Authors Talk: Beth Gilstrap

Beth Gilstrap

Today we are pleased to feature author Beth Gilstrap as our Authors Talk series contributor. In conversation with Jim Warner (of Citizen Lit), Beth openly discusses her focus on female voices, the South and southern women, grief, the passing of her grandmother, and her experience with depression.Citizen Lit Logo

When discussing her chapbook (No Man’s Wild Laura, 2016), Beth says, “I think everything we write prepares us for what we’re writing next, right?” She also candidly shares her experience with grief and how writing has been “a method of survival…a way to put things down and be able to look at it objectively.”

Beth ends the podcast with a bit of laughter when she jokes: “I am not actually dragging carcasses into my home. I am only writing about it.”

You can read Beth’s piece, “Machine,” in Issue 11 of Superstition Review.

Owling by Jeredith Merrin

Owling by Jeredith Merrin CoverGrayson Books recently published Jeredith Merrin’s chapbook, Owling. Owling won the 2016 Grayson Books Chapbook Competition.

Jeredith describes her book as follows:

The naturalist John Muir wrote: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” In my new chapbook project, each Owl species is observed/described for its own sake, and each species also “hitches” to something else, some set of human behaviors or concerns.  Each owl–who knows how these things happen?–has led me somewhere I didn’t know I was going and has suggested its own form. I have always been interested in natural history as well as psychology, and would like to think this has resulted in an outward- as well as inward-looking poetry.

Below is one of the poems from Owling  (originally published in Zoomorphic and now through Grayson Books).

The Maned Owl
(Jubula lettii:  classified [2013] as “Data Deficient”
by the International Union for Conservation of Nature)
 .
About the maned owl
there is little to tell
because little is known.
It gets its leonine name
from bushy, face-framing
ear tufts. It lives
in Gambon, Cameroon,
Liberia, the Congo
(in what numbers we don’t know),
in closed-canopy rainforest.
Its habits are secretive
and nocturnal.  Presumably,
given heavy lumbering,
its survival’s at risk.
About reproduction and diet,
information is scant.
Its call may be
(we’re not sure)
a low, dove-like coo.
As is the case with
the wide coral reefs,
or with each creature’s
closed-canopy mind,
or with almost anyone’s
mother or father,
too little is known about them.
And then they’re gone.

 

Owling is available online from Grayson Books and Amazon. It is also available at Changing Hands.

Guest Post, Beth Gilstrap: Letter

Beth GilstrapThe last time I did a guest post for s[r] blog, I wrote about writing, depression, and vulnerability. This week my second book—a chapbook called No Man’s Wild Laura—is out from Hyacinth Girl Press. All four pieces in the short collection are feminist-fueled stories about hopeful, disenchanted, grateful, damaged, and sometimes, angry women. At 39, I no longer believe these things are mutually exclusive. The following is a letter to my 17-year-old self inspired by my own struggles with mental illness and writing.


Dear You,

 

I see you have hunkered down in your bedroom again. Your black balloon shade is drawn, the door locked, candles lit, and opium incense burning. The window is barely cracked so the smoke drifts above you. A mixtape is playing as you doodle and write and copy down poems and songs and passages you like in your sketchbook. A guy who plays guitar made the tape for you. In a few months, he’ll make you a “fuck off” tape. You will feel a little bit sorry about it, but mostly relieved because you don’t tell people what’s happening in your brain unless circumstance forces you.

 

I want to tell you this is temporary.

I want to tell you this is the worst it will ever be.

I want to tell you that your difficulty maintaining friendships will wane.

I want to tell you the chest pains will cease.

I want to tell you the urge to stay under water in the tub or break open the disposable razor passes or when you finally do learn to drive at twenty-four that you won’t ever think about pressing down on the gas and pointing yourself at some large, immovable object.

 

But the best I can do is tell you to hang on, to keep doodling and playing with words. Keep reading. Read more. Write more. Forget the mean girls. Forget the guitar players. You won’t find your love at a show. You will find your love on a dilapidated porch and unlike most people in your life to date, he will ask questions when you look unwell, when you start pulling your hands and shoulders in as though you could make your body fold in on itself, become invisible. He will buy you bread when he learns you haven’t eaten for three days. He won’t give a damn about lactose or the cause you’ve slapped to your food issues. Hang on, girl. I can’t tell you it won’t be twenty years, but once you get there, you will know that all of this made you into the writer you become. The writing saves you. Again and again. It’s the only way you’ve found to release the valve of your malfunctioning brain.

 

I want to tell you you won’t need medication for the rest of your life.

I want to tell you you won’t stop taking it from time to time and let yourself drift into an almost speechless existence.

I want to tell you that all your people notice, that they come running to your rescue, that they don’t let you push them out of your life.

I want to tell you that having work published, books even, cures you.

I want to tell you you feel wanted and loved, but even when the rational side of your brain argues for the objective truth and counts the ways, you will always feel far away—like you watch those you care for from the dangling basket of a hot air balloon. This will never change, but it will make you observant, insightful. This is good for the work, if not for your well-being.

 

You already know your biggest truth. I see it from here as you ink lines from Their Eyes Were Watching God and Beloved and three-quarters of Emily Dickinson’s poems into your notebook. It is only in the repeated act of writing itself that you are free.

 

With love and hope that you can one day learn to look at yourself with kind eyes,

 

Beth

#ArtLitPhx: Kelly Nelson at Changing Hands

 

Kelly Nelson On October 16th, at Changing Hands in Tempe, the poet and Arizona Commission on the Arts recipient, Kelly Nelson, shares selections from her new chapbook, a meditation on love, loss, and the things that go unsaid. The Event starts at 7:00pm. After the Event there will be an Open Mic for all interested.
The poems in Who Was I to Say I Was Alive touch on love, loss and the things that go unsaid. Daisy Fried describes them as “little bombs going off. Or surprise packages left at the door.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
KELLY NELSON is the author of the chapbook Rivers I Don’t Live By. She has performed her poetry at the Phoenix Art Museum and on the Phoenix Light Rail. The recipient of a grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, she chairs Tempe’s public art commission and volunteers as a docent at the Tempe Center for the Arts. She bikes to work and teaches Interdisciplinary Studies at Arizona State University.

 

SR Pod/Vod Series: Poet Yosef Rosen

Yosef Rosen

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.

Guest Blog Post, Elane Johnson: For the LOVE of the Language

Elane with FrappuccinoAs many writers know, we have to get a “real job” in order to keep those Strawberries & Crème Frappuccinos ® coming because those things ain’t cheap, and my thighs aren’t going to get fatter all by themselves. Wait a minute. That’s clearly not true. The longer I sit here doing jack, the more thunderous my thighs become. But I digress.

 

A real job. That’s where I was. There are many careers for which a writer would be a good fit, but just because we would be good at something doesn’t mean we should do it. Sure. I’d be the most celebrated WalMart manager south of Canada, but then I’d have to come home and self-flagellate at night to atone for the murder of my brain cells. So most writers without a multi-volume book deal about zombies coming of age during the apocalypse do that thing we do, which is teach.

 

I’ve many, many years of teaching under my tight belt, and there have been thrills and laughter and heart-warmth and breakthroughs and achievements and success and enormous paychecks that compensated me well for the services I’ve provided. Except for that last part. That’s bullshit. Anyone who teaches knows. Teachers—even those with an M.F.A. in creative writing—get paid squat to impart our wordsmith’s knowledge to hordes of students who may or may not capitalize the personal pronoun I. Yet we continue because A) We love our language and its beauty. B) We care about the success of our students. And C) Those Frappuccinos ain’t going to buy themselves.

 

The English language—while it is the most difficult of all the languages in the world to learn because of its plethora of rules and exceptions and integration of foreign words—thrills me with its lyrical malleability. My father and I played games with grammar all my young life so that I came to appreciate the ways in which a writer may play with the poetry of English. And my own children have blossomed in the linguistic soil their grandfather tilled. My younger daughter delights in learning and sharing new words. She recently dropped this one on me: Apricity. The word sounds lovely, and its meaning slays me. It is a perfect example of how the English language proffers just the right word for any instance. In this case, “the warmth of the sun in winter.” Isn’t that just breathtaking?

 

I rushed to the window that morning—the first of which in weeks the sun had finally burned through the snow-thick clouds—to luxuriate in the apricity.

 

Yes, yes. I know it’s an obsolete word and that we’ve moved on to such accepted terms as homie and vajazzle, for God’s sake, but still. Our language is a living entity, forever evolving (or devolving, it appears). But thank goodness our language throws back some of the “new” words that end up in its net, such as the words some of my students create because they learn primarily through hearing instead of reading. The most common, of course, is should of. Because those two words sound just like should’ve, it’s an oft-made error that makes me want to poke out my eyes with dull sticks. In the last week of grading papers, I’ve come across mind bottling and world wind romance. Lord, help me, but what the hell?

 

Aberrations like these are an affront to writers-who-must-be-teachers-in-order-to-eat everywhere! We poor, struggling souls toil like cats in a sandbox in our attempts to improve the writing skills of our charges. But c’mon! There is no excuse for college students NOT to capitalize I or to think that pit bulls have a “killer instant in them” or that “taking something for granite” means anything! The least that our students can do is to read, read, read excellent models of our language so that they can experience and emulate the right way to write (not the “rite way to wright”). And bringing us a Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino once in a while couldn’t hurt either.

Interview with Julie Hensley

Julie Hensley grew up on a sheep farm in the Shenandoah Valley, but now she makes her home in Kentucky with her husband (the writer R. Dean Johnson) and their two children. Julie has won The Southern Women Writers Emerging Voice Award in both fiction (2005) and poetry (2009). Her work regularly appears in a variety of journals, most recently in Redivider, Ruminate, Superstition Review, PoemMemiorStory, The Pinch and Blackbird, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her novel-in-stories, Landfall, won the 2007 Everett Southwest Literature Award. Her chapbook of poems, The Language of Horses, is available from Finishing Line Press.

Superstition Review: What inspired you to write The Language of Horses?

Julie Hensley: My girlhood, like so many, was marked by a period of intense love of horses. When I was very young, my three sisters and I took riding lessons. Saturday mornings, we dawned jodphurs and leather boots, rode around and around a ring of sawdust, and then stopped at Seven Eleven for Slurpees on the way home. When I was nine, after much waiting and saving, my parents bought a farm. Finally, we had our own horses. We could ride them on the overgrown trails that snaked out through the woods behind the barn. We could lounge bareback with a book while the horses grazed.

For my mom, this move marked the fulfillment of her own childhood wishes. Every Christmas, she told us, she had begged her parents for a horse, but had to settle instead for a string of Breyer ponies. Her yearning for horses was a palpable part of my childhood, and as an adolescent, I began to recognize in the fulfillment of that yearning, its metaphoric power. It wasn’t surprising that our move to the farm heralded my mother’s return to college and her development of a career as a teacher. Horses were desire. They were imagination. They were autonomy. They were the things that, I was just then beginning to understand, women ultimately have to fashion for themselves.

SR: The poems have very vivid memories and stories. Are they connected to your own personal memories and what made you want to share these certain moments?

JH: The poems are highly autobiographical. My husband Bob (R. Dean Johnson), who himself writes nonfiction, loves to tease me when I give him a new poem to read. He says, “Huh. Why don’t you take the line breaks out of that and submit it to Brevity.” While there is usually a narrative moment to my poems, and these are no exception, it is not story as much as raw, highly sensory imagery which spawns a poem for me. For instance, while “Monsoon Season” recounts the memory of a hike Bob and I did in the San Francisco Peaks, the poem really began with the immediate smell of vanilla rising from wet pine bark.

Once I realized horses could work as an extended metaphor, I did begin actively siphoning imagery around that theme, which led to specific memories such as my sister teaching me to French braid on a horse’s tail.

SR: In your fiction piece, “Expecting,” your descriptions are still very poetic. Is writing fiction more of a challenge for you compared to poems?

JH: I would have to say that fiction is harder for me. Or perhaps it is more fitting to admit that I simply work harder at fiction. My MFA is actually in fiction. Poetry has always been my secondary genre. Because I teach, I dedicate summers to fiction–for several summers in a row, I have been trying to complete a novel. When I feel hung up on the fiction, rather than sitting and fuming with creative wheels spinning, I will open a new file and begin a poem. During the academic year when I teach four classes at a time, it is difficult to drop fully into the world of my fiction, so during the winter I revise fiction and write new poems. I’m grateful to have my poetry because moving back and forth between the two genres releases pressure.

SR: The Language of Horses brings the reader to many different beautiful settings like Virginia, Kansas, and Phoenix. What does traveling offer to the pieces you write?

JH: It’s funny. My dreams take a while to catch up with my actual life. For instance, I have a nine-month-old daughter, but she has yet to appear in my dream life. I moved to Kentucky three years ago, yet my home here has really only just begun to formulate the backdrop of my dreams. I think my writing life works the same way. When I was a student in Arizona I constantly wrote of Virginia and Kansas. When I moved to Oklahoma, I wrote about the desert. Now that I live in Kentucky, I have begun to write about the plains. For me, being away from a place breeds a yearning that is quite productive to the creative process. I like to cultivate that yearning, to play with the power of dislocation.

I think that’s part of the power of low and brief-residency MFA programs such as the one in which I teach at Eastern Kentucky University—they allow emerging writers to feel the beautiful strangeness of a new place and the warm yearning for home that accompanies it. Two years ago, I traveled with students to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, and I actually crafted “Expecting” there, sipping espresso each morning in Café Montenegro. This summer, I’ll accompany students to Edinburgh, Scotland. Maybe that trip will help me make progress on my novel.

SR: What are you writing now? What are you reading?

JH: It’s winter, so I’m writing poems. I’m working simultaneously on two cycles. One, with the working title Viable, explores motherhood and fertility. The other, Breaking Ground, channels the voices of a fictional couple—Gracie and Nohl—whose marriage dissolves into physical abuse as they build a farmhouse together.

I just finished Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, a book which absolutely blew my mind. In general, I’m a fan of novels-in-stories. (“Expecting” is actually the capstone piece in Landall, a novel-in-stories which I have just begun to circulate.) Egan’s novel is so imaginative. She inhabits the lives of an array of characters so fully, and she balances decades of branching relationships with such flawless, nuanced control. I just began and am thoroughly enjoying Nancy Jensen’s The Sisters, a sweeping novel that moves, through six different perspectives, from 1920s Kentucky to Vietnam era Indiana. I’m also reading collections of poems in preparation for a poetry workshop I’ll be teaching in the spring—this week it’s Beckian Fritz Goldberg’s Lie Awake Lake and Claudia Emerson’s Figure Studies.