Penelope Cray on The Social Distance Reading Series

Penelope Cray is the author of Miracles Come on Mondays (Pleiades, 2020), selected by Kazim Ali for the 2018 Robert C. Jones Prize for Short Prose. Her work has appeared in Harvard ReviewNew England ReviewelimaePleiades, and elsewhere. She lives with her family in northern Vermont.

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 Penelope reading from her new book Miracles Come on Mondays, available at LSU Press.

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

My pieces often begin as sentences that interrupt daily thinking. I’ve learned to write these down in the moment they arrive, usually into the notes app on my iPhone. I write until they stop. I then visit with these pieces often and shape them from there.

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

When I was six, I was given a little, red-velvet book of poems that contained “The Highwayman” by Alfred Noyes. I loved that poem and would read it over and over, feeling its rhythms in my body, “The highwayman came riding—riding, riding—the highwayman came riding . . .” It was like a dark lullaby I could live inside.

What poets or writers do you continually go back to?

Writers whose work remains essential are Russel Edson, Louise Glück, Virginia Woolf, Samuel Beckett, Gertrude Stein, William Stafford, John Berryman, Louise Bogan, Abigail Thomas, Craig Morgan Teicher, Anne Sexton, James Tate, Sarah Manguso, Italo Calvino, Clarice Lispector, Franz Kafka, and lately, I’m reading a lot of Amy Fusselman and Allison Benis White, who are new to me.

What is your favorite childhood or adolescent book?

As a kid, I loved Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree series. Every week, a new land waiting at the top of the Faraway Tree.

What are your thoughts/experiences on social distancing?

I’m an introvert, so before the social distancing began, I thought, no worries, I can handle it. Now that I’m actively isolating with my husband and two children, it’s the unknowns that have me rattled. How long will this go on and how restrictive will it become? I walk my dog and I see neighbors out walking their dogs. We talk from across the street or out a window. The rest is remote. Not easy.

Where can we find you? Link to your blog or website?

Find me at, but, for now, ignore the event calendar.

Penelope Cray’s Miracles Come on Mondays begins with a voice—stark, chilling, totally captivating—that searches a barren landscape for a single receptive ear. With echoes of Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, and Lydia Davis, it is Kafka these dark and sometimes darkly funny scenes resemble most. Cray’s characters strain against the indifference of everyday life until, too tired to yearn anymore, they begin the systematic work of making their worlds mentally and spiritually tolerable. And yet, somehow, there’s joy. This book asks us to let go of our ideas of sense and replace them with something better, something that somehow makes more sense than sense. Penelope Cray has written a debut work of fiction that feels entirely new and deeply true.

–LSU Press

These dark fractured fables tell stories of strange texture; stories about characters trying to find their way amid currents both small and large in a world in which personal and spiritual intimacy feel dangerously compromised. They are philosophical, funny, and frank. Like the fictions of Fanny Howe, Italo Calvino, and Rikki Ducournet, Cray’s stories rarely comfort. Then again, as one narrator observes, “When some alien sensation rises in the body, it unsettles rather than clarifies.”

–Kazim Ali

Are these stories?  Prose poems? Overexcited aphorisms that forgot to stop?  I don’t know, and I don’t care. Like Lydia Davis, Russell Edson, and Sarah Manguso, Penelope Cray has found an ingenious way to pack everything a good story needs into tiny domestic dioramas, luminous Cornell boxes in which the detritus of the American home is artfully arranged. These pieces bring whole histories to life in an instant, counting, accounting, measuring, cataloging life’s wild mundanities for which there is no accounting: “one bird is good, better than two and much better than three.” Mired in the kinds of misunderstandings that motor a moment, a marriage, a mistake, Cray’s characters are anxiously wrung out of twisted logic, haunted by a persistent past that won’t cede the stage to the perilous present.  Cray darkly mirrors our world, in which “one way forward is to forget to remember. Another is to remember to forget.” Hilarious, terrifying, and true, this is an amazing book you can forget about forgetting.

–Craig Morgan Teicher

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.