What’s Currently Shaping My Writing

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

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

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

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

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

6.    The Criterion Channel

7.    Glitter, specifically glitter paste

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

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

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

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

12.  Ingmar Bergman’s spooky Swedish films

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

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

15.  This color-wheel tote bag

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Selection from My Tall Handsome

Emily Corwin

my tall handsome, you are always

hydrangea in my rib, popped open

always dazzle of salt on my punched lip

love of life

the he & me I will devour

we beneath black cherry tree

all fruits and crystals on your chest

you were my first body—now and always

forever and ever, in the pink bed rippling


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

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

For this year’s National Poetry Month, Brain Mill Press & Voices want to add to your #TBR pile, sing siren songs of unsung heroes, and signal boost living poets we should be reading more. By the end of the month, we hope you will have acquired 30+ new books of poetry and that they continue to multiply in the darkness of your library. Explore new voices & new forms — re-read some old favorites — play if you liked this poet, you’ll like… the old-fashioned way, algorithm-free — just poetry lovers talking to poetry lovers, as the Universe intended. Happy #NaPoMo2019 from Brain Mill Press.

I Wore My Blackest Hair

When I think of National Poetry Month, I think of high school me, trying to write thirty poems in thirty days with my slam poetry team and writing in slim but full notebooks and yelling verses into graffitied alleys in downtown Ann Arbor. When I think of National Poetry Month, I think of longtime friend and poem writer Carlina Duan, who wrote in the corners of that high school with me. Who, as we both have grown and continued writing and studying and publishing, has been adding her vital voice to the poetry world.

Duan’s first book, I Wore My Blackest Hair, published by Little A in 2017, is a love letter to Chinese American girlhood. Her careful, musical, and visually rich poetry navigates the complexities of identity, family, love, and self-definition. In the book, Duan wrestles with her origins, her relationships with her parents and sister, and pieces of herself that she has lost and found. Duan’s images are bright, fresh, and comfortingly uncomfortable in their vividness; each poem is a bright and shimmering painting that bounces off the page.

In her work published since I Wore My Blackest Hair was released, Duan’s poetry sings with similar, necessary music. In two poems published by Peach Mag in 2018, Duan’s carefully woven words kaleidoscope with sound, specifically in the poem “Can You Speak English Yes or No”: “roman / alphabet digging at the space between my gums. Consonants / dropped like bricks, I chew their weight. always some man / telling me what I am, what we already know. say it right / say / it / say— can you read / can you speak / English / English / yes, /no.” Duan’s realization of the self is brave, unafraid, and real; it physically descends upon its readers and invites them to hold these worlds in their mouths.

Recently, Duan has also written poems about basketball, myth, language, and love. Every time I read a poem by Carlina Duan, my heart jumps in my chest. I read the poems aloud over and over, and we are in our high school creative writing workshop again, trading small scraps of paper scribbled with notes and our favorite lines of poetry. Reading a poem by Carlina Duan is like that—it feels like she is sharing something with you: handing you a neatly peeled orange, a photograph speckled with age, a music box, a memory that you have the privilege of seeing in spectacular color. This National Poetry Month, I encourage you to seek out Duan’s work and relish in the joyful, fiery, mythic beatings of her heart on the page.

Links to work/interviews:

“‘The Situation Is Gratifying,’” Winter Tangerine.

“I Wore My Blackest Hair: Two Poems (Excerpts),” The Margins.

“Rein,“ Narrative Magazine, First-Place Winner of the Narrative 30 Below Contest.

“Alien Miss,“ Tupelo Quarterly, Finalist in the Tupelo Quarterly Poetry Contest (TQ14).

“Mary,“ Black Warrior Review, Finalist in the BWR 2017 Poetry Contest.

“I Promise I Won’t Cry,“ wildness, Pushcart Prize nomination.

“Can You Speak English Yes Or No” and “In The Modern Encyclopedia For Basketball,“ Peach Mag.

“You Can Find Familiarity in Any Space You Go: A Conversation With Carlina Duan,” VIDA.

About the Author

Sara Ryan is the author of the chapbooks Never Leave the Foot of an Animal Unskinned (Porkbelly Press) and Excellent Evidence of Human Activity (The Cupboard Pamphlet). She was the winner of the 2018 Grist Pro Forma Contest, and her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Pleiades, DIAGRAM, Booth, Prairie Schooner, Hunger Mountainand others. She is currently pursuing her PhD at Texas Tech University.

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.

Jessica Mehta, Iulia Militaru, and Levi Cain

We are delighted to highlight this week’s selections from the Brain Mill Press Poetry Month Contest, Break Poetry Open, by talented poets Jessica Mehta, Iulia Militaru (translated by Claudia Serea), and Levi Cain.

Iulia Militaru’s poem “This Is Not a Poem,” translated by Claudia Serea, was included among the picks but is not reproduced below.

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

Two Antipodes Poems

Jessica Mehta

Author’s Note: Antipodes are an experimental form of poetry with roots in both palindromes and reverse poetry. However, unlike reverse poems which can be read forward and backward line by line, the antipode can be read forward and backward word by word. Poems are intended to be read with the original version on the verso page and the reflected antipode on the recto page.

America de’Colonizer

De-colonizer: America—we’re coming. You are too prideful, too vain. Your destruction bred warriors. Overseas invaders brought ships full and pulsing. For generations, lost children remain reticent. To listen, says Creator, you need ancestors. Homecoming, we’re nobility displaced. Dethrone well-mistaken kings. You’re uncertain still; that’s okay. Washing white, the stain’s disappearing now. Missing women, murdered women, all we’re saying is Creator understands. Who are we? Strength of centuries—come. Be Natives.


Natives become centuries of strength. We are who understands Creator is saying we’re all women murdered, women missing. Now, disappearing stains the whitewashing. (Okay, that’s still uncertain). Your king’s mistaken, we’ll dethrone displaced nobility. We’re coming home. Ancestors need you, Creator says. Listen to reticent remains. Children lost generations, for pulsing and full ships brought invaders—overseas warriors bred destruction. You’re vain, too, prideful, too. Are you coming? We’re America, de’Colonizer.

Alone, He Pictures the Sea

See the pictures? He, alone, recalls it all. And memory lingers here. Sick heads make regrets huge and away swim mistakes like whales. Sorry, he’s human. He’s sorry he’s scared— he’s Jonah of full bellies. Our broken system’s the offender, another mishap, another bias. Here’s to oceans of dreams. Lost, he’s landlocked. All we’re doing, we are what hatred spawns. Suspicion means this: forced solitude and life in prisons. Everyone made deals— all for views, water painted views.


Views, painted water views for all. Deals made everyone prisons in life and solitude forced. This means suspicion spawns hatred. What are we doing? We’re all landlocked. He’s lost dreams of oceans, too. Here’s bias: another mishap, another offender. The system’s broken … our belly’s full of Jonah. He’s scared, he’s sorry he’s human, he’s sorry. Whales like mistakes swim away and huge regrets make heads sick. Here lingers memory and all it recalls. Alone, he pictures the sea.

Jessica Mehta is a multi-award-winning poet and author of over one dozen books. She’s currently a poetry editor at Bending Genres Literary Review, Airlie Press, and the peer-reviewed Exclamat!on journal. During 2018-19, she was a fellow at Halcyon Arts Lab in Washington DC where she curated an anthology of poetry by incarcerated indigenous women and created “Red/Act,” a pop-up virtual reality poetry experience using proprietary software. As a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and native Oregonian, place and personal ancestry inform much of Jessica’s creative work.

Jessica is also the owner of a multi-award-winning writing company and founder of the Jessica Tyner Scholarship Fund, the only scholarship exclusively for Native Americans pursuing an advanced degree in writing. 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 and the Acequia Madre House in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her doctoral research focuses on the intersection of poetry and eating disorders.

Jessica’s novel The Wrong Kind of Indian won gold at the 2019 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPYs). Jessica has also received numerous visiting fellowships in recent years, including the Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship at the Lilly Library at Indiana University at Bloomington and the Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship at The British Library. Visual representations of her work have been featured at galleries and exhibitions around the world including IA&A Hillyer in Washington DC and The Emergency Gallery in Sweden. Jessica is a popular speaker and panelist, featured recently at events like 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. Learn more about Jessica’s creative work at www.jessicamehta.com. Twitter: @ndns4vage.


Levi Cain

swear on my mama no—swear on something more simple and sacred. swear on my brother’s future mixtape, swear on pig fat in collard greens and freshly whipped shea butter, arroz con what the fuck ever—that the cracked cushion chair of my hairdresser’s closet is in fact a cathedral, packets of yaki and remy dotted with the same angels, skin the color of good brandy. the nollywood movies blaring on the thrifted television is the preacher. there is one constant truth— the half-room in waltham is a tabernacle for second generation girls who never learned how to cornrow.

a blackgurl’s bond with a hairdresser is tighter than the binding of isaac, requires more faith than you ever know how to give after years of lye being applied to your scalp, after years of being teased by whitegirls who crow that your hair looks like brillo pads that they wouldn’t let their housekeepers scour the sink with. the same whitegirls who now quiz you on coconut oil and ask you to anoint them with the wisdom of deep conditioning.

i and every other blackgurl who grew up in the suburbs are haunted by visions of hot combs and strangers putting their hands in our hair, pulling so sharply we swear we hear the echo of a whip crack.

but those ghosts have no place here, in this space that has only space enough for you, your hairdresser, and maybe her friend from haiti who you do not know the name of but who twists braids so gently it is as if she wants to be your mother.

this is an act of love, but all gods are not filled with goodness and so neither is the woman who stands with jojoba in her right hand, 84 inches of kankelon in her left, who asks why you never seem to have a boyfriend, who told you she would rather die than break bread with faggots but passes you plantains as communion, presses your forehead to her chest as madonna, calls you daughter, welcomes you with open arms to a rented room in a part of a town that would make a principal’s lip curl —this blackgurl bethlehem, this satin covered resting place, this plane of being where you are you are blackgurl, are celebration, are miracle, are nothing but holiest of holies.

Levi Cain is a queer writer from the Greater Boston Area who was born in California and raised in Connecticut. Further examples of their work can be found in Lunch Ticket, Red Queen Literary Magazine, and other publications.

For this year’s National Poetry Month, Brain Mill Press & Voices want to add to your #TBR pile, sing siren songs of unsung heroes, and signal boost living poets we should be reading more. By the end of the month, we hope you will have acquired 30+ new books of poetry and that they continue to multiply in the darkness of your library. Explore new voices & new forms — re-read some old favorites — play if you liked this poet, you’ll like… the old-fashioned way, algorithm-free — just poetry lovers talking to poetry lovers, as the Universe intended. Happy #NaPoMo2019 from Brain Mill Press.

This Winter, Poetry Said No

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

But poetry said no. Without even sending its apologies.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

I am, too.

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

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

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

For me to be willing and able to see.

A Wife Is a Hope Chest

by Christine Brandel

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

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

About A Wife Is a Hope Chest

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

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

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

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

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

For this year’s National Poetry Month, Brain Mill Press & Voices want to add to your #TBR pile, sing siren songs of unsung heroes, and signal boost living poets we should be reading more. By the end of the month, we hope you will have acquired 30+ new books of poetry and that they continue to multiply in the darkness of your library. Explore new voices & new forms — re-read some old favorites — play if you liked this poet, you’ll like… the old-fashioned way, algorithm-free — just poetry lovers talking to poetry lovers, as the Universe intended. Happy #NaPoMo2019 from Brain Mill Press.

Mothering the Sexy

Sixteen years ago, I moved from the warm bosom of my frigid family homestead in Oswego, New York, to Manhattan and produced my first off off-Broadway play. It required the kind of impenetrable naiveté and unflinching courage found in kids and crazy people.

I penned the play, Carnival Girls, while in college. It was a piece I described as “multi-genre and non-linear.” Basically a hodge-podge of highlights from my writing portfolio that spanned four years as a coed studying creative writing.

Ever since my grandmother, smoking a cigarette and sipping black coffee, told me the stories of the mascaraed hootchie kootchie girls, I was obsessed with the women who worked the sexy, seedy small-town carnival circuit. So much so that today, I have a thriving NYC-based theatre company as well as a book series that bears the same name: The Carnival Girls.

An all-female theatre company, Carnival Girls Productions creates, produces, and promotes original theatrical work by and about women. Our mission is quite simple: great roles for women = great entertainment for all. And the same belief holds true for the first book in my series, Sadie of the Sideshow.

But ironically, or perhaps not, it all truly began in dingy strip club turned off-Broadway theatre across from the Port Authority Bus Terminal ten blocks from Times Square. There, I held an open casting call for female “actors, dancers, magicians, musicians, contortionists and comediennes” ages eighteen to twenty-eight. This is where my impenetrable naiveté got poked.

Hundreds of young women showed up to audition for my mildly entertaining, entirely non-paying theatrical hodge-podge. And 95 percent of these performers? Fiercely, brilliantly, achingly talented. I never truly knew what a muse was until I arrived Manhattan and had two hundred of them staring back at me, equally wide-eyed and hungry as their playwright turned producer.

And so began the task of writing new parts for the production. Because despite not having material for her, how could I turn away the ashen-faced Russian girl with the blunt black bangs and the Mona Lisa grin? Or the crop-topped and bejeweled Israeli dancer who not only could break dance but break hearts with a mere twitch of her hip? Or the African American actress whose command of the stage whilst wearing fishnets and devouring a bagel had me near tears? Mama, I wasn’t in Oz(wego) anymore. And was so very grateful for it.

My imagination went wild with the possibilities for performance. I saw clowns and con artists. Strippers and sword swallowers. Mystics and money makers. A cruel carnival barker in a corset, top hat, and brandishing a riding crop! Every artist who took the stage, I asked the same question: if you could be any kind of carnival girl, who would you be? I expected answers that were as interesting and diverse as the artists themselves. My naiveté got rammed again.

The “hot” one. The “sexy” one. The “slut.” This is how every single one of the young women responded. (Except for the one who said she wanted to be a hamster. I still have no idea what that means or how she envisioned that in a carnival world, but I’m not convinced it wasn’t sexual either.)

My twofold takeaway from this unintended social experiment was, one, young women had a very skewed (though not entirely inaccurate) view of what it meant to be a carnival worker. And, two, we were all woefully sexually repressed and craved a safe place to bear our beauty and booties.

It was just like the whole Halloween costume conundrum that our culture has been tortured and titillated by for decades. The one night a year where every and any woman could crank up their boobs, stuff their feet into stilettos, and strut out in public without fear of being judged a whore or harlot. And if a performer could do this on stage under the auspices of art? Well, damn, the hotness just got cooler.

Fast-forward fourteen years later, when an editor-friend called me with a scintillating writing opportunity. She was working for a publishing upstart that was soliciting submissions of erotic fiction for their catalogue. My friend thought of me and the modest carny girl empire that I spent the last decade building, complete with over a dozen plays and branded panties. I was advised, “Think 50 Shades but good.”Suddenly, I was the actor on the stage. I was the one given the green light to stand up and strip down. And not that I ever needed permission, but it was a kick being asked. Certainly a motivation to explore another side of my creative self, flex a kinky muscle or two. And as an artist, isn’t that my responsibility? To go where I’ve never gone before? If not for my audience, then for myself?

But there was a hitch. A sticky, curly-blond-locked one named Luke, my toddler. Who at the time was just two years old.

I spent over a decade living single in Manhattan during the height of Sex and the City (which I didn’t watch because, unlike my fellow writer Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t afford cable). Those were the days of writing all night and sleeping all morning. Eating cereal for dinner and drinking mimosas for brunch. Making out with strangers. Spending whatever little extra cash I had on costume jewelry, concert tickets, and copies of bootleg screenplays sold on street corners. I was so very naughty.

If there was ever a time for me to discover my inner Anais Nin, it would have been then. But not now. Not in the suburbs. Not when the majority of bodily fluids I had the pleasure of being around came from my drooling, puking, and pooping son.But while my decade of debauchery was long gone, I had earned a plethora of delicious memories from which to derive inspiration. And the wisdom to know that opportunities, particularly the real fun ones, are often fleeting.

So as a new mom now living in New Jersey, learning how to maneuver jug-handles and coordinate writing sessions with naptimes, I embarked on a new journey as an erotica writer. And it came with a couple of self-imposed caveats.

First, feverish loins and trembling thighs aside, I’d write novel that my grown-up boy would be proud of. Or at least not embarrassed by. And it wasn’t the first time that I considered the perspective of my little man as a big man. In my early twenties, well before Luke was on this planet and had sucked the jolly from my joombas, I was asked to pose for Playboy. I declined. Because I knew I wanted to be a mom someday. And not a mom with a past history of porny-pics.It was essential to me that my novel not just have steamy scenes but a real storyline and great writing. It needed to be as good as, if not better than, any of my pathos-infused play scripts. Because I had something to prove now, not just to me and my readers but to my son. Before motherhood and Manhattan, this woman was a writer. Mediocrity or pulp fiction weren’t options.  

Second, I’d create a story that would contribute to the world that I wished for Luke and God-willing his siblings. Enter carny girl Sadie Valentine: a strong, sexy female protagonist with full autonomy, in charge of her life and body. And her male counterpart, Cole Snyder, who admires her intelligence, enjoys her tenacity, and, yes, lusts after her curves.

It’s a cause I’ve championed for almost two decades as a playwright; better, more diverse roles for women. My mission couldn’t and wouldn’t stop because the sex suddenly got explicit. Because it wasn’t just wounded women in need of rescuing who enjoyed the gymnastics of the flesh. But all the rest of us.   

Finally, I wasn’t going to be a cliché. And this began with not seeing myself as cliché. Despite all the signs that pointed to cliché-dom. Suburban stay-at-home mom, underwashed and overdressed in wooly flannel pajamas, writing a bodice-ripper while her woefully neglected kid eats Oreos, watches Blues Clues, and decorates the walls in crayon art.

Because all fantasy aside, I bet most erotica writers worked in atmospheres that looked more like mine than they did the lustful pages of their paperbacks. And this wasn’t comforting to me, but I wasn’t going to let it discourage me either. The reality was I had written some of my darkest, most intense plays while nursing and humming lullabies. Paradox was everywhere, not just in mommy-porn.     

The result? A kick-ass novel with fun, interesting characters set against the backdrop of the American sideshow. With a bit of magic and boom boom mixed in. I even used my real name on the cover. I’d be damned if anyone else got credit for it, including my saucy childhood alter ego Belinda Lavantia.

Back in my big-city-living days, my favorite part of riding the subway was seeing what everyone was reading. The myriad of newspapers printed on various colors of faded paper stock. Cinderblock-sized hardcovers propped up on breasts and bellies. Worn paperbacks folded into palms. I would imagine one of them was mine. Long gone was the dream of having an author card in the card catalog; a book on the Q train was the next best thing.

But then ebooks exploded onto the scene, and suddenly nothing could be seen. No titles and no covers. Readers hid their treasure and pleasure from spying eyes. Unafraid of being caught and judged, this is when most women caught up on their fiction de amour. Like the actors on the stage, like the revelers on Halloween, like the wife surfing the web for slow-cooker recipes, they too had cravings.

And if this mom’s fancy art could embrace their desire, nurture their fantasies, help satiate a hunger while whetting a palette (and maybe something else), then my job was done. And done damn well.

A novelist, blogger and multi-award winning playwright, Christie is the founder and artistic director of the NYC-based theatre company Carnival Girls Productions. She makes her home on the Jersey Shore with her husband, Greg, son, Luke, and dog, Cleo.

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

If “love calls us to the things of this world,” then poetry too can call us to think about challenging questions, difficult situations, and social justice, implicating and engaging the reader with the world we live in, in the hope that this engagement is a step toward wrestling with our better selves.


Reclaiming the Tool That Maimed Me

I grew up believing that anger was a terrible thing.

Anger was a grown man looming over you with wild eyes, screaming at you for dropping a dish. Anger brought the humiliation of being yelled at in front of friends, teammates, and even other adults who never, ever lifted a finger to protect me. Anger made me wish that he would finally just hit me, because it felt like I deserved it.

Anger also wasn’t for me. The truth was that I was full of anger all the time. I was a little ball of rage, spiteful at a cruel and unfair world where anger was an excuse for a grown man to scream at me over spilled milk, but there was no excuse for my anger. “Jesus wouldn’t want you to be angry,” said my mother to me one day. She didn’t comment on what Jesus would want of the man she married.

I was a little ball of rage, spiteful at a cruel and unfair world where anger was an excuse for a grown man to scream at me over spilled milk, but there was no excuse for my anger.

No, anger was only for the man of the house. According to family legend, I was a spitfire of a child, full of passion and talkative and angry at older siblings who teased me mercilessly, until one day when I was trying to hit my brother, who is a full nine years older than me, and my dad snuck up behind me and grabbed me by the back of the neck.

Legend has it that I changed that day. I didn’t talk much anymore. I started spending a lot of time in my room. I don’t even remember the fiery little girl they talk about. But I grieve her still.

The anger never really went away, though. I simply hid it until I could lash out at friends, classmates, and, most often, myself. It was never enough. In adolescence, it mixed with depression and anxiety and soon found release in violent fantasies that I feverishly wrote into disturbing fiction that my close friends were unfortunately given to read. Worse, it began to twist into a sense of superiority. In a way, I feel as though I got a taste of what turns white boys and men into mass murderers. I can almost understand.

The anger never really went away, though. I simply hid it until I could lash out at friends, classmates, and, most often, myself.

What saved me was a therapist. When my insomnia got so bad that I broke down into uncontrollable sobs in front of my mother, my poor mental health could no longer be ignored. I was put on antidepressants and sent to see a strange woman who raised her eyebrow at my mom’s excuses and gave me a knowing look. I dreaded every session, but I was in love and determined not to disappoint her. It took me many months to finally figure out that my therapy was for me.

But even then, I kept my anger hidden. We talked about my mom more than my dad. I learned how to manage my anxiety and how to sleep again. I learned that I have intrinsic value as a human being. I learned that no one is allowed to treat me badly. I learned that I had every right to be angry. She was the first person to ever tell me that I didn’t have to forgive anybody if I didn’t want to.

I learned that I had every right to be angry. She was the first person to ever tell me that I didn’t have to forgive anybody if I didn’t want to.

I saw this therapist for two years before I left town for college. I left confident, hopeful, and excited for the future. College was a wonderful time.

But it wasn’t all Bundt cakes and wine coolers. In my hubris, I went off my antidepressants and crashed a month after I had finished tapering off under the supervision of a doctor. In my pride, I didn’t go back on them. I experienced my first heartbreak shortly before I graduated. I had to get a bizarre and terrible-paying job to make it through the rest of my apartment lease before I moved back home.

I met an incredibly passionate, fascinating man who was just as big and hairy as my dad and held his own anger, but never turned it onto me. After we both moved home to the Seattle area, we desperately scoured the internet for jobs at the peak of the Great Recession so we could move out of our parents’ houses and into an apartment together. We slogged through underpaid, emotionally demanding and/or unbearably dull work in order to be together as much as possible.

At one of my unbearably dull jobs, I discovered feminism, and found in it a treasure trove of anger. A rage jackpot. Here was a community of justifiably angry women telling me that I should be angry and handing me terabytes of blogs, Tumblr posts, Facebook rants, books, podcasts, essays, and artwork all full of beautiful, perfect feminine rage. I learned that anger had been denied to women for centuries. It wasn’t just my family. It was almost every family. It was a system and a culture.

This wasn’t just an outlet for my anger. This was a wonderful reason to explore, revel in, and even learn to love my anger.

“You’ve turned into such an angry feminist.”

No, I’ve turned into a feminist. I was always angry.

Then came the day that I flung a glass at the man I love. I did it out of anger. We were fighting about our relationship. It had nothing to do with feminism, but I was angry. He said something that hurt, and there was an empty glass sitting next to me on the couch. I swung my arm, sweeping the glass toward him, sending it flying through the air close to his head.

“You’ve turned into such an angry feminist.”No, I’ve turned into a feminist. I was always angry.

A few weeks later, I went back to therapy. This therapist was different from my first, but she was just as amazing. She described herself as a feminist therapist. We talked about my dad and about anger. When my boyfriend and I started fighting about anger and what it was and what it meant to me, my feminist therapist told me something simple that changed my life.

Anger isn’t good or bad. Anger is not a moral stance. Anger is a tool. Anger is the alarm system that tells you when you’re being treated badly, when there is an injustice happening, or when someone is not respecting your boundaries. Anger is a motivator that helps you get stuff done, overriding your fear, shouting in your ear that you deserve better. Every one of us owns this tool that, collectively, can move mountains.

They don’t even know why they’re angry or where the anger is coming from, so they can’t use it effectively. Instead, they use it to hurt people.

Many of us have been told that we’re not allowed to use this tool. It’s not for us. At best, we’re told when to use it, and any use outside of the approved method and target is unacceptable. We all know why. Privileged people have always been terrified of the anger of the oppressed because they know just how powerful it is. They can’t take it from us. But they can tell us that it’s a bad tool. That it’s shameful to use it. That using it without approval makes us bad, even criminal.

Then there are white men, who, like my dad, are allowed to be angry, but don’t know how to use it. They’re full of anger, and the anger alarm won’t stop screeching until you do something about it. So men like my dad turn it onto the closest available scapegoat that can’t fight back. They don’t even know why they’re angry or where the anger is coming from, so they can’t use it effectively. Instead, they use it to hurt people. My dad’s anger exploded chaotically onto his children and we all came away wounded.

I wish somebody had taught my dad about anger before he left me with complex PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder. But I do take some comfort in knowing that I learned to wield my anger in a healthy way. I still channel my anger into passionate, fiery feminist writing that I hope honors the angry little me who was lost from my memories. I use it to push myself past the constant, ever-present fears and demand respect. I use it for the energy I need every day to fight for justice in a world that so sorely lacks it.

I still channel my anger into passionate, fiery feminist writing that I hope honors the angry little me who was lost from my memories.

And to this day, I preach the miracle of anger. Anger is not a moral failing. Anger is an essential tool for every human being that some would try to deny those they want to oppress. I seek to tell every oppressed, marginalized, and disenfranchised person: Take up your anger as a torch and let it guide you to justice. Like monsters, your oppressors fear its power. Don’t let them convince you that your own anger will hurt you, or that anger in itself is violence. It’s only a tool. Learn to use it and take back what’s yours.

top photo by Eneida Nieves on Pexels

“What if we took all this anger born of righteous love and aimed it?”

—Ijeoma Olou, “We women can be anything. But can we be angry?” Medium.com

ANGER showcases essays and poetry featuring well-aimed anger from femme writers, writers of color, LGBTQIA+ writers, First Nations writers, and disabled writers.