Today we are pleased to feature Cathy Ulrich as our Authors Talk series contributor as she answers interview questions regarding her new book Ghosts of You.
Her book is a collection of flash fiction stories that aim to subvert the trope of victimized women in the mystery and crime genres by telling the real stories of her female characters. She wished to go against the way the genre commonly “takes the humanity away from the woman, makes her a plot point.” She also discusses her inspiration for the book as well as her experience with writing it. Ghosts of You will be Cathy’s first book and she notes that she is “so incredibly lucky” to have the opportunity to have it published.
Cathy’s book is available for pre-order here and will be officially released on October 15th!
You can also read Cathy’s work in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.
Today we are pleased to feature Kate Cumiskey as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she discusses two factors that relate to her writing process in today’s political and social climate: community and inertia.
She reflects on the beginning of her writing career, where she felt a sort of isolation before being introduced to Atlantic Center for the Arts, which gave her a literary community that she feels changed her life and fueled her growth as a writer. With this experience, Kate encourages writers “to build a community which enhances your work.”
She also explores the importance of tackling current events in one’s poetry, explaining, “If writers—serious writers—do not write about what’s happening in their nation, then who is going to speak?” Although writing about topics like these are so critical to Kate, she admits she has difficulty approaching the heartbreaking and terrifying current events she sees happening in the news, government, and even her own classroom. To help her discuss these important topics, she plays with the idea of changing point of view and suggests that we remind ourselves that there is still good in the world and that we must remind ourselves that “there is honor in our politicians, there’s honor in our government and there’s honor in the American people.”
She closes the conversation with two poems: one published with Superstition Review that examines honor and a new poem that uses second person to approach her fears about America today.
Today we are pleased to feature Catharina Coenen as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she invites her nephew, Christopher Van der Meyden, to discuss her nonfiction essay, “Stain,” published in SR’s Issue 23.
“Stain” explores Catharina’s need to clean up the shattered eggs someone had thrown at the garage and driveway of her neighbor who was recently arrested by the FBI. As she reflects on this event through her writing, she notices the strong connections between her actions and the history of her family and country.
Catharina explains that she had a difficult time understanding her physical and emotional reactions to seeing the arrest: shaky knees and hands, circular thoughts, and a feeling of anger and fear despite not having any immediate threats. She says, “I started writing as a way to help myself understand why I was experiencing these physical reactions and mental confusion.”
Christopher and Catharina also take a closer look at the way the essay uses family stories organically throughout the piece as “a way to ground [Catharina] in the present—to come back from a traumatic past that explained the inner turmoil to the present tense where there was no physical danger to [Catharina] or anyone else in that moment.”
As a biologist, Catharina also makes connections between the structure of her essay and recent developments in our understanding of the biology of trauma. Although “physical responses to trauma can be encoded across generations,” Catharina explains, “storytelling and an anchoring of the person in the present” can undo this transgenerational trauma. Catharina notices her essay mimics this necessary healing process, allowing her to understand and process her reactions.
Today we are pleased to feature Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she shares poetry from her collection, Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge (Sundress Publications, 2016), which explores her time volunteering with No More Deaths (No Más Muertes) in 2011 along the Mexico-United States border. Additionally, the book reflects on her own family’s immigration story as well as her life in Los Angeles.
She invites Catherine Gaffney, a long-term volunteer with No More Death who began working for the organization in 2009, to discuss humanitarian aid efforts along the border that influenced her poetry.
Bermejo and Gaffney also talk about No More Deaths’ recent news: Dr. Scott Warren, a No More Deaths volunteer, was put on trial last month for giving aid to two individuals he encountered in the desert. If convicted, Warren could have received up to 20 years in prison. The case resulted in a mistrial due to a hung jury. According to breaking news on the No More Deaths’ Instagram, a retrial was announced today, July 2nd, “in Scott Warren’s case on harboring counts. Conspiracy charges dismissed. Trial to begin Nov 12.”
Bermejo says, “What led me to volunteer with No More Deaths was this desire to have a more personal understanding of the border—and what we call ‘The Wall’—and so my plan was to go out there and see this space, and work in this space, and feel the sun, and walk in the sand, and then come back and write about this experience.”
Looking back at the October 2016 release of her book, Bermejo lightheartedly laughs at her “naïve thought that this (her poetry) was somehow going to help.” Seeing how border issues have become increasingly dire, she questions how a book of social justice poetry could influence real-world problems.
Gaffney and Bermejo end the conversation by talking about the importance of literature. For Gaffney, Mexican literature has been an important part of learning about the borderland. She believes that literature helps her “get that sense of reflection and quiet and peace, and know that, even in the midst of all that cruelty, people are worried about beauty and beautiful things…and that’s something that matters.”
Bermejo sees this importance as well, concluding, “We need literature and art to even imagine a better world,” making writing, even if it may cause doubt in the writer or seem inconsequential at times, an important part of our lives.
You can also read Xochitl-Julisa’s email interview, “¿Qué importa?” in Issue 19 of Superstition Review.
Today we are pleased to feature Benjamin Soileau as our Authors Talk series contributor. With jazzy Louisiana music playing lightly in the background, Ms. Kennedy Soileau—Benjamin’s wife, first reader, and editor—interviews Benjamin about his writing process and recent fiction piece, “What Paul Would Do,” published in SR’s Issue 23.
Benjamin explains that the idea for his short story stemmed from an old family memory: one where his father would send Benjamin and his little brother outside into the garden with a jar and list of bugs to catch for some pocket change. From here, writing “What Paul Would Do” came naturally, unlike some of Benjamin’s other stories. However, he explains that the biggest challenge in writing “What Paul Would Do” was working with the interrupted grief in Gayle’s character. In reflecting on Gayle, Benjamin notices nearly all of the characters in his story grapple with “a grief interrupted.”
Kennedy remarks that she finds the protagonist’s simultaneous likability and reprehensible action to be an interesting “balance act.” To this, Benjamin acknowledges, “We’re all capable of terrible things. Just like, you know, we’re capable of good things. Terrible. Beautiful. We’re all mixed up.”
Benjamin and his wife also take time to discuss the way he captures cajun-style dialogue and story structure with his language. Although some of his inspiration may have come from Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus stories or Roald Dahl’s “Lamb to the Slaughter” (which he read around the time he composed “What Paul Would Do”), Benjamin explains that his ability to construct the voices in his stories comes from listening to the family voices in his grandmother’s kitchen who “spoke French half the time.” He believes this particular voice is dying while the “land is slipping away” and “the culture, of course, is going with it.”
Benjamin and Kennedy also consider their unique relationship, with Benjamin acting as a writer and husband and Kennedy acting as his editor and wife. Benjamin mentions the challenges of this editing process, but he notices it gives him someone to write for and impress. Kennedy explains how their relationship dynamic switches to a writer-editor relationship during this editing phase. While she feels apologetic about marking up his story with a red pen, she likes to see how the stories change between the first and last drafts. Benjamin concludes, laughing “They usually do [change], quite a bit. I wish they’d change a lot quicker.”
Today we are pleased to feature Megan J. Arlett as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she takes the time to discuss her nonfiction piece, “Narrative,” published in SR’s Issue 21. The lyric essay explores the 2008 disappearance of Amy Fitzpatrick as well as language and storytelling.
Megan looks back at her 2017 notebook to discover what she was reading while she drafted “Narrative” and to find out which texts influenced her work. While she struggles to remember an initial spark of inspiration, aside from constantly thinking about the disappearance of her classmate and neighbor, she does notice how certain writers have tapped into her “brain space” to influence what she originally “thought was going to be a poem,” but later became the lyric essay that sits nicely between the nonfiction and poetry genres.
Looking to the musings in her old notebook, Megan discovers that she was obsessing over the poetry of Li-Young Lee at the time. She had written a note to herself about his work that reads, “Long poems need externalities.” In her old notes, she also finds a scribbled question— “Bowman-style meditation for the cyclical obsession with missing people?”—referring to Catherine Bowman’s poem “A Thousand Lines.” Lastly, Megan realizes that the newsprint style of “Narrative” was influenced by Jehanne Debrow’s The Arranged Marriage, which helped give her lyric essay form and made the nonfiction piece feel complete.
It seems that Megan’s creative work was driven by her obsessions at the time: her fascination with poets Li-Young Lee and Catherine Bowman, her admiration for Jehanne Debrow’s literary style, her love for true crime, and her curiosity about Amy Fitzpatrick’s disappearance.
Reflecting on her writing, Megan wants her readers to acknowledge that beauty and horror can exist simultaneously, concluding “There can be voicelessness even amid countless voices.”
Today we are pleased to feature Paisley Rekdal as our Authors Talk series contributor. In her discussion with fellow poet and classicist Kimberly Johnson, she takes the opportunity to talk about working with classical literature, the complexities of language and translation, women as translators of the classics, and the themes of the classical writings which the two have used as inspiration for their own work. They discuss mainly Paisley’s work with Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Kimberly’s translation of Virgil’s The Georgics and how they have found inspiration in these classical poetic texts. And with their work, they’ve become “steeped in an ancient idiom” which has influenced their own poetic style and translation methods.
Paisley speaks to her own journey in contemporizing Ovid’s myths in her book of poetry Nightingale which is to be released in May. She notes that one of the trials of her work was finding how to “contemporize the myths without becoming a slave to just retelling them” and how she wanted to try “translating images of power” and “structures of change” that exist within the myths into her own poetry. She details the struggles and trials she faced in her work with the text and more.
They also take time to discuss the trials of translation of the classics and Kimberly’s work with Georgics. Kimberly notes that she “lives the world in lines” as a translator and poet, wanting to preserve the experience of the original poem. She and Paisley “reside in that complexity of language” which is inherent to poetry as an expressive art. Their extensive interest and creative engagement with the classics also helps them speak to modern topic of women working in classical translation and the appeal of the classical myths to a modern audience. For them, “the classics holler out to us from a period of imagined stability” and the themes and unique stories of those works are particularly attractive to modern readers. To hear more about the intricacies of their creative processes and their perspectives on the classics, please take the time to listen to this fascinating podcast.
Today we are pleased to feature Xanthe Miller as our Authors Talk series contributor. While being interviewed by Stephanie Welch, Xanthe touches on many aspects of her work including the social issues they speak to and her own personal relationship to art. We get an inside look at her artistic process and intent in creating pieces of art that will “endure long after we’re gone.”
Xanthe uses recycled materials to construct her work, which started when she began to see the objects as “pieces of little, tiny cities” and decided to build those cities herself. She is particularly concerned with migrant life and is “drawn to issues of environmental justice” because of her own experience and background in the American Southwest, which led her to use a lot of Southwestern artistic motifs in her work. In attempting to portray the various ideas and themes she wishes to address with her art, she notes that they typically “start with a color, or sometimes two colors, and the relationship they could have with each other.” The process seems to start so simply and, yet it becomes something so much more complex and powerful.
Xanthe comments that “art always felt unapproachable” to her, but she began creating her pieces as a way to “interact more deeply” with the desert environment that surrounded her. Her story and experience truly speak to the natural inclination of the artistic mind and to how art is more than what it seems, often commenting on the current social and political climate of our culture.
Today we are pleased to feature Beata Wehr as our Authors Talk series contributor. She takes the time to discuss how she arrived at her current artistic style and what she wished to accomplish in creating and sharing her unique artist’s books and boxes, some of which are featured in Superstition Review.
Beata discusses how her artistic style has changed over time to include artist’s books and mixed media work which she sees as a “container for my ideas,” providing more opportunities than a singularly visual art form such as a painting. She also notes that her art is like “an allusion to a narrative” which the viewer may interpret themselves and this helps her achieve her artistic goal of “recording the passage of time” with her work.
Now living in Tuscon, Arizona, Beata is originally from Poland and develops her art by drawing on her unique life experiences as an immigrant. She describes her thought process and some particular choices that went into creating some of her pieces as they were made as a response to “the disturbing spread of nationalism and xenophobia.” This sentiment is then combined with a desire to demonstrate a “hopefully harmonious and yet ambiguous opposition between nature and culture” through her art. She also notes that she is “attracted to the beauty and mystery of found objects,” which speaks to the heart of her artistic work and style.
Today we are pleased to feature DJ Lee as our Authors Talk series contributor. She takes the opportunity to talk with her daughter, Steph Lee, about her creative essay “A Syntax of Splits and Ruptures”. The essay covers the period in which DJ and her daughter were estranged, their reconciliation and, in a broader sense, the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.
The two discuss the difficulty of writing a personal piece about family, but they acknowledge writing can be a way to process family traumas. DJ considers Steph’s reaction to the essay, as she felt the person in the essay is “another form of me.” After reconciling, DJ felt she needed to publicly share their story through her writing, speaking to “people dealing with this kind of loss, especially of a child.”
DJ also considers the inspiration she found in the earthwork sculpture, Spiral Jetty, built by Robert Smithson in the Great Salt Lake. The art piece, significant to the pair, became an important element in the piece as she constructed the essay “to have a spiral form, to sort of fold back on itself like the relationship between mothers and daughters.” She also considers the idea of “something very beautiful and precious and special being under the surface.” Not only does she find meaning in this inspiring art piece but uses numbers to connect the fragments of her essay in order demonstrate the “ruptures in peoples lives” and how “a fractured relationship” can be made whole.