Friday, December 16, 2022

Two Poems by Mark A. Murphy

Poet's Statement: I have always thought that poetry can change lives, and still do. I believe artists have a responsibility to step up to the mark, and say the things, others, perhaps less privileged, would like to, or are unable to say. If humanity is to survive the current and impending ecological disaster beyond the next generation, we must learn new ways of living together.
Murphy’s Law

When the money lender closes her door,
displacing any sense of association
or good relations, you wonder
if the old woman will pause long enough
to take any account of the dislocation.
When the proverbial nose
is put out of joint for the last time,
you wonder if the filter tip
burning like a Roman Candle
belongs to the long litany of anything

that can go wrong.
When the father of the bride concludes
she will not buy the book
you spent a lifetime writing, you wonder
if the planet without a visa
really is just another excuse for killing
as the homesteader expands

across the prairie
like stars in a night of passing buffalo.

What’s sought is no more tangible
than river sounds.
      The shoots of stars.
So, we wait in the dusk, half-blind.
Our destiny temporarily on hold.
As we saw fallen oak and ash.
Hagg Wood trembling
      in hail and snow.
Two brothers driven
by Siberian winds. Collecting logs.
Unaware of the moon. Frozen holly.
Frozen mud.

Unaware of each other. But for love.
Mark A. Murphy has had work published in 18 countries. He is a three-time Pushcart Nominee, and has published eight books of poetry to date. German publisher ‘Moloko Print’ published his latest collection, The Ruin of Eleanor Marx in the summer of 2022.


Friday, November 25, 2022

The Four Responses by Cass Heid (Spoken Word)

Click here to go to the video.

Artist's Statement:

This poem was inspired by the TV show Avatar: The Last Airbender, which I loved when I was younger, but as an adult began to bond with in a completely different way. This past June, as I was preparing something to read for an open mic event at my graduate program, the theme song began to play in my head: "Water, Earth, Fire, Air". 

I had been planning to read a different poem for this event, but began to wonder how these elements would sound in the form of a spoken word piece. More importantly, I wondered how I could make them relevant to the themes that I already loved to write. As someone who also writes creative nonfiction, trauma, mental illness, and especially neurodivergence are important topics for me as I believe that everyone deserves to feel safe discussing them openly.

I began to think of every emotion that I personally experience and compare them to the elements: water as grief, earth as stubbornness, fire as rage, and air as fear. When I had this list running through my head, I realized how much of these emotions come from trauma. I then remembered the four trauma responses: fight, flight, freeze, and fawn. For the next few days, the poem began to form in my head, and play on repeat until I had no choice but to get it out on paper. This ended up being the poem that I would read for the performance, and the reactions to my reading would make me realize that this was the correct decision. 


Biography: Cassidy is an autistic and ADHD writer whose genres include creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry; but her most notable work is in the performance art of spoken word. A native of Swoyersville, Pennsylvania, Cassidy will soon earn her Master of Arts in Creative Nonfiction from Wilkes University; where she had also earned her Bachelor of Science in Earth and Environmental Science and a minor in Spanish. She can be found working on her debut essay collection, taking care of her abundance of houseplants, or training in mixed martial arts at her neighborhood dojo. 

Friday, November 18, 2022

Somewhere by Charlotte Bray

CFS crumples you into a ball,
Ready to be thrown away.
But look hard enough
And all those same things
That are written on you, into you
Make up the very essence of you,
Are still in there,
The things that make you tick,
What makes you laugh,
The moments that make you tingle,
The things you care about,
What matters.
It matters,
You matter.
Those creases and lines
That the illness brings
Are not part of you,
Not really,
They are only the surface,
Not your soul.
Charlotte Bray lives in the UK with her family and 2 rabbits. She has CFS/ME and uses writing as a way to express the challenges of living with this condition. By sharing her writing, she hopes that it will spread understanding and resonate with others who may be living with a chronic illness/disability. She loves audiobooks, trees, herbal tea and her dressing gown! This is her first published piece of work.

Instagram: charlotte.restmakesmestronger
Facebook: charlotte.restmakesmestronger

Friday, October 28, 2022

Interview with F.I. Goldhaber on What Color is Your Privilege? and the Topics of Their New Collection

The outside edges have shades of yellow to red fading into each other with the middle being six photos of various people (man, woman, Black, Muslim, Jewish, etc.) The top of the image has the title in white with the author's name on the bottom.

Handy, Uncapped Pen: What was the most difficult thing about writing this book?

F.I. Goldhaber: I didn't "write" this book. I compiled poems that were written over a period of eight years. That said, the most difficult part of putting it together was figuring out the best order for the poems and that kept changing as I added more poems.

HUP: How long did What Color is Your Privilege? take to write/organize?

Goldhaber: I first started putting the collection together (and came up with the title) five years ago. At that time it included 20 poems. In a year it had almost doubled in size and I began sending it out to publishers for consideration.

About a year after that, John Warner Smith, who would be named Louisiana State Poet Laureate two years later, hit up the email list of contributors to Black Lives Have Always Mattered, A Collection of Essays, Poems, and Personal Narratives Edited by Abiodun Oyewole published by 2Leaf Press (in which he and I both had poems). He sought blurbs for his fifth collectionwhich eventually became Our Shut Eyes, devoted to racial history and contemporary issues of race in American societywith an offer to reciprocate.

Of Our Shut Eyes I wrote, quoting one of his poems, that Warner "plays the 'old familiar song, an American song of race, hate, and rage' for new audiences."

Warner described What Color is Your Privilege? as "a book-length blues song decrying racial, gender, religious, and sexual intolerance in America."

While I submitted the book, it continued to grow. Each publisher got a slightly different compilation as I added new poems I'd written and sometimes new versions of previously unpublished poems (I don't consider a poem to be in its "final form" until it's published). I even added poems after Left Fork accepted it for publication a year ago, the last two inserted in May of this year, for a final total of 72 poems.

"But, does anyone hear my words? Do
they heed my warnings? They sit and nod,
sometimes buy my books."

-from "Poetry "
HUP: Writers who are activists can often feel like their words are useless when it comes to inspiring change. What would you say to those writers?

Goldhaber: That poem actually started out as my introduction when I read poetry at live events and gradually morphed into the introduction to What Color is Your Privilege?

To answer your question, I would say keep writing. Keep submitting. If you only reach one person, if your words influence only one reader to change how they think/approach the world, consider that a success. (And you never know which poem will touch which reader when.) You never know when (and may never learn about) one person will make a difference, however small, that will impact another (or many others) in positive ways.

What Color is Your Privilege? received 22 explicit rejections and 12 implicit ones before it found its perfect home (i.e. someone who loved the book and was excited to publish it) at a press I'd only known about as the indicia on books by colleagues. (I never saw Left Fork on a list of publishers seeking submissions, it has a very narrow focus, but turned out to be a splendid fit.)

Although every one of the 72 poems had been submitted for consideration to at least one publication, only 56 were published previously and almost all received at least one rejection.

Perseverance is key in publishing and protests.

HUP: You talk about passing as white in "Little Old White Lady". How has passing influenced your activism?

Goldhaber: Passing allows me to observe the behavior of those for whom I intended this book—privileged, liberal, white, abled, cis peoplewhen they're not performing (and I mean that in the literal sense) as allies and to better understand how liberals contribute to the problems of systemic racism, ableism (always a tool of white supremacy), and other forms of oppression. (Liberals are today's white moderates about whom Martin Luther King Jr. warned us in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: "more devoted to 'order' than to justice".)

It also gives me the privilege of using that assumption of whiteness to advocate for, and when appropriate, interfere on the behalf of those who are not as I did in the incident related in that poem.

If the service is free,
you’re not the customers,
your data’s the product.

-from "Products for Sale"

HUP: I think these lines are so important, especially for marginalized folks and activists when so much can be used (not just for marketing) against them in various ways. Do you have any tips for those who have to be "present" online for one reason or another but want to be cautious? Is controlling what you share and not clicking ads enough?

Goldhaber: It's a start. My best advice is to treat everything online with the utmost paranoia (just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you) and to always give as little information as possible. Every single entity you share personally identifying information (PII) with has a) the potential to be hacked making that information available online for the world to access and b) the ability to share your information with entities that will try to sell you things you don't need at best and seek your destruction at worst. In addition:
  •    Don't share your phone number, DOB (use a fake one if it's required e.g. on Facebook), Tax Identification Number (including your Social Security number), home address, etc. anywhere you don't have to, but especially social media accounts, posts, or "private" messages. Even "security questions" asking you for seemingly innocuous information like your first pet or where you went to school, are data gathering traps. Make stuff up.
  •    Do not take quizzes, sign petitions, or play online info games. Those are at best data gathering tools and at worst PII thefts (notice how often the questions mirror those "security" questions).
  •    Just because someone asks you for information, doesn't mean you're required to provide it (e.g. medical offices and insurance companies ask for your TIN/SSN). Do not give it to them.
  •    Don't use your phone to log into social media or access your financial information, doing so shares that information with Google or Apple (depending on whose OS you use) plus the app you're using and whoever it sells your data to.
  •    Remember, anything you post on social media, including posts/messages marked private or deleted are never private.
  •    Turn off tracking on your phone and use tracking blockers in any browser.
  •    Don't use the same email address for social media that you use for your financial or personal correspondence (IMO, everyone should have at least three email addresses and a free gmail or similar type account should only be the one used for social media).
  •    Don't log into any accounts, as you're often encouraged to do, with Facebook, Google, or any other social media, because that shares your information with those entities and they will use it. Always create a new, separate, unique account.
  •    Use unique, secure passwords (12 or more characters in an incomprehensible combination of letters, numbers, and symbols) for each place you do log into. Invest in a password "safe" to track your passwords (and whatever fake birth date or fake answers to security questions you gave), one that stores its data on your machine not in the cloud, and keep an encrypted copy on a separate storage device.
  •    Don't store your data, especially PII, in the cloud.
  •    There's plenty more, of course. And if you haven't been doing these things, The Smart Girl's Guide to Privacy: Practical Tips for Staying Safe Online by Violet Blue can help you mitigate damage already done.

Hate speech is not free speech when it drowns
out the voices of others; when it’s
used to harass those with darker skin;
when it incites violence, murder.
HUP: I can't tell you how many times I've heard that we have to allow hate speech because it's part of our list of rights and not letting people say what they want is a "slippery slope". What is your response to people who say that?

Goldhaber: I don't tolerate the intolerant.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution only guarantees that "Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech". It doesn't prevent private entities (such as social media companies) from regulating what people are allowed to publish on their platforms, it doesn't require anyone to listen/read hateful words, and it doesn't guarantee freedom from the consequences of one's words (including being fired, shunned, and/or ostracized for hate speech).

Media awarding objective weight to both sides, equating fascist hate speech with leftist calls for change while ignoring the danger of the former and the validity of the latter; comparing violence, death, and civil rights evisceration by the right to protest vandalism from the left, helped create the mess we're currently in.

Words can kill. Hate speech is used to rile up the right, empowering them to doxx, attack, and murder marginalized people and those who fight back (or deliberately harass them into committing suicide). The list of people killed by online hate speech (including Faux News and other so-called "news" media) grows longer every day. People radicalized by "reporters" and "commentators" who get rich pushing conspiracy theories, projecting pedophilia plots, and lying about who's actually interfering with voting rights, education, and the courts, murder children and adults daily.

HUP: I found your poem "Gender Blending Fashion" to be such a sweet, lovely piece about the permission to express gender in whatever way feels true to someone. Why do you feel people try so hard to "police" other people's fashion choices? 

Goldhaber: Policing other people's fashion is very much a part of binary thinking, and an attempt to impose cultural gender constructs on anyone who eschews them. Men can't wear skirts (unless they're kilts) and women must wear makeup and more "femme" clothing. This, of course, ignores the fact that for a time the height of male fashion included makeup, wigs, frilly clothing, and pointy-toed high heels.

Gender is a cultural construction of beliefs/behaviors assigned to people based on their sex. It varies significantly throughout time, across cultures, and controlled by class considerations.

It's ironic that people who claim to be feminists, a movement partially about throwing off gender-restrictive roles, are so critical about enforcing binary, gender-based restrictions. (Which is why I refuse to allow them to claim they are feminists—they're mostly Nazis/white supremacists since that's where fascism startseliminating Queer/Trans folk and strictly enforcing gender roles.)

HUP: If for-profit prisons ended tomorrow, what do you think would change in the "justice" system?

Goldhaber: The entire "justice" system is "for-profit" with the sole purpose of furthering oppression of marginalized people. Look at what's considered criminal and what isn't. For example:
  •    Police-reported "property crime" doesn't include employer wage theft (~$50 billion annually) more than triple all theft "crimes" complied in "crime rate" statistics.
  •    Police-reported "property crime" also doesn't include police civil forfeiture seizures, a large percentage of which are not legal, which steal almost six times as much as all reported burglaries combined.
  •    Police-reported "violent crimes" don't include several million physical and sexual assaults committed by police and jail/prison guards each year.
The Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution only partially eliminated slavery and involuntary servitude. Slavery is still legal in this country "as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted". Of course, the Constitution doesn't define those crimes and states in the south quickly passed and still enforce Black codes created specifically to maintain the slave labor force.

Those Black codes have become the basis of our entire so-called "justice system." And, because oppressing and marginalizing people is inextricably intertwined with capitalism, the U.S., with the highest rate of locking up its citizens in the entire world, has an extremely lucrative carceral system. As a result, ending it is fought mercilessly by those who benefit from it. This includes police who make six-figure salaries with all kinds of benefits (health care, time off, generous lifetime pensions after 20 years or less, etc.) and practically unlimited budgets to purchase weapons, vehicles, and other toys bullies like to play with as well as well-staffed public relations departments created to maintain the false narrative that cops improve public safety; District Attorneys who are always better compensated than public defenders; and judges (who often start out as DAs, make exorbitant salaries with large benefit packages, and receive almost no scrutiny about how they operate). All three of these groups often ignore the law they claim to care so much about and/or twist it to serve their own purposes and increase their personal wealth.

The entire punitive cash bail system is a huge profit center as are court fees; fines; contracts to provide meals, health care, clothing, and other services at jails/prisons; monitoring costs (e.g. the person required by a court to wear an ankle bracelet is also required to pay an exorbitant amount of money to "rent" it and billions are spent on cameras and other systems observing the incarcerated); etc.

All of these costs are paid for by taxpayers and the incarcerated at the expense of medical care, food, housing, education, childcare, arts, recreation, improved infrastructure, etc.

Although combined we outnumber our
oppressors, as long as we allow
them to divide and conquer we will
never succeed in breaking our chains
HUP: What do you think is the most effective tool they use to keep us divided?

Goldhaber: Othering. By artificially constructing hierarchies and divisions—whether based on skin color, religion, education, type of employment, gender, immigration status, language spoken, ability, sexuality, etc.—a small number of wealth hoarders pit the rest of us against each other discouraging us from working together to fight their oppression. They project their crimes and grift (grooming/sexual exploitation of children, drug use, theft, government welfare, price gouging, etc.) onto others and create fake issues (abortion, LGBTQ recruiting) to enrage and embolden people who will believe their lies and vote for their sycophants.

Poverty is a policy choice and many acts considered criminal are in fact people trying to stay alive. The cash bail system imprisons poor people who have not been (and may never be) convicted of a crime (often costing them their jobs, homes, custody of their children, etc.) while people with money (if they are arrested at all) are immediately freed.

The federal minimum wage hasn't budged from $7.25 for thirteen years, but the purchasing power of that pittance had gone down almost $3 at the beginning of the year. In that same time period, CEO compensation shot up 54 percent and corporate profits skyrocketed, fueling inflation (but notice inflation is being erroneously blamed on union organizing that has obtained miniscule wage increases) making that already-unlivable wage worth even less.
Biography: F.I. Goldhaber's words capture people, places, and politics with a photographer's eye and a poet's soul. As a reporter, editor, business writer, and marketing communications consultant, they produced news stories, feature articles, editorial columns, and reviews for newspapers, corporations, governments, and non-profits in five states. Now paper, plastic, electronic, and audio magazines, books, newspapers, calendars, broadsides, and street signs display their poetry, fiction, and essays.

Friday, October 21, 2022

The Beautiful Man: a Portrait by Su Zi

A black man with medium brown skin is slightly off center. He is wearing a half-zip sweatshirt in a brown pattern over a blue shirt with a gold and brown striped tie. He has on a gray hat with brown band. He has a black mustache and goatee. A brick pathway can be seen behind him, as can a gray statue surrounded by hedges in the distance..

A person approaches a public restroom: on the door is a stick figure of a person and a wheelchair—for many people, this is what disability looks like: the wheelchair. There are invisible disabilities, as not all disabilities are immediately perceivable by strangers. Additionally, disabled people learn to hide their vulnerabilities, their differences, their difficulties in an exhausting camouflage known as masking. Ours is a culture that stigmatizes disability.

In the realm of culture and identity, communities of people can create bonds with others who identify as they do; however, sometimes those very cultures will exclude or silence the disabled among them. In an interview with Gavin Christian Brown (August 2022), he readily identified as a teacher, as an actor (film, TV, and theater), as a writer, and as a Black man. Gavin also has health issues, “It’s ridiculously hard to put on my shoes sometimes…hard to shower…to pick things up”. Yet, because he was denied disability by the government, Gavin did not immediately identify as disabled; this conundrum faces many disabled people where states habitually deny aid to half the applicants. Of this situation, Gavin says,” I know I am disabled. I know what my health is like. I know what my abilities are. We have to adjust to do the best we can, despite limitations imposed on us.” In his case, those limitations include “numerous interconnected health issues” that date back decades, and include permanent damage from physical abuse in gym class at age eleven, and for which he recently had surgery.

Gavin is a teacher, and he says that he practices “selflessness as a teacher”. He is also a public persona, appearing in supporting roles on NCIS and in films, as well as being present online. He says he tries to “inspire a lot of people who think they might give up by trying to be positive”. To this end, he posted a picture of his surgical scar, and followers will often find pictures of Gavin next to stars such as LaVar Burton (“meeting him on NCIS was a big highlight of my life. He is the nicest person. At one point, he stopped production to read to the kids and disabled folk at the center where we were filming. I grew up on Reading Rainbow, so I was a bit star struck”). He believes that we can “inspire each other to do better” and often posts philosophical musings for that purpose.

Although Gavin grew up with “multiple head injuries from abuse”, and “collapsed playing Basketball…November 1994” because of an enlarged heart, the medical care was seen as primitive, and his parents “vetoed” medical treatment because of “skepticism”. In the Black community in which he was raised:

Black disability is a closed, restricted space. For some people, disability doesn’t exist, it’s the realm of religion and prayer. There’s no discussion of going for help with mental health, going to the doctor.
There’s a target on your back.
You have to be tough, and you cannot express yourself, or express your pain. It’s seen as weak.
You cannot ask for help. Support networks are kept to intimate circles, plus there’s the feeling of being conditioned to not need them.
And thus, regarding his identity as a disabled person, “it’s such a rare thing for us to be open about this”

For those who only know Gavin as a writer, it is fair—if an identity must be restricted—to see him for this alone: “Writing keeps me alive…it’s wonderful and beautiful…it’s a joy…I love it so much. It’s a tragedy turned into a triumph”. To his credit, Gavin has written a series of books that he says he is happy “if one person reads” and which are available through Amazon.

And while he repeatedly maintains that “men are socialized to ignore pain”, his post of his surgical scar had some “upsetting and racist” responses, creating yet another situation that he finds “very complex and very difficult”. Yet it is our culture which is shallow and restrictive: a government that deliberately undercounts and underserves a vulnerable but significant population; a section of our own citizenry so marginalized as to disavow the vulnerabilities in the community, to veil people in silence; a teacher financially beleaguered enough to work another job; an artist who must fight publicly unacknowledged restrictions and personal physical pain to release work that is sometimes unnoticed. This is far more than the depiction of a stick figure wheelchair would have the mostly oblivious believe. Yes, disabled people are more than the disability seen from afar. In the case of Gavin Brown, yes, he is disabled, and more importantly, yes, he is a truly beautiful man.


Su Zi is a poet/writer and artist/printmaker and edits, designs and constructs the eco-feminist poetry chapbook series Red Mare.

Publications include poetry, essays, stories and reviews that date back to pre-cyber publishing, including when Exquisite Corpse was a vertical print publication, and a few editions of New American Writing. More recent publications include Red Fez, Alien Buddha, and Thrice. A resident of the Ocala National Forest, with a dedicated commitment to providing a safe feeding respite for wild birds, and for a haphazard gardening practice that serves as a life model for all aspects of her work.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Scattered Pain and Nightflare by Lea Ervin

Artist's Statement:  My name is Lea Ervin and I am a 40 year old woman with ADHD, dyslexia, OCD, and stage 4 endometriosis.  I have had learning and physical challenges my entire life, and a year ago, I started painting to explore the body and what it means to live with chronic pain and mental illness.  The three paintings are part of my “Scattered Pain” series in which I depict what is happening inside my body on the outside to give a visual representation of the symbiosis of chronic pain, ADHD, and OCD.  The pelvic regions of each figure have a touch of red to depict the pain and inflammation one experiences with endometriosis along with the scattered colors that represent a neurodivergent brain. It is difficult to express in words the experience of living in this body, so it was necessary to create a visual representation of life with multiple disabilities. These illustrations depict the pain, messiness, and beauty that come with being different and that there is beauty everywhere.  

There are three paintings of a nude woman in a line drawing (from chin to thighs) where she has different colors in her body. The first is called "A Good Day" where the curves of the body are deep blue and there are splotches of light blue and yellow around the form. There is a dark red line slashed across the body just above the vagina like an angry scar. The second piece is "Brain on Fire" which has black lines for the body, and red/orange/yellow all the way across the image... even outside of the body. The color gets heavier towards the right of the image. The last is "Agony" in which the body's lines are red. Red and pink permeate the body. Yellow dapples around the shoulders. A blue streak is seen off to the right, as though it is peace not found inside.



My endometriosis pain swirls, saturates, and swims through my pelvis. It coaxes my heart to beat faster pushing the sweat from my pores. My bowels somersault shifting the bile in my stomach into my throat. The pain crushes my bones.

Feeling well is bait, you see.

An unattainable truth that the pain might stop.

But like a crimson demonic chorus, the endometriosis lesions in my belly snarl.

“Remember girl, you will die. But not tonight girl, oh no no no. You’ll just wish you were dead.”

I am a woman undeserving of peace because tonight, by body says otherwise.

The space has long been empty—nearly a decade since endometriosis took my uterus. However, the spawns thrive, bleed, rip, scar and propagate nights of agony, sleeplessness, and hopelessness.

I writhe in the blanket and wring my hands in the sheets.

Fetal position

Straight like an arrow.

On my back.

Hailing Mary with a whisper as to not wake my sleeping husband, resting peacefully next to me.

Oh, to have that sense of safety and comfort.

But I can only count the clock ticks.

Re-check the instructions on the orange pill bottle lying sideways on my nightstand with the cap partially undone.

Tally the hours on my fingers to determine the soonest I can safely take another, and hope there will be rest.


 Lea Ervin is a writer and artist in Alabama. She is a writing instructor at the University of Alabama Birmingham and holds a Masters of Arts in Professional and Technical Writing from the University of Arkansas Little Rock. She has taught on both the community college and university level. As a freelance writer, her work centers around endometriosis advocacy and has been featured in The Blossom (Endometriosis Foundation of America),, Reckon South, The Mighty, and Thought Catalog.  Lea also paints to depict the struggle of mental illness and chronic pain and the parts of both that are hard to put into words. When she is not writing, teaching, or painting, she is collecting vinyl records, bingeing her favorite series, reading, cooking, and dancing around her house to indie rock or jazz. She resides in Oneonta, Alabama, with her husband Brad White and their Beagle-mix, Starla Belle.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Horror of the Hoarfrost Fray by Daniel Moreschi

When bloomy bells and balmy days forsake
A sphere of solstice worn, miasmal skies
Enfold a leaden shroud of winter wake,
A falling crystalline array belies.

The oaks are weaned from reach of red and gold
And held by stranded lines of bleary wings,
With sculptured trunk for base of bastions, holed,
To brave the brink that famished lustre brings.

From fleeting streaks of gleam, to chartless height
Of icy dunes, now flanked by sleety sheets.
Yet swallowed beds patrolled by frost and flight
Become graves when homing light depletes.

For daunting dawns, in lieu of morning song,
Are tempered trills of fretful flits that leads
To lurid storms, with swooping strikes along
A shattered fray on view of scanty seeds.

The roots are rattled by a wild cascade
As turning tails are tolls from layers thinned,
While clouds are sated by the tainted glade
And dusky tinge, when lesions stain the wind.

Though sunlit lances lift the sullen screen
To galvanise the depths of faded earth
And breach the unthawed walls for vital green,
There are no quills to greet the spring's rebirth.
Biography:  Daniel is a poet from Neath, South Wales, UK. After life was turned upside down by contacting M.E., he rediscovered his passion for poetry that had been dormant since his teenage years. Writing has served as a distraction from his daily struggles ever since. Daniel has been acclaimed by various poetry competitions, including The Oliver Goldsmith Literature Festival, the Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival, the Jurica-Suchy Nature Museum's Nature Poetry Contest, and the Hugo Dock Snow Maze Poetry Contest. Daniel has also had poetry published by The Society of Classical Poets and The Black Cat Poetry Press.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Overview: Stamped Cross-Stitch by Spazzy Crafter

Two images: the one on the left is on white with a khaki pattern of two dogs in an autumn basket with leaves. The picture on the right side is of the design fully finished, complete with texture on the chocolate labs.

Everything that comes in a stamped cross-stitch kit:

Embroidery floss

Printed instructions


Fabric (with the design)

Colored picture of the completed design

The basics and tips:

The easiest way to begin your project is to start from the middle and work your way out. The instructions tell you how many strands of each color you need for each part of the project. Basically, you embroider a bunch of small X’s on the fabric. The most efficient way to not lose your place on your project is to mark off on your instructions. You have to be careful not to get the fabric wet or dirty because it will fade the design. However, dampening your floss a bit on the end helps with threading the needle.

On embroidery hoops:

Depending on the size of the project, you might want an embroidery hoop. Hoops make it easier by allowing you to focus on small areas at a time. I also use them because they are better to hold onto than trying to work with everything laid out. Embroidery hoops don't always come with the kit, but you can find them at crafting stores or Amazon.

To use the embroidery hoop, unscrew the top of the hoop. Put the smaller hoop on the underneath side of the project. Then, put the bigger part of the hoop over the front. Snap the smaller and bigger parts together and tighten the top.

As a disabled crafter:

I need help with inserting the embroidery floss in the eye of the needle and separating the floss strands. My hands just don’t cooperate enough.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Two Poems by Allison Whittenberg


my dry wit
held its own
as the rain came down
in spits
then a geyser
we kept talking and talking at the outside table
al fresco -- all wet, oh
your zingers
in the dampness
left us
talking about every little
The Hard Way

You never know people
till they die
you gingerly page
through their privacy

Those fresh, fateful photos:
mothers in mauve miniskirts,
fathers frying hash browns, wearing floppy hats

After there is nothing at stake,
you find out all that you could have given

A little air comes in,
combats the forming mold that corrupted keepsakes,
contaminated these attic memories

This knowing threatens to sun the was
the is, now, will be more forgiving

  Allison Whittenberg is a poet, playwright and fiction writer. Her lastest collection of short stories Carnival of Reality came out April 2022.

Instagram: therealallisonwhittenberg
Twitter: @allisonwhitten6

Monday, September 19, 2022

Neither Weak Nor Obtuse: an Interview with Author, Jake Goldsmith

By Valois J Vera
Interviewer, Handy Uncapped Pen

"I am very ill. That would be the first and most obvious thing
to know. I have something of a haughty and self-important mo-
tivation for writing a memoir, being relatively young, as I have the persistent weight of illness stunting my time to speak. I need a model of myself—to have a promotion of my worth— and so here is no small attempt at a testament to my life and constitution. This work is a show of my growth, of what I love, and some diagnosis as to why I would love those particular things."

The introduction to Jake Goldsmith's Neither Weak Nor Obtuse reveals a glimpse into the raw and genuine pages of this striking memoir. We certainly wanted to learn more about Jake and his book.

Handy Uncapped Pen: What inspired the idea for Neither Weak Nor Obtuse?

Jake Goldsmith: I’m a memoirist, if I’m any sort of writer. I’m very weary and anxious about my life and health and I felt the (indulgent) need to hint at something of a last testament. It’s morbid, and I don’t think it means I will have nothing else to say, but I think the book does hint at fundamentally what my state of mind is as a chronically ill person—my thoughts, perceptions, how I have come to be, who I am.

HUP: Tell us about your writing process.

JG: I normally write notes on an iPad, or paper that I then transfer to an iPad—on Pages or Word. It’s much easier for me than sitting at a computer or desk and I’d normally have some inspiration to write, say, just a paragraph on a particular subject—which I would then expand on or polish later. I rarely rewrite anything substantially but rather make additions or renovate what I’ve initially put down. It is liberating, though, to cut large swathes of text if I have something better. I don’t think my process is too interesting and I don’t have much good advice for anyone I know who wants to write; I write organically, at whatever time it comes to me, and without any real discipline. As my life, it affords something, means I don’t need to be so disciplined or regimented.

HUP: Tell us about your publication experience.

JG: I originally self-published my book. I didn’t care too much about wider ramifications and just wanted something for my parents or friends to point at. It was too difficult to ask publishers anyway, out of embarrassment or just by being a stranger. When I later founded The Barbellion Prize, I was noticed by literary people, who are a closer knit community of people I was outside of, and that lent me a gateway to people with links to independent publishers. Before I would have to knock on the door of publishers as an unknown entity from the outside if I wanted anything, but if you know someone then it’s friendly. It’s unfair, in many ways; cynically it’s nepotism that means anyone can get anywhere—knowing people at the right time and place means a lot more than raw talent or expertise individually (if I have that). But I’m thankful to have made friends, first online, just by being noticed after creating The Barbellion Prize and allowing me some access into an alien literary world. I’d be aware of the literary world, of course, but it’s very much a selection of (often metropolitan) cliques and cultural niches most are not in.

Otherwise, my publisher has been very personable, personal, and entirely receptive of me. This would, I gather, be more difficult with a larger publisher—with its own obtuse marketing directives or other pursuits. I was seen for what I am and given the editorial help I needed, or anyone really needs. It may be a harder world to access if you’re not initiated, but it certainly has its necessary advantages. Purely as a framework for editors, anyone needs a good editor to be anything worth looking at—and that’s harder if you don’t have the means or you’re self-published. Most self-published works will be rougher simply because of the lack of good editing, clearly.

HUP: Looking back at both the writing and publication process, is there anything you would have done differently?

JG: Not particularly. I had regular calls with my editor to go through the text bit by bit and polish it (often while I was in hospital). It was a rewarding experience and I had no real trouble with it, and I’m grateful for it.

HUP: Will there be a sequel, or what projects are you working on now?

JG: I may try to have some shorter articles published. I’m afraid of being one note. I’m strongest when writing this very blunt, frank, open confessional. I have a few thousand words of something that’s akin to Barbellion’s journal. It’s an apt comparison to me. It also rewards writing in short disjointed essays or paragraphs and could be published as a short journal or a collection in a magazine. I have a few brief essays published in the quarterly magazine Exacting Clam, from my publisher Sagging Meniscus, about my experiences in hospital and with people's behaviour and thoughts regarding illness—more phenomenology of illness. I detail less of the basic physical facts of illness and more any thought or philosophical processes, which are more important to me. Coping with the facts of illness are more important to me than simply what those facts are—which are obvious or boring. I don’t need to write down, as much, what my hospital notes are. I need to think about what they implicate, what they mean exactly, what fate I then have and how I am going to reconcile or deal with those realities—if I even can. My emotional or philosophical reactions to my health are more important to detail than my BPM or oxygen saturation.

HUP: Tell us about the Disability narratives in your book.

JG: The whole thing, any political thought, any perceptions I have, are from my reality as an ill person. Through the lens of illness. It’s the defining characteristic and I think it’s a lie, and insulting, unwitting or not, to say that illness or disability isn’t so utterly defining. It’s not shameful, it’s fine for disability to define what you can do and it will define how you think. I’m not sure how that’s escapable without lying about or underestimating what disability and illness is. I can’t be ashamed of it, of course it’s going to shape everything and I’m not sure how it couldn’t.

Otherwise, I talk of how healthier people don’t reflect on or comprehend disability, and illness as a means towards philosophical or psychological evaluation. I don’t portray disabled people as soothsayers, but rather more immediately faced with a reality to confront and think about—while others, self-admittedly, are more blithe about things.

HUP: As a Disabled Author, what is your perspective on Disability representation in literature?

JG: Many of our best historical writers were disabled, in some way. Academically or as laypeople we care not to notice this or appreciate it. We will either not know of it, or if we do we distance it from our daily lives.

Despite historical representation from the likes of Kierkegaard, Samuel Johnson, Emily Dickinson, or any other number of renowned and canon authors, modern publishing is limited in the number of openly disabled people it elects to publish—as much as other industries are also very impoverished when it comes to disability representation, or class representation, etc.

The Barbellion Prize is only a small effort to reward disabled authors (at least I say that, while others say it can be more), and to me it’s still unjust that disability isn’t perceived as a fundamental or primary subject, and we neglect disabled people in literature as much as we do in everyday life—even if we want to pretend we are more cultured and worldly in literature.

It’s common to quote Virginia Woolf, but she rightly expressed in her essay On Being Ill, “ . . . it becomes strange indeed that illness has not taken its place with love and battle and jealousy among the prime themes of literature."

It is indeed strange and insulting that this is still true.

Friday, September 9, 2022

At Last... by Jim Tritten

I woke up suddenly at 3:00 a.m. The cats went flying from the bed. My eyes strained wide open, jaws clenched; I sat straight up in bed and was instantly aware of my surroundings. I closed my eyes, exhaled, rubbed my temples, and took in a bushel of the stale night air. Maybe tomorrow it would be better.

The next night, I woke up at 2:00 a.m. Not so abruptly this time, but still, I went rapidly from an active dream state to being fully awake. There was no point in staying in bed, so I slowly extricated myself from the covers and cats and crept out of the dark bedroom, trying not to wake my wife, Jasmine. The following night, I woke up gasping for air at 4:00 a.m. I sat up and coughed. The cats and my wife stirred and looked at me.

“Bad dream?” my wife asked.


How long has it been since I had a good night’s rest? A night without dreams about places, situations, and things that I had tried very hard to forget. How long had it been since I could look forward to waking in the morning feeling refreshed? How long had it been since I had a “sweet” dream? Years—not days nor weeks nor months, but years. I enrolled in a sleep betterment group and began to learn techniques about what to do when I suddenly awakened in the middle of the night.

My recent dreams varied in bizarre content but not in the essence of their character. They always involved some sort of conflict and problems that could not be solved. Often there was violence and threat to life. These dreams were not pleasant, and they caused me to view sleep as something to fear rather than welcome. How many years can the body tolerate abnormal sleep?

The dreams also bled over into the daytime in the form of intrusive thoughts. These were not the same bizarre scenes that filled my brain during my troubled sleep, but unwanted memories of particular events and situations that had actually occurred in my past. The recollections that I tried extremely hard to forget. Real unresolved problems that still lacked satisfactory endings. Circumstances for which there was not, and would likely never be, a happy ending. All revolved around the unanswered question of “why?” I enrolled in various groups that helped veterans deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Then, too, I often “woke up” in the middle of walking in a building or driving on the road in my car. Not the return-to-consciousness wakeup that comes about when your mind wanders from what you are doing, but rather the abrupt kind of shocking wakeup that occurs when an incredibly annoying alarm clock buzzer goes off. Unlike the wakeups after my bad dreams, these wakeups during the day were typified by a total lack of awareness of my own self and my immediate surroundings.

I was subjected to a wide variety of medical tests that attempted to establish the cause of this abnormal brain behavior. I was told there was nothing physically wrong and that I likely needed to process things and situations from my past and resolve them. As if that were easy.

The two most challenging things I have ever done, and I used to land a jet on aircraft carriers at night in the stormy North Atlantic, were to say in public that I had been diagnosed with a mental illness and to swallow the first medication that would help me deal with PTSD. After all, people like me did not have mental illnesses. And once I took that first pill, I would never again be allowed back into the work world that once was my escape and in which I excelled. That pill was the first step down a one-way road into the unknown, portrayed on the silver screen in ignominious screenplays like The Snake Pit and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

It was hard to keep taking those pills once the side effects kicked in. Remember, your physician has determined that the positive effects of your medication outweigh the adverse side effects. Easy for someone who has never taken mind-altering drugs to say. Equally challenging, I was about to learn, was to agree to meet regularly with a stranger and enter into a conspiracy by which we would pick at the scabs of my life and expose those wounds to the air — and pain. After all, they were scabs because I had tried to cover over the damage and put an end to the pain. No, this was not going to be easy. Why can’t there just be a shot that would make it all go away and restore my life to the way it was? This process hurt. My hands trembled as I described things that I had never told anyone.

Finally, there was a session during which we got to the critical issues that needed to be resolved. The center of gravity had been identified. An explanation was provided. The “why” was answered. “Not so,” said I. But ... it was so. Now there was an explanation that could account for all the things that had been done, resulting in all the pain I had felt. I left the session totally drained and sought solace in meditation.

The following day, I woke up suddenly at 5:00 a.m. The cats again went flying from the bed. My eyes strained wide open, jaws clenched; I sat straight up in bed and was instantly aware of my surroundings. I was drenched in sweat and could hardly breathe. I had awakened suddenly from a dream. All my issues and unresolved problems had been squarely addressed and resolved beyond my wildest expectations in this dream. The dream included a most satisfactory alternate future. I smiled, got out of bed, and went into the living room to sit in a chair and repeatedly think to myself, “Wow.”

The next day, I woke up again at 5:00 a.m. My new dream had been one of telling the story of the previous night’s dream. It felt good to dream about recounting the alternate history story with a happy ending. It was an enjoyable dream. I did not have another dream for several days. When I finally did, I woke up at 6:00 a.m., calmly and without disturbing the cats or my wife.

I had finally dreamed about something else, something new, something not at all involving my troubled past—just an ordinary everyday dream of no real importance.

At last…


  Jim Tritten is a retired Navy pilot diagnosed with PTSD. He writes for therapy and lives in a semi-rural village in New Mexico with his Danish artist/author wife and four cats.

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Friday, September 2, 2022

Abandonment by Samir Knego

A large, rectangular image. There are black, swirling lines throughout the white in no particular pattern. The words of the poem are in black print in white rectangles. The poem reads: We're at that liminal point/where I settled down deep,/I wanted everything deep/sleeping,/"health"/consent/it's just that/without/a miracle/we just/mend/and I saw him/abandonment/barely personified/cursed/dry/Gorgeous?
Artist's Statement:

My submission includes a poem told in cut-out words over lines meant to resemble some combination of fingerprints and topographic maps. I found the words for the poem while cutting up an old literary magazine I found in a Little Free Library, and so while the poem in some ways reads as quite personal, I also feel a certain distance from it because the individual words are not purely my own. I think the lines in the background reflect this—the fingerprints of other people and their work are on this poem, but from where the reader sits they have all blended together into something more like a landscape.


BiographySamir Knego is a multidisciplinary artist and zinester. He was LEVEL’s Spring 2021 Local Artist-In-Residence and is currently part of Socially Distant Art’s 2022-23 residency program centered around accessibility and Disability Justice. When he’s not making art, he works in a library and listens to lots of heavy metal. Find him online at or in person at the Eno Arts Mill in Hillsborough, NC where he is a resident artist.

Friday, August 26, 2022

The Life Aquatic by Cameron Morse

New baby and no function in my left hand
means I may not hold her. No wonder
The Life Aquatic makes me cry in my laundry
basket and I write down, “Infra 5 Orchestra
Version,” in a red marker. Paint swatches—
“seaside villa, sunbaked brick, incredible
white …”—a deck of cards arrayed before me:
“Pick a card, pick any card.” I should have
been killed as an undergrad in Grand Rapids,
crossing some black parking lot. How many
times had I walked to Celebration Cinema
to sit alone in an empty theater and weep
during The Darjeeling Limited? Samples
of paint bloom on the dark wall of my bedroom.

  Cameron Morse (he, him) is Senior Reviews editor at Harbor Review and the author of eight collections of poetry. His first collection, Fall Risk, won Glass Lyre Press’s 2018 Best Book Award. His book of unrhymed sonnets, Sonnetizer, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books. He holds an MFA from the University of Kansas City-Missouri and lives in Independence, Missouri, with his wife Lili and three children. For more information, check out his Facebook page or website

Friday, August 12, 2022

John Sinclair and The Chair by Su Zi

John is a white man with glasses. He has salt and pepper hair with a full beard to match. He sits in a manual wheelchair with hands clasped near his lap. He has on a white Saints sweatshirt and dark pants. A younger woman is behind him looking down at him; she is wearing a sweater and has brown, curly hair. A man on the right appears to be talking to Sinclair and there is camera equipment to Sinclair's left. Farther left, a black woman exits a building looking at Sinclair. Everyone is outside. A street is seen with homes and vehicles.

John Sinclair is a cultural icon. An author of so many books he has “no idea” how many, saying “why would I count them?”; a sonorous baritone of the radio waves, including formerly on WWOZ New Orleans, and now via streaming on Radio Free Amsterdam; John Sinclair has presence. In fact, one rainy night in New Orleans, there was a show at Snug Harbor featuring John Cleary on keyboard with Michael Ward on congas; after the opening piece was performed, the theater doors opened and in walked John Sinclair: he walked with a cane then, wore a beret against the rain: everyone stopped, turned, Cleary and Ward brightened considerably from the stage—John commanded the room, and everyone waited for him to be seated.

Back in 1991, Sinclair spent six months in a wheelchair when “I tore the tendons in both knees” (personal interview, 2022). Of that time, he says “I was crippled. Painful. It was a drag. I never had anything like that before. It was a new experience. It was terrible.” At that time, Sinclair lived in a rental in the upper Marigny, which had doors at street level. Still, to go out, he says it took “a lot of nerve. It was mental, it was challenging. When you can’t control your leg, it's challenging, you know”. At that time, there was unofficial assistance “oh yeah, I had helpers” by family members Penny, and daughter Celia. There might have been a van. Anyone who visited Sinclair then would find themselves in the front room, which shared two walls with the street and was lined inside with wooden crates filled with records albums. There was always music. After he got past the point where he needed to keep his leg extended horizontally, the wheelchair became occasionally just a chair to sit in for guests, as John pulled albums for his radio show.

Thirty-one years later, John Sinclair is still broadcasting the blues. Although he currently finds mobility with a walker, he has again done time in the chair.

Of that time again in the chair, Sinclair says: “ooo hoo hoo”.

Acknowledging being formerly abled, Sinclair says, “it’s a whole different life now.”

Back when, in Chicago or New Orleans, John Sinclair stood large—tall and wide across the shoulders. He would have been seen smoking outside some pishposh auditorium before a reading by Gwendolyn Brooks, he would be seen strolling the Irish Channel during the street party that second-lined the St Patrick’s parade, he would be seen taking up an entire comfy chair in Bob Rudnick’s Chicago apartment: John Sinclair was seen out.

Now, John says, “I just go to the doctor.” His assistance consists of “a live-in caregiver, one of my daughters come everyday—cook, clean up, it’s a beautiful thing”. He has a porch.

But John Sinclair no longer goes out: “I don’t go anywhere…too much work. I gotta go up and down 22 stairs, so I don’t go anywhere if I don’t have to.” He prefers the walker, because he says, “I have no balance, so when I walk, I am terrified that I am going to fall.” Unfortunately, also, “One time, the walker collapsed…fell on the sidewalk…broke my shoulder in three places.” Yet, there’s still recent releases of books, his voice can be heard by a few touches from a media device, and the laziest research will have him among cohorts like Abbie Hoffman and Marshall McLuhan. Sometimes, the TV will broadcast a John Lennon documentary, and suddenly there’s the voice of John Sinclair—of which, Sinclair himself says, “oh, yeah, that’ll always be there”.

As we go through our lives, we might become aware of decisions about how we want to live; in this regard, we have The Blues—a lifestyle choice that acknowledges both deep sorrow and spiritual uplift, and can perhaps be most easily seen by a No-Longer-Young Mick Jagger rising from a COVID-positive to performance dancing in a fortnight’s time. The Blues is more than a style of music, it’s a way of life; a way of life that encompasses a career of recordings, publications, broadcasts, appearances, public support, activism…and now, Disability, which is, in Sinclair’s words “no bed of roses”.


Biography: Su Zi is a poet/writer and artist/printmaker and edits, designs and constructs the eco-feminist poetry chapbook series Red Mare.

Publications include poetry, essays, stories and reviews that date back to pre-cyber publishing, including when Exquisite Corpse was a vertical print publication, and a few editions of New American Writing. More recent publications include Red Fez, Alien Buddha, and Thrice. A resident of the Ocala National Forest, with a dedicated commitment to providing a safe feeding respite for wild birds, and for a haphazard gardening practice that serves as a life model for all aspects of her work.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Privileged by F.I. Goldhaber

You labored hard to get where you are
            did the work,
            you earned it.

You ignore others who labored just as hard
            did the work,
            got nowhere.

Because of their skin color, gender

Because systemic racism, misogyny,
            neurotypicality, and racism
            deprived them of
            the same opportunities
            you took for granted.

Because authoritarian governments
            deny them education,
            jobs, housing,
            civil rights,
            health care,

Not all those who
            did the work,
            reaped the rewards.

If you never had
            to wait for a court
            to decide if you've
            the same rights (or not)
            as everyone else,
            you have privilege.
Biography:  F.I. Goldhaber's words capture people, places, and politics with a photographer's eye and a poet's soul. As a reporter, editor, business writer, and marketing communications consultant, they produced news stories, feature articles, editorial columns, and reviews for newspapers, corporations, governments, and non-profits in five states. Now paper, plastic, electronic, and audio magazines, books, newspapers, calendars, broadsides, and street signs display their poetry, fiction, and essays. Left Fork press will publish What Color is Your Privilege?—a collection of political statements in poetic form—this September.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Prosthetic Gods: Jonathan Penton (Review by Su Zi)

Black and white drawing. A large planet and rocketship are over the heads of three figures. So figure on the right looks alien, and the figure on the left looks like a man with a partial face. There is another figure in the middle that is humanoid. The title of the book starts on the planet and extends on an angle outward across the top of the picture. There are little asteroids dotting the sky.

Dark material can be difficult for some readers; work that is violent, even when it rhymes, can feel as if the song itself, the poem itself, the art itself is an assault. Those familiar with contemporary genres in music or cinema are no strangers to violence in art; however, not every reader of poetry is accustomed to violence as a thematic element in a chapbook. A reader who is disabled, or is sensitive to disability justice, will notice the book’s title Prosthetic Gods, as disabled folk who live with prosthetic aids are often socially marginalized. While the title refers to a remark made by Freud, and the remark is included in the book’s initial pages, the title itself serves as a warning of this chapbook’s raw content.

Of course, those familiar with punk as a multi-genre philosophy, will also recognize the energy here. The black and white cover features a delicate drawing of subtly grotesque figures apparently in conversation during a rocket launch, and the volume of less than thirty pages uses a nice weight of paper—a testament to the work’s second edition status. Also, the spine is perfect bound, which is unusual in a book of such brevity. One wonders maybe if the first edition didn’t have that wonderful copy shop at midnight look, crooked stapling and all.

The eight titles of the poems also indicate a punk sensibility in this work, with the opening title being “First Mind Buried”, although an untitled poem precedes it. Indeed, Penton’s punk sensibility becomes revealed in this poem’s fifth line “cheap fucks who rent their stolen suits”(6), and there’s an odd use of taboo language through the volume. The punk genre makes full use of impolite terms, but what’s curious is how in “Sin of the Calf” (10), Penton eliminates the vowel to write “g-d” but also uses “fucking” in the same line. There’s no particular spiritual reverence otherwise present in the poem—or the book itself—and punk was notable for its use of deliberate irreverence. 

There’s lots of use of impolite biology in this work; the prologue poem’s longest line is “your ink a mix of sweat, tears, vomit, and blood” and the writing grows increasing in violence, with perhaps a culmination of sorts in a section titled “Maror”. There’s four poems, or sections on separate pages under the title, with the last of these beginning with the rather elegant line “Venus walks among us, invisible and stalking”(14); however, this is not a lush and romantic symbol, but a destructive one who “murders their parents” and continues on with a horrific litany of intimate destruction.

While some readers might dismiss the work as merely the sort of punk porn posture assumed by many practitioners of the genre, there’s ample evidence of horror genre: a poem dedicated to Stephen King involves domestic violence and a nascent mass shooter, and the violence of the poems lends itself well to that genre. Yet, the repeated use of unsavory biologic imagery goes further than the plot of a regular person beset by demons. In “Don’t Let me Give You a Title”, the poem takes a kind of Prufrock journey, “You move smoothly, easily/among these discharged minds/their walls of blood and puke”(20) with the poet’s response being “but you feel more you than ever”. This is not the writer witnessing otherness around him, but rather the writer’s discovery of his own otherness in the least attractive aspects of those he encounters.

While this work may not be an overt testimonial to the author’s identity as other-minded, or neurodivergent, Penton’s participation in a panel on neurodivergence at AWP might be. In the realm of ND activism, there’s debate about which characteristics are also Disability or Crip issues, with some disabled people even objecting to Crip as a title. Nonetheless, the familiarity with the less-than-glamorous aspects of our biology is a fat realm in disability discussion, and has been weaponized against disabled people in a variety of ways in our culture. Just as classical punk was a genre-crossing philosophy, and as disability crosses all social castes among us, experiencing Penton’s chapbook is a visit to both of these realms in an intersection beyond sexual identity alone, or horror alone. Perhaps Penton’s poems here might find welcome if viewed as CripPunk, an energetic arts consideration which seeks revisionist historical acknowledgement of disability in classically accepted artists. While disability in the arts is ever uninvited, and occasionally tokenized, in the literary culture, Penton makes no apologies for his rage: “Let me suffer without any comforts/And the lies that you tell to make your lies worth living/Can rot with the flesh of our culture”(26). The rage of the disabled has almost come within earshot of the wider culture in these years since the beginning of COVID; the rage against the machines that tout a false narrative of normalcy are now coming from voices previously marginalized into invisibility. Our news cycles ever display yet more ugly from the abled towards everything around them, a genuine horrorshow from which literary horror seems a calm respite. Penton’s poetry here bridges the prosaic horror of lives thought to be ordinary, and does so with an artful mix of vernacular language and an elevated ear.


Su Zi is a poet/writer and artist/printmaker and edits, designs and constructs the eco-feminist poetry chapbook series Red Mare.

Publications include poetry, essays, stories and reviews that date back to pre-cyber publishing, including when Exquisite Corpse was a vertical print publication, and a few editions of New American Writing. More recent publications include Red Fez, Alien Buddha, and Thrice. A resident of the Ocala National Forest, with a dedicated commitment to providing a safe feeding respite for wild birds, and for a haphazard gardening practice that serves as a life model for all aspects of her work.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Fate of The Cripendy Contest

There are no results to announce today. I decided the first year I ran the contest not to award prizes unless we had at least ten entries for the sake of variety and quality. Only three entries came in this year.

I thought about scrapping it immediately when the deadline went by due to lack of interest (and the latest mentor program SNAFU). But I think it's a mistake to do so. I want to try again one more year. One more big push to get the word out in 2023 will ensure I'm able to give it my all before I have to let it go.

There are other projects I want to start in the coming years. If I can correctly evaluate which things to end, it might free up time to devote elsewhere. Maybe it will be something else for our community, or maybe it will just be something I've been holding off on doing for myself. Time will tell.

Thank those of you who shared the contest with your communities this year. I appreciate you.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Three Poems by Samir Knego

Note: "Fall I" and "Fall II" first appeared in Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature. "Exit or dancing, for what it’s worth and it’s not about not being disabled” first appeared in The Fieldstone Review.

Fall I

Passing a church with the stations of the cross outside
Jesus fell in front of my eyes
once, twice, then a third time

Watching Christ in pain and difficulty
I thought of Nancy Eisland’s image
of God in a wheelchair

“Open to all!” proclaimed a sign
At the top of several steps

(sometimes, the punchline is almost too obvious)

Fall II

And the falls, all of them.
Some people don’t know that feeling of precariousness,
always half-preparing to plummet, or float away.

When the very earth can’t hold you like it should
(or can, but won’t–I’m not sure if it’s worse to assume intentions or abilities)
you turn to the sea and sky instead.

Some Christians talk about living in the world but not of it
and maybe disability is the flip side,
as you’re steeped in a world that keeps separating itself from you.

or dancing, for what it’s worth
and it’s not about not being disabled

When I dream about dancing I don’t dream about being able to stand or step or spin

I don’t dream about dancing as something physical, not really

I don’t dream of it as something that my body could do or cannot do or should or would do. No,

I dream of dancing as a feeling, as a joy as a floating as a you and I

In space somewhere just moving and laughing and being together

And maybe there is music and maybe there is only perfect silence but somehow

I know that this feeling, this being, this thing that is of my body but not quite in it--

That this is dancing, for what it’s worth.

Biography:  Samir Knego is a multidisciplinary artist and zinester. He lives in North Carolina with a bright green wheelchair and an ever-growing CD collection and was LEVEL’s Spring 2021 Local Artist-In-Residence. When he’s not making art, he works in a library and listens to lots of heavy metal. Find him on Twitter: @SamirKnego

Friday, April 8, 2022

The Cost of Staying Alive by F.I. Goldhaber

Ten times a day
I prick a finger,
squeeze out a drop of blood
and wait for the number that
will determine what I do next.

Must I pierce my
skin again, this time
using needles that screw
onto pens I then use to
inject units of insulin?

Or do I need
to eat, even if
I do not hunger and
have no interest in food
of any kind at the moment?

The meter rules
my life, decides what,
when, and whether I eat
while I fight for insurance
coverage to pay for the strips

required to make
it work, strips that cost
as much as a dollar
apiece, ten bucks a day, more
than three thousand greenbacks yearly.

When combined with
fifty cents for each
needle, sixty bucks for
two days' insulin supply,
that's a high price to stay alive.


F.I. Goldhaber's words capture people, places, and politics with a photographer's eye and a poet's soul. As a reporter, editor, and business writer, they produced articles, features, editorials, and reviews for newspapers, corporations, governments, and non-profits. Now paper, electronic, plastic, and audio magazines, books, newspapers, calendars, broadsides, and street signs display their poetry, fiction, and essays. More than 230 of their poems appear in almost 80 publications. Left Fork press will publish their fifth book of poetry, What Color is Your Privilege?, in September.

Friday, April 1, 2022

Divergent Minds and Dissentient Bodies by Mila Bea

Part I — The Firehose Problem

The concept of drinking from a firehose describes the impossibility of retaining each piece of new information when someone is immersed in a novel setting, such as starting a job or traveling abroad. There is a reason that we use firehoses to extinguish large fires—they function quite well within the scope of this task—and not for personal drinking fountains. 

For me, firehose mode is the only option for information processing. My brain perceives stimuli as if vital sensory data floods from every nook and cranny of my external surroundings. Excitement quickly becomes overload, then invariably leads to burnout. I ritualistically perform certain actions, often just to keep afloat. I make copious lists; find methods of categorization; wear headphones to dampen noise; and I self-stimulate.

A “Books” list contains the 174 books that I wish to read at some point, which of those I hope to read in the more immediate future, along with a full inventory of the 134 books that I own. Each item is neatly adorned with the title, author, publication year, genre, and a brief summary. My “Clothes” list documents each article of clothing that I own, including color and fabric type. 

Amidst persistent growth over time, my “Quotes” list sits as a tangled gargantuan, swollen to a 77-page tome of over 34,000 words, with only the first fifteen pages separated into differentiating topics, an effort now in a state of permanent hiatus. The repository remains open; the bold words and piercing ideas of others intertwist with one another, a house with endless additions but no coherent floor plan. 

At the helm, the “Executive Summary” acts as a moderator of sorts, consisting of a list of my 48 lists, including their status (Current; Research; Inventory; Hiatus; Completed), which life system they comprise (Creative Expression; Personal Development; Learning; Finance; Relationships; Exploration; Maintenance), and of course the URL to take me to the document. 

Clearly, despite earnest exertion and periodic reassessment, certain elements drift into far regions, known but forgotten. On bad days, it is an exercise in wading through the murky sludge of a Kafkaesque labyrinth of my own making. But ideally, as the firehose bursts forth without mercy, I can fill certain buckets of various sizes in the hopes of using the stored water for irrigation purposes to cultivate facets of myself that I want to nurture and help flourish. 


I wear headphones whenever I am reading or writing—no, not the kind for listening to music, but far bulkier and intended for mining and construction projects—in the ceaseless battle against the distracting low-level hum of ambient noise. But even within my own head, pathways can become clogged and it all can start to feel jumbled. 

While reading nonfiction I summon a level of concentration to absorb new information while simultaneously directing it to the appropriate point within the landscape of all existing information. If I properly care for this landscape, it can be called knowledge as the puzzle pieces begin to fit together. Alternatively, a jagged terrain sometimes envelops me with its absence of structure or meaningful patterns. 

Even with headphones, and even while taking the time to get the gunk out of my brain and onto all of these lists, the firehose still exudes a pressure that often overpowers me. There is no valve to adjust, no mechanism by which I can negotiate with the external world to deliver its surroundings to me in a more gentle manner. In the face of this sheer force I find myself coughing up water while struggling to sit upright, my eyes occasionally glancing to the periphery at the firehose that thrashes wildly, relentless and without direction. 

A sting of defeat punctures me, leaving me deflated and disheartened, as if my brain is waterlogged and only capable of focusing on the shiniest and brightest fragment of unchallenging digital satiation available. Guilt begins to permeate, even though I know rationally that relaxation and stretches of time not subject to the dictates of productivity are restorative practices crucial for physical, mental, and emotional health. 

A gnawing sentiment defies this logic and a narrative emerges that I am tapping out due to some lack of strength instead of opting out as a form of self-care. But we all need to care for ourselves. I do know that, and yet to emotionally internalize such a core truth remains no small feat. My knee-jerk urge is to grind myself down to a splintered nub while espousing to others the need to be kind and patient with themselves. 

I did, and still do in many ways, conceive of my neurological firehose as a problem. I can also redefine it. It is not a superpower, not for me at least. But it can also just be an immutable facet of myself that I can begin to accept. I will not change or eliminate it; there is no cure nor do I want one. 

And it makes me wonder, and perhaps begs the question to others, as integral entities interconnected within a rich collective tapestry, how we can be kinder to ourselves and to others when there is a firehose, however it may manifest, seeming to demand urgent attention at the forefront of conscious experience. 

Part II — The Reclamation of Stimming

On September 26, 2018, Professor M. Remi Yergeau gave a talk at the CUNY School of Professional Studies about her book, Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness. During the question and answer portion, she said something that continues to resonate with me. 

“For me personally, I still stim but I developed these tricks to make it stop, and it gets to a point where I’m no longer sure what’s more comfortable for me because it’s all anxiety now. It’s like it took something core away from me…Before I was trained to recognize that I was “unusual” or aberrant, it was fine, it was great. But now that I know, it’s always tainted.”  

Similarly for me, it is oftentimes all anxiety, and I search for viable pathways to reclaim agency over my body. The locus of the endeavor lies in reconciling my continuing need to stim with the memories of that very behavior being used against me. At young ages imitators performed the flailing and spastic motions as I did, caricatures bearing the disguise of an homage. 

Nearly my entire adulthood has involved, at least to some degree, the suppression of my full range of embodied expression with the paramount goal being to appear normal, and then seemingly only ever holding that title on a trial basis. Despite a concerted effort over the past two years to unlearn my myriad masking techniques, along with an awareness of the harm that such self-denial has caused, that same anxiety described by Dr. Yergeau still lives inside of me. 

It is very possible to rationally understand that certain aspects of our cultural messaging are unhealthy and perpetuated for the purposes of benefiting a very specific group of people, while nonetheless remaining emotionally beholden to that same guidance. In so many ways, again similar to Yergeau’s experience, stimming is tainted for me. 

Throughout the course of my life, the real social contagion continually materializes as this viscid coating that demands conformity. I have encountered it overlaid atop all experience, and I know its shape as neurotypicalized cisfatalism. But it dons ever-changing faces and appears in numerous forms. Laverne Cox, putting her spin on bell hooks, described it as “cisnormative heteronormative imperialist white supremacist capitalist patriarchy.”  

This mechanism of control breeds complacency, complicity, and compliance in those who may access the scraps of its inequitable bounty. I did benefit, and continue to benefit from this organization of society, and am only now beginning to develop a critical awareness of how these rewards inevitably come at the direct cost of others. 


I am white, I grew up in an affluent suburb with continuous access to educational institutions and learning resources that are unavailable to many people. That was, is, and will continue to be a privilege that I seek to leverage in the hopes of forging broader and deeper and more holistic notions of justice. 

But this system did bludgeon me into submission with its authoritative instruction on which types of bodies are deemed acceptable. Mine, when I exercise complete liberty over it, is unacceptable; and most people inhabit bodies either outright unacceptable or similarly acceptable only on the condition of their constant adherence to this rigid framework.  

I was assigned male at birth, born into a body whose limbs needed to periodically and without warning shake and flap. The gendered expectations of boy, coupled with the clear social cues that stimming was irregular and thus bad, obstructed my full bodily autonomy, constricting me in such a way that it took over a decade of drug and alcohol abuse followed by several years of psychotherapy to begin to glimpse a path toward living peaceably and feeling whole. 

There exist a litany of ways in which mainstream society subtly but distinctly illuminates for us the fundamental inadequacy of our bodies in their current state. But we are pushing back, beginning to search for avenues wherein we can reject those previously ingrained precepts and begin to heal. One example is Aaron Rose Philip, a trailblazer whose modeling work celebrates that our full spectrum of corporeal diversity is deserving of acceptance and worthy of love. 

In a scene from the 2009 documentary, Examined Life, philosopher Judith Butler talks with artist and activist Sunaura Taylor and a part of their conversation pertains to Taylor’s experiences ordering coffee as a disabled person. Butler observes that, “there’s a challenge to individualism that happens at the moment in which you ask for some assistance with the coffee cup, and hopefully people will take it up and say, ‘yes I too live in that world in which I understand that we need each other in order to address our basic needs.’”

We do need other people. We coexist with one another and we need each other. Within this newfound paradigm, I can assess how and why I hold onto those hard-fought masking techniques and ask myself who benefits from my exerting a portion of cognitive and physical energy to inhibit myself from following my natural inclinations. 

But I still mask; I still suppress stimming due to my deeply held desire to preserve some vague concept of decorum and respectability. Behavioral patterns solidified over the course of decades cannot be unlearned overnight. But I can at least say to myself, “today it is okay to stim. I am neurodivergent, I am not defective.” 

None of us are defective, despite all the social conditioning we have internalized to the contrary. We can remind ourselves each day that we are not defective. We can show up for each other and work to build a world that promises us safety and human dignity and offers us the freedom to know love and to feel seen inside of heterogeneous bodies. 


Biography: Mila Bea is a thirtysomething autistic trans woman who spent the last two decades on a tumultuous path to self-acceptance. While nestled indoors she drinks coffee, reads books, and watches movies. While out of doors she explores the world on foot, finding adventures in things novel and familiar. In her spare time, she often contemplates the processes by which people form beliefs and how this impacts public discourse. Find more of her writing at: