The Clash of the Titans: Beading, Art, and Incarceration

The Clash of the Titans

Beading, Art, and Incarceration


by Michael J. Moore

Big Six stands six feet three inches tall and weighs 250 pounds.

His head is shaved and often dripping sweat as he lies on his back, pressing more than four hundred pounds off his chest. He’s serving four consecutive life sentences for a quadruple drug-related homicide that took place in 2010. He was also charged with felony gun possession and extortion, which earned him his third strike. He has a reputation, both on the streets and in prison, as a leader of Tacoma’s 46 Neighborhood Crips, and as one of the most notoriously violent prisoners in Washington State. As we sit at a metal table in one of four day rooms in the Monroe Correctional Complex (MCC) and he tells me about his life, however, I’m struggling to find the link between who Big Six is said to be and the gentle giant across from me.

Artistic expression, he tells me, is the reason.

“Beading brings me calm,” Six explains. “It lets me focus on something besides prison. It’s made me mature, taught me patience, and given me something to do instead of dwelling on hatred for my captors.”

I can’t help but wonder where Six would be today had such a source of calm been introduced into his life earlier.

“I was never in danger of going to college or becoming a rocket scientist,” he says, “but I am a mechanic, which means I put thing together and make things. It’s the act of creating, and if I’d had a positive outlet like art, growing up, I would have ran with it.”

Born John Booth on June 24, 1979, in Centralia, Washington, he practically took his first steps along the road that would lead him to this dismal place. His parents split when he was four, and while his brother was sent to live with their mother, Six remained with an abusive criminal father.

“My dad was an outlaw biker and a drummer in a rock and roll band,” he tells me. “He sold weed, partied all the time, and always beat the shit outta me. I basically grew up on the back of his Harley.”

At twelve, Six was already bigger than some of the men in his Tacoma neighborhood, and he was always prepared for a fight.

“The problem,” he recalls, “was that they couldn’t beat me up, so they would end up jumping me. That’s what ultimately led to me joining a gang. I always knew I was gonna be an outlaw anyway. It just so happened the time was right, and I became a Crip.”

Soon after, he landed in a juvenile prison for stealing a car and taking police on a high-speed pursuit. It was there that he met other boys his age, who were also immersed in the criminal element.

“I was surprised to see that these kids looked up to me. Soon, we started getting out, and now we all knew each other and wanted a piece of what everybody was doing. It used to baffle me that they didn’t have the proper connections. They couldn’t get guns, but I was a full-blown gang member and had more guns than I knew what to do with.”

Six assembled his new friends into a squad and oversaw operations that included but weren’t limited to selling drugs, robbing drug dealers, and collecting criminal-related debts for a percentage of what was owed. He earned his first adult prison sentence in 1996 for unlawful possession of a firearm, got his GED, and was released a year later with no new job or coping skills.

“My dad picked me up with cold beers in the truck,” he recounts, “but he’d sold all my belongings, so I didn’t have anything. I had to completely start over.”

Over the course of the next fifteen years, he bounced in and out of the system and climbed the ranks within the Neighborhood Crips—until that deadly night in 2010 claimed his life in the free world as well.

“Once the system did its job and I had life in prison, I doubled down,” Six says. “Where I was a full-blown gangster before, now I became the leader of prison gangs.”

Due to the nature of his convictions, he was housed in maximum-security facilities where he was locked in his cell twenty-two hours a day, with little to do but prepare for the brutality that took place when the steel doors finally opened. With limited resources, he began looking for a way to make money. A friend from his social circle was managing to generate a decent income selling beadwork, so Six asked him what kind of investment was needed to get started.

“It was substantial,” he remembers. “I raised the money quickly, though, and started collecting patterns and books. I taught myself how to bead out of books because I couldn’t be seen asking for help with anything. That would hurt my reputation. I was instantly hooked, though, and I finally had something to do besides create hate and discontent.”

But it wasn’t easy. For starters, Six has massive hands, and those beads are so small that they easily disappear when observed from a distance. But determined, he persevered and began to put his natural talent for creating into practice.

Soon after starting, he was found guilty of organizing gang meetings and put in segregation for six months, where he remained laser-focused on beading. He read books on the craft, acquired patterns, and daydreamed about future projects until he was finally released back into the general population. Then a series of high-profile fights that some within the incarcerated population dubbed “The Clash of the Titans” sent him back to segregation for the longest stretch he’d ever endured.

Six remembers of this time, “I continued to be consumed by beading. More books. More patterns. More daydreams….” One and a half painstaking years later, Six emerged into MCC, a medium-security prison where he could finally focus more on art and less on gang life.

It was here that a real transformation began in the giant. Though he can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, he’s convinced it was brought on by the meditative qualities and focus required to refine his process, which he asserts really isn’t a process at all.

“I just have to be doing something, and it can’t be something I don’t enjoy,” he says. “I genuinely enjoy making beautiful things. When I have an order and I can picture the person it’s going to, that’s what I do. I like the products to match the person.”

When he doesn’t have an order, he stays busy making his more popular products, such as hummingbirds and teddy bear necklaces. While other prisoners who bead tend to focus on two-dimensional medallions, Big Six’s items are almost exclusively 3-D decorative pieces.

Today, a glance through the bars of his six-by-nine-foot steel cage will usually reveal him sitting cross-legged on a bunk that’s smaller than he is, quietly bringing together his latest project. Where most of his neighbors hang pictures of half-naked women on their tack boards, his is covered in beaded necklaces, patterns, and a color wheel that he uses to determine which beads best blend together. He also has a store on Etsy, called americanbeadshop.

“Everything I make is in high demand around here, though a lot of it ends up selling before I can even send it out for my store.”

If Six’s story isn’t a testament to why artistic expression should be nurtured in prisons, I don’t know what is. As we wrap up this interview, I’m finding myself amazed at how even the tiniest of beads can inspire massive transformation in broken people.

About the Author


Michael J Moore’s books include Highway Twenty, which appeared on the preliminary ballot for the 2019 Bram Stoker Award; the bestselling postapocalyptic novel After the Change, which is used as curriculum at the University of Washington; the psychological thriller Secret Harbor; and his middle-grade horror series Nightmares in Aston. His work has received awards, has appeared in various anthologies, journals, newspapers (e.g. ,TheHuffPost and Business Insider), and magazines (e.g., The Nation), on television (with acclaimed newsman Carlos Watson and KPIX5), and has been adapted for theaters including Open Door Playhouse



Top photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Poetry Month Spotlight: Jessica Mehta

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

Do You See the Stars?

This is waking up. Remember
when you pressed your thumbs,
thick and unforgiving,
into my eye sockets? Slow as death
until 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, fluttering
crazed and drunken as a beast, hands
itchy and always wanting, wanting
and a mouth with hunger so palpable
I gave myself in an instant. I was new,
damp when I came here, ridiculous
as one of those puppy mill survivors

too petrified to take a single step from the cage
into green grass and sunshine. I stumbled,
but for the stars.

I risked it all for you
because it was home, because it was you,
the cage I left behind, dank and cloying
and 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 baby
sucking like a beast at your breast,
mosques gave way to dunes
and 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, rolling
like sun-swollen beetles through the shops.
In ballet flats and the jeans that hugged my ass
like a fetish, I climbed the dunes as if I belonged,
while beautiful golden men in glorious keffiyehs
honked 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 fill 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 or find Jessica on Twitter and Instagram @bookscatsyoga.


National Poetry Month

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.

“Felix Ever After” Shows That the Love You Deserve Is Inside and Out

“Felix Ever After” Shows That the Love You Deserve Is Inside and Out

Having a sense of self-worth is important for any LGBTQ+ person, but especially for queer trans people of color.

Our race often means that we are ignored among the LGBTQ+ community, while our gender identity and sexual orientation get scorned or overlooked among allocishet people of color. To that end, it is often up to QTPOC to support each other and show each other that we are worthy of life, love, and happiness.

In Kacen Callender’s Felix After Ever, protagonist Felix Love is an artistic trans boy who wants to experience romantic love. When his pre-transition photos are leaked for the world to see, he must figure out the culprit while examining his own sense of self and what kind of love he deserves. Through his experiences with others, Felix Love must look at who and what should determine his self-worth.

In fact, Felix’s relationships with family and friends are notable for their joy as well as their pain. Felix’s friendship with Ezra is wonderful and complex, in that they have fun together but also have hard, honest discussions about their future and themselves. At one point, Felix and Ezra fight because Felix is projecting his insecurities onto Ezra. As a rebuttal, Ezra points this out without invalidating Felix’s feelings. They do all of this while examining Ezra’s class privilege as the child of wealthy parents and the pressure that Felix feels as a child of a working-class father. Their friendship is never depicted as perfect, nor as competitive, but as a relationship based on support, care, and honest communication.

One of the most notable things about this book is how it shows the harmful effect of transmisia on Felix’s self-worth. His father helped Felix transition, but he can’t bring himself to say Felix’s name. Ezra Patel, Felix’s best friend, is sensitive and understanding, but another “friend” is revealed to be trans exclusionary. In turn, the behavior of family and friends, and the experience of having his pre-transition photos displayed, make Felix feel he wouldn’t be enough for any lover. The dialogue and scenes combine with Felix’s internal thoughts to convey his pain, but they also motivate Felix to confront transmisia by holding his family and friends accountable.

Meanwhile, Felix’s father is a source of financial and emotional support, despite Felix’s issues with him. Given that Felix’s mom left them years ago, Felix and his dad must learn to make their relationship with each other work—not to mention Felix can’t quite let go of his mother, and he’s constantly drafting unsent emails to her. A particularly poignant bit of dialogue occurs when Felix and his dad discuss Felix’s mom and how some love can be unhealthy to hold on to when you’re getting less than you deserve. This conversation has an impact on Felix that stays with him when he undergoes his introspective journey.

Speaking of which, Felix’s internal journey is an emotional roller coaster. Prior to having his photos leaked, Felix was already feeling stressed because of interpersonal issues, his ongoing questioning about his gender identity, and feeling that he needs to prove himself by going to an elite university. Once things go south, Felix gets angry enough to pursue revenge against the person he assumes leaked his photos while dealing with online harassment in the aftermath. Yet his frustration also urges him to hold his loved ones accountable for their transmisia and seek answers about his gender identity via an in-person support group and online resources.

While some might find Felix unlikable for his revenge plan, his reaction is totally realistic, and his feelings are never invalidated—nor are they completely condoned. His revenge plan turns out to be less cut-and-dried than it first appears, and Felix must learn to channel his anger in a healthier way while holding himself accountable for any harm he causes. In this sense, Felix feels like a true-to-life character: he is neither perfect nor a completely bad person.

A final aspect of this book that was enjoyable is how Felix eventually uses visual art as catharsis for his newfound self-love. Art in any form has long been a refuge for QTPOC to express themselves, and to see Felix learn to take time for himself and literally draw his true self into existence is beautiful. If the book’s cover is any indication, Felix’s final portrait encompasses all that he is in his vibrant glory.

Despite some slow, suspense-building pacing, after the first hundred pages Felix After Ever is an engrossing coming-of-age novel that presents queer pride in all its complicated and powerful aspects. Readers will root for Felix as he learns that the love he deserves can be found inside himself, as well as outside himself among others who truly care for and respect him.

The Afro YA promotes black young adult authors and YA books with black characters, especially those that influence Pennington, an aspiring YA author who believes that black YA readers need diverse books, creators, and stories so that they don’t have to search for their experiences like she did.

Latonya Pennington is a poet and freelance pop culture critic. Their freelance work can also be found at PRIDE, Wear Your Voice magazine, and Black Sci-fi. As a poet, they have been published in Fiyah Lit magazine, Scribes of Nyota, and Argot magazine among others.

Robin Gow, Jessica Nguyen, Danny McLaren, and Uma Menon

Editors' Choice Poems

Robin Gow, Jessica Nguyen, Danny McLaren, and Uma Menon

We are delighted to present this week’s selections from the Brain Mill Press Poetry Month Contest, Break Poetry Open, by talented poets Robin Gow, Jessica Nguyen, Danny McLaren, and Uma Menon.

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

i had a dream they took out my uterus & handed it to me.

Robin Gow

my uterus was an ornate vase
& i asked, “what am i supposed
to do with this?”
the doctor shrugged
he was in a suite & tie &
had lavender gloves
he suggested i use it to collect something.
i stuck my hand in deep to see
if there was already anything in there,
found a ring i lost maybe four years ago
& i wondered how it got there.
silver claddagh waiting
scraping up against the glass
lining of the vase.
it had something to do with hope,
i think a uterus does even if you
take it out
& discover it’s
a shoe box or an urn or a vase.
i tried other items, starting
with buttons, snipping them off
all my clothes so that i would
have more. clear buttons, black buttons,
brown buttons, red buttons, all of them
inside the vase, i thought they might
transform, i thought that might
be the point of the strange object
but nothing happened. i slept
holding the vase & imagining
what it was like inside me
what kind of objects it hungered for.
i talked it, i told the vase that
i was sorry this was how
everything had to happen.
i bought flowers after flowers
to let sprout from the vase’s mouth:
lilies, carnations, roses
& i’d keep asking
the uterus, “are you happy?”
but the vase wouldn’t respond.
emptying out the greenish stem-water
left over from the flowers
i stuck my hand in again
only this time i felt an ache
in my chest as i did, a kind of
phantom connection, a hand under skin.
i wept, it was something about hope
for something; a hand searching
under skin for lost objects,
the ring like a kind of opening
for beetles or other insects
to crawl through. i was scared
it might always be like this
if i kept the thing around.
i had to break it.
no, not in the driveway or the street,
a push from the counter in the kitchen
where all glasses & plates
will eventually shatter.
the pieces on the floor like
teeth of an unknown monster.
i apologized to the uterus
as i cleaned up its pieces.
i took a bowl from the cupboard
& began filling it with buttons
out of habit or maybe
some kind of hope. from the buttons
grew the stems of flowers,
only the stems.

About Robin Gow

Robin Gow’s poetry has recently been published in POETRY, The Gateway Review, and tilde. He is a graduate student at Adelphi University pursing an MFA in Creative Writing. He is the Editor at Large for Village of Crickets, Social Media Coordinator for Oyster River Pages and interns for Porkbelly Press. He is an out and proud bisexual transgender man passionate about LGBT issues. He loves poetry that lilts in and out of reality, and his queerness is also the central axis of his work.

National Poetry Month

perks of a half-deaf wallflower

jessica nguyen

it’s so much easier to sleep
lying in bed,
on my “good ear”
– whether it’s thunderstorms or my partner’s snoring,
I am able to slip past silently through the night
no baby can wake this baby up.
everyone envies my mornings
since they see no traces of dark circles
under my eyes
they’d ask,
“what’s your secret?”
who knew that my disability could be a celebrity-level beauty hack?

the drill fire alarm comes in-oh wait, that’s not a perk.

I can pretend to not hear you
and use my deafness as a legitimate excuse.

this especially works when I am not particularly fond of you.
this also works when I am not paying attention to something that I should’ve been paying attention to
“oh, sorry. what’s that? I couldn’t quite hear you the first time. can you repeat what you said? thanks.”
I swear it’s the truth sometimes.
during trials and interviews,
“we can’t hire you because you-“ oops, that’s not a perk either.
I got extra time on my ACT tests.
didn’t think that having my time limit doubled would help me on this kind of standardized testing, since only one of the four of the subjects required listening to begin with…
but I did get a small private room to myself with no pencil scratching and people breathing
I got the same ACT score as my last one.
and I wasn’t even given the extra time last- wow, I need to stop. what is the definition of self-actualization again?
I am everybody’s right hand person. the ones who’ve passed my friendship test re the ones who remembered to walk on my left. you can tell who the strangers are – they are the ones who I dance tango with as I quickly sashay to get to their right side.
walking into every classroom
I wore an fm unit like a prop, which consisted of a hearing aid for me and a microphone for the teacher to speak into, which means having to blow my cover as I approach

now, I could expect the spotlight to be on me – yes, the star actor who deserved an oscar for passing as a full hearing person, coming up on stage to deliver her speech:
“I’d like to thank lip-reading and body language – I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I am today without them.”

all confused eyes would be on me,
sometimes awkward silence,
but mostly attention
to the quiet girl sitting in the front
because isn’t what being half-deaf means?
getting all the special attention?

I can find my teachers easily when I need them. it’s great because if the teacher rushes out of the classroom, I always know where they go.

one time, the bell rang and it was the quickest I’ve seen a teacher leaving the room (I can understand his urge, though)
the problem was that he was wearing my microphone so I had to chase him down.
and of course, I thought it’d be cool to spy on what he was doing through my hearing aid. so, I did.

and what I first heard seconds in
was the sound of of a stream,
which lasted for…. a while.
then, a toilet flushing.

About Jessica Nguyen/Nguyễn Thị Mai Nhi

Jessica Nguyen/Nguyễn Thị Mai Nhi is a world traveler, activist, and writer. Though having lived in the U.S. for most of her life, she hops from one country to the next in hopes of discovering pieces of home to fill her Asian American soul. Known to be a soft-spoken person in the real world, she often channels her feelings through her writing as she finds written words to be just as powerful as when they’re spoken. Jessica plans to publish her own chapbook, “softly, I speak” in the near future. To learn more about her current projects, please visit her website at or follow her @byjessicanguyen on social media.​

National Poetry Month

Spark Joy

Danny McLaren


Do you ever wonder if your gender sparks joy?
If it fits you like a glove, if you love the way the words sound in your mouth or leave your lips,
How it feels to say ‘they’ with your own tongue
And know better than anyone else how to say your own name?

Does your gender excite you?
Does it hum in your veins, electric, ignited,
Keep you up at night, tossing from panicked to delighted, thinking
what if I’m a boy?
or what if I’m nothing at all?

But ‘nothing’ seems scary.
My gender isn’t scary.
Sure, it’s loud, and it’s big,
It takes up too many seats on the bus, makes the up-tight man on the left of me scoot over one.

But it’s dynamic, and powerful, and strong.
It repels close-minded like a magnet,
And pulls kind and ‘knowledgeable about feminist theory’ my way.

It’s ‘too many beers on a Saturday night’ euphoric,
It spills across my clothes when I’m not careful,
Or, on some days, when I try really hard to make it seen.

My gender beats in my chest when I run,
or while I wrestle into my binder.
Constricting my chest with freedom, just to look a little more me.

My gender kisses me goodnight, and greets me with the sunrise,
And marks up my skin with ‘I love you.’

Do you ever wonder if your gender sparks joy?
If you feel ‘just right’ with the words you choose to use
To tell others who you are?
Maybe you should
Because it feels damn good.

About Danny McLaren

Danny is a queer and non-binary writer who uses they/them pronouns. They are an undergraduate student studying Gender Studies, and beginning to dabble in queer, anti-racist, and anti-colonial theory. They have an interest in exploring themes related to equity, resistance, and intersectionality in their work, and often write about their gender, sexuality, and mental health through these lenses. They can be found on twitter at @dannymclrn.​

National Poetry Month

shopping for a necklace

Uma Menon


About Uma Menon

Uma Menon is a fifteen-year-old student and writer from Winter Park, Florida. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in the Huffington Post, The Rumpus, and National Poetry Quarterly, Sahitya Akademi’s Indian Literature, and the Cincinnati Review, among others. Her first chapbook was published in 2019 (Zoetic Press); she also received the 2019 Lee Bennett Hopkins Award in Poetry.

National Poetry Month
National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month — Break Poetry Open

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

Editors' Choice Poems

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.

About Jessica Mehta

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 Twitter: @ndns4vage.


National Poetry Month


Short-List Selection

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.

About Levi Cain

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.

National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month — Break Poetry Open

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

Mothering the Sexy

Christie Perfetti Williams

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.

About Christie Perfetti Williams

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.

National Poetry Month
National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month 2016

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.