Catching Up with Lisa Summe

Where can we read some of your recent work?  

I’ve had some poems recently appear in bedfellows, cosmonauts avenue, and, of course, tinderbox v5 i6! “Friday Night Selfie” and “ars poetica” are part of  my forthcoming book, and “I Use My Hands” is an early poem in the next book I’m working on. I also have recent poems in print in Trnsfr and Bone Bouquet, and a few forthcoming in The Cincinnati Review and South Carolina Review.

What are you reading right now?  

I am currently picking through my bookshelves and looking for things here and there that I own but haven’t actually read–about to close that gap. Right now, Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers. I’m only about a third of the way in, but so far I’m both peeved and delighted by Frankie’s insistence on belonging to a thing, on being a member, which feels eerily relevant now in this time of social distancing and too many Zoom meetings.

Still on my mind from fall is a really great essay collection, The Rib Joint, by Julia Koets, which came out in November. It’s a memoir in lyric essays about growing up queer in the south and how existing as a queer person, for many of us, means coming out repeatedly, truly an act that is never over and done with, especially in the context of the secrets many of us who grew up in the church kept and kept for decades, and Julia shows us how the weight of that never is fully lifted. 

In “How to Ignite,” one of my favorite essays in the collection, Julia mashes the setting, the “part of town within walking distance of seven churches” (74) up against seventh-grade Julia eating a pomegranate for the first time with Elizabeth, an eight-grader she’s in love with, who is also the priest’s daughter. So we’ve got this flux of innocence that feels kinda inevitable with coming of age stories and a kind of sterility that comes with churches up against the sexiness of a messy fruit you rely so much on your fingers for. Julia is always surprising the reader with these kinds of pairings. She’s got a lot of tools in her toolbelt for building tension (not just in this essay but in the entire collection), and my favorite one is how she lyrically explores the etymology of images that kinda carry the reader through each essay. Let’s return to the pomegranate: “from the Latin pomum and granatum: seeded apple, fatal fruit, food of the dead, seed of the imprisoned, keeper of Persephone. In German, granada: an explosive shell used in warfare” (76). You can feel what’s at stake in this scene by reading a literal definition because of where Julia’s placed it. This collection is disruptive in the very best way.

What’s next for you?   

My first collection of poems, Say It Hurts, comes out in August from YesYes Books! Lately I’ve been writing some poems about love and also some about deer. About to begin the part of making a book where you spread all the poems out on the floor, which I find both v cute and v intimidating and therefore kinda paralyzing. I’m excited about this second project–maybe its thesis is that literally everything is sad? Is this what makes us poets? Was excited to start playing baseball this spring, but I think it’s covid-cancelled. I’m just looking out for sunny days and blooming flowers.


Lisa Summe’s poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in bedfellows, Bone Bouquet, and The Cincinnati Review. Her first collection of poems, Say It Hurts (YesYes Books, 2020), will be out this summer. You can find her in Pittsburgh, PA, at lisasumme.com, and on Instagram and Twitter @lisasumme.

Lisa’s poem, “Sara Tell Me Everything” appeared in isuse 2:1 of Tinderbox, and was the 2016 Tinderbox Editor’s Prize Winner!