“Cucumbering a Sunbeam,” “Alice Walks Herself Back Through the Adventure,” “Looking through a box of photos,” and “What a time spent trying now”
Poetry Month Editors’ Choice Picks, Week 1
We are delighted to present this week’s selections from the Brain Mill Press Poetry Month Contest. We have received a lot of wonderful work via our submission portal, and these pieces by Emily Bowles, Margaret Rozga, Sebastian Santiago, and Robin Long stood out.
We hope you’ll enjoy these editors’ picks as much as we did.
Cucumbering a Sunbeam
by Emily Bowles
What a vision of loneliness and riot the thought of Margaret Cavendish brings to mind! as if some giant cucumber had spread itself over all the roses and carnations in the garden and choked them to death.
--Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own
For most people, Margaret Cavendish is a footnote in literary history.
For most people, cucumbers are not fruit or flower because they are green.
She terrified Woolf—raging voices, staged in volumes of a length only the
Uneditable Elite might afford to print, her “paper bodies,” she called them.
Her husband’s body had produced more ephemeral works, and a treatise on
horseback riding, as well as two daughters, both older than the Duchess.
I’ve been that woman, the same age as a man’s daughter by his first wife, and
like Mad Madge, I relish in cucumbers as much as others like cake.
They wrote for their father, for their coterie closet drama, coveting ambition,
writing of cake when surely their servants had their hands in that batter.
We do not pick our mothers, although we try to write and rewrite them. They
revered one, ridiculed the other, and each became one, hating what was other.
Margaret was accustomed to that misogyny or would soon be. Her desires were limit-
less, cosmic, a cucumber overgrowing its plot, her novels overgrowing their plots.
She had stood before the Royal Society, spoke out before that audience of satirzable
pseudo-scientific Men, Pepys’ pen ready to render her as the Object of their satire.
Swift wrote not of Margaret but of the men who were “extracting sunbeams out of cucumbers.”
He made light of their science, mad enough, unstable in a stable with Gulliver, eating apples.
There are no roses, no carnations that can survive a lack of light like this, and so I kill
the plants in my apartment, eat a cucumber, imagine that sunbeam—for, from her.
 Seventeenth-century writer Margaret Cavendish was of ambiguous origins before her marriage to the slightly foppish William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, whose daughters from his previous marriage bettered their father as elegant writers of manuscript prose and poetry. Margaret self-published wide-ranging books on philosophy, science, and more, while also writing seemingly impossible-to-perform plays, a utopian novel that explored many of her scientific theories, and a wild autobiography.
[Footnote to this footnote: like Woolf, I have feelings for her that inflect my version of her Story, as has had Every Historian Who Has Ever Pretended Objectivity, for Cavendish beginning perhaps with Pepys and somewhat later Ballard but extending indefinitely.]
Emily Bowles’s first poetry chapbook—His Journal, My Stella—examines Jonathan Swift’s shadowy Stella while using Stella to reflect on her own gendered embodiment and her disappearance in/among texts. She’s currently working on a project loosely tied to A Room of One’s Own that will explore patterns of order/disorder that create dissonance between women and perpetuate systemic forms of female misogyny even as we seek out space for community. These poems focus on four early modern women writers—Margaret Cavendish, her stepdaughters Jane and Elizabeth, and Anne Finch—in order to draw attention to the ways in which networks of circulation (from print texts and scribally copied manuscripts to modern social media posts) fabricate ideals of femininity that become naturalized, deeply sedimented, and dangerous unless we listen to each other’s stories. Instagram: @embowlden77
Alice Walks Herself Back Through the Adventure
by Margaret Rozga
Don’t believe your sister when she says you were asleep
and merely dreaming. Don’t hang around waiting
for the queen to take your head. Even if it grins,
don’t ask directions of a disappearing cat.
Don’t take tea at a table with many empty places.
If, tired and thirsty, you forget and seat yourself,
hold on through the whirlwind that follows.
Even if answers are riddles, ask your questions.
You can’t be everybody.
Ask deeper questions: how is it potions and biscuits
just happen to appear as needed? If there’s no one
to ask, don’t touch. Don’t forget the solution
to one problem may be the start of another.
Give yourself some credit. You found
better ways to manage keys and size.
Don’t follow rabbits on the run.
Don’t think books without pictures boring.
Don’t forget that green little girl you used to be.
Recognize the limit to backwards:
don’t try to be her again.
Wisconsin Poet Laureate Margaret Rozga creates poetry from her ongoing concern for social justice issues. She is the author of four books, including Pestiferous Questions: A Life in Poems (Lit Fest Press 2017), written with the help of a creative writer’s fellowship at the American Antiquarian Society. A professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee – Waukesha campus, she lives near Lake Michigan in Milwaukee. Website: margaretrozga.com
Looking through a box of photos
by Sebastian Santiago
I hold a picture of my mother,
the one where she’s splashing in
an inflatable pool in her front yard,
an unabashed smile on her face.
Strange to think she was once
only a girl.
Life will not be kind to you.
I want to lay in that pool with her,
and hold her like a dream.
I’m damaged goods mijo
she once said, as she drifted
off to sleep.
I press my lips to this picture.
From the other room,
I hear her laughing at
something on television.
I’m originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico, but grew up just outside of Detroit. I attained my English degree from Central Michigan University where the focus of my studies was creative writing with a concentration in poetry.
I was recently living in Prague teaching English, but have since moved back to the US due to the Covid-19 crisis and am actively looking to attend an MFA program where I’ll continue to work on my writing. I’ve recently had work featured in Poetry South (2020), Rigorous (January 2020), and The Emerson Review (2020) among others.
What a time spent trying now
by Robin Long
What a time spent trying now
the pillars of past days—tip—
until I am crushed beneath
through parched lips, glittering dust
“bereft I was, of what I knew not,” She says,
but hiding message in a music
is affliction in the night
We all know that it lives
We all know where to look
so we seek, we search
and the quiet conscience rests somewhere
just outside the reach
of narrowed arms, busted knuckles
I still have days I wake,
tuck my chin into my breastbone,
and seize patterned sheets
to stretch across eyelids
and only when the air sours of spent breath
and I clutch my throat with both my fists—
does the buried alive fight for me
on a morning I, myself, could not
Dickinson, Emily. “A loss of something ever felt I—”
Circa 1865. Unbound sheets. Sheet 48.
Robin Long is a queer poet, writer, and professor in Austin, Texas. Her poetry can be found or is forthcoming in the 2021 Texas Poetry Calendar by Kallisto Gaia Press, Alexandria Quarterly, FEELS Zine, Twist in Time, 8 Poems, Literary Yard, and 45 Magazine, as of late. She is currently expanding her fiction thesis on the life of Emily Dickinson, The Other Dickinson, so she can be found at theotherdickinson.com or in social media as @theotherdickinson.
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.