Guest Post, Robert Krut: Heroes Are Dead; Long Live Heroes


Robert Krut Bio PhotoI have a handwritten postcard from Allen Ginsberg. And not some random handwritten postcard I discovered in an antique desk drawer at a flea market, or bought online somewhere.  It is handwritten to me. It is, needless to say, one of my most prized possessionsAs you might imagine, it is framed and hanging within view of the computer I am typing on at this very moment.

Ginsberg was my first big literary hero—the person I read obsessively, rhapsodized about to others—I carried around my copy of his glorious red-covered Collected Poems everywhere I went.  I drove my high school English teacher crazy by insisting I share “America” with the class, “go fuck yourself” and all. I wanted to write like him, and if I am honest with myself, I wanted to be him—free, wild-bearded, hand to the sky and capturing the lightning of electric lines right to the page.

So, I wrote him a letter.  Certain I was the first teenager to ever write him and tell him how much his poems meant to me, and how my high school just “didn’t get it” (looking back now, my teacher was more than accommodating of my obsession), I told him how I was also from New Jersey and wanted to be a poet.  Much to my surprise, a few weeks later, a postcard was sitting on the kitchen table when I got home (my Mom was smiling when she said “well, you got a postcard today…”).  In a cruel twist of fate, he even suggested I come to a reading in the city and introduce myself—but the card arrived the day after the reading (cursed by slow mail over the December holidays).  But I had my postcard.  My handwritten postcard from my hero.  And that was more than enough.

Naturally, in the coming years, I discovered many literary heroes that led me to want to write, each one stepping into the hero role: Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, Denis Johnson, Michael Burkard. . . they all became not only writers I admired, but those that lit fires, guided my own work (often leading to not-so-infrequent unintended homages).  With each new hero, the previous faded a bit into the background–needless to say, when my Carver obsession began, my attempts at poems were stripped-down affairs as opposed to the expansive, no-thought-should-be-discarded Ginsbergian approach.  Denis Johnson, of course, married those two approaches well, in a sort of tough visionary literature–his poem “The Veil” has remained on my office wall for twenty years.  I suppose this sort of admiration is human nature.

Ultimately, the sort of “hero worship” I had early on for Ginsberg was somewhat similar to that of other, earlier incarnations of fandom: my bedroom as a little kid was plastered with posters of Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter; my early teenage years saw U2 and REM on those same walls.  Ultimately, they made room for Bob Dylan memorabilia; Dylan directly pointed me to Ginsberg, who took up the hero mantle.

When you admire someone so completely, of course, it is only natural to see them not only replaced, but also drift a bit back.  At times, we even have to discard them to move past their (encouraging, sparkling) grip.  For me, by the end of my undergraduate years, I would say things like “I’ll always love Ginsberg, but…” completing that sentence with phrases like “his Collected Poems could have been half as long” (my precious red book!), or “I’m realizing I can go straight to the source–Whitman!”  As time went on though, I kept a place for my hero in my heart–I had my list of lingering poems that still knocked me out, taught him periodically over the years (a visionary literature class here, a political poetry unit there, etc.), even thrilled at going to City Lights Books in San Francisco.  But it was never truly quite the same as those first few years in the rush of discovering his work.

Now, though, after a recent event, I realized that my love for Ginsberg was never only about the cult of personality or some cartoon of his “character.”  There was–is–real magic in his work, so it was only a matter of time that I would revisit my full force love of his poetry, and role as a poet.  In going back to him after all these years, I can appreciate him on a deeper level–embracing what I love, acknowledging any limitations, and feeling the rush of connecting with poetry for the first time again.  It’s a great feeling–I encourage all readers to go back to their first heroes and see if it happens for them, too.

My renewed fervor grew out of the most common of occurrences for those of us who write poems–a simple conversation where someone asks “who is your favorite poet?” Or, similarly, but with a bit more breathing room: “who are your favorite poets?”  It’s always nice when someone asks this at a party–particularly when you’re the only one there who may write (or publicly acknowledge writing) poems, as you see someone taking an interest in poetry–so often I am pleased to see a real interest out in the “non-poetry” and/or “non-academic” worlds about poems.

That being said, I have also learned over the years that, in those moments, breaking out truly contemporary, or even slightly obscure older, poets leads to blank stares–I have killed many a conversation over the years extolling the virtues of names that didn’t register in the conversation partner.  So, typically now I mention someone relatively well-known that I do love, but that will bridge the discussion.  Typically a response of “well, it all starts with Whitman and Dickinson” is a solid one, and allows for an engaging conversation.  Other names that have worked well in these moments include Langston Hughes, William Carlos Williams, and Elizabeth Bishop (for reference, “One Art” and “The Moose” are very popular; “The Man-Moth” tends to unfortunately be a deal breaker).  It should be pointed out, though that mentioning these “classic names” provides a perfect chance to share newer ones, as common ground has been established. Last month I was at a bar where someone asked about poets and I followed up a Whitman reference by saying “and if you want to read some great contemporary work, go find Danez Smith.”  Later in the night, that same person came back to me and asked me to repeat the name so he could enter it into his phone for future reference.

But back to Ginsberg–at a recent party, sensing that my conversation partner might have loved the Beats back in the day, I mentioned my old hero.  To my shock, this was not met with a positive response–the person, laughing in a good natured way, let me know “Oh no!  I can’t stand Ginsberg!”  I was surprised at how quickly I snapped back into being that teenager again, with my Ginsberg love back front and center.  The good thing, though, as I now realize, is that my hero worship had been replaced with admiration–and in defending his legacy, I could feel myself reconnected with him, and what excites me about poetry, all over again.

I made my case.  In a world where everyone can be so cynical, isn’t it refreshing to have his poems out there, in all of their rambling, heart-on-sleeve glory?  In a time when it is so necessary, isn’t it exhilarating to read poems facing capital-A America straight on?  What lover of poetry didn’t want to break out “America” on November 9, 2016?  And have you read “Supermarket in California” recently?  It feels fresh and heartbreaking all over again–only now Ginsberg is the one we meet in the grocery store instead of Whitman.

And, if the poetry/politics intersection doesn’t do it for you, there is the personal and spiritual work.  The teenage version of me read “To Aunt Rose” and loved it.  But as we all get older, and lose people we love, good luck reading it, with its detailed and loving portrait, and not only marveling at its poetry but also tearing up at the emotions.  Additionally, the spirituality that runs through so much of the work, with its mix of Judaism and Buddhism, takes us out of the rough observations of the political work and places American life on a different plane–try listening to his reading of “Wichita Vortex Sutra” with Phillip Glass and not feeling like you are floating five feet above the ground.

All of this came out though that party conversation, and I was back in, full force.  In doing so, I reconnected with something I loved about poetry from when I first started writing.  That night I went home and wrote, and I did the next day, too.

We put our heroes away for a bit for a reason, and we certainly can’t sacrifice what is new in poetry to stay safe in our comfort zones–we would become boring if that happened.  At the right time, though, it is worth revisiting them once again, with the deeper understanding that comes from time as well as the larger world of literature. We see them with added depth, but lit by the spark that first excited us about writing.  In the end, it leaves us admiring them as writers, not heroes.  And I say that as I look up at Allen Ginsberg’s handwriting from 1990 on my wall.

Intern Post, Carson Abernethy: A Second Lost Generation: The Case for Millennials in the Arts

college-1440364No generation in history has experienced the kind of cultural and societal shift that millennials have, no period so tumultuous, so fervid, so unapologetically modern. But while science and technology have been so effectively forged in this smithy of currentness, the arts have seemed to lapse into the foreground, antagonistic and outdated towards this age of information. But it is in the arts where millennial identity is made, where an antidote to the vacuousness of 21st century can be found.

Every generation has been defined by its literature and arts; the 20’s were encapsulated by Fitzgerald and Hemingway, who defended their Lost generation, showing them still wayward, but not broken, not defeated. What better statement can be found about the state of America (or even the world) in the 50’s than Kerouac’s On the Road or the poetry of Ginsberg, or about the drugs, vapidity, and alienation felt in the bright lights of the big city in the 80’s than in works by McInerney or Bret Easton Ellis? These writers are so essential to their times it would be nonsensical and impossible to understand those times had they not existed, but the beauty of their works is that they are both grounded in and informative of their own times but also transcendent, applicable to our own and the lives of human beings ever after.

This trend of writers and artists dictating the importance of their time is apparent throughout human history, before the novel, before the poem, before the canvas, in oral traditions, cave painting, and song. But this worryingly drops off around the time millennials started appearing. Some are only on the cusp of adulthood, but many have already grown. But there is no millennial novel that we can pick out like we can The Sun Also Rises. It seems millennials may not even have a place in the arts like their forefathers, and perhaps more importantly, they might not care. But while this seems to be the case, it is not and is complicated by significant factors. The STEM trend has long been a worrying one, with jobs in the humanities becoming scarcer and the cost of living for an artist becoming astronomical. This is not to discount the value of work being done in STEM fields, rather it should not be the only mode of existence; “Go into STEM” should not be the prescriptive catch-all it’s becoming. In the midst of our technological living, we are quick to forget that humans are essentially story animals, and storytelling thus the most human action.

Millennials do have a place in art and literature, any generation does as long as they are human, but they are slower to. They find themselves straddling a not-so-distant past and a rapidly approaching future, born at the death of one century and the explosive birth of the next. Millennials therefore, instead of having nothing to say or caring to, have the potential to say so much more than any generation before them. The Lost had a great war, and we had a great war too, a great many on battlefields, on computer screens, in classrooms. Society is a battle zone. Millennials occupy the most fertile ground to draw on for artistic expression, and there too is meaning and significance found. Artists before needed voices to give a voice to the voiceless, now all that’s needed in this sea of noise, where anyone with a keyboard has a say, are voices to unite us, to inspire us, to define us.

Meet the Review Crew I

Content Coordinator for Poetry and Nonfiction: Ashley Maul

Once, she was asked to list five books she’d bring with her on a deserted island and without fail her answer remains: Harry Potter and the Goblet of FireThe Scarlet Letter, a collection of Allen Ginsberg’s poetry, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Billy Collin’s The Trouble with Poetry. Her favorite reading reflects her own writing style – a combination of youthful fancy and shenanigans mixed with sarcasm and adult confession.

Like many students so close to graduation, she is unsure of where the future will take her, but she is very interested in the publishing industry and imagines a career that allows her to telecommute as an editor for a posh literary magazine or book publishing company. With a history in bookstore management and an avid thirst for reading and writing, there is little she can imagine that can combine her interests so perfectly.

Art Editor Arjun Chopra

Arjun started working with Superstition Review over the past summer as a guest contributor with his blog series, “Dispatches From Delhi.” Despite being relatively new to the world of editing/publishing, Arjun finds his position intellectually stimulating and instrumental in giving him his first glimpse into the actual working side of writing. He finds his work to be a comprehensive learning experience in meshing creativity with professionalism, an invaluable skill of those who strive to make a living through their writing, a skill he is glad to have the chance to practice.

When not in class, doing homework, or compiling graduate application materials, Arjun enjoys spending his free time reading novels and poetry collections, writing, watching movies, skateboarding, and listening to a wide variety of different music.

Advertising Editor Brooke Passey

Along with her reading load for class, Brooke tries to read one recreational book a week. To stay motivated she posts weekly book reviews on her blog She also loves horseback riding and spends her spare time training and teaching riding lessons. In the 15 years that she has been riding she has only fallen off a horse once—when she was reading a book while sitting on her horse bareback. Although she loves both hobbies she has since decided to keep them separate. After graduation she plans on pursuing a career where she can use her writing skills during the day and her riding skills in the evening.

Fiction Editor Abbey Maddix

Superstition Review is Abbey’s first experience working with a literary magazine and hopefully the first stepping stone to a career in the editing and publishing world. She finds the position demanding but educational, particularly informative when it comes to thinking about her own future career as a writer. Her work centers on fiction of all forms, exploring genres and forms and her own limitations. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of her comfort zone and enjoys exploring the question “What does it mean to be human?” from both a literary angle and a scientific one.

On Abbey’s “favorites” bookshelf there are the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Neil Gaiman, Italo Calvino, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, although she’d like to expand her experience with contemporary literature. Although she has a difficult time understanding poetry, the works of Pablo Neruda and Tomas Tranströmer have managed to win her over.

Meet the Review Crew: Caitlin Demo

Each week we will be featuring one of our many talented interns here at Superstition Review.

Caitlin Demo is a Nonfiction editor at Superstition Review and a senior at Arizona State University. She will be graduating in May with a major in Creative Writing (with a specialization in Fiction) and two minors in French and Political Science. She is hoping to be accepted into the MFA program at Arizona State and then to escape the heat of Arizona summers.

Caitlin has lived most of her life in Arizona, but the allure of big city life has been calling her name. Living in the beautiful San Francisco bay or the bustling streets of New York City has been a constant dream of hers. After school, Caitlin is packing her bags and plans to become a well-seasoned traveler, especially abroad.

Caitlin’s intimacy with literary magazines and the world of short fiction has been instructed both at Arizona State and particularly at Superstition Review. She has limited knowledge about individual magazines, but through these two avenues she has come to realize that it is a wide and ever-expanding field. Her interest in writing is mainly focused around prose, but in reading she is drawn to flash fiction and poetry.

If she had to live the rest of her life with only a handful of books, she would need Augusten Burroughs’ memoirs, Jane Austen’s collected works, Hemingway’s short stories, Fitzgerald’s novels and Allen Ginsberg’s poetry.

This is her first semester with Superstition Review, but she looks forward to plunging further into the literary publishing world. She’ll be the girl in high heels.