August 2017: Shannon Sommers
Shannon Sommers is a teenager from New York City. She is the editor-in-chief of an international literary magazine for young writers, Parallel Ink; prose reader for The Blueshift Journal; and a blog consultant for The Adroit Journal. She has been recognized by the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, was a national literature finalist in the MIT Inspire humanities research competition, and won first place for fiction in the 2016 Hypertext Magazine High School Writers Contest. She is an alumna of the NYS Summer Young Writers Institute at Skidmore College, The Adroit Journal Summer Mentorship Program, and the Gotham Writers Workshop. taught fiction for Quartz Young Writers’ Workshop. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Hypertext Magazine, Hypernova Lit, New Voices Young Writers, Teen Ink, Inside of Me Anthology: American High School Poets and Eloquence: The America Library of Poetry.
Water (After Lady Macbeth)
The lines of a palm are temporary, like the still of earth
after loss, to learn calm and forget, to pour milk
from a body and still bleed.
The future flows from ulna, percussion end,
to Mercury Mount, pinky finger.
Love as horizontal line, crease of flesh, hand in fist.
Lineage, vertical line, deep as wells, strength of man.
There are things that cannot be undone. I cannot
create a pulse, resuscitate a dying heart.
I seep into her bones, pink flesh in porcelain skin,
the smell of newborn, slippery touch.
The earth is transparent, is below Her feet,
is Her sun, Her moon, Her breast, Her son.
But there are stories we cannot finish, my Queen.
Crown without jewel, flake of gold, wish to erase
all that we are.
A Conversation with Shannon Sommers
Richa: How did you first break into the world of writing?
Shannon: I’ve always been actively engaged in writing and reading, so it’s difficult to say when my relationship to them really began. At some point, it just became inseparable from my identity—I think the moment I truly broke into the world of writing was the moment when I declared myself a “writer,” when I chose writing to be the activity that defined how I wanted others to see me, but more importantly, how I saw myself. We often reference “the world of writing” as something exclusive, some monolithic entity, but I actually first immersed myself in it in middle school, when I was involved with school publications. From there, I began submitting my work to magazines and outside writing competitions. Some of these programs were ones I still participate in today (i.e. Scholastic), but even the ones I no longer reference were critical in helping me forge the path to where I am today. When I got to high school, I was incredibly insecure about how to continue my engagement with the writing community, and I began frantically submitting pieces to random magazines, just for the temporary thrill of publication. Ultimately, I would say that the turning point would be getting accepted to The Adroit Journal’s summer mentorship the summer after my freshman year. There has been much productive discussion surrounding this mentorship, and programs like it, in that it fosters this sense of competitiveness among teenagers still so new to the craft. I definitely agree that the sense that one needs to “break into” the young writer’s community, and is not a part of it by nature of being dedicated to writing itself, is problematic, but at the same time, that summer really served as the catalyst for my involvement with the literary scene at large. With Adroit, I met the former Editor-in-Chief of Parallel Ink, the international online literary journal that I now run, and I became a part of their staff at the beginning of my sophomore year.
Richa: Could you tell us more about your poem 'Water (After Lady Macbeth)'?
Shannon: I actually wrote this poem as one in a collection of persona poems about Lady Macbeth. I started drafting this series as a whole when I was in my sophomore English class, where we first read Macbeth. I was quite honestly disappointed that Shakespeare—and, subsequently, our in-class discussions—didn’t place a greater importance on such a fascinating character, while the more central characters felt less complex and dynamic. Her presence in the play is so layered and so complicated by factors beyond her control. We get to see her break down from this one-dimensional woman hungry for power to someone plagued not only be the consequences of this desire, but also the maternal, feminine and psychological sacrifices she had to make to get there. I turned to writing to help me explore my own feelings about her character; she is someone who both defies simple explanation and also resists sympathetic analysis. The scene I focused on for this poem was when she hallucinates that her hands are covered with blood, a physical manifestation of the guilt she feels for the murder of King Duncan, but as she tries to wash it off with water, the blood will not come off her hands. My English teacher joked that my obsession with Lady Macbeth scared him, and in many ways, it was out of character for me—I’m a very passionate sixteen-year-old girl who’s always smiling, so I can see why it was hard for him to imagine me being so obsessed with her. But Lady Macbeth’s defiance of a simple caricature, her resistance to being nothing more than Macbeth’s wife, immediately drew me in.
Richa: Who is your favorite poet? And your favorite poem?
Shannon: I would definitely say that my favorite poem at the moment would be “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith. It was my phone’s wallpaper for a while because it just felt so endlessly relatable. Smith hides behind no pretenses. Her delivery is extremely straightforward: there is no right way to explain to a child why injustice exists, or why the world we live in is anything but terrible when we allow it to continue. The poem is in many ways a tribute to childhood optimism, to the belief that the next generation will be the one to fix the horrors that have plagued society for centuries. At the same time, there is something refreshingly objective about how the poem deals with the things we hide from children in trying to preserve their innocence, which makes her insistence that there must be good bones lying amidst such pain all the more necessary a conclusion. Her poem represents, to me, the best parts of contemporary poetry, because it acknowledges how terrible today’s world is without being guided by a demoralized voice. Alex Dimitrov’s “The Moon After Election Day” is another favorite of mine, for similar reasons. Other than that, my favorite poets include Ocean Vuong, Fatimah Asghar, Claudia Rankine, Terrance Hayes, Tracy K. Smith, Jericho Brown, etc., all of whom explore the boundary between politics and art, which I think is the direction that modern poetry needs to be heading in.