Cassandra Bruner on The Social Distance Reading Series

Cassandra J. Bruner, a Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow, earned her MFA from Eastern Washington University. A transfeminine poet and essayist, their writing recently appeared in Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, Third Coast. Her chapbook, The Wishbone Dress (Bull City Press, 2020), won the 2019 Frost Place Competition.

Brought to you by The Vermont School and Green Mountains Review

In the wake of book event cancellations due to COVID-19, this pop-up series is designed to offer poets a platform for launching new collections of poems. Stay tuned for a new reading each Wednesday and Sunday.

Here’s Cassandra reading from THE WISHBONE DRESS at Bull City Press.

“To wish with a wishbone means to break the wishbone. The poems in this chapbook enact another kind of breaking—the speaker veers from binary thinking and living. ‘Every girl must know her annunciation,’ writes the poet. In this instance, the annunciation unfolds over years as the speaker transitions. The slow work of bringing forth what has always been there complicates her bonds with family and lovers. (Not everyone can veer from binary thinking and living.) It complicates, too, her own sense of self. The imagery—dazzling, uncanny—brings us close to the emotional and intellectual turmoil orbiting transition. ‘I paint the mirror / white, a frost no bulb could sprout from’ and ‘a wish for recognition, for his budding breasts / to hide themselves away like fawns.’ The poems not only record the struggle to become, but also make visible the chaotic wonder of living. The language itself is never chaotic—it’s always wondrous. The metaphors are mind-blowing, the use of mythic and Biblical motifs deft, the lines are tight but elastic, the diction music-rich. The craft choices are exact and exacting. Language, in this poet’s hands, never breaks; it remembers, it yearns.”
—Eduardo C. Corral, judge of the 2019 frost place chapbook competition

“A book mid-crisis, a crisis amid the book, The Wishbone Dress addresses us from the all-too-common intersection of transness, sex work, disability, sexual violence. The work’s forthright statements—‘name us a god who is a hooker’ or ‘your death always a joke’—are tempered with sincerity and exactitude. ‘Let’s enumerate my crimes,’ Bruner writes, ‘I burned the beautyberries ringing your apiaries.’ While prophetic, The Wishbone Dress is without doom. Its scenes—at turns romantic, transactional, civic, legal—are less accusatory of the distance imagined between the I and you, poet and reader, as demonstrative of this I’s alienation: an alienation that conditions, saturates, even enables, address. ‘Who can survive / becoming allegory,’ she writes. Cassandra J. Bruner offers us not a cipher for survival, but a report of the possible despite its lack of guarantee. The book attends, awaits: ‘lean / closer & hear.’”
—Jos Charles

GMR: How do you begin a new piece of writing? What conditions help your writing process? 

With poetry, I’m either doing several pieces in the same vein around the same time (like the Chimera Kids series) or I’m changing forms, styles, approaches from poem-to-poem in order to find new, vibrant places for my voice(s) to explore. Home, found in the unfamiliar. With essays, I tend to write scenes scattershot and then find an order and sequence from there. The narrative stepping into itself.

GMR: What was an early experience that taught you language has power? 

Perhaps the earliest, sharpest memory I have of realizing this was a time when I was young (10-12ish) and made a passing remark about “wife-beaters being white trash.” Tea-kettle hot, my father asked me to explain. And when I couldn’t, he did. How the term was classist and racist (its implication being that people of color are inherently “lesser”). How “wife-beater” insisted that working-class folks were more misogynistic. How he and his brothers, who grew up working-class and rural, stumbled into that word’s restrictions again and again. I quieted into knowing.

What I leave unmentioned: how that word was lobbed at me in school, likely due to my presentation, to my being on the spectrum. How I focused so long on my binds I ignored the others.

GMR: What poets or writers do you continually go back to?

Louise Gluck, Denise Levertov, Clarice Lispector, Chase Berggrun, Franny Choi, Carl Phillips, Erika L. Sanchez, Jenny Xie, Kayleb Rae Candrilli, Melissa Febos, Karen Russell, and so many more.

GMR: What is your favorite childhood or adolescent book? 

Childhood: The Lord of the Rings, with confused love for The Silmarillion. Adolescent: Tie between Dracula and the Abhorsen Trilogy.

GMR: What are your thoughts on social distancing? 

Perhaps more than anything, my thoughts steer toward those made vulnerable by isolation: the elderly, the chronically ill, addicts, and those who struggle with mental illnesses and/or psychosis.

Even for the healthy and neurotypical, these times are lonely-making and disquieting. Which means these times, more than anything, accentuate the vacuums which keep people who are ill unwell and indebted. May these gaps be filled, and the pandemic contained.

GMR: Where can we find you? 

You can find me at: or on facebook. Thank you again for listening (and now reading)!

The Social Distance Reading Series

Brought to you by The Vermont School and Green Mountains Review

We’re thrilled to host The Social Distance Reading Series, a collaboration between Green Mountains Review and The Vermont School poets. In the wake of book event cancellations due to COVID-19, this pop-up series is designed to offer poets a platform for launching new collections of poems. At this point, we are focusing on collections by poets whose book events have been cancelled between January through May 2020.

Stay tuned for a new reading each Wednesday and Sunday.

–Didi Jackson, Major Jackson, Kerrin McCadden, and Elizabeth Powell, series curators.
–Kylie Gellatly, editorial assistant, interviewer.