daughterrarium from Cleveland State University Poetry Center

Winner of the 2016 First Book Poetry Competition, se­lected by Daniel Borzutzky

daughterrarium is now available for order!

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What people are saying:

What are we born into? What does it mean to be loved by God and Earth? What do we owe and to whom? How does one experience the fusion of anger and shame in a mind and body? What do the doctors say to the bodies that are broken? Where do the bodies go when they are taken away from themselves? How does a body heal itself? How does a body degrade itself? How does a body mourn and survive the trauma of fear, pain and abuse? I admire daughterrarium for pushing too far, for making me cringe with its representations of what one human can do to another, of what a body can do to itself. McMullin takes a tenacious look at violence and the abject while also interrogating, with great compassion, the nature of faith, family and growth.

–Daniel Borzutzky

“There are those who have hurt you not because you are ignorant, but because you have a heart.” Sheila McMullin’s daughterarium is a collection of the kindest rage I have ever seen. The book chronicles, among its tendernesses, McMullin’s refusal to turn the rage onto herself–“How not to blame myself for being fragile?”– and the difficulty of locating what is hurting us, or why, and how to heal a wound that is constantly re-opened. If you believe in rage, if you care deeply about women, then read this brilliant book again and again across your lifetime. Otherwise, “You have to get out of the way.”

–Sarah Vap

In a dish of fevered poppies, glassy runnunculus, and red tide hunger, the daughter infects herself. She’s infected by self, burning up until McMullin’s cool hand runs across the daughterrarium’s viral waters. Cancer, the crab, a sunrise that won’t clot. The neogothic daughter, her many manifestations bleed together in this prize-winning jailbreak. She says [t]ake me out of this bed and put me back in the grass, but really she’s taking us. Out, back. Give her your hand or get out of her way.

–Danielle Pafunda

…(Sheila is) a tulip filled with shark’s teeth.

–Molly Gaudry

Terrariums confine predators such as snakes and lizards, suppressing their instinctual fierceness. In the span of daughterrarium, however, the speaker augments and refines her aggression. Decay and a myriad of oppressive voices riddle her habitat, but when the speaker and the reader emerge from this “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” both are much, much stronger.

–Katie Hibner, Galatea Resurrects

McMullin give glimpses into the speaker’s trauma without flinching or becoming sentimental. The poet covers issues of sexual abuse, cancer, isolation from family, dissociation from the body, and more; she writes, “Being unprepared meant handing over her body, / but seeing as it’s still attached to me / I can’t let go.” But the poet’s relationship with trauma is that of fierce and persistent acceptance rather than bitter resignation.

–Xan Schwartz, Heavy Feather Review

…before our eyes this daughter with claws begins to figure out how to feel good. At the end of daughterrarium, the horizons change. The daughter may be surrounded by flowers but also, as the daughter puts it, “I put the ginger flower into my mouth./ Orchards bloom inside me.”

–Keegan Cook Finberg, Southern Indiana Review 

McMullin focuses and reveals the many ways the feminine body is exploited, is overpowered in the patriarchal schema of the world. She reveals these dynamics in ways that play with the reader, then confront the reader, and finally blossoms within the reader.

–Kristen Brida, So to Speak: A feminist journal of language and art

In Sheila McMullin’s collection of poetry, daughterrarium, the reader becomes witness. We observe the narrator’s journey through trauma, a journey in which she exposes her deepest vulnerabilities, her rage, and her quest for agency, as she keenly observes every emotion, every image, every angle of the lived experience of pain. In the suffocating parameters of trauma, she survives—and we want her to survive. We take the journey with her because she dares us to keep observing, to stay with her as she courageously processes her pain.

–Sheryl Rivett, The Ocean State Review

No, we won’t find much comfort here, or words pretty for pretty’s sake. Sheila McMullin scores the flesh of her observations and sears them with ponderous, mostly unanswerable questions about pain and anger, consequences, finality.

–Matt Sutherland, Foreword Reviews

Poet Sheila McMullin in her debut collection daughterrarium (CSU Poetry Center 2017) smashes the reader over the head with a song that spits out those limiting beliefs.

–Kristi Carter, Aqueduct Press

Humans of Ballou from Shout Mouse Press

Proceeds from book sales go to a Ballou HS scholarship fund and to empower new authors.

Purchase your copy through Shout Mouse Press! Check out a copy from DC Public Libraries!

The students of Ballou High School know a different Washington, DC than do the more than 18 million tourists who visit our nation’s capital each year. They live in Southeast DC, across the Anacostia River, and the tour buses don’t go through their neighborhoods. Some travel guides explicitly call the communities East of the River “areas to avoid.” Even some residents of the District don’t often visit Wards 7 and 8, as the river acts as not only a literal boundary, but a metaphorical one. The bridge that should connect these two Washingtons is all too rarely crossed.

The statistics about poverty or crime or violence in this community tell such a limited story, and it’s not the only story to tell. Those statistics should not build a wall that hides the humanity on the other side. Young people grow up in these neighborhoods, often too quickly, facing adult challenges too young. But they also grow up as all young people do: with joy. With talent. With pride. With love for their families, both biological and chosen. With style and humor and ambition and charm. For them, Southeast DC, and their own Ballou High School, is more than the headlines that others write — it is home. And for the educators who work with these young people every day, they know that the stories we tell–and hear–about ourselves make all the difference.

Humans of Ballou is the third volume of The Ballou Story Project, a program that provides a platform for these students to tell their own stories and act as leaders in their community. Learn more.

The Day Tajon Got Shot from Shout Mouse Press

Proceeds from book sales go to a Beacon House and to empower new authors.

Purchase your copy through Shout Mouse Press! Check out a copy from DC Public Libraries!

In March 2015, ten teen girls from Beacon House, a community-based organization in the Edgewood Terrace community in NE Washington, DC, started writing this novel during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. They began with one central question: What really happens in a community when a black youth is the victim of violence by police? How are those individual lives affected?

Each writer took on the perspective of a central character – the victim, the police officer, the witness, the parent, the friend, the officer’s kids – and examines how it feels to be a human being on all sides of this event. Their stories thoughtfully explore issues of race, violence, loyalty, and justice in a community torn apart but seeking connection.

This books builds on the tradition of Trinitoga–an insightful and uncensored view into the lives of smart, brave, passionate African-American young women in NE DC–with a new angle. In Trinitoga these authors explored the complex relationships between family, and they did so unflinchingly, and with heart.

With this book we wanted to do something more: to give these writers a chance to enter a national conversation that has become a new generation’s fight in our country’s ongoing Civil Rights Movement. This book can make a powerful statement in a unique and compelling way, and it gives both these writers and their readers a chance to explore hot-button issues of race and violence in a way that is sophisticated and necessarily complex. These stories go beyond the headlines to explore the perspectives of people on all sides of the discussion. The book is powerful, and timely, and tremendously ambitious on behalf of these authors. We cannot wait for you to be able to read it.

Passing the mic: Interview with Shout Mouse Press story coach, Sheila McMullin, on the journey of supporting teen authors in writing this book!