Forgive me for comparing, but Fernandez’s first and prior collection, WE ARE PHARAOH, is a starkly different thing and effect/affect than this follow-up, available from the very same Canarium Books.


Here in PINK REEF, the poems are quick and sharp and gruesome in a beautiful and crystalline way. Here, the body comes in pieces and seems to be on its way out due to its own deep thinking and observing. The body (or maybe the voice) tries desperately to describe and claw at its surrounding world as it implodes in its bloodiness and pinkness.

“find the dragon’s scales seeing in / my stomach’s bleeding”

In this way, I think, the collection does lend itself a thread to its predecessor, as I feel both books try to tackle that wonderfully dense problem of absorbing and describing one’s world. But, again, the form and content are given more canines than molars. It’s similar to the experience, I would imagine (mostly based on stories — okay, entirely based on stories), of acupunture: you come out feeling relieved and renewed but the objects themselves are small and pointed.

The voice itself is still Fernandez’s, but with an entirely different aim and purpose than his first book. I wouldn’t call it a comeback; I’d call it a new set of claws.

“the mounds of roe are / so bright today it’s like / I see the sun for the first / time it’s like I see the sun clearly / in the idea of it it’s like I see the sun / clearly in the black mounds of / shine in the swollen / clear of it”

I learned back in a high school weather class that the air in the upper regions of the atmosphere is so thinly spread out that you could fly around in a freezing vastness before encountering a single burning particle. That’s close to how I feel about this collection, though clear air might be replaced by every manner of cloud, by which I mean to represent the wild, weaving language in its beautiful and dangerous abstractness.9780989734417_cvr

“we eclipse / a limit to human strength / we eclipse / eclipse when you are / dying no body listens to you / because every body does”

Part of what connects Valerie Hsiung’s poems both in their individual interior and in the context of the rest of the collection is her heavy, heavy interest in repetition. The poems also relate every human instinct and expression with a piece of a landscape or some element in the natural world, resulting in a magnetic web of connectedness.

“Azaleas to play / and thru azaleas / prescience / Azaleas to play/ and thru azaleas / the place without them / prescience / Azaleas / as if the country/ and banned them”

The collection seems to me an attempt to break us of the way we think about and vocalize our thoughts and the conflicts behind them. It abstracts and blankets these thoughts while grounding them a bit (or, rather, trying to ground them) with repetition. Either way, they guide a sort of floating along as we ascend and descend into and from these struggles to think and address. And, my god, it’s a beautiful exploration. Hsiung prioritizes playing with the space on the page and repetition to make a more interesting and open composition out of these pieces. And it does; to me, it does achieve that openness which otherwise might be absent in these poems, which don’t have many clear markers as to beginnings and endings but if they did it would feel forced against the grain of her established aesthetics. In a lot of ways, the playfulness reminds me of Stein’s Tender Buttons, though under your face is certainly more directive and space-wandering.

I’ll end by saying the best part of this book is the vast amount of surprises. You’d think repetition wouldn’t allow for many, but you’d be wrong. You’d be weatherman wrong.


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I saw Carrie Lorig read with Nick Sturm and a couple other local-ish talents in Cincinnati, my current digs, a week or two ago. When she began, or maybe it was after her first poem, Lorig mentioned that her being into sound is pretty obvious. It is. It really is obvious, and this chapbook from Magic Helicopter is proof and success.

The first thing I feel I must relate this book to is Ariana Reines’s book THE COW, as that book and this one both have some amount of focus on the cow’s body in order to discuss the human body, but this book is a book much more concerned with the sentence, with its restructuring, with its ness in every sense, and with making or Imageremaking or tweaking slightly certain words to help the flow flow. What I mean is: “a cow looks like me when it pets all over my underneat. a cow looks like me when i choke light. when i choke light, it is immediately.”

The language here is playful, sentence-considerate, and somehow Lorig manages to vary sentences over long-ish poems that sustain themselves on this language and on this variance. The poems, in discussing the body somewhat, mention blood or the body often, but rarely directly, and I have this wild idea that this restructuring of language while playing with modes of variance and repetition seeks, perhaps, to consider a restructuring of the body, to restructure a considering of the body, to make a body happen out of thin air. This book is a body.

Wong‘s first full-length, a chunky and beautiful thing composed of sections, is a rhymic dynamo that lulls and startles. Now let me explain. Wong creates these sort of formulas and rhythms of speech very organically and naturally, making the sentence-level writing do most of the work, and the accumulation of images and thoughts exist just under the surface. These sentences, after you begin to get lulled into their schematics, will suddenly pop like a bottle rocket and force you to snap back to some other state of mind.

Though some of these formulaic results are dull compared to the starkness of the others, the gems are wide awake and ready to work. Wong’s sentence-level play is so strikingly beautiful and simple and provokative that I’m running out of words for it all. So here’s an example: “opening: the edges: of fabric braiding into itself / and how making the bed requires: uncurling: like / a piece of parchment a declaration an admission”.

There are enough surprises embedded into this collection to warrant a good handful of re-reads, which is exactly what I plan to do. This book is a mass of fairy-tale-like punches that expose accidental self-reflection in a mess of descriptions about a slowly burning world of social intricacies and accidents. It’s a beatiful mass. And mess.

Mud Schematic: How do you find Chicago leaking into Ghost Ocean and Tree Light? How do your projects leak into the city?

Heather: I’m fascinated by how tethered to the urban landscape I feel (after living in Chicago for several years) but also to the rural, country landscape that I was surrounded by much of my life. I grew up in Arkansas and I’ve never lived more than maybe 30 miles from a body of water. Ever. That probably has something to do with the fact that I’ve never lived more than three blocks from Lake Michigan — which is the “Ghost Ocean” on our website — since I moved to Chicago, even though I’m in my third Chicago apartment.

We’ve published work that straddles these natural and man-made landscapes, such as Adam Morgan’s “In Our Dreams” in Ghost Ocean 6. Adam imagines Chicago as a city “hidden deep in a forest, covered in flowering vines and writhing trees.” I’m compelled by this vision—it would be my dream world were it not in such ruinous shape—as I am by similar settings, because they bridge these two worlds I love, which are often seen in opposition.

The majority of the time, we tend to select work that doesn’t operate in cityscapes. Maybe Chicago has a hand in this, because when I hop off the train, the last thing I want to read is a story about someone on the train. Then again, maybe that’s just me. If I were pressed to make another Chicago-connection, it would probably be to the urgency or energy in the work we publish. There’s an urgency here, in the city, that I would equate with the work of J.A. Tyler (not just his work in Ghost Ocean) and the work he publishes through Mud Luscious. But that work isn’t always set in urban areas. It’s the rhythm and the language — even the longer, more complex sentences — and, overall, the energy that feel uniquely urban to me.

I haven’t really answered your questions directly, though. Forgive me? (ed: forgiven!)

Mud Schematic: Has starting and running Tree Light Books changed the way you operate Ghost Ocean Magazine?

Heather: Absolutely. Something that’s challenging for me is delegating responsibilities—or rather, loosening my grip. When I started Ghost Ocean I had it in my head that I would read (at least twice!) every submission, regardless of genre or if everyone on staff had already said No way. That philosophy didn’t last long anyway, but since I’ve moved forward with the press I’ve realized I have to succumb to delegating certain things and not worry over it. I still read the majority of the submissions that come in, but I’m able to trust the instincts of the staff. They make my job easier, and if I didn’t have them to rely on, I’m not sure I could juggle both the press and the magazine on my own.

Mud Schematic: What would be your dream situation/growth for Tree Light?

Heather: Well, I think about selling digital copies of the chapbooks side-by-side with print, but I have this dedication/admiration/obsession with handmade chapbooks that is holding me back. We’re set to sell electronic versions once the originals sell out—we have less than half of the copies of our first chapbook left, so this may happen sooner than I anticipated—but maybe one day I’ll cave and sell them simultaneously. Not to mention, the more print copies we sell, the tidier my apartment is.

We have a handful of other projects in the queue, all manuscripts from our first chapbook contest, and they’re all projects I’m excited about publishing. Each chap has a central theme (or themes) that I haven’t encountered in chapbooks put out by other presses, so I hope Tree Light can add something interesting to the chapbook conversation. Susan’s chap, our debut, captures the essence of what we’d like to continue publishing, though I hope we can surprise and reinvent ourselves in the same way I feel that Ghost Ocean has started to cast a wider net in terms of what we’d like to publish, while continuing to put out things that are recognizably Ghost Ocean.

If we ever grew into a full-on publishing conglomerate, I don’t think I’d ever get a chance to sleep. So I’m fine with our smaller scope. I just want to focus on putting out good books, supporting our authors as best we can, and getting to know our readers somewhere along the way.


Heather Cox is a poet who founded and continues to edit the online literary journal Ghost Ocean Magazine and its imprint press Tree Light Books. Heather loves books, biking, typewriters, vinyl records, sunlight, and puppies. Heather was born in Texas and raised in Arkansas, and now she lives on Chicago’s north side with her partner and their two dogs, Milo and Roscoe.