See, D.C. [Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis]

Not the animals disassembled
into discardable or valuable parts.
The old ivories of no piano

unable to make that dirge sing
for me. Piece by piece,
there’s no harmony, no reckoning.

Don’t give them your science, based
on no God, take the stars, cheap
string-lights of our consolation.

Look up. The moon’s a fetus
crescented cold against all this.
From silence, accuse

the constellations, their bright braille,
and read that diversity of mythology,
fable, any tale, to say we matter. Take the stars

off the pushpins, then. Trace
them with your mortal fingers
as proof we’re one more tiny, nothing-entity.

I try to get there, but the dots don’t sync
Connect them though I try.
There’s no reckoning.

The crime? Identity? The evidence
base, destrustive, a typo, or a word
that swallows trust inside its own proclivity

to destroy what it can’t unbelieve.
Entitlement’s fur coat pulled tight
against all vulnerability.

The animals, the walking-dead.
The woman, as epidemic, as pre-existing
amenity. Something you get for free

upon check-in. The transgender satellites
smear light. Fireflies we smash just to write
our own names with their bodies.

 

Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis, author of the poetry collections Intaglio and The Rub and the chapbook Aloha Vaudeville Doll, works at Columbus College of Art & Design where she serves as faculty advisor for Botticelli Magazine.

Inspiration: These seven words touch so many other words as they are singled out for erasure. I wanted to create a rhythm of reckoning in their use and for their banishment. I wanted that reckoning for every vulnerable being that suffers anew under the dim light of now.

 

Trump’s Seven Forbidden Words [Kim Bridgford]

Who would object to any one of these—
Science-based, diversity, and fetus
It’s like when you’re polite, but don’t say please

(What difference, really, does it make)? The lies—
Entitlement and vulnerable—hit us.
Who would object to any one of these:

Evidence-based, transgender? OEDs
Reassert themselves from Wiki-itus.
It’s like when you’re polite, but don’t say please

(The way that we train all our PhDs).
But acquiescence will come back to bite us.
Who would object to any one of these?

Beware the military soft surprise:
It’s language first. So pretty, they can shoot us.
It’s like when you’re polite, but don’t say please.

They say that it’s a shower. Such naïfs!
You offer up yourself to barracudas.
Who would object to any one of these?
It’s like when you’re polite, but don’t say please.

 

Kim Bridgford is the director of Poetry by the Sea and editor of Mezzo Cammin.  The author of nine books of poetry, she is the recipient of grants from the NEA, the Connecticut Commission on the Arts, and the Ucross Foundation.  Her three-book project with visual artist Jo Yarrington, The Falling Edge, chronicling their trips to Iceland, Venezuela, and Bhutan, is forthcoming.  Bridgford is currently on sabbatical, reading about Antarctica.

Inspiration: Years ago, I worked as a military historian for the federal government.  In writing the history, I made a decision about what would be revealed and what would not.  “Trump’s Seven Forbidden Words” is about controlling the narrative:  eliminating some words might mean eliminating some discussions altogether.

 

On Guard against Exposure to Ideas [Ned Balbo]

What words will those in power declare taboo
to blur the line between what’s false and true?
Why do they feel uneasy, vulnerable?
Who else will they declare invisible?

Is truth transgendered, viewed with deep suspicion?
Can they erase those who reject their vision?
Is truth transmissible, a virus known
to spread by contact, or through words alone?

Fear isn’t science-based. An enemy
is needed: immigrants, diversity,
imagined foes….Scripture provides the lens—
Cause, cure, and risk are only dissonance

to be shut out, replaced by doublespeak.
The strong owe no protection to the weak,
and inconvenient truths, evidence-based,
are now regarded with the same distaste

by those whose power bestows entitlement—
who’d steal our very words and leave us silent….
Who will they ban when all of us are gone?
What else will they forbid before they’re done?

We can’t just wait till history unfolds
its measured arc…The future that it holds
(a fetus, frail, heart beating in the dark)
is ours, and all we need to strike the spark.

 

Ned Balbo’s 3 Nights of the Perseids, forthcoming in 2019, was selected by Erica Dawson for the Richard Wilbur Award. His previous books include The Trials of Edgar Poe and Other Poems (awarded the Donald Justice Prize and the Poets’ Prize), and Upcycling Paumanok (Measure Press). He received an NEA translation grant in 2017.

Inspiration: The prospect of CDC guidelines being used to erase people or perspectives that the current administration finds objectionable is repellant. That the same guidelines would seek to reduce the role of science in verifying research findings meant to help and heal is worse than troubling–it’s a full-on assault on our collective well-being.

 

American Poetry [Gerry LaFemina]

In Memory of Thomas Lux

I recognize these claims I make are not science-based. I praise American poetry’s diversity for its diversity is its strength. Each poem conceived in a climax of inspiration—an image or an overheard phrase, or a word banned by bureaucrats, committees or point-totaling politicians, or you name it. Then the gestation of drafts.

I’m aware this is a terrible metaphor, but the poem becomes fetus and eventually gets its entitlement of a title. Most Americans don’t care, don’t read poems any more than they read medical journals. They remain ambivalent about peer reviews. Not that it matters.

Nor does it matter that sometimes revisions are transgenre-d—prose poems longing for lineation and vice versa: verse (free and formal both) believing it should be a paragraph, wanting only the cadence of the sentence. How vulnerable each word, each syllable. What evidence-based claims might the critics down the hall make with their deconstructions about these matters? I couldn’t construct their hypotheses or their outcomes, only know the myths of their methodologies. I wouldn’t want anything else. I recognize my claims are not science-based, but I praise American poetry for its diversity. Its diversity is its strength.

 

Gerry LaFemina’s newest collection of poetry, The Story of Ash, is forthcoming in 2018. His other books include numerous collections of poetry, prose poetry, and fiction, as well as Palpable Magic: Essays on Poetry and Prosody and the textbook Composing Poetry: A Guide to Writing Poems and Thinking Lyrically. He is an Associate Professor of English at Frostburg State University, and a writing mentor at the Carlow University MFA program.

Inspiration: My initial impulse was to pass on this project because I felt the pull to write a poem that was pedantic would be too hard to resist. It was only when looking at the word transgender and seeing how,  with a slight juxtaposition of letters, it could become transgenred that I found my “in” into the poem, which was to celebrate American poetry in all its amazing diversity, thus avoiding some of those potential pitfalls.

 

Three Science-Based Limericks [Sandra Simonds]

I.
There once was an internet kitten
who was by a fetus bitten.
It was evidence-based, that kitten was chaste!
And now our TALE art written.

II.
A VULNERABLE seeking entitlement
from the vital 1%
swept the McDonald’s, for one-hundred Donalds,
blessing her quarter-pounder retirement.

III.
“Transgender and Diversity VERBOTEN!”
shouts Klaxon the A-hole they vote-in.
His life is bereft, girls always swipe left:
GUNS are his only emotion.

Sandra Simonds is the author of six books of poetry: Orlando (Wave Books, 2018), Further Problems with Pleasure (winner of the 2015 Akron Poetry Prize, University of Akron Press, 2017), Steal It Back (Saturnalia Books, 2015), The Sonnets (Bloof Books, 2014), Mother Was a Tragic Girl (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2012), and Warsaw Bikini(Bloof Books, 2009). Her poems have been included in the Best American Poetry 2015 and 2014 and have appeared in many literary journals, including Poetry, the American Poetry Review, the Chicago ReviewGrantaBoston Review,  PloughsharesFenceCourt Green, and Lana Turner. In 2013, she won a Readers’ Choice Award for her sonnet “Red Wand,” which was published on Poets.org, the Academy of American Poets website. She lives in Tallahassee, Florida and is an Associate professor of English and Humanities at Thomas University in Thomasville, Georgia.

Inspiration: Bad times call for BAD VERSE.

Lab Coat Blues [Kate Bernadette Benedict]

Oh, I got those science-based, gotta-cry blues.
I said, those wretched research blues.
I ain’t cured nothin’, that’s my only news.

Oh, I got me evidence-based blues.
’Cause evidence all proves my life’s a ruse.
No gal will ever see my name in them Who’s Who’s.

It’s humblin’, yes, humblin’. I’m vulnerable these days.
Sing it loud: it’s humblin’. I’m in a vulnerable daze.
My lab rat’s double-crossed me. She don’t run my maze.

That rat was born’d transgender. A most intriguin’ thing.
Yes that he rat was a she rat. She ain’t got that shwing.
A few swings of a scalpel knife and off went that thing.

Now she wants a litter, little babies, yessir!
She wants little babies. There’ll be no rat fetus for her.
She got no place to grow ’em down under all that fur.

Oh, I got those science-based sad-rat blues,
I said, those wretched lab rat blues.
My star lab rat is pinin’, that’s my only news.

Entitlement!—badass blunder that I made.
Assumed I was entitled even tho’ no dues were paid.
No rat’s in my maze, I ain’t makin’ no grade.

I’m takin’ off my lab coat, I’m quittin’ this life.
Diversity’s a thing these days. I’ll live a different life.
Goodbye to rats, bye petri dish, bye knife.

I got those science-based, gotta-cry blues.
Them sad-rat, barren-rat blues.
I ain’t good for nothin’; that’s my only news.

 

Kate Bernadette Benedict, of Riverdale, New York, is the author of Earthly Use: New and Selected Poems (2015). www.katebenedict.com

Inspiration: These are difficult times and the banned words are difficult words, prosaic and highly charged. So why not try something funny? I figured blues stanza would be utterly daft, and it was, and it led me to this nutty tale of a lab researcher and his sad and stubborn rat.

 

Reaching Across the Divide [Michele Battiste]

We reject
the evidence—based
on science based on
entitlement—as we are not
the kind of people who spend
their days turning knobs on a
microscope and calling it labor.
Who scribble in notebooks and
want to be applauded. Who bemoan
the insufficiency of their research
assistantships. Their reality isn’t ours
and so their facts are alien and don’t
bother to make introductory overtures.
Is it diversity if we  are not included?
Diversity is a kind   word for a fundamental
difference of life      experience and consequently
a separate set of         accepted givens, some apparently
perceived as              valueless. Only the most vulnerable
are terrified                 of disappearing or worse. Being visible
and not mattering                at all. We save buttons. Our
grandmothers serve                  several cups of tea from one bag.
If we didn’t have God                   we would lash out in hopelessness
and drown the weak. If                       we want to give a fetus rights,
it’s because we understand                         helpless. Tell me what you are
capable of when you                                 are afraid. Our plane is going down
and it is your sky.                                    Your feminist sky. Your transgender
sky. Your evidence-                                     based, science-based, irrefutable sky.
We see your sky                                          glittering with stars even when the sun rises.

 

Michele Battiste is the author of Uprising and Ink for an Odd Cartography, both from Black Lawrence Press.

Inspiration:  In a conscious move toward healing, I am attempting to be receptive and open to the feelings and perceptions of people on the other side of the political divide. I’m not always successful.

another epidemic [Irène Mathieu]

what is entitlement to an American fetus –
a womb lined in hundred-dollar bills,
a mother who doesn’t know she’s vulnerable
sitting in a gold tower, picking out a golden
goblet for her prenatal vitamins. this isn’t
evidence-based – it’s a whim of the tax-slashed,
a sudden shift in mood, like telling the chef it’ll be
Indian, not Chinese tonight (never say
they don’t appreciate diversity).

this fetus will have a life made for TV.
it’s easy enough to concoct, almost science-
based. take one part money, one part white,
close the still-developing ears,
shrink the hands even smaller, forbid speaking
if gay, transgender, or a girl, keep inside the
tower, never open the windows, train the fetus
to look people in the hairline, never the eye,
teach it the importance of its unborn name.

and the father? he’s standing at the top of the tower,
still trying to climb higher. he will never be
tall enough, according to his father. he’s been told
that he was a disappointment even as a fetus.
he thinks he can hear the people below laughing
at him from here, talking, saying he’s wrong.
he’ll do anything to make them stop.
he’s been told so many lies
he doesn’t know the meaning of language.

 

Irène Mathieu is a pediatrician, writer, and public health researcher who has lived and worked in the United States, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Peru, and elsewhere. She is interested in social determinants of health, human rights, global public health, community-engaged research, and medical education. Irène is winner of the Bob Kaufman Book Prize and Yemassee Journal‘s Poetry Prize, and author of the book orogeny (Trembling Pillow Press, 2017) and poetry chapbook the galaxy of origins (dancing girl press & studio, 2014). She holds a BA in International Relations from the College of William & Mary and a MD from Vanderbilt University.

Inspiration: As a physician and poet I immediately thought about the importance of language in describing what we observe. I am particularly interested in health disparities, and the chosen words are clearly meant to undermine efforts to address equity. I wanted to capture the way in which cis, hetero, white, male entitlement is (re)created and passed on. I think this type of entitlement – and the willful ignorance it requires to be sustained – are an epidemic of their own, with devastating public health consequences.

A fetus in every garage [Carolee Bennett]

Instead of the automobile, America’s in love now with the fetus.
A new evidence-based government program supporting fetus
cultivation includes provisions for industrialized farming of the fetus.
To secure enough of a crop, farmers who decide to plant fetus
seeds in straight rows over at least nine acres will qualify for fetus
management grants. The casual grower, who tends to potted fetus
plants on a patio or fire escape, does not qualify for these fetus
entitlement funds. However, those with certain types of backyard fetus
gardens may petition the government for stipends under the Fetus
Homestead Act. Please note the application requires explicit fetus
biodiversity criteria to be met for the purpose of ensuring the fetus
will not be vulnerable to disease. Otherwise, all facilities for fetus
generation must comply fully with uniformity guidelines for the fetus.
These are in place (and will be enforced) to produce the exact fetus
consumers have come to expect with regard to taste, texture, fetus
hue, sex, and political affiliation. Documents verifying that every fetus
conforms to these stipulations must be made available to official fetus
inspectors upon request. If these agents discover onsite any fetus
that is transgender, for example, or a batch in which the fetus
falls outside the regulated palette, they are authorized to halt fetus
production immediately. Be aware, also, that playing music for the fetus
is not a science-based practice. Penalties may apply to this fetus
and any that enter the system without proper vetting. Registered Fetus
Watchers or others with information about violations to the fetus
code should alert authorities by calling our Tip Line. Each mature fetus
must be labeled with a sell-by date and packaged in a proper fetus
container. (We manufacture cartons for this specific purpose.) Fetus
program forms are available online and must be submitted by the fetus
deadline each quarter to receive credit for harvesting your fetus.
Incomplete paperwork will result in no payment for the fetus.

 

Carolee Bennett is an artist and poet living in Upstate New York, where—after a local, annual poetry competition—she has fun saying she has been the “almost” poet laureate of Smitty’s Tavern. She has an MFA in creative writing (poetry), works full-time as a writer in social media marketing and blogs at Good Universe Next Door.

Inspiration: In thinking about Sarah Freligh’s mention of the sestina on Facebook, I started to play with the banned words. As “fetus” landed at the end of the line, I decided to see what would happen if “fetus” sat at the end of each line. It got scary fast, as did everything since the 2016 election. This whole project seems inevitable in that terrifying light.

 

America Ain’t Easy (Adrian Blevins)

when the saw mills are gone cause the Internet is plastic
& the granny quilts are heating pads from China
& somebody’s once-fetus needs surgery & would get it
if people had hearts in the form of health insurance
but don’t because they despise the poor & women
& immigrants & African Americans & the transgender
& gay & things that are science-based & evidence-based
& all I’m saying is, America ain’t at all easy

when you must think non-stop about stupid Trump
& other grotesqueries such as what a dead goose
in the form of a country looks like & what a dead goose
in the form of a country feels like lolling here inside you
like a long-necked stone in the pit of something
like your stomach but worse such as your throbbing
heart of diversity I guess where once you’d hoped
to learn to darn socks at least metaphorically

& arrange winterberries on farmhouse mantels
to soothe the grandkids who were to soothe you back
during the more vulnerable senior years. But now
grandkids are an entitlement for the rich you guess
& thus you don’t want them anymore because
what if they needed surgery—what if they had
just one eye—what if they wanted the story of America
& all you had was a little porridge & venom & spit?

 

Adrian Blevins is the author of Appalachians Run Amok, winner of Two Sylvia Press’s Wilder Prize, forthcoming spring 2018; Live from the Homesick Jamboree; The Brass Girl Brouhaha; and a co-edited collection of essays, Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean: Meditations on the Forbidden from Contemporary Appalachia. She teaches at Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

Inspiration: The Trump Administration’s very scary authoritarian bent inspired me to write this poem, and really has me in perpetual freak-out mode.