The Ennis Committee of Phoenix Sister Cities will be hosting a Irish Book festival, with a focus in poetry, that will take place at the Irish Cultural Center on September 27th. In addition to the poets and speakers listed, a number of Irish publishers and independent bookshops are participating through their promotional materials, press releases etc., and they will be promoting the Yeats special issue of Poetry Ireland Review, which will be published in Ireland on September 12th. They will also be launching the third issue of the digital magazine,
Reading Ireland: The Little Magazine, which will focus on Irish poetry, at the festival.
A fundraising event will take place the evening before at the Phoenix Country club with authors present. The cost of the festival tickets are $45 which includes a light lunch, with a special student rate of $20 also available.
The featured Poets/Writers for include: David Baker, Sara Berkeley Tolchin, Cynthia Hogue, Adrienne Leavy, Yvonne Watterson as well as Thomas Kinsella via documentary screening and lecture.
For more information regarding the book festival and/or the fundraising event, you can visit their website.
Recently I had the good fortune to read some of Pamela Stewart’s new and as yet unpublished prose poems. She’s creating a mosaic of small, luminous pieces with a variety of characters, voices, and circumstances—and the project is still in process. I was struck by the abruptness of the endings and an absence of correlation in relationship between pieces. Struck in a good way—as in, I was mesmerized by a sense of incompleteness that opened up something compelling and strange: a feeling of being lost. I find I long for that feeling even more than for meaning. It’s in those spaces where there’s a lack of overt connection that the reader’s imagination and experience finds room to fill in the gaps. Wow, I’m in.
But, as I struggle with a second book (and, frankly, find myself painting partly to avoid writing), I look at the pile of paper on my desk and wonder what I’m going to do with it all. It’s the kind of dumb question that garners a lot of good advice that doesn’t help in the least. “You’re going to have to connect these with some arc.” Or: “What theme are you working with?” Or: “ Pay attention to the voice.” Naturally, I got all tangled up thinking about ideas, narrative arc, theme, architecture. And all that noise started harassing my little poems, strapping them into broken chairs under the single swaying bulb in a dank Jersey warehouse. Like smart wiseguys, the poems clammed up.
Last week I was a participant at VCFA’s post-graduate writers conference and worked with the Detroit poet Jamaal May who talks faster than possibly anyone else worth listening to on the planet. His debut collection, Hum, (Alice James Books, 2013) sizzles off the page with an energy that connects an unflinching eye with passionate heart. And he’s an attentive, intuitive and smart teacher. Perhaps the thing he said that I most needed to hear was a quote from the poet Rigoberto Gonzalez that, “It’s good for a poet to be in trouble.” Yes, taking risks is good—but being in trouble is more than that: it’s good to be really scared.
I’m not praising the idea that poets need to be morbidly depressed, in acute pain, anxious out of our minds, or miserable. There’s enough pain in everyone’s real life. And I think creativity is fostered by the full range of human experience—including joy. But, I suddenly realized that somewhere I’ve been under the illusion that, given enough time and attention to craft, I wouldn’t have that lump in my throat. I wouldn’t have to choke on the raw sob I keep under wraps in my day job, in taking care of laundry, my husband, the bills. In all that left-brain activity, I’ve worked hard to have places in my life where I actually feel competent and I thought making poems could be one of them. Now—and here’s my gift to you, reader—I realize that, if the poems have life in them, I can feel good about that. Later—maybe much later. But the making itself requires my willingness to be undone, afraid, alone, fragile, fucked up. So I can shift focus, be lost, be a little off my game. Oh, shit. Thank heavens. Oh, shit. Amen.
A lot of scintillating things were said at this conference—it’s simply the best conference ever—and I’ve got a notebook filled with semi-legible scrawl to prove it What I hope will help my poems, is this: no matter where you and I are in the process of making a poem—or a book—along with attention to craft, theme, arc—there needs to be breathing room. Some gaps perhaps, some unfinishedness, the strangeness that feels alive. A roominess that allows things not fitting together until or unless they do. I love being lost as a reader. I love allowing meaning to come to me. I love not being hit over the head with what Roger Weingarten calls, “a poem as a life support system for an idea.” I forgot that I love—and need—being lost as a writer. And how much I need that trouble. Oh, shit. Thank heavens. Oh, shit. Amen.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Yosef Rosen.
Yosef Rosen is completing his MFA in poetry at Bowling Green State University, and serves as Assistant Poetry Editor for Mid-American Review. His poems are published in Slipstream, The Chariton Review, Blue Monday Review, Gloom Cupboard, and Maudlin House, and forthcoming in Common Ground Review. He is currently working on a chapbook addressing privilege and vulnerability vis-à-vis penises, golems, and wisdom teeth, plus a whole lot of mold. Although he currently resides in the Black Swamp of Northwest Ohio, his heart and liver belong to St. Louis, and he can be found there during summers and occasional breaks.
You can follow him on social media through Twitter: @YeOldeSonneteer
You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.
You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.
When I moved to Tallahassee to start graduate school at Florida State, I found myself, for the second time in my life, a watcher of professional wrestling. When I was a kid, my mother and stepfather rented all the big Pay-Per-View’s, and I sat enthralled as my favorite wrestler, Stone Cold Steve Austin, crushed countless beer cans together above his head, foam raining down over his working-man tanned arms and leather vest, while stadiums full of fans cheered in approval. Then in ’98 Austin drove a Zamboni into the arena in Detroit on Monday Night Raw, rammed the stage, and dove over the top rope at Vince McMahon.
I was dumbfounded. As security placed Austin in handcuffs and marched him through the backstage toward a cop car waiting in the parking lot, I kept thinking, they can’t take him to jail. They just can’t. Not once did I consider who let him drive the thing in the first place, how McMahon just happened to be in the exact right position for Austin to tackle him, or why so many “officers” were already in place. Instead, I yelled at the television, too young to understand how well Jim Ross was selling that bit, and how much planning went in to pulling it off.
I marked out. I marked out hard—
Coming to wrestling the second time, in the company of seasoned veterans who also happened to be Comp/Rhet. scholars, was a far departure from my previous spectating experience. I was inundated with terminology, tips for card predictions, etc. We talked finishers, jobbers, promo spots, kayfabe, and meta-narratives. As a result, I could no longer look at it the way I had when I was younger. The mystery was gone; the curtain pulled back, the apparatus revealed.
At first, this was disheartening. How could I cheer a shallow victory? How could I boo a heel that was only following a script? I needed to believe he deserved it. I couldn’t just boo without justification. I spiraled into a full on wrestling induced existential dilemma, and soon realized that I had to adjust my vantage point. I read Reddit threads, listened to those who knew more than me, and started to appreciate the moving parts: the calculus of a storyline, characterization, and iconography, which made those moments when the show deviated from expectation all the more exciting.
I often approach poems in the same way that I initially approached wrestling; it’s about the suspension of disbelief—the willingness to go along with the poet and trust the reasoning of what they are showing me. The poems that have had left the greatest impressions on me operate in ways similar to an epic match. There’s a battle between oppositional ideologies, each dependent upon the other, each altered and informed by interaction.
When it comes to writing a poem, I’m Attitude Era through and through. I don’t want a poem to be a handshake. I want it to be a fistfight. I want it to be Mick Foley landing head first onto a table after being thrown off the top of the steel cage at Hell in a Cell. I want you see to blood but not the razor blade tucked under my wrist tape. But I also know I have to anticipate the reaction of a reader; that the pacing should be deliberate, the argument clear in order to elicit the desired response. A poem has to be a good technician as well as a good showman. And I’ve gotten better at recognizing my hang-ups: the tendency to barrel toward the ending, forsaking logic for musicality, and many more that I won’t bore you with here. There’s no shortage of new moves to be learned.
Over the past few years, I’ve gone back and rewatched a lot of those iconic matches from my adolescence. And sure, I see the referees calling the minutes, the botches. I know it’s predetermined. But that doesn’t mean it’s fake. It doesn’t matter if I can estimate about how many near-falls will occur, how many signature moves will be executed, etc. If a segment lands, it lands every time.
There’s a common trope in wrestling known as the “hope spot.” It’s the moment in a match when a “good guy” or “a face,” after he’s spent a respectable amount of time being dominated by a heel, a “bad guy,” suddenly mounts a comeback. He hulks up. He rallies. Maybe even lands a few blows. Then the heel strikes once again, high-jacking his momentum, instilling doubt. It’s a beautiful tension builder. And despite the fact that the majority of the audience knows the face will, nine times out of ten, eventually go on to win, it has to look hard-fought, like he earned it. The audience can tell when nothing is at stake.
I have those poems that I read again and again—mostly to see what I can steal. Because when a poem is well engineered, I never doubt it. It lives in the hope spot. I forget the language of line breaks, metaphor, and buy in to the possibility that poetry is a space in which I can confront seemingly oppositional truths: my own perception vs. the unquantifiable experience of others. Sometimes, those truths are reconciled. But even when they’re not, there’s plausibility, a reason they occur, and a reason why it’s important that I engage. Poetry doesn’t exist in a bubble. It’s a distillation of all of our greatest fears, our greatest aspirations. In poetry we may be down, but we’re never out. There’s a chance. Anything can happen in a poem… even a Zamboni. It’s a genre dependent upon a metaphysics that hinges on our capability to embrace feeling first, to stand in disbelief of a reality that doesn’t facilitate our wonder.
And for the record, the result of every “Which Professional Wrestler Are You?” quiz that I’ve taken on Facebook has been Stone Cold Steve Austin. So that’s something.
While I was working toward my degree at Arizona State University, I had the good fortune to stumble into a part-time position with the good people at Black Fox Literary Magazine. I started there as a copy editor and was surprised and delighted when Racquel Henry, one of the founding editors, asked me to help out with reading submissions. I know, because of my experience interning with Superstition Review, that helping choose which submissions make it to publication is an important (and coveted) role at a magazine. So I am proud of, and also humbled by, the opportunity to work in that capacity.
Because I am a writer, I try to be the reader my writer-self would appreciate most: someone with an appreciation for what it took to hit that submit button, someone with compassion, and someone who can set aside their bias and view each piece of work with some level of detached artistic objectivity. Hah! Well, two out of three ain’t bad. Though my intentions be honorable, I still bring an incredible amount of baggage to the page as a reader. I hope that my awareness of it somehow eases the weight of it; and I’m grateful that my preferences contribute in a meaningful way toward the goals set forth by the staff at Black Fox. Learning to navigate feelings of preference, and incorporate them with factual information about what is good in terms of craft, is a process.
On my very first day in Creative Writing class at ASU, the professor started talking about her aesthetic. She used words like dark, edgy, creepy, gothic, and raw; and expressed no small amount of enthusiasm over the emergence and acceptance of magical realism in the literary world. I was a little thrown at first, my own experience of the word aesthetic being only one of the available definitions: pleasing in appearance (Merriam-Webster). While I could see how a story could be viewed as aesthetically pleasing from a technical standpoint (and let no one underestimate the power of technical accuracy), I now understand the meaning and implications of the term aesthetic as it pertains to art, literature, and the power of reader preference. If I could whisper in the ear of every writer who submits a piece for our magazine to consider, I would say, “Whether or not we accept your work today is more about us than it is about you, so please keep trying.”
This experience as a reader for a literary magazine has helped me to grow as a writer, both in terms of craft application and in the business of sending my work out for publication. I’ve learned that it really is important to follow submission guidelines. A well-crafted story or poem truly can speak for itself. While hombre might be all the rage at the hair salon, as a font choice it’s just annoying. That kind of formatting distraction prevents the reader from connecting with the story, may cost the magazine extra to include in their print publication, and in some cases, has been known to cause migraines. Either way, it’s probably not going to earn the story a thumbs up with the readers. So, out of respect for the publication I’m submitting to, and an earnest desire to have my work appear in their magazine, I follow their rules.
A clean submission with a professional cover letter, perhaps, has become part of my own developing aesthetic. Black Fox is blessed with hundreds of submissions each reading period, and we are usually reading and making decisions right up to the 12th hour! I have to confess, when I’m powering through the submission pile that last week or two, if I come across a cover letter that is addressed to <insert editor name here>, I’m going to skip it. Call me what you like.
Working on both sides of a publication, as a contributor and as a reader, gives me the opportunity to really immerse myself in the industry, and I am learning so much. Early on in my fiction workshops at ASU, one of my fellow students told me that it was a privilege to read my work. I was mortified by the attention. But I get it now. It really is a privilege, and an honor, to be on the receiving end of the submit button. Whether a piece of work tickles my fancy or not, whether the writer met the guidelines or not, I am humbled by the courage it took for that piece to reach me.
Jessica Dur Taylor teaches college composition at Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College. A former food writer for the Bay Area alt-weekly The Bohemian, her writing has appeared in Fractured West, Prick of the Spindle, Recess Magazine, Cobalt Review, Brain Child online, Mutha Magazine, Gloom Cupboard, Hobo Camp Review, Hip Mama online, and others. Her essay “Cuba Libre” received a Solas Award for Best Travel Writing from Travelers’ Tales. She lives in Santa Rosa, California, with her guitar-picking husband and her three year-old daughter, Mallory.
You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes Channel.
You can read along with the work in Superstition Review.