Welcome, Alysse Kathleen McCanna!

This month we are celebrating the titles that we’ve acquired over the past twelve months. These manuscripts came to us through our open reading periods. Today we bring you Alysse Kathleen McCanna, whose forthcoming book Fishwife will be published next spring. 

Have a manuscript you think we’d like? During our June Open Reading Period we are looking for poetry (chapbooks and full-length collections), short fiction (again, both chapbooks and full-length collections), novels, novellas, nonfiction (CNF, biography, cultural studies), anthology proposals, and translations from German. 


The Author

Alysse Kathleen McCanna’s poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from North American Review, The Rumpus, Grist, Poet Lore, Pembroke, Harpur Palate, and other journals. Her poetry has been featured on poets.org and Verse Daily, and her reviews have appeared in American Book Review and The Operating SystemFishWife, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press, is her first full-length collection. FishWife was a finalist for the 2022 Barrow Street Book Prize, a semi-finalist for the 2021 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry and the 2021 and 2022 Perugia Press Prizes, and made it to the top 10 in the 2022 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize. Alysse’s chapbook Pentimento was selected by Safiya Sinclair and published by Gold Line Press in 2019. Her work has been supported by fellowships and residencies from Vermont Studio Center, New York State Summer Writers Institute, and Sundress Academy for the Arts. She holds a PhD in English from Oklahoma State University, an MFA from Bennington College, and serves as Associate Editor of Pilgrimage Magazine. She is an Associate Professor of English at Colorado Mountain College.


On Writing Fishwife

I’m a sucker for magic, for sleight-of-hand, for surprise and bafflement and wonder. That’s what poetry is: a gesture that appears effortless, but isn’t. It’s curated, often with an absurd amount of calculation, and yet still comes from the impulsive, the involuntary–the difficult, the necessary. This book grew from my desire, an innate need, to reconcile dictionary and cultural definition and language with my own experience of wifehood and womanhood. While some poems were born of reckoning with the personal, others emerged from tumbling down Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Wikipedia rabbit holes; still others were written as a wrestling with form, traditional and invented. 

FishWife took shape as I completed my PhD, so I was reading as much as I was writing: a lot of poetry, but also novels, essay collections, academic articles. I took notes for my exams while gathering words and snippets of ideas like a squirrel. While much of the book was written in the cloister of my home office, in lonely dissertation hours, I also wrote and revised many poems at writing residencies and workshops. That change of scenery and sweeping away of distractions was instrumental in urging certain poems to click into place. I finalized the book while working in my favorite place–my bed–and looking out the window at a summer mountainscape, tethered to the immediate moment but deeply connected, too, to a past and history from which my work, and I myself, have evolved.


Selections from Fishwife


The [          ] Wife

the wife is a disguise/a crane/a fox/a fish/a seal
whose skin is left on a rocky inlet/
who plucks out each of her opulent feathers/
who sweeps the floor with her tail/
who cooks her own limb for the soup
& the sack of rice/the cupboard/her womb
fills and refills & the man owns her & she
owes him sustenance/sex/money/
& she disappears into the waves/wind/hills
leaving the man a box of gold/her eyes/a child/
her fat magical heart



The Soldier
When his stepdad came home early we hid
with our noses touching beneath his bellowed bed—
my little earthmover, starshaker, helmeted
hairtrigger whose fingers laced tight in mine
on the playground where he pushed me down
then grasped my hand to pull me up
we played Jesus and Pontius, took turns as prodding
Thomas, our fingers searching out tender tears
my little atheist, gladiate giftgiver and tidetaker,
thumbscrewed softbellied tough guy tumbling
to take the box of matches when we played Joan of Arc,
singeing my braids, putting them out in his mouth, now you
be the executioner I heard he died in a sandstorm
but that was rumor for he was swordbreaker
soapboxer chaser of afterwinds anointer of wicked
women I still touch the scar where he wondered
what do you look like under all that skin my little bottlehead
whose throat had no chokepoint even after so many pulls
and pills I can still hear him singing
chewing a cigarette between his teeth
come on baby light
the fire


For Burning

You’re a witch, he told me once, but he meant it good.
Then punched the windshield until it buckled, spiderwebbing
around his fist. I thought I had the gift, but all I had was salt,
black smudge, smoke. What lack, what trick. I casted shadows & aspersions,

he punched the windshield until it buckled. Spiderwebbed
veins thumping in his arm. His body was a gift, kaleidoscope
of black, of oak. Lack of light, trick of shadow, power cast
as poison. More than once I slipped into his bed when I belonged to another,
vain jump into his hands, his gift of kaleidoscopic body.
So many faces refracted in a cut glass of whiskey, so much
noise. Once I slipped into his bed when I belonged to another,
then another, and another. A madness of matrimonies,
so many faces refracted in a cut glass of whiskey. Such bliss
in the gift of his fist. I thought he was a home, but he was only sand,
a ruin of waves, another, then another. An insanity of sorceries.
You’re a witch, he told me once, but I misunderstood.