Contributor Update: Barbara Crooker

Barbara Crooker bio photoPast contributor Barbara Crooker was featured on The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. Check out their site here, to read or listen to audio of the poem. In addition to the poem and reading, you the site features interviews with contributors. You can read Barbara’s interview here.

Three poems by Barbara Crooker appeared in issue 2 of Superstition Review. 

Guest Post, Denton McCabe: Data-Saturation in Cross-Disciplinary Art

Denton McCabe Bio PhotoData-saturation as an aesthetic practice emerged from the late 20th-century media practice of working with partitions, fragments, multi-samples, and frames, (exemplified by the commercial advertisement, the audio loop, the film montage, the remix, and so forth). Current advances in editing software have enabled the fragmentation of any digital file to occur down at the levels of the tiniest pixel, frame, or multisample. For Deleuze, the montage was a means of releasing the appearance of linear and sequential time from the movement-image, that is to say that editing imbued film with the illusion of a linear timeline. In terms of audio applications, Karlheinz Stockhausen generated entire soundscapes from singular patterns of electronic pulsations; utilizing these cyclic pulse-patterns as material that could be subsequently transposed to other frequencies of any duration; this action resulted in the creation of singular timbres within his compositions Gesang der Jünglinge and Kontakte. Today, in our cultural wasteland, which is littered with moving images and audio, a wasteland literally saturated with infinite variegations of data and their technological transformations; this state has enabled the artist to rupture with past forms, conceptions, and materials in the creation of an artwork.

Traditionally, the creator of a work of art has implemented a top-down design; the creator defined the whole shape of a work of art beforehand, then began partitioning the work off into smaller sequences, movements, or edits. The privilege with which technology has gifted the contemporary cross-disciplinary artist is the ability to work from the bottom-up, rather than from the top-down. This is not to say that the artist is only just now blessed with the ability to work with the conception of an isolated fragment of a larger image (for example, a flower petal that would ultimately belong to a field of flowers) or an analogous fragment in any other discipline (a word, or a harmonic interval, a close-up, etc.); with the aid of modern developments in software, the artist can now begin working with not only the frame or partition as a generative material, but this is the initial detail that will eventually reveal the form of the whole working. Beginning with a kernel of some type (a series of pulsations, a shot, a number sequence, or any other raw data) the artist can implement a bottom-up design paradigm; which means creating the micro-details of a work of art firsthand. After individual components are built from scratch, so to speak, these can be unified under the umbrella of a larger creative conception; with multiple creations being unified further into a specific body of work.

This would inevitably lead to, and in some disciplines it already has lead to the development and normalization of a type of aesthetic hebephrenia. This hebephrenic state is beyond the abstractions of modernism and the integration of pop culture in postmodernism (both of which have concerned themselves with beginning from a preconceived whole and then working down to the last finished detail of a work). Working from raw data will almost always lead to chance, or at least unintentional juxtapositions of imagery, sounds, and symbols; all organized with the aid of computing technology. What we are currently witnessing as a culture is that inevitable decline of the artist as an exponent of a singular and clear-cut style of expression in one particular medium; and the inevitable reassignment of the role of the artist to that of a producer of cross-disciplinary statements and non-statements, each with their own singularity of form and content. The traditional approach of working within the framework of the preconceived formulation of a definitive narrative structure, or within the limitations of a hierarchy of elements, has now passed into obsolescence. What needs to be explored is the emergence of a singularity within the actual creator, who can now serve cross-disciplinary roles within herself (author, composer, visual artist, computer programmer, and so on). In fact, the trend towards collaborative effort is not the signifier of the emergence of a new art futurism; this collective effort is an indication of the saturation point of obsolete modes of production cross-pollinating between creative disciplines. The banal progression typical of outmoded production, from concept and form down to partitioning and sequencing; and the final procession towards the arrangement of objects within those prefabricated partitions and sequences (the forms of which, in a sense, already exist and are often immediately recognizable to the spectator or consumer) has become obsolete in the sense that contemporary art has become another matter of flirtation and seduction occurring within the limiting confines of socio-economic and socio-political trends, concerning itself only with the conveyance of a message to consumers, rather than a matter concerned with the exploration of aesthetics and forms. The arts (writing, music, theater, film, and visual art) have become the desperate moral expression of a society of consumers suffocating in the climate of their own decline. Working with data-saturation allows art to return to a purity of aesthetics, unfettered by the sociopolitical issues of our day while still retaining social integrity.

In terms of aesthetics and form, there is a lesson to be learned from Stockhausen’s concept of the morphology of time. Stockhausen’s utilization of microcosmic time-structures that reflect the macrocosmic whole of a work is something that needs to be revisited in a cross-disciplinary aesthetic environment. One revolutionary capability of computing technology is that of data bending; a radically inclusive utopia of interchange and manipulation of file formats that occurs between audio, visual, and text editing software. The results of the data bend are often unpredictable and serendipitous; however, the process of data bending reveals the nature of code and computing technology, which is that the machines are functioning in a universe of pure abstraction, which is an alien reality of form and concept for humankind, and it is humanity that has superimposed the sensate inventions of text, image, audio, video and the accompanying social rules of those playing fields over the raw data of the indifferent machines. Stockhausen recognized the potential for working from kernels, with formulas and their variables; the next step in aesthetic evolution would involve crossing the streams between artistic disciplines at both the microcellular and macrocosmic levels, allowing a fragment of data to become an image file, an audio file, a video, and so forth.

This type of work goes beyond the mere mixture of media or the act of transferring the structure of one medium to another; what needs to be explored in addition to the crossing of disciplines is the mixing of forms. The contemporary mixing of forms would involve the mixture of individual approaches to aesthetic criteria and formulations of aesthetic criteria; which would extend beyond the mere radical juxtaposition of genre that was seen in postmodernist music, such as ‘hip-hop’ with microtonal serialism. A mixed-form work of cross-disciplinary art could include a composition generated from serialist theory and aleatoric operations applied to a series of miniatures for typical hip-hop instrumentation of turntable and digital sampler; this composition would serve as the score to a stop-motion animated film made from sequentially applied glitches and edits of stills generated from original 2D and 3D art as source material. One could then take the score a step further by re-editing the material for digital sampler with sound material culled from the procedure of data bending the images into waveforms. The resultant narrative would be of no importance due to its inevitable nonexistence and irrelevance; what would be significant would be the mixture of audio processing and mathematical forms with chance forms; juxtaposed with the electronic forms of stop-motion animation and glitch; and the forms of traditional media such as painting, drawing, and sculpture; all of which could be further integrated into a larger whole, designed with the utilization of a bottom-up paradigm.

Working with the saturation of data would enable the artist to treat all elements as an infinite series  placed inside a vacuum, subject to endless mangling and manipulation and distortion and abstraction; resulting in a complete aesthetic promiscuity; radical in its inclination towards the negation and obliteration of conventional narrative and rational forms of social discourse; leading towards the eventual implementation of a simulation that could blur the hypothetical boundaries between hyperreality, mythologies and traditional and iconoclastic forms. The beauty of data saturation is its relative freedom and accessibility, which makes a contradiction of rendering everything and nothing as its own instrument, its own frame, its own image, its own sound, its own emotion, its own experience, its own obscenity, its own intrusion, and its own grotesqueness; with the requirement that it is first reduced to code, reduced to a pure state of abstract nullity or abstract validity, rendered completely void of the social.

#ArtLitPhx: Spillers Podcast now available

Spillers logoLocal Phoenix’s premiere reading event Spillers has announced their new podcast series. The new series will have a short story read by the featured author, followed by an interview with the author. You can find out more and listen here. Their full press release is below:

Spillers, Phoenix’s premier short fiction ensemble reading event since 2015, is now also a podcast, produced and hosted by local award-winning writer and podcaster Robert Hoekman Jr.

While Spillers After Show has earned a stellar reputation as winner of Best Podcast 2016 by the Phoenix New Times, the now-live Spillers podcast brings new and exciting depth and intimacy, and will juxtapose national writers with locals, and award-winners with up-andcomers, to build an audience that extends well beyond Arizona’s borders.

Episodes each feature one short fiction story and an exclusive interview on the story of the story as told by the writer who wrote it. Every episode is 30 minutes or less so that it fits comfortably into a listener’s life, and has a Song Exploder-esque format and style.

With several interviews in the bag, Hoekman says, “These interviews are intimate and revealing. The writers so far have all been ready and willing to get personal and to talk about the circumstances and struggles that compel them to create the art they give us.”

Episodes are even recorded on-location—in places relevant either to the writer or to the story. One interview took place during a drive to a uranium mine south of the Grand Canyon. Another was held inside of a planetarium while staring up at a black hole. A third found the host and guest discussing bipolar disorder while sitting in a Circle K parking lot. These settings add dimension to the interviews that no reading event could otherwise achieve.

Venita Blackburn recording for the podcast

Venita Blackburn recording for Spillers podcast

The debut episode features ASU alum Venita Blackburn. On the show, she discusses the lifelong challenges for writers of color following her workshop on the subject, and reads her story, “Chew,” which appears in her upcoming collection Black Jesus and Other Superhero Stories (University of Nebraska Press).

Spillers has previously presented seven live events, held quarterly at the Crescent Ballroom. While autobiographical storytelling events abound, Spillers was the first and is still the only event to offer a night of Arizona’s best fiction in a setting designed to turn writers into rock stars and make literature worthy of date night. Spillers events have featured major novelists, Hudson Prize and GQ Book of the Year winners, Pushcart Prize winners, and contributors to Best American Short Stories, Best American Mystery Stories, Ploughshares, and McSweeney’s Quarterly, among other prestigious publications.

More live Spillers events will follow as the podcast develops its audience. For podcast subscription options and to apply to become a “spiller,” visit www.Spillers.net.

Authors Talk: Kelcey Ervick

Today we are pleased to feature author Kelcey Ervick as our Authors Talk series contributor. Kelcey did a video podcast where she discusses the images that inspired her writing. She goes on to discuss the history Rene Magritte’s influence, including the hooded figure, Fantomas.

 

You can read Kelcey’s piece, “After the Lovers,” in Issue 17 of Superstition Review.

Guest Post: Annette Oxindine, Saying Yes: Wool, Feather, Chintz; House, Bridge, River

“In dreams begin responsibility.” Yeats’s epigraph to Responsibilities had been pinned to the bulletin board above my desk for so many years that it lost any meaningful connection to his actual 1914 volume of poems and, eventually, just lost meaning.  It had become a workaday adage at best, the kind you might find in a day planner designed to keep you beholden to your to-do list.  At worst, it conjured up one of those motivational posters of late capitalism—the kind you might find in a brokerage firm or university president’s office—in which a tanned, forty-something white male model dressed in a cable-knit sweater and a captain’s cap, unsoiled by sea salt or human sweat, looks intently at the horizon from the helm of a sailboat. In short, for me, Yeats’s words about dreams and responsibility had lost their soul.

Bee sitting on a flower

The epigraph In dreams begin responsibility got its soul back and began to fortify my own as a result of my engagement with the unflinchingly responsible work of living dreaming poets. This is a kind of thank-you letter to them. While the writers whose work sustains me are many, I want to focus on three who, in a very real way, made themselves responsible to the work their dreaming selves demanded of them. Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures (2012), Patti Smith’s memoir M Train (2015), and Ross Gay’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (2016), especially its title poem, have individually and collectively returned to me the transformative possibilities of the word “dream,” for I had stopped considering how an unbidden message from the deepest part of the self, rather than a willed “dream” (translation: a goal, one of the least inspiring words in the English language), could call one into being, and, in turn, make one profoundly responsible to one’s own being—and own writing.

“I don’t know where to begin because I have nothing to say, yet I know that before long I will sound as if I’m on a crusade.”  So begins Mary Ruefle’s brilliant shape-shifting title lecture from Madness, Rack, and Honey. “The phrase madness, rack, and honey came to me in a dream,” she explains.  What I find remarkable is that Ruefle’s dream seemingly contains no container for her words. They arrive disembodied: her dream, she tells us, “consisted solely of these three words.” It is these words—madness, rack, and honey—she wants to inscribe over the phrase “fine poetry” as it appears in an advertisement for Coach leather goods. In the ad, Albert Einstein’s grandson Paul, an “accomplished violinist,” serves as the well-pedigreed “clichéd portrait of a poetry-lover” who enjoys said “fine poetry” along with no-adjectives-needed “literature and philosophy” and, by implication, Coach’s luxury accessories.  Ruefle un-refines and un-accessorizes the phrase “fine poetry.” In so doing, she returns poetry to its flesh.  Taking her dream’s three words in reverse order, Ruefle analyzes the meaning of “honey” by reflecting on a centuries-old Persian poem she loves, although she cannot trace its author: “ ‘I shall not finish my poem. / What I have written is so sweet / The flies are beginning to torment me.’ ” Ruefle focuses on how the poem’s “ ‘figurative’ sweetness,” its honey, causes “ ‘ literal’ flies to swarm on the page or in or around the author’s head.” She proclaims, “This is truly the Word made flesh.” Ruefle believes that metaphor “is an event,” “an exchange of energy between two things”; metaphor “unites the world by its very premise—that things connect and exchange energy.” Such an assertion should make us realize that Ruefle’s dream phrase really is, after all, embodied: it is embodied in the physical matter that is her brain. In a later lecture, she explains, “When you hold a book in your hands you are holding a piece of cerebrum.”  Such vigorous attention to the material nature of being and writing is crucial to Madness, Rack, and Honey. As Ruefle moves from rack—“those flies are beginning to torment the poet”—to madness—poetry “creates sweetness, so that the flies might come and eat till it is gone”—she comes to apprehend that poetry is “inexplicably and exactly” defined in this line from a poem by Paul Celan: “To endlessly make an end of things.” It is the requiem that making makes that brings such haunting beauty and palpable sorrow to Ruefle’s book. But what animates it are its many secrets, its wonder, her unabashed delight in wondering rather than knowing: “I would rather wonder than know.”

“It’s not so easy writing about nothing,” says the mostly reticent cowboy in Patti Smith’s dream, providing her with the first words of M Train. We insist on persisting, her “cowpoke” tells her, as he points out the futility of “fostering all kinds of crazy hopes,” such as “redeem[ing] the lost” or recovering “some sliver of personal revelation.” Realizing she has been inside this dream before, Smith tells her cowboy, “Hey, I said, I’m not the dead, not a shade passing. I’m flesh and blood here.” He ignores her. To add to this insult, he denies that it’s even her dream; he claims it as his own. After Smith is fully awake, drinking black coffee in a favorite café, she can’t let go of the dream; the dream won’t let go of her. She writes the cowboy’s phrase on her napkin: It’s not so easy writing about nothing. She feels “a need to contradict him.” He has goaded her into writing. She muses, “I could write endlessly about nothing. If only I had nothing to say.” But Smith has everything to say. Her book is a long, beautiful meditation on what it means to stay present, even, and sometimes especially, in the presence of ghosts: “We seek to stay present, even as ghosts attempt to draw us away.” What keeps Smith from being drawn away, it seems, is her understanding that to write about everything is to invite the nothing in. M Train ends with Smith, in a dream, uniting the everything and the nothing in an intimate gesture of expansiveness that is at the heart of the book’s many internal and external pilgrimages: “I love you, I whispered, to all, to none.” Her “philosophic” cowboy replies, “Love not lightly”—although I can think of few writers who are less likely to need that advice.  Staying inside this dream, Smith concludes her book: “I am going to remember everything and then I am going to write it all down. An aria to a coat. A requiem for a café.” It is the book she has written, the book she has just given us, the book we hold in our hands.  It has heft. It is not a ghost—not yet. The last image in the book is of Smith “looking down at [her] hands,” the hands of the dreamer, the one who writes.

Whereas Patti Smith enters “the frame” of M Train’s opening dream and leaves it by boarding a train that returns her to bed, Ross Gay’s dream-messenger comes to him more urgently, by way of a “branch that grew into [his] window.” More interactive and less cryptic in its demands than Smith’s cowboy or Ruefle’s three-word phrase, Gay’s robin with “shabby wings” and “breast aflare” comes to tell him “in no uncertain terms” to“ ‘Bellow forth” his “whole rusty brass band of gratitude.” And so he does. In the poem “Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude,” among the seemingly too-many-to-name things for which the speaker expresses gratitude are friends, strangers, ancestors, “the tiny bee’s shadow,” the woman he loves, the reader (many times), the “baggie of dreadlocks” he finds in the drawer of a murdered friend, a woman who sings Erykah Badu to herself on a bus, so very many things that grow in the soil, his own “knuckleheaded heart,” and the dream that brings his dead father back to him to play him like “a bass fiddle’s strings” until he wakes up “singing.”  Yet for all the Whitmanesque abundance and exuberance that pulse through the twelve-page poem, a retreating pulse seems to work like a constant undertow—beyond even the inevitable departure of the dead who are briefly returned to the speaker.  This undertow adds even more urgency to the poet’s song of thanks. When Gay announces to his listener that his poem is finally coming to a close—“Soon it will be over”—the word “it” morphs to encompass so much more. The speaker then recalls that “the child in [his] dream” said “precisely the same thing,” “pointing at the roiling sea and the sky / hurtling our way like so many buffalo,” stressing that “it’s much worse than we think, / and sooner.” But this prophetic child isn’t telling the speaker anything he doesn’t already know. He replies,

no duh child in my dreams, what do you think

this singing and shuddering is,

what this screaming and reaching and dancing

and crying is, other than loving

what every second goes away?

Goodbye, I mean to say.

And thank you. Every day.

Reading contemporary poetry in the Anthropocene can sometimes feel like one long goodbye. The dream-child’s seeming awareness of planetary loss—the “roiling” sea and sky headed for us—can make us nostalgic for a more personal mortality, the kind that makes young Margaret weep in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall.”

In my own loving-what-every-second-goes-away dream, cherry blossoms are falling to the ground in a park near a stage on which an aria is left unfinished. I don’t remember if the singer leaves the stage or if she just stops singing. Her song is taken up by the weak but joyful voices of an older man and woman who are heading into the distance, away from the stage and the fallen blossoms. Even before waking, I understand the couple to be my mother and father, although they do not look like them. I understand that they are leaving me and also letting me know I have to stay in the park: to listen. It is then that unbidden words come to me, words I understand I must use, can only use, in a poem.

The first book about loss that I read is a novel that isn’t really a novel. It was described by its author as a “play-poem,” and it affected me deeply. One of its passages to which I often return seems like a lullaby to forlornness itself:

What is the phrase for the moon? And the phrase for love? By what name are we to call death? I do not know. I need a little language such as lovers use, words of one syllable such as children speak when they come into the room and find their mother sewing and pick up some scrap of bright wool, a feather, or a shred of chintz. I need a howl; a cry.

The passage is from Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, a book Mary Ruefle designates as “not one of [her] favorite books” even though her “memory of reading it” at the age of twenty-two on a “plotless day” with the ocean in the distance is one of her favorite memories.  I was nineteen the summer I pulled The Waves off a shelf in my public library, doing so with very little forethought: Woolf’s name was vaguely familiar, and I love the sea. That was enough. It was, I admit, not easy going at first. But by the time I was about a fourth of the way through that book, I knew I would never again feel alone in the world in the same way. I would feel alone a new way, connected to the aloneness of others, and that has made all the difference. In her lecture “Someone Reading a Book,” Ruefle describes in an even more positive way what a good book can bring to light: “We are all one question, and the best answer seems to be love—a connection between things.” I find it touching that Patti Smith’s connection to Virginia Woolf came rather late in her life, and that Woolf’s walking stick, the penultimate Polaroid printed in M Train, prompts her to muse whether, if she continues to outlive everyone, the New York Public Library might entrust her with Woolf’s walking stick, which she would “cherish for her.” (If there’s ever a petition in support of Smith doing just that, I’ll sign it.)

I eventually wrote a dissertation about Woolf, published academic essays about her novels, and have been fortunate to have a career that allows me to teach literature. While I do not, as does Ruefle, tire “of having to talk about literature,” like her, “I didn’t begin writing because I wanted to sit in a room and talk about the construction of subjectivity” in the work of writers I admired—although I can be pretty good at that kind of talk on most days, and I do enjoy it most often, even sometimes enjoy writing about it.

But in dreams begin responsibility.  Was it a lullaby? Was it a requiem? What were the old man and old woman singing in the park?  I will keep listening. I will sing back. I will pay close attention to unbidden words. “I began writing because I had made friends with the dead: they had written to me, in their books, about life on earth,” explains Mary Ruefle, “and I wanted to write back and say yes, house, bridge, river, hair, no, maybe, never, forever.”  And so did I. And so I have, and so I will.

Authors Talk: James Pate

Today we are pleased to feature author James Pate as our Authors Talk series contributor. James talks about how writing poetry and fiction seem to use two different parts of the James Pate Bio Photobrain. He compares it to writing with your right hand versus your left. James takes his influence from writers that focus greatly on language and how it contributes to the narrative. In the podcast, James reads a few of his poems and discusses the inspiration behind them.

You can read James’ story “Michael Hill” in issue 17 of Superstition Review here.

Guest Post, Vytautas Malesh: Face Your Critics, Face Your Fears, Face Yourself.

Vytautas Malesh Bio PhotoSooner or later, we all have to deal with critics. The old chestnut goes something along the lines of “but my mom says I’m brilliant,” and so we’ll have to forego any maternal input on our literary efforts in favor of words less warm, but probably more honest. Whether we’re talking about a submission editor’s hasty notes, a mentor’s line-by-line markup, or an Iowa-style “dead author” workshop session, the writer’s job in the face of criticism is to learn from that criticism. It’s a herculean task, but one which you the writer must master since, well, go back and read the first sentence.

While it is tempting to rest assured of your own brilliance, know that you dismiss any piece of criticism at your own peril. You’ll get the occasional ill-informed vagary along the lines of “I dunno, I just didn’t like it” or something else equally unhelpful. You’ll often find this sort of criticism in low-level undergraduate writing workshops around midterm and finals weeks, or following a weekend of epic tailgating. No need to really pay that too much attention if you are not so inclined.

But I digress.

Assuming that the critic has indeed read your work, considered it, and wants to offer constructive and helpful notes, it’s important to humble yourself and to listen. Criticism can sting, badly. That’s not quite doing it justice:  criticism can make you want to curl up into a ball and never write again. But that’s what happens when you let your ego get in the way of your craft, and if you’re going to write – and, as a consequence, deal with critics – you must let go of your ego.

Some critics are relatively easy to endure – pedants checking your spelling and grammar, for example. Others are easy to dismiss if they are trying too hard to inject their own style matter into your work – the minimalist who insists you could chop your complex character drama down to about the length of a sonnet.

But other criticism cuts deeper. When you’ve had a gaping and irreconcilable plot hole revealed, or if someone should point out that your story so strongly echoes something else already in the world that no publisher would ever show it the light of day. Or that your characterization reveals you to be, or perhaps suggests that you are, sexist, or racist, or misogynistic, or homophobic, or otherwise holding a deep character flaw that perhaps you didn’t even know you had.

When faced with such criticism, it’s important to remember your service to the words – if you’ve been called out over questionable or even hurtful politics, take the time to think about what you’re doing and where you’re coming from. This is the sort of criticism that must not be ignored for both your own sake and, in a very real way, for the sake of the societies and cultures in which we find ourselves. If your work has struck a nerve and offended*, then observe the awesome power that words have in the world, and strive to use that power responsibly.

And of course, sometimes we just have to torch a piece. Perhaps the plot isn’t salvageable, or we realize we have plagiarized something we’ve never read (or at least that’s what our critics say). Cheer up – burn the failure and use the ashes like fertilizer to nourish the next piece. If the worst thing that happens after an encounter with hard criticism is more writing, then consider yourself lucky and get back to work.

*Disclaimer:  “You shouldn’t be offended,” “I didn’t mean to offend anyone,” and “explain it to me – how is that offensive?” are not appropriate in this circumstance. If you have offended someone, you listen to what they have to say. Similarly, “I’m being offensive on purpose” is debatable at best, and you’re probably not being as witty as you think you are – people’s failure to “get it” is more likely your failure to deliver it.