National Poetry Month Spotlight

3.

from Black Genealogy by Kiki Petrosino, illustrated by Lauren Haldeman

You’re really looking for H, future mother of B. A slave girl born in 1830 to parents unknown. Actually, you think H was born a little before that (exact years may not matter). You find a white man in the county who owned a young female some years before the war. You save this result: Old_Master. You figure that by 1856, your H was 28. Actually, no one recorded her age (her age may not matter). That year, a slave named H gave birth to a son. You save this result: H_Childbirth_1. Later, another H, same owner as the first (now called H56) had a son. You start calling her H59. Actually, you believe they’re the same. Of course, you can’t prove that H56 and H59 are the same, let alone yours, but exact proof may not matter. You know Old Master owned twelve slaves at most. So what are the chances two of them were called H? You still can’t find any sign of B, which troubles you. Until you discover the birth records for the war period: all missing. So of course, there’s nothing for B at the courthouse. Nothing at all. You create a new folder called Nothing for this lucky find.

Kiki Petrosino is the author of three books of poetry: Hymn for the Black Terrific (2013), Fort Red Border (2009), and Witch Wife, all from Sarabande Books. She holds graduate degrees from the University of Chicago and the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry, The New York Times, and elsewhere. She is founder and co-editor of Transom, an independent online poetry journal. She is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Louisville, where she directs the Creative Writing Program.

Biting the Rind

from A Wife Is a Hope Chest by Christine Brandel

She cautiously caught the bee, sealing it in the thicknessof the unsent letter. To put her tongue so close to potentialdanger was the most exciting thing she’d done that morning.She could hear the bee’s wings scraping against paperthat he’d never be able to read. She pushed her chairaway from the table, putting distance, leaving the letterto the bee to do with what he would. But the clock kept tickingon her arm and she set her hand on top of the envelope,not enough weight to crush the bee or smear the words.She’d just have to be patient, feeling the struggle.An orange lay within arm’s reach and she wanted to tear it open,drench the whole table with the wordless wetness inside.But she couldn’t do that to the bee. She bit into the rindand it wasn’t fun. Things aren’t fun when you can’t get out.

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.

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Maybe you have lines living in you. Maybe you’ve been walking around like the speaker in Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones”: “This place could be beautiful, / right? You could make this place beautiful.” Maybe you’ve been inspired by Isobel O’Hare’s erasures, and have an urge to address some things. Maybe you’ve woken up in the spiked night, with a line swimming out of the deep. Maybe you have a story to tell. Or, maybe you memorized Jericho Brown’s “Colosseum” and have been repeating to yourself: “I cannot locate the origin / Of slaughter, but I know / How my own feels, that I live with it / And sometimes use it / To get the living done . . .”

These poetic efforts have touched me in the last few months, in that strange trigonometry of language, chance, and seeking, that we readers and writers do. Brown’s lines resonated with me, brought me low, and offered something – if not quite comfort, then a kind of recognition.

“Chicagoshit” by Kwyn Townsend Riley and “Lolita Learns To Drive” by Courtney Felle

We are delighted to present this week’s selections from the Brain Mill Press Poetry Month Contest by talented poets Kwyn Townsend Riley and Courtney Felle.

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

Chicagoshit

As a Chicagoan, Kwyn channels her Southside experiences into her writing. Audiences have referring to her writing as “inspirational” and “eye-opening”. Most of her poems are center on many social justice issues including racism, sexism, rape culture and gun violence. To Kwyn, poetry makes the truth sound beautiful and less painful. It serves reality a little warmer to those who are hopeless. She has released poetry videos on her youtube channel that have gone viral. Her poetry has been featured in the Huffington Post, BLAVITY, ForHarriet and a host of others. She has performed at many college campuses including but not limited to California State University at Monterey Bay, University of Cincinnati – Blue Ash and Denison University. She has also performed her poetry in Germany. She hopes by sharing her vulnerabilities that will help others with the same issues sleep better at night.

Lolita Learns To Drive

Courtney Felle imagines herself living in the liminal space between the Northeast and the Midwest. Her work currently focuses on the landscape of queerness, disability, and gender, and can be found in Blue Marble Review, Chautauqua Literary Journal, and Pen 2 Paper, among other publications. In addition to writing, she edits Body Without Organs Literary Journal, reads poetry for Helen: A Lit Mag, and campaigns for congressional candidates.

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Maybe you have lines living in you. Maybe you’ve been walking around like the speaker in Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones”: “This place could be beautiful, / right? You could make this place beautiful.” Maybe you’ve been inspired by Isobel O’Hare’s erasures, and have an urge to address some things. Maybe you’ve woken up in the spiked night, with a line swimming out of the deep. Maybe you have a story to tell. Or, maybe you memorized Jericho Brown’s “Colosseum” and have been repeating to yourself: “I cannot locate the origin / Of slaughter, but I know / How my own feels, that I live with it / And sometimes use it / To get the living done . . .”

These poetic efforts have touched me in the last few months, in that strange trigonometry of language, chance, and seeking, that we readers and writers do. Brown’s lines resonated with me, brought me low, and offered something – if not quite comfort, then a kind of recognition.

Poems by Travis Chi Wing Lau from Rogue Agent

A poet’s work that deserves to be highlighted is Travis Chi Wing Lau. Travis represents the ultimate Rogue Agent poet. His work is tender, forthright, elegantly crafted. He dares to reveal himself with his words. I’ve included the three poems he’s published with Rogue Agent and also a new poem just for this profile.

Breathing Rites

Issue 13-14, Apr-May 2016

I think the struggle for a bearable life is the struggle for queers to have space to breathe.Having space to breathe, or being able to breathe freely … is an aspiration. –Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness

Crescent lunge:a prayer on bendedknee, for seconds dobecome trials, as formrestricts function. Then,a twisting open of whatis otherwise closed, ofshallow breaths shrinkinginto shame. So he begsmy ability, to be victorious(mighty capacity,he demands): I amfullest here evenas I extend my sidevulnerably intobare space.Eupnea even in this hourof disorientation,even when there seems tobe no space to breathe.

Night Terror

Issue 23, Feb 2017

Mooring shudders // beneath the // uneven balls // of my feet, // those that // seek the // ground after // the freefall // between the // lightest of // hours (how // they grind // against //the creaking // hands). // I turn // to face // the long // gravity // of a bed: // where the // flashes pool, // where the // faces fan, // as the notches // become gothic // in between // the march of // charred lines // (for one // can only // dance madly // out of // Piranesi’s // prison).

Scoliosis, A Portrait

Issue 32, Nov 2017

Bold shape,that marrowedthing, thrummingwith some otherharmony,a bastion coiled:tighter,tightly.But formsmay reacha point ofbreaking,golden bowlsmore vulnerablebecause theybear the chanceof singing.Here,a balm forthe pressure,a kiss forthe risk,a laying onof hand:tendertending.

Doctor K.

The promise wasof movement:me to the slightestof motes, though I feelcomposed ofnothing but flickers,what can be bothan instance and an eternity.I let him layhis hands,(trained asthey are to coolness)and I amsure to make no wishes boundfor wells.He tries,and I permit him:however fruitless,body and endeavor.

Travis Chi Wing Lau recently completed his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania Department of English and will be a postdoctoral teaching fellow at the University of Texas at Austin beginning in Fall 2018. His research interests include 18th- and 19th-century British literature, the history of medicine, and disability studies. His academic writing has been published in Journal of Homosexuality, Romantic Circles, Digital Defoe, and English Language Notes. His creative writing has appeared in Wordgathering, Assaracus, The New Engagement, The Deaf Poets Society, Up the Staircase Quarterly and QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology. [travisclau.com]

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Maybe you have lines living in you. Maybe you’ve been walking around like the speaker in Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones”: “This place could be beautiful, / right? You could make this place beautiful.” Maybe you’ve been inspired by Isobel O’Hare’s erasures, and have an urge to address some things. Maybe you’ve woken up in the spiked night, with a line swimming out of the deep. Maybe you have a story to tell. Or, maybe you memorized Jericho Brown’s “Colosseum” and have been repeating to yourself: “I cannot locate the origin / Of slaughter, but I know / How my own feels, that I live with it / And sometimes use it / To get the living done . . .”

These poetic efforts have touched me in the last few months, in that strange trigonometry of language, chance, and seeking, that we readers and writers do. Brown’s lines resonated with me, brought me low, and offered something – if not quite comfort, then a kind of recognition.

Poetry Month Feature

Rogue Agent is a journal that is, at its core, about bodies. The journal started out as a very personal project for me. I am a person with multiple disabilities. This plays an important part in what I write and informs Rogue Agent as well. My first full-length book of poems, Suites for the Modern Dancer, is a braided narrative that features themes of blindness and mental illness. My chapbook Chance Operations is about chronic pain.

But I didn’t always write about disability or claim the identity of “person with a disability.” When I started my MFA, I was attracted to high-stakes poetry, poems that took risks and allowed themselves to be vulnerable. Thrown into the world of working poets, I became aware that such poetry was not approved of by everyone. Some professors, editors, and other writers thought that it was inappropriate or unnecessary. They labeled it confessional, and spoke the word with disgust. However, I took some disability studies courses and the purpose for my work, and what would ultimately be the mission of Rogue Agent, slowly coalesced. I was going to be bold and honest about who I was; I would write visceral poetry that moved the emotions and was grounded in the body.

When I graduated and started sending work out to journals, frankly I was scared. When I received a rejection, was it because of the quality of the poem or because of its content? I soon found journals like Breath & Shadow and Wordgathering—these venues focused solely on disability. My work was welcomed there. But I wanted my poems to be accepted not just in disability circles, but in the wider world of literary journals. In what aspect of the literary world did my poems fit?

At the same time this was happening, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. Although the abuse of black people by police has been and continues to be ongoing, Martin’s story was the first time I really paid attention with my whole heart. I got angry, and I got thoughtful. I thought about the kind of privilege I had, and the kind of privilege I didn’t have. I thought about bodies and the way gender, race, sexuality, disability, religion, parenthood—and many more facets of identity— are experienced through the body. I wanted to push back against people in positions of political, economic, and cultural power who wanted to erase or “write over” marginalized bodies.

Eventually to put my thoughts into action I decided to start a journal that would take as its mission a stance of disagreement with those who argue that poems about the body are taboo, invalid, or no longer needed. I invited poets and artists to submit work that took risks with language and form, allowed vulnerability to be present on the page, and authentically portrayed their lives as they lived it. Whether a poem is straightforwardly narrative or surreally imagistic, I want to amplify this expression of the author’s lived experience.

Imagining another’s background and circumstances through engaging with their poetry and art can increase a reader’s empathy. By gathering different experiences together in each issue, Rogue Agent creates interesting and provocative intersections of identity, being, style, and form.

Rogue Agent is a relatively young journal (three years old) and we seem to be gaining in popularity. Bringing our poets’ and artists’ work to a wider audience is one way to send authentic experience into the societal landscape of marginalized stereotypes. A way to talk about problems. A way to imagine solutions instead of stalemates. A way for creativity and openness to fight the divisive forces of toxic masculinity and misuse of power. Editing Rogue Agent is something that is exciting but also humbling. RogueAgent isn’t me; it isn’t an editorial team. It’s the voices of the authors and artists that shape the journal, give it power and meaning. All 37 issues are available for you to read right now, (for free!) at rogueagentjournal.com.

Jill Khoury is interested in the intersection of poetry, visual art, representations of gender, and disability. She is a Western Pennsylvania Writing Project fellow and teaches workshops focusing on writing the body. She holds an MFA from The Ohio State University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Copper Nickel, Bone Bouquet, Lunch Ticket, and diode. She has written two chapbooks—Borrowed Bodies(Pudding House, 2009) and Chance Operations (Paper Nautilus, 2016). Her debut full-length collection, Suites for the Modern Dancer, was released in 2016 from Sundress Publications. Find her on the web at jillkhoury.com.

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Maybe you have lines living in you. Maybe you’ve been walking around like the speaker in Maggie Smith’s “Good Bones”: “This place could be beautiful, / right? You could make this place beautiful.” Maybe you’ve been inspired by Isobel O’Hare’s erasures, and have an urge to address some things. Maybe you’ve woken up in the spiked night, with a line swimming out of the deep. Maybe you have a story to tell. Or, maybe you memorized Jericho Brown’s “Colosseum” and have been repeating to yourself: “I cannot locate the origin / Of slaughter, but I know / How my own feels, that I live with it / And sometimes use it / To get the living done . . .”

These poetic efforts have touched me in the last few months, in that strange trigonometry of language, chance, and seeking, that we readers and writers do. Brown’s lines resonated with me, brought me low, and offered something – if not quite comfort, then a kind of recognition.