“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.

If It Weren’t for Daphne Gottlieb

If it weren’t for Daphne Gottlieb, I wouldn’t be a poet.

That sounds hyperbolic, but it’s true. Okay, I might have been a poet even if I’d never read her work but my poems wouldn’t be as brave. Since the summer of 2001, when I bought Why Things Burn at Quimby’s in Chicago, her poems have given me a map for writing about the hard things—rape, addiction, mental illness—right alongside poems in praise of love, desire, rebellion. (But hard love, desire like a car crash, rebellion because you’d die otherwise; which is the way I’ve always experienced those things.) For eighteen years her poems have taught me ways to write the truths of how women, queer folks, and other non-normative bodies move through the world. How we armor ourselves, adorn ourselves. How we survive and find joy.

from “Anti-Nowhere League” [Why Things Burn, 2001]
from “Anti-Nowhere League” [Why Things Burn, 2001]

Daphne’s poems often involve an insertion of herself/the speaker into pop culture, history, or the literary canon. Much like Kathy Acker did in her prose (Daphne was a recipient of the Acker Award for Excellence in the Avant-Garde), taking source texts from the canon and making her hero(ine)s pirates and knights, Gottlieb’s poems ask: why can’t a girl be an outlaw, an adventurer, the author of her own story? Why can’t a girl be a Sal Paradise or Dean Moriarty, rather than just a Camille or Marylou?

from “Manifest Destiny (Great American Novel Remix)” [Final Girl, 2003]
from “Manifest Destiny (Great American Novel Remix)” [Final Girl, 2003]

Daphne’s poems aren’t easily categorized. Her work blends elements of performance poetry and “academic” poetry (as her official website bio states: “[Gottlieb] stitches together the ivory tower and the gutter just using her tongue”). Form-wise, her poems run the gamut from a more traditionally structured lyrical style to prose poems and other experimental forms. (I once nearly got into a bar fight with a dude who dismissed her entire oeuvre because she writes prose poems, and he said, “prose poems aren’t really poetry.”) So this is another thing Daphne has taught me—how to use my words as a bridge between school and street, stage and page. How to be both glitter and gutter, simultaneously.

Here’s a hard truth—sometimes people like us and those we love don’t survive. But maybe more than anything else, Daphne’s poems have shown me that I can use words to give my ghosts breath. Poems can be houses for the dead to inhabit, and every time someone reads those poems, they are again briefly, gloriously, alive.

from “Calliope” [Kissing Dead Girls, 2008]
from “Calliope” [Kissing Dead Girls, 2008]

About the Author

Jessie Lynn McMains is a poet, writer, and publisher. They are the author of multiple chapbooks, most recently The Girl With The Most Cake and forget the fuck away from me. You can find their personal website at recklesschants.net, or follow them on Tumblr, Twitter, and Instagram @rustbeltjessie

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.

Robin Gow, Jessica Nguyen, Danny McLaren, and Uma Menon

We are delighted to present this week’s selections from the Brain Mill Press Poetry Month Contest, Break Poetry Open, by talented poets Robin Gow, Jessica Nguyen, Danny McLaren, and Uma Menon.

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

i had a dream they took out my uterus & handed it to me.

Robin Gow

my uterus was an ornate vase & i asked, “what am i supposed to do with this?” the doctor shrugged he was in a suit & tie & had lavender gloves he suggested i use it to collect something. i stuck my hand in deep to see if there was already anything in there, found a ring i lost maybe four years ago & i wondered how it got there. silver claddagh waiting scraping up against the glass lining of the vase. it had something to do with hope, i think a uterus does even if you take it out & discover it’s a shoe box or an urn or a vase. i tried other items, starting with buttons, snipping them off all my clothes so that i would have more. clear buttons, black buttons, brown buttons, red buttons, all of them inside the vase, i thought they might transform, i thought that might be the point of the strange object but nothing happened. i slept holding the vase & imagining what it was like inside me what kind of objects it hungered for. i talked to it, i told the vase that i was sorry this was how everything had to happen. i bought flowers after flowers to let sprout from the vase’s mouth: lilies, carnations, roses & i’d keep asking the uterus, “are you happy?” but the vase wouldn’t respond. emptying out the greenish stem-water left over from the flowers i stuck my hand in again only this time i felt an ache in my chest as i did, a kind of phantom connection, a hand under skin. i wept, it was something about hope for something; a hand searching under skin for lost objects, the ring like a kind of opening for beetles or other insects to crawl through. i was scared it might always be like this if i kept the thing around. i had to break it. no, not in the driveway or the street, a push from the counter in the kitchen where all glasses & plates will eventually shatter. the pieces on the floor like teeth of an unknown monster. i apologized to the uterus as i cleaned up its pieces. i took a bowl from the cupboard & began filling it with buttons out of habit or maybe some kind of hope. from the buttons grew the stems of flowers, only the stems.

Robin Gow’s poetry has recently been published in POETRY, The Gateway Review, and tilde. He is a graduate student at Adelphi University pursing an MFA in Creative Writing. He is the Editor at Large for Village of Crickets, Social Media Coordinator for Oyster River Pages and interns for Porkbelly Press. He is an out and proud bisexual transgender man passionate about LGBT issues. He loves poetry that lilts in and out of reality, and his queerness is also the central axis of his work.

perks of a half-deaf wallflower

jessica nguyen

one. it’s so much easier to sleep lying in bed, on my “good ear” – whether it’s thunderstorms or my partner’s snoring, I am able to slip past silently through the night no baby can wake this baby up. everyone envies my mornings since they see no traces of dark circles under my eyes they’d ask, “what’s your secret?” who knew that my disability could be a celebrity-level beauty hack?

two. the drill fire alarm comes in—oh wait, that’s not a perk.

two. I can pretend to not hear you and use my deafness as a legitimate excuse. – this especially works when I am not particularly fond of you. this also works when I am not paying attention to something that I should’ve been paying attention to “oh, sorry. what’s that? I couldn’t quite hear you the first time. can you repeat what you said? thanks.” (smirks) I swear it’s the truth sometimes. . three. during trials and interviews, “we can’t hire you because you—” oops, that’s not a perk either. . three. I got extra time on my ACT tests. didn’t think that having my time limit doubled would help me on this kind of standardized testing, since only one of the four of the subjects required listening to begin with… but I did get a small private room to myself with no pencil scratching and people breathing . four. I got the same ACT score as my last one. and I wasn’t even given the extra time last— wow, I need to stop. what is the definition of self-actualization again? . four. I am everybody’s right hand person. the ones who’ve passed my friendship test re the ones who remembered to walk on my left. you can tell who the strangers are – they are the ones who I dance tango with as I quickly sashay to get to their right side. . five. walking into every classroom I wore an fm unit like a prop, which consisted of a hearing aid for me and a microphone for the teacher to speak into, which means having to blow my cover as I approach

now, I could expect the spotlight to be on me – yes, the star actor who deserved an oscar for passing as a full hearing person, coming up on stage to deliver her speech: “I’d like to thank lip-reading and body language – I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am today without them.”

all confused eyes would be on me, sometimes awkward silence, but mostly attention to the quiet girl sitting in the front because isn’t that what being half-deaf means? getting all the special attention?

six. I can find my teachers easily when I need them. it’s great because if the teacher rushes out of the classroom, I always know where they go.

one time, the bell rang and it was the quickest I’ve seen a teacher leaving the room (I can understand his urge, though) the problem was that he was wearing my microphone so I had to chase him down. and of course, I thought it’d be cool to spy on what he was doing through my hearing aid. so, I did.

and what I first heard seconds in was the sound of of a stream, which lasted for…. a while. then, a toilet flushing.

Jessica Nguyen/Nguyễn Thị Mai Nhi is a world traveler, activist, and writer. Though having lived in the U.S. for most of her life, she hops from one country to the next in hopes of discovering pieces of home to fill her Asian American soul. Known to be a soft-spoken person in the real world, she often channels her feelings through her writing as she finds written words to be just as powerful as when they’re spoken. Jessica plans to publish her own chapbook, “softly, I speak” in the near future. To learn more about her current projects, please visit her website at byjessicanguyen.com or follow her @byjessicanguyen on social media.

Spark Joy

Danny McLaren

Do you ever wonder if your gender sparks joy? If it fits you like a glove, if you love the way the words sound in your mouth or leave your lips, How it feels to say ‘they’ with your own tongue And know better than anyone else how to say your own name?

Does your gender excite you? Does it hum in your veins, electric, ignited, Keep you up at night, tossing from panicked to delighted, thinking what if I’m a boy? or what if I’m nothing at all?

But ‘nothing’ seems scary. My gender isn’t scary. Sure, it’s loud, and it’s big, It takes up too many seats on the bus, makes the up-tight man on the left of me scoot over one.

But it’s dynamic, and powerful, and strong. It repels close-minded like a magnet, And pulls kind and ‘knowledgeable about feminist theory’ my way.

It’s ‘too many beers on a Saturday night’ euphoric, It spills across my clothes when I’m not careful, Or, on some days, when I try really hard to make it seen.

My gender beats in my chest when I run, or while I wrestle into my binder. Constricting my chest with freedom, just to look a little more me.

My gender kisses me goodnight, and greets me with the sunrise, And marks up my skin with ‘I love you.’

Do you ever wonder if your gender sparks joy? If you feel ‘just right’ with the words you choose to use To tell others who you are? Maybe you should Because it feels damn good.

Danny is a queer and non-binary writer who uses they/them pronouns. They are an undergraduate student studying Gender Studies, and beginning to dabble in queer, anti-racist, and anti-colonial theory. They have an interest in exploring themes related to equity, resistance, and intersectionality in their work, and often write about their gender, sexuality, and mental health through these lenses. They can be found on twitter at @dannymclrn.

shopping for a necklace

Uma Menon

Uma Menon is a fifteen-year-old student and writer from Winter Park, Florida. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the Huffington Post, The Rumpus, and National Poetry Quarterly, Sahitya Akademi’s Indian Literature, and the Cincinnati Review, among others. Her first chapbook was published in 2019 (Zoetic Press); she also received the 2019 Lee Bennett Hopkins Award in Poetry.

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.

Poetry Month Spotlight

The Bare Lit Anthology is available for purchase directly from Brain Mill Press and from print and ebook vendors everywhere.
The Bare Lit Anthology is available for purchase directly from Brain Mill Press and from print and ebook vendors everywhere.

About The Bare Lit 2016 Anthology

Literature by writers of colour published in the UK remains overburdened by a bulk of constraints. Often it fixes complicated narratives to personal struggles, consigning them to domains of the confessionnal, inner moral clashes, and the impossibly tragic.

The inauguration of the Bare Lit Festival in February 2016 marked a significant turning point. Rather than centring writers’ work around prescriptive themes, the festival looked to open possibilities beyond them. Through readings, conversations, panels, and performances, we were adamant to overcome the anachronism that exists between the vast spectrum of work produced by writers of colour and the kind of exposure they receive. With the generous help of our audiences and supporters, Bare Lit was able to honour their work both artistically and financially.

The accompanying anthology builds upon this achievement. Calling on participants and writers of colour UK-wide, we asked contributors to submit their writing in line with the aims and ethos of Bare Lit. The response was overwhelming—thank you to everyone who contributed.

We received over a hundred submissions of prose and poetry covering an impressive range. Writers took us on flights of fancy, pandering to multiple worlds while engaging us in their literary imaginations. Every submission was carefully discussed and considered on the premise of originality, relevance, and often a certain kind of gut feeling.

The selection presented here brings together original, previously unpublished works of contemporary prose and poetry by established as well as lesser known writers, giving both the opportunity to work with this volume’s brilliant editors, Kavita Bhanot and Courttia Newland, who have honed each piece to its utmost and without whom the anthology would not have been possible. The final pieces cover an unimaginably vast scope, reflecting the wide, and at times irreconcilable and contradictory, range of themes and the political élan present in the work of writers of colour in this particular period. In this sense, they are not canonical but anticanonical, and vested in the many global and diasporic vernaculars.

—From the foreword by Bare Lit co-founder and anthology co-editor Mend Mariwany

A fiction and poetry anthology in support of the Bare Lit Festival, showcasing award-winning British authors of color.

In 2016, a group of UK authors of color founded the Bare Lit Festival: the first ever literary and author festival featuring only UK writers of color. Bare Lit collects short stories and poetry by literary luminaries whose work represents the values and mission of the festival. Edited by Kavita Bhanot, editor of Too Asian, Not Asian Enough, Courttia Newland, author of The Gospel According to Cane, and Bare Lit Festival cofounder Mend Mariwany, all proceeds of this anthology go toward direct support of the Bare Lit Festival for authors of color.

The Bare Lit Anthology is an excellent way to read and discover talented BAME poets working in the UK.

A selection from “A Year from Home” by Hibaq Osman

I packed four necklaces that ward off evil, Drooping eyelids, batteries and bags of air in case I missed home

A selection from “Two Days and Two Nights in Kisumu” by Raymond Antrobus

I wonder what if no European discovered anything in Kenya? What if there was no brutal history to speaking and writing English? Would they still have colonized the classroom?

A selection from “Mother” by Yomi Sode

At night I hear you. Deep muse of lonely. Your heart left beating on the strewed roads of Ibadan,

the day you packed. Leaving a man not worth fighting for.

About the 2019 Bare Lit Festival

May 4-5, 2019

More information: barelitfestival.com

Current program, updated daily:

Are We Body Positive?

Poetry Presente: The British LatinX

Readings from the Lives of Women

Fighting for Independence

Skin Deep Sonic Transmissions: Hear Me Now

Building Stories, a Live Podcast

Making Space for Music

Follow the Festival on Twitter – @barelit

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

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.

I Know Why Anne Sexton Had to Die

Before the dichotomously empathetic, accusatory, and self-assigned label “Daddy Issues” and before my cruelly whispered / screamed / graffitied high school nickname “slut” or “whore” emerged, there was a much gentler label stamped on me — “Boy Crazy.”

When I was small, I would sit on my grandpa’s lap on the rough plaid fabric-covered couch my grandma referred to as the davenport. Through the blue haze of cigarette smoke — from my chain-smoking grandmother in her recliner and my grandfather’s vanilla-scented tobacco pipe — we would watch Dragnet and M.A.S.H. until it was time for me to go to bed. Grandpa would share his sardines and crackers with me and Grandma would growl under her breath for us to watch our crumbs. When a commercial came on and I would get fidgety, Grandpa would grab onto my knee with his callused hand and squeeze.

“Are you boy crazy?” he would ask. “If you laugh you are.” Being extremely ticklish, I would laugh until I couldn’t breathe. “Wow!” Grandpa would say. “You are the most boy crazy little girl I have ever seen. We’ll have to lock this one up, Mama,” he would say to Grandma who would scold us. “Quiet down now! The show is back on!” In hindsight, I realize that innocent little game significantly molded my budding self-perception.

Until I was well into my final years of grade school, I genuinely believed that Grandpa had squeezed out some genetic material that made me boy crazy. He had squeezed that spot so hard that it had sent some unidentifiable slut fluid coursing through my body and into my brain. It was the only way I could explain why I was so curious about sex. Why, at the age of six, I would sneak boys out to the tree belts on the base to show them my Wonder Woman Under-Roos and ask them if they wanted to touch me on my privates. Why, from fourth grade on, I would get in trouble for writing dirty stories in class — romantic and passionate scenes of being kissed and fondled against the seventh-grade lockers. Why, in kindergarten, the Larson twins were not allowed to play with me anymore after their mother found us behind the garage where I made them take turns kissing me. Why, at twelve, I let the neighbor boy (who was five years older than me) finger me in the basement of an empty base housing unit while his mother, my babysitter, cleaned the walls with bleach upstairs.

The phrase “Daddy Issues” is a repurposed, Urban Dictionary version of Jung’s Electra Complex, a counter to Freud’s Oedipus Complex. Jung theorized that girls are in competition to fuck their fathers and remove their mothers from the equation — through matricide in the case of Electra. Generation X, in its infinite introspective narcissism, coined “Daddy Issues” as a way to explain promiscuous behavior in women who had bad or nonexistent relationships with their fathers. The belief is that these lost girls are seeking the love they did not receive at home through sexual relationships with men. Sadly, I fit the criteria for this over-the-counter diagnosis.

The obvious double standard implied here is that for a woman to pursue sex there must be something psychologically wrong with her; only men are allowed to seek out sexual gratification in excess without being labeled as mentally ill. To be fair, there is often a psychological catalyst behind promiscuity, but I believe this applies to men as well. People do enjoy sex for the sex’s sake. Endorphins are released with orgasm. One cannot deny sex’s addictive qualities on a purely physiological level. If it didn’t feel good, our species would die out. But there is a huge psychological aspect that lands more in the laps of women than of men. When I have engaged in conversations with women over the years, self-proclaimed sluts or just plain lovers of sex, I am seldom told that they just like the physical feeling of sex. There is almost always emotional currency of some kind, whether it is love, power, validation of their attractiveness, or attention. It is unusual for me to meet a woman who claims to be in it for the orgasm. To be blunt, very few women seem to get that from a superficial sexual encounter anyway.

In my teen years, I did not have the presence of mind to understand the more complex psychological motivations behind my promiscuous behavior. I just wanted to be loved. I was in love with love. It was that simple. And I had discovered by the age of nine — through a bad experience with a pedophile which should only be spoken of in the sanctity of a psychologist’s office — that it was not through a man’s stomach that one reached a man’s heart, but through his dick. It may not have been a conscious or verbalized knowledge then, but it was knowledge nonetheless. It was a knowledge based on experience, the kind of knowledge that sticks like tar.

My whole life has been an epic quest for love through sex. Like the story of Cinderella, which I related to so strongly as a child, I have scoured the land for the man who fit most perfectly into my proverbial glass slipper. I never really distinguished between lust and love until I was well into my thirties. And even now, at forty-one, I don’t know that I have completely figured it out. When I see an elderly couple holding hands on a park bench, I sob uncontrollably. I yearn for that kind of love, but when I get it, I struggle to maintain it in the long term.

I have been spoken for from the age of fourteen to present. Engaged, married, married — and never content past the ten-year mark. My quest for love continues even in the sanctity of my relationships. I have left men sobbing in my wake, much like my fathers and my first few lovers left me. I enter and leave every relationship with new criteria.

  1. Just love me. Check!
  2. Don’t be abusive or controlling. Check!
  3. Don’t be an alcoholic and have gainful employment. Check!
  4. Call me out on my shit (kindly) and share experiences with me. Check!

I am forever evolving past my partners, making it impossible to maintain a relationship once I believe it has reached stagnation.

Is this Daddy Issues? Am I still Boy Crazy? Am I an aging slut? Or is it unreasonable for one to promise to love someone forever? Am I evolving as a woman — my needs ever changing and growing — or I am blindly repeating a cycle set forth by sexual abuse in early life? Am I just a slave to my own desires / novelty / fairytale love? Is the image that I have in my head of that elderly couple holding hands on the park bench merely my middle-aged mind’s version of Cinderella?

These are the questions that keep me up at night. Guilty tears running into my ears as I listen to the soft snore of my husband sleeping next to me. He’s a hopeless romantic. The man most likely to hold my wrinkled hand as I lay dying. And yet, here I am again, my love expiring. I’m contemplating a way out.

*This piece contains excerpts from “Boy Crazy” by Jen Escher.

Jen Escher is an adjunct English professor and a writer of memoir, poetry, and thinly veiled memoir touted as fiction. She lives in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin (in a quickly emptying nest), where she cheerfully writes about the dark, dense, and complicated human magic that is love, sex, and self-destruction.

If “love calls us to the things of this world,” then poetry too can call us to think about challenging questions, difficult situations, and social justice, implicating and engaging the reader with the world we live in, in the hope that this engagement is a step toward wrestling with our better selves.

Mothering the Sexy

Sixteen years ago, I moved from the warm bosom of my frigid family homestead in Oswego, New York, to Manhattan and produced my first off off-Broadway play. It required the kind of impenetrable naiveté and unflinching courage found in kids and crazy people.

I penned the play, Carnival Girls, while in college. It was a piece I described as “multi-genre and non-linear.” Basically a hodge-podge of highlights from my writing portfolio that spanned four years as a coed studying creative writing.

Ever since my grandmother, smoking a cigarette and sipping black coffee, told me the stories of the mascaraed hootchie kootchie girls, I was obsessed with the women who worked the sexy, seedy small-town carnival circuit. So much so that today, I have a thriving NYC-based theatre company as well as a book series that bears the same name: The Carnival Girls.

An all-female theatre company, Carnival Girls Productions creates, produces, and promotes original theatrical work by and about women. Our mission is quite simple: great roles for women = great entertainment for all. And the same belief holds true for the first book in my series, Sadie of the Sideshow.

But ironically, or perhaps not, it all truly began in dingy strip club turned off-Broadway theatre across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal ten blocks from Times Square. There, I held an open casting call for female “actors, dancers, magicians, musicians, contortionists and comediennes” ages eighteen to twenty-eight. This is where my impenetrable naiveté got poked.

Hundreds of young women showed up to audition for my mildly entertaining, entirely non-paying theatrical hodge-podge. And 95 percent of these performers? Fiercely, brilliantly, achingly talented. I never truly knew what a muse was until I arrived Manhattan and had two hundred of them staring back at me, equally wide-eyed and hungry as their playwright turned producer.

And so began the task of writing new parts for the production. Because despite not having material for her, how could I turn away the ashen-faced Russian girl with the blunt black bangs and the Mona Lisa grin? Or the crop-topped and bejeweled Israeli dancer who not only could break dance but break hearts with a mere twitch of her hip? Or the African American actress whose command of the stage whilst wearing fishnets and devouring a bagel had me near tears? Mama, I wasn’t in Oz(wego) anymore. And was so very grateful for it.

My imagination went wild with the possibilities for performance. I saw clowns and con artists. Strippers and sword swallowers. Mystics and money makers. A cruel carnival barker in a corset, top hat, and brandishing a riding crop! Every artist who took the stage, I asked the same question: if you could be any kind of carnival girl, who would you be? I expected answers that were as interesting and diverse as the artists themselves. My naiveté got rammed again.

The “hot” one. The “sexy” one. The “slut.” This is how every single one of the young women responded. (Except for the one who said she wanted to be a hamster. I still have no idea what that means or how she envisioned that in a carnival world, but I’m not convinced it wasn’t sexual either.)

My twofold takeaway from this unintended social experiment was, one, young women had a very skewed (though not entirely inaccurate) view of what it meant to be a carnival worker. And, two, we were all woefully sexually repressed and craved a safe place to bear our beauty and booties.

It was just like the whole Halloween costume conundrum that our culture has been tortured and titillated by for decades. The one night a year where every and any woman could crank up their boobs, stuff their feet into stilettos, and strut out in public without fear of being judged a whore or harlot. And if a performer could do this on stage under the auspices of art? Well, damn, the hotness just got cooler.

Fast-forward fourteen years later, when an editor-friend called me with a scintillating writing opportunity. She was working for a publishing upstart that was soliciting submissions of erotic fiction for their catalogue. My friend thought of me and the modest carny girl empire that I spent the last decade building, complete with over a dozen plays and branded panties. I was advised, “Think 50 Shades but good.”Suddenly, I was the actor on the stage. I was the one given the green light to stand up and strip down. And not that I ever needed permission, but it was a kick being asked. Certainly a motivation to explore another side of my creative self, flex a kinky muscle or two. And as an artist, isn’t that my responsibility? To go where I’ve never gone before? If not for my audience, then for myself?

But there was a hitch. A sticky, curly-blond-locked one named Luke, my toddler. Who at the time was just two years old.

I spent over a decade living single in Manhattan during the height of Sex and the City (which I didn’t watch because, unlike my fellow writer Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t afford cable). Those were the days of writing all night and sleeping all morning. Eating cereal for dinner and drinking mimosas for brunch. Making out with strangers. Spending whatever little extra cash I had on costume jewelry, concert tickets, and copies of bootleg screenplays sold on street corners. I was so very naughty.

If there was ever a time for me to discover my inner Anais Nin, it would have been then. But not now. Not in the suburbs. Not when the majority of bodily fluids I had the pleasure of being around came from my drooling, puking, and pooping son.But while my decade of debauchery was long gone, I had earned a plethora of delicious memories from which to derive inspiration. And the wisdom to know that opportunities, particularly the real fun ones, are often fleeting.

So as a new mom now living in New Jersey, learning how to maneuver jug-handles and coordinate writing sessions with naptimes, I embarked on a new journey as an erotica writer. And it came with a couple of self-imposed caveats.

First, feverish loins and trembling thighs aside, I’d write novel that my grown-up boy would be proud of. Or at least not embarrassed by. And it wasn’t the first time that I considered the perspective of my little man as a big man. In my early twenties, well before Luke was on this planet and had sucked the jolly from my joombas, I was asked to pose for Playboy. I declined. Because I knew I wanted to be a mom someday. And not a mom with a past history of porny-pics.It was essential to me that my novel not just have steamy scenes but a real storyline and great writing. It needed to be as good as, if not better than, any of my pathos-infused play scripts. Because I had something to prove now, not just to me and my readers but to my son. Before motherhood and Manhattan, this woman was a writer. Mediocrity or pulp fiction weren’t options.  

Second, I’d create a story that would contribute to the world that I wished for Luke and God-willing his siblings. Enter carny girl Sadie Valentine: a strong, sexy female protagonist with full autonomy, in charge of her life and body. And her male counterpart, Cole Snyder, who admires her intelligence, enjoys her tenacity, and, yes, lusts after her curves.

It’s a cause I’ve championed for almost two decades as a playwright; better, more diverse roles for women. My mission couldn’t and wouldn’t stop because the sex suddenly got explicit. Because it wasn’t just wounded women in need of rescuing who enjoyed the gymnastics of the flesh. But all the rest of us.   

Finally, I wasn’t going to be a cliché. And this began with not seeing myself as cliché. Despite all the signs that pointed to cliché-dom. Suburban stay-at-home mom, underwashed and overdressed in wooly flannel pajamas, writing a bodice-ripper while her woefully neglected kid eats Oreos, watches Blues Clues, and decorates the walls in crayon art.

Because all fantasy aside, I bet most erotica writers worked in atmospheres that looked more like mine than they did the lustful pages of their paperbacks. And this wasn’t comforting to me, but I wasn’t going to let it discourage me either. The reality was I had written some of my darkest, most intense plays while nursing and humming lullabies. Paradox was everywhere, not just in mommy-porn.     

The result? A kick-ass novel with fun, interesting characters set against the backdrop of the American sideshow. With a bit of magic and boom boom mixed in. I even used my real name on the cover. I’d be damned if anyone else got credit for it, including my saucy childhood alter ego Belinda Lavantia.

Back in my big-city-living days, my favorite part of riding the subway was seeing what everyone was reading. The myriad of newspapers printed on various colors of faded paper stock. Cinderblock-sized hardcovers propped up on breasts and bellies. Worn paperbacks folded into palms. I would imagine one of them was mine. Long gone was the dream of having an author card in the card catalog; a book on the Q train was the next best thing.

But then ebooks exploded onto the scene, and suddenly nothing could be seen. No titles and no covers. Readers hid their treasure and pleasure from spying eyes. Unafraid of being caught and judged, this is when most women caught up on their fiction de amour. Like the actors on the stage, like the revelers on Halloween, like the wife surfing the web for slow-cooker recipes, they too had cravings.

And if this mom’s fancy art could embrace their desire, nurture their fantasies, help satiate a hunger while whetting a palette (and maybe something else), then my job was done. And done damn well.

A novelist, blogger and multi-award winning playwright, Christie is the founder and artistic director of the NYC-based theatre company Carnival Girls Productions. She makes her home on the Jersey Shore with her husband, Greg, son, Luke, and dog, Cleo.

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

If “love calls us to the things of this world,” then poetry too can call us to think about challenging questions, difficult situations, and social justice, implicating and engaging the reader with the world we live in, in the hope that this engagement is a step toward wrestling with our better selves.