Guest Post, Sean Lovelace: Literary homage

The publishing vultures (or more likely turkey buzzards) are circling my apartment balcony, but why begin in such a sour mood? A mild, morning hangover, not so unlike the lingering ribbons of a common cold/sneeze (at least to my thinking), yet the coffee is hot and science has proven many, many cups of caffeine won’t actually kill you. Thank you, science, you national mutt/political football/current turd. But there goes a cloud in shape of portobello, a puffy suitcase or two, shreds of cotton…Then jump-cut, an actual squadron of honking Canada Geese, a lost and demented species, seemingly as comfortable in a Walmart parking lot (probably eating Cheetos) as in a glittering city pond or even a natural lowland marsh. Look, there goes one smoking a cigarette while perched atop a city bus. I wave, no response from the goose. Most likely they are human.

Two books arrive (people send me books constantly, a sweet curse) like roadkill in the mail, pungent but a bit vulgar: A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand and Just Before Dark, Collected Nonfiction, both written by literary crow/mountain lion, Jim Harrison. Harrison died in the spring of 2016. Oh look, the spring of 2017 and two brand new publications. Editors of the post mortem. Ink stained vultures, New York hyenas, etcetera. So let’s not read them at all.

Instead, let’s discuss what I term, literary homage. An aside? No. Bear with me; just come along for a short yet hopefully fruitful ride through literary time and space. Consider this a metaphysical self-driving car, or maybe a horse (actually the first self-driving car, no?).

In 1925 Russian poet Sergei Yesenin is found dead at age 30, hanging by braided rope from a pipe in his hotel room. I purposely structured the sentence in this manner, hanging by braided rope. Was it a suicide? Who knows? Yesenin had recently pissed off the soviets in several ways (the details not so relevant here), and it’s very possible the government “silenced” him (much in the way a modern day critic of Vladimir Putin may awake one morning in London to a teacup of sugar and polonium-210). Yesenin’s final poem was found on a nearby desk, and written in his own blood:

Goodbye, my friend, goodbye
My love, you are in my heart.
It was preordained we should part
And be reunited by and by.

Goodbye: no handshake to endure.
Let’s have no sadness — furrowed brow.
There’s nothing new in dying now
Though living is no newer.

Let’s move to 1972 (as I mentioned, extra-stellar travel), to American writer, Jim Harrison, at age 35. He has a wife and a daughter and a literary career sinking into the mosquito bogs and chokeberry thickets outside his Upper Peninsula Michigan cabin. His poems and novellas are not finding publication (they will later; including Legends of the Fall). He’s broke and depressed. He’s drinking too much. But also obsessed with literature, currently of the Russian variety—Yesenin. So begins a correspondence in lyrical, confessional verse. Letters to Yesenin, notes to the dead poet, questions about poetry and depression and suicide and life…these missives published in 1973 by Sumac Press and republished by Copper Canyon Press in 2007 and still in print (like all of Harrison’s books, before and after Yesenin).

Time and Space, Space and Time—now to 2006. Return to Michigan, Grand Rapids…a southern boy stands shivering on a bridge above the Grand River. What are these frosty humpbacked boulders below, these jagged cracked platters of ice…these copper steelhead shards holding in the current, occasional smudge of trout? This alien confetti snow now swirling down about his red nose? Where is his family? His friends? Solitary meals in low-slung bars. Drinking silty beer (Michigan is truly a land of serious beers). Studio apartment the size of a van, more an aquarium, fourteen windows, some sort of exhibition case in some rarely visited museum…cracks in the panes. I am lost and in Michigan and teaching at Grand Valley University and stumbling upon extinguished night seas of an odd city and slippery ice and cobblestoned mind, I mean to say the moon, dark side…but one lonely evening I walked down the hill and into the city library and Jim Harrison discovered me in my illness and gave me courage to move forward, yes, to survive.

Spring, 2016: Jim Harrison suffers a fatal cardiac arrest. His body found in his Arizona home, on the Navajo rug below his desk. He died while writing a poem (this sounds apocryphal, but fact-checked). Harrison’s death affected me greatly, more than I would have thought or believed. And my response was to write him letters, in the spirit of his transmissions to Sergei Yesenin. Time and Space…they began with just one, a sort of goodbye. And thank you. Then another and another and today I continue writing in this literary respect:

Example here.

And here.

And here.

I will assume most readers of this site are writers or dancers or artists of some questionable shade/hue. Here is a concept that may excite you, or lead you to your next endeavor, or simply an idea to ponder, your own passing cloud to name and shape. Literary Homage.

  • First, select your artist. The one you mind-meld with; your totem, your token, your one-of-a-kind coffee mug, your favorite beer. Boom-boom! Thrill! Sex, love, religion, or death. Crushed Dexedrine or cute puppy or fast car or that time you made out with a Goth kid in the funhouse at the state fair. The one that made your heart pound, feet float down the golden boulevard, Kafka’s axes for the frozen sea within us, etcetera.
  • Read hard and vividly. Read seriously your artist. Over and again. I’ve read Letters to Yesenin maybe 50 times (and counting). Then dove into Harrison’s Selected and New Poems and The Shape of the Journey, the many novellas (that cad, Brown Dog), Sundog and Dalva and Farmer and Wolf, Harrison’s memoir, and his excellent book of food writing, The Raw and the Cooked.
  • Can you take it further? Yes, you probably can. Interviews, obituaries, various studies and source material. Letters. For me, I’m on leave from my job in the fall and will be repeatedly visiting (once again) Grand Rapids, Michigan, to dive deep into the Jim Harrison archives. You’re doing this sort of research correctly once the artist haunts your tangled dreams.
  • Another level? Personally, once I decided this would be an entire literary homage undertaking, I knew at once it would be essential to immerse (I know “immersion” is hyperbolic, but it’s the best word I can find) myself within the very life of Harrison. I suggest you do the same with your particular author. If selecting Simone de Beauvoir, date a philosopher, smoke cloves, and join a clandestine Resistance. If Haruki Murakami, collect vinyl and run long distances while hoarding cats. If Ikkyu, visit local brothels in your Buddhist robes. And so on. For me, this was simple. Harrison was a devout daily walker; I’m a devout distance runner. I already hunt and fish. I can read a river eddy or a neap tide, can differentiate a pirouetting dove from a flushed quail. Yes, I can skin a buck and run a trot line, etcetera. As for sensuality, I avoid strip clubs (one of Harrison’s obsessions), but—like Harrison—if I am offered a sexual opportunity, I usually take it. Love of drink? I’m basically an alcoholic. Occasional soft drugs? Why not? One thing does elude me—Harrison was a true gourmand, while I usually eat nachos. So this took some adjustment. I increased greatly my input of garlic (and still do). I bought olive oil and wooden spoons. And to kick off the project, I ate a Harrison dinner, an ordeal that dealt with multiple shipped packages of frozen flora and fauna and definitely sent my bank account into the suck-hole, but these things we suffer for art. The dinner was oysters, snails, a braised lamb shank (on a bed of eggplant, green and red peppers, scallions, a pinch of lemon zest, and a couple heads of garlic), fresh pork sausage made by the local Mennonites, a venison round steak, two strawberry Pop-Tarts, salt-cod chowder with a wedge of cornbread, pea soup, five fried mourning dove, breaded asparagus, a plate of Greek olives and basket of onion rolls, Baked Lays potato chips, macaroni salad from the nearby deli, sliced apples, and two bottles of a pretty decent Cabernet (Oliver winery, right up the Indiana corn-lined road). Followed by a shot of white rum for grit and a sleeve of Girl Scout thin mint cookies. For Harrison, this would of course have been only a light lunch.
  • Lastly, and the most important lesson for a writer during this literary homage is to understand form=function. My letters actually nod to Harrison’s technique, as Harrison’s own letters to Yesenin gave respect to that poet’s content and style. Letters to Yesenin are political (Yesenin writes about the soviets; Harrison rails against Nixon) and this gave me permission to write more about this country’s political climate, something I’d generally avoided. Harrison’s letters are chock full of literary references and so are mine, my brain being relatively well-read, since books are actually a necessary aspect of my job. Authors were weaved within. Finally, I noted Harrison’s wonderfully varied sentences, on a level I hadn’t seen since Annie Dillard. Harrison crafts sentences, prods them, twists and jerks them, smells and yells them, jolts them, songs them, unearths them…I tried to do the same.

I suppose that’s enough, a blog traditionally a flavor of compression/brevity. Initially planned on leading us through several examples of literary homage, from worthy Chinese poets (Tu Fu to Li Pai to Chu Shu-chen) to a lovely act of reverence by contemporary poet Bruce Smith to the epic (and epically attractive) Edna St Vincent Millay, who herself homages to Shakespeare… (I have a profound literary crush on Millay, if you didn’t know [and I don’t know why you would]). But way leads onto way, as Frost told us. At any rate, the NFL draft is tonight (upon this writing), a form of Christmas for any true fan. I have my plans. To sauté three cloves of minced garlic (slowly, slowly, let the herb express itself…), add black beans and rice, crumble in venison burger, and hit it all with Dave’s ghost pepper sauce. Skull-kicker, but in a good way. Serve with rotel dip (rotel and melted Velveeta) and tortilla chips. A shot of herradura and several bottles of Pacifico (one of Harrison’s favorite beers). Okay then. That should do.

Meet The Interns: Rebecca Glenn

Rebecca Glenn is looking forward to the challenge of contributing to the publishing process at Superstition Review. Her experiences in upper-division class work have inspired and encouraged her to consider a career in publishing. She is thrilled to have an opportunity to experience the field first-hand through Superstition Review.

Superstition Review: What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?

Rebecca Glenn: I am an Art Editor and I am responsible for soliciting art submissions from local and national artists. I also make decisions on art to include in the issue and then I correspond with artists to facilitate its publication.

SR: Why did you decide to get involved with Superstition Review?

RG: I took a class on publishing in literary magazines with Trish Murphy and my interests stemmed from that experience. I have always been drawn to the publishing process, but it wasn’t until I took the class that I was educated on what exactly literary magazines are.

SR: Besides interning for Superstition Review, how do you spend your time?

RG: I’m a homebody with a traveling streak. I love to cook and goof around with my two girls. We do a lot of drawing, art projects and impromptu dance parties.

SR: What other position(s) for Superstition Review would you like to try out?

RG: Nonfiction is my passion. It would be exciting to be the nonfiction editor. I also really like the idea of being a reader.

SR: Describe one of your favorite literary works.

RG: Madelene L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is a personal favorite. There are certain creations, like A Wrinkle in Time, that are beyond category and that is part of the appeal to me. Most would say it is a children’s novel and yet I read it again a couple weeks ago and was entranced.

SR: What are you currently reading?

RG: I like to spend summers re-reading books from my childhood. I was addicted to reading in my youth and my summer days were almost always monopolized by a book and a cool spot in the shade. Since we are just coming out of the summer months now, I most recently finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

SR: Creatively, what are you currently working on?

RG: I paint sporadically and also dabble in charcoal. I am constantly drawing. I just finished a charcoal portrait of my mother for her 50th birthday. It is such a momentous celebration and I spent a lot of time trying to capture the years of her life in a single expression; it was tough. As far as writing goes, most of it is academic these days due to my school schedule.

SR: Where do you see yourself in 10years?

RG: That is the big question…I’m not so concerned with knowing. I can say with all confidence I have no idea; maybe a pig farmer in Peru.

Meet the Interns: Britney Gulbrandsen, Nonfiction Editor

Britney Gulbrandsen, our final intern interviewee for the semester, is a Literature, Writing, and Film major.

Superstition Review: What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?

Britney Gulbrandsen: As one of the Nonfiction Editors for Superstition Review, my main responsibility is to read through all nonfiction submissions that are received and to help decide which of these we will publish. Alongside this, I am asked to create a list of 20 writers to solicit work from and a list of two people that I would be interested in interviewing. It is my job to create specific interview questions for each of these interviewees.

SR: How did you hear about Superstition Review and what made you decide to get involved?

BG: I heard about Superstition Review from Patricia Murphy, the managing editor of the online literary magazine. I took one of her poetry classes last semester and received some information about the internship. I wanted to get involved because I thought it would be a great experience to learn more about the publishing process and to expand my knowledge of writing.

SR: What are you hoping to take away from your Superstition Review experience?

BG: I hope that through this experience, I will be able to learn more about the publishing field. I want to gain general work experience–such as completing assigned tasks and working with a group. I have already learned so much and feel that I have grown as a writer. I hope to expand that knowledge even further. I am excited and honored to be working for SR this semester.

SR: Describe one of your favorite literary or artistic works.

BG: One of my favorite literary works is Why I Write by Joan Didion. I love the way that she explains why she became a writer and what that means to her. I feel that I can relate to her words in a lot of ways. I think Joan Didion writes beautifully.

SR: What are you currently reading?

BG: Right now, I am reading a slew of different things. First, I am reading a few different short story anthologies, such as The Oxford Book of English Short Stories and The Pushcart Book of Short Stories. I am also reading a lot of poetry from various authors. The main book that I am currently reading is Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. And, of course, I am reading lots of textbooks.

SR: What other position(s) for Superstition Review would you like to try out?

BG: I think I would enjoy trying out both the Fiction and Poetry Editor positions of SR. I love both of these genres and it would be really entertaining to read lots of submissions in these areas. I would also really love to try out the blogger position. I love to blog and I think it would be fun to come up with interesting blog posts pertaining to SR.

SR: Do you write or create art? What are you currently working on?

BG: I do write. It’s what I love to do. This semester, I am trying to expand my knowledge of writing and to get in lots of practice. I currently have four short stories that are in the rewriting, revising, and editing process. I have about 10 poems that I am working with, and I am deciding whether or not to keep working with them or to put them aside. Also, I started a novel about nine months ago. I may pull that out in the next couple of months and work further on it. Most recently, I started a personal essay that I am having a lot of fun writing.

SR: Besides interning for Superstition Review, how do you spend your time?

BG: Besides writing, my other main hobbies include dancing, scrapbooking, reading, blogging, fashion, cooking, and spending lots of time with my husband.

SR: What is your favorite mode of relaxation?

BG: My favorite mode of relaxation would have to be curling up in a blanket with my husband, eating ice cream and watching a good movie.

SR: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

BG: In 10 years, I hope that I will still be writing and that I will be a published writer. I’m planning on having a few kids by then, so this may be a hard task to accomplish; but, I hope that I stick to it. My goal is to have a strict writing schedule and to be able to balance being a wife, a mother, and a writer. I hope to complete some sort of online creative writing master’s program and to learn all that I can about writing. In 10 years, I want to say that I have completed more than one novel, whether or not they are published.

Meet the Interns: Gina Rossi, Fiction Editor

Gina Rossi is a junior majoring in Creative Writing.

Superstition Review: What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?

Gina Rossi: As Fiction Editor, my responsibilities mainly involve reading submissions and giving my input on what gets published.

SR: How did you hear about Superstition Review and what made you decide to get involved?

GR: I was looking for a publishing related internship and heard about SR through one of my professors. It seemed like the perfect internship for someone looking to learn more about the publishing field.

SR: What are you hoping to take away from your Superstition Review experience?

GR: I hope to read a lot of great fiction, improve my own writing/interviewing skills, and learn as much as possible about publishing an online literary magazine.

SR: Describe one of your favorite literary or artistic works.

GR: Artistic work would have to be Picasso’s Guernica. I saw all 26 ft. x 11 ft. of it in person and it’s breathtaking, very odd but inspiring. As far as literary work, anything Jane Austen will do.

SR: What are you currently reading?

GR: Being Dead by Jim Crace.

SR: Who would be the Superstition Review contributor of your dreams?

GR: Andrea Avery Decker.

SR: Do you write or create art? What are you currently working on?

GR: I write short fiction. During the school semesters it’s hard for me to give ample amounts time to my personal projects so I’m writing drafts of stories for my classes.

SR: Besides interning for Superstition Review, how do you spend your time?

GR: I travel to San Diego a lot to spend time with my boyfriend. I enjoy photography, specifically black and white film photography that I develop myself. I love to bake/cook, read, learn yoga, and spend time with family.

SR: What is your favorite mode of relaxation?

GR: Ben & Jerry’s and a good classic movie–something Audrey Hepburn.

SR: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

GR: I’m hoping to be published by then, and happy, definitely happy.

Meet the Interns: Haley Coles, Poetry Editor

Haley Coles is a junior English major with a Creative Writing concentration.

Superstition Review: What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?

Haley Coles: I am one of two poetry editors. I review submitted poetry for consideration in Superstition Review. At the beginning of the semester I created a list of 20 previously published poets from whom to solicit work from. It is my job to decide which poems, solicited and not, will be published in the journal.

SR: How did you hear about Superstition Review and what made you decide to get involved?

HC: I received an e-mail from one of the English advisors about the internship. For the past few years I have had a desire to work on a literary journal, and once the opportunity came I jumped on it!

SR: What are you hoping to take away from your Superstition Review experience?

HC: I’d like to leave SR with two new awareness. The first is, as a poet, to understand how work is selected for publication in journals so I might be more conscious about how I format my own submitted work. With the huge amount of submissions I am reading as an editor, I have more empathy for editors of larger journals and know that the rejections sent are truly not about the poet as a person. Secondly, I hope that my experience with SR will qualify me for future work in other journals. And I suppose I have a third expectation: reading a TON of poetry!!

SR: Describe one of your favorite literary or artistic works.

HC: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce has been one of the most influential works I’ve read in my literary career. I read it for a British Literature class last semester, and it completely changed my artistic life. The book helped me to make the transformation from a woman who is good at writing and enjoys doing so to living my life as a committed poet. Though I don’t have much in common with early-twentieth century Irish Stephen Daedalus, I found myself enraptured by his complex yet persistent desire to freely create and live in his art. I have been truly inspired by his journey.

SR: What are you currently reading?

HC: I just finished House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I’m about to start on either Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke or The Plague by Albert Camus.

SR: Who would be the Superstition Review contributor of your dreams?

HC: Sylvia Plath–nobody said they had to be alive! Sylvia Plath was the first poet whose work moved me, and as a result inspired me to be a poet. In almost every poem I write there is a nod to her extraordinary language.

SR: Do you prefer reading literary magazines online or in print?

HC: I definitely prefer reading journals in print. There is something substantial and comforting about being able to hold a journal in my hands, to rest it on my chest while I lay on the couch, to circle passages that intrigue me, and to fold down pages to return to.

SR: Do you write or create art? What are you currently working on?

HC: I write poetry. I am taking a forms class, so I’m consistently writing for that class. Right now, today, I am working on reading rather than writing. I just finished a poem that exhausted me and am giving it a week or so to come back to it for a revision. So until then, I am rebuilding my aesthetic by reading submissions coming into Superstition Review and various other literary journals, particularly MAR and Rattle.

SR: Besides interning for Superstition Review, how do you spend your time?

HC: I attend ASU full time. When I’m not in class or studying (which is a huge chunk of my life), I like to cook, read, play Risk, ride bikes, and make fun of my cats.

SR: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

HC: In 10 years I will be 30. By this time I will have my MFA in Poetry and could be working on or have already received my PhD. I will be teaching either high school Literature or college Poetry. I will have a part in a vegan community-oriented restaurant cooperative. I will be gardening and writing a lot and will have at least one book of poems published. I might be in Berlin or on the East Coast.

Meet the Interns: Samantha Novak, Reading Series Editor

samanthanovak_0Reading Series Editor Samantha Novak is a sophomore at Arizona State University majoring in Global Studies and minoring in Spanish and Urban Planning.

Superstition Review: How did you hear about or get involved with Superstition Review?

Samantha Novak: I actually came to the Review by a slightly unconventional route. I am not an English major, but I heard about Superstition Review from my Honors English 102 teacher. She proposed it as a really neat opportunity and said that any of us interested should apply. I did, and here I am!

SR: What is your favorite section of SR? Why?

SN: I think my favorite section of SR is probably the art section, I have always found photography incredibly powerful and enjoy having the opportunity to be exposed to new and different artists.

SR: Who is your dream contributor to the journal?

SN: My dream contributor would probably be Ruth Reichl. She has written some extremely powerful stories about her relationship with her family and with food (Reichl was a New York Times food critic and the editor-in-chief of Gourmet). I can really relate to this relationship since I also love food so much.

SR: What job, other than your own, would you like to try out in the journal?

SN: I really enjoy the job I am working at right now, but if I was doing something else I think I would like to try out being the blogger. It would force me to be more methodical with my blogging, which I think would bleed over to increased blogging in my other blogs.

SR: What are you most excited for in the upcoming issue?

SN: I am really excited to be able to experience new artists and writers. I am always looking for new work to read.

SR: What was the first book you remember falling in love with and what made it so special?

SN: I fell in love with The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede. The novels feature a really strong, feisty princess protagonist that would rather swordfight than do embroidery. When her parents try to set her up in an arranged marriage she runs away to be a dragon’s princess. Magic, dragons, pretty dresses, sly references and humor–what’s not to love? I brought the books with me to college and still read them when I’m feeling down.

SR: What are you currently reading?

SN: I am bout to start The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson.

SR: What are some of your favorite websites to waste time on or distract you from homework?

SN: I love,, Facebook and various food blogs.

SR: Do you create art? Tell us about a project you’re working on.

SN: I do photography, and I am currently in the post processing stage of some photographs I took this summer when I spent a month in China.