Nancy Chen Long Wings Tampa Review Prize for Poetry

Nancy Chen LongWe are pleased to announce that SR contributor, Nancy Chen Long, has been named the winner of the 2016 Tampa Review Prize for Poetry. Long received the fifteenth annual prize for her new manuscript, Light into BodiesAlong with the award she will receive hardback and trade paperback book publication in 2017 by the University of Tampa Press.

To see the official press release, please visit the Tampa Review blog.

If you are interested in submitting work for the sixteenth annual Tampa Review Prize for Poetry, you can find more information here.

Guest Post, Faye Rapoport DesPres: The Lost Words

I haven’t written a “creative” word in a month. That might be an odd way to start a blog post about writing, but it’s the truth—and wherever there is truth, there is a puzzle for a writer to examine.

I can point to several reasons why I haven’t been writing, of course. Aren’t there always reasons? First, I just returned from a two-week trip to Alaska, so I was away for two weeks of the month in question. Second, every moment of the two weeks before the trip felt busy with preparations and tinged with anxiety—after all, my husband and I would be traveling on four flights, a train, a bus, two small boats, and a medium-sized cruise ship.

A third reason goes like this: feeling relieved at the opportunity to disconnect from the Internet, I left behind my laptop, which would have been difficult to tote on and off planes and from one place to another on the ground or at sea. I did pack a small, handmade notebook from a Tanzanian craft shop that employs people who live with physical challenges. I thought the notebook’s history would motivate me to write, but its pages remained blank throughout the trip.

All of these reasons sound good when I write them down, but the truth is I can’t explain the lack of writing. I have never before traveled to such an inspiring place without writing a single word while I was there. Each day I thought about writing (and I did dictate journal entries into my iPhone), but day after day I avoided that little notebook and wondered, in the back of my mind, why I was doing it.

Seal on Rock

Photo: Faye Rapoport DesPres

What I was doing was taking photographs. My camera, I’d always known, was coming with me to Alaska regardless of how awkward it would be to carry it. From the moment our plane landed in an Anchorage flooded with daylight at 11 o’clock at night, I snapped photo after photo after photo. I captured images of snow-covered mountains, of rivers carrying glacial silt through scenic valleys, of seagulls chasing the spouts of humpback whales, and of seals resting on ice caps recently calved from retreating glaciers. I took photos of a wolf tailing a grizzly bear across a mountainside, of a herd of caribou on a hilltop, of 20,310-foot-tall Denali on a rare sunny day. And the bald eagles! I had only seen four in the wild before this trip, but in Alaska, the sky and the trees and even the rooftops seemed filled with them, and I couldn’t stop clicking at their magnificence.

A number of writers I admire also take photographs. As I captured image after image in Alaska, I wondered about this impulse. Why was I obsessed with my camera, while the little notebook languished, unopened, in my suitcase?

Eagle with Wings Open

Photo: Faye Rapoport DesPres

Somewhere between Anchorage and Denali and Seward and Skagway and Hoonah and Ketchikan, it occurred to me that my goal with a camera is pretty much the same as my goal with a pen. I’m trying to capture the world around me in all its beauty, its glory, its sadness, and its grit so that I can save and relive the moments, and then share them with others. Like any writer or photographer or artist in any media, I can’t recreate the world as it actually exists. I can only interpret it through the filter that is—for better or worse—me. A bald eagle exists in all its magnificence in and of itself. All I can do is try to capture its essence and the wonder I feel when I see it. Then I can show it to others with an unspoken question: “Do you see what I see?” I want someone else to see it, too, so I can share the experience—and also so I’m not alone in that wonder.

With creative writing (whether it’s fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, or dramatic writing) the process, I think, is much the same. The writer observes something or feels something or experiences an event, and then captures, frames, interprets, recreates, or re-imagines it based on a personal understanding and sensibility. Through this process, the story is infused with the meaning the writer attaches to it. Finding the right sharpness or clarity or beauty in the delivery is what requires click after click after click of the pen or keyboard.

Of course, there is one central difference between photography and writing. Photographs are visual images made up of (or at least based on) shapes and colors and light that exist outside the photographer, out there in the world at the moment when the shutter is snapped. How the photographer perceives those images and frames and interprets them with a camera is, of course, the art. Written texts, on the other hand, are born of observations of the outside world that become stories when they merge with the ideas, memories, and imagination in the mind of the writer. The texts won’t exist unless the writer makes use of that complicated, beautiful, difficult, and (for me) often dreaded tool: words.

Words. There are so many words! And writers have to choose just the right ones every time! And the choice of which words to use makes all the difference.

South Sawyer Glacier

Photo: Faye Rapoport DesPres

Sometimes, for me, the words just don’t come. While I was in the great, vast, wild state of Alaska, they eluded me completely. The wilderness was so stunning that words failed me. One definition of the word “stunning,” by the way, is to be “able or likely to make a person senseless or confused.” That is what Alaska did to me. It stunned me. It left me senseless and confused…wordless. But, I have to say, happily, ecstatically so.

Now I am home. Now, as a writer, my job is to make sense of what struck me senseless. The weeks, months, and maybe even years of translation and interpretation through the imperfect filter that is me must begin.

But why? Why not leave Alaska to be remembered through the hundreds of photographs I came home with, the eagles and the glaciers, the mountains and the waterfalls, the seals and the wolf and the whales? I certainly love the photos, and if I were a better photographer, photos would rightfully be enough.

But for better or worse, I’m a writer. And ever since I was a little girl, all I wanted was to find the right words.

Hemming Flames Now Available

Patricia Colleen MurphyWe at Superstition Review are very pleased to announce that our founding editor, Patricia Colleen Murphy, recently had her first collection of poetry, Hemming Flames, published by Utah State University Press. Hemming Flames was chosen by Stephen Dunn as the winner of the 2016 May Swenson Poetry Award.

 

Hemming FlamesThroughout this haunting first collection, Patricia Colleen Murphy shows how familial mental illness, addiction, and grief can render even the most courageous person helpless. With depth of feeling, clarity of voice, and artful conflation of surrealist image and experience, she delivers vivid descriptions of soul-shaking events with objective narration, creating psychological portraits contained in sharp, bright language and image. With Plathian relentlessness, Hemming Flames explores the deepest reaches of family dysfunction through highly imaginative language and lines that carry even more emotional weight because they surprise and delight. In landscapes as varied as an Ohio back road, a Russian mental institution, a Korean national landmark, and the summit of Kilimanjaro, each poem sews a new stitch on the dark tapestry of a disturbed suburban family’s world.

 

Patricia has two upcoming readings:

Thursday September 1st at 7 pm she will be reading with Sarah Vap at Changing Hands Tempe.

Thursday September 22nd at 7 pm she will be reading with Sarah Vap and Dexter Booth at ASU’s Hayden Library.

 

On August 20th, Four Chambers Press held a book release for Hemming Flames. If you missed it, you can watch it here.

 

The book is available from Amazon. For more information about the book, please visit its website.

Guest Post, Elizabeth Sheets: The Illusion of Ascending

dad readsI’ve always been a reader. I don’t know if this is my parents’ fault or not. Recently I found a crayon drawing and questionnaire book I made when I was in elementary school. On one of the pages it asks what my parents do during the day while I’m at school. My answers were: My Dad builds Rockets. My Mom sits on the couch all day and reads love stories. I don’t think that was entirely true, I mean, my Dad read books too. In any case, I do remember that prior to puberty, trips to the mall were exciting for two reasons: first, because I could climb up and sit in the conversion vans in the car dealership that was actually in our mall; and second, we got to go to Walden Books. My family didn’t have a lot of money, so we didn’t buy a lot of new books there, but it was a thrill just to be there and look around. I knew that eventually the books on those shelves would find their way to our city library.

As a kid, I was fairly well read. Once I got beyond Dr. Seuss, I enjoyed Roald Dahl, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Scott O’Dell, Louisa May Alcott, Franklin Dixon, Carolyn Keene, the Choose Your Own Adventure Series, and of course, Judy Blume. There are a few in that list some might consider literary, but many fall into the category of good old genre fiction. I still have many of them because I saved them for my children. And now I’m saving them for my grandchildren, because I don’t think I was as successful as my parents were at passing down the love of literature.

As I got older, I dove harder into genre writing. Once I could get books from the library that didn’t have the purple dot on them, my literary world was blown wide open. I devoured everything from Jean Auel, Piers Anthony, and Marion Zimmer Bradley to Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice. Some of these authors I still read today. Because they’re good, and because I can get lost in the worlds they bring to my mind’s eye.

Once I started my degree program, my literary world was blown open again. Even with all of the reading in my youth, there was much that I missed. Memoirs? Whatever were those? Well, all of those English Lit classes filled me in, and filled me up to the brim with writing on every social topic I could imagine, and a few more besides.

Writing classes and workshops introduced me to the short story, and the idea that writers who don’t get paid are somehow of more value than those who do. I’m not much for martyrs, but I bought in. In my few years in school, my professors helped nurture in me a love of the short story, and an appreciation for the craft of drawing them out of myself and others. And so now, my private library grows full of chapbooks and short story collections. To my list of favorite authors I’m adding Roxane Gay, Aimee Bender, Stacey Richter, Matt Bell, Dan Chaon, Tara Ison, Margaret Atwood, and so many more.

But for all my education, and my editorship with a literary magazine, and my degree in English and Creative Writing… I still read Anne Rice. In fact, she might just be my very favorite person ever (not that I know her personally, but I do follow her on Facebook, so I feel like that counts… anyway).

I’m reminded of this funny thing that happened recently.

modest houseMy husband and I raised our children in a suburban neighborhood of the sprawling Phoenix Metropolitan Area. We had a modest income, and a modest house. We drove practical cars, and our kids went to public schools. There was a house of worship a half mile in any direction from our house. Our neighbors were diverse. To the east was a family of folks who spoke little English, had obnoxious barking dogs, and always had parties in the front yard instead of the back. To the south were the drug dealers. The husband rode a very noisy Harley and cut his entire lawn holding a Weedwacker in one hand and a beer in the other. His wife had no teeth and only wore a bra on Sundays. (I guess they weren’t very good drug dealers.)

We lived in that house 15 years, and our kids came up just fine.

And just a couple of months ago, we moved. Since our income has doubled, so has our mortgage and the square footage of our new house. Our new block is glorious. The neighbors all cut their grass on Wednesdays, and everyone drives a new car. There are bunnies and quail everywhere, and no one parks in their lawn.

School just started a couple weeks ago, and as I was driving past the elementary school on my way back from my morning Starbucks run, I noted that the crossing guard drives a Jaguar. A Jaguar.

This is it, I thought, we have definitely arrived. All of that hard work, education, ladder climbing, etc., has all paid off. Finally. Now we can live among the educated folk. People like us. Cultured people. People who read. If the people across the street are drug dealers, well they’re damn good ones because their kids drive BMWs.

And then I turned down our street. It was a Thursday. Blue barrel pick up day. About three houses in, out came a neighbor down his drive way, pushing his barrel out to the curb. He was wearing a pair of very snug fitting, bright red boxer briefs. His hairy belly was spilling over the waistband, and his tangled bedhead hair pointed in all directions from his unshaven face. He looked up as I drove past. Smiled.

I about choked on my chai.

But it’s okay. I’m glad I saw him. It’s a great reminder: there’s room on the block for everyone.  He cuts his grass, he parks in the garage. Maybe his wife builds rockets.

ASU Project Humanities Event Calendar

Project Humanities Events

Arizona State University Project Humanities released their Fall 2016 event calendar. Events include programs directly sponsored, supported, or created by Project Humanities as well as events that highlight the range and value of the humanities at Arizona State University.

You can read more about Project Humanities here.

SR Pod/Vod Series, Authors Talk: Author Shawna Ervin

Shawna Ervin headshotToday we are pleased to feature author Shawna Ervin as our thirty fifth Authors Talk series contributor. Shawna discusses her writing process, which she says is defined by what it is not. It is not a formula and it is not easy. Though she doesn’t have the answer on how to have a successful writing process, she knows things to avoid.

She notes that “the problem with aiming for perfection is that failure looms around every corner.” She values freedom when writing, the ability to take time off and write when and how she wants. This can even be something like taking notes on her phone while grocery shopping. She finds it difficult to write “when I believe that only by my merit does an essay have merit,” and the piece “quickly falls apart.” Sometimes she finds it easiest to start with a blank page if she is really struggling on a piece. Though she doesn’t have the answer of how to have a successful writing process, she calls upon James Baldwin urging you to “go and question and make art.”

You can listen to the podcast on our iTunes channel, podcast #229.

You can read Shawna’s essay in Superstition Review Issue 17, and hear her read it aloud in last week’s podcast, #228.

Kat Meads’ New Novel is Now Out

Cover of In This Season of Rage...Kat Meads’ new novel, In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These is now available from Mongrel Empire Press.

Built on the premise that the ugly can break one’s heart more profoundly than the pretty, In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These portrays the changing South of the 1970s in a narrative that encompasses deceit, revenge, Pentecostal religion, coastal development and the disappearance of family farms.

Kat Meads is the author of 16 books and chapbooks of prose and poetry, including: 2:12 a.m. – Essays; Not Waving; For You, Madam Lenin; Little Pockets of Alarm; The Invented Life of Kitty Duncan; Sleep; and a mystery novel written under the pseudonym Z.K. Burrus. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, a California Artist Fellowship, two Silicon Valley artist grants and artist residencies at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Yaddo, Millay Colony, Dorland, and the Montalvo Center for the Arts. Her short plays have been produced in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere. She is a three-time ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year finalist, and four of her essays have been selected as Notables in Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Best American Essays series. Her novel For You, Madam Lenin received an IPPY (Independent Publisher Award) Silver Medal and was shortlisted for the Montaigne Medal for thought-provoking literature. Her essay collection 2:12 a.m. received an IPPY Gold Medal. A native of North Carolina, she currently lives in California and teaches in Oklahoma City University’s low-residency MFA program.

In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Changing Hands, or your local, independent bookstore.