Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: The Women in the Big Band Fill Their Empty Shells

join us in celebrating national poetry month today with our talented friend Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam: award-winning writer, fellow cat-person, and host of Fort Worth's annual Art & Words Show! Bonnie is also the co-creator of Strange Monsters, a collaborative audio project mixing jazz and storytelling, and was recently featured on spiderweb salon's literary podcast. we are pleased to share this fantastic writing prompt from Bonnie (a very appropriate prompt as we approach Dallas Art Fair weekend), alongside her beautiful poem The Women in the Big Band Fill Their Empty Seats (previously published in Bared)enjoy!

Bonnie's prompt: Go to a local gallery or museum. Find a work of visual art that speaks to you. Write a poem or story or essay using that work as inspiration. Be as obvious or as ambiguous as you please: choose a realist painting and write about an element of the background, choose an abstract and find a story within the colors, or combine two works of visual art and write about the places where they meet.


The Women in the Big Band Fill Their Empty Shells

The women in the big band wear black bras

on the outside of their yellow blouses

to give the audience what they demand to see:

their insides out, orchestrated

to suggest an inner life absent of the half-smiles

they might give were they to choose

their own expressions. If only they could peel

their skins and play their horns

on inverted lips, no one would complain

in the comment cards. Then again, someone

always does.


After the show the women hang

their bras with leftover rope from the ceiling

of their dressing room. Limp-necked,

the bras beg to be filled. The women trudge, weighted

in their fake fur, drop covering and take cover

in the snow. They hum the true hum of their instruments

until morning when they're sure their fans

have left their rooms. Then and only then

do they clasp their empty shells

around their cages

of rib bones

to play again.


Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam is a fantasist fiction writer and poet with a deep love of cats, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and gardening. Her work has appeared in over 40 magazines and anthologies such as Clarkesworld, SmokeLong Quarterly, and Everyman's Library's Monster Verse. Her novelette “The Orangery” is a finalist for the 2016 Nebula Award. She hosts the annual Art & Words Show in Fort, Worth, Texas. In 2015 she released a collaborative fiction-jazz album Strange Monsters. You can visit her on Twitter @BonnieJoStuffle or through her website:

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam | photo by courtney marie

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam | photo by courtney marie

want to read more from our favorite local writers? check out the prompts & poems from friends we've already featured this month, including: Stevie EdwardsLogen CureJoe MilazzoSean Enfield, Leah Tieger, and Leslie Marie Aguilar. we'll share more awesomeness daily throughout the month and host a POETRY PARTY on April 22nd at Wine Squared in Denton so you can hear all these wonderful poets in action and celebrate with us!  we are also accepting work for one more weekend for writers who wish to be featured - the deadline is on april 10 and you can find submission information HERE.