Rattle Civil Servants Issue

Posted in Uncategorized on September 18, 2016 by ndemske

So Rattle is having a submission call for Civil Servants right now.  I sent them a few poems, but also drafted a “contributor note” that just got way too long.  Since I couldn’t send it to them in it’s full-length form, figured I’ d at least post it here and share it with the world somehow.  Enjoy:


Me and my dudes having story time at Olympia Brown UU church, Racine

I call myself a Literacy Evangelist because I spread the good news of literacy every day for a living. I am a public librarian, primarily in a children’s department, and I love my job wildly. It affects my writing both directly and indirectly. At the library, we deal with people every day who are different kinds of desperate. Today, a man left loudly sobbing and screaming the words “It’s all my fault! It’s all my fault.” Several of us tried to talk with him and console him, but he was belligerent with sorrow. That can affect your writing pretty directly in that it might appear in something you write–seems like it would, or maybe even should–but it at the very least will affect your writing–and your whole life, probably–indirectly. Being in such proximity to people who are constantly on the margins of life makes it so that you never forget those marginalized. It keeps you grounded. To some, it feels like it drags them down. To others, it’s a gift–being put in position to have regular relationship with people who need relationship most.

So there’s that. And whenever I get to feeling sorry for myself in one way or another, I only need pay attention when I’m at work and engage with my patrons there for me to realize just how unbelievably easy I have it compared to so many.

One other note is that: I absolutely love kids. They are one of my purest joys in life. I have endured pretty significant depression for almost all of my life (maybe I’ll submit to your mental health issue too), but kids, for whatever reason, are honestly like an antidote to depression for me more often than not. It’s not something I work at—it’s just a part of me that was put there; a gift. And kids absolutely love spending time with me, because they know that I love and respect them. I am one of the only male children’s librarians in my region and its amazing what an impact I can have in my role, in a place where children and adults alike are so unaccustomed to seeing men in nurturer roles.

FB Rant on Sentencing Disparity, the Brock Turner Rape Conviction and Racial Bias in Media Representations of Monstrous Acts

Posted in Uncategorized on June 10, 2016 by ndemske

So I shared a Marlon James Facebook post about Brock Turner and racial bias in media the other day and then added a rant of my own after it.  Since it basically turned into a mini-diatribe, figured I might as well post it here, too.  So ya’ll know I’m still alive.

Hope at least one of the comments somehow inspires you to take some form of action on these issues.  Even if it’s just bringing them up incessantly from here on out……

Thanks to Marlon for the original stir-the-pot comment.  We need this in everybody’s mouth.  I don’t care if it sounds different from different mouths–if it’s in agreement that justice system reform is urgent, I am behind it.


Marlon James’s original comment:

“So quite a few have noted that when it comes to people like this shithole, the media goes all Brady Bunch on the pic, while always searching for the most “thuggish” if it’s a black person, even if that person is the victim. I agree on the motive, but believe it’s up to us to control the meaning. So yeah, I don’t want the mugshot, I WANT this pic. So thank you mainstream media, because I want this pic to sink in, and I want every woman in college to study the shit out of it. I want people to look at a pic like this, at people who look like this, and think, rapist.”

Marlon James's photo.

My repost diatribe:

“Honestly, calling a person a “shithole” or a “human piece of sh-t” (the NY Daily News called this young man the second one)…….I’m just not trying to be here for that, no matter what they’ve done. But I’m going to share this post anyways. Partially, because the rest of the sentiment it’s expressing is completely true: we have clear racial mythologies for people who do things like rape other unconscious people (which is what this person, Brock Turner, did last year). Partially, because it’s absolutely true that–in so many ways beyond just what media photo is reproduced everywhere–people of color are portrayed in demonic and demoralizing and guilt-suggesting imagery (think hand cuffs and orange jump suits and angry facial expressions). Whereas here, with young Brock, we have yet another perfect example of how innocuously a white convicted rapist is represented (over and over and over). But beyond those things, I want to share this post simply to bring attention to….yet again……the thing so many have been trying to bring attention to for so long that still–as this case makes so clear–is an urgent urgent urgent crisis in our culture. That’s right, we’re talking about SENTENCING DISPARITY!!!!!!

Look, if how a rapist were represented in media coverage and SENTENCING DISPARITY didn’t go so hand in hand, I probably wouldn’t beef about it…..or at least not as much. And I’m not even trying to say that it’s the main cause of SENTENCING DISPARITY, or anything crazy like that. What I’m saying is we all really really really do need to take a good, long look at this picture because somehow the image of this skinny white college kid has been conflated with “he will not be a danger to others” (Judge Aaron Persky’s own words). That is a lie. That is false. That–and I mean this, I’m not trying to be clever or sassy–that is straight up mentally ill. A culture that can accept that statement is a culture which has blown up all reason and logic. It is a culture being torn apart by mental illness. This person was found raping an unconscious young woman. What is it about him, exactly, that is suggesting to a man with a law degree that he will not be a danger to others? That’s only a rhetorical question because you and I already know exactly what the answer is.

What the answers are.

I’m not trying to say I want to see Brock Turner stoned. I’m not trying to say he deserves the death penalty. I’m not even trying to say he deserves a longer prison sentence…….but that’s only because I’m not trying to talk about Brock Turner in this post. I’m not trying to say jack about Brock Turner. I’m trying to say that, if we are going to show compassion to people who commit monstrous acts, we need to stop doing so BASED ON THEIR RACE, SOCIOECONOMIC STATUS OR ANY OTHER ARBITRARY CULTURAL FACTOR THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ISSUE. And, furthermore, we need to do so in much more responsible ways than was done in the case here of Brock Turner.

Honestly, I’m all for conversations that start with sentences like “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him” (which Judge Persky also said of Turner).

Well, yeah. Um….affirmative. Accurate.

This should not be a revelation, Judge Persky–this is basically the whole entire ostensible “point” of prison. Amazing to me that a judge can publicly say something like that and be allowed to stay in his position. Regardless, I’m all for noting the truth and accuracy in that statement. But if we’re going to start looking at how being put through our hellacious “corrections” system so often results in irreparably destroying human lives, rather than actually rehabilitating them, let’s not do this in clear racially & socioeconomically opportunistic ways. Let’s talk about how incidences where a person of color getting a sentence literally 3000% longer than Brock Turner’s (see here: http://www.nydailynews.com/…/king-brock-turner-cory-batey-s…) are so utterly common that, the only reason why this one I’ve linked to is unusual is because it’s appearing in a news article pointing out its unfairness. That’s it.

Our system is jacked. That much seems clear, at least, to very many people. But if we only recognize that when a white kid from the suburbs rapes someone, we are only exploiting it’s jackedness. We are exponentially multiplying its jackedness through that.

Let’s see if we can talk about something real from this whole tragedy: that black, brown and indigenous Americans are typically punished to the fullest extent of the law at EVERY ACCESS POINT THE LAW HAS WITH THEM (the pulled-over car, the arrest, the sentencing, etc) and that white Americans are still so very very very very often given more grace and mercy in these circumstances that it seems potentially irresponsible of those who “uphold” the law to the rest of us watching from the sidelines.

That’s what I want. Especially if you are white, that’s what I want from you today. I want you enraged at this chronic, toxic arrangement in our legal system. And i want you talking about it, posting about it and and bringing it up at light-hearted parties until ALL of us (and not just some of us) can’t bear how stupid it makes us feel as a society and finally change it, end it, make it an embarrassing memory that we use to teach our great grand kids just how bad it can get, if you let it.

My deepest sympathies to Brock Turner’s victim and her family (who seems to be an unusually amazing person, based on the statement you can read here: http://www.nydailynews.com/…/king-rapist-brock-turner-judge…). My deepest sympathies to the countless lives beyond hers that have been brutally affected by sexual assault (which is pretty much everyone you’ve ever met, if you’re woke).

And, without taking away from that, my deepest sympathies to those whose lives have been ravaged by the racist, classist, broken corrections system that has evolved and descended from the racist values America was founded on. My deepest sympathies to you, your families and all of your loved ones.

Dear facebook friend of mine who made it to the bottom of this post,

You have a voice, and it will be beautiful if the truth comes from it.

So go. Use it.”




Hakim Bellamy Poem on POC Anonymity

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2016 by ndemske

Hakim at the DP Wigley Building, BONK! series, 2014

I’ve had some extra reading time with the extra days off this week and I wanted to post at least a couple of the really phenomenal poems I’ve been coming across over the next few days.  Today we’re starting with the inimitable Hakim Bellamy.

Hakim got a piece published by the White Privilege Conference Understanding and Dismantling Privilege Journal that knocked me out.  You can read that here (click on the “Download this PDF file” link).  And here’s an audio version of it, too.

The poem focuses on the phenomenon of black invisibility and especially on the effects of that phenomenon in law enforcement.  It’s not that people of color (and black males especially) are indeed invisible , obviously……but that the individuality and humanity of people of color vanish into thin air in so many situations, and are replaced by whatever demonic stereotype currently overwhelms mainstream media.  Since law enforcement officials deal with people in dire situations, the temptation to bypass the individual for their stereotypical counterpart is–as we’ve seen in this country over and over again–often too much to resist, apparently.

Hakim talks about “sticking out”–even if awkwardly– as a defense mechanism to ward off the horrors black invisibility can result in.  But he also talks about assimilation in newly crafted ways:


image found here

“We’ve worn these neckties for years
because we’re least threatening
at the end of a leash.

Speak jive only
as a second language,
because when in Rome
do as conquered people do.”

Later in the poem, in a parent’s voice, he instructs:

“Wear your culture
like a butt naked emperor.”

The poem meditates on how different people see things differently, especially based off their fears.  It reminds me a lot of a song the current Kenosha Poet Laureate, Brent Mitchell, played at the BONK! 100 Thousand Poets for Change event last September about the Tamir Rice shooting.  I’ll see if I can get a recording of that song from Brent to share with people.

And since Hakim is a BONK! alum too, I’ve added his video here (from 2014), just in case you want to get a better sense of his work.

Thank you, Hakim, for making such substantial work about such a under-discussed  issue!

I’ll try to drop another poem or two on here as the week goes on.  In the meantime, happy 2016 everyone.  We gonna ride this year to glory!

addendum (added 1.7.16) 

Here is the video of the above mentioned Brent Mitchell song for Tamir Rice:



Wendy Xu joins the Fence Books Fam

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 16, 2015 by ndemske

Yay-uh!  Just got the news that my poetry homie Wendy Xu is my new publishing labelmate.  Congratulations, Wendy!  AND I know she recently just got a shout out in one of Entropy’s end of the year best of lists.  So Wa-bam.  Can’t/won’t/etc.

And as a bonus, here’s a real short shout out Wendy posted on an independent review site back in the day about my first book (in like 2011 I think).  It is good when we get published by publishers whose books we like.  The world makes sense.  Amen.

Can’t wait to read it, Wendy!  So excited for you.

Fence is proud to announce that Hoa Nguyen has chosen Wendy Xu’s Phrasis as winner of the 2016 Ottoline Prize. Phrasis will be published in 2017 by Fence Books, and Xu will also be the recipient of a $5000 cash prize. Born in Shandong, China, in 1987, Wendy Xu is the author of You Are Not Dead (2013), and the recent chapbook Naturalism (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2015). Her poems have appeared in The Best American Poetry, Boston Review, Poetry, jubilat, Gulf Coast, Hyperallergic, and elsewhere. She was awarded the Patricia Goedicke Prize in Poetry in 2011, and a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation in 2014. She lives and teaches writing in New York City.

In celebration, the deadline to submit to the 2017 Ottoline Prize has been extended through December 24th, 2015 at 11:59 p.m. EST! You can submit to the Ottoline by clicking here.

The Ottoline Prize awards publication and $5,000 to a book-length work of poetry by a woman writing in English who has previously published one or more full-length books of poetry. The submission fee is $28, and all entrants receive a complimentary subscription or renewal to Fence. The winning manuscript will be published in the Spring of 2017 by Fence Books. The Ottoline existed in previous incarnations as the Motherwell Prize, and the Albert Prize before that. A full list of winners can be found at fenceportal.org.

Blogging now at The BONK!ness Monster

Posted in Uncategorized on May 26, 2014 by ndemske

Yo Yo,


wanted to let people know I will not be blogging at this space here anymore because I’m going to try to focus all my effort into a community blog I’m part of that has been starting up—it’s called The BONK!ness Monster and it can be found here. 

I’m helping run it with some other writers, artists and musicians that live here in Racine: Justin Grimbol, Kelsey Hoff, Kelsey Gray, Jackson Potter Barrow, Aaron Lundquist and Jen Simpkins.  I love that the people contributing to it, unlike other blogs that might be similar that I dig, like Montevidayo or HTMLGiant, are only brought together because they live in the same place and write.  Our aesthetics are not very similar, or even our disciplines, in some cases.  There’s really nothing unifying us other than geography and friendship.  That is super, to me.

They posted a few poems of mine the other day here, by the way.  Actually, they’re poem-memes, basically, which Grimbol created…he’s been creating a lot of these weird image-word mash up things that he’s been thinking of as memes. They’re lovely and hilarious, to be honest.  Here’s one of the memes he made for one of my poems:



So come visit us at The BONK!ness monster and keep up on the bustling world of Racine, Wisconsin.

It’s not that daddy’s leaving you.  He’s just going somewhere else.  And you can go to that somewhere else now too, whenever you’re ready.

Okay.  Thanks.  I love you.  Be in touch.

And PS- You’re ready: http://thebonknessmonster.com/

New Chapbooks from Smoking Glue Gun Press/ Video of Joyful Noise for Walter Hermanns

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2014 by ndemske

Hi my love,

A press I love, Smoking Glue Gun, is putting out two chapbooks very soon.  They have offered us the opportunity to fund said chapbooks through a crowd sourcing fundraiser campaign.  None of it is just donation–nearly no matter what amount you give, you’ll be getting one or both of the chapbooks.  If you get a little more, there’s a bunch of even cooler gifts from there that you’ll be receiving.  Read about the incentives on the site and watch the video and then, if you can, please contribute to their cause: http://igg.me/at/smokinggluegunchapbooks/x/6002691  They’re less than $500 away from their goal of $2000, so let’s make sure they make their mark.

I had the pleasure of reading and writing a blurb for one of these chapbooks: Nate Pritts’s “Pattern Exhaustion.” And, I have to say, I absolutely loved that little collection.  I would recommend it to anyone, even a lot of people who don’t normally dig poetry.  I think I’m going to buy a copy for my dad…maybe some other people.

So go check this stuff out and support a great upstart press.  And thank you!

In other news, we recently had an event in honor of a Racine, Wisconsin, poet and amazing community member, Walter Hermanns.  The full video of the event is here for your viewing, thanks to our BONK! video homie, Peg Rousar-Thompson.  Thanks Peg, and thanks to everyone who came, especially those who performed.  I read a poem close to the very end and then the amazing Jackson Potter Barrow of one of my favorite young bands, The Barrow Band, plays a rendition he made of Amazing Grace.  The whole room was weeping pretty insanely.  It was beautiful.  I miss Walter every day.  We love you, Walter.  Rest in peace…in rowdiness…

Hey, thanks for visiting.  Have a great day.



Poets for the First Amendment Protection Chapbook

Posted in Uncategorized on September 3, 2013 by ndemske

I just submitted my poem Ravine, which I read in the video below, to this very worthy, worthwhile chapbook project that I’m posting about here in hopes of spreading the word and getting others to support it.  The amazing Sasha Steensen at Colorado Review was kind enough to publish this in print form originally.  The video appeared even before that, though, at the Montevidayo blog, solicited by Joyelle McSweeney.

So read here and submit.  The original source for this that I saw can be seen here.

Hey…have a great day.  I love you.  Peace:

“Submit Your Poem for the Poets for First Amendment Protection chapbook of poems responding to questions about the right peaceably to assemble, especially as they are being raised today.

We invite your submission of poems about the arrests of people for singing at the Wisconsin State Capitol, about the attempts to intimidate people opposed to mining the Penokee Hills, about legislatures cutting public hearings short or scheduling them at inconvenient times and places, and/or about comparable issues.

You don’t need to reside in Wisconsin to send a poem. You don’t need to write specifically about Wisconsin events.

We’re looking for a variety of styles: direct or subtle, formal, free verse, hip hop, prose poems, mixed genre. No longer than one page is the length preferred, though we’ll never turn down an awesome longer poem. But we need it soon! Submit by September 6, 2013 to poets.first@yahoo.com

If you’re not already part of the Facebook group, Poets for First Amendment Protection and you would like to be added, just send me a message. Also, feel free to share this call with friends you think might be interested.

All proceeds from the sales of this chapbook will go to the First Amendment Protection Fund. http://protectwisconsin.tumblr.com/.