Poetry as Activism, The Rhetoric of Empathy, and The Breaking of Beliefs: My interview with Primal School

I am honored to be featured on Hannah Lee Jones’s fabulous poetry blog, Primal School. Her blog is designed as a place to discuss poetry outside the academy, to go back to basics and understand what makes a poem tick. In this interview, she asked me to describe my motivation and process for “A Phenomenology of Blindness,” which was published by Rogue Agent this summer.

About the interview, Hannah says:

[Emily K. Michael’s] poem ‘A Phenomenology of Blindness’ is a lesson not just in poetic craft but also how to talk about disability: ‘There’s a sense with the average non-disabled person that we should try to minimize or hide our disabilities — as if their discomfort is our discomfort. That’s another reason I write as a blind poet; I want people to know that I’m bringing blindness forward. I’m not ashamed. It’s a part of who I am. It’s something that belongs in poetry — not as a novelty but as a reality.’ Read, learn, and if so moved, please share widely — Emily’s work is vital.

Read the full interview here.


“Inside Jokes” published at The Fem!

Today starts a new semester! And the best way to ring in a beginning or ending is with poetry!

So it’s a good thing that my poem “Inside Jokes” was published at The Fem on this day. Read and enjoy! Happy Monday!

Honorable Mention in The Hopper’s Prize for Young Poets!

In June, I entered The Hopper‘s Prize for Young Poets. You remember The Hopper, the Vermont-based ecologically minded magazine that published one of my essays in May?  This contest called for a chapbook, a collection of 20-50 poems by a “young poet” (under 35) who had never published a collection before. So I shuffled and re-shuffled my poems, read them to myself, read them with friends, and sent them off!

Well, my manuscript, Natural Compliance, won Honorable Mention (3rd place) in this contest! I’m incredibly excited by such a distinction, and I’m quite proud of my little manuscript. Because The Hopper is so awesome, they wanted to profile me on their website and include a poem from the collection. Their profile features my poem “Kiwano,” hitherto unseen on the wilds of the Internet!

Here is their profile on me and my collection.

I want to thank the friends who helped me create and finalize this collection. You know who you are. We spent hours hunched over coffeeshop tables working and reworking these poems. You read the collection in one fell swoop to soothe my insecurities. You cheered me on. You told me I was worth it, whether I won or lost.

My friends, my readers, you are my blessing.

A little avian poem in a brand new journal!

Today marks the launch of The Deaf Poets Society, a literary journal that features the work of disabled writers. And I’m honored to announce that my poem “Trading Threes” is on this first flight.

Read and listen to the poem here.

This poem is a tribute to the glorious cardinals who sing day and night in my front yard. I hope you enjoy it and take some time to explore the rest of this brand new issue!

Poem Published in Rogue Agent!

The July issue of Rogue Agent is out, and one of my poems graces its cyperpages! You’ll find my piece, “A Phenomenology of Blindness,” in Issue #16 of this journal of poetry, art, and embodiment!

Read my poem here.

Poem Published!

My poem, “Crushed,” is live in the June issue of Wordgathering: A Journal of Disability Poetry and Literature.

Click here to read it—or listen to me read it for you!

Mosaics Poet Profiles: Kimberly Fujioka

I’m excited to present the work of another author from Mosaics: A Collection of Independent Women (Vol. 2)…Kimberly Fujioka.

Kim has been writing since she was a child. She wrote her first novel while she was tossing Hostess Ho-Hos and Ding Dongs off the back of a dump truck at her uncle’s farm. The cows in the pasture all grouped around the dump truck overflowing with day old cakes. If farms were a microcosm of the world, there would be cows who follow and then there would be one who might be named Polaris who would crawl up the apple tree to reach the golden apples, the one who from the vantage point of old age could see the slaughter house in the distance. Kim knows the benefits of aging since she’s almost 60 and has finally started to take herself seriously as a poet.

Kim has written and published book reviews, essays, and poetry, and she has published in print and online newspapers, magazines, literary journals and the anthology, To Japan with Love: A Travel Guide for the Connoisseur.

Kim taught English (ESL) at the university level for 30 years in both the U.S. and in Japan. She wrote several nonfiction books on teaching that are on sale at Amazon. You can find Kim on social media at the following accounts: Book Review Blog, Twitter, and her personal blog. She offers one poem:

The Glass Blower and Me

There is a shape I am searching for,
or is it a process?

The outcome is always the same, and I ask
“Is it love or art?”

I’m thinking if that mountain village, north of Fujioka City in Central Japan,
the glass blowers raise the long hollow metal rod to their greased lips
and blow.

The other end is immersed in blue fire.
Those of us standing around cannot see the glass formation
we are told is inside the stove’s belly,
but we believe it’s there.

We stand around the glass blower, who delicately twirls the hot, metal rod
between his gloved fingers.

We watch and wait for his masterpiece of glass to emerge from the oven, when
he taps me on the shoulder,
leans down to grease my lips, and lifts the rod
up to my mouth.

But I am too eager, sucking in more air than my lungs will hold.
He steps back, moving the blow rod away from me.
It’s noisy in this studio, so no one can speak over the roar of the fire.

We communicate through our eyes.

I look up into his eyes.
He puts the metal rod to my mouth and I try again.
This time I use the breath that is only mine.
He places the rod in my hands and moves slowly toward the stove,
peering in through the small window.
Looking over his shoulder at me, he gives me the okay sign.
I let my breath out slowly and steadily, then he cuts through the air
when it’s time for me to stop.

I don’t know what I’m doing, but he guides me through it.
It’s only him—the glass blower—and me, and my desire.

We enter the blue fire,
unable to stop,
even though I am afraid.

“Body, My House.” Pilgrimage Magazine 35.1 (2010): 40-41.

Mosaics Poet Profiles: Audrey T. Carroll

Audrey T. Carroll is a Queens, NYC native whose obsessions include kittens, coffee, Supernatural, Buffy, and the Rooster Teeth community. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Fiction International, So to Speak, Feminine Inquiry, the A3 Review, and others. Her poetry collection, Queen of Pentacles, is forthcoming from Choose the Sword Press. She can be found at http://audreytcarrollwrites.weebly.com and on Twitter. She offers two poems:

Darling Daughter

When they want to cleave your bark to read
your rings, hack away at your outermost with
steel    edges,    accuse    you    of   a   petticoat
conspiracy that you are a part of because we
are all a part of it from the age when we pass
notes in our pastel bubble writings, then you
tell them, dear child, of the female narrative
not born of temptation & sin but of the
blood of your blood singing out


                             one generation to the next.

Two Clowns

               For Mr. & Mrs. J

No stranger pair born
than the head doctor
and her ward
Tragedy granting the doctor
every reason to fall
and with a ward so charming,
How could she resist?
Years of attempted murders
both have survived
switching which side of the gun
each was on, who got
the last laugh
And that’s what today is all about:
Laughter in the madness
at the madness
surrounded by enemies of enemies
for a person who would
kill or die for the other,
laughing the whole way
and her ward with the red
smile, who mostly likes her
Never have such a perfect pair
of clowns been joined
To a future of many
Successful plans
Endless riches
Smile upon smile
And may you both
have that single thing
you want most—
Freedom to run the streets
Freedom from the knight



“Darling Daughter” originally published in So to Speak Journal.

“Two Clowns” originally published in Crab Fat Magazine, Issue 5.

Mosaics Poet Profiles: Elizabeth S. Wolf

Elizabeth S. Wolf lives in MA with her daughter and several pets. By day she works as a Metadata Librarian. Through years of interesting times, her catchphrase was “just another chapter for the book”.

Many of Elizabeth’s poems and stories are inspired by events in the news or in her past. She writes because telling stories is how we make sense of our world, how we connect with our world, how we heal and how we celebrate. She writes poetry to find the sliver of truth within the overload of information.

Elizabeth has published poems in several anthologies (Merrimac Mic: Gleanings from the First Year; Amherst Storybook Project; Mosaics: A Collection of Independent Women, Volume 1; The Best of Kindness: Origami Poems Project 2016; Merrimac Mic II: Going with the Floes). Elizabeth’s poetry has appeared in the online journals NewVerseNews and Scarlet Leaf Review and is forthcoming in Peregrine Journal. Some of her earlier poetry is archived in the Valley Women’s History Collaborative, a special collection of the UMass Amherst Libraries. Today she offers three poems:


Take chances.
Go to the wall,
and again,
and again:
as a hobby,
as a way of life,
as an exemplar,
as an apology,
as a beacon,
as a trust;
as you must,
as you must.

This Is The Way

This is the way
the world ends: with an orgasmic sigh
and a saxophone wail, with a howling dog
and a gibbering monkey
chanting their prayers, with
whistling teapots falling silent
and rustling leaves whispering
“nevermore”, with lights and sirens
flaring and lovers swearing
at each other, with children reciting the alphabet
backwards as their parents dance to
displaced tunes, and the sky soars away
as the Big Bang shatters into
thousands of lingering whimpers.
This is the way the world ends;
please stand by.

What If

What if today
there were no shootings.
What if today, there were no
beatings, even if dinner is
late or cold. What if today
everyone had enough dinner.
What if today, those who call themselves
lovers actually respected each other.
What if today, children were
seen and believed and
treasured. What if today
we greeted our neighbors.
What if today
is all the time we have;
what if today
is enough;
what if.

“Dare” originally published in Methuen Life, Nov 2014.

“This Is The Way” originally published in Merrimac Mic: Gleanings from the first year, April 2015.

“What If” originally published in Scarlet Leaf Review, March 2015, and reprinted in The Best of Kindness: Origami Poems Project 2016 Kindness Anthology

Mosaics Poet Profiles: Caroline M. Cao

With the launch of Mosaics 2 on May 1, I’m continuing the April frivolity – more poet profiles! But this time, I’ll be sharing the work of my fellow Mosaics authors, from both volumes! The first poet in our series is Carol Cao.

Caroline M. Cao, though Florida-born, considers herself a full-Houstonian spiritually. During her years at the University of Houston, she was a devoted staff writer and satirist of The Cougar Opinion Column and Cooglife magazine. She is a current TV/Movie reviewer for OutLoudCulture and champions review-writing as both a scholarly platform and artform. In the meantime, she’s writing poems, stories, and sci-fic space opera screenplays. Or she’s just swing dancing with the UH Lindy Hop Club. She offers two poems:


On a Numb Brain

a bloodstream too feeble
dulling wits
weary slug-fingers fidgeting,
clawing tenderly on bedsheets and pillow.

I heed the molecules
of my sinking queen-sized mattress
nullifying my will to take pleasures

Kaguya at Leisure

My dad among
the surplus of fathers
whispered the stories of the struggles of suitors
spinning artificial silk
plucking fragrant-less camellias
carving Buddha’s Begging Bowl
seeking to make her
their new ming vase.

Dad told it that way to the daughters’ bedsides
“Kaguya was sad,” the dads said.
What else was there?
But the river-tears of Kaguya’s father
with her mother rubbing his shoulders
and him borrowing her handkerchief.

Only I knew the
part of the story
where she bowed down
on knees,
worshipping the
birds, beetles, bees
neglecting the wooing
of the princes and courtiers.

The pear blossoms
weren’t in season
but ah well.
she considered herself blessed
that the blood Tsubakis
      weren’t in season
as she buried her face
      into the lilies.

That was before the era of her altars
and the bedside stories.

This was before she submitted
to the moon delegation
to ascend from Earth.

When she resettled on the craters
the moon glowed this portrait
of her ephemeral bliss.

Her lips appear the utter the overdue,
      “No. ”
which were always muted by the floral screens
of her earthly bamboo-palace.

Even then,
she does not look down
on her suitors bows
she pinches her nose
at the Emperor’s shrines
and its stale incense.

She smiles at daughters
      who inquire
      “What about her?”



“On a Numb Brain” originally published in The Aletheia Literary Magazine, Spring 2015

“Kaguya at Leisure” originally published in Mosaics: A Collection of Independent Women

April Poet Profiles: Rhoda Monihan

Rhoda Monihan is an atheist poet and writer and has most of her poems on the PoetrySoup website. They span from being about religion, politics, and technology to being about science, evolution, and WW II. She believes that all people are of equal inherent worth and understands humanism to give the best view of life that can be supposed. She believes in evolution, as she has found it of great help to her as a young teen when she read Darwin having had a few tragedies in her life. She has a number of disabilities, but the physical one is Cerebral Palsy. In her spare time she likes reading, watching DVDs, and going to the cinema. She offers this poem:

I Wish I Was a Wandering Tree

I wish I was a wandering tree because then I’d make lots of relationships. The sun, so startling with glamour, the sky, just a wee distance away, with chlorophyll and the weather, my partner. He’s all around me and so very affective. I am happy when he’s bright, and his cold is my down. I would bring the sun down to earth by respecting his beams and running with all his memes until he was on my side, in my living room relaxation time which would be energised by solar power. I’d analyse the clouds for precipitation causation and I’d multiply the chlorophyll found inside plants and inject the extra amount into us humans to change all skin colour to green. Then we’d know just normally and not just when we are in education classes that we’re all related to nature, and that how we interact with it determines each of our futures, not god or imagination. And maybe the chlorophyll would even make us fly!

April Poet Profiles: Travis Lau

Travis Lau is a Franklin/Fontaine doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania Department of English. His research interests include eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British literature, the history and theory of the novel, the history of medicine, disability studies, body studies, and gender and sexuality studies. His dissertation, tentatively titled “Prophylactic Fictions: Immunity and Biosecurity,” explores the British literary and cultural history of immunity and vaccination beginning in the eighteenth century. His academic writing has been published in Journal of Homosexuality, Romantic Circles, and English Language Notes (forthcoming). His creative writing has appeared in Atomic, Feminine Inquiry, Wordgathering, Assaracus, Rogue Agent, and QDA: A Queer Disability Anthology (Handtype Press, 2015). You can read more of his work here. He offers two poems:


“I seem to myself, as in a
An accidental guest in this dreadful body.”
–Anna Akhmatova

A scan with closed
eyes bears witness
to lines of knots,
ropes for counting
the matter out of
place – a body and
its discontents,
dreadful as only
fathomable in the
ligatures of a dream.
Accidental, she once
did call it, a matter of
error with no trial
or the sin of generation:
what her grandmother
paid for with queer bones
and left for me to clear the
debt. Yet I remain the
interest, what remains
of transits (of genes, of
prayers) unmoving like
a bind that cannot be
breathed through.
So to be is to overstay,
to be the guest who
refuses every comfort
to become host – no
longer accident but


How it is
to live askew –

but a step
away from awry,

the ruthless tui na
of the world,

other to me, hard
upon pressure points

until I am left

the residue of

in space that
holds itself

hard against
me despite

its songs
of innocence.

April Poet Profiles: Andres Rojas

I am honored to present the work of my friend Andres Rojas. Andres  was born in Cuba and came to the U.S. at age 13. He holds an M.F.A. and a J.D. from the University of Florida, and his poems have most recently appeared or are forthcoming in Barrow Street, Colorado Review, Massachusetts Review, New England Review, and Notre Dame Review. Andres is also the poetry editor for Compose, an online journal.

Andres reads a lot, when he is not spending time with Melinda, his wife of 23 years. They like to revisit their favorite spots (New Orleans, Savannah, Charleston, and St. Augustine);  during spring and summer, they go for walks on the local beaches. For the past couple of years, Andres has become addicted to MOOCS, and has completed about 15 of them—varying on topics from cosmology to history to poetry. He loves to hike. He has recently completed all of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and is approximately 45 miles into North Carolina.

Andres wrote his first poem at age 13, emulating his father (who didn’t really like that first poem). He wrote song lyrics in high school, and took creative writing courses in college, intending to write fiction. He wrote the poems required for his course, and he is still writing poetry 30 years later.

Though Andres loves creative activities (acting, playing the guitar, singing in a band, and writing fiction and nonfiction), he is drawn most to poetry. He says, “I love to work towards the pleasures of writing poetry, which I vaguely define as striving for elegance, precision, discovery, and catharsis.” He believes in the power of poetry to enhance empathy and awareness. Poetry challenges a reader’s intellect and emotions, preparing them for other difficulties—whether on the page or in person. His favorites include Eliot, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Adrienne Rich, Carolyn Forche, Eduardo C. Corral, Ada Limon, Natalie Diaz,  and Ocean Vuong.

Andres was a finalist for this year’s Andres Montoya Poetry Prize. In 2017, his essay on Latino/a poetics and immigrant identity will be coming out as part of a University of New Mexico anthology. You can find more of Andres’s work at his blog. Today he offers three poems:


Loss isn’t hard.
It comes uncalled,
a side effect

like chills or thirst,
makes room for more,
wants little else

but what is lost,
what artifice
burns to restore,

can’t fail to try.
Write them, again:
door keys, notebooks,

that first time, hours
poorly spent, words
fine without me.

My mother’s watch.
Her last-worn dress.
Your voice. Your hands
that I love. You.

          Chattahoochee Gap Spring

Breached in stone,
fig-leafed with lichen,

a baptismal font
enough to keep its share

of future skies — how new,
exactly, this trickle? The Adam

and Eve orchids too
bespeak something

other, as the bird skull
alit on deer droppings,

as — miles downstream,
hours back — the tubes

on the river, asters
alkene and slick: ancient,

if not older than themselves,
rarer than stars, yes, and ordinary.

          …damit mehr Licht hineinkomme

Night is more than what longleaf pines
have gathered here, voids leaning in
as for a look, the sky not their opposite

but something else: of stars,
light may abide longest.

June brings out few fireflies,
three, four per hour, if that. One
lights my chest, my head,

all I can see now, this spark
in so much forest, calling.

I close my eyes to absence older than stars.
They and the fireflies still shine, I’m sure —
I, who walked four hours to them

knowing what light can mean
even to one who means nothing to it.

“One” originally in Luna Luna
“Headwaters” originally published in Colorado Review
“Osceola Forest” originally in Bridge Eight

April Poet Profiles: Trish Hopkinson

Trish Hopkinson has always loved words—in fact, her mother tells everyone she was born with a pen in her hand. She has two chapbooks Emissions and Pieced Into Treetops and has been published in several anthologies and journals, including Stirring, Chagrin River Review, and The Found Poetry Review. Trish is co-founder of a local poetry group, Rock Canyon Poets. She is a product director by profession and resides in Utah with her handsome husband and their two outstanding children. You can follow her poetry adventures here. Today she offers three poems. Click on the first two titles to hear Trish read her work, and click on the third title to see the artwork that inspired it.

Waiting Around

It so happens, I am tired of being a woman.
And it happens while I wait for my children to grow
into the burning licks of adulthood. The streaks
of summer sun have gone,

drained between gaps into gutters,
and the ink-smell of report cards and recipe boxes
cringes me into corners. Still I would be satisfied
if I could draw from language
the banquet of poets.

If I could salvage the space in time
for thought and collect it
like a souvenir. I can no longer
be timid and quiet, breathless

and withdrawn.
I can’t salve the silence.
I can’t be this vineyard
to be bottled, corked,
cellared, and shelved.

That’s why the year-end gapes with pointed teeth,
growls at my crow’s feet, and gravels into my throat.
It claws its way through the edges of an age
I never planned to reach

and diffuses my life into dullness—
workout rooms and nail salons,
bleach-white sheets on clotheslines,
and treacherous photographs of younger me
at barbecues and birthday parties.

I wait. I hold still in my form-fitting camouflage.
I put on my strong suit and war paint lipstick
and I gamble on what’s expected.
And what to become. And how
to behave: mother, wife, brave.

Footnote to a Footnote

Jacuzzis are holy.
Garage door openers are holy.
Back-up cameras and recycle bins—all holy.
Putting the red flag up on the mailbox, waving at the elderly
getting my toes wet with dew—holy, holy, holy.
Keeping my eyelids open and trying to sleep like fish,
signing my name with less letters and more scribbles,
counting crows feet, counting yellow toenails,
counting haircuts, counting plucked whiskers,
counting constantly.
Bookshelves are holy.
Missing dust covers are holy,
magicians and black and white T.V. shows,
Penn Jillette theories and Andy Griffith justice,
Uncle Walt songs and Ginsberg poems—holy, holy, holy.
Drinking beer before noon, drinking liquor right after,
drinking it warm (or on ice) with a friend (or not).
Waking up drunk, waking up sober,
waking up tired, waking up hungry,
waking—always holy.
Table wine is holy.
Candle sticks are holy,
dishwashers and cloth napkins,
the folk art cricket made from wire and a railroad nail,
rock salt from the salt flats in a salt cellar—holy, holy, holy.
Opening an empty cedar chest to still moths and crumbs,
staring at stretched cobwebs immersed in the sun,
swallowing nests, swallowing nectar,
swallowing chimes, swallowing saliva,
swallows—always holy.
Self-portraits are holy.
Ceramic urns also are holy.
Tape recorders and keyboards,
drawing pads and gold-plated ball-point pens,
calligraphy and stipple—holy, holy, holy.
Unfolding a letter, unfolding a chair, unfolding
into downward dog, from child’s pose, into corpse pose.
Picking apricots, picking green grapes,
picking out a husband, a shower curtain,
selection—always holy.
Twist-off caps, dresser drawers, remote controls,
carpeted stairs, revolving doors, product recalls,
keycodes, passwords,
restaurant reservations,
last-minute invitations,
cell phones, voice recognition,
land minds, and secrets—holy,
holy word, holy water, holy book,
holy soap boxes, bathtubs, soap dishes—holy,
holy drains and draining, empty.

Eurydice’s Cardinal

Mornings are when it hurts most,
like bruising wind bending
the horizon sideways.

Lying on my side, the sunrise twists
in the window, the glare reaches
to the right and into the dawn.

This is the storm before the calm,
the waking state that splits you
from me. You turned to see

me, a step too soon and my organs
plummeted, brick-heavy and distant
into the depths of the mundane.

I sleep through it all, but it’s only at night
you visit me in visions. You come
as a cardinal, your crimson

wings striking against the dark, your heart
behind you, trailing morsels
of tenderness lost.

April Poet Profiles: Kelsi Hasden

I’m excited to offer you the work of my friend and colleague Kelsi Hasden. Kelsi writes poetry on life. Love life, rage life, race life, gender life, and experiencing life. She is an adjunct instructor in Rhetoric and Composition in Jacksonville, Fl, and she adopts stray cats in her neighborhood. She has published in Bridge Eight magazine, worked as a managing editor for Fiction Fix, and writes and edits articles for Metro Jacksonville. Her poems below pivot on a common theme:


She told me they rolled you over
and then you took your last breath.
They looked at you in shock
in spite of knowing
that your time was drawing near.
I cried for over an hour
my face scrunched
in such anguish
that my forehead cramped.
I couldn’t get all the sobs out
the torrent of tears
wouldn’t cease.
At one point
I couldn’t tell
if I was crying
or laughing.

My tears weren’t falling
because you were so recently gone,
they fell because you were no longer
the you I had known in my childhood,
you hadn’t been for years,
but now that change was permanent
-an irrefutable fact-
you weren’t the pillar
that held up so many memories,
that carried so many years.
Old age had gathered you up in his fingers,
causing me to mourn your loss
years ago.

She told me that you’re in a better place
that you aren’t suffering anymore
but I can’t get my head
wrapped around the fact
that you’re still gone,
you’re just
away –
as though you simply stood up
and walked out the front door.

silence all the telephones,
the televisions, the announcements,
stop all the callers,
hold your questions.
He is dead.
He is dead.
I see it everywhere
on license plates, billboard signs,
and in cloud formations.
The grass is quite a bit browner,
the air a bit drier.
His death has halted everything.
I can still feel his touch
I can still see his smile
I remember his voice
and it makes me shudder,

Granddaddy’s Poem

Together we sat watching the casket
    Of our estranged grandfather.
He was very much alive
    in our memories and our tears;
      the smoky scent of his living room,
      the dead grass in his garden,
      his broken fence,
      how quiet his laugh was compared to mine, dad’s, the family’s.
Our mourning was alive and present.

The Honor Guard performed
    A Twenty One Gun Salute.
Each of our cousins received a shell casing
    that was handed to them
     by white gloved hands
    as did our father and his siblings.

We two, were the only immediate family
  who did not receive a spent shell
We did not have 
a hunk of golden metal
to hold in our hand
    to soften our sadness

we sat off alone
and whispered
childhood memories
as young girls with their grandfather.