Meet our Best of the Net 2018 Poetry Nominees

Welcome to the third and final installment of our Best of the Net recognition series featuring our 2018 nominees. Without further ado, meet the poetry contributors we have selected to be considered for Sundress Publication‘s 2018 Best of the Net anthology.

Marion Starling Boyer,“Alfie, the Ransacker” in TTR 3.4

Marion Starling BoyerMarion Starling Boyer is a poet and essayist. Her poetry book, The Clock of the Long Now by Mayapple Press, was nominated for the Pushcart Award and the Lenore Marshall Award. She has also published two other poetry collections: Composing the Rain, winner of Grayson Books chapbook competition, and Green by Finishing Line Press. Her poems and essays have appeared in journals and anthologies including: The Tishman Review, River Teeth, Crab Orchard Review, The Atlanta Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Rhino, Spoon River Poetry Review, Folio, South Carolina Review, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and The Midwest Quarterly. Marion has just completed a full-length collection of poems about the quirky Norfolk region of England where she recently discovered her ancestors have lived for generations. A visit to Norfolk inspired a poetry manuscript entitled The Sea Was Never Far. “Alfie, the Ransacker” is one of the characters from this collection.


Cheryl Buchanan, “Sarasota Bay Night Song,” TTR 3.3

Poet Photo 2Cheryl Buchanan, a co-founder of Writers Without Margins, is an attorney who learned the power of storytelling and silence-breaking when she worked for a decade on over 500 cases of childhood sexual abuse. She earned her MFA where she taught at Emerson College. Cheryl has been the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize, the Boston Mayor’s Poetry Prize and the Naugatuck River Review Narrative Poetry Award as well as nominated for a 2016 Pushcart Prize and twice for Best New Poets.  She is the recipient of the 2018 National Association for Poetry Therapy’s Social Justice Award and a producer of the 2019 documentary, In Their Shoes: Unheard Stories of Reentry and Recovery.


Willa Carroll, “Lamentation Street,” TTR 4.2

Willa Carroll-AuthorWilla Carroll is the author of Nerve Chorus (The Word Works, September 2018). A finalist for The Georgia Poetry Prize, she was the winner of Narrative Magazine’s Third Annual Poetry Contest and Tupelo Quarterly’s TQ7 Poetry Prize. Her poems have appeared in AGNIConsequence, Green Mountains Review, LARB Quarterly Journal, The Rumpus, Tin House, and elsewhere. Carroll holds an MFA from Bennington Writing Seminars. A former experimental dancer and actor, she has collaborated with numerous performers and artists, including text-based projects with her filmmaker husband. Video readings are featured in Narrative Outloud. She lives in New York City.


Jed Myers, “Smithed on the Anvil,” TTR 4.1

Photo Credit: Alina Rios
Photo Credit: Alina Rios

Jed Myers, this year’s recipient of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize, lives in Seattle where he’s a psychiatrist with a therapy practice and teaches at the University of Washington. He is author of Watching the Perseids (Sacramento Poetry Center Book Award), The Marriage of Space and Time (MoonPath Press, forthcoming), and three chapbooks, including Dark’s Channels, chosen by Tyehimba Jess for this year’s Iron Horse Literary Review Chapbook Award. Other recent recognitions include the Prime Number Magazine Award for Poetry and The Southeast Review’s Gearhart Poetry Prize. Recent poems can be found in Rattle, Poetry Northwest, The American Journal of Poetry, Southern Poetry Review, The Greensboro Review,, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Solstice, and elsewhere. Jed is Poetry Editor for the journal Bracken.


Cait Weiss Orcutt, “Spike, Javelin, Harpoon,” TTR 3.4

Cait Weiss OrcuttCait Weiss Orcutt’s work has appeared in Boston ReviewChautauquaFIELD, and others. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets 2016. Her poems were nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets 2016, and her manuscript VALLEYSPEAK (Zone 3, 2017) won Zone 3 Press’s 2016 First Book Award, judged by Douglas Kearney. Cait has an MFA from The Ohio State and is pursuing her Ph.D. in Poetry from the University of Houston. She consults on manuscripts with Tell Tell Poetry and teaches creative writing at University of Houston, Grackle and Grackle, the Houston Flood Museum, the Jewish Community Center, Inprint, the Menil Collection, the Salvation Army, and Writers in the Schools. Cait is the recipient of an Inprint C. Glenn Cambor/MD Anderson Foundation Fellowship and is currently working on a disconcerting collection of tarot poems tackling whiteness, muderino culture, and the 24/7 news cycle. She lives in Houston with her husband Jimmy and her two rescue cats, Nib and Truckboat.


Valleyspeak | Zone 3 Press
Review | The Bind
Review | American Literary Review
Interview | The Sonora Review
Frontier” | Boston Review
The Prophets” | FIELD
To the Loch Ness” | Hobart
Lineage” | JUKED
Hallows,” “Reseda,” “What Blooms” | Prelude
Vanderbilts” | Tupelo Quarterly
Northridge” and “Ode to the Golden” | Two Peach

Julia Wendell, “First Tomato,” TTR 4.1 


julia 6Julia Wendell’s most recent book of poems is Take This Spoon (Main Street Rag Press, 2014). A Yaddo and Breadloaf Fellow, she is the author of several other poetry books, as well as a memoir, Finding My Distance (Galileo Books, 2009). Her new memoir, Come to the X, will be published by Galileo Books in 2019. Several of her most recent video poems that combine poetry, piano, and video have been published by Real Pants and Free State Review. She is an International three-day event rider and currently lives in Aiken, South Carolina.


Best of the Net 2017 Poetry Nominees

It is our immense pleasure to nominate the following pieces and writers for their work to be included in the Best of the Net Anthology, a project of Sundress Publications.

PARTRIDGE BOSWELL, nominated for his poem “Flying home after the protest” TTR 3.1

Partridge Boswell Mt Battie DSC_0586Recipient of this year’s Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize for his poem “Flying home after the protest,” Partridge Boswell is the author of Some Far Country, winner of the Grolier Poetry Prize. His poems have recently surfaced in The Gettysburg Review, SalmagundiThe American Poetry ReviewGreen Mountains ReviewHayden’s Ferry Review, and Forklift, Ohio. Co-founder of Bookstock literary festival and the poetry/music group Los Lorcas, he teaches at Burlington Writers Workshop and lives with his family in Vermont.


LISA MECHAM, nominated for her poem “Trespassing”  TTR 2.3

Lisa Mecham Lisa Mecham writes a little bit of everything and her work has appeared in Amazon’s Day OneCatapult, and The Collapsar, among other publications. She has served as an editor, advisory board member, and reader for various literary magazines, and as a social worker, she writes grants for social justice oriented non-profits.

A Midwesterner at heart, Lisa lives in Los Angeles with her two daughters where she’s finishing a book about mental illness in the suburbs; think: “The Shining” meets “Revolutionary Road.”


ALYSSE McCANNA, nominated for her poem “It’s Not Like the Movies” TTR 3.1

alysseAlysse Kathleen McCanna is currently pursuing her PhD in English at Oklahoma State University. She is the Associate Editor of Pilgrimage Magazine and received her MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College in 2015. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from, Lunch Ticket, Barrow Street, Boulevard, and other journals.


KYLE ADAMSON, nominated for his poem “Retrograde” TTR 3.2


Kyle Adamson has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and a BFA from Hamline University. He is the winner of the AWP Intro to Journals Award in poetry, a Pushcart nominee, and a finalist in the Consequence Poetry Prize. His work can be found in the Water~Stone Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, the Beloit Poetry Journal, and others. He served in the Marine Corps infantry and deployed twice to Iraq. Kyle lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


ADRIAN POTTER, nominated for his poem “RX for the Blues” TTR 3.1


Adrian S. Potter writes poetry and short fiction. He is the author of the fiction chapbook Survival Notes (Červená Barva Press, 2008) and winner of the 2010 Southern Illinois Writers Guild Poetry Contest. Some publication credits include North American Review, Jet Fuel Review, Obsidian, and Kansas City Voices. He blogs, sometimes, at


Adrian S. Potter | Writer Website

KIM NORIEGA, nominated for her poem,Postcard to My Younger Self Beneath the Apple Trees” TTR 3.1

Kim_Paris(1) (1)

Kim Noriega is the author of Name Me published by Fortunate Daughter Press. Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including: American Life in PoetryParis-Atlantic, and Split Lip.  She was a finalist for the 2016 Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize, and a semi-finalist for the 2016 James Baker-Hall Memorial Prize in Poetry. Kim grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and still loves apple-blossom showers in spring and Vera’s Bakery at the famous West Side Market for Hungarian nut roll at Christmas. She lives in San Diego where she heads San Diego Public Library’s family literacy program.


Poem of the Day for National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month!

Tune in here everyday for the Poem of the Day from TTR, featuring works from some of our greatest contributor-poets.

Sunday April 30, 2017: FLYING HOME AFTER THE PROTEST by Partridge Boswell, TTR 3.1

Saturday, April 29, 2017: POSTCARD TO MY YOUNGER SELF BENEATH THE APPLE TREES by Kim Noriega, TTR 3.1

Friday, April 28, 2017: IT’S NOT LIKE THE MOVIES by Alysse McCanna TTR 3.1

Thursday, April 27, 2017: POETS WITHOUT WATCHES by V. Hansmann, TTR 3.1 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017: BORDER PUMPKINS by Kaitlin LaMoine Martin, TTR 2.4

Tuesday, April 25, 2017: BOOT CAMP by Ron Riekke, TTR 2.4

Monday, April 24, 2017: THE MAN IN BLUE ORDERS GUINNESS AND A PLAIN FILLET by Chloe Stricklin, TTR 2.4

Sunday, April 23, 2017: TRESPASSING by Lisa Mecham, TTR 2.3

Saturday, April 22, 2017: PRISON JANITORIAL by Tyler Erlendson, TTR 2.3

Friday, April 21, 2017: RUMBLE by Ed Doerr, TTR 2.3

Thursday, April 20, 2017: LARCHWOOD, IOWA by Dylan Debelis: TTR 2.3

Wednesday, April 19, 2017: A LESSON IN ANEMOLOGY by Tonya Sauer, TTR 2.2

Tuesday, April 18, 2017: POSTLUDE by Adrian Potter, TTR 2.2

Monday, April 17, 2017: MOORE STREET, DUBLIN, 2006 by Jean Kim TTR 2.2

Sunday, April 16, 2017: FIELD by Elijah Burrell, TTR 21.

Saturday, April 15, 2017: DRINKING WITH SPIDERS by Jim Gustafson, TTR 2.1

Friday, April 14, 2017: NOT THE WAR by Jessica Wallace: TTR 2.1

Thursday, April 13, 2017: GREEN ROOM by Willa Carroll, TTR 2.1

Wednesday, April 12, 2017: FALLING, FALLING by Frank Modica, TTR 1.4

Tuesday, April 11, 2017: COMING APART IN PUERTO VALLARTA by Elizabeth Gibson, TTR 1.4

Monday, April 10, 2017: MOHAWK VALLEY by Bethany Bowman, TTR 1.4

Sunday April 9, 2017: HORSE LUBBER by Carrie Naughton, TTR 1.4

Saturday, April 8, 2017: INTERIOR WITH SNOW by Shevaun Brannigan, TTR 1.3

Friday, April 7, 2017: CENTRAL PENNSYLVANIA by Nicole Santalucia, TTR 1.3

Thursday, April 6, 2017: BOAT PRAYER by Karla Van Vliet, TTR 1.3

Wednesday, April 5, 2017: LEAVING FORT CARSON by Larry Narron, TTR 1.3

Tuesday, April 4, 2017: CONVERSATION ON THE BALCONY by Tom Holmes,  TTR 1.2

Monday, April 3, 2017: I SLIPPED THROUGH A SHADOW by Alisha Erin Hillam, TTR 1.2

Sunday, April 2, 2017: TO FLOAT by J. Adam Collins, TTR 1.2

Saturday April 1, 2017: GROOM by Ace Boggess, TTR 1.2

2016 Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize Winners and Finalists


We’re thrilled to announce the following poems and poets as winners and finalists in our

2016 Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize:

First Prize

wins $500 cash prize, publication in TTR 3.1, and major bragging rights

Flying home after the protest

by Partridge Boswell

Second Prize

wins $100 cash prize, publication in TTR 3.1, and major bragging rights


by John Sibley Williams


Honorable Mention

wins $50 cash prize, publication in TTR 3.1, and major bragging rights

The Grind

by Melissa King Rogers


receive publication in TTR 3.1 and bragging rights

Yearnings by Valerie Bacharach

It’s Not Like the Movies by Alysse Kathleen McCanna

If My Body Were a Country Meadow Edged by a Shadowed Wood by Karla Van Vliet

Postcard to My Younger Self Beneath the Apple Tree by Kim Noriega

Poets without Watches by V. Hansmann

Riding with Anne Sexton by Jen Rouse

RX for the Blues by Adrian S. Potter

A Stockyard Liturgy by D.G. Geis

Fannie by Marri Champié

Peripeteia by Stephen Linsteadt

Calling off the Wedding by Samuel Piccone

All of these poems, and so much more, can be found in the January 2017 issue of The Tishman Review, which is available to read online.

Ebook version and print version available for purchase as well.

All My Rowdy Friends: A review of Whitaker by Watterson


by Cassandra Watterson

PunksWritePoems Press out of Chesterfield, VA, is one of the many print on demand independent presses that challenge the (bigger) small presses for talent and audience. Social media outlets boast active poetry communities that rival the small press and academic scene that has dominated American poetry for decades. While academics might scoff at Tumblr poets who have thousands of readers and sell hundreds of print on demand books, it’s hard to ignore that a social media account on Wattpad might net a young writer hundreds more readers than a publication in a regional small press magazine.

If Stephen Scott Whitaker’s All My Rowdy Friends, $12, from PunksWritePoems Press is any indication of what the independent press is bringing to the table, then small and big presses should take note. Whitaker’s collection tackles addiction and transformation head on, whether personal or second hand. Friends’ realistic and unsettling poems seek to marry the dark and the light, the art of alchemy, and goes for the jugular without flinching.

Friends’ cover features a coiling snake skeleton against an Infinite Jest sky-blue that catches the eye. The snake turns out to be a central motif to the re-imagined Tiresias tales Whitaker conducts throughout Friends’ movements. Here’s how the old myth goes: once a young man saw two snakes mating and he took a stick and knocked them apart. They turned out to be Hera’s favorite pets and she punished him, Tiresias, by turning him into a woman which he remained for seven years. Whitaker takes this ancient gender bending tale and drags it through the gutter, pun intended. Whitaker examines gender dysphoria from a variety of angles using the lens of the old myth. We see a young boy cross dressing in his mother’s clothes, we see a confident woman eager to give into desire, we see a loving parent showing shame at her self-abuse, a drag queen on a bender, etc. Tiresias, Whitaker reminds, becomes so attuned to the Gods because she can see both sides of the human perspective, and even bore two children. Tiresias, the first transgendered person in literature, is brought back to life with punk rock verve.

What’s fantastic about All My Rowdy Friends is how the tension and static between male and female ripples out of the Tiresias stories and is magnified throughout the book. The transformation process, that transition, is the most important part of a story whether the subject is an addict, a transgendered woman, or a pop culture icon. (Batman recast as a sadist in leather is both hilarious, dangerous, and creepy. And also dead on.)

Stylistically Whitaker gives us tight controlled lines, long and short breaths, and wears his influences on his sleeve; the book is footnoted, almost a modernist throwback to encouraging a side conversation with the asides. Occasionally Whitaker employs long breathy lines that recall classical compositions, notes that trill and repeat. “Winter Fever” and “Surrender” are the best examples where Whitaker delivers knotty lyricism. But Whitaker also excels at shorter lines, the clipped brilliance of “Incantation” and “How to Find the Edge of the Atlantic” put sound and breath up front and center.

Whitaker also uses theatrical tropes, not only masks, but even semi stage directions in “Fever Dialogue” a hallucinatory poem that is staged, and choreographed, and that echoes the book’s main themes, addiction, illness, and desires of the flesh (i.e. “Water, the first mother of us all.”)

Like Ocean Vuong (See Watterson’s review in TTR Craft Talk), Whitaker’s poems are not some trumped up moment of clarity about the emotional impact of hanging pictures on a Saturday afternoon, or mowing the lawn and discovering the natural world has crept into your yard. No, like Vuong, Whitaker offers up poems where life is in danger. Both Vuong, and Whitaker create a slippery middle ground where gender, death and life, and survival are recast as poetry with classical bones. Vuong’s poems feature a war torn landscape, while Whitaker gives us the rural south, at war with opiates, alcohol, and poverty.

Whitaker gives us several characters to follow. We have Tiresias, who shows up throughout, and Christy, according to the notes, a composite character. The main character of the “Christy” poems is hanging on by a thread. Her mother’s “disappointed mouth cocked at <her> like a gun. Later, abandoned, addicted, and writing to her sponsor from jail, she still manages to find peace in the simplest pleasures: fields, pastures, a lone radio. All My Rowdy Friends delivers on the grit, and showcases Whitaker’s softer side. It’s both refreshingly challenging at the same time that it is accessible.

PunksWritePoems, Whitaker, and the pod-casting duo, the Alpine Strangers, collaborated to bring us a set list of many of the poems as interpreted by Alpine Strangers, which are Nate McFadden and Cody Grimm. These stories, told with ambient sounds, or even punked out in a snarling snaking song called “Two Snakes Fucking,” are a fantastic companion piece to the book.

It makes me wonder why don’t more publishers do this? You can listen to them here:

Brooke's Wedding cropCassandra Watterson lives north of Philadelphia, and makes a living as a freelance writer and a part-time teacher of English literature. She was educated at Towson University and the University of Scranton.

Read Cassandra’s Review of Night Sky With Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, an author with large publishing house Copper Canyon Press, here and now.

Ocean Vuong is hot property!



by Cassandra Watterson

Ocean Vuong is hot property. The young poet’s newest book, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, $16, Copper Canyon Press, is one of those volumes of poetry young hipsters at the coffee bar are likely to describe as an “instant classic” or “genius.” It did win the Whiting Award, after all, and is a mythic, ecstatic collection of poems about love, family, and the impact of history. Copper Canyon ordered a second printing of this book in April, when his readings at AWP, and trending sales during National Poetry Month colluded to raise Vuong’s temperature to hot, hot, hot.

Night Sky With Exit Wounds is fantastic. Big and grand and pretty. This isn’t precious poetry, or poetry that is concerned with capturing the epiphany of the suburbs. No, Vuong fuses sex, gender, myth, and family history into a brilliant, sad, and sometimes-lonely collection of poetry.

Part of the fun of Night Sky With Exit Wounds is Vuong’s use of classic mythology to subvert his own narratives. Telemachus, Eurydice, Odysseus, and the Trojan horse, among others, find new life in Vuong’s poems. And what’s so refreshing is that Vuong’s visions of these classic tropes are sensual and slippery. It’s not only the psycho-sexual internal drama of Telemachus going through his Oedipal urges, but also an expression of our strange bodies, how they are joyful, and also confounding. This motif, the backbone of Vuong’s book, infuses his familial mythic lyrics with an inviting lushness. We identify with the boy in these poems, one who carries the weight of his father as if his father was a king, a war hero, something bigger and brighter and more dangerous than a suburban father, can of beer at his side, mowing the lawn. The classical imagery echoes the shadows of the Viet Nam war that Vuong’s generation inherited.

Vuong, who is gay, and an immigrant, establishes his role as outsider from the beginning. The opening poem, “Threshold” finds a speaker who describes spying on his father through a keyhole, saying “In the body, where everything has a price,/I was a beggar.” The tension in “Threshold” and the use of modifiers “the man,” and “that morning,” give us a sense that the boy has a history of being a peeping tom of sorts, and has been drawn to such furtive behavior. The peeping becomes a moment of discovery. The boy’s caught by dear old dad who would “listen for my clutched breath/behind the door.” His father, like a gateway, his singing deep and strong enough to ‘“fill <him> to the core/like a skeleton,” suggests what a terrible power fatherhood is.

Vuong’s vision in Wounds shows us that because we were all children once, every act towards us from our parents, from the worst to the greatest, becomes the mythologized ways we experience love. This is not to say that Vuong is psychoanalysis in metaphor, but rather that his poems about family and particularly his father ripple outward, psychologically. It’s hard not to think of Vuong’s father as being some fearful presence, an image often coupled with an AK-47, or blood, or a bullet wound. The very language the poet uses is as loaded as Sylvia Plath’s Nazi imagery in “Daddy.” Whether it’s “here is your father inside/your lungs” in “Deto(nation)” or “the way I seal my father’s lips/with my own, “ or even fatherly love projected outward as “another man leaving/into my throat” in “Devotion.” Vuong sets the reader off down this sometimes elusive, and elegiac path from the get go.

One of the more powerful poems in the collection is “Aubade with Burning City,” which strips Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” into lines that are cut between the narrative of the fall of Saigon. It captures the surrealism of that Christmas song playing as magnolia blossoms fall and also the way people fall, cut down as they try to flee. Vuong uses striking imagery, the surprising contrast of the music and the death, all without preaching. Like the best of the political poets, Vuong shows, and lets the images do all the telling.

Stylistically, Vuong shows off his chops, playing with lines, form, and even the absence of lines in the “Seventh Circle of Earth,” a poem composed entirely of footnotes. The narrative is placed at the bottom of the page, while the footnotes hang like ashes in the air. Though Vuong channels elegy, many of the poems, and many of the lines are ecstatic frenzied exhalations. Not only is there the Whitmanesque impulse for long breathy notes, there is also the Dickinsonian control and flute like trills.

Rimbaud’s mischievousness sneaks into Vuong’s narratives. Vuong’s lush syllable play is erotic, and many of his poems are sensually charged; his images are rooted in the body. Even when not sexual, the language is classically erotic, a fascination with the physical body, and its relation to the spirit. Vuong’s poems inhabit the body, our desires. Many of the poems rely on the old French tradition of likening sex and death, le petit mal, and also express that to be queer is to fight a war for what you love.

Poetry is part preening, part magic, a glamor of words and theatrics, and Vuong does not disappoint. Night Sky With Exit Wounds flies; its wings make broad shadows across the landscape.

American poetry is infused with young vibrant talent thanks to the writing workshops that have become ubiquitous across college campuses. Regardless of how one feels about writing boot camps, the capitalist higher education salon culture creates readers, audiences, consumers of its own interests. There’s nothing wrong with that, mind you, it shows that American poetry is in resurgence. Making a comeback. Of course it never really left. Vuong isn’t the only young bright star ascending, and if you are a fan of poetry, it’s a great time to be a reader.

Keep an eye out for Cassandra’s Review of Stephen Scott Whitaker’s All My Rowdy Friends, from small publisher PunksWritePoems!

Cassandra Watterson lives north of Philadelphia, and makes a living as a freelance writer and as a part-time teacher of English literature.

She was educated at Towson University and the University of Scranton.


The Beauty of Curved Space



By Maria Elena B. Mahler

The Beauty of Curved Space
48 Poems / 83 pages
Glass Lyre Press

Stephen Linsteadt is a painter and a poet whose work is inspired by the archetypal feminine in both her physical form and her numinous overtones.


The Beauty of Curved Space, a collection of his poems, traces the curves, the joys, and challenges of painting along the inner landscapes of his struggles, dreams, and aspirations: a long and pleasant journey, a safari of untamed expectations.

Stephen’s muse is the voice of the archetypal feminine. Like Sophia, she calls from behind the veil of our everydayness, beckoning mankind to a path of self-discovery. She is always present in his studio and in his verse as he struggles to find himself below the surface of his intuitive pigment and his cerebral nature: Each line a new revelation/a mystic curve or splash.


Lines have a life,
a beginning and an end. They have joys and sorrows
in between. Like the line that contours a woman’s hip,
it tells us it is hip by its proportion and context.

The line speaks through its undulations of her many lovers,
her aspirations, disappointments, and regrets.

I am uniquely qualified to speak about Stephen’s work and his search for the feminine. I am his wife. I am his model, his muse, and the occasional interrupting voice in his studio. I am a witness to his search for wholeness. I am a witness of his realization that he could never have attained inner peace without embracing the feminine. My husband gives me hope that humanity will once again embrace, reconnect with, and honor the feminine that is necessary to our survival as a species. This ‘returning to the feminine’ is pervasive in Stephen’s painting and poetry.

I am not the only female to make this observation. Poet and editor Lois P. Jones, in her essay about Stephen’s painting in the anthology, Woman in Metaphor, says of Stephen’s work: “Woman symbolizes man’s continued magnetic pull toward creation on this earth and his struggle, perhaps, between free will and the tug of attraction. Here, beauty is not the permanent home of perfection but holds the power to turn the hunter inward.”

You press my cheek against your breast
where I lay and wait for the cunning huntress
to turn me inwards upon myself.

Jones further explains, “Linsteadt’s focus speaks to the larger alchemic metaphor of woman as an archetype of our ancestral experiences and the collective female psyche.” Stephen’s view is that our life’s experiences, disappointments, and difficulties are the alchemical and tempering fires that transmute and guide us to higher possibilities.

Poet Laureate of Ventura County Mary Kay Rummel says, “Linsteadt’s words describing painting also describe his poems. Tangible, painterly landscapes become journeys of the mind, moving from, to and towards mystery, haunted by the woman, human and divine, who slips out of paintings and into poems of the body and of the soul. This gifted poet’s voice is lyrical, both visionary and grounded, often dryly aphoristic.”

Poet Kate Kingston says, “Merging the artistic line with the poetic line, Linstead’s poems honor the female form while creating an awareness, a sixth sense, that resonates beyond the physical body. His voice takes us into the beauty of the line’s curve, its thickness and thinness, its sorrow and joy, its expectation and addiction.”

Stephen is a constant student of the cosmos, which can be felt in all of his pursuits often scattered about our home where we live under the baking sky of the Sonora Desert. The desert is Stephen’s landscape upon which he sheds his prejudices and from which his canvas takes him on mystery tours with the ‘unknown woman’ and her elusive world just beyond his grasp.

My soul is busy transferring material of the outside world
into the interior—

I can’t tell if I’m in the interior
floating on the essence of my life’s experiences
or drifting on what’s left over.

Other poems take us to umbral landscapes, like Van Gogh’s Saint-Rémy de Provence. A place where madness is the language: only warm iris blossoms understand.

the backdrop to “Starry Night”
painted close to where green bathed
the artist’s vision in a yellow
tainted room.

The scent of Languedoc
still warm about your neck.

Thunder uncoils over the night.

Rain on my umbrella
drops of deep mystery.

We once spent a few days in Saint-Rémy, where we fell madly in love with the scent of lavender, the persistent mist, and the olive groves Van Gogh painted. We walked on the pebbled paths around the asylum to the garden with the irises, the ones we imagined Van Gogh had contemplated from his bedroom window on the second floor. Like Van Gogh, Stephen’s poetry searches for an ungraspable light: Their light whispers/and won’t hold still. And: Admittedly Van Gogh never captured light/moving through cypress/But I can always count on the wind to blow.

As Stephen’s wife, I can attest to his dauntless pursuit of the feminine goddess and all the mysteries she holds.


Maria-Elena-MahlerMaria Elena B. Mahler is the author of the forthcoming bilingual collection of poetry Sweeping Fossils (Glass Lyre Press). Her poetry has been published in English and Spanish in Badlands, Saint Julian Press, Under the Radar (UK), Fredericksburg Literary Review, Fire Tetrahedron, and others. Her poetry has also been included in the anthologies Beyond the Lyric Moment (Tebot Bach 2014) and Poeming Pigeons (The Poetry Box 2015). She was a finalist in the 2011 San Francisco-based Primer Concurso de Poesía Latinoamericana en Español. In 2016, she was also a finalist in the annual competition by Bordersenses. Her poetry was selected for four Spanish anthologies published by El Centro de Estudios Poéticos in Madrid, Spain. Maria Elena has two fiction short stories published in Conclave (Balkan Press 2016) and Red Earth Review (2016). She was the editor of the poetry anthology Woman in Metaphor (NHH Press 2013). Maria Elena was raised in the South of Chile. After graduating with a degree in Communications, she lived and worked in Mexico and Canada, and currently resides in the Sonoran Desert of Southern California.


Barrett Warner on Iris Jamahl Dunkle’s “There’s a Ghost in this Machine of Air”


by Barrett Warner

One way to examine ancient Greek myth assumes that Mount Olympus represents consciousness. If so, then it is a consciousness preoccupied with its extremities—underworlds and heavens, and distant geographies. And to reach them one doesn’t need a shrink; one needs a boat and an enigmatic guide. One needs a ghost in a machine of air.

Iris Jamahl Dunkle’s new volume of poetry is an important evolutionary step in this way of thinking about place and traveling in one spot. In her poems, time is a layered outcrop and discovery occurs when the layers edge over and under themselves. Space and time, consciousness and desire, and apple groves add rich dimensions. Leaving only one question, she writes, in “The Llano de Santa Rosa Rancho, 1843,” How will we emerge from the story we have fallen into?

Dunkle is an intimate poet. There’s a Ghost in This Machine of Air begins with a letter to the originating place, “Dear Sebastopol,” a small town in Sonoma County, California, once a plum and apple growing region. The poet signals us about the moving shapes of time: “Hard not to get dizzy, here, under tides of scent— / how they grade and terrace the air.” Her description of the land—“salt thick tang of wet earth fat with limestone / against sweet rot of wind falls”—is not a glance out some train window from someone in a hurry to be somewhere else.

Nature is Dunkle’s great love and she knows its body well. She isn’t trying to colonize its spirit but to divine her own. The poem concludes:

Once, your accepted story swallowed me under its bell glass sky.

Now, I wake slowly. Learn to waver

in the air above what history we’ve learned, sense what’s pushing up underneath.

The poet admits to once believing in Sebastopol’s creation myth (trains and groves painted in a mural on the post office wall), and perhaps to some bell jar myth of herself, but this is a poem asking for truer consciousness, the waking slowly to sense the layers. “Here,” she seems to be saying as these poems continue, “let me show you, not with stories, but with narrative meditations.” In “A Language Is a Map of Our Failures” the chief failure is the way our literal minds use language to forget associative experiences. When we lose our empathy for the world which preceded ours, we lose the land “covered in thick redwoods; / their dizzying tops spindled the wool of low fog…Close enough to the sea to dream of salt and the muscular bodies of fish.” Even the first ship—a word that doesn’t exist to the native peoples—is described as a hollow whale.

Yes, there is a dizziness to reading these poems, and some of that has to do with Dunkle’s use of many points of view: the shore, someone on shore approaching a ship, someone on a ship approaching shore, someone centuries before who developed the Gravenstein apple, the point of view of seeds stowed in passenger trunks, and too, a kind of voice-over narration that pops up to re-orient us: “In the 1850s, those who didn’t find gold farmed.” While a number of her poems read like dramatic monologues, they are not written in service to character, but to place. In this, her poems lean towards ekphrastic poetry, wherein the work of art being touched upon is Earth itself.

In “Planting Gold Ridge mid 1800s,” the sensuous Dunkle fitfully describes slash and burn destruction to prepare the fields, and the joy that comes from it: “Hint of pink buds like perfect tongues. / Then, hillside igniting into confetti of delicate pink blossoms.” The hills just beyond where “seas try to reclaim the land,” speak to the undulations in time where water and air and land are one indistinguishable element:

I must watch the hills roll out toward

somewhere else where the fog rests. I must

site a single tree rising on the hill’s

sloped, broad back, and know it as a sign.

The mythic symmetry of competing natural elements bends a kind of internal logic. “The Washoe House” is a “House made of dawn, house made of thunderous hearts; / bricked in; gone cement silent; mouths full of dust; / walls still whirring, still breathing like hummingbird wings.” The saloon straddles a creek and its walls harbor the many ghosts of intimacies paid for with “a small pinch of gold dust.” The women’s “breath fogging the glass between truth and what we chose to tell.”

The clarity of everyday truth and the obscurity of fog are prolific tropes for Dunkle, especially in an era of exploitation. In “There Lies the Thing I Most Desire,” a dramatic monologue of a Japanese American man who loses his harvest when he’s removed to an internment camp, Dunkle observes:

trust is difficult to plow here—

…There is no way to dig it out like the oaks

we cleared from our field before we planted.

There is only the stiff wind,

the press of powdery stars into our longest night.

Taking from the land, we rob from ourselves because we are the land, we are the sea, and we are the air. We are the fog we are trying to see through in the same way that a basket woven from sedge stalks is a prayer for the roots of the sedge.

In some ways, There Is a Ghost in This Machine of Air feels like a “project.” I intend this, by no means, as a slight, since some of the most remarkable works result from a brief, passionate exploration (such as Carolyn Forche’s The Country Between Us). Dunkle can be forgiven if she crosses the line at times between focus (which draws the reader into the art) and tunnel vision (which can make her subject feel claustrophobic). And, too, she’s written a few of these poems in clusters that both bring out her best work and muddy it with arrangements in series. Maybe for this reason her poems that mark transitions—where matters leave one dizzy with heart song—were some of my favorite selections.

“Moon over Laguna de Santa Rosa” begins the book’s second section, Laguna de Santa Rosa, a river that “flows both ways carrying history heavy on its back” and offers these deft ending lines:

Today, the moon hangs low in the sky.

Not full, just a thin crescent illuminating a single path back,

past the remaining oaks, past forgetting.

Dunkle is skilled at ending without closing a poem so that every last line or stanza can also be the beginning of a new poem, a new way “in” to Sebastopol where every new and old wound “at its center, is a mouth.” A mouth meant for singing and language and kissing to wake us slowly to the Other—the Sebastopol—within us. She writes in “Finding Lake Ballard”:

When they ask you who ruined this place

answer with a tongue made of peach peels

and a mouth full of sewage. Your eyes backlit

with dynamite and the smooth shine of dirt.

Barrett Warner is a lecturer; book reviewer; essayist; unique, witty, and masterful poet; and co-editor of the Free State Review, a literary journal. His poetry collection Why is It So Hard to Kill You?, Somondoco Presswas published in 2016. In addition to The Tishman Review, his recent work can be found in these publications: Coda Quarterly, Adroit Journal, Consequence Magazine, Chiron Review, Entropy Magazine, and Cultural Weekly.

Ending Anxiety

Man and Tree



by Erin Lillo

Not knowing what I wanted to read, I recently grazed my bookshelves. This indecision—wanting to read, not knowing what to read; needing to write, not knowing what to write—is often a part of my writing process, especially when I approach the end of a project. Although the end may not be the right nominative for this moment as I’m likely to return to the same poems, scenes, stories, chapters again and again with a kind of restless tinkering that makes me wonder if I missed my calling as a watch maker or nervous mechanic. Early in my writing life, this ending anxiety unnerved me, but as I approach the final draft of my poetry thesis, I find myself resigned. The manuscript is done enough to fulfill degree requirements, but the manuscript isn’t complete. Anxiety marches on.

My grazing led me to Stephen Dunn’s essay collection, Walking Light, and in this spirit, I read Dunn’s essays in no particular order, beginning with “The Good and Not So Good.” I’m fascinated by these kinds of essays. The good poem versus the bad poem—is it like the Supreme Court’s definition of obscene: you know it when you see it? Is it quantifiable, like that bit of dialogue from Dead Poet’s Society, where the imminent Dr. Pritchard’s essay teaches prep school boys how to chart a poem’s greatness on a graph?

My instinct is to say not definable, not quantifiable and to embrace the playfulness in Dunn’s essay. Yet in my more cynical moments I wonder if this tendency derives from my ambivalence toward my almost (but not really) finished aforementioned work.

Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite lines from “The Good and Not So Good:”

The good poem is implicitly philosophical. The not so good poem, conversely,
may exquisitely describe a tree or loneliness, but if the description does not
suggest an attitude toward nature, or human nature, we are left with a kind of
dentist office art—devoted to decoration and the status quo.

The connection between sanitary art and the status quo reminds me of product jingles; think of all those poets and musicians colluding to sell us heartburn medication and upscale tequila. I’d much rather challenge the insanity of our contemporary moment, to witness the reality of voice and power. Dunn implies the good poem must reveal a complicated attitude toward its subject matter—not bitterness, but not indifference either. This attitude must also reveal the place where the poet’s voice and wounds rest edge-to-edge; otherwise, the poem tidies up reality to the point of sanitation or empty prettiness, which is a lie.

Here’s another excerpt and observation:

Not only must poets turn away from tired or dead language, they must be wary of
their best ideas and all the language that was available to them before the poem
began. That is, all the language that hasn’t been found by the language in the
poem. And then even that new language should be doubted and resisted.
Resistance leads to discovery. No, no, no, no, and then yes. The good poem offers
us a compelling, vibrant replacement for what, in our complacency, we allowed
ourselves to believe we knew and felt.

I discovered Fahrenheit 451 when I was a freshman in high school and ever since I’ve been drawn to literature that exposes how so many of our thoughts, emotions, and actions derive from untested belief. We can believe we’re happy, living lives we chose for ourselves, until someone asks, “Are you happy?” Test the belief, like Bradbury’s Guy Montag, and you never know what devastation you might find. With Dunn’s definition, however, this devastation becomes a source of creativity—resistance leading to discovery, a series of no’s followed by yes. A compelling, vibrant truth replaces a complacent lie when a poem is a good poem. Therefore, beware the pre-packaged and beribboned ending—too tidy, too complacent. And one of my most persistent writing habits.

Here’s one final example from Dunn:

The morality of the poet is to keep his/her tools sharp, always to be ready for the
convergence of deep concern with subject matter. In this sense, craft and care for
the integrity of language are the only things that separate the poet from the
obvious moralist.

The not so good moral poem often works against some abuse or injustice and in
its zeal gives content more attention than composition. This is the gift that
falls apart, the one years later you can’t seem to find when the giver comes to

I read this, thinking “Of course, language first.” On the one hand, the precision of language, its rhythms and sounds; on the other, language and its slippery, emotive fogginess—a poet’s toolbox must be versatile, indeed.

For me, a new and somewhat begrudged tool has to be patience. Part of writing the good poem is knowing when and how to return to the work with language best suited to converge deep disquiet with subject matter. It’s a psychic energy as much as anything else, I suspect, but I’m not sure how to recognize the symptoms of “obvious moralist” in my work.

Does developing this sensibility come through the submission-rejection-revision cycle of publication (also closely linked to patience)? When the poem (or story or essay) finds an editorial home, perhaps that’s a signal of completeness. Rejection is a signal of incompleteness, of the necessity for more work and more time. But if this is the case, why do I suspect a great deal of obvious moralizing receives acceptance notices?

Maybe the integrity of the poem is something you hear rather than see (this reminds me of a line from To Kill a Mockingbird, something about how recognizing truth in a witness’s testimony is more about listening than anything else). Could it be that the only ears tuned to hear the poem for what it really is belong to the writer? But then what’s the point of sending the piece into the world, if the music is for myself alone? Dunn’s essay left me with more questions than answers.

Regardless, this reminder about a poet’s integrity living in the individual words and the choices those words represent, all these unanswered questions, nourish me. I return to my tinkering, less anxious, more curious about what the next word might bring. For the moment, I forget about finishing the project. When there’s so much potential for discovery, why worry about the end?

In addition to writing, teaching, studying, and parenting, Erin Lillo reads too much and listens to music too loudly. She also has an ongoing competition with her husband to see who can work the most lines from The Big Lebowski into everyday conversation. Currently, she’s losing. Her short fiction has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review.

On God is Round, Metaphors, and Soccer

nami-1430508One of the things that has always been a mystery to me, as an American and as a soccer player and fan, is why soccer has been so long to take hold in the USA. I grew up “on the pitch.” I began playing the sport as a small child and quickly learned to love the movement, grace, skill, and camaraderie the game requires of all its participants. Mexican journalist and Professor of Literature Juan Villoro, in his book God is Round: Tackling the Giants, Villains, Triumphs, and Scandals of the World’s Favorite Game, (Restless Books, 2015), summates this, and so much more, in a compilation of essays about soccer and what the game and its traditions represent in the South American culture.

For South American soccer fans, and for the fans of Juan Villoro, who is not just a writer but also perhaps the most prolific, well-known, and well-respected writer and analyst of the game in Mexico and beyond, God is Round might be merely a collection of his works that readers are happy to have, keep on a shelf. But, I think, for the US American picking up the book, God is Round becomes a road map of sorts, a guide that not only explains the what of the game in South America, but also the why, the how, the passion.

I happened to be reading the book (for the second time) during the COPA Americano. In reading the essays in tandem with the events of the tournament, I developed a much deeper understanding of not just the game, but the teams, players, and the whys of the events that unfolded on the pitch.

As Villoro insists, the soccer field is an allegory of space and time and each match becomes a reflection of what is happening in our society. In taking this view, we can then begin to see how not only soccer, but all sports, and indeed, all past times can become a real reflection of who and what we’re becoming and who and what we are—as individuals and as a group.

Villoro’s writings in God is Round are these short clips, almost flash non-fiction, or poetic descriptors, of usually a small moment in a game, or a play, or about a move, or a player who makes a signature move. In these moments, Villoro is a poet who translates the soccer moments into something altogether more. God is Round is a work in translation (taken from Spanish to English by Thomas Bunstead), it is a collected works, and Villoro does repeat certain ideas, events, and subjects from time to time, essay to essay. These lyrical essays are about so much more than the game of soccer. Villoro attempts to unveil the connective tissue that lies beneath every play on the field, every match result. He aspires, in his vignettes, to capture the very essence of what it is to be human on this planet. It’s a broad gesture, but oh, so very close to being accomplished here. Yet, as a whole, God is Round accomplishes something remarkable.

Reading God is Round now, as we head into the Olympics, and as soccer becomes a more present and pronounced sport on the US athletics scene, makes me wish I had not only read it sooner, but also paid more attention—to the game, to the language, the sport of it all.

God is Round is, at its very least, a rare collection of good essays about soccer and, at its very best, a guidebook to understanding the ups and downs, mastery and disaster, irony and splendor, of what we love, fight for, appreciate and claim in this game called life.

Maura Snell is a poet and soccer fan, and the Poetry Editor for The Tishman Review.

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