By Abriana Jetté
Sayvreville, NJ, USA

For the last few months I have (for the most part) been surrounded by silence: newborn silence. It is the type of silence that comes from dim lights and hushing and from staring, just staring, staring in silence and awe. Some mornings I’d catch myself looking at my daughter’s face, studying her moves and tiny wrinkles, and I’d have to remind myself, sing to her – sing, sing – teach her language and sound and rhythm. I’m not sure one can ever prepare for motherhood. Living amongst poetry, though, prepared me in many ways. The staring in awe. The singing. The rhythm. The silence.

Oh, and the suffering. The mighty suffering of sleeplessness. The failure to take away the pain. The child’s inability to say. To say. The suffering.

It is not only motherhood that poetry prepares us for; it is human existence. The poets I’ve been reading, the ones I kept with me throughout this past summer and still, now, treat the word as a symbol of emergence, as a marker of being alive. It was a sentimental time for me, this summer, and I found myself either reciting poems to my daughter in the darkness of the early morning or reading right before I put myself to sleep. In this way, they lulled us, comforted us. These poets have offered me a solace found nowhere else but in the confines of the line. I hope they do the same for you.

For Diannely Antigua, Shelly Wong, and Kristin Robertson, poetry pushes through the boundaries of language to embody the shared human experiences of song, silence, and awe.


Diannely Antigua is a poet of experience, of the tangible world. She is the poet on Myrtle Avenue observing a man stealing strawberries from the fruit stand. She is a poet of things that ring with the past, surrounded by memories of This Old House and The Brady Bunch alongside those of molestation and pain. At least this is what the voice of the poet in Antigua’s poem “Picked” balances. This is where “Picked” begins: on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, with the poet watching a man pick the perfect fruit to steal. 
Diannely Antigua

The layers that exist in “Picked” have much credit to give to syntax. Antigua extends her sentences throughout the poem, written in unrhymed couplets, pulling the reader into the depths of disturbance. In fact, the first sentence of the poem stretches for over three stanzas. This type of enjambment opens readers up with space to accommodate the various places and emotions that will appear. And this, in fact, is the beauty of the line – the essence of any poem – the way the semantic and grammatical breaks encourage the speed of our reading, control the rhythms of our breath, and open up our minds to imagine.

A man steals fruit from a fruit stand. It must happen everyday. But this action this singularity, this one strawberry plucked from the bunch without being paid for triggers something in the speaker. His action, his defiance of law and order for just a little taste, thrusts her back into memory.

The memory is unhinged. It is disturbing. It is necessary to write about, to read. After we’ve been told of the man cupping melons to feel which one he wants to take, after he has decided on the best one to satisfy his tastes, the speaker wonders what he’s going to do with it. Now that he’s got it and all – where will he put it? How will he eat it? As she wonders these things, she is transported back into the past. A memory. The Brady Bunch hushed on the television. This man with his hands underneath her shirt. What will the man do with the melons now that he has them? What did that man do with my underwear?

Her underwear still had the “days of the week” on them. She is young, but never reveals an exact age. Her nipples were still “pink eraser buds”, not yet brown.

Antigua writes the words that could make one squirm, or feel uncomfortable, and this is why her work is so important. Her poetry offers space for readers to circle their heads around often-hushed issues, like abortion and molestation, and in her rhythmic articulation of experience she illuminates the resistance to the standard. Confronting culturally relevant subjects, the subjects that make us human, is just one example of how poetry functions as protest.

And there is a lot that the speaker of Antigua’s poetry feels passionate about. She lets the entire world around her in. Wants to learn. Wants to do. At the start of “Re Education”, the speaker boasts:

                            I listen to podcasts to learn about feminism
                            watch porn to make sure I’m doing it right

She reveals to us that she is almost 30, and that when she hears the phrase “Bloody Mary” she thinks of the game in the mirror, not the drink. In the middle of what seems like a conversational, reflective poem, the speaker recounts the time she took Plan B, “then

                            the other time I took Plan B. I bled
                            for two months. There could’ve been
                            a mother in me.”

These sharp confessional moments scattered throughout Antigua’s work shatter the perception that womanhood is glamorous, that daughterhood is easy. I would not go so far as to call her work a feminist critique, but the tone of much of Antigua’s poetry confronts the crisis of girlhood—in all of its prebuscent, horny, devastating ways. Willing to face her demons, the speaker of Antigua’s work demands her readers to listen to what no one before us wanted to hear.

Diannely Antigua is a Dominican-American poet and educator, born and raised in Massachusetts. She received her B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts Lowell where she won the Jack Kerouac Creative Writing Scholarship. She is currently an M.F.A. candidate at New York University, a Squaw Valley Community of Writers fellow, and Associate Poetry Editor for BOAAT. Her book Ugly Music, forthcoming from YesYes Books, was chosen for the 2017 Pamet River Prize. Winner of the Bodega Poetry Contest, her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Her poems can be found in Day One, Vinyl, Split Lip MagazineCosmonauts AvenueTinderbox Poetry Journal, and elsewhere. 
Her favorite flavor of Ben and Jerry’s is Chubby Hubby. Her heart is in Brooklyn. 


If Antigua’s speaker lives in the realm of the physical touch, the speaker of Shelley Wong’s chapbook, Rare Birds, published by Diode Editions, lives in this ethereal everafter, the space between the dizziness of a spin. The chapbook is vertiginous in its shape and content; visually, many of the poems look like paintings. Lines stretch and dance across the page. Sonically, they are puzzles – a careful practice of enunciation and image. Like Antigua, Wong’s voice takes on multiple tones and undulations, most specifically in regards to the idea of womanhood.
Shelley Wong

It isn’t uncommon for the women within Rare Birds to be veiled or covered in some way – a symbol, often, of the shielding of identity, the resistance to let anyone get too close, and touch the skin. The veils are often followed by shadows, and set the framework for the way each poem should be read; that is, again and again, peaking each time through a different curtain.

Take, for instance, her poem “The Fall Forecast”, which confronts how the Editors want women to wear

                            “Europe, gemstone, liquer exclusively
                            made by monks. Antique metal.”

On the surface, the poem mocks the contemporary beauty industry – from the pressures of dressing up – from make up to jewelry and sweet fragrances that lure men. Of course, the poem has layers that reveal deeper intentions, for as the speaker admits, “it takes / a strong woman to wear bejeweled armor…”

The poem also reads to me as an Ars Poetica, a manifesto on creativity. Its conversational tone asks readers to be comfortable. Through this comfort, we settle into each line, and feel at ease enough to ask ourselves to explore what else the poem is about. The parallels between the world of fashion-magazine publishing and poetry-book publishing are undeniable, and the poem effortlessly knits the fashion industry to the production of words.

“When they say you’re only / as good as your last collection, one considers  / trends”, the speaker explains. A collection speaks for a poet. A collection speaks for a designer. The pressure for both to be better the next time than they were the time before is everlasting. Along with the editors producing the most aesthetically stimulating and gorgeous models for their pages, the poet, too, stresses the shape and sound of language organized on the page. The speaker shares with readers that the new style considers the decaying leaf beautiful. The anxiety to always create something resounds for the Editor of the poem and the speaker. For both, “the recent is / always losing luster.”

Composed in tightly compacted, uneven, indented stanzas, “The Fall Forecast” balances a well-needed dose of sarcasm, satire, and consideration of craft. What I find so appealing about Wong’s work is that she is able to convey such deeply woven layers of voice through multiple structures. “The Fall Forecast” weighs heavily on the page – its stanzas meant for us to stay compactly within its walls – mimicking the way the magazine only exists within the walls of its glossy, tangible pages. And then, in another poem, abandon this sense of containment and let the line leap around the white of the page. Take, for instance,  “Exit Strategist”, which folds and unfolds over itself, line after line, dancing with readers, planting itself so deep into our nose and throat that the poem controls our eyes. Here is an excerpt:

“Don’t walk into the trees
                                                                 don’t clap three times. All the pretty moths
represent. One bird, one way out.
                                                                Is this a game?”

The landscape of the poem is mystical, enchanted, and somewhat frightening. Women “don’t know who to turn to”, and the lights shining at us are both basked in lowlight noir and fluorescent. We squint. We want to see.

                                                                Like a long apple peel,
she goes by. These arts I invented
                                                                so he could not refuse me.

The poem’s title is “Exit Strategist”, so we know the speaker is not at ease with where she is. She has to plan a way out. Fragmented images of mythic figures and truncated sentences reveal this plan. Bone by bone, with each shortened breath, we prepare to get out. When it’s time for her departure, the speaker balances her body on a piece of wood overlooking the water. She takes notes of the decay, of the fish “writhing” in the bowl. She walks the plank, “off this ship—”

The purposeful lack of a secure ending illustrated by the absence of the period continues the aura of mystery set forth from the start of the poem. The speaker was always looking to leave. It never mattered what happened next.

Shelly Wong is the author of Rare Birds, winner of the 2016 Diode Editions Chapbook Award. Her work has appeared in Sixth Finch, Vinyl, Crazyhorse, Drunken Boat, The Normal School, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a Kundiman fellowship. She holds an M.F.A. from the Ohio State University and lives in Oakland, California.


Let’s face it. Pain is poetic. The mundane is poetic. The spiritual is poetic. To be born, to be alive, to die and everything in between – it is all poetry.

Because of this, the craft of composing poetry is difficult. The content is massive, and novice writers often feel the urge to say it all at once. It is the zeroing in that works best, most of the time, as such intense focus on one thing – something (or someone) – often urges us to remember another.

But, somehow, Kristin Robertson’s debut collection of poetry, Surgical Wing (Alice James Books), encompasses everything – it weaves the personal, the medical, the suburban, the strife, the strangers, the lovers, and the triple-layered knot. The book’s epigram by Leonardo Da Vinci – There will be wings! – promises readers it will take flight. 

Kristin Robertson

Where we touch down is a landscape sometimes apocalyptic, sometimes scientific, sometimes severely sentimental. The speaker surrounds herself in a world constantly changing – new selves blooming, and the literal attachment of new digits on the body. There exists an obsession with flying, fleeing, rising, falling. Surgical Wing is a songbook, an example of immaculate attention to complex semantic construction, like “the intercom’s xylophone requiem signals / night-shift nurses” or “White-naped crane / to the birdwatcher: no small thing” – that distinct, delicious swallowing and exhaling of sound. There is a great concern with waiting around, examining people and birds. The first poem, “Clinical Trial: Human With Wings” prepares us to descend. We encounter a speaker who “empathizes with bats”, and is slightly confused, stirred into reverie by a “neighbor’s bonfire.” In the midst of the burning, she asks herself: “Are these ashes?      Am I rising in flames?—   …./…I’ve turned manic.” At the poems close, she confesses to readers that she is “Preparing to fall.” We, too, get ready.

There are two poems titled “Clinical Trial: Human With Wings” in the collection, and both are structured in the voice of a diary entry, marking a transformation, a journey. We begin on Day 46, spreading our arms, ready to drop downwards, while the next poem, which opens up the last section, begins on Day 271. Two-hundred-and-twenty-five days after we first met her, the speaker explains she has “decided to release means to hope. / It means while surrendering, you kiss the ground.”

Presumably, one might think enough was enough – after all, by Day 271 the speaker has “bought a gun safe at Sports Authority” and is “waiting for the last of the cuckoos.” But the last few poems of the collection indicate a voice satisfied, content, even practical. She makes good use of what’s around her – not just the birds and the morning light, but realizes she can take flight – and make flight. The poem “You’re About to Fold a Paper Airplane” begins as the speaker pulls the results of her blood test from the mailbox. With the results in hand, she is ready to go.

                            Book your tumor markers a flight to Bora Bora.
                            Vector. Victor. Clearance, clearance. On any scrap of paper.

                            Write, Carry. Write, Heavenward. Write, I choose this over you.  

Though composed in tight, two line stanzas almost all of equal length, the poem’s content reads like it is about to burst. The idea of the folding compresses us even further into the poem– again, the ability to focus so intimately on one thing and yet sing of other wonders, too. “You’re About to Fold A Paper Airplane” is about reawakening, it is about folding a paper airplane, it is about taking your issues and dealing with them, it is about taking your issues and hiding them, never confronting them again, it is about writing and writing and writing to get it all out, it is about living. That’s where the poem ends, after all, not with falling, but with getting up.

“Now you can go on and get serious living” the speaker tells us. So we do.

Kristin Robertson is the author of Surgical Wing (Alice James Books, 2017). Her poetry appears recently in The Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review, Pleiades, Poetry Northwest, and Prairie Schooner, among many other journals. She has received a Tennessee Williams Scholarship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and a Lucille Clifton Memorial Scholarship to the Squaw Valley Community of Writers Conference. She holds degrees from the University of Tennessee, the University of New Orleans, and Georgia State University graduate programs. Kristin lives in Nashville, Tennessee.



Abriana Jetté
Abriana Jetté is an internationally published poet, essayist, and educator from New Jersey. Her work has appeared in dozens of journals, including the Dr. T. J. Eckleburg ReviewThe Iron Horse Literary ReviewThe American Literary Review, and 491 Magazine. She teaches at St. Johns's University and the City University of New York, writes a regular column for Stay Thirsty Magazine that focuses on emerging poets and she is the editor of The Best Emerging Poets of 2013 that debuted on Amazon as the #3 Best Seller in Poetry Anthologies, the author of 50 WHISPERS that debuted on Amazon as the #1 Best Seller in Women's Poetry and the recently released 50 WHISPERS - Vol. II.

All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.