“A Song Below Water” Is a Compelling Story of Sisterhood, Magic, and Police Brutality

When I first learned about Bethany C. Morrow’s A Song Below Water and how it featured Black mermaids, I couldn’t help but think of mythology, especially the Yoruba orisha Yemaya and the water spirit Mami Wata. Depending on who you ask, some people interpret them as mermaids. I thought of them because I’ve wondered what a modern interpretation of a Black mermaid would be like. A Song Below Water managed to answer my question in a thought-provoking and touching way.

Tavia Phillips is a siren who must hide her powers in order to keep herself alive. Her best friend, Effie, is struggling with a painful past and strange happenings in the present. While they are trying to navigate their junior year of high school, a siren murder trial shakes Portland, Oregon, to the core. In the aftermath, Tavia and Effie must come together and come to terms with themselves.

I’ve wondered what a modern interpretation of a Black mermaid would be like. A Song Below Water managed to answer my question in a thought-provoking and touching way.

One of the most notable aspects of this book is how it blends fantasy and reality almost seamlessly. Mythical creatures such as sirens, elokos, and gargoyles exist alongside humans, albeit not peacefully. Sirens (and other mythical creatures) have always been interpreted as an allegory for a dangerous woman, but this is especially noticeable when applied to a Black female protagonist. Tavia Phillips’s experiences as a Black female siren parallel what real Black women deal with every day, especially when it comes to police brutality. Not only are they considered dangerous for simply existing, but their voices are often silenced and dismissed when they try to speak up.

In fact, I found this book hard to read sometimes because it is a reminder of how difficult living can be for Black girls and women. Tavia is physically and emotionally scarred by a desperate attempt to get rid of her siren abilities as a child, while Effie is battling anxiety and nightmares as a result of a traumatic experience with mythical creatures. At one point, Effie even states, “Black and female and a siren is just layers upon layers of trauma. One time I said she’s [Tavia’s] too young to deal with this, and she said we don’t get to be.” Yet what kept me reading the book were the moments of joy that Tavia and Effie experience together and by themselves.

When it comes to Tavia and Effie’s friendship, they are close enough to be sisters. Sometimes I forgot that they weren’t related by blood because their interactions with each other were just as beautiful and memorable as those I’ve seen between real and fictional siblings. A particularly memorable scene is when Effie and Tavia are gushing over fan fiction written for Euphemia, the fictional mermaid who Effie plays at the Ren faire. Scenes like this show that despite the hardships they are dealing with, Effie and Tavia still create moments when they can enjoy their youth.

Sirens have always been interpreted as an allegory for a dangerous woman, but this is especially noticeable when applied to a Black female protagonist.

Tavia and Effie’s individual character development is just as powerful as their sisterhood. Over the course of the book, Tavia learns to embrace her siren abilities and use them as a force for change. The potential of her siren abilities is explored further as Tavia realizes just how powerful she can be. Meanwhile, Effie comes to terms with her past and learns that what’s “wrong” with her can be something that is wonderful, even when the world says otherwise. The mystery around Effie’s past and present keeps the plot intriguing and develops into a wonderful coming-of-age story.

As much as I appreciated many aspects of the book, there were a few I didn’t like. The lack of explanation for what an eloko was resulted in me doing my own research and doing my best to imagine what they looked like in my head. It might be difficult for other visual readers like myself to “see” what elokos are without a fuller description.

Another aspect of the story that made me a little uncomfortable is how Tavia uses spasmodic dysphonia as a cover story for her siren abilities, as well as how she sometimes uses American Sign Language when she can’t speak without exposing her siren abilities. Her use of ASL is understandable, but the author’s decision to have Tavia pretend to have what is a real muscle disorder is problematic from the point of view of disability advocacy.

 A Song Below Water encourages Black girls to embrace their power, stick together, and never let themselves be silenced.

It’s not clear whether A Song Below Water is a standalone or the first book in a series. Either way, it’s a compelling read. While the portrayal of police brutality and Black trauma doesn’t make the book easy to digest, the sisterhood and magic are major payoffs. A Song Below Water encourages Black girls to embrace their power, stick together, and never let themselves be silenced.

Top photo by Briona Baker on Unsplash.

Most Anticipated 2021 Reads

A new year means reading new books. While I don’t have a reading goal per se, I do have a long To Be Read list to get through. For every book that I already own, there are also yet-to-be-released books I want to read — not to mention books I won’t know I want to read until I hear about them! As you might imagine, there are a lot of books that I hope to read and review this year. Here are my most anticipated 2021 reads.

Legacy by Nikki Grimes

This book came out on January 5. It combines poetry and visual art to spotlight and pay homage to the lesser known Black women poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Using the poetic method known as “The Golden Shovel,” Nikki Grimes takes one line from poems by Angelina Weld Grimké, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, and others and then uses them to create original poems of her own.  These poems are complemented with artwork by Black women such as Vashti Harrison, Ebony Glenn, and Nina Crews.

Although the Harlem Renaissance was my favorite time period to study in school, I only ever learned about Black male Harlem Renaissance poets like Langston Hughes and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. As I am a poetry fan, this book will surely rectify the gaps in my knowledge by bridging the past and present and showing the worth of these words through pictures as well as poems.

A Phoenix Must First Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell

This 2020 short fiction anthology was on my wish list for months before I nabbed the ebook at a discount. Taking inspiration from Octavia Butler, this anthology features sixteen sci-fi and fantasy stories starring Black girls, women, and gender nonconforming people. The authors featured include some familiar and others new to me, including Elizabeth Acevedo, L. L. Mckinney, and Somaiya Daud.

I don’t see many Black SFF anthologies by and for Black women and girls, let alone one that looks so inviting to teen readers who are new to the genres. Did I mention that the cover looks spectacular?

Black Girl Unlimited: The Autobiography of Echo Brown by Echo Brown

Combining magical realism and autobiographical elements, this 2020 novel features Black girl magic occurring amid poverty, sexism, racism, and more. Echo Brown is a teen wizard born and raised on the East Side who uses magic portals to travel to an all-white school on the West Side. However, going back and forth between two worlds has Echo leaving parts of herself on the East Side. Soon, Echo must use her magic to overcome a dark depression that threatens to overwhelm her.

Through family and personal experience, I know that not all magic comes with a letter to a boarding school. There is also magic in making ends meet, magic in personal recovery, and magic in survival. I look forward to seeing how Black Girl Unlimited will embody this.

A Crown So Cursed by L. L. McKinney

The third book in the Nightmare-Verse series is set to be published Fall 2021. After the events of the previous book, Alice Kingston is attempting to rest and recover. However, she and her friends start having dark visions of Wonderland’s past and future. When the evil that Alice thought she had defeated stirs once again, Alice thinks she will have to journey into Wonderland once more. However, the evil is already in the real world.

I have enjoyed the Nightmare-Verse series since I reviewed the first book, A Blade So Black, in 2018. I’m hoping this book will be just as thrilling as the others and will answer some of my lingering questions about the world building and characters.

If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann

This queer summer coming-of-age rom-com is Claire Kann’s second novel and one I missed when it initially came out in 2019. It tells the story of Winnie, a fat Black queer girl who is unexpectedly crowned Summer Queen of the small town of Misty Haven. With such a huge spotlight on her, Winnie must confront her fears and insecurities to become the best version of herself.

Although I don’t own this book (yet), I would love to read it due to my soft spot for teen summer stories. The premise sounds like a ton of fun and something I’d want adapted into a movie. Besides, I loved Claire Kann’s first book, Let’s Talk About Love.

Top photo by Muhammadtaha Ibrahim Ma’aji from Pexels

“How To Be Remy Cameron” Explores Identity with Complexity and Care

When other people define you based on labels, it can be hard for you to define yourself. This is the conflict at the center of Julian Winters’s second novel, How To Be Remy Cameron. After being assigned an essay about who he is, seventeen-year-old Remy Cameron must come to terms with the labels others have given him and how they fit into how he sees himself.

For Remy, the most suffocating labels are the gay kid, the Black one, and the adopted child. Each label is a reminder of his Otherness, and confronting them via an essay that’s worth half his grade and a chance at a prestigious college is overwhelming—as it would be for anyone who has attended public high school. In fact, Remy feels so overwhelmed that he refers to the essay as “The Essay of Doom.

When other people define you based on labels, it can be hard for you to define yourself. This is the conflict at the center of Julian Winters’s second novel, How To Be Remy Cameron.

While dealing with this essay and the labels placed upon him, he also experiences two life-changing events. The first is learning about a previously unknown member of his biological family. The second is crushing on Ian Park, a Korean young man who recently came to terms with his orientation and isn’t publicly out. These events are notable not only in terms of character development but also because they deliver refreshing storytelling.

As a reader, I really appreciated how Remy isn’t completely cut off from his biological family. Given that the book’s premise is about identity and his adopted family is white, it would have felt uncomfortable not to see him interact with any other Black people besides one of his friends. The biological family member who reaches out to Remy is wonderfully fleshed out, becoming a nice confidante while being her own character. Furthermore, the topic of adoption is explored in a sensitive and realistic manner through Remy’s adopted family and his biological family.

When it comes to Ian Park, Remy’s crush and their subsequent romance is both amusing and heartwarming. A particularly enjoyable aspect of their interactions is how they always ask each other permission to kiss and touch each other. Remy learns to do this from Ian, who in turn learned the importance of consent from his grandmother. It’s really nice to see Remy adapt to Ian’s needs this way, especially since Ian isn’t publicly out yet. Remy never tries to get Ian to do anything before he is ready to, and this allows Ian to explore his orientation at his own pace.

In addition to these events, other aspects of the storyline help Remy question his identity further. One enjoyable scene is a conversation about music tastes between Remy and Brook, another Black student. It moves from talking about their favorite music artists to how eclectic their tastes are and how music doesn’t define them. The dialogue shows how close the two are as friends while giving Remy a small nudge in his personal journey.

Speaking of friendship, Remy’s interactions with his circle of friends are fun to watch. Featuring the witty Lucy Reyes and the single-minded Rio, among others, their dialogue never sounds forced or too cheesy. Remy and Lucy’s scenes together are especially amusing, because Lucy teases Remy in a way that is friendly and supportive. At one point, Remy must learn not to keep his friends in the dark too much, and it’s touching to see friendship and romance given an equal amount of weight.

All in all, How To Be Remy Cameron is a thoughtful, poignant, and fun coming-of-age experience.

Other notable characters include Remy’s adoptive family and his English teacher, Ms. Amos. Remy’s adoptive family is quirky and loving, with the mom into 80s music and the father able to make wicked French toast recipes. As the book progresses, both realize that while they can listen to Remy and try their best to cheer him up, they aren’t always going to be able to help him through certain things. Meanwhile, Remy’s English teacher is wonderful and honest in a way that puts things in perspective for Remy and encourages him to find his own voice.

All in all, How To Be Remy Cameron is a thoughtful, poignant, and fun coming-of-age experience. While self discovery isn’t always easy, Remy’s willingness to question and learn about himself is inspiring. With a great cast of characters, memorable dialogue, and a entertaining setting inspired by Dunwoody, GA, this book is wonderful.

Top photo by alex bracken on Unsplash

“A Dream So Dark” Is A Dark, Thrilling Return To Wonderland

It has been ages since I have been emotionally invested in a book series. Last year, I reviewed L.L. McKinney’s A Blade So Black and was utterly delighted. When the sequel, A Dream So Dark, was announced, I couldn’t wait to return to the Nightmare Verse series. Alice Kingston is a compelling and relatable heroine, and I wanted to see where her adventures would lead her next.

After the tumultuous climax to A Blade So Black, Alice Kingston must journey into a corrupted Wonderland to rescue her friend Maddie, a powerful Poet who has been kidnapped by dark forces. Alice is also dealing with the grim betrayal of her best friend, Chess, and the ongoing peril of the Black Knight. With these dangers come inner turmoil that threatens to tear Alice apart.

One of the most engrossing things about this book is Alice’s internal struggle with her fears. I have never liked so-called “strong female characters” who are allowed to be physically strong but not emotionally vulnerable, and this especially applies when those characters are Black girls and women. Black women are often expected to care for everyone but themselves, so to see Alice cry, be comforted, and learn to face her fears is wonderful.

Speaking of people who care for Alice, I really liked how Alice’s mother was written in this book. In the first book, the mother-daughter relationship was on thin ice because of Alice’s constantly breaking curfew due to her secret superhero lifestyle. In this book, it becomes even harder for Alice to keep her Dreamwalker duties a secret. In spite of all the lying, worry, and frustration, Alice’s mother still tries to understand her daughter as much as she can. Without giving away too much, I can say that it was really heartwarming to see the two grow closer in this book.

Another character that I liked to see caring for Alice is Alice’s grandmother, Nana Kingston. She was casually mentioned in the first book, so it was a pleasant surprise to see more of her in this one. Nana Kingston displays signs of Alzheimer’s disease but belies strength and cheekiness that radiates warmth and love to Alice. I especially liked the gift she gives Alice before she and her mom leave the nursing home.

I have never liked so-called “strong female characters” who are allowed to be physically strong but not emotionally vulnerable, and this especially applies when those characters are Black girls and women. Black women are often expected to care for everyone but themselves, so to see Alice cry, be comforted, and learn to face her fears is wonderful.

Of course, Nana Kingston and Alice’s mother are only two of the characters that made a good impression. Old characters like the Black Knight and Addison Hatta received some surprising character development that also added to the world-building of Wonderland. In particular, the Black Knight’s character development was interesting because it made him more than a one-dimensional villain lackey, though I wasn’t too keen about seeing certain chapters switch to his point of view.

Meanwhile, this book also introduces some newer characters. There are Romi and Haruka, Japanese Dreamwalkers and protectors of the Eastern gateway of Wonderland. Both are strong warriors, but Haruka is the most intriguing, as she serves as both a new friend and a new crush for Alice. Seeing those two bond over past battles and Sailor Moon was a lot of fun. It was also nice to see Alice’s bisexuality be so casually featured and confirmed, since I had my suspicions about Alice’s orientation in the first book.

One other newer character that was enjoyable was the Big Bad of the book. I liked how cunning they were in terms of their plan to manipulate Alice, Addison, an evil version of Chess, and the Black Knight. I also liked how genuinely scary their power over the Nightmares were. They embody the darkness of Wonderland to its fullest, and the reveal of their identity is well done.

It was also nice to see Alice’s bisexuality be so casually featured and confirmed, since I had my suspicions about Alice’s orientation in the first book.

There wasn’t much I disliked about the book. One improvement over the last book is seeing Chess and Courtney play bigger roles in Alice’s adventure, for better and for worse. I ended up liking them more than I did in the first book, and I’m interested in seeing how the events in this book will affect them in the next. In fact, this book made me extremely impressed with how the author has managed to handle such a huge cast of characters in the series.

All in all, this book is a darker, entertaining return to Wonderland that hardly disappoints. Alice fights darkness from within and without to emerge as a better hero and plant the first seeds of Wonderland’s return to its former glory. A Dream So Dark is a thrilling continuation of the Nightmare Verse series, and I eagerly await what will come next.

Top photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

Opposite of Always Teaches How to Value Love through Time Travel

Most romance stories usually follow the same formula. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Boy and girl have some misunderstandings but somehow manage to declare their love for each other and live happily ever after. In Justin A. Reynolds’s Opposite of Always, this formula gets a little more complicated thanks to a four-month time loop.

Jack Ellison King is an African American teen who never quite succeeds at important milestones. When he meets Kate on the steps of a house party, he’s hoping to somehow succeed at romance. Then Kate tragically dies of an illness, and Jack is sent back in time to the day they met. Given the second of many chances, Jack strives to prevent Kate’s death while weighing the consequences of his choices and the people he chooses to be with.

One of the first things I enjoyed about this story is its main protagonist, Jack. He is awkward, funny, and is trying really hard to have the romantic relationship he feels he and Kate deserve. All of this comes through his voice, which entertains the reader in dialogue and Jack’s internal thoughts. Take, for example, the opening lines: “My face is mashed sideways against the trunk of a police cruiser when Kate dies for the third time. The box meant to save her life is smushed near my feet. I’ve learned a few lessons along the way. For instance: don’t waste time on clothes.”

Given the second of many chances, Jack strives to prevent Kate’s death while weighing the consequences of his choices and the people he chooses to be with.

In addition to Jack himself, I also enjoyed the people he’s surrounded by, including his parents, his best friends, Franny and Jillian, and sometimes Kate herself. Jack’s parents are really good parents who want Jack to be happy while expecting him to honor his commitments. Franny and Jillian are dating each other and still manage to be good friends to Jack, setting a good example for him. Meanwhile, Kate is a really sweet love interest who can’t dance, wants to be an architect, and has a caring and protective family.

All of these characters really enrich the romance, comedy, and drama in the storyline. The farther you get into Jack’s attempts to save Kate, the more you learn to appreciate Jack and Kate’s romance and the higher the stakes become when it comes to his other relationships. As a result, you want Jack to succeed, but you also want Jack’s friends and family to be happy. A personal favorite subplot involves Jack trying to help Franny mend things with his absent father, Mr. Hogan.

Though I enjoyed the book, there were a few flaws that I couldn’t help but notice. One involves the characterization of Kate, who is not a stick-figure love interest but is not as fleshed out as I would have liked her to be. As much as I appreciated reading a romantic dramedy with two Black leads, I wish we had a chance to see more of Kate’s character in terms of her personal interests and skills.

All in all, Opposite of Always is an entertaining coming-of-age romantic dramedy that teaches the value of small moments and decisions. Love from a partner, a friend, or a family member matters, and it is important to cherish all the love that comes your way for as long as you can.

I had mixed feelings about the time loop as well. This might have been due to my limited exposure to time travel in pop culture, but I was expecting the time loop to be shown differently than it was. As a result, I was left a little disappointed by it at the end of the book. Yet I was willing to overlook a plot hole with the time loop when I realized that the author was doing his best to balance two different fiction genres in the same story.

All in all, Opposite of Always is an entertaining coming-of-age romantic dramedy that teaches the value of small moments and decisions. Love from a partner, a friend, or a family member matters, and it is important to cherish all the love that comes your way for as long as you can. The book was refreshing and enjoyable, and I hope its movie adaptation will be, too.

Top photo by Beth Tate on Unsplash

Poetry Month Spotlight

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

About My Seaborgium

“The poems of My Seaborgium utilize metaphor in an attempt to account for the beauty that emerges from our moments of greatest grief. … Even through the pain, Myers’ speaker struggles to pay attention, to unfold that pain in ways that feel particular and personal.” —Kiki Petrosino

My Seaborgium sings songs of loss and growth, motherhood and viscera, elements and experience, with love and relatable grace.

“I’ll tell you the story,” the opening poem coos, “of how / I rolled around in a mail truck full of other / people’s letters, I was that happy / to be your mother.” This speaker guides us into her expectant waiting, calling on insight from what she knows of her parents, what she thought she knew about her body, fables and gods. She asks all of these potential sources of wisdom to attend to her as forty weeks go by and she tries to detach because “it makes birth manageable,” even as she tests her nipples “to see if they lift / away from the breast” while “standing on a mountain / and trying to spot a suitcase on the ground below.” My Seaborgium travels toward motherhood from before, during, and after the experiences of pregnancy and birth, as the speaker imagines the thickening of her infant’s fur and readies “for the bloody show.” The only wisdom she gleans from her passage is the live and atomic feeling that arrives for a child whom she tells to “be your element’s namesake / and alive, know it. My Seaborgium.” This is a book fat with heavy and wild love.

Named a 2015 Best New Poet, Alicia Rebecca Myers is multiply published in prominent journals and magazines and has been the recipient of a Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts residency.

These poems make music from the most personal moments of growth and life, of pain and love. — Dina Hardy, Drunken Boat

Lullaby

by Alicia Rebecca Myers

Now I want joy to arrange you. Forget the spool, the queue. May you crow from the prow. Be your element’s namesake and alive, know it. My Seaborgium. My little radish bugaboo, my pillowfoot jeweler. Sweetgum, sing, sing to wake the water.

Dread and Grief, Energy and Song

Cathryn Cofell and Nicole Cooley Discuss Alicia Rebecca Myers’s MY SEABORGIUM

Cathryn Cofell and Nicole Cooley

NC: I’m so excited to talk about this chapbook by Alicia Rebecca Myers and have been thinking of what drew me to the book, what interested me even before I read the poems.

It’s the title.

First the unfamiliar—to me—word drawn from the language of science, and then the use of the possessive, “the my,” to circumscribe it. The way the word is defined in the book’s introduction also intrigued me; “seaborgium” is “a synthetic element” named in 1974 with “no practical uses” “except perhaps to mark for us a before and after.” The phrase feels playful and loving and teasing and sharp-edged all at once.

And this is reflected in the book, as In “Lullaby” at the end of the chapbook, when the speaker calls her child, “My Seaborgium / My little radish bugaboo, my / pillowfoot jeweler.” I love the way the language of science and fairy tale and slang converge here.

What drew you to this book?

CC: The title was a definite draw for me, too, for many of the same reasons. I have to admit, I assumed it was made up, had looked it up before opening the book, which pulled me in all the more. So much weight to describe an element of so little weight. Playful and sharp-edged, yes, but where you felt love, it called out for me a sadness, the idea of a life so short it’s called “a half-life.”

So yes, this was a brilliant choice for the title, for pulling us both into the book so headily.

There was a second draw for me, and that was Kiki Petrosino’s blurb of the book on the Brain Mill press website—“an attempt to account for the beauty that emerges from our moments of greatest grief”—and the description of Myers’s poems as “songs of loss and growth, motherhood and viscera.” I was connected back again to the before and after of seaborgium, but also to my own story, a story so many women share and have tried to share in verse that it can border on cliché.

Blissfully, cliché is the last thing in this book! You referenced a poem at the end of the book, but I turn to the front, to “Hostess,” the foreword poem.

If what happens after we die is the same as

what happened before then what

must count is the middle. Like the cream filling

in a Twinkie how did I get here?

–”Hostess” by Alicia Rebecca Myers

What a wonderful blend of quirk and and query, heady yet playful.

There are many wonderful poems in here, but this was a fast favorite. How about for you? Could you choose a favorite?

NC: I very much liked the series of poems focused on “weeks” so I think I will choose the prose poem “15 Weeks” (as much I love the sonnets). Throughout this book, I admired the variety of forms Myers employed, and “15 Weeks” reflects this formal play and variation. I have to quote my absolute favorite moment in this poem:

I repeatedly wake at 3am, what Grandma Walker called the convict hour, when escaped men would break into your shotgun house to kill you.

–”15 Weeks” by Alicia Rebecca Myers

This kind of vernacular language, and the reference to family, underscores the wonderful groundedness of this collection. As a counterpoint—or opposite actually—to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “dark night of the soul,” which occurs at 3 A.M., this image brings us back to a real American landscape, a gendered one, and traces a female lineage of fear at the same time the image has an edge of humor and irony. I admired all the work this single line of the poem was able to do.

CC: Oh yes, yes! I may have to change my choice of best poem, a happy problem in a book with so many delicious options. I hadn’t thought of the Fitzgerald counterpoint, but yes again, this poem speaks strongly to me for these same reasons.

I do believe this middle section of the book—Water/Wait—is the strongest. It’s a short half-life of its own, between the before and the after, and the clever use of form and structure (as you suggested with the sonnets) buffets a ricochet of words and images. Within each poem, the yin and yang, “to be both drift and manifold” as in the poem “24 Weeks,” or “dually as wave and particle” in “33/34 Weeks.” This poem, in particular, describes vividly that duality that comes of being both woman and mother—to be fiercely independent yet so dependent on a life that is so dependent on you. “Pain tolerance isn’t the same as pain threshold” is a line from this poem that stayed with me long after the initial read, perhaps serving as the centrifugal force from which the rest of the book spins.

NC: I really like that phrase—the “centrifugal force from which the rest of the book spins.” The structure of My Seaborgium seems to do exactly that, in my mind, to both move forward in a linear progression but also to spin, to radiate outward. The last line of the book—“Every day is a day I can return to”—speaks to that, I think.

To me, this movement echoes the experience of loss, birth, and mothering in such an accurate way. As well as the movement from inside to outside, which is such a strong motif in many of the poems.

I admire the way the book refuses an easy teleology, from loss to a birth, which is a more familiar narrative, and the way the poems complicate experience.

CC: So true, and so hard to do! I mentioned my fear of cliché earlier; some might suggest any book with a central theme of birth and motherhood is automatically cliché (believe me, I’ve written one myself, know this is true). Then you look at her author photo—sweet young mom with adorable baby perched on her knee—it’s hard not to say a little “uh-oh” in the back of your throat before opening the book. So here I circle back again, to that wonderfully weird title and the first line of that cream-center poem, about death. And the first poem after that, about killing the geese. Not your typical mommy-and-me book.

In the foreword, Petrosino talks about our individual helplessness as a central theme of the book. While this was metaphorically themed throughout, surrounded the narrator, I never got the sense that the narrator herself felt helpless; did you?

NC: I never felt the speaker was helpless either—that’s interesting. Though I think a large part of mothering is feeling helpless (perhaps that’s another conversation!). The book seems to me to be full of women who are quite the opposite of helpless.

But danger is everywhere in this book, from the “Harmer’s Market” (I love that linguistic play) to the “convict hour” we talked about earlier to the dangers inherent in the body, the way our bodies may or may not betray us. I think, finally, this is my favorite element of My Seaborgium, how it manages to be both playful and dark, how the poems juxtapose both joy and terror.

CC: I was thinking about those same themes – playful and dark – when I just re-read “The Last Travel Agent.” One thing I like to do with a book I love (aka wish I’d written) is to see where the poems within have been published. This poem appeared in 2015 “Best New Poets”—a fantastic, well-earned acknowledgment of her talent—and I do believe it’s this rare gift of juxtaposition that got her there and in the other fine presses where her work has previously appeared.

This poem—heck, this whole chapbook—is brimming with words that describe dread and grief but in a voice that is full of energy and song, almost (sometimes) taunting and laughter. I’m amazed at her ability to do this. And yes, a little envious.

Bravo to Meyers, and to Brain Mill Press for publishing such a fine, fine book.

Alicia Rebecca Myers is a poet and essayist whose work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, The American Literary Review, Gulf Coast, jubilat, The Carolina Quarterly, The Fairy Tale Review, and Day One. In February of 2014, she was awarded a residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center in Nebraska City. A graduate of NYU’s MFA Program, she currently teaches at Wells College. You can find her online at aliciarebeccamyers.com.

Cathryn Cofell, Appleton, has birthed Sister Satellite (Cowfeather Press), six chapbooks, and Lip, a CD blending her poetry with the music of Obvious Dog. She believes the arts are crucial for positive health and advocates for an abundance of it, as a member of the WI Poet Laureate Commission and WI Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, and as a volunteer with the Fox Cities Book Festival, the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, and the Appleton Poetry Rocks Reading Series.

Nicole Cooley has published five books, most recently Breach (LSU Press) and Milk Dress (Alice James Books), both in 2010. Her work has appeared most recently in The Rumpus, Drunken Boat and Tinderbox. She is the director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Queens College—CUNY.

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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.