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Swearingen-Steadwell, Laura

Swearingen-Steadwell, Laura


Laura Swearingen-Steadwell, also known as Laura Yes Yes, has performed, led workshops, and lectured throughout North America. Her work has titillated and educated audiences of all kinds, notably when she placed as a finalist at 2010’s Women of the World Poetry Slam. Laura is also a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College, and the author of How to Seduce a White Boy in Ten Easy Steps (Write Bloody Publishing, 2011). She has worked as an editor for Muzzle Magazine, the Four Way Review, and PEN America: A Journal for Writers and Readers, and is available for consultation on both writing and performance. Laura’s newest manuscript, All Blue So Late, won the Cave Canem Northwestern Poetry Prize, and will be published by Northwestern University Press in December 2017.



he lifts my grandmother’s body


a sheaf of reeds

he picked himself, cattails

rustling in the wind


he carries her


as though he meant to make something

useful, to weave a basket,

to give those bones the benefit

of new intention.


this is what they mean

when they say good man: they mean

a love strong enough to smile

as though he could lift her anywhere,

carry her down the aisle


with my father

and the other white-gloved men.



When I almost fell out of the world, Christina grabbed my arm like we were in some action movie. I mean: I made my life an action movie, or a sordid drama co-starring a redhead and a bustier. Rather, we told a joke: three poets and a lightbulb.


My ex wept and wept, I mean he simply would not stop. Nothing could staunch that sad, and my blood wanted to fall out of my body. So we went on a buddy adventure without each other, he to the desert, I to an island in the middle of the Pacific. I thought I was the diva in a tragic opera, but in hindsight, it was a one-panel comic. Or chick lit. I was, after all, a Woman Making Her Way.


Still, I wanted to fall out of the world. My mother came to visit, but left me Bildungsromaning under some mango tree. Then Christina came, which might have turned my life into a fairy tale, only the third fairy never arrived to save the day.


Before the big reveal, you should know: This was never an erotic novel. Christina and I hiked to a nude beach, where she showed off the neat fluff of her New York pussy, the cultivated cunt to my feral thatch. Those whiskers whispered to me, and Christina grinned like she had made decisions. I wanted to make decisions again – my own, bigger than a razor, and falling out of the world.


Not an erotic novel, but a hotly contested feminist tract. Or a Bible story revolving around a woman and a burning bush. It was time to get back to it, to tell the tale. So maybe you were the third fairy, Dear Reader, the part of the prophecy that brought me back to –

from Fourteen


Shelley struts the blacktop trumpeting not guilty! the day

the Simpson verdict is announced. Black people win for once,

we get away with murder. You are the generation

stamped super-predator, tried as adults, condemned to life

by men like Mark Fuhrman. The cops who beat down Rodney King

lurk unchecked in your streets, while politicians who commute

into your city blame your music, your video games,

your neurochemistry, your parents’ moral fabric, you,

for ruining the neighborhood. Shelley struts the blacktop

in loose jeans, loudest girl in the grade, maybe the smartest.

She code-switches better than anyone you’ve ever met.

Shelley who won’t shut up, even in class. She knows herself,

afro puffs fuzzy and bold. You slick your hair back with gel

each morning. It freezes stiff, not a hair on your head free.


How to Seduce a White Boy in Ten Easy Steps (Write Bloody Publishing, 2011)

All Blue So Late (Northwestern University Press, 2017)

Cave Canem Rose O’Neill Literary House Fellowship 2017
Cave Canem Northwestern University Poetry Prize 2016
Callaloo Fellowship 2011
Write Bloody Publishing Contest 2010
Women of the World Poetry Slam Finalist 2010
Berkeley Individual World Poetry Slam Representative 2009
Colin Armstrong Poetry Prize 2002
MacArthur-Leithauser Travel Award 2001