Tristan Strong Will Sweep You Away With Epic Adventure and African Folklore

African mythology and folklore aren’t exactly common knowledge. When you think of gods and goddesses, it’s usually Greek and Norse gods like Zeus and Thor that come to mind. Now characters such as High John the Conqueror and Anansi, along with their stories, are being introduced to a new generation through Kwame Mbalia’s dynamic middle grade fantasy Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky. The book will be released on October 15.

Tristan Strong is a twelve-year-old boy grieving the loss of his best friend, Eddie, and smarting from being defeated in his first boxing match. While visiting his grandparents’ farm in Alabama, he accidentally unleashes an evil haint and creates a hole between the real world and a magical world of African American folk heroes and West African gods. Now he must work together with them and undergo an epic quest to retrieve Anansi’s story box to save the world.

One of the best aspects of this book is how accessible the folktale and mythology characters are. These characters are modernized without losing their roots and inspire awe with their strength, humor, and sprinkles of humanity. One of my personal favorites is the character Gum Baby, who was originally a doll the trickster Anansi made to capture a fairy. Although she is commonly known by the sometimes derogatory term “Tar Baby,” the author makes her a fully fleshed-out character who is spunky, hilarious, and a clever fighter.

Another notable aspect of the book is Tristan Strong, the protagonist. Having been exposed to so many images of Black boys and men who are pressured to be hypermasculine at all times, I was pleasantly surprised to see Tristan Strong be a bit insecure and emotionally vulnerable. It is heartwarming to see him grow as a character and come into his own as a hero and as a person. One of my favorite parts of his character arc is Tristan slowly facing his fear of heights. Initially, he screams really loudly at being in the air, but eventually he comes to realize there are things more important than his fear.

In addition to Tristan himself, his friendship with Eddie, another Black boy, is wonderful. Even though Eddie has passed away, he lives on in a journal of stories and memories that become increasingly precious to Tristan. Tristan’s flashbacks to good and bad times with Eddie are a key part of Tristan’s coming to terms with his grief and his journey as a hero.

In fact, Eddie, Tristan, and Gum Baby are just a few of the amazing cast of characters in this book. There is also Ayanna, a Black girl who has the makings of a strong leader and fighter. Another Black girl, Thandiwe, is a fierce warrior who reminded me a lot of Dora Miljae from the Black Panther comic books. Although I would have liked to see more Black female folklore and mythical characters in addition to Gum Baby, I did enjoy seeing two of them embody Virginia Hamilton’s The People Could Fly.

Having been exposed to so many images of Black boys and men who are pressured to be hypermasculine at all times, I was pleasantly surprised to see Tristan Strong be a bit insecure and emotionally vulnerable.

In addition to the characters, the world building is also very well done. Although there is a lot to keep up with without a map or index of places, I found the author’s decision to make the world of the African folk heroes and gods parallel to the real world compelling, especially given how that world has allegorical references to postcolonialism and slavery. Some parts of it are dark, but it is subtle enough that middle grade readers won’t be terrified. Also, the world building as it applies to the book’s main antagonist is brilliant.

All in all, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is a dazzling adventure that will sweep you away. Reluctant middle-grade readers will tear through the book’s four hundred pages for the action and magic, while older readers will appreciate the book’s in-depth world building. It is a grand start to a new series and a perfect introduction to African myth and folklore.

We Are Made of Woven Memory Circles

Raki Kopernik’s book of prose poetry The Memory House covers a lot of territory — both literally and figuratively.

In four sections, the poet tells the story of three generations across three continents, contrasting kibbutz and urban life, communal living with single-family homes, dating, love and family dynamics. The poet’s voice inhabits grandparents, parents, and her own memories, with wishes for family and future. Throughout these particular and personal stories, there is a thread that opens up the individual story to make a wider, humanistic claim. It begins with the two-page preface to the book but has its clearest articulation on page 22. In the middle of narrating her family’s emigration to Israel, these lines: “Three quarters of a century later, in 2016, Syrian refugees on illegal boats, same, trying to escape into Europe. Same thing. Same.”

In the spirit of disclosure, I direct the press that published Kopernik’s book — we’re an embedded press at my university, and our students worked with the manuscript to learn editing, book layout, and the ins and outs of taking a manuscript to finished book. Our art students designed the cover (beautifully articulated ears of wheat) and created original artwork for the interior pages. Working with the students, they pointed out a number of things that inspired them about Kopernik’s book — how her forms invited them in, somewhere between storytelling and the poetry they were used to; how her long lines and details allowed them to picture the scenes she described, the fields of wheat and sunflowers, the groves of fruit trees; her sudden bursts of humor; the way food and taste threaded throughout every moment — cucumbers, butter, pears, and chocolate.

What I notice each time I re-read the book is how the poet’s voice and memories are bound up with her mother’s. Section One begins with her mother, “My mother lived on a moshav,” and tells how that came to be through the stories of the previous generation: an old British airport hangar, but before that a grandmother in a prison camp in Palestine, and before that both grandparents’ arrival by boat, and before that Romania. In the midst of these early pages, these primal stories, the poet tells us her mother’s first memory, “a dog barking behind a screened door, its mouth full of sharp teeth and drool, its legs taller than her three-year-old self.” Kopernik then makes the all-encompassing move, “her memory could have been any year, any country.” What child doesn’t have some terrifying memory lodged somewhere, what child doesn’t remember some beast at the door? It is the twining of these — these small anywhere-moments with the larger stories of families making and re-making, migrating & moving — that accomplishes the large and small of The Memory House. Two pages later, we are granted the title line, after more moments that refract the mother’s memories through the poet-daughter’s voice: “Our memories tangle into a single memory house.”

“Three quarters of a century later, in 2016, Syrian refugees on illegal boats, same, trying to escape into Europe. Same thing. Same.”

Because Kopernik’s book can be read as narrative or as a traditional poetry book, I don’t want to give away the ending — there are moments of resolution there, even if not in the mode of plot reveals. There are four sections overall: the first tells the story of the parents, growing up and meeting, emigrating to America; in the second, we encounter the poet herself, visiting Israel for summer vacations, staying back on the kibbutz with her maternal grandparents; the third tells the story of the paternal grandparents; in the last section, we find out the spare story of what happened when the parents arrived in America, how the poet’s family began.

In telling her mother’s story, Kopernik lingers on her mother’s dreams and desires — to stay on the kibbutz, to be surrounded by family, to begin a family of her own. When she falls in love with the man she will marry and start a family with, she resists him after he leaves for America. There are images of the mother-to-be, her care for her siblings, her developing instincts learned alongside the communal values of the kibbutz. She tells the story of her mother plucking a stinger from her brother’s face, giving him her precious squares of chocolate. She tells how the young woman pretended to mother her younger brother, seven years separating them. How she wanted four children. How even if she didn’t like the food served in the bet yeladim, she “knew not to complain about food.” In this inhabiting of her mother’s memories, Kopernik’s voice rises, moving up and up to survey not only her own family’s story but encompass the stories of others, to demonstrate one way to inhabit the past — through memory, through experience, through language.

In Section Two, when the poet visits her parents’ homeland, she writes:

Sometimes the Midwest smells like the Middle East in the heat of summer.

The smell of, nothing matters but this moment.

You might not think of the Middle East like that if you only know it from the news.

Experience has more dimensions than media. You don’t know the whole thing unless you can feel it on your skin, through the holes in your face.

“Everyone wants the sweet middle. The core. What they think is the soul.”

But she’s told us all this before. We just didn’t have the stories yet — about Uncle Chocolate, who always brought chocolate. About the kibbutz pool, playing with the children, about the time a shallow dive left blood in the water. About how “puberty ruined everything.” About the rarity of pears — the sweetness of compote. In story after story, so many circling around meals, and food, and taste, there are the pleasures of sweetness — offered as gifts, made with love, created and cooked alongside family and the extended family created by the kibbutz. And there is the sweetness that is recognized because the thing offered is rare, or precious, not easy to find or keep — like the store called Kol Bo, which means “everything in it,” but the name is a misnomer. The daughter-poet, the American daughter-poet, points this out — her voice wry and laced with nostalgia.

The preface to the collection begins with a description of how there were no gardens, only dust, “the water sparse.” Prickly pears imported from Mexico, a fruit with “a tender heart at the barely visible center.” Kopernik makes the connection quickly, the heart of the cactus like Israel: “everyone wants the sweet middle. The core. What they think is the soul.” She names a literal place, she names an imagined place. She introduces a memory-place, peopled with loved ones and secondhand stories. Then she tells us, “borders are imaginary lines made up by people.”

Purchase The Memory House

About the Author

Raki is a Jewish, queer, experimental fiction and poetry writer. She is the author of The Other Body chapbook (Dancing Girl Press), The Memory House (The Muriel Press 2019), and The Things You Left (forthcoming Unsolicited Press 2020). Her work has been published in New Flash Fiction Review, Blue Lyra Review, El Balazo, Duende, and others. It has also been shortlisted and nominated for several awards, including the Pushcart Prize for fiction. She lives in Minneapolis.

Top photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

My House of Mysterious Compartments

Tara Burke’s poetry collection Animal Like Any Other (Finishing Line Press) has compartments:

poems about growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, about living with her girlfriend surrounded by dogs, about the painful dissolution of that relationship, about desire and sex, about new love, and several long poems that braid all these aspects of the poet’s life into a kind of manifesto. The forms switch between a maximalist prose that sweeps across the page without punctuation and resists known syntax, and tight lineated forms of unctuous imagery. The poem “Declaration” includes the line taken for the title of the collection and describes the making of steak. With the lines “massage a bloody loin / with bare hands [. . .] press salt into its flesh / and press the ruminant / into my hot iron pan . . .” my mouth waters – the poet goes on to declare:

“Domesticitycan be radical.Can be lesbian.These are good waysto stick it to the man:cook food, lovewomen, enjoystaying home.”

By recounting childhood, memories of growing up amidst parents’ sometimes simmering or submerged anxieties and anger, the needs of brothers, each well-defined moment becomes almost incantatory. The background is cast in plain language (blue and grey and tan), the details everyday, but images swim up from the long lines. In the house on Blue Ridge Mountain Road, “we didn’t believe in weeds.” The speaker’s mother would plant things and move things there at the edge of the woods, including stones she’d found “here and there intending toward beauty.” In another of these childhood poems, a vignette about the child-poet ignoring her mother’s entreaty to stop, she says she was “unclear of no and its partner shame.” In “How We Purpled the Road” we see two unaccompanied children, their unsupervised play, the wonder and danger of it. Purpling is the crushed fruit of blackberries and the bruises earned; the poet says, “immediate regret is a bruise I know well.”

By recounting childhood, memories of growing up amidst parents’ sometimes simmering or submerged anxieties and anger, the needs of brothers, each well-defined moment becomes almost incantatory.

Interspersed between these memory-moments are love poems, which seem to be about both finding one’s person as well as finding the self. The structure of moving between the early childhood poems and the adult poems make sense, as they suggest another kind of knowing and coming of age. The clarity of the language rings true: “I want this body / finally mine, naked, covered / in glitter and chicken feathers.” It is straightforward and defiant and joyful, tinged with the awful fantastic. Soon though, the beloved becomes a source of worry – long before the poem-story begins to hint at how the dissolution will happen, the speaker hints at meaningful differences between them; her girlfriend is a police officer, and the speaker wonders about her job, things she may have to do. “How will you see this world / with your gun? Is there anything / we can protect?” This too ties back to the childhood poems, when the poet tries to understand her father. In the poem “Inside Me” the reader sees the father, over and over again – in his chair, smoking, hauling rocks, always working. This poem is one of those that ranges across the page, with little breaks for breath, few guideposts of phrasing or punctuation. It ends with the resonant line: “there he is inside me singing what a surprise when I realize it’s not a song but a sob” – there’s no period. The poem ends, but it doesn’t end. The sob catches in the throat, nowhere to go.

It is straightforward and defiant and joyful, tinged with the awful fantastic.

“New Year’s Day” is a central poem. In a small moment, the speaker sitting in a sun-drenched kitchen, her girlfriend preferring the more shadowed living room, a whole continent of differences between them become visible. “Oh I think I was lucky I trusted because time was your gift to me then” – the reader can feel that time is running out. “She doesn’t love light like I do” and we know that light means so much more than light. When the poet mentions taking her mother’s advice, we know that all of those childhood moments, those poems that cannot be contained are contained in her now, purpling her, and it doesn’t matter which room they sit in this morning – dread hangs over the prose stanzas, as if even poetry is out of reach. A few poems later, the couple has moved and the poems begin to speak of predators – things that threaten them, their dogs, the goat they’ve taken to keeping. The speaker admits “so I pretended like I always do / that I wasn’t afraid.” After leaving the home they had together, she confides “I was half myself and maybe / it was never the hungry coyotes / but the whole of my bloodstream howling.”

“She doesn’t love light like I do” and we know that light means so much more than light.

The poems so far have a natural trajectory: childhood stories that explore early memory and the parental relationship as a potential model, the self in love and loss, the aftermath of relationship and rediscovering the self. What these poems are building to are some incredibly moving long poems that weave all of that together and speak in a full-throated cry, somewhere between manifesto and affirmation. The poems “Exercise in Which a Poet in Heartbreak Finds Herself in a Writing Class with Fiction Writers and Doesn’t Leave, Rebels a Little, Learns to Put Characters Under Pressure,” “Queer Girl,” and “Blue Body Hungry for Origin or Certainty” are all breakneck poems – read-aloud poems – poems built upon the foundation of what comes before them in this collection, and owing a debt to the careful building of voice that Burke takes her time with in earlier smaller moments.

What binds all the poems together in Animal Like Any Other is the insistence of both the ordinary and revolutionary-ness of desire. To want another so badly that nothing matters – not the dog-hair on every surface, not that she may someday kill someone and you’d have to live with it. It is the very ordinariness of this want, this love, that ultimately (or so the poet imagines) causes the end of their relationship. In “Exercise in Which a Poet in Heartbreak Finds Herself in a Writing Class with Fiction Writers and Doesn’t Leave, Rebels a Little, Learns to Put Characters Under Pressure,” she tries to inhabit her girlfriend, to understand how and why she asked her to leave. To understand how too much love can be oppressive, too easy, not enough and too much. In “Queer Girl” – again, refusing to use anything like a sentence structure – she rails against the restrictions of women’s and girls’ sexuality, their wants, their smells, and the way their expressions of self are policed, writing “her body a light I turned to and no I do not care that her body as light may be cliché to you fuck your rules fuck your right or wrong words for poems for sex.” In “Blue Body Hungry for Origin or Certainty,” alternating prose stanzas and right-justified fragments are nearly-affirmations. The poem revisits the landscapes of the poet’s life: blue mountains, red dirt and dust, green trees. It calls the reader back to the body, embracing curves and movement, singing a song of love and lust. The body is love – art is love – this life we make, riddled with loss and hardship, but also striving toward each other – is love.

What these poems are building to are some incredibly moving long poems that weave all of that together and speak in a full-throated cry, somewhere between manifesto and affirmation.

There are no compartments in the poem “Blueberry Pancakes.” The poet, Tara, writes of her work, engaging with students, worrying about them and their lives. She writes about “when language feels like self-indulgence” and not caring whether “they learn to cite in the correct tedious format.” She writes about her adopted pit bull, who growls in her sleep, “unsure if it is today or yesterday unsure if she’s ever really safe.” But mostly she writes about her mother who made blueberry pancakes at Christmas, the berries “came from a box saved from leftover canned berries in the Jiffy muffin pre-made mix” frozen in Ziploc bags throughout the year.

“on days like this when I know we’re all dying we’re going to drown or starve or be shot on this

hot earth together but not quite together enough I wish instead we were some semblance of that

family you tried to keep simple together drowning it all in syrup—

I wish my lips were sticky and blue—

on days like this all I want is to eat, have home back, say thank you”

Burke reminds us at the end of her collection the way we crave sweetness, some memory of home, some warm body to hold us. The final poem returns to the goat she cared for at her home with her girlfriend, the goat they kept safe from coyotes, and milked each day. She’s gathering the milk, “warm / like warm and sweet like sweet, / clean like clean.” It’s an anti-maximalist moment at the end, a closure that brings us into the space of another animal, close enough to feel the heat of its body, our breath and its breath.

Purchase Animal Like Any Other

About the Author

Tara Shea Burke is a queer poet and teacher from the Blue Ridge Mountains and Hampton Roads, Virginia. She’s a writing instructor, editor, creative coach, and yoga teacher who has taught and lived in Virginia, New Mexico, and Colorado. She believes in community building, encouragement, and practice-based living, writing, teaching, and art. She is the author of the poetry book Animal Like Any Other, from Finishing Line Press (2019). Find more about her work and www.tarasheaburke.com

Top photo: Animal Like Any Other front cover

I Wore My Blackest Hair

When I think of National Poetry Month, I think of high school me, trying to write thirty poems in thirty days with my slam poetry team and writing in slim but full notebooks and yelling verses into graffitied alleys in downtown Ann Arbor. When I think of National Poetry Month, I think of longtime friend and poem writer Carlina Duan, who wrote in the corners of that high school with me. Who, as we both have grown and continued writing and studying and publishing, has been adding her vital voice to the poetry world.

Duan’s first book, I Wore My Blackest Hair, published by Little A in 2017, is a love letter to Chinese American girlhood. Her careful, musical, and visually rich poetry navigates the complexities of identity, family, love, and self-definition. In the book, Duan wrestles with her origins, her relationships with her parents and sister, and pieces of herself that she has lost and found. Duan’s images are bright, fresh, and comfortingly uncomfortable in their vividness; each poem is a bright and shimmering painting that bounces off the page.

In her work published since I Wore My Blackest Hair was released, Duan’s poetry sings with similar, necessary music. In two poems published by Peach Mag in 2018, Duan’s carefully woven words kaleidoscope with sound, specifically in the poem “Can You Speak English Yes or No”: “roman / alphabet digging at the space between my gums. Consonants / dropped like bricks, I chew their weight. always some man / telling me what I am, what we already know. say it right / say / it / say— can you read / can you speak / English / English / yes, /no.” Duan’s realization of the self is brave, unafraid, and real; it physically descends upon its readers and invites them to hold these worlds in their mouths.

Recently, Duan has also written poems about basketball, myth, language, and love. Every time I read a poem by Carlina Duan, my heart jumps in my chest. I read the poems aloud over and over, and we are in our high school creative writing workshop again, trading small scraps of paper scribbled with notes and our favorite lines of poetry. Reading a poem by Carlina Duan is like that—it feels like she is sharing something with you: handing you a neatly peeled orange, a photograph speckled with age, a music box, a memory that you have the privilege of seeing in spectacular color. This National Poetry Month, I encourage you to seek out Duan’s work and relish in the joyful, fiery, mythic beatings of her heart on the page.

Links to work/interviews:

“‘The Situation Is Gratifying,’” Winter Tangerine.

“I Wore My Blackest Hair: Two Poems (Excerpts),” The Margins.

“Rein,“ Narrative Magazine, First-Place Winner of the Narrative 30 Below Contest.

“Alien Miss,“ Tupelo Quarterly, Finalist in the Tupelo Quarterly Poetry Contest (TQ14).

“Mary,“ Black Warrior Review, Finalist in the BWR 2017 Poetry Contest.

“I Promise I Won’t Cry,“ wildness, Pushcart Prize nomination.

“Can You Speak English Yes Or No” and “In The Modern Encyclopedia For Basketball,“ Peach Mag.

“You Can Find Familiarity in Any Space You Go: A Conversation With Carlina Duan,” VIDA.

About the Author

Sara Ryan is the author of the chapbooks Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned (Porkbelly Press) and Excellent Evidence of Human Activity (The Cupboard Pamphlet). She was the winner of the 2018 Grist Pro Forma Contest, and her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Pleiades, DIAGRAM, Booth, Prairie Schooner, Hunger Mountainand others. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University.

For this year’s National Poetry Month, Brain Mill Press & Voices want to add to your #TBR pile, sing siren songs of unsung heroes, and signal boost living poets we should be reading more. By the end of the month, we hope you will have acquired 30+ new books of poetry and that they continue to multiply in the darkness of your library. Explore new voices & new forms — re-read some old favorites — play if you liked this poet, you’ll like… the old-fashioned way, algorithm-free — just poetry lovers talking to poetry lovers, as the Universe intended. Happy #NaPoMo2019 from Brain Mill Press.

“Demons Are Not Fearless Black Boys with Imagination,” “Lake Girl,” and “Baby Island”

We are delighted to present this week’s selections from the Brain Mill Press Poetry Month Contest, Break Poetry Open, by talented poets Jeremiah Davis, Meg Eden, and Riley Welch.

We hope you’ll enjoy these editors’ picks as much as we did.

Demons Are Not Fearless Black Boys with Imagination

Jeremiah Davis

Shape a universe into a butterfly then release it. Bribe the dark spaces in your heart to let you create an estuary of flowers. Pray like an off key piano and celebrate the fifth grade memory when it was so simple it was a blessing to dream and live it again. Tell your broken maestro he is worthy of the song he’s been practicing. Talk with the instrument in his passion. Let go. Let go. Let’s go. Let it go. I never understood why crows were not called ‘black doves.’ They are just as beautiful. I never understood why the black boy was never allowed to know he had the liberty of dreaming off topic. They are just as beautiful.

About the Author

Jeremiah Davis is poet as well as an author. He has been writing poetry since grade school. Jeremiah started writing to better battle mental illness and overcome bullying. He has been published in The Perch Magazine, Phemme Zine, Junto Magazine, and more. He is twenty-two with aspirations higher than his age. More of his work can be found here.

Lake Girl

Meg Eden

About the Author

Meg Eden’s work is published or forthcoming in magazines including Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Crab Orchard Review, RHINO and CV2. She teaches creative writing at Anne Arundel Community College. She has five poetry chapbooks, and her novel “Post-High School Reality Quest” is published with California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Books. Find her online at www.megedenbooks.com or on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal.

Baby Island

Riley Welch

About the Author

Riley Welch

Riley Welch is a poet from Texas living in Denver. Her work has previously appeared in The Write Launch and Authentic Texas Magazine, among others. More of her poetry can be found at her blog, arhymeaday.com.

For this year’s National Poetry Month, Brain Mill Press & Voices want to add to your #TBR pile, sing siren songs of unsung heroes, and signal boost living poets we should be reading more. By the end of the month, we hope you will have acquired 30+ new books of poetry and that they continue to multiply in the darkness of your library. Explore new voices & new forms — re-read some old favorites — play if you liked this poet, you’ll like… the old-fashioned way, algorithm-free — just poetry lovers talking to poetry lovers, as the Universe intended. Happy #NaPoMo2019 from Brain Mill Press.

“Nine Months,” “Cryptic Crossword LV,” “Her / Him / Our / Their / Us / Them / They Body,” and “Jaws Was on TV on a Saturday Morning”

We are delighted to present this week’s selections from the Brain Mill Press Poetry Month Contest, Break Poetry Open, by talented poets Raymond Luczak, Holly Painter, henry 7. reneau, jr., and Mercury Marvin Sunderland.

We hope you’ll enjoy these editors’ picks as much as we did.

Nine Months

Raymond Luczak

mom still wonders how i lost my hearing
she mentions having a miscarriage in april 65

& being surprised to find herself pregnant

again in june 65 dr santini said id be born in january 66
instead i arrived in november 65 fully formed

not a preemie i go home two days later

not long after my sister carole takes
to reading out loud from a book
she is learning how to read to me
as i am trapped in my crib
i have apparently cocked my ears

to her voice laboriously decoding words

then mom changes her story

she remembers having the miscarriage in march 65
it fell out of her while she sat on the toilet

at 16 i constantly wondered

if that was indeed possible

a body expelling her own fetus

a heatwave in july 66

i turn pink & hot but everybody is hot anyway

mom wonders maybe somethings seriously wrong

at the hospital i am found to have double pneumonia

& a high fever i look close to dying so a priest is called in
i survive my last rites of death but my hearing doesnt

then mom changes details again

she says she had a d&c done in february 65
when she felt her fetus wasnt growing

it wasnt even two centimeters long
no idea whether it was a boy or girl
i no longer am sure what to believe

after i come back from the hospital

carole reads to me again

this time i bob my head around

she doesnt realize ive lost most of my hearing
no one has either
she gets frustrated with me & gives up

by the time i turn 2 & a half

mom asks her doctor why i havent begun talking

he says maybe hes deaf

she comes home & tells dad to stand me up & turn me

so i can face the wall up in the tub since he was washing me
i don’t respond to my name

research indicates a twin in the womb could miscarry
leaving behind its other half

in the 60s technology hadnt existed to detect

such a tiny baby
thats why moms pregnant test results in june 65
had so surprised everyone

up & down oak street where i once roamed
the trees are mostly gone

but the shadow of my other half

still runs a mean yellow stripe
right through the road of my life
the mystery of never knowing him

Raymond Luczak is the author and editor of 22 books, including Flannelwood (Red Hen Press) and Lovejets: Queer Male Poets on 200 Years of Walt Whitman (Squares & Rebels). He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His online presence includes: raymondluczak.com, facebook.com/raymondsbooks, and twitter.com/deafwoof.

Cryptic Crossword LV

Holly Painter

Holly Painter lives with her wife and son in Vermont, where she teaches writing and literature at the University of Vermont. Her first full-length book of poetry, Excerpts from a Natural History, was published by Titus Books in Auckland, New Zealand, in 2015. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have also been published in literary journals and anthologies in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, China, Singapore, and the UK.

Her/Him/Our/Their/Us/Them/They Body

henry 7. reneau, jr.

henry 7. reneau, jr. writes words of conflagration to awaken the world ablaze, an inferno of free verse illuminated by his affinity for disobedience, like a chambered bullet that commits a felony every day, an immolation that blazes from his heart, phoenix-fluxed red & gold, exploding through change is gonna come to implement the fire next time. He is the author of the poetry collection, freedomland blues (Transcendent Zero Press) and the e-chapbook, physiography of the fittest (Kind of a Hurricane Press), now available from their respective publishers. Additionally, he has self-published a chapbook entitled 13hirteen Levels of Resistance, and his collection, The Book Of Blue(s) : Tryin’ To Make A Dollar Outta’ Fifteen Cents, was a finalist for the 2018 Digging Press Chapbook Series. His work has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

Jaws Was on TV on a Saturday Morning

Mercury Marvin Sunderland

Mercury Marvin Sunderland is a gay Greek/Roman Wiccan autistic transgender man who uses he/him pronouns. He’s from Seattle. He currently attends The Evergreen State College, and his dream is to become the most banned author in human history.

Mercury is a 2013, 2014, 2015 winner of ACT Theater’s Young Playwright’s Program, a 2015, 2016 selected playwright for ACT Theater’s 14:48 HS, a 2016 winner of the Jack Straw Young Writer’s Program, a 2016 selected participant for the Seattle Talent Show hosted by Rainier Beach High School, and was hired as a paid representative of Youth Speaks Seattle in 2016. In 2017 alone, he was selected for and won the 2017 Youth Speaks Seattle Grand Slam, and went off as one of the top five youth slam poets representing Seattle at Brave New Voices 2017, an international slam poetry tournament treated as America’s national tournament, and was selected to perform slam poetry alongside former Seattle mayor candidate Nikkita Oliver at the University of Washington. In 2018 his illustrations were selected for While Supplies Last, an art show hosted by Anthony White, a Cornish College of the Arts graduate. In 2019 he received his first literary journal acceptance from Fearsome Critters Literary Magazine Volume Two, his second from the February 2019 issue of Marathon Literary Review, his third and fourth from Across & Through Literary Magazine, and his fifth from The Dollhouse Literary Magazine.

For this year’s National Poetry Month, Brain Mill Press & Voices want to add to your #TBR pile, sing siren songs of unsung heroes, and signal boost living poets we should be reading more. By the end of the month, we hope you will have acquired 30+ new books of poetry and that they continue to multiply in the darkness of your library. Explore new voices & new forms — re-read some old favorites — play if you liked this poet, you’ll like… the old-fashioned way, algorithm-free — just poetry lovers talking to poetry lovers, as the Universe intended. Happy #NaPoMo2019 from Brain Mill Press.