Digital Book Tour: New Books by Jory Mickelson, Jessica Stark

Fam, times are weird—so many of us have to figure out new ways of doing old things. Book launches, an established feature of our wonderful community of writers, have been particularly hard hit, and we’d love to make room for authors to share their work with the world. Our limited Digital Book Tour series will serve that end! Today, we’re sharing excerpts and interviews from Jory Mickelson’s Kingdom//Wilderness, and Jessica Q Stark’s Savage Pageant.


An Excerpt from Jory Mickelson’s Kingdom//Wilderness


If desire fell from the tree
of knowledge then let me build

a kingdom of apples. The kingdom
will be like this:

ten young men crowned in lilacs,
ten young men reclining on cedar boughs,

ten young men moving like night rain
among saguaros.

Forget the parable
about the five wise virgins who prepared

for the bridegroom’s arrival, they will keep
their oil. This kingdom

is built from the generosity of a kingfisher’s
breast, the thallus of lichen, three agates in the hand

of a boy who’s rowed to shore. In this kingdom there is
no how-to-be-desired, no treasure

to be found in a field, because it shall not be
hidden from you. No, it is

on the lips of every lighted face that seeks
to kiss you welcome.

On What the Reader Will Walk Away With

Jory Mickelson: I think of a poem as a doorway, a threshold, or an invitation to enter into a space created by the writer. That space might be visual, narrative, or emotional—or a combination of factors. It is my hope readers will exit these poems with a better sense of their own depths or inner spaciousness. An awareness that they have their own inner lives.

It is also my aim, through attention to external landscape and the natural world in Wilderness//Kingdom, that readers start paying closer attention to their own surroundings. Oh, a bird? What kind of bird is that? Maybe I can find out…

Finally, as a writer, I always hope readers walk away thinking of my poems and myself as smoldering, cool, and a bit dangerous. But most often, that doesn’t happen.


On What the Writer Walked Away With

Jory Mickelson: My poems taught me that I will probably never manage to write a poem without a bird sneaking in somewhere. No joke! It’s maddening. I was recently so disgusted by birds showing up, I titled a poem, “Another Elegy with a Bird at the End.”

On a more serious note, writing this book slowly showed me that I can’t rush myself or my writing. Sure, I wanted to be published, but for me at least, the poems come as they come. In my impatience, I had many false starts and failed drafts I ultimately threw away.

Writing Wilderness//Kingdom also instructed me in the school of dedication. The poems in this collection span 9 years from start to finish. It was a long process of both believing in the work (and by extension myself I suppose) and that the work would eventually get published. When I use to hear a poet say they spent months or years revising a poem, I didn’t believe it. Now, having written this book, I know it’s true.

I should say something about community as well. I wanted to give up several times. I had a whole community of writers and readers and friends and family members who encouraged me to keep writing and to keep going. They are the ones who brought Wilderness//Kingdom into being as much as I did.


On The Book’s Biography

Jory Mickelson: As I mentioned, the earliest versions of some of the poems were written in my last year of undergrad. In my last semester, I had a fantastic professor—Bruce Beasley—who pushed me to write more carefully and with more complexity than I had before.

My MFA program didn’t necessarily create this book. The three-year program introduced me a spectacular range of poets, past and present, as well as helped me become more critical of my own poems. It also left me with crippling self-doubt. It took a year or two after graduating from my MFA to return to the poems I wrote during the program. To see them for what they were, as well as to start writing the poems that really mattered to me—the work I needed to be doing for myself.

I sent Wilderness//Kingdom to far too many contests before it was ready. My first year after my MFA, I think I sent the book to 25 or 30 contests. It garnered maybe one semi-finalist notation. It wasn’t a good book.

In more recent years, a few trusted readers helped me reorganize the book. I also haven’t had the income to send my book out to a bunch of contests or book prizes at $35 a pop. Being poor made me selective. I learned to settle for 5-6 presses I admired and thought would be a good match for my work.

Finally, the folks at Floating Bridge Press called to say I had won their Evergreen Award Tour. There is nothing like that call. The press has been wonderful, and my editor Michael Schmeltzer is the most generous editor I’ve ever encountered. My poems and Wilderness//Kingdom as a whole, are much better as a result.


On The Book’s Family of Support

Jory Mickelson: The list of who to thank is ridiculously long. When I was writing the acknowledgements section in my book, a wise friend helped me face that it couldn’t be three pages long. Where to start and where to end?

First, the readers of the book. Those who purchase or trade or borrow Wilderness//Kingdom and read the poems. Those who tell me what they think. Those who ask questions. Those who request it for their libraries and leave reviews. Writing poems is only half the transaction. Readers complete the transaction.

Second, Floating Bridge Press in Seattle for loving and publishing Wilderness//Kingdom. Third, my writing group, who continues to believe in me and challenge me through their own dedication, to make better poems.

Finally, the innumerable friends and family who believed in me and my work even when I didn’t. Also, poets living and dead, whose writing continues to instruct me. Also, my local coffee shop, The Black Drop, who has spent years fueling me with caffeine. Also…the list goes on and on.


Jory Mickelson is the queer, non-binary author of Wilderness//Kingdom (Floating Bridge Press), the inaugural winner of the Evergreen Award Tour. Their poems have appeared in Harvard Divinity Bulletin, diode, Jubilat, The Rumpus, Vinyl Poetry, the Mid-American Review, Ninth Letter, and other journals in the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom. They are the recipient of an Academy of American Poets Prize and have received fellowships from the Lambda Literary Foundation, and The Helene Wurlitzer Foundation of New Mexico. Originally from Montana, they now live Washington state.

Learn more about the work here.


An Excerpt from Jessica Q Stark’s Savage Pageant

Savage Pageant: 33 Weeks
for the panther, escaped

[ley-ber] noun

1.productive activity, especially for the sake of economic gain.
2.the body of persons engaged in such activity, especially those working for wages.
3.this body of persons considered as a class (distinguished from management and capital).

Last week I felt your hiccups
for three days straight. This week,

unknown. A collection of impulses—
this savage page. I pay to sit

with a circle of strangers to feel
more prepared and one woman

cries. I feel my eyes roll and
I curl into another language.

I am obsessed with hiding my own
nakedness. The body on display:

a public domain of choices made—
a needle, a drink of sugar, the sun

going down when I rise. Is it madness
to have you? Elephants breaking

the main water line. There are
things I’d like to tell you before

you are born: like don’t ever sit
in circles with strangers, like

you don’t always have to be in
motion to survive, like the human

heart is capable of making the
head feel very small. And the

last tissue I’ll give you, before
giving you away to the clock

and the stars, is a simple one:
already you are part of the air

and this end will not summarize
forever. Stay static, for a time,

and hold onto the slippery pull
of hearsay, rumor—these legends.

Even if they are stones, they are
made of sand. And even if you can’t

jump ship, you might not
need to find your way home.

On What the Reader Will Walk Away With

Jessica Stark: I think that creative confusion is important even if it might feel frustrating or annoying. Many of us (myself included) walk around as if we know so much, like our memories are intact and reliable, that history is one little line written in books by small gods. Some of us can still recite the pledge of allegiance from memory. Can you imagine what else we’ve harbored? What has become a forever-rote script at our core? As if we aren’t all writhing mammals in all this luminous sludge. I would like to confuse a script that perhaps we’ve taken for granted, whether that be regarding how to read a book or how we consider ourselves as feeling, knowing beings. Whether that be the names of streets or some detail on our national currency that passes hands and passes all sorts of trace substances.


On What the Writer Walked Away With

Jessica Stark: Writing this book was an enormous lift off of a few obsessions I had hosted for some time. More so than anything, it also gave me resolve for seeking out the curious and unresolved. I approached this book as a series of problems—as discrete and related events in my mind. Writing the book was permission to put paranoia together for an unresolved whole.


On The Book’s Biography

Jessica Stark: I researched this book for a few years before writing it in the span of nine months, during my first pregnancy with my child who is now two years old. At the time, I felt like I was writing against the clock because of how people often talk about parenthood. Like a cliff, like a stopwatch. I thought I’d lose all my time and my mind. I thought I’d die. I resolved to finish the book as if I was to die. I did not. But I did finish the book because and in that fear. I submitted it to many contests and it was a finalist for three contests before I withdrew it from many others after Birds agreed to publish it. They saved me from my own savage pageantry. Finding a home for a first book can feel like a limitless threshold.


On The Book’s Family of Support

Jessica Stark:I could not have produced this book without holdover Internet sites on Jungleland and the people that contributed their true and fallacious visions of a place that left no trace. I could not have written this book without poets that continue to inspire: Bhanu Kapil, Vi Khi Nao, Dorothea Lasky, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha and her ebullient ghost, Laura Jaramillo, Lauren Hunter, Hannah VanderHart, so many others. Chris Tonelli for his keen editorial eye and Birds, LLC for taking on a messy book and for the doorway that felt at-last. My family for their unending reserve of patience and humor.



Jessica Stark is a mixed-race, Vietnamese poet originally from California. She is a doctoral candidate in English at Duke University where she writes on the intersections of poetry and comic books. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks, the latest titled Vasilisa the Wise (Ethel Press, 2018). Her chapbook manuscript, The Liminal Parade, was selected by Dorothea Lasky for Heavy Feather‘s Double Take Poetry Prize in 2016. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in PleaidesUp the Staircase QuarterlyTupelo QuarterlyPotluckGlass Poetry JournalPotluck, and others. Her first full-length poetry collection, Savage Pageant, was published by Birds, LLC in March 2020. She writes an ongoing poetry zine called INNANET and is an Assistant Poetry Editor for AGNI.

Learn more about the work here.





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