Guest Post, T.A. Noonan: How to Be “in Residence”

Photo by Erin Elizabeth Smith

One of my first poetry publications was in the February 2006 issue of Stirring. I was, of course, ecstatic, but I had no idea where that poem would lead me. Never in a million years could I have imagined that, nine years later, I would find myself in the middle of an icy pasture, frantically Googling “what does sheep placenta look like”—all because of this one poem.

I should probably explain.

Stirring is the flagship journal of Sundress Publications, and since then, I’ve been involved with them in one capacity or another. At first, it was little stuff, like reading for Best of the Net. Some time later, Sundress published my second full-length collection to kick of their new print series. Then, I was invited to join their editorial board.

In February 2013, I got a phone call from our founder, Erin Elizabeth Smith, that changed my life.

“I bought a farm,” she said. “I’m starting a residency, and I want you to come here and help me build it.”

What do you say to an offer like that?

If you’re me, the answer is “no.”

When it comes to Sundress, though, Erin is not very good at taking no for an answer. By the end of the year, she’d convinced me to quit my adjunct job, move to Knoxville, Tennessee, and serve as one of the first long-term residents at the newly formed Sundress Academy for the Arts at Firefly Farms. And when I stepped onto those forty-five acres, there was one question on my mind.

Now what?

The vast majority of residency advice out there pertains to the application process. People will tell you to know the reasons why you’ve chosen a particular residency (as opposed to various other options out there), to have a clear vision for the project you wish to work on, to express your reasons and vision in your narrative statement, and to workshop your application to make sure it’s strong and cohesive.

But what about once you get that acceptance and arrive at your residency? There isn’t much out there addressing that question. When I asked other writers what I should do, most of them talked about time management. “Use your time wisely,” they said. “You’re there to write, so spend every free minute drafting and revising.” A few suggested that I network in my spare moments, connect with as many editors, writers, artists, and community organizers as possible.

That’s good advice. So is all that stuff about the application process. Still, a good deal of it didn’t apply—no pun intended—to me. I wasn’t there to retreat from my day-to-day responsibilities, focus on my craft, or meet new people; I was helping my colleagues transform a slice of Tennessee “holler” into an artist’s residency. And I still had no real answers.

Photo by Mary Ellen Knight

Eventually, I got them.

Some were easy. Animals had to be fed and watered, common areas cleaned, eggs gathered, plants tended, bills paid. When Sundress staff and community members convened on the farm to work on a project, I’d be handed a crowbar or drill. Pointed to a pile of wood or scrap metal that needed hauling. Shown how to build and repair, salvage and forage.

Others required research. Remember that frantic Googling? Well, I’d never taken raised livestock before, so when I watched our sheep have their lambs in February 2015—what is it about February, anyway? —I was distraught. What should I do? Oh no, what is that? Is it a prolapsed uterus or just afterbirth? Do I need to call a vet? Wash the lambs? Wash the sheep? Put on gloves and do something unmentionable?*

A few were the result of trial and error. I’d also never built bookcases, poured custom concrete countertops, catered a film shoot, run a reading series, or any of the other myriad things I did while at Firefly. During my sixteen-month tenure, I probably failed as often as I succeeded, but experience became my favorite teacher.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to what one should do during a residency, and there are no MFA workshops or BuzzFeed articles that reveal the secrets of being productive while “in residence.” The fact is, a residency is just lots and lots of time. So much time, the sheer amount of it can be overwhelming.

Some residents deal with this by sticking to or creating routines.

Some fill the hours with reading and researching.

Some socialize with everyone they meet.

Some leave their desks and do something—anything—other than whatever project they came to work on.

I’ve even heard of residents sleeping, chasing ducks, or binge-watching Netflix until their eyes throbbed. (Okay, maybe that was all me.)

Your answer to the now what? question might be any or none of these, but no matter what, it has to be your answer. No one can tell you what to do or how to do it—not even me. I may have (literally) written the book on “holler life” at Firefly Farms, but it’s always up for revision. You may come up with something more amazing than I ever did.


* In case you’re wondering, the answers are nothing, placenta, just afterbirth, no, no, no, and no, but it’s February in Tennessee, so you should probably wear gloves anyway. The sheep had it all under control, even if I didn’t.

Sundress Publications Debuts Les Kay’s Poetry Collection, The Bureau

UntitledIssue 15 Superstition Review contributor, Les Kay, recently released a poetry collection, The Bureau, with Sundress Publications, and it is announced here in a press release.

Enter a daring dystopian high-rise where revolutionary language craves a new kind of survival. The high stakes these poems ante up beneath fluorescent heat to forge addictive identities. Imaginative traps and creeping Stockholm syndrome throughout are signed, sealed, and delivered fresh from the mail room in Kay’s potent arrival.

“Les Kay’s The Bureau is unlike anything I (or you) have ever read. A brilliant series of interconnected poems, it’s like Kafka and Berryman drinking poison tea while discussing the new normal. Funny, strange, and horrifying. Visionary. Bartleby the Scrivener on acid. Rimbaud’s appearance in these poems seems completely natural, inevitable really. Kay has his finger on the pulse of a monster here—a monster called The Bureau.” -Jim Daniels, author of Birth Marks  and Eight Mile High

Les Kay holds a PhD with a focus on Creative Writing from the University of Cincinnati and an MFA from the University of Miami,where he was a James Michener Fellow.After he survived the dot-com boom of the early 2000s, his poetry appeared widely in journals such as decomP, PANK, Redactions, South Dakota Review, Southern Humanities Review, Sugar House Review, Whiskey Island, and The White Review.  The two maybe related. He is also an Associate Editor for Stirring: A Literary Collection. He currently lives in Cincinnati, teaching writing, caring for three very small dogs, and contemplating the distribution of systemic power and misinformation. The Bureau loves him.

The Bureau is available for free download at

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Read Kay’s poems in Superstition Review

SR Pod/Vod Series: Poet Les Kay

Each Tuesday Kay2we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work.

Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Les Kay. 
Les Kay holds a PhD from the University of Cincinnati’s Creative Writing program. His first chapbook, The Bureau, is forthcoming from Sundress Publications in 2015. His poetry has recently appeared or is forthcoming in a variety of literary journals including The McNeese Review, Redactions, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Wherewithal, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review, Southern Humanities Review, Whiskey Island, and Sugar House Review.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

Contributor News: Virginia Smith Rice

When I WakeSuperstition Review is proud to share the news of contributor Virginia Smith Rice’s recently released full-length poetry book, When I Wake It Will Be Forever through Sundress Publications. The two poems which she initially published in Issue 10 of Superstition Review can be found here.

Rice’s debut collection collapses the natural and material world into instances of loss, longing, memory and sensory expression. Rice investigates the emptiness of language with a lyrical and alliterative force with a jarring, poignant, and distinct ability to deconstruct place through the linguistic fabric it emerges from, to create a more intimate presence with the physical landscape of existence. Rice builds her ethereal and imagistic poems with a deep engagement of the senses.

“Both shimmering and seething, haunted and haunting, the complex, dazzling contours of
When I Wake It Will Be Forever beckon the reader with the imperative of ‘listen’; and we do, because Rice’s poems vibrate with a ‘voice thorned and singing / but not human.’ Like her poetic parentage—Desnos, Szymborska, Tranströmer and Csoóri—there is a wisdom contained in this work that transcends a singular being’s experience; ultimately elegiac, yet ‘lit by inner, hidden suns,’ this book is a stellate network of memory, loss, longing, silence, and voice. Often serving as witness (to an aunt’s suicide, a stranger’s suicide, ‘the suicide in my voice’) Rice pays tribute to the manifold ghosts that clamor inside us. This is one of the most solidly exquisite and lingering first books I’ve had the honor of reading.”
-Simone Muench, author of Orange Crush, recipient of the 2013 NEA Fellowship in Poetry
“Virginia Smith Rice has created a tremblingly precise, intricate, bright-edged evocation of a world both ecstatic and ominous, grieving and vital, broken and mending, but rarely mended. Her poems are richly colored and intensely focused on the shapes and forms of the world and of inner life and relationships. They are crowded with living plants and creatures and intense feeling, and Rice can even describe the color of solitude. Her language is sensuously complex, her angle of vision is oblique and finds the memorable touch of reality off-center, at the edges, just this side of perceptibility. She has created a delicate yet vivid response to what she calls the ‘percussed absence’ that haunts human life. This is a marvelous first book.”
-Reginald Gibbons, author of Fem-Texts and professor of Humanities at Northwestern Univeristy
Virginia Smith Rice earned her MFA in creative writing from Northwestern University, where she received the Distinguished Thesis Award for her poetry manuscript, One Voice May Survive the Other. Her work appears in Cincinnati Review, Denver Quarterly, Meridian, Rattle, and Third Coast, among other journals. She currently lives in Woodstock, IL, where she teaches art and serves as co-editor of the online poetry journal, Kettle Blue Review.
When I Wake It Will Be Forever is now available at

SR Pod/Vod Series: Poet Letitia Trent

Letitia TrentEach Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Letitia Trent.

Letitia Trent’s books include One Perfect Bird (Sundress Publications) and the chapbooks Splice (Blue Hour Press) and The Medical Diaries (Scantily Clad Press). She is a graduate of the Ohio State University MFA program and has been a fellow at MacDowell and the Vermont Studio Center.

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.

You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.

SR Pod/Vod Series: Poet Virginia Smith

Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Virginia Smith.

Virginia SmithVirginia Smith is a graduate of Northwestern’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. Her poems appear in 2River View, Denver Quarterly, Rattle, Stirring,Southern Poetry ReviewStone Highway Review, and Weave. Her first poetry collection, When I Wake It Will Be Forever, is forthcoming from Sundress Publications.

You can read along with her poems in issue 10 of Superstition Review.

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