Sylvia Byrne Pollack

Sylvia Byrne Pollack, a scientist turned poet, has published in Floating Bridge ReviewCrab Creek Review and Clover, among other print and online journals. A two-time Pushcart nominee, she won the 2013 Mason’s Road Literary Award, was a 2019 Jack Straw Writer and will be a 2021 Mineral School Resident. Her debut full-length collection Risking It is published by Red Mountain Press (2021.)

Sylvia Byrne Pollack

In September They Draw Down The Lake

In September They Draw Down The Lake, by Suzanne Simmons

Review by Bill Rector

I do not know Suzanne Simmons, except by way of her chapbook, In September They Draw Down The Lake (Alexandria Quarterly Press, 2020). This is fitting, as her work derives its tension from the distance, emotional, physical, and temporal, that exists between herself and others.

The second poem in the book, “Commute,” concludes:

The train streaking beside us
blows its whistle, years ago.
We’re almost there.

Are we? The last poem in the collection is the echo she hears in the “shivery tunnels” of loons’ cries:

They cut through my dreams. Wake me.
Do you hear them? You on your shore?

The book is divided into three, untitled sections. The initial section focuses on loss and its constant companion, regret.  The first loss is that of her mother, who had a glass eye, in which the author sees herself disappear. In “Self Portrait,” she writes:


Then, the loss of a lover/husband:

(I don’t miss you.) I miss air. (I don’t miss you.)

The second section is about her third loss, which is that of her son, who has autism. “Nursery rhyme” concludes with this wrenching sequence:

Normal health baby

At six, he asked Mommy, please kill me.
Smeared feces on the dinosaur wallpaper.
Came at me with teeth and eyes wild, clawing.

Rocking, rocking, rocking.

A later poem, “Coded” shows a family torn apart. The poem begins during a parent-teacher conference, in which the poet is sitting in a child-sized chair, and ends:

My husband begins crawling for the door.
Seventeen years pass.
I’m sitting in a child-sized chair.
I’m about to speak.

The heroine of the third section of the book is the lake near which the poet lived and perhaps still does.

It was sweet when you held me up.
Sweeter still when I dove to your bottom.
Thanks for lapping and churning
and the mornings when you lay under the mist
silent. I was furious every winter when you froze.

One might expect the body of water to express, through the many forms available to metaphor, a form of reconciliation.

Not so. Here in “Long Night,” is this:

Cold stuns the lake
onto glass. Portal moon.

[ … ] Hunger Moon,
and one called crust.

This is the moon of the unfuckable.
Between my boots and the rutted earth,
a skin of ice breaks.

This book is skillfully written and worth reading for that reason alone. Its actively beating and, at times, raw and raging heart, is representative of our times.

Editor’s note: There is an introduction to In September They Draw Down the Lake, written by Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic, which concludes with these words: “In a time of so much crisis, what a pleasure to read this kind, loving, beautiful work.”

Suzanne Simmons’ poems, essays and photographs have been published in the NYTimes, Fifth Wednesday, Rattle, Smartish Pace, The Baltimore Review and numerous other journals. Her chapbook In September They Draw Down the Lake was released by Alexandria Quarterly Press in 2020. Visit her at

Title: In September They Draw Down the Lake
Author: Suzanne Simmons
Publisher: Alexandria Quarterly Press, 2020

Price: $14

Bill Rector is a retired physician. He formerly edited the Yale Journal of Humanities in Medicine. His publishing credits include a full-length poetry collection entitled, bill, through Proem Press, and five chapbooks: Lost Moth, about the death of his daughter, which won the Epiphany magazine chapbook competition; Biography of a Name (Unsolicited Press), relating the death of Jimmy Hoffa to contemporary American culture; Brief Candle (Prolific Press), a series of sonnets in modern idiom about selected characters from Shakespeare; Two Worlds (White Knuckle Press), relating the transcendent to the ordinary, which the editors called one of the most beautiful collections they have published; and most recently, Hats are the Enemy of Poetry (Finishing Line Press).

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Elijah B Pringle, III

Elijah B Pringle, III, Artivist. A former Training Specialist and Director of Training, currently on sabbatical, is focusing his time on writing and editing. He is an advisor for Moonstone Art Center and a poetry editor for ToHo Journal.  Elijah has appeared on Stage, Radio and TV and was one of the hosts for Who Do You Love? a talk show on PhillyCam created by Warren Longmire to discuss writers.  He has been published both nationally and internationally.  Elijah comes from a strong tradition of educators and has facilitated numerous workshops.  He is finishing pre-production work on his play “Should Be …”  

The Missing Ones

The Missing Ones, Poems by Lauren Davis

Review by Risa Denenberg

I’ll start with a disclosure: Lauren Davis and I are friends and often share our poetry with one another. The first review at the Café was my review of Davis’s chapbook, Each Wild Thing’s Consent, and Lauren has been a guest reviewer on this site. In The Poetry Café Guidelines For Reviewers, I say,

I am not at all reluctant to publish reviews of books from poets known to the reviewer, as long as the review is credible.

Reader, I promise, credibly, that I am besotted with The Missing Ones, and would urge you to order one of the limited press run of 40 copies, if any were still available. But it appears they are all gone. Befitting the poems, they have disappeared.  

The Missing Ones (Winter texts, Limited edition, 2021) by Lauren Davis,is a tour de force narrative of persons lost at sea. More specifically persons lost in the glacial-fed, crystal-clear body of Lake Crescent, a lake which reaches a maximum depth of over 1000 feet, is algae-free due to the water’s nitrogen content, and has an average temperature of 44 degrees.  Davis’s interest in the stories of these lost lives is also compelling to me as we both live on the Olympic Peninsula, near this iconic lake. Davis’s poetry is equally enthralling, and a remarkable lyrical match for the story she tells in these poems.  

In the book’s preface the reader learns,

On July 3, 1929, Russell Warren picked up his wife, Blanch … They drove U.S. Route 101 along Lake Crescent towards their home in Port Angeles, Washington. They’d promised to celebrate the Fourth of July with their sons. But the couple did not arrive home. The two boys never saw their parents again.

In the poem, “Seven Thousand Years Ago,” the story’s history opens,

            The earthquake cut a drowned country
            xxxxx for us to rest.
            In these depths, God laid out a marriage bed.

The first poem in the book, “Blanch Says,” starts with the line, “There are dangers / in deep waters no one / speaks of.” The enormity and terror of nature as it unfolded and continues to evolve on the Olympic Peninsula is rendered skillfully in these lines. As humans struggle to stay relevant on mother earth, nature plods on, on her own course. In “The Missing Ones,” Blanch is an iconic symbol of that struggle when her voice says,

There is a stain on the rock
unfolding. I drink the lake,

All of it. I make it mine.   

And in “What Makes the Lake So Thirsty,” the plot thickens,

We are not the only mislaid ones.
They rest at separate depths.
We are the republic of secrets
and missing person cases.
I wore my least favorite dress to our death.
The lake floor is a reversed sky,

And yet, there is a life in the depths, and in “Things That are Pleasing,” Blanch’s voice lists some of them,

Beardslee trout dancing.
A rainstorm I hear but cannot feel.
The small of winter in hidden splits.
My husband’s eyes in the depths.

Now I must tell you something about Beardslee trout: they are a species of rainbow trout that are endemic to and live only in Lake Crescent. If this piques your interest, read more at The Native Fish Society. It is this detail, among others gleaned from the long history of the lake, that deepen the emotional resonance of these poems.

Blanch also has her complaints. In “Things that Irritate,” she lists some of them:

Candy wrappers that float into my bedroom.
Friends who do not say goodbye after they are found.
Long weeks without rain.
Divers that swim past my outstretched hand.

And there are also “Rare Things,”

Minutes that I do not miss my sons.
Green herons.
Decades without new bodies.

Blanch’s voice tells her story in “I’ll Tell you What Happened,” a narrative of drowning that is precise and terrifying, and yet redemptive at the same time.

This is how it feels to drown:
You’ll try not to inhale, but you will.

Water will fill the lungs. When your beloved drifts by
you will be unable to reach your hands to him.
Just try to move a single muscle. Your eyes will

stay open. Your husband has something to tell you—
you can sense it in the cold. Wait until you are both done
drowning. Then build a new home.

The details here are stunning, make me want to believe in this afterlife of the drowned dead. I grieve for Blanch and the others when she says, in “When the Lady of the Lake Comes to Stay,”

Russell, we have a visitor
and nothing to offer—
 no cake, no coffee.

Let us share our home
with its many rooms of water.

These poems are not at all sentimental. I am not a sentimental person. And yet, even at the fifth reading of them, I have cried.

Why would I review a book that is currently out of print? In part because I want you to remember the name of the poet. Lauren Davis. The poet has other books for you to buy and you will find her poems on the internet in many places. You will be hearing more from her, I promise. And, as the first printing sold out, hopefully, a second printing won’t be far behind, so that you can have your own copy!

Lauren Davis is the author of Home Beneath the Church (Fernwood Press, forthcoming), and the chapbooks Each Wild Thing’s Consent (Poetry Wolf Press, 2018), and The Missing Ones (Winter texts, 2021). She holds an MFA from the Bennington College Writing Seminars, and she teaches at The Writers’ Workshoppe and Imprint Books. She is a former Editor in Residence at The Puritan’s Town Crier and has been awarded a residency at Hypatia-in-the-Woods. Davis lives on the Olympic Peninsula in a Victorian seaport community. Her work has appeared in over fifty literary publications and anthologies including Prairie Schooner, Spillway, Poet Lore, Ibbetson Street, Ninth Letter and elsewhere. 

Title: The Missing Ones
Author: Lauren Davis
Publisher: Winter texts (first edition, limited run)

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

Diane Elayne Dees

Diane Elayne Dees

Diane Elayne Dees’s poetry has been published in many journals and anthologies. Diane is the author of the chapbook, Coronary Truth (Kelsay Books) and the forthcoming chapbook, I Can’t Recall Exactly When I Died. Diane, who lives in Covington, Louisiana, also publishes Women Who Serve, a blog that delivers news and commentary on women’s professional tennis throughout the world. Her author blog is Diane Elayne Dees: Poet and Writer-at-Large.

Reconstructed Happiness

Reconstructed Happiness, a Microchap by Trish Hopkinson
& a Shout-out to the Origami Poems Project

Review by Risa Denenberg

Sister poet Trish Hopkinson sent me a PDF of her very tiny chapbook (called a microchap), Reconstructed Happiness (Origami Poems Project, 2020). You know Trish from her Daily Digest posts that arrive in your inbox, chock-full of information vital to poets; and if you don’t, you should the join the other 16,000 people who do.

I want to tell you about Trish’s book, but first I have to give a shout-out to the Origami Poems Project, whose motto is: Helping the world, one Free microchap at a time!.

The project was established in 2009 and seeks to publish free e-versions of microchap books that you self-assemble, using origami technique. This is brilliant. Learn to fold! (Another motto of this group.) At the website you’ll find this explanation: A microchap presents poems on a single sheet of paper. The paper folds origami-style into palm-sized booklets containing 6 pages of text. Below is a view of the folded microchap printed on Landscape setting:

These little books are designed and published in PDF form, with full-color covers, and with folding directions included. Submissions are free through Submittable, and will re-open in September. They graciously accept donations to keep the “always free” spirit alive.

Back to Trish Hopkinson’s microchap, with the sheepish admission that I didn’t fold it correctly, but I loved it anyway. Reconstructed Happiness enfolds three poems. In “My Matter,” the word matter is bisected into its concrete meaning (as in, “anything that has mass and volume”) and its use in the abstract-concrete sense (bear with me here) of to be relevant or important, sometimes referred to as “material.” The poem reaches for the concept of “we are stardust,” in many forms: dust, pollen, “a dove’s blurred wing,” or dirt “caked beneath toenails.” It ends with string theory:

Pressure peels
threads from my skin, unravels

Into streams of floating string.

The title poem is an “erasure in reverse of Ferlinghetti’s “I Am Waiting.”” It is an anaphora of “I am’s” that includes “I am my typewriter” (of course), along with “I am anarchy.”

The final poem in this series is “Offspring.” I read it as an ode, but it may be interpreted in a number of ways, as a good poem often can be. These lines drew me in, 

My tendrils pull me taut
tether me heavy to the dirt

where I can’t pull free
from root or worm.

You can download Trish’s microchap (and many others) and try your hand at origami. If you decide to submit your work, read their instructions carefully first. Not every chapbook earns the right to be a microchap!

Trish Hopkinson is a poet, blogger, and advocate for the literary arts. You can find her online at and provisionally in Utah, where she runs the regional poetry group Rock Canyon Poets and folds poems to fill Poemball machines for Provo Poetry. Her poetry has been published in several lit mags and journals, including Tinderbox, Glass Poetry Press, and The Penn Review; her third chapbook Footnote was published by Lithic Press in 2017, and her most recent e-chapbook Almost Famous was published by Yavanika Press in 2019. Hopkinson will happily answer to labels such as atheist, feminist, and empty nester; and enjoys traveling, live music, and craft beer.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

To Those Who Were Our First Gods

To Those Who Were Our First Gods, Nickole Brown

Review by Wendy DeGroat

It’s fitting that I needed to sit outdoors amid squirrels and finches and summer humidity, to sweat a little, as I embarked on this review of Nickole Brown’s chapbook, To Those Who Were Our First Gods, a prayer, praise song, and plea that calls on readers to recognize our connection with and responsibility to “the animals with whom [we] share this land.” *

It’s perhaps fitting as well that I would sketch its trajectory while eating potato chips and sipping Sweet Baby Jesus porter. Nickole, who first discovered poetry in a summer workshop midway through high school, describes the surfeit of verse in her childhood this way: “I was raised on the literary equivalent of grease and plastic—if you don’t count the King James, there wasn’t anything to read in the house but Cosmo or maybe a potato chip bag or two.”* That early absence hasn’t stopped her from becoming an accomplished poet, editor, and teacher; her Southern, often hardscrabble childhood providing a wellspring of experiences and insights integral to her success.

I first learned about Nickole’s poetry from poet Laure-Anne Bosselaar Brown who suggested I read Sister, back then in its original edition from Red Hen Press (2007). In this first collection, Nickole navigates the terrain of childhood sexual abuse through a conversation in poems that she’s been unable to have directly with her sister due to the distance between them. It’s a journey she describes as a novel-in-poems but that reads more like a collective memoir-in-poems.

To Those Who Were Our First Gods reflects several stylistic throughlines from Sister and Nickole’s subsequent book, Fanny Says, a biography-in-poems about her grandmother. As was true in those poems, the speaker in First Gods is in constant conversation—with the Lord, with Samson, with Mary Oliver, with the animals she yearns to hear speak to her, and with the readers themselves. This is illustrated in these opening lines of the chapbook’s longest poem, “Against Despair, The Kid Goat,”

Reader, meet the two women who sunk
everything they had into taking in broken

This poem combines Brown’s engaging practice of embodiment with what she refers to as “an oral culture of bossy, storytelling women who always had something to tell you or something to tell you to do,” * her speaker leading the reader through the sacrament of imagining their own bodies in the motions of these two women.

Thus the reader is directed “to be / those two,” and “to try, / to always try, despite the odds.” The poem continues, “Reader, I want you tired, every joint / in your body stiff and worn.” And after the kid goat has a seizure, it directs, “Now, use your arms” then “push together the furred slits / of his lids,” and later, “Now, get on your knees”, say his name (Peanut) while you “stroke his scrawny / goat neck.”

The yearning, so much a part of Brown’s poetry and often amplified by repetition, is also here, as it is at the end of the first poem, “A Prayer to Talk to Animals”:

Fork my tongue, Lord. There is a sorrow on the air
I taste but cannot name. I want to open
my mouth and know the exact
flavor of what’s to come. I want to open
my mouth and sound a language
that calls all language home.

The concept of home is another throughline that persists from Brown’s earlier work. “But now [she’s] writing about animals, who, because of us, increasingly either don’t have a home left or find that home spoiled. *

My favorite poem, the one that made me grin and blush, then stop reading so I could call friends to read it to them, is the middle poem of the nine in the chapbook: “Self Portrait as Land Snail.” As the speaker describes the options the land snail has for both solitary and companion procreation (the latter being the better option, the speaker asserts), Brown’s distinctive voice rises from the page:

I couldn’t make this shit up
if I tried—this is no metaphor
but scientific fact—a telum amoris—literally,
a weapon of love


Cupid’s got nothing on this
mollusk congress, and because you know
how snails go, the foreplay is slow—
slow, slow, slow—my kind of sex—

This poem is deftly placed at the fulcrum of the manuscript.

To Those Who Were Our First Gods also provides plenty to study in terms of structural elements. There’s the effective and moving narrative arc, the first poem expressing a yearning to speak to animals book-ended by the last poem which asks instead to understand animals and speak for them.

There are a range of forms, from poems in a single verse, familiar vessels for the prayer and elegy they convey, to ones organized in sections, and a poem in couplets. This latter form is perhaps symbolic of the contrasting styles of the two lesbian poets in conversation within its stanzas: Mary Oliver with her quiet reverence of nature and Nickole who “speak[s] in a queer, Southern trash-talking kind of way about nature beautiful, damaged, and in desperate need of saving.” *

But don’t let me mislead you into thinking that To Those Who Were Our First Gods offers only more of the same distinct voice and accessible, engaging poetry you’ll find in her previous books—although that would be reason enough to click “Add to Cart.” There is something new here too: a heightened sense of immediacy, an urgency that pulses from the lines. With this work, Nickole Brown has moved from subjects long known—her sister and grandmother, her Southern upbringing— to a territory she was warned against when she was growing up, that of the animal and wild.

When sharing this chapbook’s origin story with Jen Sammons at Oxford American, * Brown explained that soon after she revealed a long-held wish to have “gone into environmental conservation and worked to save animals,” her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs, pointed out that it wasn’t too late for her to fulfill that wish. Nickole started her study by reading books and observing animals at a nearby zoo “from a comfortable remove that’s not too unlike reading”—this from “a girl who left behind her body and became a book, and never had . . . gone outside much until [she] was forty.” 

It was not until she immersed herself in the sweaty, smelly, mucky, heart-wrenching, yet rewarding work of volunteering at animal sanctuaries and wildlife rehabilitation centers that these poems surfaced. I suspect that an earlier Nickole Brown, before coming into her sexual identity and fully into her own body—gifted poet though she already was—would not have written these poems with the same intensity she achieves in To Those Who Were Our First Gods. I’m glad she wrote this chapbook when she did and can’t wait to read her related essay-in-poems, The Donkey Elegies—and whatever comes next.

*Nickole Brown quotes are from the following sources:
A Conversation with Nickole Brown, Oxford American, a Magazine of the South
Interview With Poets Jessica Jacobs and Nickole Brown, By Robert Drinkwater, UMF Department of English Blog
Private communications: e-mail conversation with Nickole Brown (14 June 2020)

Nickole Brown received her MFA from the Vermont College, studied literature at Oxford University, and was the editorial assistant for the late Hunter S. Thompson. She worked at Sarabande Books for ten years. Her first collection, Sister, a novel-in-poems, was published in 2007 with a new edition reissued in 2018. Her second book, a biography-in-poems about her grandmother called Fanny Says, came out from BOA Editions in 2015 and won the Weatherford Award for Appalachian Poetry. She has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and the Kentucky Arts Council. She was an Assistant Professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for four years. Currently, she teaches periodically at a number of places, including the Sewanee School of Letters MFA Program, the Great Smokies Writing Program at UNCA, and the Hindman Settlement School. She lives with her wife, poet Jessica Jacobs, in Asheville where she periodically volunteers at a three different animal sanctuaries. Since 2016, she’s been writing about these animals, resisting the kind of pastorals that made her (and many of the working-class folks from the Kentucky that raised her) feel shut out of nature and the writing about it. To Those Who Were Our First Gods, a chapbook of these first nine poems, won the 2018 Rattle Prize, and her essay-in-poems, The Donkey Elegies, was published by Sibling Rivalry Press in 2020.  

Title: To Those Who Were Our First Gods
Author: Nickole Brown
Winner of the 2018 Rattle Chapbook Prize 2018
Finalist for the Julie Suk Award
ISBN 978-1-931307-39-

Wendy DeGroat is the author of Beautiful Machinery (Headmistress Press) and is currently revising a documentary poetry manuscript about Grace Arents, a Progressive-era philanthropist and educator, and Grace’s companion, Mary Garland Smith. Wendy’s poetry has appeared in Cider Press Review, Commonplace, the museum of americana, Rogue Agent, Rust + Moth, The Wild Word, and elsewhere.She is a librarian and mindfulness teacher in Richmond, Virginia, where she also curates (a resource site for documentary poetry and for diversifying the poetry taught in high school and undergraduate classrooms), encourages writers to find inspiration in quirky historical artifacts found in libraries and archives, and serves as a small-group facilitator for Living the Richmond Pledge, a workshop that empowers participants to take an active role in ending racism in their communities.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.

November Quilt

November Quilt, by Penelope Scambly Schott (The Poetry Box, 2018)

Review by Lennart Lundh

When I was in Vietnam, I wrote my wife every day. Some letters were long, some short, all filled with the events of the day. The thirty daily poems in Penelope Scambly Schott’s November Quilt (Winner of Second Place in the 2018 Poetry Box Chapbook Prize) are much like those letters, exploring the small things we all share or know of. Following the author’s first-day invitation to think of stitching (“I offer you my fingers / this pieced together quilt.”), these daily offerings are the rich and varied fabrics.

And varied they are. On the 2nd, we consider our parents and how we mis-see them:

Did you mistake your parents for grown-ups?
I did. I believed each untruth they told me.

I also thought married people talked only
about boring stuff like calling the plumber.”

 For November 4th, the poet bids us,

Let’s jump back to fifth grade in New York City
where the Russians would bomb first

how can I save us all?”     

while on the 15th we remember, “The dog Laika in her tiny Russian space capsule. // For years we were told / how she was euthanized — not that she fried.”

The importance of these scraps of fabric we share, things my great-granddaughter surely sees as the detritus of ancient history, is made clear on the 9th:

We need to tell each other
all these small details because after we’re gone,

who’ll care? In this life, I care about you.

This pattern formed by Life is explicit on the 13th and 14th, where

What will anyone remember about me? 
Does my sister know how I eat an apple?

The entire apple, core and all the seeds.”

is joined to

What do you know about apples?

I was pulled over for eating an apple —
the officer thought I was on my cell phone.”

Just past midway, on the 18th, Scambly Schott cautions us, “You might ask if my writing has a plot. No, none . . .” Perhaps, but there are subtly continuous threads holding the pieces of November together. For example, the 7th ends,

I reheat my coffee before I walk the dog. 
When we get back from the walk, the coffee is cold.

All day I reheat my same cup.”,

and the 8th picks up the conversation with, “Day after day, sip after sip, we piece together / our lives.” The 15th’s thoughts about Laika and Sputnik begin the epistle for the 16th (“After Sputnik, we were all supposed to study math.”), while the 16th ends, “For a smart girl, / said my mom, how can you be so dumb?”), as the 17th opens by partially explaining, “They taught us long division in May / and I forgot it over summer vacation.”

Somewhere in the third reading, refining my poem-by-poem notes, I realize the bobbin thread anchoring these stitches and pieces is a different commonality: how unknown by, and unknowing of, each other we are. This epiphanal moment, crowning fine, carefully chosen and blended words, is what makes November Quilt so marvelous, so poetic. A tap on the forehead, a pulling aside of a stage curtain, and what is obviously obvious appears. Once seen, it’s impossible to unsee, leading us to a final charge to readers in the last lines of the last poem:

“Please don’t hang this one on a wall or store it
safe from moths in a zippered plastic bag.

Spread this quilt to keep another reader warm.”

Penelope Scambly Schott, author of a novel and several books of poetry, was awarded four New Jersey arts fellowships before moving to Oregon, where her verse biography, A is for Anne: Mistress Hutchinson Disturbs the Commonwealth, received an Oregon Book Award for Poetry. Several of Penelope’s books and individual poems have won other prizes. Her individual poems have appeared in APRGeorgia ReviewNimrod, and elsewhere. Her most recent books are HOUSE OF THE CARDAMOM SEED and NOVEMBER QUILT.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently,
 slight faith (MoonPath Press, 2018).

Jeff Santosuosso

Body of Water Anniversary Interview with Lauren Davis

Lauren Davis: Your debut chapbook Body of Water was published on November 2, 2018. Congratulations on its one-year anniversary! When did you first start to put this manuscript together?

Jeff Santosuosso: Some elements of that book are ten years old, while the most recent, the title poem, is about a year old. That gave me a theme. I generally don’t think in terms of a single-themed work, so that focus was welcome. From there, I browsed my body of work to find similar elements and to tell a story with the chapbook.

LD: In one or two sentences, can you describe the function of a poetry chapbook?

JS: Short story with no overt plot. A flip book of words.

LD: Can you tell me a little bit about how you found your publisher?

JS: I found the publisher via a message board, CRWROPPS and via a referral from another poet. CRWROPPS is a great tool for writers looking for submission opportunities and other things. Clare Songbirds Publishing House is a fine little outfit in upstate New York. They did not require me to presell any chapbooks, as others do, nor did they require a submissions/reading fee. Writers work directly with management.

LD: Your cover is absolutely stunning. Did you provide this image for Clare Songbirds Publishing House?

JS: I love it too! I’ve received many compliments on it and have forwarded them to CSPH. The artist is Angela Yuriko Smith. She did that on her own, presumably having read all or part of the manuscript. In any case, the result is stunning!

LD: What was the editing process like with your publisher?

JS: Easy. Simple email exchange, quickly reverted by the publisher. High marks for that!

LD: And has your relationship to these poems changed any now that they’ve been out in the world?  

JS: Not so much, though I’m fascinated by the feedback I get, what reaches and connects with people. My son read one of them for a college public speaking course and recorded it. Gives me the chills!

LD: That must have been a very special experience, to witness that. Tell me what poem you think best represents this collection.

JS: Probably the title poem and also “The Blue.” The first because it’s personal. The second because it’s universal. I grew up about five miles from Walden Pond, read the book in high school and have always credited it with lasting impact on my outlook. That poem is very introspective, almost a mood poem for me. Separately, I was prompted by the poet and teacher Matthew Lippman to write a poem about the sea/ocean. (What? Yeah, that’s never been done before, I’ve got such a fresh perspective. Uh-huh.) Anyway, that poem is historical and global, a sweep of a piece, if you will. For me, then, the two relate to our personal, internal, finite relationship with water and our universal, external, infinite relationship with it. I’ll always have a soft spot for “New Jersey Nighthawks,” which I wrote on a ski trip when I was reading a lot of Kerouac.

LD: What are you working on now?

JS: Ha! Come to think of it, more than I expected: an adaptation of one of the books of the Bible. A collaborative poetry work with a good friend, inspired by another. A totally killer video collage of Anglophones from all over the world with their luscious local accents reading “Jabberwocky.” Oh, and a novel about tennis, second chances, and redemption that’s finished. What’s the definition of “finished”?

LD: Do you have any advice for poets who are putting together a chapbook manuscript? 

JS: Look for a theme. Look for alignment between your theme and what the editor seeks. Have the book tell a story or have some arrangement, narrative or otherwise. Follow the publisher’s guidelines.

Jeff Santosuosso is a business consultant and award-winning poet living in Pensacola, Florida. His debut chapbook, Body of Water, was published at Clare Songbirds Publishing House. He is Editor-in-Chief of, an online journal of poetry and short prose.

Lauren Davis is the author of Each Wild Thing’s Consent (Poetry Wolf Press). She holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars, and her poetry, essays, stories, and fairy tales can be found in publications such as Prairie SchoonerAutomata ReviewHobart, and Ninth Letter. Davis teaches at The Writers’ Workshoppe in Port Townsend, Washington.

Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published
three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).