The Un(h)armed Wo(man) (Tina Cane)

The un(h)armed wo(man)     is transgender is flower

is fetus steeped in bio-diversity     of vulnerable depths

of mother    no less science-based than the best

evidence of capacity for love     bestowing un-

conditional dignity on all     our American entitlement

of standards and wishes


Tina Cane is the founder/director of Writers-in-the-Schools, RI and serves as the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island, where she lives with her husband and three children. She is also the author of Once More With Feeling (Veliz Books) and Dear Elena: Letters for Elena Ferrante.

Inspiration: I am writing a cycle of short poems called The Un(h)armed Man which explore human nature, culture and human responses to culture. After I wrote this poem using the banned words, I realized that some of these words actually form the heart of the cycle’s concerns.


The Afterparty (Angela Sorby)

“[T]he most beautiful combination of English sounds was cellar-door; no association of ideas here to help out!  sensuous impression merely!  the cellar-door is purely American.”
–Cyrus Lauron Hooper, 1903


No, they did not win the pageant:
cellar door won, despite a poor showing
in the talent competition –

sitting still with snow falling.
How is that a talent? entitlement whispered.
How is it even beauty? carped diversity.

Only later did cellar door creak open
to admit the losers as they straggled
down the boardwalk (midnight, midwinter,

Atlantic City):  vulnerable, entitlement,
transgender, diversity—
one by one
they found cellar door, teetered in,

and kicked off their stilettoes.
Turns out cellar door displayed
a surprising depth, an earthy

laugh, a candle in the darkness.
In the end, even evidence-based
and science-based found their way,

carrying fetus.  Then cellar door closed,
so when the pageant Judge came
a-calling he found a cold knob,

a lock with no key, not a trace
of the underground bacchanal
that was—just then—picking up steam.

“You are all beautiful!”
slurred cellar door mock-
seriously, popping a fifth

Sam Adams.  Everyone roared.
A conga line formed.  No one
gave a damn anymore.


Angela Sorby is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently The Sleeve Waves from University of Wisconsin Press. Her work has won the Brittingham Prize, a Midwest Book Award, the Felix Pollak Prize, and others. She teaches at Marquette University.

Inspiration: I love how words lead their own lives; they are always just a little bit out of control.


Dissent (Jen Rouse)

Ruth Bader Ginsburg swings on a string
from my rearview mirror. She is evidence-based and
smells like bubble gum. Once I had to finish the job
of miscarrying a ball of cells. At the drive-up
window, the pharmacist giving me the pills
looked stricken.  “I have to ask if you are pregnant,” she said.
“Yes.  I mean, no.  I mean…”  so vulnerable, we are all here
dying in our vulnerability, and I had to finish this process.
Pharmacist: Do you know these pills will abort a fetus?  A fetus.     A fetus, fetus, fetus, FETUS!

Me:  Really, a fetus?  A fetus, huh?  Do you know that science-
based research wouldn’t even really consider this
a pregnancy?  And I’m a lesbian.  Just think.  In Iowa.
This kind of diversity!  A fetus!  Can you believe
they might let me carry one?!  Our schools even protect
our transgender children.  Here.  In Iowa.  I might’ve had
that perfect child.   But the science-based evidence
is this: my body is finishing off a cluster of diversity dust.
Pharmacist: Oh.

Ruth kept banging her head against my window with precision,
just as she had spent her ACLU years placing language into a brief—
like a chef would micro-greens with a tweezer, for that prefect dish
of diversity.  No room for error.  That was Ruth Bader Ginsburg
making your civil rights salad.

To be cared for in every vulnerable moment is not entitlement.
But even our heroes live into error and moments of entitlement.
RBG hangs from my rearview mirror, fading.  While the poets
abort these censorship fetuses, exploding the silence that Lorde
taught would never protect us.


Jen Rouse loves her Thunder Cunt t-shirt, lives in Iowa, is a lesbian, has a 12- year-old superstar daughter, and runs a Center for Teaching and Learning at Cornell College. Find her at or on Twitter @jrouse

Inspiration: I have been very privileged to have been allowed the language to live a life of relative freedom as a lesbian in Iowa.  I needed to write this poem to push myself and perhaps others to think how we as poets need to move past our places of comfort, as there is still so much and even more crucial work to do.


vedfest (Kevin J. O’Conner)

vulnerable, the skeleton is laid out on a marble slab
          the surface of each bone disfigured
                    in a slightly different way

skin covers many blemishes

the entitlement of cells to demand regeneration
          distracts oxygen from its worst impulses

heavy water is an ever-present threat

diversity of playlists
          is a sure-fire recipe
                    for road-trip conflict

we may need to call into service
the box of old tapes in the back seat

poor little fetus:
          they all want to protect you
                    but are too scared to talk about you

then again, your wrath is legendary…

The new CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with [sic] community standards and wishes, and in tandem of [sic] the inviolable tenets of self-regulated thought and willful ignorance. The inalienable right of the emperor to maintain the façade of invincibility over his rotting flesh shall not be compromised by adherence to fact, integrity, or the inherent fragility of creamsicles.

the evidence-based approach to love
          is doomed to failure

biology can be easily measured and catalogued
but the spaces between cells remain misunderstood

the science-based approach
          has its own shortcomings

but continues to seek understanding
(viz. an authoritative definition of chemistry)

          we too often focus on topography

when we should believe
in the expression of truth


Kevin J. O’Conner is an emerging poet whose main claim to fame is that his cats have never let him get a full night’s sleep.

Inspiration: “vedfest” is something of an impressionistic piece—sort of stream of consciousness, but not quite—with each part based on whatever was brought to mind by each of the seven words, loosely connected by the overall theme of science or biology.

Villanelle for the CDC (Julie Linden)

The words we need have been erased,
Vulnerable to the government
And deniers of the evidence-based.

Our language, choices, science-based,
Scorned by the fetus president—
The words we need have been erased.

Diversity ordered into caste.
Erasures are no accident
By deniers of the evidence-based.

Transgender briefly undisgraced
Saying, knowing, meaning, meant—
The words we need won’t be erased.

As if our selves could be displaced
By godly smug entitlement
Of deniers of the evidence-based.

Remember: the experiment
Depends on steady dissidents.
The words we need won’t be erased
By deniers of the evidence-based.


As a former government documents librarian, Julie Linden has seen her fair share of CDC reports.

Inspiration: The original submission guidelines’ encouragement of “repetition” inspired the villanelle form.




The Evidence Bass (Mary Moore)

The evidence bass plays the forbidden-
word blues, the proof-you-can-deny-
but-can’t-shut-up blues,
the notes the science bass

with the sun singing the fire
rippling through it;
the trees root-riffing
to other trees here’s bugs;
the vulnerable inside-in fetus
who can hear mother music
and father song;
the transgendered carnival
of being both/and;

the plant world,
the animal world, the all-we-are
world entitled to the diver-cities
of difference where everything thrives
in as many lives as
souls are innumerable as the blades
of old-poet-man Whitman’s grave
grass, as the notes
in the music of the spheres
harmonium of the cosmos
harmony of diversity
bass, soprano, alto


Mary Moore has won awards in 2016 and ’17:  her 2016 books are Flicker and Eating the Light, which won Dogfish Head and Sable Books awards respectively, and Amanda and the Man Soul won EMRYS’s 2017 award.  New work appears in Nimrod (Pablo Neruda Prize, 2nd place), Georgia ReviewPoem/Memoir/Story, Drunken Boat, Birmingham Poetry Review, among others.

Inspiration: I was inspired to write “The Evidence Bass” by the absurdity of the Trump administration banning words that involve language’s ability to speak truth to power. My conversion of “base” to “bass,” reflecting recent play with double meanings in my work, led me to the music of recent and ancient science, creating what I hope is a music of subversion.



Love Science (Leslie F. Miller)

In vulnerable moments, when I blush,
my heart may skip a beat, but I’ve embraced
the flash, the flood, the flow, the foolish flush.

Behold the curling fetus of my crush
(my love for you’s not purely science-based).
In vulnerable moments when I blush,

my mouth is cotton, words inside it mush.
You come to me, transgendered and trans-placed,
with flash, and flood, and flow, and foolish flush,

transcendent—first a shout and then a hush,
entitlement engendered and misplaced
in vulnerable moments when I blush.

The truth is love’s an all-consuming rush,
emotions are a fact, it’s evidence-based:
as flash, as flood, as flow, as foolish flush.

Diversity or mood swings? I’m a lush!
Drunk on passion, high on aftertaste.
In vulnerable moments when I blush
and flash and flood and flow—a foolish flush.


Leslie F. Miller is the author of Let Me Eat Cake: A Celebration of Flour, Sugar, Butter, Eggs, Vanilla, Baking Powder, and a Pinch of Salt (Simon & Schuster, non-fiction, 2007) and BOYGIRLBOYGIRL (Finishing Line Press, poetry, 2012).

Inspiration: One of my surefire cures for writer’s block is the Facebook poem. I solicit random words from FB friends, one submission per person, and create a poem that uses one of their words in every line until I’ve used them all. My only inspiration for this villanelle was those seven banned words.