Guest Post, Cynthia Hogue: On Ways of Bearing Witness to Animals in Poetry

On Ways of Bearing Witness to Animals in Poetry: The Examples of Gary Snyder and Emily Dickinson

a discursive poem-blog

bee on flower

 

Gary Snyder writes of how artists can “join in the defense of the planet and wild nature.

They can ‘bear witness’ because they have been given, as in fairy tales, two ‘magic gifts’:

 

One is ‘The mirror of truth.’ . . . The second is a ‘heart of compassion’ [that] extends to all

creatures and to the earth itself. . . .  Anciently this was a shamanistic role where the [shaman]

 

became one with a creature. Today, such a role is played by the writer[.] This could be called

‘speaking on behalf of nature’ in the ancient way” (Writers and the War against Nature, 63).

 

Is it the ancient way to call the animal a creature? Is “speaking on behalf of” to “speak for”?

Watching a bee struggle for purchase between “Firmament above” and “Firmament below”

 

by landing on a clover “plank,” Dickinson refrains from putting words in the bee’s mouth.

The plank is “Responsible to nought” and when the “Billows of Circumference” sweep away

 

the bee, the “Bumble Bee was not -” The speaker’s claims to know the bee, hence her careful

tracking of his fate, are belied by the limits of her powers of perception: she can see

 

but not hear him. She does not “bear witness” by speaking on behalf of or for the bee. She

dwells on the surface, reporting the bee’s perceivable movements. An empiricist in method,

 

the speaker adopts a phenomenological diction, and the poem tracks the human watching the

insect trying to find a place to weather the universe, the “Circumference,” which sweeps him

 

at last on his way. She thinks about what she knows she has seen, but not what it means to the

bee. “Freight of Wind” is one vowel tone away from “Fright,” but the latter word’s laden

 

with a human’s reaction to a strong wind. “Freight” is merely material, the wind’s weight.

The event is “harrowing,” but to whom? Nothing is wrung from the bee, no sound not least

 

“A wandering ‘Alas’ –“ The knowledge that the speaker claims, “a Bee I personally knew,”

is ambiguous. How does she “personally” know the bee? Because she watched him

 

“sinking in the sky”? What kind of knowledge is that? The speaker cannot access the bee’s

interiority but only her own. She neither projects her feelings onto the bee nor personifies him.

 

Dickinson feels along the surface of her encounter with the bee. She does not cross physical

paths with him. She doesn’t save and cannot quote him. She does not put a human face on him

 

(although she gives him a gendered pronoun). She supplies the occasion for an imaginative

“Alas” but she acknowledges the word’s status: She’s close enough to hear that she can’t hear.

 

The bee is “not”: not her, not a fellow, not a figure for the writer, not like a human. Not cute.

We do not “personally” know this bee by the poem’s end. That is what she bears witness to.

 

 

This poem-blog was inspired by the study Surface Encounters: Thinking with Animals and Art, by Professor Ron Broglio in the Department of English at ASU, and the author thanks him as a pioneer in the field of literary animal studies. The Dickinson poem quoted is Fr1297.

Photo credit: Sylvain Gallais

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

UA Poetry Center Announces Spring Event at the Phoenix Art Museum

UA Poetry CenterTUCSON (April 1, 2015) —Continuing on a successful collaboration from the fall 2014 – spring 2015 season that brought artists and poets of national acclaim to Phoenix audiences, the University of Arizona Poetry Center and Phoenix Art Museum will again partner to offer a reading and lecture series this spring, next up to feature visual artist and poet Jen Bervin.

Jen Bervin will give an artist talk on Friday, May 1 at at 7 p.m. at the Phoenix Art Museum about her work Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings, a facsimile edition of Emily Dickinson’s “envelope poems,” co-edited with the scholar Marta Werner. Bervin’s works are held in more than thirty national collections including the Walker Art Center and The J. Paul Getty Museum. She has published four books with Granary Books and three others with Ugly Duckling Presse. Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings was selected as a Best Book of the Year for 2013 from Times Literary Supplement, Hyperallergic and The New Yorker.

About Phoenix Art Museum

Phoenix Art Museum is located at 1625 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix, AZ.  The Museum has provided access to visual arts and educational programs in Arizona for more than 50 years and is the largest art museum in the Southwestern United States. Top national and international exhibitions are shown alongside the museum’s collection of more than 18,000 objects of American, Asian, European, Latin American, Western American, modern and contemporary art, photography and fashion design. The museum hosts photography exhibitions through its landmark partnership with The University of Arizona’s Center for Creative Photography in Tucson. Visitors can also enjoy the PhxArtKids gallery, the Dorrance Sculpture Garden, the Thorne Miniature Rooms of historic interiors, and a collection of works by renowned Arizona artist Philip C. Curtis. For additional information about Phoenix Art Museum please visit phxart.org or call 602-257-1880.

About The University of Arizona Poetry Center

The University of Arizona Poetry Center is housed in one of three landmark buildings for poetry in the nation. In addition to its world-renowned collection of contemporary poetry, the Poetry Center is known for its readings and lecture series, international symposia, classes and workshops, writers’ residencies, and a wide range of programs for children and youth. The Poetry Center was most recently recognized with a 2014 Governors Arts Award.

For additional information about these events please visit poetry.arizona.edu.

 

Jen Bervin Talk on The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems

envelope poemThe University of Arizona Poetry Center and the Phoenix Art Museum present:

Artist’s Talk from Jen Bervin, co-editor of The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems, which was recognized as a 2013 best book of the year by The New Yorker and Times Literary Supplement.

This event is FREE and will be followed by a Q & A, with books available for purchase. Learn more at poetry.arizona.edu or phxart.org.

Date: Friday, May 1, 7:00 PM

Location: The Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 N. Central Ave, Phoenix, Arizona

The book is printed in a facsimile edition, and the poems are unique–each is composed on the flap of an envelope.  You can learn more about the book in the NYTimes review and New Yorker pieces below:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/06/books/the-gorgeous-nothings-shows-dickinsons-envelope-poems.html?_r=1

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/01/27/back-of-the-envelope

For even more information you can check out these links to reviews on the book:

NPR: “Readers always seem to want to get to closer to Emily Dickinson, the godmother of American poetry. Paging through her poems feels like burrowing nose-deep in her 19th century backyard – where ‘the grass divides as with a comb,’ as she writes in…”

http://www.npr.org/2013/11/30/247496393/emily-dickinson-envelope-writings-gorgeous-poetry-in-3-d

An essay response in Jacket2: “‘The world will not rest satisfied,’ wrote a reviewer of Emily Dickinson’s poems in 1982, ’till every scrap of writings, letters as well as literature, has been published.’ Here is how The Gorgeous Nothings, a provocation, satisfies…”

http://jacket2.org/reviews/light

LA Times: “In 2012, a daguerreotype surfaced that was thought to be of a midlife Emily Dickinson, causing an Internet frenzy. As far as we (the frenzied) knew, there was only one known…”

http://articles.latimes.com/2013/nov/21/entertainment/la-ca-jc-emily-dickinson-20131124

New Republic: “It turns out that for a not insignificant fee, literary museums and author’s homes will often let guests handle the artifacts, materials, and manuscripts of long-deceased writers. On a chilly, windblown visit to…”

http://newrepublic.com/article/115452/gorgeous-nothings-emily-dickinson-envelope-writings

An Interview With Faculty Advisor Betsy Schneider

Superstition Review would like to welcome faculty advisor Betsy Schneider. She will be advising the art editors starting this fall. As an introduction to the staff and readers, we interviewed Betsy and we are very glad to share the interview with you.

 

 

Betsy Schneider is a photo-based artist and educator. Her artistic concerns range from trying to understand time, decay and the body, to exploring childhood, culture, and relationships and looking very closely at strange visceral things such as candy, placentas and the mouth. She uses a variety of photographic tools including APS, digital, medium format and view cameras and digital and computer generated video. Her work manifests itself through exhibitions of rectangles on the wall, video installations and books.

Her work is in several private and public collections including that of actor Jamie Lee Curtis, Museet for Fotokunst in Denmark, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. She has taught and lectured across the US, Scandinavia and the UK. She is a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow and an Associate Professor in the School of Art at Arizona State University.

Superstition Review: What is it about the medium of photography that first drew you to it?

Betsy Schneider: My mother always encouraged me and my sisters to express ourselves through art. My birth interrupted her PhD program in psychology focusing on children’s art. So I had a crayon or a pencil in my hand from as early as I could hold it. But I was a very active child and didn’t have the focus to be good at drawing. I was a cartooner—a doodler. My notes from school are covered with intense little doodles—even now at faculty meetings I can’t stop making these little drawings. But they don’t go anywhere.

So when I was about 11 I was picked to be a yearbook photographer—and I loved it. At the time I didn’t really see it connected to art—but it seemed like something I did well and enjoyed. But even photography took patience and I didn’t have enough through high school. So throughout high school I kind of forgot about photography and art—thinking I would be a lawyer and later a writer (yeah—that doesn’t take any patience at all).

While I was trying to write I realized that my ideas flowed so much more well, so much more fluidly through photography. This was at the end of college—and I thought –this is it. That was when I was about 21—and to waaay oversimplify it—I’ve been here making photos ever since.

SR: What are some of your influences and favorite artists?

BS: Why is this always the most difficult question? But it’s a good and important question. I tend to be influenced in waves and by a huge variety of things. First the people in my life (and I’ll get to that in the later question). But also wider cultural influences like politics and history and cultural history. I don’t watch that much TV but when I do I can’t stop talking about it. I tend to be totally overwhelmed by my life experiences and I flow with them.

But specifically—literature—I majored in English at Michigan. William Blake, William Faulkner, Emily Dickinson, James Joyce, Maurice Sendak,–but also TV shows from my childhood, like MASH and MAD magazine.

Photographers and artists—Emmet Gowin, of course Sally Mann, Nicholas Nixon, Michael Apted’s 7 Up Series. I could go on and this is only the tip of the iceberg. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll have a new list.

SR: How long have you been with ASU, and what are some of the classes you teach?

BS: I have been teaching at ASU since 2002—and I teach the range of photo classes from basic photo black and white to the graduate seminar in photography. A few of my specialized classes are Portraiture—which focuses on the meaning and purpose of making pictures of people and a class in Digital Culture which addresses the ways in which digital technology does and doesn’t change the meaning and function of photographs. Some of my areas of concentration are time and the relationship between the still and the moving image, childhood and family, relationships, but also the visceral. I’m interested in why we make pictures and what the result of making pictures is.

SR: What do you enjoy most about teaching in your field?

BS: The energy and ideas from the students and the feedback between what I do, my life, their ideas, their work and my own. I love that I teach something that connects so closely to life and I love that I form strong bonds with the students and that I think I make a difference in their lives; they certainly make a difference in my life.

SR: It seems that much of your subject matter is very personal and very simple, like for example, your children playing. Would you say that your art is a part of your lifestyle?

BS: Yes—its essential. The fluidity between my everyday life and my work is essential to who I am as both a person, a parent, an educator, and an artist. They are all intricately connected. I thrive on connections.

SR: Your Guggenheim project is now drawing to a close.  What can you tell us about the experience?

BS: That’s a subject for a long interview. Intense and moving. I’m exhausted right now. Will be finished with taking the photos and interviewing 250 13-year-olds by the end of October. I am exhausted and thrilled and ready to give birth to this work.

Meet the Interns: Megan Kiwor, Submissions Coordinator

megankiwor_0Megan Kiwor, Submissions Coordinator, is a member of the Content Team here at SR. She is a sophomore of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, majoring in English: Creative Writing.

Superstition Review: What do you do for SR?

Megan Kiwor: I receive the submissions sent to SR, organize all the information into a spreadsheet, then post the works for the respective editors to review.

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

MK: I received an email about Superstition Review having an internship program and really wanted to be a part of it.

SR: What is your favorite section of SR?

MK: I think it would have to be the Poetry section because I love poetry, I’m always writing myself so it’s interesting to read other people’s thoughts and ideas made into poetry.

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

MK: I think I would like to try, of course, a job in the poetry group but also maybe something with events for SR.

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

MK: I think that I was a part of it–that’s a pretty cool thing knowing you worked on getting a literary magazine going, especially when being involved with writing is what you’d like to do with your life.

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

MK: Among the Hidden was the first novel I read that I loved. It was about society controlling the population rate and food supplies by only allowing families to have two children. I read it in 4th grade, and I think even then I found “what if” stories fascinating. I liked it because it wasn’t too far out of the realm of possibility but it wasn’t going to happen tomorrow either.

SR: What are you currently reading?

MK: Currently I’m re-reading Canterbury Tales for an English class and I’m starting the next book, a teen girl read, called Private. I started it when I went to private high school and it was interesting comparing it to my high school, and then I just started loving the series.

SR: What artist have you really connected with, either in subject matter, work, or motto?

MK: Emily Dickinson was the first poet I ever read, I think in 5th grade. Her work really inspired me and got me interested in writing. I can still remember the poem I memorized in 5th grade for a class.

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

MK: I write every free moment I have. I started writing poetry in 7th grade and since then I haven’t been able to stop. This last summer I put all my poems and short stories together in a journal so I can keep them in one place, my collective of poems and stories I hope to one day publish.