National Poetry Month Contest Winners 2023

National Poetry Month Contest Winner 2023

Sujash Purna

Picking a poem from so many poems shared during National Poetry Month is always so difficult—how to set something experimental and free-versed against a tight form and judge one “better” when they reach for such different things?

While selecting a group of poems was no easier this year, the pleasures of reading were multiplied by being able to engage with a group of poems from each poet: to trace their voices through several poems, see how the notion of cycle translated from one to the next, how a subject could be visited across forms (sometimes turned inside out) or explored in concentric layers of complexity. Thank you for sharing your work—you turned me inside out, made me look again and again at what you were pointing to: be it a hummingbird, or a spare portrait in words, or the tangled mythologies of culture complicated by list forms.

For the winning selection, Sujash Purna’s poems “You Poor” begin with bludgeon lines, tender lines, sequestered on a page of negative space. Of the four poems, the variety in forms move from that spareness to a discursive voice-driven plea where the line endings deliver with a power that insists on being read aloud. The repetition of “your” and the breaking of “your” fragment not only the imperative to speak, but the self who speaks. In the final poem, the strategies of the first three coalesce: spareness, space, repetition, and concrete detail to connect the earlier poems in the cycle to each other, and to connect more fully to the reader.

Other noteworthy poets sharing their poem groupings include:

Ellie Lamothe’s “A Funeral in March,” “If We’re Honest,” and “Litany”

J.F. Merifield’s “Portraits”

Devon Balwit’s “Notes on Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers [II-V]”​

—C. Kubasta, Editor, BMP Voices Poetry Month



“You Poor” Cycle by Sujash Purna


I’m never going to see my mom again

…………………………………………………………………………..I am too poor to do that


People in Missouri
don’t know who
I am anymore
People in Dhaka
don’t know who
I am anymore
People where I
am now
want to know

There Must Be Something Wrong

Visually nothing is aesthetic
It’s the lens they put on you
And tell you that this is how
You should look at this thing
That will neither make you
Happy nor circumvent your
Danger unless you tell your
-self yourself yourself your
Self to believe in the story
That they built based on
Your struggles, based on
Your sacrifices, based on
Your absences from your
Loved ones. Even the
Word love has become
Corrupt. It’s how they
Want you to feel. Not
How you feel. Because
If you feel that way
There must be something
Wrong. There must be
Something wrong. There
Must be something wrong.

Inductive Reasoning for a Family

glycerine drops


psoriasis-looking spots


your hair

a harsh sun

this master’s degree minimum wage job

that phd holder adjunct gig

two kids

two parents


health care

who cares?

you do


who cares?

you’re on your own now

you’re on your own now

you’re on your own now

You Poor III

I don’t write about flowers and lovers anymore

I write about shit that went out of control

Not the white people Babylon

Or American Hustle kind of coke-infused

Out of control


I write about being in a place

Where nobody wants you

Paycheck-to-paycheck immigrant

Renewal-to-renewal immigrant

Paying-double-the-tax immigrant


Taking nothing because

I should be already



Sujash Purna is a Bangladeshi poet and photographer based in Madison, Wisconsin. He is the author of Epidemic of Nostalgia‘ (Finishing Line Press), In Love with the Broken (Bottlecap Press), and Azans for the Infidel (Mouthfeel Press). His poetry has appeared in South Carolina Review, Hawai`i Pacific Review, Kansas City Voices, Poetry Salzburg Review, Gutter, Stonecoast Review, and others. His photography can be found on Instagram @poeticnomadic.

Short List


“A Funeral in March,” “If We’re Honest,” and “Litany” by Ellie Lamothe

A Funeral in March

I belong to the cold bones of winter.
Bare-skinned, barren, and remembering

the sound of your laugh like a funeral bell.
The sound of the boreal wind

whispering through the pines,
a wisdom for our children and their children,

and the ones they will love
without knowing why.

The gentle grief of living one evening to the next,
exchanging one ending for another.

I want to leave my brittle body behind,
become lost in the brume,

a spectre collecting light
and sadnesses leftover from years before.

Still, I am willing to endure.
I am willing to endure.

If We’re Honest

it’s a miracle that we come together at all,
that romance
is ever more than a formality
between two unreliable narrators of their own suffering.

We became accustomed to the taste of saltwater,
learned to perform that ritual
of kind pittances,
found a peculiar lightness

in clinging to the soft things.
My body, clumsy and pitted,
lingering in the cold sweat of your body.
Several vital organs missing

between the two of us.
You tell me your sadnesses in a voice
so sweet and perplexing,
I almost forget hunger

and the way it blooms
violet like a bruise along my jaw.
I almost forget to cherish
the way your throat opens up when you laugh.

Now everything we do is imaginary.
And I fear our love, too,
is just in our heads.
So I touch you to make it real,

and slowly,
to untangle the solemn etymology of desire,
and the terrible things
we endure out of loneliness

The terrible things we do to the people
we are trying to love.
You peel my clothes off in the dark room
and I let you.

But touching me becomes an unnatural thing
with our bones bleached.
The ceremonial undoing,
by some despondent architect of quiet endings


I am sitting cross legged on a pier,
bargaining with the stillness of the morning.
Having no one to mourn
my body as it acquiesces,
surrenders memory (even the dear ones),
becomes the fog hanging low over the lake.
I am thinking about things too bleak
for the morning
and the delicate charms of its first light.
The temporality of bliss
and the reasons I have been unkind.
I am learning there is nothing constant
but the wintering
and warming of desires,
how even ordinary wounds can fester.
I am learning about curiosity
and too, about hunger,
from the ruby-throated hummingbird
and her relentless need to move toward something.
A tender certainty.
The medicinal commonalities
between sugar water and song.
You don’t sing for me
and I begin to keep some of my sadnesses to myself.
Even then, I don’t pretend to love silence
the way you do.
So this is how it goes.
We suffer,
and we owe,
and we rejoice
in the delicate light of dawn,
in the surrendered memory,
in the hummingbird and her hunger.
And each day
we sit at the mouth of the lake
and recite our own litany of yearning.

Jareen Imam author photo

Ellie Lamothe is a poet living in K’jipuktuk (Halifax, NS) with her cat Arabella. She’s passionate about feminism, addressing gender-based violence, and engaging in community care through her role at a local women’s shelter. She loves going for walks with an iced matcha latte, being cozy, listening to Celtic music while she writes, and playing Dungeons and Dragons. Her work has appeared in Glass: A Journal of Poetry (Poets Resist), Kissing Dynamite, Yes Poetry, and Ghost City Review, among others. You can follow her on Instagram @ellielamothe.

Short List


“Portraits” by J. F. Merifield

Portrait as Lost Calf

the barbed wire and dirt road sing
together of dust, of dry grass
tanning in the wind
on sun-swept
hills that roll away
from an unmulched garden
left to wild,
its nature becoming its own

Portrait as Hunger

the wind holds the hawk
above the ditch

no field mouse
nosing out just yet

the hunt afoot
all the same

a patient moment
an urge held

Portrait as Landscape Painting Titled: Night Flying Over Winter Mountains

the moon full

marbled mountains

and forest black.

squiggled lines
where light and dark


thirty-one thousand feet below.

Portrait as Impressionist Painting of the Seine River Bank Titled: Communique

my mind is a weighted hook
plunging through waves
of quells and quivers,
each distant image a one-piece
unshouldered one side at a time,
down to the hips for now,

factually speaking boats float
and “the sun always seems to be
your friend not mine,”
Guillemots sings,
so I count the waves
rolling on to shore,

warily we have spoken
of where the two meet,
saturating one another, these moments
fit us, as in exposing to each we see
there is thread tethered,
hooked at both ends.

J.F. Merifield, a poet living in northwest Montana with a Poetry M.F.A. from George Mason University, has poems published by Wild Roof Journal, High Shelf Press, Sheepshead Review, Cathexis Northwest Press, La Picciolette Barca, Neuro Logical, Verse, and Rust & Moth, among others.

Short List


“Notes on Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers [II-V]” by Devon Balwit

Notes on Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers [II]

1. What is it like to walk in the arrogance of one’s own beauty?

2. We lesser lights suspect mockery.

3. Coupled with the gift of prophesy and a diaphanous robe, it is too much.

4. Who could blame our plots and spite-dug pit,

5. our preference for small gods to one vaster than telling.

6. Our gods are amenable to thimble-sized offerings, atonements of human measure.

7. Why serve the ineffable, suffering blindness

8. when comfort can be found in the dark?

Notes on Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers [III]

The favorite son knows nothing
about jealousy, cannot imagine anyone
loving him less than he loves himself,

ignorant of how his very shadow sears
like coals, of how his dulcet voice
brays in our ears, or of the paths

we furrow in our dreams, each tracing
a different murder, a different exile,
a hoe against his skull, a shearing knife

to his testicles, eager for even one
of our father’s tears to vault
as a rich and much-awaited inheritance.

Notes on Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers [IV]

Do you love humankind? the angel asks.
What a question for even a favorite son to answer.
We love what loves us back, what is easy
to love, what passes the time. We usually smile
at one another, the boy says, the rest of humanity
and I. Despite near divinity, the angel smirks. How little
the lad has been thwarted. Later, much later,
the angel will ask again and receive a changed reply.
For now, he merely accompanies the boy
to the future, that doorway to heartbreak
through which every soul steps.

Schadenfreude: Notes on Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers [V]

The angels … were created in Our image, yet are not fruitful…[T]he beasts are fruitful, yet are not after Our likeness. We will create man—in the image of the angels, and yet fruitful!

1. Once again, creation disappoints.

2. The angels flutter a vast gloat.

3. Hadn’t they warned יהוה embodied souls could only blunder?

4. Even the cherubs suspected wombs would only gestate frustration.

5. Still, יהוה pursued his puny and petulant shadows.

6. Part of the problem, the favorite son observes the tutting echelons,

7. dazzled as they scintillate—uncountable gossiping mouths.

Jareen Imam author photo

Devon Balwit’s work appears in The Worcester Review, The Cincinnati Review, Tampa Review, Barrow Street, Rattle, Sierra Nevada Review, and Grist, among others. Her most recent collections are We Are Procession, Seismograph [Nixes Mate, 2017], Dog-Walking in the Shadow of Pyongyang [Nixes Mate Books, 2021] and Spirit Spout [Nixes Mate Books, 2023]. For more, visit

Editors’ Choice, Week 4


“Ekundayo (Daughter When You Read This…),” “Survivor Series,” “Pray for Me,” and “Inner Child” by Donnie Moreland

Ekundayo (Daughter, When You Read This…)


I’ll begin with a sermon on empty pill bottles,

a full tub and desperation.

I’ll begin with a confession — a lot of niggas don’t make it here.

I’ll begin with the ground beneath my daddy’s feet rotating like a crooked wheel,

keeping him in place but spreading him apart

like the black hole between my teeth and

each letter in the declaration, “I’m going to kill myself.”

I called him first.

I’ll begin with the semicolon on my right wrist.

I’ll begin as your father.

I’ll begin where Pa Pa refused to say your daddy’s name in the past tense.

You began because he refused our finale.

I’ll begin with his rebuttal.

I’ll begin with his love.

A love swollen between wounds and cures.

Fear and fire.

Gore and glory.

A love.


I’ll begin with love.

And somewhere along the way, we’ll figure out that joy part.

Survivor Series


My father used to wrestle me.

Pin me.

Raise my legs and count to three.


I laughed, in defeat.

Each holler covers the distance between the cosmos in creation.


We don’t talk much now.

I feel his hand on my shoulder when I wrestle my daughter  —   the pressure of falling onto a bed

or into birth  — and I turn to reverse his maneuver.

But he’s not there.

Just the marbled monument to a tag team comeback that never was.


We don’t talk much now.

But luckily, ghost stories don’t always belong to the dead.

Pray for Me


Say a little prayer for the boy.

For me.

For him.

And his men.

Say a little prayer for his father.

His father’s keeper.

And his keeper still.

Say a little prayer for the boy.

And if you can, say another.

Inner Child


I hope that boy inside you…

the one kicking his feet in the air, hollering at cartoon characters and

eating cotton candy in Crayola crayon castles,

picking his nose and

dirtying his pant legs while running shoeless

to the corner store…

I hope that boy still triumphs over his archnemesis.

I hope he’s still doing somersaults on wood chips

where the splinters jab deepest.

I hope that boy still pulls on fire alarms and opens closet doors to evil empires in need of a champion.

I hope that boy still throws himself down rolling hills, under a pink sunset and a white moon.

I hope that boy knows his golden grin is still heaven.

Jareen Imam author photo

Donnie Denkins Moreland Jr is a Houston-based health educator and multidisciplinary artist. Donnie holds a Master’s Degree in Film Studies from National University and a Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology from Prairie View A&M University. Donnie’s work centers cultural healing, black masculinities, and film criticism. Donnie has contributed to Black Youth Project, Brown Sugar Literary Magazine, RaceBaitr, Root Work Journal, A Gathering of the Tribes, Unmute Magazine, and Sage Group Publishing.

National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

As the pandemic has continued into its second year, we at Brain Mill are thinking about spaces & places: how we exist in space, the importance of access, and the particulars of navigating places. We have gathered together in ways that may have been new to us over the last few years, greeting each other in small squares of connectivity, developing relationship and care with virtual check-ins, follows, and voices translated via technology. In our best moments we have learned to listen; in our worst, we have been caught up by all the ways we need to do better and think more deeply about community systems and for whom entry is barred.

Jareen Imam author photo

About the Editor

C. Kubasta writes poetry, fiction, and hybrid forms. Her most recent book is the short story collection Abjectification. She supports her creative work as Director of Education at Shake Rag Alley Center for the Arts in Mineral Point, Wisconsin. Find her at and follow her @CKubastathePoet

Top photo by Jill Burrow

Editors’ Pick Week 3: Poetry Cycle by Victoria Gransee

Editors' Pick, Week 3

Poetry Cycle by Victoria Gransee

Khakis Creased at the Altar


Pinches of a rosary, black breath muttering, and you’re not here.
Red knees to the floor, clammy palms clasped, and you’re not here.

Republics, homelands, houses and ceilings all fall.
I live in a tear habit looking for you, here but not quite here.

When looking for saviors, I turn to you last. You know this.
I speak first the name of my brother, but he’s not here.

I threaten you with temples, “pull me out and I will sing.”
It’s not a real promise; I know you are not here.

The woman in red tells me I am wrong to denounce what I have
not seen. I have seen trace in the trees, but certainly not here.

Nowhere I know resembles a church. No one I know resembles
a churchgoer or a god. I search for you alone, and you’re not here.

From the open window, the whistling wind has nothing to say
of my heretic vices. I blow out my candles. You’re still not here.



When imagining your face, all I see
is the furrowed brow of a brother
tossing years and years into half a suitcase
I think about your bruised ankles hitting
the bottom stair, you’re the rusty nail I remember

Oh, God, sitting on the windowsill, watching you wait for the train
You’re going home and that isn’t where
the burn marks are from, you’re thinking about covering
your scars
We share the same ones, you’re thinking about covering

I’m thinking about the streetlights you avoided, the black night shrouding
the set of your jaw
Glancing back, missing my vantage
point, our leather jackets

hung beside each other
Think about flailing, think about how it felt; a cliff and three feet of water
I want to sit on the roof, I wanna smoke again
I want to talk about death hanging between us; I never wanna talk again
This is the mercy of the Now, the horror of the Cycle.

Turn around, turn around, turn around
I wanna hear your footsteps, I want to feel the lack of sound from the creaky floorboards,
I miss dancing around them, hot pokers pressed to feet, I’m thinking about maman and her eyes
her prayers – Fear is divinity; God is a Poetic Device –
I’m thinking about those glittering balls

The family tree in the family jewels, we talk nonsense, we speak French
We drink champagne, we sip truth serum, we trip
on the back garden stair
and rupture our lips
and don’t speak for days




My little brother was born with a sea in his head,
haunting him at night, waves lapping the shore, a
steady drumbeat, white foam.

Come and find out.

I’d find him perched on the sailboat bed, sheets
clinging to him like hands, choking on the stuff,
and bring him down, clicking my tongue
“oh malen’kiy, where have you gone?”

He says, “I am half my maker’s shape,” and I see
that he’s been drowning in the dream. He spits up
water and hope. I nurse him to health with pills
and potions, doctor’s orders.

We cannot have a dreamer in these walls.

My little brother was born in a snowdrift December,
flurries of snow howling through his hair, a
blue child with eyes set on the nearing horizon.

What is it you’re looking for?

“The sun,” he says, and I see that he watches the sky
like a Catholic, expectant. When night falls, he climbs
the mast of the sailboat bed and sets off for distant
lands. I hardly recognize him come morning time.

He says, “It exists, you know,” and what I know is
he’s been spending time in someone else’s
kitchen, tasting stone houses with cluttered
mantelpieces. He has found a Home, found it foreign.

We cannot have him in these walls.

My little brother was born in the place the horror movie
happens. A werewolf howling from distant hills.
The blackening of her eyes, the curve of their lips.

Come and find out.

I find him perched on the sailboat bed, hand
wrapped in white gauze. He has been drowning.
He spits up seafoam and ale. The wallpaper peels.
“Oh malen’kiy, what did you say?”

He says, “I am half my maker’s shape,” and I see
two summers ago, his palms carving through waves.
He has seen the Catholic’s sun. There is no nursing
him to health. There is no need.

We cannot have a dreamer in these walls.

About Victoria Gransee

Victoria Gransee (@vgransee) is a Wisconsin-based writer fascinated by memory, self, and the divine.

National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month! For poets and poetry lovers—and perhaps for those who love poets—this is a special time. At Brain Mill Press, we like to celebrate all month long by sharing featured poets, and with our fee-free contest. This year, we’re thinking about poetry cycles, poems that speak to each other, forms that build on each other (like crowns), and the ways a poem can be a scaffold or foundation for other poems. Our words are often in response to other poems, and our own body of work is often an ongoing conversation. We speak to each other, with ourselves, and sometimes into the void—hoping someone will answer back.

Top photo by Isabella Fischer on Unsplash

Editors’ Pick Week 2: ‘Daughter of Our People’ Cycle by Sandi K. Johnson

Editors' Pick, Week 2

'Daughter of Our People' Cycle by Sandi K. Johnson

The Devils Come to Town


Often the Kru or Gola dancing devils visited the city:
us, city folks, would hear the drums and abandon markets
or food on coal pots and run like goats to go witness;
we, the school kids, would leave our day’s lessons,
leaping through windows in our green, school jumpers,
and arguing couples would quit to run together, holding hands;
everyone wanted to watch the country dancing devils,
even the frighten children hiding in their mama’s lappah;
we would follow the dusty cloud of their paths,
the village people in Kente suits singing old songs,
and young boys beating leather drums with sweaty hands;
the trailing crowd would circle around like morning chickens
as the country devils dance stories with their bodies;
some wore outfits of dried palm leaves and wooden masks
with old clothes holding long stalks for arms and legs,
others wore huge rice bags filled with banana leaves,
making them look round as lumpy, giant balls,
but none of them showed skin or signs of a man inside;
they ran through backyards and streets in hurry,
and we would watch the spectacle as they flipped or romped
as if they drifted and weaved by like walking mango trees,
zapping in and out of crowds, leaving stings of happiness;
the old people loved them for reminding us of our heritage,
and they loved us for our generous handouts;
some of us would give them money from knotted lappahs,
others would hand over cold water or sugarcanes,
and when they departed, we would stand around for days,
comparing records about the wonders of the devils’ visit.

Growing Hands


By the age of four,
…………I’d already made up
…………my mind to grow my hands
like my mother’s. I wanted
…………to keep my nails long
…………and strong like hers.
Polish of some obscene color,
…………bemused in ego,
…………wasn’t her fashion.
Her nails’ styling sat clean
…………like blessed communions,
…………which felt soothing
on my scalp as she braided my hair.

Over the years, her hands endured
…………hours of typing and longhand writings
…………as a secretary at the U.S. Embassy
and still carried patience
…………like Mother Mary’s tears when she
…………returned home to her children;
with grace and peanut oil,
…………she rubbed our bared backs
…………as we fell asleep to her touch.
Her hands remained holy
…………when her husband roamed
…………to other women’s abodes,
and with dignity, she wielded
…………them again to pack us
…………away from a house of contrition.

Far across the Atlantic in America,
…………she ascended her hands
…………in soapy waters, cleaning
dance studio’s mirrors as tuition,
…………and with those same hands,
…………she clapped for my passions,
mended theater costumes and dresses;
…………even my lavish, velvety prom dress,
…………with embroidery and sequins,
kept her aching hands up all night,
…………stitching and tagging beads
…………days before I walked in
as the prettiest Liberian girl
…………dancing the Moonwalk
…………at my American prom.

When her mom became sick
…………with failed kidneys,
…………she rolled up her sleeves;
like Sunday’s ushers, she
…………roamed back and forth
…………in the aisles of our home,
employed her warm hands
…………to bathe, change, and care for
…………her mom in a dying bed,
and when that Sunday morning awoke,
…………a little flower knelt on a bedtable
…………as her mom’s last breath surged.
My mom kissed her mother’s hand as if a relic,
…………then she offered her hands as freely
…………as a martyr to seal her mother’s silent eyes.

Now, in her own age of discernment,
…………as dementia and time kneel at her bedside,
…………I render my hands into hers,
which feel as cold as last rites
…………but anointed in beatification
…………with parables left untold.
I pass on some of the warmth
…………she loans me,
…………and as our hands unify,
I can’t help but dwell on
…………how lovely the wear
…………might look on my hands someday.


Devil Makers


She was always told
Red was Devil color
The brighter the shade
The further she strayed
Covered in Eve’s sin
In the eyes of God
Tradition shamed her
As if her lineage wasn’t kin
Church wives cursed her
As if she summoned wraths
But who taught her
That crimson shade?
Who caused her to bleed
As an innocent child
In her bed at night
Just to feed into lust?
Who craved her more
When she flushed out
The life inside of her?
Who glorified her curves
In skimpy red dresses
Or kissed her like holy feet
when she plastered
that brassy red lipstick
Like stains from Holy wine?
Who came soliciting
With lacy red lingerie
And ordered her to spread
Like a good little girl?
Who called her sexy
In those red Gucci heels
Only to spank her to pout
During the heat of infidelity?
Who showed her a woman
Flashy in red is a pure vixen?
Who’s the true Devil?

About Sandi K. Johnson

A Liberian, West African born. Holds a BA and MA in English: Creative Writing from Mount Mary University. An English professor of 13 years in Houston, Texas. Published works include: “Little Kate’s Shoe” (poem) in Sounds of this House with National Book Foundation, “Smoke Break” & “The Invisible Woman” (poems) with Solstice Literary Magazine, and “Waiting” (short story) & “A Good-bye after a Hello” (poem) with Swirl Literary Arts Journal. Awards include: The Solstice Institute for Diverse Voices Prize in 2009, and winner of the Stephen Dunn Poetry Prize in Solstice: A Magazine of Diverse Voices in 2021.  

National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month! For poets and poetry lovers—and perhaps for those who love poets—this is a special time. At Brain Mill Press, we like to celebrate all month long by sharing featured poets, and with our fee-free contest. This year, we’re thinking about poetry cycles, poems that speak to each other, forms that build on each other (like crowns), and the ways a poem can be a scaffold or foundation for other poems. Our words are often in response to other poems, and our own body of work is often an ongoing conversation. We speak to each other, with ourselves, and sometimes into the void—hoping someone will answer back.

Top photo by Godisable Jacob

National Poetry Month Spotlight: An Introduction to Novels in Verse

National Poetry Month Spotlight

An Introduction to Novels in Verse

It’s once again National Poetry Month, and novels in verse are some of the most thought-provoking ways to experience poetry.

However, some people may not know what novels in verse are and what books to check out. If you want to know more, then I’ve got you covered.

What Are Novels in Verse?

Novels in verse are stories told through the format of poetry. Instead of being told in chunks of paragraphs, the story is presented in the form of poems. Each chapter is a new poem that represents a character, their inner thoughts and feelings, and their interactions with other characters in different settings.

Why Read Novels in Verse?

Novels in verse enhance a story and its characters using imagery and different poetry formats. This allows the reader to immerse themselves in a story, because every word is meant to be felt rather than just read. 

Of course, novels in verse are also a good way to introduce readers of all ages to poetry. Depending on the book, it can also combine poetry with different subgenres such as non-fiction, contemporary fiction, and fantasy fiction.


Middle Grade and YA Novels in Verse by Black Authors


Moonwalking by Zetta Elliot and Lyn Miller Lachmann

Set in 1980s Brooklyn, this book tells the story of a punk rock–loving white boy with autism and an artistic Afro-Latinx kid who end up befriending each other.

Augusta Savage by Marilyn Nelson

This is a biographical book about the Black sculptor Augusta Savage, a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance. A starred review at Publishers Weekly states, “Moving poems convey Savage’s artistic ‘hunger/ to pull something out of yourself.’ ”

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

This autobiographical book tells the story of the author’s childhood in the 1960s and 70s at a time where the U.S. was changing from the Jim Crow era to the Civil Rights Movements. The book also reminiscences on the author’s literary roots, from her struggles with learning to read to finding her voice by writing stories.

We Are All So Good At Smiling by Amber McBride

Using myths and folklore from around the globe, this book tells a powerful story about clinical depression and recovery. Whimsy, a Black hoodoo conjurer, loves fairy tales but fears a dark forest where her brother Cole went missing years ago. When she meets Faerry, a winged Black boy with struggles similar to hers, both of them must enter the forest once more to put their pasts to rest. I reviewed this book recently and loved it.

The Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Heavily influenced by UK LGBTQ+ culture, this book is about Michael “Michalis” Angeli, a gay British young man with Greek Jamaican heritage. Growing up, his multifaceted identity makes him feel out of place. After deciding to attend a university in Brighton, Michael joins a drag club and slowly discovers how to combine his identities and his lived experiences to make himself feel whole. Check out my full review.

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

Xiomara is an Afro-Latina teen who learns to express her budding sexuality and burgeoning emotions in this emotionally palpable book. Amid a strict mother and religious upbringing, Xiomara finds solace in her school’s poetry club. Read my full review.

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.

National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month! For poets and poetry lovers—and perhaps for those who love poets—this is a special time. At Brain Mill Press, we like to celebrate all month long by sharing featured poets, and with our fee-free contest. This year, we’re thinking about poetry cycles, poems that speak to each other, forms that build on each other (like crowns), and the ways a poem can be a scaffold or foundation for other poems. Our words are often in response to other poems, and our own body of work is often an ongoing conversation. We speak to each other, with ourselves, and sometimes into the void—hoping someone will answer back.

Editors’ Pick Week 1: ‘Eulogy’ Cycle by Trinity Richardson

Editors' Pick, Week 1

'Eulogy' Cycle by Trinity Richardson



Do you remember
the night that
you got so stoned
I had to drive us home
I’d never driven your car
the seat was too low
and you kept
saying things
that didn’t make sense
at least
that I didn’t want
to hear
I drove five miles
with the emergency brake on
and when we got home
you asked if I’d ever
been to a funeral
I said I’ve given
a eulogy but
you didn’t ask who
the eulogy was for
just asked if I would
give yours

Eulogy II


You ask: How do you pay your rent?
And the answer is so much more
complicated than I care to disclose because
it’s Wednesdays after school
picking out candy at the supermarket,
and crosswords done in pen.
It’s late nights with Monopoly
and double-scooped butter pecan–
an extra 50 cents for sprinkles.
It’s Summers spent at the pool,
the smell of sunscreen and chlorine,
and the pleasant ache of sunburnt skin.
It’s years spent in hospitals,
sterile white rooms that reeked
of antiseptic and sickness,
and nurses rushing to and fro,
knowing they get to go home to their families.
It’s seeing him get worse instead of better,
skin-and-bones and get well soon balloons
tied up in cheery rainbow ribbon.
It’s an intubation tube because his wife
couldn’t pay the bills on her own,
begged him to stay, demanded he stay,
even though he was already gone.
It’s laughing at his funeral because
the pastor called him by the wrong name
and it’s too much to handle
and there’s no tears left.
It’s watching Star Trek by myself,
his rocking chair empty, knowing
I’ll never get to do anything
with him again.

Jareen Imam author photo

Trinity Richardson is a full-time student studying Communications and Creative Writing at the University of South Florida. They are a part of the Judy Genshaft Honors College, and a writer for Women in Technology International. Outside of art, their interests include writing, journaling, and faerie-hunting.

National Poetry Month

BMP Celebrates National Poetry Month

Happy National Poetry Month! For poets and poetry lovers—and perhaps for those who love poets—this is a special time. At Brain Mill Press, we like to celebrate all month long by sharing featured poets, and with our fee-free contest. This year, we’re thinking about poetry cycles, poems that speak to each other, forms that build on each other (like crowns), and the ways a poem can be a scaffold or foundation for other poems. Our words are often in response to other poems, and our own body of work is often an ongoing conversation. We speak to each other, with ourselves, and sometimes into the void—hoping someone will answer back.

Top photo by Lukas Rychvalsky via Pexels

It All Belongs to You: A Review of R. B. Simon’s The Good Truth

It All Belongs to You

A Review of R. B. Simon’s The Good Truth

R. B. Simon’s The Good Truth (Finishing Line, 2021) ends with the poem “The Good Truth,” but good truths are scattered throughout the pages. In the landscape/philosophy/cosmology (pick your preferred term) of this collection, good truths are those things the poet learns—difficult things, often, but in the learning she looks closely and engages with people, histories personal and public, and the natural world. The poem “Indelible” ends with a final image of a tattoo come to life: “riding my night sighs to find you, / returning to me, bearing your wordless benedictions.” It is a poem about loss; in it, the poet writes about being a close witness to that loss, unable to save the person they cared about: “I kissed your spittle-flecked lips / between compressions— / come back to me.” The loved one’s loss remains: “I am so heavy with you.”

The language of the holy in the everyday recurs often. “Lightning” tells of “the wife of an ex / of an old friend of mine /  . . . struck by lightning.” The woman is “lucky to survive” but terribly injured. As readers, we are asked to consider this particular injury, this awful aftermath: “the force of the blow / exploded her lower skull.” The first stanza begins with connection—how we know each other, how we would hear the news. The poem continues with how we are harmed, and how long it would take to heal, but it ends with questions unanswered:

What else does one do
when the very cells of your brain
have been shone through with sunlight?

When a fingertip of god
touches the soft tissue and reminds you:
you too, child, you too are mine?

Many of the poems refer to pain or trauma and what happens after. Several use the imagery of the natural world and its damage or destruction to talk about new growth. The poems weed and destroy; they talk back to thunderstorms, then quiet to listen. In “Prairie Fire” we learn about annual fires to root out invasive species and encourage regrowth. The Ho-Chunk practice kept the land healthy, and when white settlers came they brought disease and “larceny disguised as / gratitude,” and the prairie fires stopped. From this, the poem coalesces: “to destroy something so / very precious to you, / some part of what you call home, / is to let it return to you / filled only with / the essence of all / it was ever meant to be, / black and bare, / seeded / and ready for spring.”

The essence of Simon’s collection are the poems situated in childhood, and many of the poems speak of an unwelcoming place; she writes, “the entire planet is my homeland / but I claim no home.” “schools” tells of the casual racism and cruelty of children, compounded by the teachers’ inattention and shaming; in it, the child’s loneliness, her anger and her strength, are palpable. It’s also clear how common this occurrence was: the taunts, and the strategies she employed to get through each day. When “jolt—the shrill of the recess bell” interrupts the scene, and the reader feels a small relief, the stomach drops again when “a teacher awaits her, scowling. / you are always so slow! why don’t you exercise? she knows / she cannot win their games, but nods, and follows the current.” The poem utilizes a semi-regular long line, with copious quotations from speech and a third-person point of view. The effect is detailed, something like a fish-eye lens with all the focus on the girl on the swings, “opening her eyes to slits to find a way through.”

From there, the poems travel to a bar in Rosendale, Wisconsin: an Elvira pinball machine, Orange Nehi soda, and the men at the bar. The voice of the poem reassures us, “but always I stand / cocked, one-eyed, towards them / positioned just so / between the bar and / my younger cousins . . . always I note who is swaying, / who is slurring first.” Although still in the poems of childhood, this poem points to later poems where this speaker will become a protector, a lover, a mother, the person who cares for others, even as she’s navigating her own pain. These are parts of the good truth, too. Part of the message of those natural metaphors sprinkled throughout. The way creeping Charlie (the plant) is a way of talking about other invasive things, and loss in “Creeping Charlie (or, Late Summer, Post-Diagnosis, Pre-Hospice).” There, the poet wants to root things out but also “toss it all among the / compost, to spread among the irises / and grow you one more day.” As in “Indelible,” the ephemeral is made tangible, with ink and needle. Throughout R. B. Simon’s poems, there is this transmutation of experience—often painful experience—into ink and needle. These are the things that have happened and made me; written down, this is what they look like; consider metaphors of prairie fire, or lightning strike, or wind; but also—

—consider if instead of causing each other pain, we cared for each other. Those are the alternatives Simon offers in her poems. Instead of rejecting each other, instead of the violence of racism and hatred, instead of dangers of sway and slur and threat. “Traditions” recounts what the poet learned from her mother—both said and unsaid. In “Second Harvest” the poet addresses a child of the next generation. As with the collection’s opening poem, she notes the daughter is “lost in a rough country of ancestry,” but the second stanza begins: “I want to bring her baskets of our fruit  . . . tart with her lineage, / sweet with the pith of who she will become, of / how she was rooted a thousand years ago.”

……………….And I am no master gardener
unskilled at pruning or coaxing bud to blossom,
…………..I can’t tell sly weed from straining sapling
………………………………except for this one
………………………………………..glorious shoot.

R.B. Simon is a queer artist and writer of African and European-American descent.  She endeavors to create poetry centered in the mosaic of identity, the experiences that make us who we are in totality. Having battled mental health issues, substance use disorder, and trauma throughout her life, she is now in recovery and studying to become an Art Therapist, supporting others on the same journey.  She has been published in multiple print and online journals including The Green Light Literary Journal, Blue Literary Journal, Electric Moon, and Literary Mama.  The Good Truth is her first book.  Ms. Simon is currently living in Madison, WI, with her partner, daughter, and four unruly little dogs.

C. Kubasta writes poetry, fiction, and hybrid forms. She lives, writes, & teaches in Wisconsin. Her most recent books include the poetry collection Of Covenants (Whitepoint Press) and the short story collection Abjectification (Apprentice House). Find her at and follow her @CKubastathePoet.