2021 Editors’ Choice Poems: Week 1

2021 Editors' Choice Poems

Week 1

We were so happy to receive a significant number of submissions to BMP Voices National Poetry Month 2021 — in only the first week. Editor C. Kubasta’s theme seems to have resonated with poets, and in this first week, we discovered a theme within the theme.

This set of nine poems, this week’s Editors’ Picks, speak out to specific but very different audiences and seem to reach out to connect in order to share what these audiences may need to hear after a year of global pandemic. A thirteen-year-old poet gives us insight into the experiences of young people during this time, protest poetry indicts a complicit United States, a Mainer wife squares her chin and maintains her space, two poets imagine hauntings and ghosts in very different ways. Masks and quarantine bookend change and grief.

Thank you to these poets for sharing our collective experiences and the powerful experiences unique to different communities.

Ruth & Mary Ann
Brain Mill Press Publishers

Poetry Month Contest

Submit 1-3 poems of any form or style that speak to Remembering/Reckoning as a response to the traumas of 2020

“Roosters”

by Alanna Shaikh

I’m used to roosters
I’ve always lived in cities; when I hear an outdoor sound, I know it’s roosters
Roosters or stray dogs
Drifting off in bed I hear them
ooo-uh-oo-oo, faintly or loudly but always clear
in the dark of night tending my bladder
in the morning as I cling to my blankets
as I eat lunch by the window

This new city though.
First, it has no roosters.
I never hear them, not ever.
Next, it has other birds; it teems with them.
exuberant choirs of birds
festivals of birds and
determined rusty squeak of palm squirrels

Now, I fall asleep to cooing, trilling, that squirrel squeak
I wake and sleep and urinate to choruses
I know a chirp from a tweet from a squawk
The small hours are all hoots and chirrups

It’s a new thing, this abundance
My ears need time.

Alanna Shaikh headshot

Alanna Shaikh is a first-generation Pakistani immigrant. Her poetry is influenced by the landscape of Northern New York state where she grew up, daily life and the literature in the seven countries she’s lived in, and her work in global health and pandemic response. Her poetry has been chosen for publication by Eclectica Magazine and the Norfolk Coast Guardian.

“The Ghost at Home”

by Jareen Imam

I found her standing in the corner,
or maybe I should say, she found me.
She was watching me as I worked late into the evening.
My face illuminated by the pale blue light
shining from my overheated laptop.

I think she mistook me for one of them, initially.

You’re up later than usual, she finally said.
This is normally my time to haunt.

Just give me another hour, I responded.
I’m working on a PowerPoint my boss wants.

She sighed as she threw the white bedsheet off her ghastly frame,
huffing and puffing before she vanished into thin air.
The next night, she found me again,
but this time she was sitting on my bed.

Are you working late again? she complained.
When is this going to end?
I’ve got a schedule to keep up with, she moaned,
as she showed me her planner

Haunt 30-something-year-old woman
between the hours of midnight to 2 A.M.
Make sure to instill feelings of inadequacy, the planner read.
A footnote was scribbled at the bottom, reading:
Extra 10 percent commission if woman dreams about
never getting married.

I couldn’t help but chuckle as I read her notes.
You don’t have to worry about doing these things, I said.
I already feel so alone.

Jareen Imam author photo

Jareen Imam is an award-winning American journalist who has worked for media companies such as NBC News, CBS News, and CNN. During 2020, she led a global team of journalists who investigated and reported on stories about the pandemic, the death of George Floyd, BLM protests, voting issues, the U.S. presidential election, and more. In 2020, while reporting for NBC, she endured the death of her grandmother, the separation from her family—many of whom worked as frontline healthcare workers and took care of those infected with Covid-19—and a painful breakup from her long-term partner. It was also the year she started to write poetry again after a 20-year hiatus.

“Grief Is the Ghost”

by Anne Marie Wells

"Grief Is the Ghost" poem
Jareen Imam author photo

Anne Marie Wells (She | Her) of Jackson, Wyoming is a queer poet, playwright, and storyteller navigating the world with a chronic illness.
AnneMarieWellsWriter.com

FB|IG @AnneMarieWellsWriter
TW @AMWWriter

“Parable of the Drought”

by Merridawn Duckler

I was rattling the inside of an old saltine tin when you came home. We’re out of tears, I said. Again, I said. You put the bags down in a huff. They were supposed to last until the party, you said, where do they go? We both know the answer to that. You spent them. Pretending it’s for others, to be donated or sent overseas. But it’s crap. Everyone knows you cried up all those tears for yourself. My eyes have been dried for fifteen years. My mouth is like a ghost lake. Sadness scurries in rat feet at the bottom of my well. A soul could drop a rock in there and hear no echo. Whereas you are a fountain, bountiful crocodile. The world is your blue handkerchief, wrung once and snapped out fresh. I am sad, I said, I’m broken. I walked to the other room and saw you absorbed in the images, taking a screen shot and superimposing it on your face. What do you want now, you said. I tried to explain to you about my hollow. My dust. You turned your face to me. Goddamn, you are beautiful. I’m so sorry, you said. And your eyes filled up with tears

Jareen Imam author photo

Merridawn Duckler is a writer from Oregon, author of INTERSTATE (dancing girl press) and IDIOM (Washburn Prize, Harbor Review.) New work in Seneca Review, Women’s Review of Books, Interim, Posit. Fellowships/awards include Yaddo, Southampton Poetry Conference, Poets on the Coast. She’s an editor at Narrative and at the philosophy journal Evental Aesthetics.

Twitter@MerridawnD
Instagram@merridawnduckler

“[2020] The Divided States of Attica”

by henry 7. reneau, jr.

"Grief Is the Ghost" poem
Jareen Imam author photo

henry 7. reneau, jr. writes words of conflagration to awaken the world ablaze, an inferno of free verse illuminated by his affinity for disobedience, is a discharged bullet that commits a felony every day, is the spontaneous combustion 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, 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 is published in Superstition Review, TriQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, and Rigorous. His work has also been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.

“Lucency”

by A Whittenberg

Amongst a breathless, debilitating, incapacitating panic
attack, I told myself not to panic and… without warning, I was
suddenly all right.

Jareen Imam author photo

A Whittenberg is a Florida native who has a global perspective. If she wasn’t an author she’d be a private detective or a jazz singer. She loves reading about history and true crime. Her other novels include Sweet Thang, Hollywood and Maine, Life is Fine, Tutored and The Sane Asylum.

“We Stand”

by Keira Schaefer

2020 broke the limits
Tearing our boundaries apart
Like Buffalo trampling the plains
Through nothing but darkness
Our world was the midnight sky
2020 overwhelmed our healthcare workers
Many lost beloved friends and family
Others lost their job, and the ability to pay rent
We thought we lost the world
But we had each other
Now, in 2021, we stand together
We raise higher than the ocean’s tides
Although we are still apart
The light, the sun, the new day is coming
Through hardship we are more united than ever
We stand, we raise, we unite

Keira Schaefer is a thirteen-year-old girl who has a passion for poetry. She loves to express her feelings and emotions through her literature. Other than writing poems, she enjoys gymnastics, playing harp, ice skating, and photography.

“Sea Change”

by Nancy Cook

The sun is midsky when he cuts the diesel.
Now he can hear the tonguelap of water ripples
against cedar plank, feel a shadow of sweat
forming on his brow. A line of pelicans whips
across the horizon and he sees, without looking,
tricolored bullet buoys in neat order, bobbing
at water’s surface in a subtle play for attention.
He senses the sadness all around. In times past,
on days such as this, the water would talk to him.
Now it has nothing to say. The fishing is good,
the weather is fine, but all the world is as quiet
as winter. He unpacks the sandwich the wife
has wrapped in waxed paper: ham and cheddar
and mustard on rye. She’s thrown in some chips,
a folded napkin, and a sliced apple sprinkled
with sugar like she used to do for the kids.
A cold beer would taste so good right now.
He reaches deep into the cooler for a Dr Pepper.

He ends the day early with a light haul. On town
streets bereft of tourists, still he savors whiffs of
rendered butter, partakes with phantom taste buds
the sweet succulence of boiled lobsters. It is one
pleasure that doesn’t age. Before joining the wife
at the church, he showers and shaves. This evening
is the annual strawberry festival, which every year
she organizes. She is a pillar as they say, always
in public her chin lifted, daring and determined,
one ear cocked as if to say I’m listening. And though
tonight, socializing will be minimized, face masks
mandatory, she’ll oversee the sale of two hundred
fruit pies, baked in honor of the state bicentennial.
Keeping busy is a way of life. They all respect that.

Two dozen tables are set up in the churchyard
under hulking shade trees. Broad leaves like titans’
hands block the ebbing sun. The dusk feels heavy
with sadness. As if reading his mind, the wife says,
Even with the church locked up, light’s passing through
the stained glass. There’s secrets older than memory.
Sins to be forgiven. He doesn’t know that some mornings
she takes the deer path down to water’s edge. There
she stands on the old dock, hands deep in the pockets
of her oversized Mac, and watches for the fog to lift.

Jareen Imam author photo

Nancy Cook is a writer, teaching artist, and completely recovered lawyer. She serves as flash fiction editor for Kallisto Gaia Press and also runs “The Witness Project,” a program of free community writing workshops in Minneapolis designed to enable creative work by underrepresented voices. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been awarded grants from, among others, the Minnesota State Arts Board, the National Parks Arts Foundation, the Mayo Clinic, and Integrity Arts and Culture. Her first chapbook, Written in Nature, is forthcoming in 2021.

“Safekeeping”

by Tracy Mishkin

We go to some essential job, our faces swaddled
in fear. Masks leave us lightheaded, but sometimes
we wear two because there are worse things.
In the produce section, we struggle to open plastic bags.
We must have licked our fingers back before all this.
And touched our faces.

Walking the dogs feels good. We shout hello
to every stranger, for nothing is stranger
than this year. We used to pick up trash, but now
it’s masks and tissues scattered in the grass.
That neighbor we haven’t seen in months says
the pandemic is a hoax. Six feet isn’t far enough.

A vet we’ll never meet says the big dog has cancer,
and every three weeks she hops behind the wheel
as though it’s normal for dogs to drive. “Shotgun,”
we say, and she moves over. We do a piss-poor job
of watching the road. When we brake hard,
we throw out an arm to stop her from hitting the dash,
the way our fathers tried to protect us, remembering
a world before seat belts.

Jareen Imam author photo

Tracy Mishkin is a call center veteran with a PhD and a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Butler University. She is the author of three chapbooks, I Almost Didn’t Make It to McDonald’s (Finishing Line Press, 2014), The Night I Quit Flossing (Five Oaks Press, 2016), and This Is Still Life (Brain Mill Press, 2018). She lives in Indianapolis with her family and fewer than ten cats and dogs. You can read more of her work at tracymishkin.com

Top photo by bennett tobias on Unsplash

“Sisters Always Love Each Other the Most of Anybody”: A Review of Leslie Pietrzyk’s Silver Girl

A short interlude chapter entitled “Strategies for Survival #3: Silence” occurs almost exactly halfway through Leslie Pietrzyk’s novel Silver Girl (Unnamed Press, 2018). It’s halfway through the numbered pages of the book, and halfway through the unfolding story. Chronologically, it’s closer to the end than the beginning, but chronology fragments in this narrative, as does the protagonist’s voice. In this section, so does point of view. She begins by telling us, “It was cool on campus to talk about the Tylenol killer.” But this girl hides in silence, her own, made of all the things she doesn’t say. The section ends with her at a frat party apart from others: “. . . the single girl—you, me—standing quietly near the keg.” And someone shows up—some he—and she thinks, or pretends, that maybe he’ll rescue her. He asks about the Tylenol killer, who she thinks did it. And she says they’ll never know, that it’s the perfect crime. But he doesn’t believe in perfect crimes.

You smile at him. Sweet boy. Sweet, sweet boy. Then you fuck him anyway. I mean, I did. I fucked them anyway.

The telescoping of this perspective all at once, mid-story, was a sudden wrenching in my gut, a closing of my throat. It revealed what I’d been suspecting throughout the first half of Silver Girl—built on the scaffold of real events of poisoned Tylenol in 1982, and the deaths of seven people in Chicago: this book also speaks to larger truths that the best fiction attempts. The unnamed college girl protagonist is you, me—other girls and women seeking sisters, escaping home, wanting rescue but discovering only a “sweet, sweet boy” with failures of imagination. That’s not the story anyway—it never was.

Silver Girl coverSilver Girl is told in sections: The Middle, The Beginning, The End, and Where Every Story Truly Begins. Through sections that skip between the protagonist’s college years, her late childhood, and immediately after college, the reader meets her family, her college best friend and roommate (and her family), and contrasts those dynamics. Sisters—their bonds and rivalries—are central to the story, both biological sisters and the kinds of sisterhood that develops when people live together, forced into intimacies by shared spaces and confidences. The protagonist sees college in Chicago as an escape from her Iowa town, from her family, but also as a chance to reinvent herself, to be someone else. At home in Iowa, she takes her younger sister Grace to the mall before Christmas, where she has to explain the bookstore isn’t a library and then beg the salesgirl for a book, pretending to be the family named on the paper ornament hung on the charity tree. All that work for a $2.25 paperback, but they needed every coin for the bus home.

In her first conversation with Jess, the woman who will become her best friend, she refers to herself as “the devil’s daughter.” It may be a rare moment of honesty, but Jess is attracted to her bravado—the protagonist is only trying to distract from her cheap trunk suitcase, her threadbare clothes, the imitation pearls that don’t shine when compared to those of the rich girls in the dorm. Jess who wears “winter white,” and gifts her a plane ticket to London, and teaches her to spray perfume on her wrists, and knees, and the inside of one thigh only. Jess whose entire family calls each other “Lovey.” Throughout the novel, the protagonist works to conceal her identity, always wary of being found out. The unkindest thing Jess can do is let her know she knows she’s poor.

The protagonist has other secrets, too—these are revealed in bits and pieces throughout the story. She loves her sister Grace but cannot take care of her—that would mean having to stay. Boys and men are ways to hide, but also maybe ways to escape—she’s trying to figure that out. Her high school friend Janey resents and hates her. There are other family secrets no one is talking about. As her relationship with Jess grows, the protagonist ends up taking on Jess’s secrets also: the ones Jess talks about and the ones she doesn’t. The story is built on secrets, and it’s often unclear how self-aware the characters are—they are unknowable, unreliable, but dearer because of this. I deeply love stories about sisterhood, about girls and women navigating the complexities of their desires for intimacy: failing each other, and needing each other all the more. As the character we inhabit, the protagonist seems so clear-eyed about everyone but herself. I ache for her, want to walk up to her standing alone by that keg and talk to her about the things she thinks—make a list with her (one of her pastimes) about those stupid, sweet boys—and point out all the other girls at the party just like her who are only better at pretending, but no different, not really, than she is.

Ultimately, Silver Girl is a rule-breaking book. The narrator breaks rules and wonders when she’ll be caught. The storytelling breaks rules: we readers try to piece together clues to create a coherent picture of what made the narrator who she is—but in the end, there are shadows that remain, so we guess, and our guesses reveal more about ourselves than what’s explicit in the story. In this column, I try to focus on new writing from the Midwest, so writing about Silver Girl breaks a few of my own rules—although set in the Midwest, Pietrzyk no longer lives here, having left Iowa City, Iowa, years ago for Washington, DC. And the book came out a few years ago, but I just discovered it. I think we need to sing and celebrate the writing that speaks to us, that brings us out of whatever silvered-over thickened skin that’s interfered with our creativities during COVID isolation. For the last few months, I’ve had trouble reading much, and my TBR stack has grown and grown. The fractured narrative of Silver Girl broke through; the sharp eye of the protagonist that berates herself while seeing others so clearly made me want to telescope through time, talk to this fictional woman, tell her she’s seen.

A couple of months ago I was talking to dear friend—a sister—and she was telling me about my astrological sign. We were in our cups a bit, and I turned to her and said, “You’re only telling me the good things . . .” We were side by side on a couch, shoulders touching, and she turned her face toward me and said something so true—it could have been painful, but it wasn’t. It was a moment of recognition. There’s a moment like that when the protagonist and Jess are shopping, and rediscover composition books at Osco. It’s another interlude chapter, “Strategies for Survival #4: Lists.” They talk about list making. Jess says, “Like a diary, but quicker.” There’s recognition:

Her eyes locked on to me, into me, like I had breathed a secret out and she had breathed it right in.

My stomach did that thing it did when I read the perspective switch. Sisterhood, an intimacy of secrets—not only our own. Seen, and so sharply. Clear-eyed about everyone except ourselves.

 

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About the Author

C. Kubasta writes poetry, fiction, and hybrid forms. She lives, writes, & teaches in Wisconsin. Her most recent books include the poetry collection Of Covenants (Whitepoint Press) and the short story collection Abjectification (Apprentice House). Find her at ckubasta.com and follow her @CKubastathePoet.

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Portaging celebrates new writing from the Midwest with a particular focus on experimental and hybrid work from small presses.

BMP Voices Celebrates National Poetry Month 2021!

Poetry Contest: Poetry as Remembering/Reckoning with 2020 & Past Traumas

Open All April – Fee Free

Amanda Gorman inspired many on January 20th, with her inaugural poem “The Hill We Climb.” With her words, her performance and presence, and her radiance, she invoked past orators and poets, referenced the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and looked toward a collective future: “Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed / a nation that isn’t broken / but simply unfinished.” In his inauguration eve COVID memorial, President Biden said, “To heal, we must remember.”

2020 was a hell of a year. People have experienced traumas collective and personal; we have deepened our intimacies with each other, felt the divides deepen between ourselves and family, and learned new concepts like skin hunger and edging sorrow. For some of us, art has seen us through – for some of us, art has not been enough. Poetry cannot pay the rent or cover the groceries. A beautifully wrought line isn’t the same as holding someone’s hand or finger combing their hair. No words can make up for the systemic and structural negation of humanity or dignity or justice. But maybe, just maybe, opening spaces for language and imagery can let us see each other again – imagine proximity, touch, a held breath, inhabiting each other’s personal space limned with possibility.

At Brain Mill Press’s pop-up magazine for National Poetry Month, we’ll be sharing posts from poets & creatives that speak to the above theme, as well as inviting entries for our fee-free contest organized around the theme of Poetry as Remembering/Reckoning.

Submission Guidelines

Please submit 1-3 poems of any form or style that speak to Remembering/Reckoning as a response to the traumas of 2020. Submissions will be reviewed for suitability by Brain Mill Press staff.

Those poets whose work is selected agree to grant Brain Mill Press the limited right to reproduce your piece on Voices. They retain all other rights to their work.

Poets’ submitted work and profile will be published on bmpvoices.com and promoted on our social media outlets. Your post will contain your headshot and bio, as well as information you may wish to include about recent work and your website and social media links.

Brain Mill Press strongly encourages submissions from people of color, women, LGBTQIA+ writers, First Nations writers, and disabled writers. Please direct inquiries not answered in this call to inquiries@brainmillpress.com.

Prizes

Four times in April, the Brain Mill Press editors will select one or more submitted poems as the editors’ choice pick(s) for the week. Editors’ choice selections may choose any poetry title from the Brain Mill Press catalog for their prize. In early May, the editors will select a winning poem, and the poet will receive the full collection of Brain Mill Press poetry titles for themselves, as well as a second collection to gift to an organization of their choice.

Poetry Month Spotlight: Tracy Mishkin

Indiana Writers Center, Poem a Day Challenge, April 2020

Rachel Sahaidachny, Executive Director of the Indiana Writers Center, has shared a writing prompt each day this month. The participants post their poems in a closed Facebook group, and the responses focus on encouragement, not criticism, constructive or otherwise. I’ve appreciated the challenge to write regularly and the opportunity to think (and sometimes vent) about current events. Here are some of the prompts that worked for me and the poems that I wrote. The prompts—and my commentary—are in italics.

#4 Is there an object in your house that used to belong to someone else? Write a two-part poem. Part 1 about the object’s “before you” time. Part 2 about the object’s “now.” Try to incorporate one rhyme in each part.

When I met your mother, she was perched on your off-white couch while you sat on the matching love seat. Close to 90, she had just returned from Florida and the second husband she’d outlived to care for you during chemotherapy. When you felt like crap, you napped on that couch under heavy blankets, clutching the one on top knitted by your mom. When you felt well enough, you leaned against the big cushions, choosing poems from a lifetime of writing. I sat on the loveseat and helped you make a book. Only once I said your granddaughter will remember you with these words.

This doesn’t end with a funeral. We finished the book, you started a clinical trial for immunotherapy, and now you smile when you see the commercials for the drug that cured you on TV. I smile too, because I’m grateful, really, but sad that mild dementia is taking you away piece by piece only a few years later. You gave me the couch and love seat when you could no longer live alone. Now you’re locked down in assisted living— not like when Grandma was on a locked ward so she wouldn’t go outside and wait for the bus to New York City— but because of this damn pandemic. The staff bring trays to your door at mealtimes, and that’s it, no other human contact. Crossword puzzles have lost all appeal. I sit on the off-white couch and talk to you until the battery in your hearing aid begins to die.

#5 It’s Sunday, which means we will explore a particular form. Prompt for today is to write a Nocturne—a poem that is set in the night (usually midnight).

#6 Write a poem using anaphora. Anaphora is a technique that uses a repeated phrase to begin lines throughout the poem. It doesn’t have to begin every line.

I was annoyed with myself for not writing for three days, or so I thought…

Nocturne: Procrastination

“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” -Arundhati Roy

Monday I meant to sit outside last night and write this poem. Can’t write a poem about the night in daytime, am I right? I thought the dark and cool air would birth the words. Sometimes trapped, sometimes rushing out. But I tripped over myself, never made it to the stoop. Even now, I should be doing something else.

Tuesday I meant to sit outside last night and write this poem. Excuses. Too easy to fall into my latest thrill. My great escape. Work is hard. People are dying. A man I knew died alone. Excuses.

Wednesday Same. How do I let this happen? Shame. Everything I put off. Fine. I’ll write the night poem right now. Nocturne: liminal. Imagine myself on the threshold of my house. Between dark and light. Inside and out. Neighbor and stranger. Wave to them all.

After writing the Wednesday stanza, I realized that it was only Tuesday, so I didn’t feel so bad about getting behind.

#7 Write a poem using language from a text message or email which you recently received or sent.

How are you doing? Feels like I’m surfing a wave of uncertainty

The key to surfing: convincing yourself you are not going to fall into a wave, get lost.

Don’t think about tumbling, choking on water, the board smacking your head.

Focus on the blue curve below you. It could go on forever.

#8 Pick a favorite song, or one you like, listen to it, and write.

I chose the cover of “The Sound of Silence” by Disturbed, specifically the haunting music video.

Times so hard, gotta start with happy endings, when ship has almost reached shore. Surely they’ll save the stranded people—lonely, isolated—at least ten thousand. How are they so alone when they’re together? How do they write music—parchment, fountain pen—yet never play or sing? When sailors first saw them—kneeling, hunched—they stared. Why hands and knees, captive, surrendered?

Sailors, too, came from silent lands, journeyed to the ship, alone, on foot, through flat lands, forests. Each carried an instrument, salvaged from earth or fire. Harp, guitar, piano, drum. The keys twisted, burning. They pulled them from the flames. Let the dirt run from the guitar. The sound was still true.

#9 Chose a vowel (a, e, i, o, or u) and write a 10+ line poem with words that have only that vowel in them. For your poetic terminology, a poem which excludes one or more letters is called a “lipogram.” A poem which excludes all vowels but one is called “univocalic” (from the Latin for one-voweled).

I challenged myself to write a poem using words with only the vowel U. And this happened.

Mr. Trump

Ugh, just shut up. Guru? Untruth. Humbug, numbskull. Truth. Fuck up. Sputum glut. Bunkum hub. Lustful skunk.

#11 Use the last line of one of your poems as the first line of a new poem.

I chose the last line of poem #8.

Rescue Guitar

The sound was still true despite the batter and dent. She didn’t fret. Her fingers coaxed notes around the sprung string. Like a poet writing without some common letter, improvising around absence made her better.

#14 Select 10-12 words from a poem (or from a couple poems) you admire and use them to create a new poem. Try to have a variety of word types (verbs, nouns, adjectives, etc.) in your selection.

I didn’t get inspired for #14 until I saw the prompt for #15. I chose “Notes to Myself During National Poetry Month, 2020” by Dante Di Stefano, which was published in Rattle as part of the Poets Respond feature on April 14, 2020.

I wrote down ten words from this poem and numbered them. Whenever I needed a push, I asked my husband to choose a number between 1 and 10.

#15 This is a prompt from Poets & Writers Magazine:

“Truth can be lazy because it becomes satisfied with itself, and it is often so tethered to time and space that to demand one truth can often invisibilize another’s truth,” says Natalie Diaz in “Energy,” an interview by Jacqueline Woodson in the March/April issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

“When and where does truth begin, and whose truth is it?” Think of an issue in your life that you feel conflicted over, an idea or state of being that you have long held to be true, whose solidity you have begun to question. Write a poem that attempts to demand more from this perceived truth, exploring how it entered your belief system. To whom is it tethered?”

The familiar riot in my mind. Sometimes I wish I saw the world without these painful shades of gray. Eleven years of red leaves falling, cherry blossoms tarting up the street, and still I’m juggling working for the man with working on the inside of his damn jungle. Sweating so long under this corporate canopy, I forget the sky is not beneath me. Sky, Tracy, it means above and blue, remember? Symptom of a mental pandemic: if the strings of my guitar snapped daily, I would check the obvious. A rough fret, a burred edge, even a pick too heavy for the strings. I might get hooked on playing four instead of five, but I’d know that anytime I could replace the damn thing and let my instrument sing as it was meant to. But no, me and my front row seat for the crisis of corporate America. Big surprise: slashing staffing means more rushing, more mistakes, more work, less time to think my God what have we done. Some sleep. More coffee. Letting legal addictions sprout like green weeds. Nothing to be done but tell myself Friday’s payday. Perhaps I’ll think of something money can buy to spend that precious paycheck on.

#16 Write a poem about the story of your name. Things to consider: What do you know about the source of your name? What name/nickname have you taken on and why?

Again, two prompts combined in my head and I got a poem.

#17 The cocoon is a place of transformation. What happens there is a mystery. If this time is your cocoon moment, what transformations are occurring? What might emerge? Alternatively, work with the Phoenix mythos: the burning down; out of the ash a new creature is born… rises. Maybe your poem has space for both.

Dead Name

Phoenix, must you leave your nest in ashes to be reborn? I prefer the torn cocoon, you with monarch wings. This isn’t about what I prefer, is it? Your past must be burned. You fill your nest with baby pictures, toss in every reminder you can find, even that old photo of you in a lady’s hat, which I would think would make your new self smile. This isn’t about what I think. But when the ashes cool, I will search them for a keepsake.

#18 What do you know about water?

I liked that this prompt wasn’t just “write a poem about water.” It made me think about water—and knowledge—in a different way.

What do you know about water? It runs, but it is not afraid. Rushes without hurry.

What do you fear about fire? The heat will be wasted, flames leaping.

What do you expect from earth? Rock will smash scissors, scissors will slice paper, paper will wrap rock.

What do you assume about air? It will always be there.

#20 a prompt from Jessica Reed

Reverse-engineer a poem: take a published poem that you love and remove all the nouns and verbs—all the content. You should be left with a skeleton of a poem, just a syntactic structure (you might have to remove a few adjectives or adverbs as well—whatever it takes to get to the skeleton). Now, start filling in the blanks with fresh content. The supplied syntax will guide your poem in unexpected directions. If that isn’t happening—if you’re making too much “sense,” try listing words on a separate sheet of paper and plugging them in “Mad Libs” style. You can also mine for fresh vocabulary in a book that you wouldn’t normally read, perhaps from another discipline.

The poem I chose is “Separation,” by W.S. Merwin.

Our honesty betrays us like a stream underground: cracked pavement, flooded grass.

#21 Choose a spice, herb, or flavor. Do a bit of research—does it have medicinal qualities? A history? Where does it come from? If you have some on hand, spend a bit of time smelling or tasting it, and allowing images, memories, thoughts to come up and write them down. If not, imagine the smell or taste—what does it make you think of? Can you cobble a poem out of these notes? Does one of the notes trigger a poem?

Cream of What Now?

It’s not the oldest item on my spice rack— that would be the allspice from 1997. But Cream of Tartar is the weirdest. It is no fishy sauce but an acidic powder that makes mile-high meringues and boosts the chewy tang of snickerdoodles. Mixed with vinegar, it cleans stainless steel like nobody’s business. Homemade Play-Doh would be lost without it. Video: the many benefits of cream of tartar. Watch as it stabilizes whipped cream and polishes copper. (Add lemon juice in a 1:1 mixture. Rub on, rinse off.) Herbs and spices come from plants, but cream of tartar comes from the crystalline crud that builds up inside casks as wine ferments. It’s not creamy like dairy, but think of creaming as whipping egg whites to a high foam. Are you dismayed when boiled veggies lose their color? Just a pinch of this miracle shit will help your beets stay bright. Science! Science for the win!

#22 Since it’s Earth Day, I thought we could explore ecopoetics. Ecopoetry is poetry with a strong ecological emphasis or message. Some suggested questions to ponder: How do you try to reduce your impact on the environment? Do you ever feel guilty about what, or how much, you throw away? What could you live without? Ecopoetry often uses environmental elements in the poem, pastoral or nature details. It is poetry produced as a result of an environment and humans in the environment.

#23 Docupoetry is poetry created out of primary source materials such as news articles, interviews, medical records, diaries, court transcripts, and other public records. Either utilize direct lines from a source (or more) and rearrange them, interpret meaning through your own words, or use a mix of both approaches.

There’s poetry online. I mean poetic language in unexpected places. For my spice poem, I googled “list of spices” so that I could have a bunch to choose from. I read a few articles about cream of tartar, and all of them had some terrific turns of phrase. I ended up copying several things right into the poem. And today we’re writing docupoetry! I wasn’t feeling the eco-poem yesterday, but today’s prompt reminded me of Holly Haworth’s March 2020 essay “Undefined Waters,” which has some moving thoughts on language and our environment—as a result of Trump’s recent gutting of the Clean Water Act of 1972.

It’s easy—too easy—to be seduced by language, to stop thinking critically and just love the sound of words.

Rill and runnel. I used to think of creeks and brooks when I saw those words. But a rill is something more specific: an ephemeral stream, a trickle of water that springs up after heavy rain.

Once rills were all over the poetry map, sonorous, easy to rhyme. Mismanaged agriculture causes most rills today. Sliding hillsides, preventable erosion. A gully is an overgrown rill.

Holly Haworth wrote about the ephemeral streams and semi-permanent puddles that grace her land in Georgia during winter rains. Rills and runnels as they were meant to be, yet may not be for long.

The Clean Water Act of 1972 protects waters, but Trump & Friends have tightened that definition, excluding headwater streams and wetlands. Our waters will burn again, said an attorney, referring to the 1969 fire on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River.

#24 choose a cliché and write a poem which makes it fresh

I couldn’t resist starting with Shakespeare’s sonnet 18, which challenges the love clichés of his time.

Poem in which My Husband Looks a Bit Lame in Comparison to Today’s Weather

Shall I compare you to a warm spring day during a pandemic? You’re cute, but wind and sun and sky are vital to my mental health. Redbuds are my favorite flowering trees— The contrast of pinkish-purple flowers against dark bark, especially after rainfall, rocks my world. I smile when you waggle your eyebrows at me, but a warm and windy day inspires me to write after something of a drought. To be fair, I’ve written many poems because of you, but mostly to express frustration. Nature’s working hard. Even the phlox is exerting itself, though it appears to be lazing around like ground cover. You worked six hours today, but I don’t think you’ll clean the litterbox. You could surprise me, though, like an unpromising forecast that turns into a lovely day, or a curve flattened by a Republican governor who’s quick close the state—so much better for being unexpected.

About Tracy Mishkin

Tracy Mishkin is a call center veteran with a PhD and a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at Butler University.  She is the author of three chapbooks, I Almost Didn’t Make It to McDonald’s (Finishing Line Press, 2014), The Night I Quit Flossing (Five Oaks Press, 2016), and This Is Still Life (Brain Mill Press, 2018). She been nominated twice for a Pushcart — both times by Parody — and published in Raleigh Review and Rat’s Ass Review.

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

For this year’s National Poetry Month at BMP Voices, we seek to celebrate the ways in which we’re interconnected — highlighting community, gratitude, and the ways in which creativity redounds upon itself, fed by collective energy and goodwill. Our fee-free contest is open to all styles and forms of poetry, with an eye toward our mission of discovering voices that are immediate, immersive, and urgent. Poems inspired by the work of others are welcome. We also welcome poems written to other poems or poets.

Poetry Month Spotlight: David Southward

Message in a Bottle

As a kid in the 1970s, I was addicted to reruns of ’60s sitcoms. Shows like Bewitched, The Flying Nun, and most especially I Dream of Jeannie featured magical women whose mischievous powers seemed rooted in their femininity. The men they loved were always trying to control or suppress these powers. A queer boy like me could identify with the predicament of having to hide one’s sexual magic.

Jeannie’s hiding place was her bottle. An ornate Arabian decanter housing her miniaturized bedchamber, its interior was opulent yet intimate—a rich Orientalist fantasy of velvet cushions and curvaceous walls. Whenever Jeannie turned into smoke to enter the bottle’s narrow opening, I desperately wanted to follow. Her magenta lounge looked so chic and fun, so different from my drab suburban world, so safe from judgmental eyes.

I drew countless pictures of Jeannie’s bottle in a stenographer’s notebook, always adding slight variations to its design. (I could never get a close enough look at its details on our black-and-white Zenith). The bottle became my talisman: a jewel-toned objet d’art with mysterious intricacies, whose erotic significance I must have intuited, so obsessively did my imagination return to its suggestive shape.

In a way, those drawings were my first poems. They were early attempts to share the instinct for beauty, love of form, and earnest playfulness that continue to motivate my writing. I want every poem to become a little world of layered meanings for its reader—a decorous, sparkling haven from which to contemplate even painful realities. There, taking refuge from the moral police, my imaginary reader and I briefly come together through the magic of words—in the one theater where every wish can be granted.

I’ve chosen three poems from my new collection, Bachelor’s Buttons (Kelsay Books 2020), to represent both my formal and free-verse moods. “Macramé” looks back to a weaving fad that every kid of the ’70s remembers; my math-teacher father quickly became something of a master at it. “Nipples of Men” celebrates the diversity and absurdity of those overlooked organs. And “Working (It) Out with Teena Marie,” a gym reverie in terza rima, pays homage to a pop/R&B legend who left us too soon—and whose signature hit made an indelible mark on my teenage psyche.

Macramé

Mom enrolledin an evening class,botched a butterfly on wood blockand muscled throughhoursof gnarled yarndangling from a driftwood stake,before giving up.But you,Dad, discoveredyou had a knack for macramé.Looping her leftoverjuteround a hookin the ceiling, you braided coarsehelixes that split—taperinginto bored cornersof mahogany (shelves for our unlitincense and pottedDieffenbachia);then tied it all togetherwith a graduate’s tassel. Your multilevelEiffels filled our housewith mathdone strictly for pleasure.From the carpet I salvaged scrapsto make a nooseor lasso.

Nipples of Men

Not quite titsor teats, just pectoral pointsof interest: a torso’s eyescaught staringat the beach; pinpricksdisturbing a taut Oxford’scotton; coppery beaconsappearing through sheer Ts.Aureoles varyinglike fingerprints—in diameterfrom clamshell to dime, in tintfrom plum to pink—each with its own punch codeof goosebumps. Sensitiveto the barest hintsof coolness in bloodor air flow, they shrivellike witches in water, hibernatein whorls of hair. Whether hubsof ecstasy or indifference, bashful paps or rubbery dugs—pierced, thickas toothpaste—they areunmistakably a man’smost naked part. Impractical glands, sore remindersof what he can’t give,they are the clenched petalsof him—harmless and endearingas embarrassmentshe pretendsaren’t happening.

Working (It) Out with Teena Marie

She whoops into my ears; the whole gym whirls.I turn the volume up to shush the clinkof my elliptical machine. Like joyous squirrels

her scatted oohs and shoop-pops leap in syncwith youthful biorhythms now gone slack.And she’s been dead how long? Five years, I think,

letting the iPod’s witchcraft take me backto summers in Ft. Myers: bored, sixteen,racing my bike down streets whose hot shellac

exuded waves of harsh, phenolic steam.Clipped to my shorts, a tape player filled my headwith pop sensations. Warnings to come clean

pursued me through desire’s infrared.I saw the manly shadows moving nearer;I pounded harder, like a thoroughbred.

These boys who curl their biceps in the mirror:what are they after? Strength won’t make them freerpullers of Beauty’s drawstring. Do they fear her

because they sense how good it feels to be her?Fanned by an AC vent, I bounce and hurtlepast them through time—a stationary skier

for whom the trails of memory unfurlthis chorus, like a plaintive reprimand:I just want to be your lovergirl.

About David Southward

David Southward teaches in the Honors College at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His chapbook, Apocrypha (Wipf & Stock 2018), reimagines the life of Jesus in a series of sonnets. Bachelor’s Buttons (Kelsay Books 2020) is his first collection. David lives in Milwaukee with his husband, Geoff. Read more at davidsouthward.com.

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Bachelor’s Buttons available at:

Boswell Book Co. in Milwaukee | Kelsay Books | Amazon

Apocrypha available at:

Wipf & Stock | Amazon

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

For this year’s National Poetry Month at BMP Voices, we seek to celebrate the ways in which we’re interconnected — highlighting community, gratitude, and the ways in which creativity redounds upon itself, fed by collective energy and goodwill. Our fee-free contest is open to all styles and forms of poetry, with an eye toward our mission of discovering voices that are immediate, immersive, and urgent. Poems inspired by the work of others are welcome. We also welcome poems written to other poems or poets.

Poetry Month Spotlight: Rita Feinstein

The Poetics of Joy

I’m half-asleep in the Bishop’s Garden on the south side of the Washington National Cathedral. The 3 p.m. light bathes the limestone in gold, and the flowerbeds pulse with color. My husband and I sit on a bench in direct sunlight, our hound mix sprawled at our feet. I close my eyes and marvel at how good I feel—not thirsty, not hungry, not anxious to cross something off my to-do list.

I open my eyes again and see an elderly couple sitting on a nearby bench. I’m reminded of the healing garden I could see from my fourth-floor hospital room last June. I was never allowed to visit; the nurse said I didn’t have enough time, but it was another couple hours before the doctor discharged me.

These dark memories are mildly sickening. The garden has its own powerful influence, though. It pours another wave of sunshine and flower-fragrance over my head, and now I wonder why I bother dwelling on negative thoughts at all.

Because I’m a poet, that’s why. On some level, I’ve always believed that poetry is the alchemical practice of transmuting trauma into art. Once, when I was hallucinating from pain, I felt a small thrill at this new writing material. When I was sunken into my hospital bed, I typed rhyming phrases into my Notes app with the hand that wasn’t encumbered by an IV. Poetry has gotten me through an eating disorder and a toxic relationship, and at some point I started worrying that once the trauma dried up, the poetry would too.

I wonder why I bother dwelling on negative thoughts at all.Because I’m a poet, that’s why. On some level, I’ve always believed that poetry is the alchemical practice of transmuting trauma into art.

I finished processing my eating disorder when I was nineteen, but I kept writing about it for years afterward. There was no urgency, no catharsis, in these newer poems. I had convinced myself this is what my audience wanted, and yes, some of these poems were published, but at some point it felt disingenuous to continue writing them.

One night in grad school, in the name of pure escapism, I wrote something I had no intention of submitting to workshop. It was the stuff of YA fantasy novels—a selkie-hunting pirate king, a misanthropic bad boy, a star-crossed romance. The first draft was messy and overstuffed. “Is this more than one poem?” I asked my roommate. “Is this two poems? Is this forty poems?” Forty-eight, to be exact. It was the first poem in what would end up becoming my thesis manuscript.

Writing my thesis was an exercise in pure joy. Instead of scrounging for trauma crumbs, I wrote a sprawling ode to everything I love—dragons and wolves, fairytales and mythology, Labyrinth and Outlander. After wasting so much time and emotional energy laboring over poems that didn’t want to be written, I had finally (re)discovered my voice.

Writing my thesis was an exercise in pure joy. Instead of scrounging for trauma crumbs, I wrote a sprawling ode to everything I love—dragons and wolves, fairytales and mythology, Labyrinth and Outlander.

Three years later, I got sick. First I lost my appetite, then I came down with a fever that wouldn’t break, and it was only when I passed out at the bus stop that I acknowledged something was wrong. Three hospital-bound days later, the something had a name. Crohn’s Disease. A very un-glamorous inflammation of the terminal ileum, a body part I didn’t even know I had.

It was a couple months before I was well enough to write again. Then, one day, the words started pouring out of me. I channeled all my frustration into a 2,000-word story, and I was done. The whole process was as straightforward as turning a faucet on and off.

Skeptical that I had done enough processing, I decided to write a poetry chapbook about my illness. The poems didn’t come easily. Recently, I gave one of them to my writing group. On a craft level, we had a very productive discussion. On an emotional level, I felt like I was back in the colonoscopy room.

It’s only now, in the Bishop’s Garden, that I remember what I somehow forgot—poems can be joyful. No one is forcing me to re-live painful memories every time I open my notebook. I don’t have to compromise my vision to please an imaginary audience.

No more hospital poems. From now on, it’s all dragons and goblin kings.

About Rita Feinstein

Rita Feinstein is a DC-based writer and teacher. Her work has appeared in Grist, Willow Springs, and Sugar House, among other publications, and has been nominated for Best of the Net and Best New Poets. She received her MFA from Oregon State University.

Website | Twitter

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

For this year’s National Poetry Month at BMP Voices, we seek to celebrate the ways in which we’re interconnected — highlighting community, gratitude, and the ways in which creativity redounds upon itself, fed by collective energy and goodwill. Our fee-free contest is open to all styles and forms of poetry, with an eye toward our mission of discovering voices that are immediate, immersive, and urgent. Poems inspired by the work of others are welcome. We also welcome poems written to other poems or poets.