo across the library surprises me. I whisper, “Sir, I need help researching a person?”

“Why yes, young man, is this a historical person?”

“No sir, he is alive and lives in town.”

The librarian gives me a suspicious look. My heart beats faster. I put my hands in my pocket to avoid him seeing them shake. I mask my fear. My primitive brain tells me to run when the librarian says, “I suggest you look in the periodical section. We have volumes of The Daily Messenger dating back to its founding in 1860.”

The librarian watches me. I start with volume one of the green leathered bound volumes.

The first volumes, filled with stories of Civil War battles and townspeople who died in battle. I read about the skirmish on the outskirts of town and how Union troops searched for the hidden gold. Each story corroborates the stories I have heard.

I read about the politics of Reconstruction, how electricity came to the town, and the building of the courthouse. Still, nothing about William.

Day after day, I visit the library, determined to find a clue. I find nothing about gold, William, or the murdered girl.

I am at a dead-end.

I return to my friends in the bramble.

“Tom, you got here just in time. Retard is about to walk by.”

I reply above their laughter. “You mean, William?”

“Yeah, he is nothing but a slow-witted retard.”

I do not respond. I hold my head down. They no longer fear him.

When the boys see William down the street, they yell insults.

“Hey, imbecile! What’s your hurry? The Funny Farm about to close?”

“There goes Cabbage Head William. Late for his lobotomy.”

“Hey, stupid! Look over here!” yelled another boy as he jumps out of the bramble fort and gives him the middle finger.

They all laugh and holler.

“Hey Tom, I dare you to throw that rock at William.”

I know it is wrong.

“What? Are you scared?” They all chant, “Tom is a sissy.”

Surely, I will miss him.

I grab a rock with my shaking hand. William walks by. I hurl the rock. It flies over the road and bounces off his head. William lands face down on the sidewalk with a loud thud. He lays motionless. No one sees what happened. The boys flee. My conscience tells me to check on William.

I approach him. Both hands, flat against the cement. I get closer. He breathes.

I become paralyzed by the shimmer of a CSA-embossed gold coin beside William. Bewildered by its brilliance, my brain stutters. When suddenly, my emotions girder my soul. A piano string hangs out of his pocket.

I step from the shadows and run. Once home, I panic. My telescope, where is it?

A night of broken sleep and worry.

Sunrise, I leap out of bed. My heart races. My mind catalogs possibilities. All of them dark. I wait, listening to the

* *

tick-tock of the desk clock. Each minute, longer and louder. Why did I do it?

The clock, now pounding my head. Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, waiting, waiting, waiting.

I walk downstairs. My father holds a cup of coffee and reads the paper. I attempt to hide my nervousness.

“Tom, is anything the matter? You seem unsettled.”

I do not reply and go to the kitchen.

I hear my father leave the house. I rush to the newspaper. I scatter the pages. Nothing about William.

I settle my mind.

A knock at the front door. I race back to my bedroom. My senses sharpened. I scarcely breathe. My heart beats louder.

William never wronged me. He never insulted me. Madmen know nothing.

My mother opens the door. “Good morning.”

I hear a deep voice respond. Footsteps squeak on the oak floors. The door closes. My mother and the man talk. I cannot hear what they are saying.

My mother calls me. I grow pale. I ready myself to admit guilt. Oh, the agony! I expect to go mad.

I enter the parlor. An apparition! My mouth opens with no words. A reflection in the mirror. William stares at me. We share an expressionless gaze without speaking. William pulls my telescope from his pocket and hands it to me.

My mother breaks the silence, “Tom, tell your brother thank you?”

No words, I only nod. William turns around, leaves the house, and resumes his usual walk with one arm swinging and the other deep in his pocket.

My mother closes the door and turns to me. I feel crushed by the weight of guilt coupled with tragic confusion. My mother escorts me upstairs.

“Mom, let me explain. It, it, it was an accident.”

We get to the top of the stairs. We walk by my bedroom and across the hall. My mother pulls a key from her pocket. She opens the locked bedroom and invites me in. Beside the bed, a tattered copy of On the Origin of Species

I look around.

My mother speaks, “William was a bright and sweet boy, but he got sick. He got better, but his brain never recovered. We do not know what happened.

“The girl died after he got sick, and the town thought he killed her.

“They loved each other before he got sick. It seemed the whole town thought William did it. So, the sheriff suggested we send him to the asylum in Columbia.

“It was a question of mercy.

“My heart broke when I learned how he suffered. All those electrical wires. The only grace was your father kept it out of the newspaper.”

I stand amazed as my mother continues, “You were born shortly after William left. Then, a few years later, the asylum called us, saying that William no longer needed to be there.

“He was not a problem until he started entering your room.”

I gasp. “William! William! He is the ghost?”

“Yes, we worried he may hurt you. The preacher convinced us to move him to the rest home at the edge of town. William did not understand. It broke my heart.

“Now he just walks to the train station hoping she William come back from Asheville.”

Tears fall down her face. We hug. Nervous, I ask, “What about the gold?”

She shakes her head. “Nobody knows. Fifteen years after the girl died, her father passed away. When the family opened the mausoleum to bury the father, her remains were found at the entrance. The door, covered with scratch marks.”

MICHAEL: Michael Spake is a healthcare attorney and writer. A graduate of The Citadel (1994), Michael writes fiction using the culture and curiosities of the American South. His forthcoming novella, Life Close to the Bone (Fall 2023) takes place in a South Carolina textile mill town. Michael is a native of Anderson, South Carolina.
Explore Indulge Unwind in the High Country 711 Ma in Street, Blowing Rock, NC | meado | 828.295.4300


The first time I remember seeing my mother die was twenty-two years ago. I was seven.

It was a Wednesday morning, and my younger sister and I had fifteen minutes before the school bus arrived.

“Mom,” I said. “Mom, wake up.” The bedside alarm clock had been going off for what seemed like an eternity, but it had probably only been emitting that rhythmic, cracking scream for maybe twenty, thirty minutes.

Aaaeeehh, aaaeeehh, aaaeeehh…

I stood at her bedside, staring at her face. Her eyes were closed, mouth hanging open, a rattling snore coming from her. A stream of drool trailed out the corner of her mouth, settling in an off-white wet spot on the pillowcase.

“Mom.” I raised my voice and reached out, shook her shoulder. “Mom!”

She continued snoring.

I kept shouting her name, rocking her back and forth with both hands clasping her arm. The more I shook her the faster my heart seemed to beat. My throat tightened, as if some invisible hand were closing around it.

“Why won’t she get up?” I hadn’t heard Mandy, my five year-old sister, enter the room. I turned, noticed her expression go from confusion to fear as we made eye contact. She started to cry, burying her face in her hands, blonde hair falling forward. It was at that moment I realized that I was crying, too. Seeing my face was all Mandy needed to understand that something was very wrong.

I glanced at the nightstand. A pill bottle and three empty beer cans sat next to the alarm clock that continued to blare.

Years later Mom would tell me that it was Dad who’d gotten her hooked on the sleeping pills. He’d been in the Army and seemed to have access to an endless supply of prescription meds through the VA. So he introduced her to sleeping pills, Adderall, and oxycodone, among others. When she tried to detox from the pills that she shouldn’t have been taking in the first place, she developed symptoms that caused her doctors to write prescriptions for many of those very medications. She couldn’t handle the withdrawals and didn’t want to tell her doctors what was really going on, so she went ahead with the prescriptions and continued using. She still takes a smorgasbord of pills to this day. I check on her once a week where she lives in a little apartment on the old north end of Missoula by the railroad tracks, barely scraping by on disability benefits. Dad moved down to California for a private security job years ago. I haven’t spoken to him since he left.

Mom would take the sleeping pills after Mandy and I were in bed, chasing them with beer or wine. Then she’d force herself to stay awake, wandering around the house like a zombie, saying and doing things she didn’t remember in the morning. I’d wake up to her in my room sometimes, standing over my bed like a statue. Her eyes were always open, but she was never really there. She’d say strange things like “there’s a coyote in the freezer,” or “cheese doesn’t grow on trees,” then she’d shuffle out, leaving my door standing open, light from the hallway spilling into my room.


Once, as a teenager, I heard her talking in the hallway. I cracked my door open and saw her standing a few inches from a poster print of Van Gogh’s At Eternity’s Gate that hung on the wall. She was speaking to the old, sobbing man in the painting. She kept telling him, “I can’t see myself. I can’t see myself. I can’t see myself.” It was as if she was a vampire, searching for her reflection in an empty mirror.

These midnight highs were the one time of day she had to herself. No kids to bother her, no husband to scream at her. She would escape to some different world, some altered state of consciousness where Dad couldn’t tell her what she was doing wrong, that she was fucking up the family, that she was a bad parent. And even if he did show up and scream at her she wouldn’t remember it anyway.

As I got older, there was something I always wondered. It was a theory. I wondered if, while in that zombie-like state, she did have memories from the night before. Not memories she’d remember when sober, but memories from the last time she was high. Kind of like some fully-immersive video game. I wondered if things would pick up where she’d left off the previous night, as if the pills and the booze were a portal to another world, another dimension where she lived a completely separate existence, the two states of consciousness both distinct and complete, the memories from each never to cross over with the other. I’ve never asked her what she thinks about this theory. I probably never will.

Anyway, back to that morning.

She still would not wake. I took a great, shaking breath, cocked my seven-year-old arm back, and punched her in the nose. A hot flash of pain registered in my hand, radiating up my arm. I turned away and continued to cry, bending over, holding my hand between my knees.

“Mark!” Mandy ran over, looping an arm over my back, getting her face as close to mine as she could.

“It hurts,” I said between sobs. “It hurts. It hurts.”

I finally turned back to look at Mom. It was as if nothing had happened. She continued snoring, drool running from her mouth. The only change was the trickle of blood that began to seep from her left nostril.

It was at that moment I was sure that Mom was dead. Even though she was still breathing, still snoring away, I was convinced that she was gone. I don’t know how much I really knew about death at that time, but my understanding was that she was never going to move again, never going to wake up, never going to kiss and hold me again when I was sad, never going to scratch my back under my shirt, never going to have another screaming match with Dad when he came to pick us up for the weekend.

She was dead like Dinky, my cat that had been hit by a car a few months earlier. I’d been the one to find her sleeping at the edge of the road, bubbles of dried blood around her nose. We’d buried her under a cottonwood in the backyard. I wondered if we’d bury Mom there, too.

Honk! Honk!

I went to the window, cradling my right hand as it continued to throb. The big yellow school bus was sitting out front. I ran through the house and out the front door, Mandy yelling and crying, chasing me.

I stopped at the bottom step and screamed to Louie, the bus driver, “My Mom is dead! My Mom is dead!”

That was the first time my mother died, and when she came back to life she told Mandy and I that she was sorry.


She told us she didn’t die, she was just very sleepy, and it would never happen again. But it did. It happened again and again. At some point I stopped trying to revive her. I’d just walk into her bedroom and turn off the blaring alarm. I’d help Mandy get dressed and comb her hair, fix pop tarts or cereal for the two of us. I’d make sure we were at the school bus on time.

I was seven years old when I became the man of my mother’s house, because she did her best to kill herself every night, to escape the pain and the pressure and the insults from Dad, insults which were seething and vindictive and laced with rage, a rage that needed an outlet, and that outlet was Mom.

I’ve inherited that rage myself, but I don’t let it out. It’s bottled and stored deep in my midsection, which continues to grow. I topped three hundred pounds this year, and most of that weight is made of rage. It sits just below my solar plexus. It’s not soft, not flabby, but dense and round, like a bowling ball that’s been lodged in my midsection. And that’s ok. I’d rather it was stored there, safely, than being let out to destroy something, or someone.

The memory of striking my sleeping mother that day still haunts me. I see her face from that morning in my dreams, the blood dribbling from her nose, settling on the pillow. I sometimes feel the pain in my hand. The panic and fear in my chest. Some nights I wake in a state of hyperventilation.

I spend most of my time alone since Mandy got married and moved across the country. She was my only true friend. I work as a computer programmer from my apartment. I read books and watch movies and play video games with the curtains closed. My skin is the whitest white you’ve ever seen. I take 3,000 IU’s of Vitamin D every day. I don’t allow anyone to know me. How could anyone know me? I’ve been trying not to become my parents for so long that I don’t know who I am, what I


Despite all that trying, I fear I’ve failed. I carry my father’s rage in my body. I am my mother wandering around her home, talking to no one but herself.

I am the old man in Van Gogh’s painting. The world is moving by me, through me, past me, but I close my eyes to it all.

I’m a face buried in a pair of hands.


ABOUT Brent:

Brent is a fiction writer who lives outside Pasco, Washington in a little farmhouse with a leaky roof and sixty mile views. He likes to write about the rural working class, the environment, and mental illness, among other stuff he finds interesting. His work has appeared in The Blue Mountain Review, Wild Roof Journal, and Tumbleweird, and he holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. You can find him at and on Instagram.




For many people, understanding and managing money can be a complex and confusing task. Even though money is an essential component of daily life, few people receive formal education or training on how to effectively manage their finances. Even more so, the average person does not understand that economies from local to global and financial policies affect the person at the individual level. As a result, people may feel overwhelmed or uncertain about how to make smart decisions with their money.

This is where personal finance books can be incredibly helpful. These books offer practical advice and guidance on topics such as budgeting, saving, investing, and managing debt. They can help readers develop the knowledge and skills they need to make informed decisions about their money and achieve financial security and stability. But even these books can still be overwhelming to ordinary people and often lead to incorrect understanding or even surrendering to the complexity of the financial system.

I am personally a victim of this, I grew up with a single mom, who immigrated from Germany. She married my father when he was stationed in her homeland, and he divorced her shortly after she arrived here with my brother and me. I had no role models when it came to finances. Like most people, I was living paycheck-to-paycheck. I joined the Air Force, took college classes and worked hard, often juggling two or more jobs. No matter how I tried, though, I found myself getting deeper and deeper in debt.

After two broken marriages, I tried to educate myself on financial management and fix my mistakes, knowing how crucial money is to our daily lives and our future. When I hit my 40s, I was shocked to discover that virtually everything I thought I knew about money turned out to be skewed or untrue altogether. I had trusted that the financial system was fair to everyone and thought it was up to each person to win this game. In fact, by this time, I’d become the person that many of my peers came to for advice about retirement, bills, investments, and banking. I told them what I knew, but later I discovered I had steered them wrong.

I dug in, determined to reveal money secrets that are hidden in plain sight and simplify what is a mystifying topic for regular folk. For example, I discovered that our money is not real money but fiat (fake) and that spurred me on this investigative journey and myth-busting. I wrote Money, Plain & Simple for people like me, who lack a solid understanding of the financial system. The lessons I write about constructs a foundation to build upon and fosters an educated direction based on the reader’s specific needs.

The more I studied and researched money, the more it became obvious that this current system is near its end. Money, Plain & Simple reveals how financial systems were used and how they evolved into a corrupt oligarchy. My intent is to expose how institutions moved from money backed by gold to currency and buying everything (assets) with the currency they created out of thin air. This system is in the final stages of collapse and very few of us recognize it, while the elite are preparing for the collapse at a feverish pace.

“In God We Trust” is printed on US currency as if it were “money.” An important takeaway from Money, Plain & Simple is the realization that money is currency and currency equals debt. I deal with everything from cryptocurrency to inflation to


bank failures. I let the reader in on what I’ve learned and applied to become a successful real estate investor and entrepreneur through hardwon lessons and simplifying this vital information. The book, updated in March 2023, gives easy-to-understand historical context and offers opinions on steps that the everyday person can take now to secure their financial future in these uncertain times. Money, Plain & Simple won the 2022 Book Excellence Awards in the Finances category. It is also available as an e-book and audiobook, and in Spanish in both e-book and print formats.


A retired US Air Force veteran, airline mechanic, aircraft builder, and successful owner of a real estate rental investment company, Steven J. Spence focuses on financial literacy as it relates to the ordinary person and has been quoted in national media about the currency crisis.



Riley was uncontrollable. Left unchecked, he would wreak havoc on his host, who was already exasperated by his erratic behavior. Observing Riley’s unstable condition, the doctor pronounced it dangerous. “We have to escalate treatment,” he said, “and it can’t wait.”

I’ve known Riley all my life, the last third intimately, but not until several months ago did I learn his name. More accurately, that’s when I named him. Riley is my right eye; his dangerous condition is glaucoma. When his pressure goes up, despite being indulged, he’s like a child who never outgrows temper tantrums. His fraternal twin, my calm and lucid left eye, is Lucille.

I’ve named objects for decades, beginning with my cars — Goldie, Ruby, and, ever since 2000, Pearl — named for their colors and the generation of strong women who raised mine. My computer, Alice, honors short-story writer Alice Munro. Molly Mower reflects my love of alliteration, while my antique porcelain piggy bank is Tilly because, well, a bank is a kind of till. However, I first named a body part two years ago, when my bladder broadcast a 24-7 “burning” sensation that caused a constant urge to “go.” Ergo, Bernice was born, enabling me to say, “Shut up, Bernice. I just went five minutes ago.” The scolding brought temporary relief; a hysterectomy provided a permanent solution. Alas, I haven’t found a permanent fix for Riley’s outbursts

Glaucoma is a chronic disease in which the aqueous humor, a watery fluid in the front of the eye, does not drain, causing intraocular pressure to build. Untreated, this damages the optic nerve and can result in blindness. In its most common form, open-angle glaucoma, the condition is asymptomatic at first, which is why regular checkups to detect abnormal pressure, and initiate early treatment, are essential. Scientists don’t know what causes glaucoma, but the risk is higher for those who are over age 60, African American or Hispanic/Latino, or have a family history of the disease. Secondary glaucoma can result from other conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, steroids prescribed for another ailment, or trauma to the eye. When I was diagnosed, at age 50, I checked only one box: a history on both sides of my family. In a distorted way, the Yiddish word “bashert” applies. Translated as “meant to be,” the term usually refers to a match made in heaven. In this case, you could say Riley and I were meant for each other.

Over two percent of the population has glaucoma, yet over half of those with the disease are unaware they have it. I was forewarned in my forties with a diagnosis of pseudoexfoliation, a common precursor, in which white flaky (fibrillary) material from the lens is deposited onto other parts of the eye. Picture a year-round ocular snowfall, inaccessible to plows, a chilling horror movie that streams on your inner screen without having been put on your watch list. Not long thereafter, glaucoma settled in beside me with an extra-large popcorn and super-sized drink.

There are essentially three options to manage glaucoma: medicine (eye drops); laser treatment (usually an inoffice procedure); and surgery (done in a hospital or clinic). Riley has been subjected to all three, each bringing relief for a shorter period of time. I’ve taken a roster of eye drops: Xalatan, Simbrinza, Rhopressa, Timolol, Cosopt (a combination of two drugs), and Rocklatan (also a two-part combination); and had two laser treatments. The escalating surgical choices are minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS), the insertion of microscopic tubes; trabeculectomy, using larger tube shunts; and a valve implant, a newer procedure considered safer than trabeculectomy. Last year I had MIGS. Tomorrow, Riley will get an “Ahmed Valve with Patch Graft.” I will finish drafting this essay before then. Although I’ll refine the essay


afterwards, I won’t change the substance. The point isn’t the outcome, which won’t be known for months or years, but how I deal with an ongoing and potentially incapacitating medical issue.

Riley was named after the initial success of MIGS faded and I was prescribed yet another eye drop. That’s also when I decided my glaucoma was like a drug addict who enters rehab, gets out and stays clean for a while, then relapses and tries another type of treatment. When I shared this cyclical analogy with my doctor, a long-time glaucoma specialist, he admitted he’d never heard it described “quite that way” before. Lucille got her name not long after Riley. So, when the ophthalmologist announced the need for more serious surgery, I was already acquainted with my companions. (I haven’t introduced them to my doctor, however. I’m unclear whether the law allows a physician to terminate a relationship on the grounds of patient lunacy.)

Undergoing MIGS, my hopes for a permanent, or at least long-term solution, were high. Not because I’m a cockeyed optimist, but because I looked up the data online. Its effectiveness for me being short-lived however, my expectations for the Ahmed valve are lower. In fact, I’ve told Riley that he needn’t be jealous of Ahmed. I’m not attracted to Ahmed. If I’m lucky, he’ll be a friend with a different kind of benefit. But research puts Ahmed’s success rate at 89% six months post-op, reduced to 81% at one year. It declines to 66% at 3 years, and continues downward after that. Passion fades quickly. Whereas Riley and I are like a long-term marriage that threatened to dissolve during its middle years but survived into a comfortable old age.

So, given the realistic possibility that this surgery, and future treatments, may fail, what do I imagine the future holds for me and Riley, and our best friend Lucille? One outcome is the loss of all vision in my right eye. Riley and I will still be together, but I won’t be able to count on him for anything. In truth, I can’t depend on him a lot now. On a good day, he can see a letter or two on the second line of the eye chart, if it’s VERY ENLARGED. Facing up to the worst, I Googled what the loss of an eye — becoming monocular instead of binocular — would mean.

In monocular vision, depth perception is limited. The brain still estimates how far away something is based on other factors like perspective, shadows, and the relative size of nearby objects, but not as accurately. Peripheral vision is also reduced or absent, respectively, in the damaged or lost eye. Balance, too, may be affected. That dire verdict aside, a recent scholarly article found more encouraging results for people with a discrepancy in the acuity of their eyes. Visual skills were accurately predicted by the acuity in the better eye alone. Thank you, Lucille!

Worried as well about driving a car, I was relieved to discover that losing sight in one eye does not significantly impair that ability. Most states issue a license if the other eye meets legal standards, although certain rules may apply. In Michigan, where I live, applicants whose visual acuity is 20/40 or better in one eye are issued an unrestricted license. Even at 20/50, the only restriction is nighttime driving. The vision in my left eye is 20/20. Thank you again, Lucille.

My other main concern is how Riley’s evolving status will affect me psychologically. Naming my eye, and other body parts, has been a source of comfort and a mechanism to cope with aging. I am now 76. My mother lived to 97. I can’t help wonder what other body parts will earn names. I’m heartened that while Bernice still wakes me up to pee several times a night, her call is more like a friendly greeting than a fiery assault. I’m thinking of nicknaming her Bunny.

But most conditions worsen with age. So how does this quirky habit help me confront that reality? I won’t say it empowers me with the “right attitude,” since that implies the “wrong attitude” is to blame when a person fails to heal or gets unhealthy in the first place. I find that hurtful at best, and sick at worst. However, naming intransigent body parts is as essential as medicine in helping me deal with illness and injury, whatever the treatment or its outcome.

An active ingredient is humor. While I don’t concur that “laugher is the best medicine” (there are many proven contenders), smiling does release endorphins, natural painkillers, and serotonin, three neurotransmitters that elevate mood, relax the body, and reduce pain. Humor also facilitates communication. I tend to be private. Aside from telling close family members and friends (and yeah, writing this essay), I don’t air my afflictions. Privacy is also a courtesy to


those who squirm if I talk about my ailments, which may trigger their own fear, powerlessness, even guilt if they’d rather not offer to help. Yet sometimes it becomes necessary to share the news with a wider circle, for example, if the ability to meet my responsibilities will be temporarily or permanently curtailed. Humor lightens a heavy situation. Talking about “Riley” makes it easier for me to say, and for others to hear, that I have to delay a deadline or am unable to travel.

Name calling, while rightly frowned on in the schoolyard, can also be a “healthy” way to deal with anger. Naming the source diffuses the anger. When I know someone well (and who do I know better than my body?), it’s hard to sustain my rage. At the very least, I can say “I love you so-and-so, but ...” which is gentler than “I hate you so-and-so because ...” Naming also enables conflict resolution. Given the language barrier, an eye and I can’t resolve our dispute in English or Eyeish, but as a developmental psychologist, I’m trained to handle family conflicts.

“Riley, we have problem.”

“Huh? I don’t see any problem.”

“That’s the problem. And rather than punch you, I think we should talk.”

I learned as a child not to express anger directly. The one time I dared yell at my mother, she washed my mouth out with (kosher) soap. I can, however, be direct when I confront myself. And I’m adept at turning anger into empathy. When someone hurts me, I think about what could be bothering them to make them act that way. So, with Riley, I might begin, “I am royally pissed! Cut the crap.” Then, softening, I can say, “I know you don’t mean to hurt me. I’m sorry you feel bad. Tell me what’s going on.” It’s not forgiveness, but it is tenderness, which soothes us both.

Naming also helps me contain my fear. Illness is an enemy, but vowing to “do everything to fight it” loses force when “it” is amorphous. Admittedly, the battle metaphor doesn’t suit me. I’m no pugilist. But I am a hard worker and a collaborator. If I know my partners, we can work toward consensus — not a one-sided cure or ignoble defeat, but a mutually acceptable outcome. In assigning names, I don’t diminish or mock those parts of myself. I mix affection with respect, which levels the playing (as opposed to the battle) field. We play a game, albeit a serious one.

Kindness is another benefit of naming. Glaucoma compromises my outward vision, but not my ability to look inward. Other conditions — pain, loss of mobility — can also cloud my perception. Attaching a name shines an internal beam that lets me “see” the problem in a new light. Regarding a part as a person makes me more tolerant of their shortcomings. Rather than ascribing ill intentions, I sympathize, just as I do with those affected by circumstances beyond their control: chronological or developmental age, genetics, economics, fate. To me, kindness is the ultimate virtue, the trait I most want to be remembered for. Like many, I find it easier to be kind to others than to myself. Naming obstreperous body grants be-good-to-yourself permission.

Finally, being on a first-name basis with ailing body parts lets me appreciate the parts that are working, or working better. I thank Lucille every day. “That’s my girl.” “I can always count on you.” At the same time, because I’m so dependent on her, I feel vulnerable. Therefore, while I coddle her, I’ll make every effort to save Riley. Years of glaucoma have significantly blurred his vision. It won’t improve. Yet, if I lost Lucille, I’m grateful for what Riley on his own would still allow me to do. I couldn’t read, write, or drive, but I could still see people, flowers, and furniture; stroll around the neighborhood; cook simple meals; climb stairs; operate appliances; and manage most other daily tasks. As annoyed as I get at Riley sometimes, I regularly remind myself to thank him for his years of past service. And for continuing to look out for me the best he can.

Naming is a creative act. It is also an intimate act. We name our children, pets, a new business. Our feelings about these arrivals and beginnings are generally positive. They are anticipated with joy, albeit some trepidation as to their futures. Riley and I can’t foresee the future, although we’re certain that age will continue to ambush us as we journey ahead. Together with Lucille, and our friend Bernice, we are nevertheless ready to move forward. On the way, we expect to be joined by the as-yet unnamed friends who already dwell within our midst.



Ann S. Epstein writes novels, stories, memoir, and essays. Her novels are On the Shore, Tazia and Gemma, A Brain. A Heart. The Nerve., The Great Stork Derby, One Person’s Loss, and The Sister Knot (in press). Her other work appears in North American Review, Sewanee Review, PRISM International, Ascent, The Long Story, Saranac Review, The Madison Review, The Minnesota Review, and elsewhere. In addition to creative writing, She has a PhD in developmental psychology, an MFA in fiber art, and is a certified end-of-life doula who writes life reviews and ethical wills. Read more about her writing at


They say the heart will heal itself, with time. They say grief peaks at six months. They say delayed grief---if we’ve even heard of it—might surface a year or two later. I question the experts. They don’t know my story.

My worst loss was the death of my fiancé, who transformed me with love I’d never known. A connection brewed from deep friendship and then two intoxicating years together, nearly a third spent in hospitals. Even there, our love was a blinding elixir. Death would win, but I refused to see, clinging to hope like the lone survivor in a sea without islands. Sink or swim, there’d be no last-minute miracle. The miracle had peaked.

His name was Jack. He loved canyons, mountains, cycling, adventure. Quantum physics and philosophy, making friends from strangers. Delving into back story, discovering how we all connect. And me, most of all. The girl who fell into his heart with a one-way ticket, unaware there’d be an expiration date.

We plotted Our Life in those first giddy weeks, marveling at our love story. Tracing how this motherless boy from Arizona landed in northern Alberta, searching for his counterpart. How this parentless girl had been too young, but now she wasn’t. How her decision to run away, years earlier, led to the night they met. How they hadn’t known but now they knew, and the heavens rejoiced.

Our future seemed boundless. A bicycling trip to South America, mapped with friends along the route. A year in Chile or Peru, practising Spanish. A return to Canada to train for medical missions. An endless adventure in a beckoning culture, creating a family where love was constant, and no one died or disappointed.

Cancer crouched in the wings, waiting to pounce. Now the script called for extra months to slay the inconvenient dragon, certain we’d win by obeying the doctors and ignoring the odds. No one told me ‘in remission’ didn’t mean cured. We cycled away as if it did, halfway to Columbia before cancer pounced again. This time, the signs were obvious, but not to me. Only when his oncologist spelled it out, granting us 21 days to pack whatever life we could into his death sentence, did I grasp what I’d refused to see.

Denial was my strongest weapon, and I continued to bash against reality. I focused on fulfilling Jack’s dying wishes, which included foregoing any kind of funeral. His morphine swallowed our connection. Neither of us did the most important thing for me, which was speak of death and talk about my future.

We couldn’t. He died on the 21st night while I slept in another room, banished by a nurse.

I carried denial to the bed where his empty body awaited the hospital morgue. Denial blocked me from seeing or touching, and rushed me from the room. A week later, I questioned the authenticity of his ashes, boxed and grisly. I gave away most of his belongings, keeping nothing with his scent or handwriting. Two weeks later, I loaded my bike with our tent and one sleeping bag, and rode off with denial in one pannier and his ghost in the other.

Maybe I thought I could outcycle grief. Maybe I blocked grief from consciousness, substituting adventure and rebound relationships for self-awareness. Inside, my sorrow burbled like magma, waiting to erupt in the worst case of delayed grief I’ve yet to find.


My grief volcano erupted 20 years later, triggered by a movie, a reconnection with old friends, and a tragedy befalling a 22-year-old, the age I’d been when Jack died. If I wouldn’t heed the first eruption, my grief would keep erupting till I did. Seemingly out of nowhere, unprocessed grief upended my world: married 18 years, mother of two adopted children, pulled in too many directions by a hectic Christian ministry. A life that already demanded too much.Rather than healing, time had fed my grief with years of further losses, more pain I’d stoically minimized and ignored. A busy life can only outrun grief until it can’t.

Today, a person felled by resurrected grief would consult the internet. I didn’t have that option. Through library books, I diagnosed myself with delayed grief, complicated grief, and disenfranchised grief. This heavy trio explained the emotional implosion capsizing my heart. My grief had become a behemoth.

But the description of delayed grief didn’t fit my parameters. According to the experts, most people process grief within the first year, and move forward with sporadic episodes around anniversaries, diminishing with time. Delayed grievers unwittingly forestall for months, or maybe a year or two. Delayed grief is portrayed as an unfortunate aberration, like postponing a dental appointment. Your cavities might deepen, but with the right intervention, they could be remedied. Likewise, the delayed griever might need additional help, like counseling or attending a grief group.

The grief group I tried was a disaster: no one wants to witness intransigent grief. My therapist was also stumped. He could listen and listen to all the ways I’d denied and mismanaged grief, but he couldn’t point to a single case of delayed grief that mirrored mine.

After many years and multiple approaches, my grief was put to rest---as much as grief so wide and deep can be appeased. I’ve learned some griefs do dissolve into happy memories, while others refuse to alchemize, surfacing in dreams and poignant moments for the rest of our lives. And that’s okay; these relationships have irrevocably shaped us. I wouldn’t be who I am today without Jack. I only wish he could see how hard I’ve worked to integrate his life and death into my journey.

But during the worst days, as I struggled to reconcile my behemoth with the short delays cited in grief literature, I envisioned writing the book I couldn’t find: the story of a bereft 22-year-old waking up in her 42-year-old body, finally feeling what she’d suppressed for half her life. I’d be the example I couldn’t find, the grieving freak who finally found her way. I’d wave my flag and blow my whistle. Years later, I wrote The Box Must be Empty, in hope of helping others.

They say we grieve in proportion to our love. I’d add that repressing grief only intensifies its eventual impact. Surely I’m not alone in this. Surely others have grappled as badly and haphazardly with grief, breaking the rules and setting strange records. The memoir I wrote is my confession and my calling card. I hope we find each other.



Marilyn Kriete shares her journey through delayed grief and leaving a cultlike group after decades of commitment in this sequel to her award-winning memoir, Paradise Road. Compelling and lyrical, earning fivestar reviews and resonating with readers who’ve wrestled with lingering grief, spiritual collapse, or reinventing oneself when the life we’re living no longer works. “An intensely personal story of recovery, its lessons apply to any soul with unhealed wounds.” Visit to learn more


I was so sorry to learn that Céline Dion is “the chosen one” to help spread the word about Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS). Watching her tell the public broke my heart. I feel her sorrow. Her money or fame is not going to make her disease any easier to handle. SPS does not discriminate.

This disease is now attacking my throat area. I have severe arytenoid/interarytenoid edema erythema. Vocal cord dysfunction was diagnosed along with moderately severe pharngeal-esophageal dysphagia. I get hoarse or lose my voice. I choke. For someone who has spent the last several years devoting myself to weekly live interviews with authors from all over the world losing that ability has been devastating.

My activities of daily living are all compromised. Everything is difficult. Sometimes simply breathing hurts. I have recently started falling asleep suddenly and waking up very confused.

My primary care physician, Dr. Brian Pultz of Bethpage, NY, and I have always been convinced there was an answer and cure to all this madness I go through each day or at least a better treatment option. He would always say, “We haven’t found your monster yet!”

But eventually he said, “Annie, I’m not keeping you well. I feel like I’m chasing your illnesses. I think you have an immunodeficiency, so please go see the immunologist, Dr. Katz-Buglino.” I started IVIG infusions.

Dr. Pultz then told me he read about Dr. Yao at Stony Brook University and that he believed I may have Yao Syndrome. I have also been diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy, Sluder neuralgia, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, hypersomnia, sinus tachycardia, high blood pressure, heart disease, hypoxemia...along with a bunch of other secondary things. When you put these all together, my case is different than having one or two alone. Even the doctors are stumped.

I have immunodeficiency, autoimmune, and autoinflammatory diseases. When your body is fighting all three types, you are in an exhausting battle.

Dr. Yao decided to do the genetic testing on me. Just by looking at me, he agreed with Dr. Pultz that I likely had Yao Syndrome. He tested for a few genes besides the Yao Syndrome. The results came back with a few findings: two versions of Yao Syndrome and NLRP-12 Syndrome, which is ultra-rare.

I’ve spent most of my life trying to live above the noise of my body’s insidious cry as it was being attacked cell by cell removing nerve fibers and more. I’ve lost all my reflexes. I am witnessing a slowing down of my own body. I must honor what it needs.

I have spent so much time in my life being called a liar or losing people I love because they couldn’t deal with my illnesses or my grief from feeling so unwell and losing the ability to do things. I have been called a pin cushion because I continued to have faith that there was an answer and I wasn’t going to give up until I found it. My once-upon-a-time bff said if she were me, she’d have her boyfriend take her out in the backyard and shoot her.

I am in agony from head-to-toe, and I am dysfunctional. I can sense the decline in my health, and the tests confirmed it.

My speech/swallow doctor, Dr. Amato told me that I impress him each day. He is always learning about other


parts of me not working or spasming that can actually cause a bone to break. The pain is excruciating. When Dr. Amato heard about the stroke and TIA’s he was shocked. He says it is because I keep up my therapy and have a positive attitude. He was impressed that I wanted to continue to do book reviews to give me something to keep me busy and not just worry about my health.

No matter what I have on the list of diseases, Stiff Person Syndrome is the biggest culprit. I am at the end stages of this disease because of the parts of my body the Stiff Person Syndrome is affecting. I could stop treatment if I want. I choose not to.

I keep looking for a new answer, but I am constantly told to accept this. Everything new is always called “disease progression.” I am accepting that comfort is key. Between my psychiatrist, Dr. Donoghue, and counselor, Eman Said, I am held together. I count on these two important professionals for so much, and they both make themselves available to me at the drop of a hat.

I am an open book, because I want to be an advocate to help teach doctors and nurses and patients about this onein-a-million disease and the other rare diseases I have. I started educating students about endometriosis when I was only age 23, because I wound up needing a total hysterectomy because not one doctor believed I was sick for the previous five years.

“Annie’s Song” is my love letter to so many of you. My hope is that people learn empathy and compassion for people going through things like I am. But most of all, I hope you feel the love as you read it.

Read more at The Stiff Person Syndrome Research Foundation which is receiving some of the proceeds from this book.


An advocate for literacy, animal rescue, and those with disabilities, Annie McDonnell is donating the proceeds from her cross-genre memoir Annie’s Song: Dandelions, Dreams and Dogs to nonprofits that serve those causes. Visit Annie’s website to learn more.

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Train tracks in a velvet forest vanish into the clovered corridors of your sleepscape.

Icy steel rails // parallel trajectories with their wave patterns overlapping

Damp peals from far down the foggy tracks. My feet cramp & night creeps up cold

through the soles. Can I compete with the magnetism of your nightmares?

Grace glides fingertips over a field of your lashes. Those ferns unfold a story

mumbled in the language of slumber I hear oak ties crumble under authority

of lichen subjects to an iron rule of rust. O’ochre, my love for your terror is pure:

whose voice moves me to quiet you; whose lips lead to the hush of holding you.


ABOUT Adrian:

Adrian Dallas Frandle (they/he) is a queer fish who writes poems to and for the world about its future. They are Poetry Acquisitions Editor for Variant Lit Mag/Press & an Associate Poetry Editor for Pidgeonholes. His chapbook “Book of Extraction: Poems with Teeth” is out now with Kith Books. Find their work online at


for bobbing under waves, passing the graveyard, taking out garbage,

& April’s after-storm sidewalk-worms, half-stomped to become a concrete smear. They roll to the manicured edge, then slip between blades, or become part eggshell. This is before sharp-eyed robins burst from blue, before tiny white flowers

fruit red, speckled with golden seeds. Life always rises, undulates forward. Nothing ever really ends. Even following snowstorm,

or when ocean knocks the wind out, any unpleasant smell wafting from a dumpster, there is still blooming. By summer the highway-

divide will burst in a rainbowprism of wildflowers. I exhale

upward in this way, hope is always swelling, always still green.



Alison Lubar teaches high school English by day and yoga by night. They are a queer, nonbinary, mixed-race femme whose life work (aside from wordsmithing) has evolved into bringing mindfulness practices, and sometimes even poetry, to young people. Their work has been nominated for both the Pushcart & Best of the Net, and they’re the author four chapbooks: Philosophers Know Nothing About Love (Thirty West Publishing House, 2022), queer feast (Bottlecap Press, 2022), sweet euphemism (CLASH!, 2023), and It Skips a Generation (Stanchion, 2023). You can find out more at or on Twitter @theoriginalison.


A breeze twirled around me, as if a fan hung from the sky. I was six, back in Santa Clara, Cuba a hot, foggy day when I could not breathe. Abejas y mariposas jugando descalza.

Two guitars strummed, hers and Mami’s, July, 1971 the tall windows in the house spread wide like their songs, la paloma blanca cruzando el azul.

Cool and shady inside, el aire se escapaba. Mi boca se abría y solo salía un sonido, como el canto de las ballenas. ¿Dónde estás Mami?

Beyond de gold-colored knob she and Mami faced each other on the lace-covered bed. La luz, backlight blurry black and white dancing silhouettes in-and-out, in and out to an imaginary bolero.

I closed the door and retreated. Mi cuerpo pequeño cayo sin aire sobre la loza fría. Awakening the mothers from their secret spell.

Cuatro palmas calientes rezaron en mi espalda.

“Dios ayúdala” said she, “Virgencita por favor ayúdala... respira mi hija. Respira.”



Ana Martínez Orizondo is a Cuban born visual artist and writer living between N.Y.C, Miami, and Shelter Island, N.Y. After two successful careers as an Emmy awardwinning television producer and a nonprofit executive, in 2020 she committed fully to her art and writing practice. Her short story and poems have appeared in Newtown Literary, The Journal of Latina Critical Feminism, From Whispers to Roars and others. Her debut chapbook, That Place, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press


For Rafaela

Forget pink. Drape yourself in jeweled tones— emerald, amethyst, the black depth of onyx.

Speak in rhythm with your pulse, en samba, en conga, en danzón, the last slow dance of the night.

Wield a sharp tongue, a stiletto heel, a switchblade in your boot, a whip in your hair, a trigger-less finger.

Seek out fields of flowers that perfume the air lavender, gardenia, mock orange. Follow your nose.

Step lightly, step up, step over the satellites that fall from space, the hurdles of your mistakes. Step into your own shoes.



Caridad Moro-Gronlier is the author of Tortillera (TRP 2021), winner of The TRP Southern Poetry Breakthrough Series: Florida, The 2022 Eric Hoffer Book Award Honorable Mention, 2022 Eric Hoffer Award Grand Prize Short List and the 2022 International Latino Book Award Honorable Mention, as well as the chapbook Visionware (Finishing Line Press 2009). She is a Contributing Editor for Grabbed: Poets and Writers Respond to Sexual Assault (Beacon Press, 2020) and Associate Editor for SWWIM Every Day. She resides in Miami, Florida with her family.



The stars—don’t they seem closer, tonight?

Constellating not as this sign then that, but as one long letter, itching to reach who? I don’t know. It’s hard to tell from this writing, the night’s golden chicken scratch.

But I know it is beautiful. Just as any language—have you noticed?—is more beautiful, perhaps its most beautiful in handwriting, through someone writing to someone, with the most crucial, most common message of I love you.

& does it matter how neat the I, the you, the love no— no matter how chickenly a writer scratches, the language glows, it itches to be near, next to, with a reader, maybe one very far, the farthest away, though that must be impossible—the dead don’t read.

Then again, what if they do? & doesn’t everybody try to write to them, anyway? Because doesn’t every here or not-here body like to receive a letter, a brightness that says Look, my hand has made this for you, please read it—meaning touch me, please



I am going left, then right.. I am having a journey that calls itself life when it is insomnia. So, I read. I read three pages of a dead person’s still buzzing mind—& can’t read further. A line tethers me to the page. Then from the line, what is it, some little

creature, a little-winged flying thing, hello. Are you my ancestor, again? It shakes its tiny head. What about hope, is your name Hope? It squeaks

the softest nope. & of course—it’s not feathered like that. This guy’s flat, squat, an all-around roach-like bug. Size of a sigh’s shrug, flimsily flitting about. Sorry, he says,

to disappoint—though you must be used to that, by now. & he lands, settles on my left hand, perhaps to dedicate all his remaining energy to speech. Didn’t you say, he goes on, you don’t want the journey

called life, you want to live? Doesn’t that mean however hopeless? However grief, however rage, & sleepless? However alive? The little bug, he doesn’t wait for my answer. Just gives me one tiny, itchy kiss, then disappears.



Chen Chen is the author of Your Emergency Contact Has Experienced an Emergency (BOA Editions, 2022), Explodingly Yours (Ghost City Press, 2023), and the forthcoming book of essays, In Cahoots with the Rabbit God (Noemi Press, 2024). His debut book of poems, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities (BOA Editions, 2017), was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the Thom Gunn Award, among other honors. He teaches for the lowresidency MFA programs at New England College and Stonecoast.


For David Bottoms (1949-2023)

If this were a spiritual autobiography, I’d have it on Saturday mornings in that circle of bleary-eyed poets some from the sting of red wine others from madness the overwhelming sense of grief not knowing what is happening in your heart from the narrative images— the cockroaches, bullfrogs and the buzzards being baptized, the sons and fathers, comets, baseball and birds, allusions to the Gospels and old time music— yet always at a loss always something missing so we search for it always looking for it behind those closed doors of the darkness we are constantly faced with as we disappear into the language breathing even when there’s no air left but since that is not what this is, I guess it is time to say goodbye



Clayton Jones is a writer, singer-songwriter, and professor living in Chickamauga, GA. His poetry and prose has appeared in many journals and magazines including The Cortland Review, Boston Literary Magazine, and American Songwriter. He has written and recorded several albums of original music. He is founder of Southwind Media ( where he offers editing and other literary services. He is a professor of English at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and holds a M.F.A. in poetry from Georgia State University.


All at once I finally took a moment And I’m realizing that You’re not coming back And it finally hit me All at once All at once I started counting teardrops And at least a million fell My eyes began to swell And all my dreams were shattered all at once Ever since I met you You’re the only love I’ve known And I can’t forget you Though I must face it all alone All at once I’m drifting on a lonely sea Wishing you’d come back to me And that’s all that matters now All at once I’m drifting on a lonely sea Holding on to memories And it hurts me more than you know So much more than it shows All at once All at once I looked around and found That you werexx with another love In someone else’s arms And all my dreams were shattered All at once All at once The smile that used to greet me Brightened someone else’s day She took your smile away And left me with just memories All at once Ever since I met you You’re the only love I’ve known And I can’t forget you Though I must face it all alone All at once I’m drifting on a lonely sea Wishing you’d come back to me And that’s all the matters now All at once I’m drifting on a lonely-sea Holding on to memories And it hurts me more than you know So much more than it shows All at once All at once I’m drifting on a lonely sea Wishing you’d come back to me And it hurts me more than you know So much more than it shows All at once And that’s all the matters now All at once I’m drifting on a lonely sea Wishing you’d come back to me And it hurts me more than you know All at once



Joan Kwon Glass is the Korean American author of NIGHT SWIM (2022), winner of the Diode Editions Book Contest & three chapbooks. She serves as Editor-in-Chief for Harbor Review, as a Brooklyn Poets Mentor, & poet laureate of Milford, CT. Joan teaches on the faculty of Hudson Valley Writers Center and the Maine Writers Alliance & her work has won or been finalist for several prizes including the Pushcart Prize, Sundress Anthology Best of the Net, the Subnivean Award & the Lumiere Review Award. Joan’s poems have been published or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Prairie Schooner, Asian American Writer’s Workshop (The Margins), RHINO, Rattle, Dialogist & elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @joanpglass and at


Granny-smith greens have been helping keep what’s inside, inside. You’ve eaten a tree, an orchard, a whole autumn harvest maybe. Your son’s grandparents devoured the last ones this morning before dropping you off in front of the ER and going out for breakfast while you waited, your son’s parietal lobe gashed and seeping, an inch-deep through his perfect, bloodwrapped curls, like worms working their way into flesh. Even the smallest mouth leaves unhealable wound. The apple’s skin can’t grow back where it’s been eaten. They sealed the split with staples, your body heavy on top of his, weighing down his hands. They used no anesthetic, a needle would hurt more, they said, a metal worm inside his apple skull takes longer than teeth. And what’s inside you worked its way up too, but there wasn’t enough water in your stomach for anything to rise. You only know you’re hungry now when sickness comes. The grandparents pick you up empty handed, but describe their croissants drenched in hollandaise, mouths still slicked with grease and egg. Worms fight their way up your throat in search of apples.



Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach emigrated from Ukraine at age six. She is author of three collections, The Many Names for Mother, Don’t Touch the Bones, and 40 WEEKS (YesYes Books, 2023). Her poems have recently appeared in POETRY, Ploughshares, and American Poetry Review. She holds an MFA from University of Oregon and a Ph.D. from University of Pennsylvania. Julia is the author of the model poem for “Dear Ukraine”: A Global Community Poem.

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There are nights you don’t want to be alone. Not for any reason that garners help, but because you just crave the hum of company. Even from the guy who creeps you out. The one who shouldn’t still be calling after you bailed, after you said you weren’t interested. The one who said you could be friends through fake smiles and too much cologne.

There’s a dream version of the night, drunk at the park where you reach into his stomach and pull out his intestines; your arms burrowing deep into esophageal spaces, removing his voice box and tossing it into the pond. Leaving him a shell. Fulfilling his promise and disarming his subtle intentions. Disarming the boy instead of all the alarms.



Lauren Theresa (she/her) is a queer divergent creative, plant witch, professor, and archetypal psychotherapist living in a NYC-ish corner of NJ with her two tiny humans and menagerie of creatures and plants. She’s a founding editor of Icebreakers Lit, and the author of LOST THINGS (Bullshit Lit ’22) and ALL THE TIMES I CRAVED… (Maverick Duck Press ‘23.) Her work has appeared in literary journals, her own refrigerator, awkward family gatherings, and the publications tab at


A smart ass. Too smart, he skipped two grades and stepped into Cornell at 16. Six years of vet school in three.

He still earned wages at Egan’s meat market, drinking deep at The Palms.

He bought me Lincoln Logs and New American Plastic Bricksfor him to play with. He built homes and doll beds, too. for my Ginny Dolls, and fuzzy kittens.

Son- of-a -bitch. Daddy!

Don’t tell your mother. Forbidden words constructed. The air, blue.

Words to popular songs poorly kept: “Wake Up Little Susie”, “The Wabash Cannonball”. “And you can tell your friend there with you, he’ll have to go”.

He fed our boxer beer. Radio never exactly found a station we could clearly hear.

13 broken coffee pots in the cellar he swore he’d fix.

Often gone to dead-stop disease. Not all were pleased. A farmer met him in the drive with a shotgun. Harsh words for a Government Man, but Daddy talked him down. The stranger shouldered his shot gun and they soon began to be friends.

Coffee, Lucky Strikes, beer, martinis. Pacing-always.

Preferred the barber and the gravedigger to academics. Earned several degrees with no degrees of patience for those who wore theirs with pride.


He never bought into any of my boyfriends, They all want the same thing.

-Listen, Missy, it’s my way or the highway, by God. -No sassing.

-One of us is going to end up crying.

He broke my nose.

Wrecked my nose with his wedding ring. Six months of nosebleeds.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs–an apology. Not one word said. Wound never healed.

We, both violently stubborn.

Too young for WWII, too old for Korea.

Viet Nam parted us. But war sat well with him.

Then Kent State happened. Home for the weekend, his world shaken. His words weak. Shocked, he could barely speak. They shot kids!

I graduated, got into grad school, and a home out of wedlock.

Daddy abandoned me for years. Absent at my wedding, my mother cried, but stayed by his side. Some wounds never heal.

He, the complicated cause of me. Never, ever easy. Too similar or simply opposites.


Lynne Kemen lives in Upstate New York. Her chapbook, More Than a Handful, was published in 2020. Her work is anthologized in Seeing Things (2020) and What We See on Our Journeys (2021), Lothlorien Poetry Anthology #13 (2022), and Earth Care (2022). She is published in Silver Birch Press, The Ravens Perch, Fresh Words Magazine, Spillwords, Topical Poetry, Lothlorien Poetry Journal, Poetica Review, Honeyguide Literary Magazine, and Blue Mountain Review. Lynne stands on the Board of Bright Hill Press. She is an Editor for the Blue Mountain Review and a lifetime member of The Southern Collective Experience. Her poetry book will be published in 2023 by SCE.

195 The BLUE MOUNTAIN call for SUBMISSIONS The Blue Mountain Review is accepting new submissions of Poetry, Prose, and Visual Art. The Blue is a Southern publication, but we draw no boundaries or borders on that interpretation. “Southern” is a soul more than a spot on a map, and everyone is south of somewhere. We seek pieces that boldly create something new from the ether of the timeless, works that go beyond sparking interest to ignite something that smolders. Works that matter today and will still matter tomorrow. Visit our submissions page at Review

2 9 T H A N N U A L


J o i n o u r i n s t r u c t o r s a s t h e y r e a d f r o m t h e i r r e c e n t p u b l i c a t i o n s . T h i s s p i r i t e d e v e n t i n c l u d e s a b o o k s a l e a n d

t h e o p p o r t u n i t y t o m e e t t h e

r e a d e r s a n d o t h e r f e l l o w w r i t e r s .

W e d n e s d a y , J u n e 7 , 2 0 2 3

7 : 0 0 P M – 9 : 3 0 P M

S k i r b a l l C u l t u r a l C e n t e r



D a v i d B o r o f k a

R i c k B u r s k y

A a r o n P h i l i p C l a r k

T i m C u m m i n g s

N a t a s h i a D e ó n

M e r r i l l F e i t e l l

C h a r l i e J e n s e n

N a z K u t u b

S o f í a L a p u e n t e

P a u l M a n d e l b a u m

L o u M a t h e w s

C y n t h i a D e w i O k a

A a t i f R a s h i d

J a r r o d S h u s t e r m a n

S e h b a S a r w a r

N a n c y S p i l l e r

M a t t W i t t e n

w r i t e r s . u c l a e x t e n s i o n . e d u



Yet another unarmed Black man was killed last week by officers sworn to protect him & a moment ago my Black son saw me looking concerned & he shrieked “I’ma get you, Daddy!” & tackled me in the family room, his blankie flying behind him like a flag. We laughed until we calmed

and we cuddled and carpet tickled our ears and we looked out the window and I showed him the buds

on the big, snow-dusted maple that looms over our yard, explained how soon our tree will have leaves again.

“But where the old ones?” he asked, “the ones that gone but were there?” and we talked about how they’re becoming mulch for the garden by now, a long winter later, how leaves were there before but now aren’t,

how new ones are coming soon, how what is gone will feed us over time, how what is gone isn’t gone but is

This poem first appeared in TheNightHeronBarks and is reprinted here with the permission of the author.



Mitchell Nobis is a writer and K-12 teacher in Metro Detroit. His poetry has appeared in Whale Road Review, The Night Heron Barks, Moist Poetry Journal, trampset, and others. He facilitates Teachers as Poets for the National Writing Project and hosts the Wednesday Night Sessions reading series. Find him at @MitchNobis &, or falling apart on a basketball court.


This tiredness, people call it, which is like saying band aid when I say bleeding out, or peckish when I say starving.

This not being believed even after crying monster! monster! waking alone in a cave deep in the forgotten mountains.

This depletion at the cellular level. The way asking for help generates its own exhaustion, hope an empty bowl.

This poverty of energy a thin blanket on a freezing night, moldy bread, a hairless cat, an empty communion cup.

This running but then walking, then crawling, then leaving the race partway through, then not going. Never signing up.

This switch the maker forgot to turn off, heated coils burning the toxic dust swirling in a too bright room while the tap

drips and the braying people gathered outside laugh and laugh, call their dogs to them over and over and over.



Sarah Stockton is the Editor in Chief of River Mouth Review and the author of Time’s Apprentice (dancing girl press, 2021) and Castaway (Glass Lyre Press, 2022).
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First off, this was peak ‘80s, in that the ‘80s were finally the ‘80s; not sad remnants of ‘70s hangovers— domestic beer and shag carpets replaced by lack of shame.

Disco was dead and hair metal, God help us, was ascendant, TV screens the size of PC monitors, and, not unlike a movie, smoking on airplanes still a thing.

The actual horrors Reagan’s Revolution not yet fully felt, at least by the types of people flocking to see St. Elmo’s Fire in the summer of ’85.

And, this is important, irony was not yet our default cultural setting; MTV was turning pallid lip-synchers into celebrities.

So, an actor like Rob Lowe could embrace his Brat Pack prerogative as the pampered cad who, we understood, was also a dreamer,

Because, of course, that’s how tortured geniuses truly are; they drink and drug and lose jobs like it’s a job, feeling the full weight of their white worlds.

Like a poor man’s Sisyphus with an 8 ball on his back, trying to shake that shocked monkey called accountability: this script needs a rewrite.

Only in 1985 could anyone with the final cut— and so little common sense—decide an extended scene of Billy blowing his sax signified that pretty boy pain.

The crowd, obviously, feeling his burden and luxuriating In his brilliance, here was their own Lizard King, incinerated, at last, in the bonfire of his vanity.

(This was a dark precursor to the truly ascendant Cocktail, wherein a bar of not-drunk-enough yuppies are content to watch Tom Cruise throw bottles in the air.)

The cameras making love, and who could blame them, to this impossibly mesmeric man-child who, mid-solo, claps and says Let’s rock: the whitest moment of a very white decade.

Case closed, right? I mean, on a meta level this is the same film in which the rebel from Breakfast Club becomes a Republican and the male leads, arguably, are more comely than their counterparts.


But here’s where it gets ugly: maybe that’s one reason so few of my friends (then; now) understand, much less appreciate jazz. It’s scenes like this that make a Great White Mockery of Attainment.

We watch Kirby stalk an uninterested woman and it’s not sociopathy, but a striver pulling himself up by his bootstraps, even if wingtips don’t have straps, and Arthur Laffer (again, no irony) was taken seriously.

When Billy gets on that bus we know: it’s all going to work out and if his wife and kid need to suffer for him to succeed, they will all come out okay; and his inevitable redemption will have been earned.

This flick suggests what the decade signified: if we close our eyes we’ll remember that Happy Endings aren’t free, but they’re possible if you’re lucky to have parents—or producers—whose checks always clear.


Sean Murphy’s The Blackened Blues published in 2021. His second book of poetry, Rhapsodies in Blue, and This Kind of Man, a collection of short fiction, are forthcoming in 2023. He’s been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize and twice for Best of Net. He is Founding Director of 1455, a non-profit that celebrates storytelling. Visit and



i should be there with you right now having raced through the ice just to get home

w/ wine + a fish from the market for us to sauté in a canopy of cilantro & lemons

you’d hug me hello as the cold drops from my shoulders

while a sade record, is it a crime, plays

today it occurred to me that one day i’ll have to take care of you

so now i prepare build my little home shelves for our books to touch each other + breathe (again)

+ a bed, we can once again share

i know you never think ab/ tomorrow + certainly not yesterday

but i do + i will for you

i’ll spin this nest, warm, like the spider who lives on my windowsill + wait + wait + wait



Skye Jackson was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Southern Review, Electric Literature, Green Mountains Review, RATTLE and elsewhere. Her chapbook A Faster Grave won the 2019 Antenna Prize. Her work has been a finalist for the RATTLE Prize, the RHINO Founders’ Prize, and in 2021 she received the AWP Intro Journals Award and was twice nominated for Best New Poets. Skye’s work was selected by Billy Collins for inclusion in the Library of Congress Poetry 180 Project. In 2022, she won the KGB Open Mic Contest in New York City, and served as the Writer-In-Residence at the Key West Literary Seminar in Florida.


He was just trying to get

Home. where maybe a night light glowed behind windows stained by fingers printed in love, in anticipation a mat out front greeted Welcome.

Home. where his mother’s ears were made deaf to the wails of her baby stifled by ravenous howls of wolves

Home. where love abides and peace be still while all around, Black body atop Black body lay rotting stinking like carcasses under the scorch of America’s bleeding sun



Terri Linton is a mother, writer, and professor. She holds a BA and MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and a JD from Rutgers School of LawNewark. She teaches writing and criminal justice at universities in New York and Connecticut. Terri writes about black girlhood, womanhood, and motherhood as well as disparities in the criminal justice system. She is a 2021 Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund nonfiction awardee. Her writing can be found in the anthology SoloMom Stories of Grit, Heart and Humor; Catapult; MER Literary Magazine; Mothermag; and other publications.

The Ghost Gospels

the ghost gospels

Holding the reader a willing captive in the liminal spaces between life and death, survival and surrender, recovery and decline, Laura Ingram dazzles the heart and mind with the tenderly-wrought insights of a young woman coming to terms with the aftermath of her eating disorder. As the narrator trains her own thoughts away from hunger, the reader is fed hearts from jars, blackberry brambles, and boxes hidden under beds, hearts that have been pickled and skipped like stones across the tops of creeks, hearts grass stained and wobbling and scrubbed pink in the kitchen sink. And bones—bones blooming and curved like question marks, bones kissed and buried and “scrawled against [the] skin like a pharmacist’s signature.” Yet, even as the imagery blooms and fills and increases, becoming ever more tangible, the narrator fears she will dissipate into something no longer substantial, and “you will remember she is only ulna and aspartame and leave her in search of something more solid.”

This is a collection that will break your heart and hand it back to you illuminated between the cracks, for like Kintsugi, the Japanese art of using gold to highlight the cracks in repaired pottery, Ingram’s poems embrace wounds and imperfections rather than glossing over them, modelling that through careful attention and reflection, the selves we can create after we have been broken can be stronger and more beautiful than before.

To puchase your copy or contact the poet:

Each copy $10

work from

introducing Laura Ingram the latest

the debut collection from

When scoliosis pushed her to retire from her career as a massage therapist, Angela Dribben still wanted to be of service, so she began doing legacy work through her local hospice. She felt she needed to gather skills if she was going to honor others, and she started an MFA program at Randolph College. From there her work made its way into journals such as Crab Creek Review, Cider Press Review, San Pedro River Review, Blue Mountain Review, and Crack the Spine. Her first mixed media piece is coming out in Patchwork. Her first collection, Everygirl is now out in advanced sales with Main Street Rag

angela Dribben

“Angela Dribben’s poetry does not look away, even from difficult truths. She brings to the page a gift for sound and image, but it’s her compassionate wisdom that makes Everygirl a book like no other, embracing both indictment and forgiveness, suffering and gratitude, its music that of the phoenix the moment the flames in her throat become song. Bring your broken pieces, your trouble with the world. Everygirl is the best friend to whom you may tell everything, in the dark beneath a fistful of stars, and come away more loving, more loved.”

“How can I believe Adam/ came first when the flower precedes the fruit?” Angela Dribben writes in Everygirl. Coming of age in a Virginia of hunting dogs, pick-ups, and hog farms, these poems, evocative in their details of men “smelling like labor,” food, such as gelatinous ham, military school life for young women, menstruation, rape, and including occasional photographs, bluntly acknowledge the destructive impact of male prerogative when social class and rural life leave few ways out.”

“Wordsworth wrote that any great writer must create the new taste by which they’ll be enjoyed. In Everygirl, Angela Dribben doesn’t just offer a new taste, she’s created an entire menu. From tragically vivid poems about surviving military school, to surreal poems exploring belonging, Dribben had me eating out of the palm of her hand. Dribben writes “To love and to see are not the same,” and I agree. But I do both love and see this book.”

to learn more & purchase visit:

-Rhett Iseman Trull, author of The Real Warnings, editor of Cave Wall


There is only your response, only your milk empty voice in a barren room. Only the remembered flicker of flames long dead where no one has tended the fire. Your vision is a grey fade of ash under rain. How long it has been since you understood your own body, since the absence of callous from your hands. How long since the full light reached your eyes, unbetrayed.

The weakening edges of once plain sight blur the past. Remember all the holes you dug with your best friend, a name half forgotten, in the yard. How the cavernous walls trembled with thunder when the storm came. How it felt under your hands, pressed to the walls of those holes. What it taught you of hearts; those engines of spring.

Your breath holds a secret you are still trying to learn. Your pulse then and now a conductor, booking passage while ticking its counter. The veins in your hands a train track to the past and back. The journey not what you planned, but all your time underground is the reason your voice caught an echo. Even now in your kitchen, making plans

by matchlight with the ghosts of color and fall for your next endeavor within the earth’s hunger, your mother calls from the past. Whispers remember how she always said life is not a pile of leaves you gather in the yard, but the bronze sail of autumn. The falling and everything that happens on the way. Your body is not a temple

but the door that welcomes the faithful. How like prayer it is to be received as you come. To raise your eyes from the trees as the forgotten name returns and smile as the shovel completes its ritual.



Zachary Kluckman is an award-winning poet from New Mexico who has been recognized for his performance, writing, organizing and teaching. With numerous readings across the nation, Kluckman has also been invited to read at the Kistrech International Poetry Festival in Kenya.

Kluckman is the author of the poetry collections, The Animals in Our Flesh (Red Mountain Press, 2012), Some of It is Muscle (Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC, 2013) and Rearview Funhouse (Eyewear Publishing, 2022).




Road to the Sun showcases Metheny’s developed musical hallmarks in compelling new and bravely wrought compositions, expertly performed by kindred spirits and modern masters.

All Music

Harmonically adventurous...beautifully nuanced... toys interestingly with a musical language shared by Debussy and Django presents significant additions to the solo, ensemble and transcription repertory from an unexpected quarter.

Wall Street Journal


Shannon Perri

Contributing editor

Shannon Perri holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Texas State University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Texas. Her writing has appeared in various newspapers and literary magazines, such as Houston Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Joyland Magazine, and fields magazine. Her short story, “Liquid Gold,” was a finalist for the 2019 Texas Observer Short Fiction contest; her story, “The Resurrection Act,” was awarded a 2016 Joyland Magazine Publisher’s Pick; and her story, “Orientation,” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in South Austin with her husband, son, and menagerie of pets.

Angela dribbens

Contributing editor

Angela Gregory-Dribben lives with her two favorite redheads down in a bottom in Southside Virginia where they are hard at work growing the fattest sandwich tomato in the Piedmont’s trademark red clay. Her poetry and essays can be found or are forthcoming in Main Street Rag, Deep South, Blue Mountain Review, San Pedro River Review, Motherscope, Crab Creek Review, Crack the Spine, Cirque, decomp, New Southern Fugitive, and others. A Bread Loaf alum, she is currently a student in Randolph College’s MFA.

Dusty huggings

J.D. Isip Contributing editor

J.D. Isip is a full-time professor at Collin College and a writer. His poems, plays, fiction, and essays have appeared in a variety of national magazines and journals. His first collection of poems, Pocketing Feathers (2015), was released by Sadie Girl Press, and his second collection,Number Our Days, will be released by Moon Tide Press in 2023. He grew up in Long Beach, California, served in the U.S. Air Force, and worked for Disney before he started teaching.

Music editor Photography credits

Dusty Huggins is a family man, musician, writer, and lover of literature. His interest in writing surfaced during his freshman year at Young Harris College due to an English professor nurturing his interest, stimulating passion, and building the confidence required to find his way as a writer. Dusty is the founder of the Atlanta blues-based, Southern rock band The Ides of June, and also performs as both the lead vocalist and bassist. He is a member of The Southern Collective Experience acting as the music editor for its journal of culture The Blue Mountain Review. In his spare time Dusty enjoys touring with The Ides of June throughout the southeast.

andy whitehorne contributing editor

Andy Whitehorne is a writer and live music fanatic residing in Atlanta, Georgia. He spent two-and-a half-decades regularly attending live concerts and working in the hospitality industry. He holds a BFA in theatre, currently works in customer success, and is the Music editor of the Blue Mountain Review.

Gaelle Marcel Daniele Fotia Ian Dooley Robert Wiedmann Zeeshaan Shabbir David Bartus Rachel Claire Kyle Loftus Ezkol Arnak Saeid Anvar Satoshi Hirayama Andrea Piacquadio Pavel Danilyuk Brett Sayles Furkanfdemir Kaushal Moradiya Daniluy Gustavo Fring Ike Louie Nativdad Polina Zimmerman Gary Barnes Hoa Cheing Jill Wellington Michael Burrows Cottonbro George Milton Brett Sayles Maria Orlova Porapak Apichodilok Satoshi Hirayama

clifford brooks editor-in-chief

Clifford Brooks is the CEO of the Southern Collective Experience and Editor-in-Chief of the Blue Mountain Review. He is also the journal’s content editor.

Aside from these duties, Clifford is the author of The Draw of Broken Eyes & Whirling Metaphysics, Athena Departs, and Exiles of Eden. These collections of poetry can easily be found online.


Nicole Hoppe, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, licensed in the state of Virginia, who writes care plans for children with Autism and supervises the ABA therapy provided to her clients. She earned her B.S. in Psychology from Bridgewater College and her M.Ed. in Educational Psychology: Applied Developmental Science from the University of Virginia. In her free time, Nicole enjoys reading, writing, singing, and playing piano. She has always had a passion for editing and proofreading, be it academic papers or creative fiction.

casanova green

Contributing editor

Casanova Green is a writer, singer/ songwriter, educator, and pastor. He is a 2010 graduate of Ohio Northern University where he earned a BA in Language Arts Education, with a minor in voice. In 2018 he earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Reinhardt University located in Georgia’s Etowah Valley. Casanova is a member of the Southern Collective Experience, often serving as a contributing editor. He has been published in several publications including The Blue Mountain Review, Raw Art Review, and Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review. In 2019, Casanova published a minichapbook of poetry entitled Whispers & Echoes, and his first book of poetry Things I Wish I Could Tell You is scheduled to be published in 2020. Casanova has done extensive ministry work since the age of nine, and has served as both a worship leader and choir director for over twenty years. He released his first album A Worshiper Mentality in January 2016, and his second album Songs from the Journey: Part 1, in August 2019. He is currently working on his third album Songs from the Journey: Part II, which will be released in 2020. Currently, he is the Owner of CGCreate LLC and serves as the lead pastor of True Vision Christian Community in Lancaster, OH, where he and his family reside.

Emily Kerlin contributing editor

Emily Kerlin has published poems in Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine, Bridge, Cider Press Review, Storm Cellar, The Pittsburg Poetry Journal and Blue Mountain Review. Her chapbook, Eighteen Farewells, won second place in the 2020 Women of Resilience Chapbook Contest. She attended Antioch College and holds a Master’s degree from the University of Illinois in Bilingual Education. Her current home is in Urbana, Illinois where she works with international students and families. You can find her at

contributing editor

Tom Johnson was born in Roswell, Ga. He went to college focused on a career in Information Technology but to make ends meet, he worked in a few demanding sales jobs that taught him the ins and outs of marketing. He had always loved writing and he found that marketing gave him an outlet as well as a way to pay the bills. He enjoyed those aspects of his work so much that, after college, he decided on a career in sales instead of going straight into IT. Within a few months, he studied for and passed the Georgia Real Estate Exam. For the next four years he worked for Remax and later Lindsey and Pauly as a seller’s agent. After that, he became the Director of Marketing and Residential Support for a computer company. There he helped them to increase their visibility, develop new leads and on occasion, write content for client’s websites. In late 2009, he decided to go solo as a freelance copywriter for a wide array of clients. In recent years, he has been branching out into fiction and entertainment writing. His first book is slated to be published in 2020.

tom johnson

Megan baxter contributing editor

Megan’s first book ‘The Coolest Monsters, A Collection of Essays’ was published in 2018 by Texas Review Press. Her debut novel ‘Farm Girl’ is forthcoming. Megan has won numerous national awards including a Pushcart Prize. Her work has been listed in The Best American Essays of 2019. Recent publications included pieces in The Threepenny Review, Hotel Amerika, The Florida Review, and Creative Nonfiction Magazine. Megan serves as a mentor to young writers and loves developing cross-genre and innovative creative writing pedagogy for her workshops and classes. She is currently conducting research for an environmentally themed novel as well as writing personal essays and poems. Megan lives in New Hampshire where she loves walking her dogs, running, and cooking with local foods.

rebecca Evans

Contributing editor

Rebecca Evans earned an MFA in Creative Nonfiction at Sierra Nevada University. She’s hosted and co-produced Our Voice and Idaho Living television shows, advocating personal stories, and now mentors teens in the juvenile system. She’s the co-host of Writer to Writer podcast on Radio Boise. Her poems and essays have appeared in The Rumpus, Entropy Literary Magazine, War, Literature & the Arts, 34th Parallel, and Collateral Journal, among others. She lives in Idaho with her three sons.

Chris terry contributing editor

Chris Terry draws from his fanatic love of films & music when crafting his reviews. After receiving his Master›s in Fine Arts from the Savannah College of Art and Design, he’s gone on to work on numerous independent and major films along with producing film scores and music for a wide variety of genres. Chris is currently working with the film production company Fifteen Studios on upcoming projects.

Mildred Kiconco Barya

contributing editor

Mildred Kiconco Barya is a writer from Uganda and Assistant professor at UNC-Asheville where she teaches creative writing and world literature. Her publications include three poetry books as well as prose, poems or hybrids in Tin House,, Poetry Quarterly, Asymptote Journal, Matters of Feminist Practice Anthology, Prairie Schooner, New Daughters of Africa International Anthology, Per Contra, and Northeast Review. Her nonfiction essay, Being Here in My Body won the 2020 Linda Flowers Literary Award and is forthcoming in the North Carolina Literary Review. She received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Denver, MFA in creative writing from Syracuse University, and B.A. in Literature, Makerere University. Visit her blog:

contributing editor drew robertston

Drew Robertson is studying journalism and creative writing at Mercer University. When she’s not doing schoolwork, she can be found giving tours of campus, having a movie night with friends, or curled up reading a book. Her own fiction writing is interested in exploring small stories about real people, snapshots into the lives of women grieving, creating themselves, and reckoning with the force of commitment in modern female lives. She has been published in Discovering Bulloch, Prometheus Dreaming, and The Dulcimer. Upon graduation, she hopes to attend an MFA program in creative writing and pursue a career in academia or publishing.

jennifer avery

Contributing editor

Jennifer Avery is an editor and writer from the foothills of Northwest Georgia.  Her poetry has been published in the Blue Mountain Review and featured on Dante’s Old South. She spends much of her time attempting experiments in skincare and wordcraft. She is currently working on her novel, Ezra in Every Dimension.


asha gowan contributing editor

Asha Gowan, poetry editor, hails from Chapel Hill, NC. She writes poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. Her subject matter usually revolves around matters of the heart, but natural world and its imagery also figure prominently in her work. She has publications in The Coraddi, Blue Mountain Review, The Gathering of Poets, and other magazines and journals.

nicole tallman

contributing editor

Nicole Tallman serves as Poetry and Interviews Editor for The Blue Mountain Review. She is the author of Something Kindred (The Southern Collective Experience Press) and Poetry Ambassador for Miami-Dade County. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @natallman and

lynne kemen contributing editor

Lynne Kemen lives in Upstate New York. Her chapbook, More Than A Handful (Woodland Arts Editions, was published In 2020. Five of her poems appeared in Seeing Things Anthology, Edited by Robert Bensen. Her poems are in La Presa, Silver Birch Press, The Ravens Perch, Blue Mountain Review, Fresh Words Magazine. She was Runner Up for The Ekphrastic Journal’s competition of Women Artists. She is on the Board of Bright Hill Press in Treadwell, NY.

Heather Harris contributing editor

Heather M. Harris is an emerging writer of memoir, poetry, short-stories, children’s books, and an illustrator who lives and writes in the New Orleans area. Heather holds a Master’s of Arts and Teaching and a Bachelor’s of Arts and Sciences in Psychology both from Southeastern Louisiana University. Heather is a contributor for The Blue Mountain Review, and a member of The Southern Collective Experience.

contributing editor

Debbie Hennessey was named AC40 Female Artist of the Year by New Music Weekly and scored a Top 20 Hit on their AC40 Charts. A song she cowrote recently hit the Top 5 on Roots Music Report’s Americana Country chart. Her songs have been honored by Great American Song Contest, International Songwriting Competition, Billboard World Song Contest, and others. Her music and videos have aired on USA/UHD Networks, NBC, GAC, Extra, and The Next GAC Star. She has over a dozen releases on her label Rustic Heart Records and is a voting GRAMMY member. In addition, Debbie was the managing editor of LA411 & NY411 for Variety and has created several magazines and directories for various industries over the years. Through her company Entertainment Editorial, she works with a diverse range of clients to meet their editorial needs. She also writes for Dante’s Old South Radio Show blog and the Blue Mountain Review. You can find Debbie at and

Laura Ingram contributing editor

Laura Ingram is poetry editor and social media manager for the Southern Collective Experience. She has had work published in one hundred journals and magazines, among them Gravel and Juked. She is the author of four poetry collections: Junior Citizen’s Discount, Mirabilis, The Ghost Gospels, and Animal Sentinel.

CLAYTON JONES contributing editor

Clayton Jones is a writer, singersongwriter, and professor living in Chickamauga, GA. His poetry and prose has appeared in many journals and magazines including The Cortland Review, Boston Literary Magazine, and American Songwriter. He has written and recorded several albums of original music. He is founder of Southwind Media ( where he offers editing and other literary services. He is a professor of English at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and holds a M.F.A. in poetry from Georgia State University.

Debbie harris

slade gottlieb contributing editor

Slade Gottlieb is a fiction writer born in Atlanta and raised in Milton, Georgia. He received his BA in creative writing from Oberlin College and his MFA from California College of the Arts. He’s published short fiction in print editions of the Plum Creek Review and Wilder Voice Slade currently resides in Oakland, California, where he is at work on his debut novel. He currently co-edits fiction and poetry for The Blue Mountain Review.

edward austin hall contributing editor

Hester L. Furey



Hester L. Furey is a poet and literary historian who lives in Atlanta.

Jess Costello

contributing editor

Jess Costello is a fiction editor, writer, counseling student, and indie music nerd based in Massachusetts. In addition to The Blue Mountain Review, her work has appeared in Boston Accent and iO Literary, and she covers local art for Boston Hassle. She is at work on a novel.

Jay-de-robinson contributing editor

Mr. Classic is the CEO and designer of Mr. Classic’s Haberdashery at Thee Manor in Atlanta, Georgia. A one-stop shop for all things in custom made and classic menswear. From hats all the way down to shoes. His focus mainly being to help individuals develop their personal style. Through the education of fashion and in custom garment designs, he has become the go-to designer for the elegant and high class.

kaitlyn young design & layouts

Georgia-native, Kaitlyn Young is a freelance graphic designer, specializing in both print and digital creative collateral.

contributing editor

Carmen Acevedo Butcher is the translator of The Cloud of Unknowing, a Georgia Author of the Year Awardee, and Practice of the Presence by Brother Lawrence, among others. Her dynamic work in spirituality and the power of language has garnered interest from various media, including the BBC and NPR’s Morning Edition. A Fulbright scholar at University of London and Fulbright Senior Lecturer at Sogang University, Carmen currently teaches in the College Writing Programs at UC Berkeley. Online at and https://

Logan merill

contributing editor

Logan Merrill: Born and raised in a small town, I’ve made my way through trade. From drywall to drumset to bartending, I fell in love with the power of experiences; the dormant potential of every moment. We’re all humans, being the best we know how to and I believe life is meant to be enjoyed.

Edward Austin Hall lives in Atlanta, where he writes whatever he can get away with.
Carmen Acevedo Butcher
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