Poetry Month Spotlight: Jessica Mehta

Artist Statement

I am a multi-award-winning poet, artist, and performance artist working at the intersection of mixed- and digital-media. As a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, much of my work focuses on space, place, and identity in post-Colonial America and often addresses the vast disparities faced by indigenous people today. Many of my projects also directly address issues that have impacted me personally, such as mass incarceration, alcoholism and drug addiction, homelessness, eating disorders, and the opioid epidemic. One example of this hyper-personal implementation is my curation of an anthology of poetry by incarcerated indigenous women. I am the only person in my family to never be incarcerated, and offering workshops in correctional facilities while providing these women with a platform for their voices was a project stemming from my own experiences of having family members trapped in the nation’s “justice” system.

In the business facet of my life, I own a small writing services company (MehtaFor) which specializes in creating search engine optimization (SEO) rich content. The emphasis of technology in my business life organically spread to my creative and research life in the past decade. Increasingly, I have been utilizing technology in my creative work, such as the creation of a virtual reality (VR) poetry experience with proprietary software that allows users to immerse themselves in indigenous poetry in new, intimate ways.

My interest in VR partially stems from research from the University of Barcelona that suggests embodiment in VR has the capacity to permanently increase a person’s understanding, empathy, and compassion—my hope is that non-Native users who experience poetry in VR may undergo similar results. I also offer poetry in other non-traditional formats, such as in performance art with elements of shibari rope tying using customized measuring tapes to draw attention to eating disorders. Eating disorders are the deadliest, most under-insured, and most under-diagnosed of any mental disorder, and are especially under-treated in non-white communities.

Indigenous audiences are a natural fit for my work, but I know that those who might benefit the most are non-Native. I consider myself an artist and writer first, but hope to also serve as a source to help encourage knowledge-sharing, the opening of discourse, and information exchange beyond indigenous communities. I am constantly working towards making poetry, art, and technology as accessible and engaging as possible. Unfortunately, poetry is often seen as the literature genre which is the most elite, dry, and boring—even though this, of course, is not true. By introducing poetry to audiences in different formats, I aim to create a welcoming opportunity to experience the genre.

For more information on my art, background, and projects, please visit my site at www.jessicamehta.com.

Do You See the Stars?

This is waking up. Rememberwhen you pressed your thumbs, thick and unforgiving, into my eye sockets? Slow as deathuntil I caved to the dizzy and you whispered, accent sticky, dripping in rose syrup,

Do you see the stars?

And I did. They burst in the darkness like kisses. This city has a heart, flutteringcrazed and drunken as a beast, handsitchy and always wanting, wantingand a mouth with hunger so palpableI gave myself in an instant. I was new, damp when I came here, ridiculousas one of those puppy mill survivorstoo petrified to take a single step from the cageinto green grass and sunshine. I stumbled, blinded, but for the stars.

I risked it all for youbecause it was home, because it was you, the cage I left behind, dank and cloyingand so sadly, pathetically familiar. It was a husk, forgotten like nightmares and used to be’s,

but it was all I’d ever known.

Pulitzer Prize Pig

Pulitzer Prize Pig spoke of what it means to be ***** as a ***** man with a look the look      that look women were born knowing how to read. I knew that look      the look at fifteen when the AP teacher crouched beside my desk in the dark while flashes of syphilis and gonorrhea shuddered across the projector screen. (Still, even now, I hear the tired clicking of the tapes). I knew the look, saw      a look, at eleven when grown men whistled at my unfolding hips and high school boys rolled Corollas along middle school parking lots with eyes that spider-scurried pressed breasts. And I knew, I saw that look,      his look at four. In the bathtub, I learned shame— I shot my father in the eye with a plastic alligator squirt gun and never bathed with open doors again. Pulitzer Prize Pig sidled up close, nosed for nipple drinkers and sniffed out my slop. Trough walls are low, but sticky, slick beside stys, and boars are happy with scraps.

I Thought You Were Praying

Through the deserts outside Al Ain, the babysucking like a beast at your breast,mosques gave way to dunesand the oiled street workers to palms. Beyond the camels,past the tribesmen,we didn’t stop until we were away from it all—the malls with their ungodly air conditioning,the fat children making loud love to their sweets,the fat wives engorged in their abayas, rollinglike sun-swollen beetles through the shops.In ballet flats and the jeans that hugged my asslike a fetish, I climbed the dunes as if I belonged,while beautiful golden menh in glorious keffiyehshonked safely from the highway. And I,staggering like a drunk as the sand clung begging and desperate,my cuckolded lover to my perfect white feet, mounted the crest, dropped to my knees,ready and eager as a whore,to fil a mason jar with contraband. And you,nipples burnished as the sand, laughed, I thought you were praying.

About Jessica Mehta

Jessica (Tyner) Mehta is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, multi-award-winning poet, and author of over one dozen books. Place, space, and personal ancestry inform much of her work. She’s also the Editor-in-Chief of Crab Creek Review and owner of an award-winning small business. MehtaFor is a writing services company that offers pro bono services to Native Americans and indigenous-serving non-profits.

Jessica integrates technology, archival photos, and performance art into many of her creative projects. “Red/Act” is a pop-up virtual reality poetry experience made with proprietary software. It aims to introduce more people to poetry, and specifically indigenous poetry, through a uniquely immersive encounter. Her “emBODY poetry” performance series features experimental poetry on nude form while incorporating shibari rope work to address topics on body image and eating disorders.

Her novel The Wrong Kind of Indian won gold at the 2019 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs) and at the American Book Fest Best Book. Jessica has also received numerous fellowships in recent years, including the Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship at the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington and the Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship at The British Library in London. Jessica is a popular speaker and panelist, featured recently at events such as the US State Department’s National Poetry Month event, “Poets as Cultural Emissaries: A Conversation with Women Writers,” as well as the “Women’s Transatlantic Prison Activism Since 1960” symposium at Oxford University.

She has undertaken poetry residencies around the globe including at Hosking Houses Trust with an appointment at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, Paris Lit Up in France, and at the Crazy Horse Memorial and museum in South Dakota. Her work has been featured at galleries and exhibitions around the world, including IA&A Hillyer in Washington DC, The Emergency Gallery in Sweden, and Institute of American Indian Arts in New Mexico.

Jessica is also an experienced registered yoga instructor (ERYT-500®), registered children’s yoga teacher (RCYT®), certified Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider (YACEP®), and NASM-certified personal trainer (CPT). She’s the founder of the Get it Ohm! karma yoga and strength movement, which offers free classes to groups that don’t have access to traditional yoga studios and/or don’t feel comfortable in such environments.

Learn more at www.jessicamehta.com or find Jessica on Twitter and Instagram @bookscatsyoga.

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: 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: Shaindel Beers

Artist Statement

Happy National Poetry Month, and thank you for inviting me to be a part of your celebration. One present I’d like to share with everyone is the work I have curated and published as the Poetry Editor of Contrary Magazine. We’ve been around since 2003, so you’ll definitely have enough poems to read for National Poetry Month.

Our most recent issue can always be found here, and in the spring issue we have poems from J.L. Wall, Sage Ravenwood, Kassandra Montag, and T.J. Moretti. In our winter issue, we had the good fortune to have poems from Hannah Beilenson, Ashley Inguanta, Amy Williams, and Kristin Baum DeBeasi.

If you click on the “Poetry” archive and spend some time there, you’ll learn far more than I could teach you by writing an essay myself. Please spend some time clicking through, share whatever you’d like online, and if you’re a poet yourself, send us some work!

I encourage you all to try writing a poem a day as well, though I know it’s challenging. For that reason, I’ll share some poems that I wrote using prompts from Robert Lee Brewer’s Poem-A-Day challenges at “Poetic Asides.” Here are the guidelines, so you can take part yourself.

When I wrote the poem, “The Coffee of Love,” the prompt was to write a poem with the title “The _____ of Love.” Here’s what I came up with:

The Coffee of Love

The coffee brought to you in bed. The coffee on the porch, as you listen to the day progress from dove-song to starlings to sparrows

as you watch the steam rise from the grazing horses’ backs. The eight ounces a day you’re allowed when pregnant. The dinner party pick-me-up

you know will keep you awake all night. The first time a new lover asks how you take your coffee, promises to remember. The grounds and banana peels

you save for the roses of the widow next door. The camping trip coffee, made with water filtered from the river. The late-night project coffee you pray

will see you through to morning. The fellowship hall coffee after a funeral, the cup you hope will be waiting for you on the other side—

This poem hasn’t appeared in any of my books, but my dream is that someone somewhere will make it into a print or broadside with art, and it will hang in coffee houses and kitchens above coffeemakers. If you’re the person who can make this happen, please do! I’d love to see it.

Somehow, I had the good fortune to write these next two poems back-to-back during the challenge in 2015, and they appear in my latest book, Secure Your Own Mask. On April 8, the assignment was to write a “Dare” poem. I couldn’t think of anything more daring than being in a knife-throwing act in a circus.

When we were knife throwers

My favorite part of the act wasn’t the sparkle of red sequins,the skimming of satin skirt flirting with thigh. I loved

the knife thwack, the shudder of pearl handle vibratingwhen the blade landed true. I loved cartwheeling in space

when you spun the wheel, our love every day a gameof roulette, praying to always land on black but wearing

red just in case. I lived for you tying the blindfold, the whisper,I love you as you fastened the manacles secure. Each second

a precarious balance between trust and chance.

The next day, April 9, the assignment was to write a “Work” poem, so I stuck with a circus theme:

Self-Portrait as Rosin Back Rider

The arch of my foot is perfectly shapedto withers, to flank. I can stand in arabesqueat a canter. Sweep my back leg through,backbend, walkover, and land astride.The hardest part is the smile, the unnaturalstrain on the face. It is the difficulty of beautypageant smile during athletics. The Paso Finobeneath me flows like water. His walkis molasses. I give him molasses mixedwith oats each night. He is sweet as sorghum.The clop-clop of his hooves is my heartbeat.Please pray the circus never separates us.This is the ringmaster’s threat when the seatsare empty. A horse costs so much to feed,and the lions are hungry. This why I cryinto the illustrated man’s indigo skin every night.

About Shaindel Beers

Shaindel Beers is the author of three full-length poetry collections, A Brief History of Time (2008) and The Children’s War and Other Poems (2013), both from Salt Publishing, and Secure Your Own Mask (2018), winner of the White Pine Poetry Prize, a Woodrow Hall Top Shelf Award, and finalist for the Oregon Book Award. She teaches at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Oregon, where she lives with her son Liam, her husband Matt, and a wealth of pets. She is also the Poetry Editor of Contrary Magazine.

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.

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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.

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.