What’s Currently Shaping My Writing

1.    The Slumber Party Massacre (1982, directed by Amy Holden Jones)

2.    “lofi hip hop beats to relax/study to” playlist

3.    Barbara Creed’s film theory on “The Monstrous-Feminine,” what it is about woman “that is shocking, terrifying, horrific, abject.” Creed explores the way the female body is coded in the horror film as victim and as monster, as sexual and virginal, as spectacle and agent. And that’s what I am trying to do as well.

4.    Oculus by Sally Wen Mao (Graywolf, 2019)

5.    Shiny Insect Sex by Stephanie Lane Sutton (Bully City Press, 2019)

6.    The Criterion Channel

7.    Glitter, specifically glitter paste

8.    I’ve become nocturnal lately. My partner works at night and I’ve been adopting his schedule a bit. Last night, when I couldn’t sleep, I got in my car and headed west. I was aimless, just kept driving until I felt moved to stop. There’s this cemetery on the other side of town, and I found myself driving past its gate. My headlights passed over the red tulips sprouting at the low stone wall. I felt drawn to them—the tulips—and decided to park. There was moonlight, and I wandered down the gravel path, my eyes passing over the headstones and shadow.

9.    Agnès Varda, French New Wave and documentary filmmaker who passed at the end of last month.

10.  Taking the bus every day for work. It demands that I observe and take stock of my surroundings, inside and outside the bus. Looking at my phone makes me motion-sick, so I just look up instead. I get to see what people are wearing, what the traffic and weather is like; I get to say good-bye to this town.

11.  Daughter-Seed by Arielle Tipa (Empty Set Press, 2019)

12.  Ingmar Bergman’s spooky Swedish films

13.  The flowering trees at night—the redbud and dogwood. I went for a night-walk recently. The air was warm as bath water, and I just had to slip out the door and try it on. I walked two miles toward the empty cornfield, intending to visit my favorite tree. But I heard this loud, reverberating noise coming from the nearby neighborhood. So I veered left and followed the sound. It was birds—hundreds of them—in this little copse at the end of the drive. The noise was overpowering and ethereal.

14.  Paper Mate InkJoy Gel Pens (the 22 pack is very good)

15.  This color-wheel tote bag

My Tall Handsome is available for purchase directly from Brain Mill Press and from print and ebook vendors everywhere.
My Tall Handsome is available for purchase directly from Brain Mill Press and from print and ebook vendors everywhere.

“The twenty-first-century witchery that sprinkles glitter everywhere in My Tall Handsome allows for us to cheer on the speaker in her quest for finding love, seeking revenge—or even raising the dead.”—Ploughshares

The fanged fairy of Emily Corwin’s forest-mud-stained collection asserts and sings with short rhymes and glitter-spells, and just as you’ve followed her into the deepest and darkest part of the woods, terrified, you’re asked to run away together / and promise to never / do this heart-skipping thing / with anyone else.

Don’t be surprised when you find yourself answering yes, yes, yes.

Confronting and darling, every word a perfect warm circlet of pink blood, My Tall Handsome raids every crystal jar on the lace-topped vanity for truth, poison, and song until you can’t remember why you ever thought pretty was better than powerful, sugar was better than bitter medicine, or dancing needed more music than your own voice.

I sip the goblet down, tip it upside down / wear it as / a hat / I am a new shiny thing / and I steal you away from the hoopla hullabaloo rumpus

You won’t resist this kidnapping into the orchard, into the crabapple abracadabra—it is too crystalline a taking, and there are too many delicious chants to chant along the way.

“When the cutie-pie was opened, the birds began to sing, and what they sang was glittery and savage and fearless and dangerous—be careful with this book.”—Catherine Wagner, author of Nervous Device

A Selection from My Tall Handsome

Emily Corwin

my tall handsome, you are always

hydrangea in my rib, popped open

always dazzle of salt on my punched lip

love of life

the he & me I will devour

we beneath black cherry tree

all fruits and crystals on your chest

you were my first body—now and always

forever and ever, in the pink bed rippling

amen.

Emily Corwin is a recent graduate of the MFA program at Indiana University-Bloomington and the former Poetry Editor for Indiana Review. Her writing has appeared in Black Warrior Review, Ninth Letter, Gigantic Sequins, New South, Yemassee, THRUSH, and elsewhere. She has two chapbooks, My Tall Handsome (Brain Mill Press) and darkling (Platypus Press), which were published in 2016. Her first full-length collection, tenderling, was released from Stalking Horse Press in 2018, and she was a finalist for the 2018 Pleiades Press Editors Prize. Her manuscript Sensorium was chosen as an Editor’s Choice selection for the 2018 Akron Poetry Prize and is forthcoming with the University of Akron Press.

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.

NaPoMo2020 Interconnection and Community Contest Winner

April 1 seems a lifetime ago. In this Covid Season (or whatever we’ll end up calling this time), we may forget what day it is, what week, what month. We are caring for each other, trying to keep up to date with news, separate bad advice from the directives of doctors and public health advisors and infectious disease specialists. Hopefully is some small way we are connecting, and maybe poetry can sustain us.

At Brain Mill, we begin planning for National Poetry Month in late December or January, so we approached our featured poets and formulated our call long before we knew what March and April would bring. We hoped to find poems that spoke to community, to the ways we are interconnected, that paid homage and honored the work that inspired our voices.

As April closed, my yard became overrun by bunnies—nesting and feeding their young. I’ve been thinking about Jericho Brown’s poem “The Rabbits” — “I am tired / Of claiming beauty where / There is only truth.” On Monday, May 4, Brown was awarded a Pulitzer for his poetry collection The Tradition. The Pulitzer Board also awarded a citation (posthumously) to Ida B. Wells, a pioneering investigative journalist and civil rights icon, and donated $50,000 in support of her mission. In reading the poetry submissions, poems that stood out spoke to experience, sought truth, and—either explicitly or implicitly—made connections: with other writers, with poetry, across disciplines, time and space.

Thank you for sharing National Poetry Month with us at Brain Mill. There is no sendoff that is sufficient in this difficult time — other than thank you. Thank you.

—C. Kubasta, Editor, BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month 2019

Winner

“TOGETHER//Untethered (Or, A Cross-Sectional Analysis of Associations Between Today and Tomorrow Using Stratified Purposeful Sampling)“ by Ryan Petteway

Short List

“Raymond’s Rivers” by Lucy Duggan

“I Would’ve Called Her Honey” by Yvonne Nguyen

“Capas Infiniti” by Joshua Plack

“Knee High by July” by Abigail Swoboda

TOGETHER//Untethered

(Or, A Cross-Sectional Analysis of Associations Between Today and Tomorrow Using Stratified Purposeful Sampling)

Ryan Petteway

About Ryan Petteway

Briefly, I am a public health professor and social epidemiologist—meaning that my research, writing, and teaching focus on structural factors that shape health opportunities/inequities (e.g., structural racism, sexism, heterosexism). Broadly, my scholarship integrates critical theory, participatory research, and decolonizing methods to engage notions of epistemic, procedural, and distributive justice within public health knowledge production processes. But before all of this, I listened to Nas, Mobb Deep, and Nina, and drank orange drink while conducting observational studies of project life. I read Langston and Dunbar, Audre and Baldwin, Fanon and hooks while running real-time PCRs in an infectious disease lab. I dropped bars and closed open mics for repair. Some bars were never caught, still roaming free in the wild as I type this… in Portland, OR; sippin’ dark roast, trying to keep my Griffey Max 1 Freshwaters dry…

Raymond’s Rivers

After Raymond Carver, “Where Water Comes Together With Other Water”

Lucy Duggan

Note:

“Some men love horses or glamorous women” and “the places where water comes together with other water” are quotations from Raymond Carver’s poem, ‘Where Water Comes Together With Other Water.’

Lucy Duggan is a writer and translator based in rural Brandenburg, in eastern Germany. Currently, she is working on a queer family saga set in a ruined manor house. She is the author of Tendrils (Cambridge: Peer Press, 2014), a novel about long-lost enemies. Her miniature stories can be found at www.tinystori.es. Her writing has appeared in The Catweazle Magazine, The Spectacle, and The Washington Square Review.

I Would’ve Called Her Honey

Yvonne Nguyen

Yvonne Nguyen is a recent graduate at the University of Virginia, currently residing in Richmond, Virginia. As a full-time English teacher, she takes pride in nurturing creative instincts in her students. Other works of hers can be read in The Roadrunner Review and Call Me [Brackets].

Capas Infiniti

Joshua Plack

Joshua Plack hails from Philadelphia and studied at the University of Oregon, where he won a scholarship into the KIDD program, a creative writing workshop, which included mentoring from well-established authors. He recently won the Matthew Knight Poetry Prize and was a finalist for the Shirley McClure Poetry Award. His work has been featured in literary journals such as the Pinyon Review, Inkwell, the Underground, and Coffin Bell.

Knee High by July

Abigail Swoboda

My name is Abigail Swoboda, and I am a nonbinary writer based in Philadelphia, PA, where I am currently pursuing my M.A. in English at Temple University. There, I also teach French, craft my own spice blends, and embroider until my fingers are raw.

BMP Celebrates 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.

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.

Where Stillness and Resistance Have a Form

Ex-patriot Cheyenne writer Lance Henson’s new work in Dead Zone et autres textes has the same powerful slight lines, imagistic suggestiveness, and resistance vision of his earlier work.

The poem “secret” claims the kind of revelation I have always discovered in Henson’s work: “the half blindness that allowed you to see further / words forged in motions” (24). The back cover text “places” Henson and his stance with this description:

somewhere between rage and freedomI am sitting in the ashes of a dreamsinging. . .

Finally, one of unnamed poems in the collection offers the kind of straight-forward societal indictment that also characterizes his work:

americaamericano longer a theme parknow a killing fieldif you are          the other. . . . (54)

A member of the Cheyenne Dog Soldier Warrior Society, veteran, Native American activist, AIM member, and member of the Native American Church, Henson also holds an MFA from University of Tulsa and has worked as poet-in-residence in over 800 schools in the United States and Europe. Since his first volume of poetry, Keeper of Arms, was released in 1971, he has published twenty-eight chapbooks or volumes of poetry which have been translated into twenty-five languages.

Throughout his oeuvre, Henson presents his sparse uninflected poems in lower case, without capitalization, and with ellipses as his main form of punctuation. His poems often weave together images of the external landscapes with spiritual terrain reflecting on their porous interconnections. They also offer commentary on historical and contemporary failings of the U.S. government and on the broader capitalistic colonizing forces at work in the world. Henson’s comments in “The Whirlwind is a Mirror” shed light on his aesthetic when he claims, “All poems are prayers when they work,” and “Poetry is revolutionary. It must be to survive.” About his preference for the short poem, he notes: “I think brevity is one way to acknowledge strength and one way to acknowledge and pay homage to the Great Silence we came out of.” Indeed, Henson’s poetry may be crafted to a large extent of prayer, revolution, and great silences.

A poem like “strong heart song” that gives title to his 1997 collection Strong Heart Song: Lines From a Revolutionary Text seems to contain all of these elements:

nadors do mi uts e mghon bach ni tseheskotseoehmin

i will walk on the ashes of the earthsinging (iii)

By opening the poem first in Cheyenne, the bilingual Henson enacts a revolutionary response to the colonization of language. Then, with the phrase “the ashes of earth” he implies something about the fleetingness of physical reality and perhaps offers a warning about the inevitable destructive effects of contemporary human actions. Still the poet will proceed “singing,” which in the larger context of Native ceremonial tradition is often the equivalent of prayer. Both verbally and visually the poem is small — much is left unspoken; much is contained in the implied silence.

Perhaps the finest gesture in Henson to silence comes in the poem “celebration” which opens with “cold light / at the edge / of words” and closes with this word picture:

in a portraita woman isholding herapron

catching thesnow (Selected Poems, 10).

The poem accumulates meaning from the idea of an artist’s creating a picture/portrait, the vision of the woman “catching” snow (or perhaps manna), and the idea of her making of herself a vessel — attempting to gather or hold that which will only melt as snow or dissipate as fleeting knowledge. Such, of course, is always the poets’ futile quest, particularly in the light of injustice.

It is as well Henson’s quest in Dead Zone. In the poem “Kofi,” he recognizes that Sisyphus-like task of poets to build with language even as we already acknowledge its inadequacy:

now your words have entereda frontier known only to poetsin our collectivebookof the wind. . . . (70)

In this new book, as in all that came before, the success of Henson’s poetry stems partly from its eloquent portrait of its own fleeting reality.

About the Author

Kimberly Blaeser, writer, photographer, and scholar, is the author of three poetry collections—most recently Apprenticed to Justice; and editor of Traces in Blood, Bone, and Stone: Contemporary Ojibwe Poetry. She served as Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2015-16. Blaeser is Anishinaabe and grew up on White Earth Reservation. A Professor of English and Indigenous Studies at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, Blaeser is also on faculty for the Institute of American Indian Arts low residency MFA program in Santa Fe. Her photographs, picto-poems, and ekphrastic poetry have been featured in various venues including the exhibits “Ancient Light” and “Visualizing Sovereignty.” Her fourth collection of poetry, Copper Yearning, will be published by Holy Cow! Press in fall 2019.

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.

This Winter, Poetry Said No

This winter was a lonely one for me, poetry-wise. It’s not for lack of trying on my part. I’ve sent poetry countless invitations—requesting its presence at late night rendezvous at my desk, quick chats as I drive to and from work, a chilly but cheerful New Year’s Eve party, and every single one of my dreams.

But poetry said no. Without even sending its apologies.

It’s hard not to take it personally. I kept reading others’ work—why do the poems show up for them but not me? I kept teaching new writers, watching as they develop their voices and styles. I tried writing along with them. I tried finding brand new prompts to use on my own. I opened old drafts and worked to make something new. I re-read all the poems I’ve loved since I was a child, reliving those moments of pure magic. I re-read my own poetry, remembering each poem’s conception and birth.

Poetry said, Appreciate the effort, Christine, but still not interested.

I wondered if poetry now finds me boring or obsolete. Perhaps it thinks I’m too tired, no fun anymore, past my sell-by date. Am I? This possibility made me shift my perspective. What if this wasn’t about writing a poem at all, but instead about rekindling a romance? How could I make poetry remember what it used to be like when things were good between us? I don’t have a lot of experience in that department, so I did the only thing I’ve ever tried to revive a dead relationship: I got a haircut. True, it hadn’t won back anyone in the past, but it’s all I could think of. Alas, freshly shorn locks didn’t make a difference with poetry either.

This winter was difficult. It was long and cold and grey. If I could have, I’d have hibernated all season, tucked up in bed, lost in dreams of honeybees and sunlight. But I am not a bear. No den, but a poorly insulated house. I spent hours at the door, staring out the icy window at the grey skeletons of trees. I spent hours at my desk, staring through the cold screen at the ugliness of the world.

Eventually, I gave up. No one finds desperation appealing, I know. I’d given it my best go, but I had to stand down.

It was out of my hands now. If poetry wanted me, it knew where to find me.

_________________

Then came April. The air was warming, and life was waking. In me? I don’t know, I was too afraid to ask. I was trying to accept the feeling of not knowing anything anymore.

Today I went out to do some errands. Though it was my day off, I drove the same route I take to work, passing the same landscape I passed every morning and evening all winter. Things were different today. Things felt different today. The sun was shining. The sky was blue. There were blossoms on the tips of the trees’ branches: pink, white, gold, green. The trees were alive.

I am, too.

Despite the errands, I turned back and went home to retrieve my camera. I parked my car on a side road and got out to take photographs. The wind had a chill as it blew through my hair. I breathed it in, sensed it filling my lungs and moving through my veins. I felt like laughing, so I did. I smiled at the car that honked as it passed. I walked up and down the road, catching all those colors in my camera.

When I got home, I took pictures of the violets which seemed to have suddenly filled my yard and of a dozy bee who was resting in the sunshine on my porch.

Inside, I looked at the photographs—the warm light, the vibrant hues, the delicate lines. None of these things had been there yesterday. Maybe they had been, but were not yet ready to be seen. Or maybe they were just waiting for me.

For me to be willing and able to see.

A Wife Is a Hope Chest

by Christine Brandel

A wife is a hope chest in which you keep the things you will need for a good life. 1: A kettle. Tie the cord to her wrist, she should never be out of its reach. 2: A snapshot of the woman you wish you had married. Push it through her eyes, put it in her head. 3: A pen knife. Good for cutting bread, package strings, the ring from her finger. 4: Coins. They will make sounds so you know when she’s coming. 5: Silence. Do not read the letters she writes you, do not speak even if she pleads. 6: Cotton wool. To stop the flow. Because she will bleed. 7: A book. One heavy hardback you never intend to read. 8: A skeleton key. Trust her. She won’t use it to get out.

A Wife Is a Hope Chest is available for purchase directly from Brain Mill Press and from print and ebook vendors everywhere.
A Wife Is a Hope Chest is available for purchase directly from Brain Mill Press and from print and ebook vendors everywhere.

About A Wife Is a Hope Chest

“There’s a sense of earned-ness about these poems—it’s palpable. They seem to address matters non-theoretically; they seem to raise matters from the author’s direct experience. … Recommended.” —Galatea Resurrects

Brandel’s formally structured lyrics, as carefully arranged as a chest packed with tissue paper and clove oranges, lure and invite the reader with beauty and craft, then hiss and coil and buzz with needled wit and blade flashes of human insight. These are poems Emily Dickinson would have delighted in and sent daringly to friends. This is a collection where six lines and twelve words in a poem about a teakettle sear and brand so hot, the reader finds relief in the white space on the page. Domestic objects are both weapons of war and charms of love, often simultaneously, and the cycle of poems circling around each presented object — kettle, snapshot, penknife, coins, silence, book, and skeleton key — work both as a dance and the creeping threat of a predator pack.

A Wife Is a Hope Chest demonstrates brilliant facility with form and capacious understanding of the capabilities of plain-language verse. This is a poet’s poetry collection, even as it is a volume that invites any reader to become infected with its unforgettable imagery, pointed humor, and dark charm.

In these surreal lyrics, romantic love is a repository for emotions sweet, bitter, and blazing. Brandel’s language—rich with visual and tactile imagery—delivers us into a world where domestic objects transform into amorous talismans. —Kiki Petrosino

Christine Brandel is a writer and photographer. Her work has recently appeared in Callisto, Public Pool, Under the Rader, Blue Fifth Review, and The Fem. She also writes a column on comedy for PopMatters and rights the world’s wrongs via her character Agatha Whitt-Wellington (Miss) at Everyone Needs An Algonquin. She currently lives in Bloomington, Indiana, where she teaches at a community college and serves as a hospice volunteer. More of her work can be found at clbwrites.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.