Crows and Lemons: An Interview with the Winners of the 23-24 Third Coast Poetry and Fiction Contests!

Hello Third Coast Readers!

This week’s blog post brings exciting news about the 2023-2024 Third Coast Fiction and Poetry Contests. We are so excited to announce Elina Kumra as the winner of the 2023-2024 Fiction Contest for her piece “The Grandmother,” and Sara Fetherolf as the winner of the 2023-2024 Poetry Contest for their piece “Poet as Meyer Lemon Tree they Keep Forgetting to Water”.

I was grateful for the opportunity to read their impressive works and craft interview questions to hear more. Both writers have taken the time to respond thoughtfully to these questions and offer insightful information about their influences, technology, storytelling, and more. For more information about the writers, please refer to their bios located underneath the interviews.

You can read their pieces in an upcoming issue of Third Coast—stay tuned!

The judges for this year’s fiction and poetry contests were Fernando A. Flores and Destiny O. Birdsong, respectively. You can find more information about the judges and the contests here.

— Logen Crandall, Editorial Intern

An Interview with Elina KuMra

Crandall: Before we dive into the story itself, I would love to hear about your poetic and fictional roots. How did you get started in the writing realm? What led you to begin submitting your work? 

Kumra: From childhood, I’ve been deeply drawn to journaling and storytelling. The act of observing and capturing my world – both the day-to-day and the extraordinary – became a starting point for more serious writing. This process of unpacking thoughts and experiences through written words was, and continues to be, a foundational element in my writing journey.

Crandall: Where did you find inspiration for “The Grandmother”? Considering the Grandma’s origin in Chengdu, a city in China, was your writing influenced by Chinese folklore?

Kumra: Indian and Chinese folklore intrigue me. The complexity of their stories is fascinating- myths filled with enlightenment, holding up a lens to society’s values. Folklore’s mix of the real and unreal captivated my young mind and still inspires me today.  As a writer, I strive to explore the light and dark, taking cues from folklore’s fusions of human and supernatural. The tales taught me to blur lines, connecting worlds to create a more engaging narrative. This piece, like these myths, merges twists of reality and sparks of the supernatural. My aim is to invigorate readers, provoke thought, and reveal the allure of storytelling.

Crandall: The imagery in your piece is incredible. The reader shifts from chilling images of disfigured crows and toddlers with chicken heads to lovely glimpses of flowers growing from soda cans. Did you find yourself in a balancing act between the supernatural and the beautifully simple in this story?

Kumra: Thank you! I did strive for a balance between the supernatural and the starkly real in my tale. I’ve always admired Gabriel García Márquez’s ability to blend ordinary and extraordinary elements in his stories, making it seem like the extraordinary or the impossible could naturally exist in our world.

I also wanted to imbue everyday actions with deeper meanings. For example, the grandmother stowing away her money is reminiscent of the Dickensian era, but also delves into the concept of hoarding at a metaphysical level. And much like Alfred Lord Tennyson employed bird symbolism in his poetry to express profound human experiences, I tried to use avian imagery to enhance my narrative.

I also added an element of Chinese folklore with the reference to “The Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea”. While eight is generally associated with luck in Chinese mythology, the seven-headed crow in my story suffers and fights, challenging that familiar association.
In essence, my story aims to blend Western and Eastern literary traditions, metaphysical philosophy, and timeless folklore. Each element, from the seven-headed crow to the flowers growing out of soda cans, is meant to bring the magical and the mundane together in harmony, just like what Gabriel García Márquez achieved in “One Hundred Years of Solitude”.

Inspiration from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “The Eagle”, particularly its vivid depiction of a bird’s flight, helped shape my story’s strong avian imagery. The ancient Chinese tale of cooperative effort and unity, “Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea”, also lent its undertones to my narrative, similar to how the seven arguing heads of the crow are bound by a single stomach. So, yes, you could say I was walking a tightrope between fantasy and reality in a tousled snowglobe, in an attempt to create a story that speaks to the beauty and strangeness of our world from a unique perspective.

Crandall: “The Grandmother” sends a subliminal message about the power of storytelling and the effect it has on an audience. What do you want readers to take away from this story?

Kumra: I want my readers to understand that stories are not merely for entertainment or a way to spend time; their power extends much further. They have the potential to reshape our viewpoints, shift our ingrained paradigms, and question conventional norms. More importantly, stories have the remarkable ability to validate our experiences, making us feel seen, heard, and acknowledged.

An Interview with Sara Fetherolf

Crandall: The ‘about’ page on your website states that you live “next to a well-worn stretch of the Pacific Ocean”. Do you find this environment to be suitable for your writing? Describe your ideal conditions when creating a new piece.

Fetherolf: It’s funny you picked out that line in my bio. I’ve updated that sentence several times to try to get the description right. I live in a port city. I find living near the ocean is often associated with a certain glamor or privilege, but that doesn’t fit with my local ocean. For every pristine beach that is a picturesque home to the wealthy, there are so many stretches of ocean that are polluted and worn through. I think about this a lot. I love writing in the natural world, but I can’t ever get past that awareness that this beautiful place is also dying because of human causes.

With that in mind, I don’t know if I have ideal conditions for writing, at least when it comes to place. I am simply influenced by whatever environment I find myself in. In a lot of my writing—and certainly in “Poet as Meyer Lemon Tree they Keep Forgetting to Water”—I try to represent a physical and emotional landscape at the same time. I live in a constant state of pathetic fallacy—the whole world is part of my own emotional life, and my emotion is part of the landscape of the world. Or, put another way, the landscapes of this earth are animate, and they interact with me mostly through the language of emotion. So I don’t have an ideal landscape for writing, because my writing is driven by engaging with my relationship with a place as it exists in its fullness, if that makes sense.

Crandall: Your award-winning piece, “Poet as Meyer Lemon Tree they Keep Forgetting to Water,” has an exquisite title. What inspired it?

Fetherolf: It is honestly pretty literal, at least to my mind! I wrote the poem at a time when I was trying to write a new poem every day. Most of my poems focused on the world that was right in front of me. On that particular day, I was writing about the Meyer lemon tree that I keep out in my little outdoor alleyway space.

The tree made me feel guilty. I loved it so much. It was a small, eager tree that didn’t ask for much of anything. It would cover itself in these beautiful, scented blossoms, and with a very minimal amount of care, all those flowers would turn into enormous yellow-orange lemons. And still, I couldn’t manage to give it that minimal amount of care. I would think about it a lot, but I would never get around to actually filling up the watering can and bringing it a drink. All the blossoms withered and fell off. It felt like a deep failure in myself.

For me, that’s how I experience depression more generally—not as sadness, but as this sense of inertia, an inability to do the simple thing that would nurture the eager and generous parts of myself. When I started drafting this poem, I realized I identified more with the tree than with the poet who doesn’t water it. That person who does not water the tree felt like almost an outside force, some other self that prevents me from taking steps toward providing care for myself or the world around me. That’s why I tried to give the poem a title that immediately sets up a confusion between poet and tree, between the one who keeps forgetting to provide the basic, necessary care that sustains life and the one who needs that care to survive.

Crandall: I love how you mentioned the “bluelight” of screens throughout your poem. What effect do you think technology has on modern art? Are there other inhibitors to modern poets and poetry?

Fetherolf: This is such a good question! I’m honestly not anti-technology as a whole, and I think there are certainly a lot of advantages to being able to connect with many communities through technological means. I think it has been especially good for poetry in many ways, since it can allow more voices into the mix with fewer gatekeeping institutions standing in the way.

And yet, on a personal level, interacting with the technological world usually feels kind of awful. I start to feel so trapped in the blue light scroll, unable to take agency over my own brain or my own time. This is especially true when I am already in a state of depression or numbness. For me, the constant newsfeeds create an intense sense of helplessness, disguised as a sense of control. There’s this feeling that if I can just collect enough information, read enough perspectives, find the right words to describe the endless disasters—if I can do that, it will somehow fix everything. And instead, it just reinforces the numbness that encourages more scrolling.

Over time, the endless scroll can have effect on the psyche where everything starts to feel like part of the screen. That was something I was trying to get at in “Poet as Meyer Lemon Tree”—the way the blue light of the screen seems to pervade the rest of the world in such moments. And I do think that can inhibit creativity. It can flatten out the sense of what is possible.

Crandall: Your poem tells the story of decline and does a great job communicating the feeling of being trapped. With the speaker’s ownership in the lines “my artificial floor / my round solid mirror,” self-imposed suffering comes to mind. What role does self-limitation play in the creative process? Do you think it is solely negative and can it be overcome? How can the poet remember to water themselves?

Fetherolf: I like your framing of this question. I think there are different forms of self-limitation, and no, it’s not always negative. Setting limitations for myself can be an important form of self-care, which is a very different thing from self-imposed suffering. As I alluded to earlier, I don’t know if this poem is really about self-imposed suffering, or at least it is more complicated than that—it’s about a kind of suffering that might look self-imposed from the outside, but that still feels awfully hard to end when you’re in it.

I mentioned earlier that I was writing a poem every day when I drafted “Poet as Meyer Lemon Tree.” This did not come naturally to me. The only way I could keep up with it was to accept that most days, I was going to write something very bad. And this act of writing bad poems in itself was healing. It became an exercise in releasing my perfectionism—a very insidious form of self-limitation that has always played a major role in how I limit my art. I guess this means that my answer to “how can the poet remember to water themselves?” is: it might not be so much about remembering, as it is accepting that it’s boring and daily, and that it’s going to be deeply imperfect. And it’s still important to do.

Author Bios

Elina Kumra is the author of the forthcoming Lodestar (2024) and Paradiso (2024). First Prizes with Marin County First Prize Poet, Third Coast, Reed Magazine and Beyond Words. Honored by Scholastic Writing with over 20 Gold and Silver Keys. She has been published in Peatsmoke, Reed Magazine, One Art, Up North Lit, Writer’s Digest, StreetLit, Coffin Bell, Polyphony Lit, Fatal Flaw Literary Magazine, Variant Lit, Quibble, Death Rattle, Typishly, Cathexis NorthWest Press, Tint Journal, and the Peauxdunque Review. She is Reed Magazine‘s 2024 Emerging Writer Winner. Second Place California Youth Poet Laureate. Her essays have appeared in Quibble Lit. Her primary goal is to tackle illiteracy by promoting equity and accessibility within the educational system. Elina is the EIC and founder of VelvetPoets. She is currently focusing on A Brush on Recovery — a 501(c)(3) non-profit which seeks to promote mental health and opiate recovery through poetry. @velvetpoets twitter x: Elinakumra1

Sara O. Fetherolf (she/they) is the author of Via Combusta (New American Press 2022). They won the 2021 Iron Horse Long Story award and they have written text for song cycles and short operas that have been performed around the country. Their writing appears in publications like Best Microfiction 2023, Gulf Coast, New Ohio Review, Storm Cellar, and Gigantic Sequins. She lives in California.

On Sacrifice and Honor – “What About” by MRB Chelko

Dear Third Coast Readers,

With Memorial Day approaching on Monday, May 27th, I’ve found myself caught up in thoughts about sacrifice and honor. Not all of society supports the various angles of the military, but I think we can all agree that there is honor in fighting for what one believes in, especially if the cause is noble. Even devout pacifists find alternative ways to stand up for their principles, such as peaceful protests or debates.

Whether the military is ethical or not isn’t the question of Memorial Day. Instead, it invites reflection on our choices and values while honoring those who were brave enough to sacrifice their lives for what they believed in. What would you give up for the chance to spend another day with someone you loved and lost? What comfort item would you forego in order to support an organization you resonate with? What about a healthier lifestyle? Are there any people or causes that you would give your life for?

Today’s poem by MRB Chelko from Issue 48 utilizes careful imagery as a reminder to consider the areas of life that inspire us, giving us joy and passion, from things or feelings that we may take for granted. While the means to obtain freedom, love, happiness, or a better life can be judged in positive or negative ways, there is more honor in passion than passivity.

— Logen Crandall, Editorial Intern

What About

summer? Flies alight in the fruit bowl? A good blue cheese?

What about the body? Tight with post-swim wind? In a towel?

A bath? With crystals?

What about New Mexico? (Its lizards like squirrels?) (Sparse trees like ghosts of buffalo?) Or this place? It’s amazing parallel park jobs? Swift maneuvers? Car-fulls of praise?

What about in-season anything? Taut, edge-ripe tomatoes?

Vines in the chain-link? Lush, probing braids?

What about fades? In haircuts? And songs?

And salt? (The way elephants pilgrim to lick it?)

What about calling it fucking and fucking loving it? (That ex who shows up sometimes?) (His bike in your driveway?) (The twine of his arms?)

And arms? Just having them? At least one? To not be a worm?

What about Rome? Piazza boys pressed to some blondies? The way clouds grope a dome?

And grapes? Sliced in quarters? On some toddler’s tray?

What about mothers?

And swallowing mint leaves with water?

And trees? (Aren’t they cities?)

((Just all of it?))


The fat cooking down? Stumbling down the hall? That aroma?

MRB Chelko is the author of several chapbooks including Songs & Yes (2016) and Manhattations (2014), which was selected by Mary Ruefle for a Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. Chelko’s publications include Bennington Review, Black Warrior Review, Cincinnati Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, and Poetry International. She teaches in the low-residency MFA program of the New Hampshire Institute of Art and lives in New York City.

Revisiting Issue 52 – “Night Swimming” by L.A. Johnson

Night Swimming

At midnight, the ocean shakes and knives
            drop in the water. Little floods roil
this holy strip of mirrored coastline.
            We come cleanly to the shore, naked.
Our clothes abandoned, the linen
            blooms into soft white flowers.
Briny glass, the water washes over me,
            chill ceremony to my throat.
I dogpaddle to him, wanting to touch his hands. Once,
            I spent all day lying in a field
of clover, sprawled among the green
            with closed eyes. The air thrilled
through my chest like an avalanche
            of words whispered over the telephone.
I waited for something to happen,
            for a hoped-for stranger
to appear from elsewhere and lie
            next to me, lean and tall.
Instead, I listened to the clear floating
            of bees, how they clung and trembled
against each stem and powdery stamen,
            desirous of nothing outside
of their paradise of pollen. Tonight,
            we are two swimmers. A pair
of twins in this mirrorbox of vapor
            and liquid, your leg becomes my leg
kicking off nibbling minnows.
            In the dark, I confuse my lips for yours,
somehow separate but swimming toward you,
            both of us in brilliant, blue motion.
The sea breaks into forbidden laughter, my teeth
            crack in the chill. Our bodies
bend in the division between ocean and sky,
            while all that hungers hums underneath.
Mind blank, tongue curling, suddenly
            I am held within your voice. The water
quiet, we dream of a different shoreline
            where stars rain down on us
our faces upward with awe. Invitation to cascade,
            the bright world flashes
out. We spill into each other
            with freedom, float beyond, drift
only far enough away that we can swim back.

L.A. Johnson is from California. She is the author of the chapbook Little Climates (Bull City Press, 2017). She is currently pursuing her PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California, where she is a Middleton Fellow. The winner of the 2022 Poetry Prize from the Mississippi Review, the 2022 Robert Watson Poetry Prize from the Greensboro Review, the 2021 Rumi Prize in Poetry from Arts & Letters, her poems have recently appeared or are forthcoming in the American Poetry Review, Poetry Magazine, the Southern Review, ZYZZYVA, and other journals. Find her online at http://

Meditating on Mother’s Day and “Surface Tension (Andy Goldsworthy)” by Marilyn McCabe

Mother Earth, motherland, Mother tongue. With those words in mind, a connection can be made between ‘mother’ and ‘origin’. What happens when one loses their origin? Today we revisit an ekphrastic poem by Marilyn McCabe from Issue 49. This piece depicts the complexity of grief that a child endures when their parental figure is tragically affected by disease.

Andy Goldsworthy’s sculpture “Surface Tension” communicates the peace that the speaker imagines after the death of their mother. Since their mother’s passing is “surely less painful / than watching the tissue of her / memory tatter”, the speaker seems to have already lost the mother that they know and love. McCabe’s poem describes an incredible work of art but also feelings of despair and internal chaos.

For those of us blessed with healthy mothers, the thought of parental suffering is heavily avoided. To those who have experienced these painful endings, you are some of the strongest people in the world. As Mother’s Day approaches this Sunday, May 12th, we recognize our mothers at the very least for being our origin. Whether the holiday brings you joy or pain, Marilyn McCabe’s poem is a beautifully written but haunting reminder of the brief time we have with the people we love, letting us know the importance of honoring those who have made us who we are.

— Logen Crandall, Editorial Intern

Surface Tension (Andy Goldsworthy)

From horse chestnut stalks and thorns:
a lacy wall, one circle a more perfect open
than this revealed today: gape of old snow
around a sunken rootbed,
lichen-descried knot
hollowed in a downed limb,
a place in the pond where water stirs round,
faintly disrupting the forming ice,
and it’s absence I’m wishing for,
the hole of my mother surely less painful
than watching the tissue of her
memory tatter, her dogged cheer wear,
to wash clear her desperate eyes
of the do-not-let-me-go.

Marilyn McCabe‘s work has garnered her an Orlando Prize from A
Room of Her Own Foundation, the Hilary Tham Capital Collection
contest award from The Word Works resulting in publication of her
book of poems Perpetual Motion, and two artist grants from the New York
State Council on the Arts. Her second book of poems, Glass Factory, was
published in 2016. Her poems and videopoetry have been published in a variety
of print and online literary magazines. She blogs about writing and reading at

Revisiting Issue 48 – April by Evan Nicholls

Dear Third Coast Readers, it’s that time of year when students put on their graduation regalia and move from one side of the stage to another. In this graduation season, it is common for those undergoing big life changes to be full of questions.

What will the next few months look like? How long will I be in this new job? Can I pay off my student debt before I’m 80 years old?

This feeling of puzzlement is reflected in today’s selected prose poem, April’ by Evan Nicholls. The staff at Third Coast wishes a heartfelt congratulations to those graduating in 2024.

— Logen Crandall, Editorial Intern


By Evan Nicholls

If I put on a boot, would a matching boot appear on the other foot? If I swallowed a diamond, would a crop
 of diamonds grow in the basin of me? If I ate a whole lamb, would my arms become legs of mutton? And if I
 listened to Simon and Garfunkel on loop, would my organs grow sprigs of parsley, sage, rosemary? Would my
 nose become a bundle of thyme? If I named my dog Art Garfunkel, would he grow the hairdo? If I passed
 away in my house, and no one found me for weeks, would Art Garfunkel use me for eating? Would I be dog
 food? If I did wrong, would an angel poof onto my left shoulder? If I prayed, would another one poof onto
 the right? And if I walked into a church, would I become the church? Would my fingers and toes turn into
 steeples? And if I opened the big church doors of my chest, would a bomb go off in me? If I were a school,
 would something go off in me? If I were a plane, would I be used as a plane?

Evan Nicholls is a poet and collage artist from the peach, fox, horse and wine country of Virginia. He is the author of Holy Smokes, a chapbook of poems and collages, and co-author of THERE HAS BEEN A MURDER, a micro-chap of poems co-written with Evan Williams and Benjamin Niespodziany. Both books are out from Ghost City Press. Evan is also a co-founding editor of Obliterat, a prose poem journal that blew up (as planned). Presently, Evan is working on two full-length collections of poetry, one of which is based on a 12th century English folktale. He currently lives outside of Washington, D.C. More of Evan’s work can be found at Continue reading “Revisiting Issue 48 – April by Evan Nicholls”

Celebrating Earth Day – “Where I’m From, Lake Michigan Straddles the Shores” by Brian Czyzyk

In addition to the newest album from Taylor Swift, ‘THE TORTURED POETS DEPARTMENT: THE ANTHOLOGY,’ creative writers are found expressing themselves within every publication of Third Coast!

As Earth Day approaches on Monday, April 22nd, we have selected a picturesque poem from Issue 51 by Brian Czyzyk. His piece depicts the nostalgia tied into our childhood landscapes, and describes his longing for a world without “runoff”. Whether one lives in a metropolis or a small town, I think it can be agreed upon that nature is important to us all, and should be treated as such. Even if waves only straddle the shore in our memory, there is something sacred that lives in areas untouched by the “squeal of passing cars”.

In the Great Lakes State that Third Coast calls home, we are lucky to experience four seasons. With warm weather just around the corner, Czyzyk’s poem reminds us of the wonderful lake days coming our way, as well as the need to preserve the environment we live in. Whether you live in an urban area or not, there is the opportunity to plunge into written portrayals of nature from right where we’re sitting!

— Logen Crandall, Editorial Intern


Where I’m From, Lake Michigan Straddles the Shores

between sand dune & cityscape.
I spent so many summers skipping
rocks along its surface, pinched flattened

granite & basalt between my thumb
& forefinger, swung one arm in an arc then
watched the ripples smooth into the sand.

I want back the sparse clutches
of puzzlegrass, the blue stretches
of water & sky—on a clear July day,

the difference grows imperceptible.
I’ve long lived like this: between water.
Now, I’m pinned to flat fields of soybeans

by horizonless sky. At a bus stop, I’m eyed
by turkey vultures, farmhands, drivers
on the highway rushing elsewhere. The whole thing

gives me vertigo. I need boundaries & shape.
Need the sun steeped like a saffron sachet
in water unmucked by runoff & swell.

I know this is selfish. As if I could stake
claim on an entire lake. But no one
ever said it’s impossible to be haunted

by a place you once called home. I guess
leaving is like this. Sowing your doubts
until you wake up to buzzards carving

hoops in the gray sky, listening to the cough
& squeal of passing cars until the bus ratchets
up, & you climb through the doors alone.


Brian Czyzyk is a poet from Traverse City, Michigan. His work has most
recently appeared in The Cincinnati Review, The Journal, Colorado Review, and
the New Poetry from the Midwest 2019 anthology. He holds an MFA from
Purdue University and is currently a PhD candidate in creative writing at
the University of North Texas. He wishes you the best.

Issue 53 Cover Reveal!

Happy Spring! We are so thrilled to reveal the cover for our next issue, coming to you soon! Kudos to our talented cover artist, Ashley Miller—check out more of her work here!