Contributor Update: Cynthia Hogue

We are pleased to announce the ninth collection of poetry by SR Contributor Cynthia Hogue, titled In June The Labyrinth. The new collection was released in mid-april from Red Hen Press. From the publisher’s page:

In June the Labyrinth is a book-length serial poem that is part pilgrimage, part elegy, in which the main character, Elle, embarks on a quest of sorts, investigating not only the “labyrinth” as myth and symbol, but the “labyrinth of the broken heart.”

Find out more and purchase the book here. And you can read three poems by Cynthia Hogue in Issue 11 of Superstition Review. 

Guest Post, John Vanderslice: The Artist in Trump’s Society

John Vanderslice bio photoRecently, in my graduate fiction workshop, we were chewing over that vexing subject of the artist’s role in human society.   Our discussion stemmed from having just read William H. Gass’s provocative essay “The Artist and Society,” which originally appeared in The New Republic in 1968 and then was reprinted in his 1971 collection Fiction and the Figures of Life.  Gass’s theme is a timeless one certainly, dating back far earlier than the 1960’s.  How can one not remember Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous formulation from 1821 that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”?  It’s a line that sounds grand but has never made much sense to me, to be honest.  Unless we take “legislator” to mean something entirely different from what it actually does.  I’m from Washington DC.  I know about all about legislators.

When I was in my wandering twenties and searching for a satisfactory career within which to apply my English degree, I toyed with the idea of finding employment in a congressional office on Capitol Hill.  I did end up trying but was unsuccessful in my attempt, probably because I was completely half-hearted in my approach.  Deep down I knew that working for a congressman wasn’t really what I wanted to do or what I should do.  After all, I had come to the conclusion years earlier, early on in my college days in fact, that while everyday politics seems to get the press’s and the public’s attention, in the long run the arts have a lot more to do with forming human people and human societies; the arts, one could argue, help form the human soul.  And how could there be anything more vital and more lasting than that?  I was sure then that I was right, and I remain sure now.  Indeed, when we look back on past eras it is the political  events that we often have a hard time remembering, while it is the artistic accomplishments that we study and revere.  And it is those societies whose artistic accomplishments seem minimal that we dismiss as less vigorous and less interesting, less demanding of our attention.

But knowing all that doesn’t really help the contemporary workaday artist struggling for purchase in a society that seems indifferent to him or her.  It’s unavoidable that artists–whether literary, musical, theatrical, or visual–all go through periods of profound alienation from the culture in which they exist; and I dare say that most suffer a kind of low-level alienation their whole lives.  Alienation from institutions; alienation from coworkers; alienation from churches; alienation from the world of commerce; alienation (most painfully) from the families in which they were raised; possibly even alienation from their own spouses.  This alienation seems especially acute here in America, where–more than in any other country I can think of–an artist is made to apologize for and explain his or her ambition.  Calvin Coolidge famously noted that “the business of America is business.”  Sad to say that more than ninety years after that appraisal, with all the social upheavals and revolutions that have since occurred, the statement may be more true now than ever.  No one ever asks a businessman to explain his interest in business.  No one makes him explain why.  No one makes him squirm.  Too bad artists are not afforded the same respect.  But they aren’t.  Period.  Hence this blog post and the discussion in my fiction workshop class.

So given the climate in this country–a climate that looks to get only more harshly anti-artistic and nihilistically money-grubbing with the advent of the Trump administration–it is fair to ask what’s an artist to do here.  What can he or she hope to accomplish?  How can he or she ever influence more than a narrow band of people?  How can he or she actually affect a whole culture?  It’s a common adage about writing that writers take up their pens (or their computers) because they have something to communicate, important messages to pronounce, compelling ideas to pass along.  In fact, that perspective seemed to dominate the discussion in my fiction workshop class.  One student stated quite plainly that he knew all of his readers “would not agree with [him]” but that didn’t matter; what mattered to him was getting his ideas down and out.  He was confident that those ideas would certainly affect someone, and possibly in compelling ways.  Another student argued that all the absurd prejudices and false ideas he saw professed by those around him, even those in his own family, maybe especially by those in his own family, would eventually be disproven by science.  Science would eventually provide answers to everything, and the force of its cool logic would prove too powerful to deny.  We all found this student’s faith in science, and, even more, his faith in his countrymen’s ability to listen to reason, conspicuously naive.

As interesting as the discussion was–and it was quite interesting–in the end I felt it missed the boat entirely.  Because the truth is I don’t think writers–that is, creative writers, the kinds of writers and writing about which I specialize–write because they have “something to say,” some specific message with which a reader would instantly agree or disagree.   If that were true, the job of the novelist would be essentially no different from that of the sermonizer or the philosopher or the editorial writer or–more harshly–the propagandist.  In my opinion, those jobs are vastly different from that of the novelist.  I can only speak for myself, of course, but I cannot tell you anything in particular that “I have to say,” any singular message or compulsive idea that drives me to write.  I write because I want to tell stories.  That’s it. That’s what I want to do.  And that’s true whether I’m writing a short story, a one-act play, a poem, or a memoir.  I want to tell stories that engage a reader’s imagination.  After all, this quality is exactly what makes creative writing so different from any other form of written communication.   So when I hear terms like “the fiction of ideas” I tense up; not because I don’t think fiction can transmit ideas, but because I worry that a fiction writer who defines himself or herself as such won’t take care of his first and only mandatory duty–to tell a story; I worry she will use the idea of ideas as an excuse to avoid that duty.

But here’s the rub, and here’s the magic.  If I say that creative writing isn’t primarily about transmitting ideas does that mean that creative writing can’t be deeply affecting, even formative?  Do I mean it’s no more than escapist entertainment?  No, not at all.  I would not assert that the stories I write are “merely” anything at all, and certainly not escapism.  But if you’re not in the game of making messages, I hear you ask, how do you expect that what you write will affect the wider culture? I’m going to answer that question by ending this post the same way I opened it: with William H. Gass.  Gass does not have the exclusive answer to your question, but he does have a great one.  Gass asserts that artists definitely do affect their culture, but not from spinning any coherent “messages.”  Indeed, despite being a philosopher himself, Gass does not look for a sustained, organized philosophy from the fiction writer.  What does Gass think fiction can do?  In a world in which we are too quick to dismiss the humanity of those outside of our immediate tribe, when we are given to characterizing others with prejudiced and belittling slogans, so much so that we dismiss their lives as fundamentally unreal–we “unperson” them, to use Gass’s phrase–it is fiction, Gass argues, that can act as a corrective.  It is fiction (broadly defined) that reminds us how real we all are, and how more real we can be.   “Works of art confront us the way few people dare to: completely, openly, at once.  They construct, they comprise, our experience; they do not deny or destroy it; and they shame us, they fall so short of the quality of their Being.  We live in Lafayette or Rutland–true.  We take our breaths.  We fornicate and feed.  But Hamlet has his history in the heart, and none of us will ever be as real, as vital, as complex and living as he is–a total creature of the stage.”

How do we affect reality?  By adding to reality.  That’s what a good, well-told story is: a beautiful object added to the sum of what we are as people, what we have done, what we can do.  Gass: “The aim of the artist ought to be to bring into the world objects which do not already exist there, and objects which are especially worthy of love.”  That’s enough–and that’s everything.  A well-crafted human tale matters more than any message.  And maybe it matters more than ever now, following a presidential campaign that from its very first day, its very first speech, attempted to “unperson” an entire population, and then went on to “unperson” several others.  Maybe the way we “defeat Trump” is to portray reality so broadly, so fully, and so compellingly that even he and his lackeys and his henchmen and his sycophants cannot deny it.

And I guess that’s being a legislator for real.

Guest Blog Post, Renée K. Nicholson; DIY Arts Entrepreneurship

Renée K. NicholsonIn January of this year, I received an email from the professional social media site LinkedIn telling me my profile was in the top 10% of all viewed profiles in 2012. What surprised me most about this email is that I really had no idea how that happened, or what it really meant. As a writer, book critic, dance critic, ballet teacher (retired dancer), literary podcaster, journal founder, former marketing professional, and rheumatoid arthritis advocate—among other things—I felt like my profile was a jumble of stuff. But what a friend explained to me was that my profile told a story. She went on to say that my story, as told by LinkedIn, defied the one-dimensional logic of the resume, and that my on-again off-again participation in a few very focused professional groups on the site continued a narrative that located me in a community.

But what community?

Before we get to that, there are a few things you need to know.

1. First, as I was growing up, my father worked for IBM. He was a top salesperson, and then recruited into the highly selective Executive Education program, established by IBM’s founder, Tom Watson. But while working in Executive Education, a new project was developing in the Entry Systems Division, and my father was one of the first 40 people to join this project. People told him it would be his “career ender.” The project he’d been recruited for was called the Personal Computer.

2. As a young person, I trained to be a ballet dancer. Although my career was cut short by the onset of rheumatoid arthritis, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity of performing in what’s called “the corps de ballet” or a ballet company. A ballet company is like a family, and although in popular depictions, the rivalries are often the point of focus, it’s the community of artists coming together that truly defines the dancing experience. In that way, it’s unlike writing, a solitary art, one that I’d find only after my short dancing career passed.

3. During my married life, I’ve owned, with my husband, two houses, both of which have been improved through fairly extensive DYI home upgrades. The cost savings of doing the work ourselves (and by ourselves, I really have to say that my husband did almost all of it himself), we not only increased the value of our home, but we had complete control (for better or worse) of the process of making our home a better, more beautiful dwelling in the way we wanted it to be.

All three of these things come together, for me, as an artist looking to make my way through the world. The artist’s path is not easy. As Jim Hart, Director of Southern Methodist University’s Arts Entrepreneurship program said at a conference that posted a YouTube video of his speech, most artists find themselves on the over-saturated path where there are a few traditional, commercially-viable opportunities for which there exists a large audience competition for these resources. This rings true—there are only so many books the big New York publishers take a gamble on compared to the number of novel manuscripts; in the dance world, there were only so many people the ballet companies could absorb, and many dancers talented enough to fill those spots. Rejection is high and even the lucky breaks don’t always amount to making a living, Hart reminds us.

So, what to do?

Shaped by my experience, I believe a few very specific things. Like my father, sometimes you have to take risks to earn rewards—to think off the beaten path to success. I also believe that there is value in community, which was forged in the corps de ballet. And finally, I believe that some things can be done without the aid of (so-called) experts and professionals, in the DYI fashion, giving us an alternative to the modern consumer culture.

The professor and retired entrepreneur Greg Watson defined entrepreneurship as “the creation of value often through the identification of unmet needs or through the identification of opportunities for change.” What, more than art, provides value and opportunities for change?

We often consider value in monetary terms. Of course, we all need to cover our expenses for our survival and comfort. But can artistic value be measured in other ways? I think yes, and I think one of the best ways is through community building.

In the summer of 2012, I started a fledging project with another writer—a book podcast. We chose a book, read it independently, and then recorded our discussion and posted it on the Internet and through iTunes. SummerBooks has grown from a handful of listeners to thousands of hits in less than a year. I don’t even think it has hit its full potential yet. Marketing has been low-budget—via social media, like that LinkedIn profile I started with, and Twitter. The feedback I’ve received on the podcast, however, suggests that writers and readers were, in fact, looking for community. Presses and authors approach us about reading their newest books; listeners often contact us when they hear us discuss a book and then decide to purchase and read it, too. More than anything, SummerBooks has challenged me to be in dialogue with the community I care about: writers and readers.

At its essence, SummerBooks is fueled by a passion for books. It’s two women in West Virginia who are either brave or stupid enough to share in that conversation.

Late last year, a former student from teaching English 101 in my graduate school days approached me about starting a literary journal. A recent graduate in poetry from the prestigious MFA at Columbia, this student had spent a few years after the program figuring out what was next. Of course, I agreed to help, not only because I have a terrible time saying “no” to such projects, but because I saw it as an opportunity. Souvenir emerged as a result, a journal not only serving writers, but opening up to other art forms and informed criticism. Nascent as still is, the response by both contributors and readers far exceeds, already, our hopes for the publication.

It would be fair to criticize these efforts as not being financially viable; at this point, both ventures create value in ways other than monetary. But the frugal DYI approach makes them both cost effective and alternative to consumer culture. And there are some more established examples to point to: Brad Listi’s Other People podcast or the online literary community The Rumpus, which includes two different book clubs. Of course, others too. I’m not privy to what these endeavors do commercially, but their ability to coalesce communities of writers can be easily seen and joined. By engaging in these, one can be “in company” with other literary artists.

With the developments presented by e-books, the changing perception of self-publishing, the rise of hybrid publishing and ability for more people to engage in small press publishing, the opportunities for arts entrepreneurship for writers has never, perhaps, been greater. The work is hard, but it’s there to be done. And I’m not sure we’ve even begun to see and understand all the ways new technologies will manifest opportunities for literary artists. It’s all scary, as change can be, but also exciting.

My interests, above all others, is to invest in the building of community. I’ve figured out the ways in which to earn (eek out?) my living, and so my passion resides in finding ways to connect. Because if social media has taught us anything, it’s that we yearn for connection. Bringing people together through the arts seems to me one of the best ways for that yearning towards connection to become the catalyst for community.

There’s always risk in entrepreneurial ventures. But also reward. When IBM’s entrepreneurial project, the PC, became such a success, the same people who had once chided my father about taking that risk later asked if he was hiring. How do we know if the risk is worth taking? I don’t know that I have any better advice on that than anyone else, but I think it has to do with hard work and faith and just a gut feeling. Learning, perhaps, to trust our instincts. That DYI credo of the success or failure squarely situated in ourselves, rather than listening to all those who gate-keep, who say, “no.”

If it weren’t for that top 10% LinkedIn email, I might never have thought about DYI Arts Entrepreneurship. But, thankfully I have. And perhaps some of you reading this will get the germ of your own idea, expanding and growing the ideas behind the proliferation of literary or other art. Because if the world is full of art and artistic community, it’s also full of possibility.

Poetry Out Loud Gives Young Poets New Opportunities

Each week here at Superstition Review, we like to showcase the talents of our interns. This week’s piece comes from Advertising Coordinator Christine Peters.

Poetry Out Loud (POL) is a national poetry contest in which high school students have the chance to test their poetry prowess. Young poets around the country are preparing for the contest, which takes place at the school, region, state, and national levels. The aim of POL is to teach students about history and literature while building confidence and public speaking skills. It is a creative approach to integrating the arts into the standard curriculum; it fosters empathy, appreciation for the arts of poetry and performance, and self-confidence.

Created in 2006 by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, POL is administered through the U.S. State Arts Agencies. POL provides all of the necessary materials to the schools, free of charge, at the beginning of August. Students, with the support of their teachers, study and memorize poetry in order to prepare for competitions at the school level. In early spring, winners from the school level move on to regional and state competitions. In mid-May, winners advance to the national level to compete in Washington, DC.

This is the type of investment that has the potential to enrich our society; by investing in the arts, in our schools, in our youth, and in our future, we build on traits that the standard curriculum cannot even begin to cover. The program supports art education by teaching students about the inner-workings of poetry and performance. It supports our schools by creating links between history and literature. Since many of the competitions take place on university campuses, POL exposes students to the world of high education. Furthermore, it prepares individuals for personal success and provides them with confidence and public speaking skills that will carry them through their education.

Meet the Review Crew: Corinne Randall

Each week we feature one of our many talented interns here at Superstition Review.

Corinne Randall is a Poetry Editor for Superstition Review for the second time. She is a junior at Arizona State University studying Creative Writing with a concentration in Poetry for her major and Communication for her minor. She is a native of Framingham, Massachusetts…an old, historical town about 20 minutes from Boston. After graduating from ASU, Corinne hopes to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry at ASU or NYU.

Corinne has been writing for a good portion of her schooling career. It became apparent in 8th grade that she had a talent for writing poetry when she had a poem published in Celebrate! Young Poets Speak Out. Along with writing poetry, Corinne loves reading and watching movies. She has a love for the arts. If she had to read one book for the rest of her life it would be J.D. Salinger’s famous novel Catcher in the Rye. She fell in love with it when she was required to read it her sophomore year in high school, and has read it twice since.

Corinne became interested in Superstition Review while looking for internships her sophomore year in college. She had the opportunity to look at past issues of SR and decided that the wonderful works of all different kinds of art the magazine featured was something she wanted to be a part of. She believes that having to opportunity to read the poetry authors send in for submissions has enhanced her ability to write her own poetry. She has enjoyed the two semesters she has worked for the magazine and hopes to continue as an intern for the rest of her time at ASU.

31st Annual Governor’s Arts Awards

 

Superstition Review has been nominated for a 2012 Arizona Governor’s Arts Awards. The 31st Annual Governor’s Arts Awards features notable artists, organizations, businesses, and individuals whose contributions have impacted the quality of life in Arizona.

The ceremony will take place Tuesday, March 27, 2012 at the Herberger Theatre Center. A silent auction will precede the ceremony at 5 p.m. and the honorees will be announced at 7 p.m., followed by dessert at 8 p.m.

Tickets and more information are available online.