Digital Book Tour: New Books by Madeleine Barnes, Seryph

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 Madeleine Barnes’ You Do Not Have to Be Good and Seryph’s Love Letters to Love.


An Excerpt from Madeleine Barnes’ You Do Not Have to Be Good


Step one: Andromeda. Step two: dark eyelashes.

Step three: adulthood with faint traces of childhood.

Stabilizer: On. Auto-focus: off. Love

how she touches you. Think: the stars are planning

the erasure of two-hundred-year-old silences,

so let her try to reach you. Step five: look at her

without expressing fear. Draw a tarot card

and let her tell you what it means.

Give her a crown of almonds and wet grass.

Frame something teal, something velvet,

something worthy. Give her a cathedral,

an amber glove, remix raspberry and neon.

Give her a lilac cube, enamored hi-shine,

avalanche of electric violet.

Cover her in changeable taffeta and ginger root.

Love her vices, her moss and copper.

Bring your relics. Step seven: sing.



On What the Reader Will Walk Away With

Madeleine Barnes: I hope that readers will walk away from this book with a feeling of empowerment and renewed empathy. The book is structured around a series of directives, such as “You Do Not Have to Generate Capital,” “You Do Not Have to Create Paradise,” and “You Do Not Explain Tenderness,” and they are meant to bestow playful permission. I want readers to feel empowered to share their own stories wildly and imperfectly. Perhaps this is a lofty goal, but what if the book could slip unexpected knowledge into a reader’s pocket? I want them to walk away with a new fact about space law, a gem, a rare medicinal herb, or a love spell.

The book is an invitation to pay attention and to consider the nature of goodness, virtue, and language itself. Through the juxtaposition of language extracted from medical texts and astronomy magazines, the poems attempt to set up a conversation between the speaker, nearby animals and people, and the mysteries that connect us all. How can we make the world better together and reconceptualize goodness independently and collectively? Is there a way for us to talk about death and make peace with it instead of avoiding it?

The book is dedicated to all queer disabled women and nonbinary folks everywhere. It’s also dedicated to young people whose creativity has been taken advantage of by men in positions of power in the literary community. An empathetic eye like the one on the cover turns toward other people, the universe, and the speaker’s own heart. It addresses mental health candidly. I write to and for my communities always.


On What the Writer Walked Away With

Madeleine Barnes: It took me ten years to write this collection. Writing is a way to survive, connect, and stay present through observation and recording. The version of this manuscript submitted to Trio House Press was a major departure from earlier versions. New life events, including deaths of loved ones and my cousin’s journey into space, brought new perspectives that transformed the manuscript. Toward the end, I was ready to give up and begin something new. The whole process taught me patience and resilience. These days, if I make a mistake, it’s with a sense of playfulness and appreciation for errors and aberrations.


On The Book’s Biography

Madeleine Barnes: Some poems in this manuscript were written when I was nineteen or twenty years old. Over the last decade, I’ve chipped away at this manuscript, and many poems that were there before have been laid aside and replaced. How do we greet or incorporate our past selves? I’ve heard writers say that they don’t relate to their old poems at all. In the end, the manuscript wound up featuring poems that were written within the past three years, when different practices like assemblage became a significant part of my process. I sensed that the manuscript was close to being finished when it started making the finalist rounds of contests, and when I started dreaming about a new project.


On The Book’s Family of Support

Madeleine Barnes: My partner Bryn’s unwavering encouragement has carried me for years and I don’t know how I can ever repay his generosity. Though we don’t take ourselves too seriously, we have committed our lives to art and make sure creativity takes priority. What more could anyone ask for?

This book wouldn’t exist without my family, especially my mom, who’s also a writer (her debut book is coming out this year, too!), my incredible friends, and my teachers, especially Antonio Caruso of North Allegheny High School in Pittsburgh, PA. His love of poetry affected me permanently. I owe so much to my mentors Deborah Landau of New York University and Jim Daniels of Carnegie Mellon University. I couldn’t have made it without the encouraging voices of my teachers and friends (looking at you, Hybrids, and the Many Louises), the Madwomen in the Attic writing workshops, and my friends who read this manuscript at key stages. People who get excited about poetry are invaluable in a world that is largely ambivalent to art. They carry the torch.

Many readers will recognize that my book’s title is a reference to Mary Oliver, queer woman poet of my heart. “You do not have to be good” is a benediction I want to pass on. May we always define and redefine goodness for ourselves, rebel when necessary, and remember our inherent worth. We do not have to produce anything to be worthy of love and compassion. As long as we are vulnerable enough to share our stories and listen to the stories of others, there is hope.



Madeleine Barnes is a poet, visual artist, and PhD student at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Her debut poetry collection,You Do Not Have To Be Good, was recently selected as the winner of Trio House Press’ open reading period for publication in 2020. She is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Women’s Work, forthcoming from Tolsun Books in 2021. She serves as Poetry Editor at Cordella Magazine, a publication that showcases the work of women and nonbinary writers and artists. She’s the recipient of two Academy of American Poets poetry prizes, the Princeton Poetry Prize, the Gertrude Gordon Journalism Prize, and the Three Rivers Review Poetry Prize. Visit her at

Learn more about the work here.


An Excerpt from Seryph’s Love Letters to Love


and maybe I should write violets-
I can talk about the petals, the dark softness
how touching them is a metaphor
I can make each curve fragile and compare to the palm of your breasts
which are delicate like flowers and soft to touch-

but we are not only made of these things.
sometimes skin is only skin and skin-hunger a kind of tragedy
more evocative than the old epics (who can relate to those?)
more evocative all we have been afraid to touch
afraid to be touched and I write best the places I have been to

darling, give me a flower. make my body fragile, fleeting, thorned-
my love make me a tree, strong and shelter.
let’s be ethereal like dryads let’s be goddesses
let’s forget here now we have real bodies
and real skin, real awkward and jutting bones and aches and pains.
let me write violets which I have never held and never seen.



On What the Reader Will Walk Away With

Seryph:I want my reader to walk away feeling love, whatever that means for them. I want them to think about people and things important to them, how they love, how they’re loved back. To me, that is what makes life worth living. These are the feelings that kept me going when I was about to give up. These are the things that have been the most precious to me in my life.

Out of the many faces of love in love letters to love, it’s my hope that every reader finds one they relate to, and that it holds that sort of power for them. That’s the ideal.


On What the Writer Walked Away With

Seryph: I think the actual writing process taught me to examine my relationships more closely, when I was thinking of everyone I knew to try and find more material to write about. It made me want to show my appreciation for friends and family more, to try and let them know how much I care for them. To make up with those I can, while I can. And in these uncertain times it’s even more important to express our appreciation and love for others, when the usual ways are unsafe or blocked to us.

The most important lesson, I think, was that transience does not devalue love for someone else. And that theme does come up a few times later in the chapbook. Growing distant from old friends is something that happens to nearly all of us, and it’s a bittersweet feeling. I tried to do justice to it.


On The Book’s Biography

Seryph: It’s existed in one form or another, for the last… oh, five, six years. I don’t think I kept any of my high school poems in the final copy, but they floated around the drafts for a while. The original working name was just “compendium,” based on the flash fiction piece that I wrote first.  My poetry just seemed to generally circle around the topic, and it was about three years in that I finally sat down and went “You know what? I am writing about love so much, I should just do a chapbook on it.”

It’s been mostly done for a year or so, but I couldn’t find a publisher that fit. I eventually gave up and put it up through KDP just to get it out where my friends and family could access it!


On The Book’s Family of Support

Seryph: Oh, goodness. There’s so many people!

My church, Mcdowell Mountain Community Church, had quite a lot to say about “loving with no strings attached” that sparked some ideas. My partner since high school, Tim, inspired a good number of poems- as did our closest friends Jem, Lance, and Codi. My friend Bella helped the most with the final edits, and cheered me on when I was freaking out over finally submitting the final copies. (Which was a lot. Sorry for the capslock, Bella!)

There are countless more who helped in one way or another; I’m really, truly grateful to everyone who has supported me.



Seryph is a Deaf, genderfluid, mentally ill, and disabled poet (say that five times fast!) publishing their first work of poems, love letters to love. They spend most of their days photographing their cat Nebel for her adoring fans, and a few leftover days writing poetry. Their work is informed by the intersections of their experience and their identities, particularly gender identity and disability. Seryph graduates this spring from Rochester Institute of Technology. Although none of their poems have previously been published outside of personal blogging, they look forward to contributing to the poetry world in the future.

Learn more about the work here.


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