The Gauzy Film of Memory & Weird Divey Pizza Bars: A Conversation Among the Editors

Molly: This is a big issue. We had such a nice, rhythmic first year: we published four issues, brought in some amazing Big Names and got introduced to some fantastic new talent, and with that, we realized we needed to do something to accommodate the amazing amount of really good submissions we were getting. So our second year has seen a contest, judged by the amazingly generous Ocean Vuong, and a bonus two extra issues for the year. We’ve gotten comfortable with our assistant poetry editor, Jenn Givhan, and we are in the process of adding a reviews editor, Randon Noble. Of course, we have another big change I wanted to talk about too.

Brett: Yes! I’m so proud of all the work Tinderbox has published in the past year and a half. Some amazing work has found its way to us, and I think that the literary landscape is better for having seen it. I also am glad that there are more women taking charge out there, and we aren’t the only ones, but it’s important to me that there are more of us giving perspective on poems we find simply enchanting, thrilling–poems that are alive and moving.

I have really loved my time at Tinderbox, but I am handing over the reins to the ever-competent Jenn Givhan and Molly Sutton Kiefer. I’m sad and emotional about leaving, but I’m excited to see all the new things that Tinderbox does in the coming months.

Jenn: I’ve learned so much in the time I’ve been with you two amazing editors at Tinderbox, and I’m excited to see how the journal continues to evolve and grow. I’ll miss you, Brett! But I’m so thankful you and Molly took me in as part of the Tinderbox family.

M: It seems only fitting that we cozy up together with this last issue-discussion with Brett to talk about our first annual contest, an experience that really blew me away with the vigor and talent of the submitters, as well as the great support a literary contest can be for a journal and a community. When judging, Ocean Vuong considered “the complex enactments of form, cadence, music, linguistic dexterity, and brave contextual tension” when choosing the winning poem. He said of the winning poems, “They haunted me in the best ways poem can.”

J: The poems from this contest dazzled me with their form and content—I’ve realized as I’ve re-read them that many focus on issues of gender and sexuality fluidity, of the borderlands connecting the body with the spiritual, the gauzy film of memory intersecting muscle and bones. Our contest winner J.M. Gamble, whose three poems I fell absolutely in love with, perfectly exemplifies the haunting quality I found in so many of these finalist and semi-finalist poems—“Hail” in particular knocked me out and stitched me back together. Or Bo Schwabacher’s poem “무궁화 (Mugunghwa),” which took my breath—actually evoked a literal gasp of recognition and awe of this poem’s heartbreaking beauty, a search for connection. These poems surprised me with language and image, with unforgettable, insistent rhythms that called me back again and again—“We just keep repeating ourselves” (from Gamble’s “Seek”). Many of these poems navigate the aftermaths of trauma through a surreal and/or magical real lens, as with Michele Karas’ “Cabaret of Saints,” which reimagines the speaker’s brother through her “eggnog-soaked sleep-wake” as a Christ-like singer of show tunes. Or Kristin Miller’s chilling “A Powerful Girl,” which had me all kinds of harrowed in the best of ways, the resonance that powerful allegory brings. I’m honored to share these beauties with our readers.

M: Oh, I love that: “I’ve re-read them that many focus on issues of gender and sexuality fluidity, of the borderlands connecting the body with the spiritual, the gauzy film of memory intersecting muscle and bones.” We’re so grateful to all of our submitters, and want to especially highlight the winner, J.M. Gamble, and the runner-up, Sage Hahn, and all the finalists: Kelli Russell Agodon, Bryan Bearheart, Chance Castro, Amy Miller, Kristen Miller, Phillip Schaefer, Bo Hee Schwabacher, Noah Stetzer and Eric Tran.

B: It was such a joyful experience to sit together (with faraway Jenn pinging in on our computers!) in a weird divey pizza bar, anyplace with internet, to be together with the judges to talk through the poems and send the finalists on to Ocean. That’s what I love about these poems–not just figuratively, but literally they brought people together to talk through the merits of having a voice, of having something to say, of articulating the experience of being human and what that means today.

M: I did love all that zingy energy, how we were chatting with Jenn and would see one another’s comments and votes coming through virtually and all that over-caffeinated, well pasta’ed kind of buzz that comes with the camaraderie of smart readers and smarter writers.

B: And so we’re extremely excited to send forth this issue. Thank you for the last year and a half, and here’s to more daylight in the coming weeks, and more poems. Always, more poems!

Molly Sutton Kiefer is one of the editors for Tinderbox Poetry Journal and she's also the publisher of the sister-press Tinderbox Editions. She is the author of the full-length lyric essay Nestuary (Ricochet Editions 2014) as well as three poetry chapbooks, including Thimbleweed, which will come out in 2016 from dancing girl press. You can find out more about her at