Congratulations to our past contributor Laura Esther Wolfson on her forthcoming essay collection/memoir, For Single Mothers Working as Train Conductors. It will be available June 1st! We are really happy for her and are grateful for her nonfiction piece published in Issue 14 of Superstition Review. Wolfson has also been featured in our guest blog (Once Upon a Time, Recall, After the Autobiography) and podcast series of AuthorsTalk and SR Pod/Vod. If you would like to preorder or visit her website please click on the links.
Enjoy a sneak peak of the latest Architecture and Art exhibition with Guadalajara-based artist Luis Alfonso Villalobos on Thursday February 15th at 7 pm at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art (7374 E 2nd St, Scottsdale, AZ 85251). Casandra Hernández Faham, curator of CALA Alliance (Celebración Artística de las Américas), ASU Art Museum, will join Villalobos for a lively discussion about art, architecture, place and history.
The first US solo exhibition of Guadalajara-based artist Luis Alfonso Villalobos features painting, video, and installation that opens an inquiry into the functions of architecture and art, while also expanding into ideas of history and place. A large-scale installation integrates paintings within a complex built environment. With references to Modern architecture and design, Villalobos brings new considerations to the ambition of artists to merge art with life and nature with architecture.
The exhibition is the latest installment of SMoCA’s Architecture + Art series that presents ground-breaking projects by individuals whose work explores and challenges the boundaries between architecture and art.
Words on the Paper of Skin
My body is a palimpsest:
you cannot read her writing.
He will be unable to read yours.
I confess that when I first wrote this poem, I was thinking about lovers. About the way those we love leave their marks on us — on our skin, our mouths, our hearts — and the way those marks fade but do not disappear as time passes and love fades and may or may not disappear.
The more I sat with the image, though, the more I realized my body is covered in the words of so many others — friends I’ve cared for, enemies I’ve cursed, strangers who loitered long enough to leave traces. Some were written in indelible ink, others with a lighter touch, but my hide has been dried under tension, and washing with milk and oat bran will never get this parchment completely clean.
In the right light, I can read it all.
On my feet I see action words, reminders that I can wait or run, stand or fall. My knees say please and up my thighs are lines of lyrics (or are they limericks?). Across my belly sits the word empty. No matter how hard I scrub it with pumice, the curves and tails of those letters remain. My chest bears remnants of an animal’s fear and a surgeon’s signature, and the writing on my breasts, well, that I choose not to share with you.
My back is covered with what looks like court stenographers’ notes — each scribble symbolizing my exact whereabouts on the dates in question and the precise lengths of each of my sentences. Over my shoulders are my first doctor’s orders: the pain will never go away. Twenty years later, a different doctor drew a line through his diagnosis, but she did not rewrite it. The pain is still there under the skin — all she did was take away its name. The marks on my throat are my music teacher’s words. They’re too blurry now to read, but I know they are the reason I only sing when I’m alone.
Every day my face reveals more lines. There are jokes around my mouth and riddles on my forehead. Farewells trail from the corners of my eyes. Along my limbal rings are the details of my birth, and deep in one pupil, there’s a no, in the other, a yes. My scalp says fuck you. I occasionally clip my hair to let those words get some air.
My hands are a bit different. They’re my manuscript. They are the one place on my person I’ve never let someone else’s pen tip touch. They are scarred by my words alone. My wrist says try.
In the mirror, I see my story. Like Jorge Luis Borges’s Book of Sand, it is without beginning or end, impossible, and terribly infinite. Perhaps there is some beauty there, too.
I grew up believing that there was a distinct line separating the body and the mind. The body was the physical — the domain of science, a subject I was never very interested in. I had nothing against science; I trusted it and was frequently amazed by it. In terms of interest, though . . . no.
I was more into the mind: the mental, emotional, intellectual. The mind was my passion — I loved learning and teaching, discussing and arguing, reading and writing. I wrote about my thoughts and emotions and made up characters with their own thoughts and emotions. In this realm, there could be pleasure or pain, ecstasy or anguish. If a feeling was confusing or a thought distressing, with my pen in hand, I believed I could make it better. The consequences of this were both comfort and power. I wrote what I thought I could never say. I wrote what I thought no one would know until they’d read what I’d written.
As I’ve grown older, though, I realize the errors of my thinking. The body and the mind are not separate. What goes on in one goes on in the other. Every thought I’ve ever had lives in my bloodstream and my brain, my memories in my muscles and my mind.
This concept might be stupidly obvious to others, but to me, it was an epiphany. This body was not just a thing I lugged around each day; it had meaning. Or rather, meanings — different parts meant different things in different contexts, like page-long entries in a dictionary, like feelings that feel good and also bad. I thought I’d been writing my life on paper in poetry, but I’d also been doing it on my skin and in my bones.
Of course, this means sometimes that I am weary. Depression makes a mind muddled and a body heavy. I can no longer pretend that one’s all right when the other one is clearly not. However, it also means that my bibliography is longer and more varied than I’d previously thought. It appears I’m quite prolific.
Because my body is a palimpsest. It is tattooed with others’ words as well as my own, and the layers are deep and permanent. There are lines in my fingerprint, they are lines of poetry. All that writing will tell you who I am.
As an artist, I am naturally drawn to literature depicting artists: historical or fictional, painters, sculptors, composers, writers, and craftsmen of all trades. I am drawn to their struggles for inspiration and perfection of execution, to their achievements or failures, and to their intriguing techniques.
There have been some fine examples of fiction that depicts the foremost artists of their time. Perhaps the best known, recent novel in this category is Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier, on the Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. Other works in this vein include As Above, So Below by Rudy Rucker (Pieter Brueghel), Rembrandt: A Novel by Gladys Schmitt, and The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone (Michelangelo).
Opening windows to fascinating worlds or processes of beloved artists, these fictions prove endlessly engaging; if there are any shortcomings, perhaps they lie in the authors’ attempts to present the broad historical fabric in which an artist was active, which sometimes interferes with dramatic arc or character development.
Those who seek more uninhibited imaginations might turn to novels on fictional creative characters, especially those engaged in unique and unforgettable trades; or even more fascinating, to books on well-known real-life or mythical figures not previously associated with any artistic ambitions or endeavors.
Recently, I have read several books in that last category, which have inspired this post. They were Oedipus on the Road by Henry Bauchau, Darker Muses: The Poet Nero by Dezső Kosztolányi, and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind.
In Bauchau’s retelling, the exiled, blind Oedipus, accompanied by his daughter Antigone, embarks on a spiritual cleansing and a journey in pursuit of self-discovery. Oedipus launches an improbable career as a sculptor, culminating in sculpting a huge relief of wave on a cliff.
Oedipus started modestly by moulding clay figures or carving branches, giving his creations poetic names such as “The Stone’s First Smile” or “There is a Spring”. He soon fixated on a cliff and was determined to reveal the waves that he perceived, despite or perhaps because of his blindness, beneath the stone surface. He installed himself “at the top of the headland,” listened to “the waves crashing against the cliffs and the cry of the seabirds. … something has begun to open up inside him and periodically the sea appears in all its fullness, yearning for him to abandon himself to it or be consumed by it.”
“Sometimes he slips and cuts his hands. It is almost a pleasure to mark the cliff with his blood for the wave is there as well as within him.”
He carved one oarswoman, modeled on his daughter Antigone “how Oedipus sees her, how he wants her to see herself”, “a vibrant, determined beauty, suffused with confidence,” while Antigone carved another oarsman as Oedipus, “as he was before that time, the savage boy – conqueror and victor”, without blemish and relieved of his fate.
His struggle was mighty and meaningful.
On the overhanging rock the wave curves back, twisting under the pressure of its own weight and falls, as Oedipus wanted it to, plunging back into the sea.
The wave, dark at its base, becoming lighter as it rises, spring up out of the sea. … Nothing can stand up to it. It is about to fall back into the vast trough but the boat gets there first and uses the power of the wave and the gap it has created to project itself forwards … guided towards the port by the blind man of the sea, … sending out a message of hope to all sailors.
Kosztolányi’s Nero, soon after his ascendency to the Roman throne, suffered from a feeling of purposelessness in life. His mentor, the poet Seneca, unwisely turned his attention to poetry. Consequently, the talentless yet committed young emperor “himself had no idea how or why it happened, but suddenly he began to write. Line after line he wrote, Greek hexameters which flowed precisely. But upon reading them aloud, he began to feel less confident. He weighed the lines in his mind, tested them, made corrections. Now his mood was black and desperate like that of a murderer aiming himself for an ominous deed for which, should he fail, he must pay with his life.”
He wrote and re-wrote and invited critiques from Seneca, a seasoned courtier, who praised Nero’s efforts and cemented the emperor’s ambition and self-confidence, which outstripped his artistic self-doubt. Eventually, however, the populace came to see Nero’s banal efforts as buffoonery and travesty, the insecure poet-emperor became intolerant, and so commenced his downfall.
In contrast to the sculptor-king and the poet-emperor, the protagonist in Süskind’s Perfume was an orphan without status, but engaged in an unusual artistic career. The young Grenouille, endowed with extraordinary olfactory sense, installed himself in a struggling Parisian master-perfumer’s workshop, and invented countless superior perfumes for his master while perfecting his own skills.
The scent of his first perfume for the master, “was so heavenly fine that tears welled into Baldini’s eyes. He did not have to test it, he simply stood at the table in front of the mixing bottle and breathed. The perfume was glorious. … It was something completely new, capable of creating a whole world, a magical, rich world, and in an instant you forgot all the loathsomeness around you and felt so rich, as at ease, so free, so fine. …”
Grenouille’s dream was to capture and preserve a most glorious scent of a young girl he encountered. “But of course this unique scent could not be used in a raw state. He must set it like the most precious gemstone. He must design a diadem of scent, and at its sublime acme, intertwined with the other scents and yet ruling over them, his scent would gleam. He would make a perfume using all the precepts of the art, and the scent of the girl behind the wall would be the very soul of it.”
In his obsessive efforts to obtain similar scents, he would steal toward a series of muses/victims and hammer them to death, suddenly and instantaneously, before fear could interfere with their wondrous virginal scents.
Then, he would seal the body with scent-absorbing oiled-linen, “not a slit, not a hole, not one bulging pleat was left through which the girl’s scent could have escaped. She was perfectly packed. There was nothing to do but wait, for six hours, until the gray of dawn.”
Grenouille fulfilled his artistic dream, creating the most glorious scent out of his fine, gruesome collections. Yet, due to his personal flaw — he was without a scent himself, therefore, in his own mind, without any presence, and meaningless — he used the angelic scent he created to lure a crowd of people, in a fit of mad love, to consume him — literally, in a horrifying orgy of cannibalism.
These fables demonstrate artistic struggle in multiple ways, with successfully realized art or not. All point to the conclusion that abandonment, total commitment, obsession, and being possessed — even bleeding for one’s art — is the prerequisite for artistic fulfillment.
As a painter, I have experience many artistic struggles: for inspiration, to execute my ideas, to succeed in the frustrating business of marketing. I have also worked on pieces featuring creative characters — painters, musicians, dancers, or sculptors — finding myself drawn to sympathize with these characters, and to empathize with their struggle as my own. But to do justice to my figures’ inspirations and struggles has not been easy. Due to the limitations of painting and drawing media, my works were the visualization of only momentary snapshots of artistic processes, without the deep analyses and temporal unfolding that novels are able to render.
One of my paintings, titled Encounter, is an interesting case in point. It depicts a young man, in a nocturnal light, meeting a bronze bust of a young boy. A wave of emotions reveal themselves through the young man’s posture and facial expressions. The subject can be seen as a sculptor who unexpectedly sees his creation in a new light, or the Muse facing a creation he inspired. In the single moment depicted in the painting, the artist/muse was possessed by the creation.
Indeed, the key for an artist to succeed is to be possessed!
Nonfiction Editor Kimberley Hutchinson is a junior at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University where she is pursuing concurrent degrees in Women/Gender Studies and English (Creative Writing, specializing in Fiction) with a minor in History. After graduating in Fall 2013, apart from establishing herself as a writer, she plans to attend law school and ultimately aspires to have a career in human rights law and constitutional law. This is her first semester with Superstition Review.
Click on the link below to hear Kim share her previously published poem with us.
Fiction Editor Zari Panosian is a junior at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University where she is pursuing concurrent degrees in European History and English (Creative Writing). Her one-act play, Late, was selected as part of the Arizona Women’s Theatre Company’s Pandora Playwriting Festival and the Pandora Showcase in 2010. In addition to her passion for writing, Zari has aspirations to attend law school upon her graduation in 2013. This is her first semester at Superstition Review.
In the link below, Zari shares one of her strongest influences and inspirations.
Mary Richardson is a sophomore at Arizona State University and is a student of the Barrett Honors College. She is pursuing a concurrent major in English Literature and European History. She is also a Fiction Reviewer for ASU’s Lux Literary Magazine. Her career aspirations are to work in editing/publishing or to be a professor.
1. What is your position with Superstition Review and what are your responsibilities?
I am the Reading Series Coordinator for the magazine, which means I organize readings events that display the works and talents of selected writers/poets.
2. Why did you decide to get involved with Superstition Review?
I’m really interested in publishing as a career possibility. Also, literature and poetry are very enriching for me, and I appreciate that this internship is centered around these subjects.
3. Besides interning for Superstition Review, how do you spend your time?
I spend a majority of my time running, doing yoga, reading, or writing. It’s also very important to be with my close friends and family.
4. What other position(s) for Superstition Review would you like to try out?
I would be very interested in the Content Coordinator position once I have more experience.
5. Describe one of your favorite literary works.
Wuthering Heights has long been my favorite novel. I’m very intrigued by Emily Brontë’s use of language to present and develop the characters. I’m also interested in how she delves into the concepts of time, memory, and human nature.
6. What are you currently reading?
I recently began One Hundred Years of Solitude.
7. Creatively, what are you currently working on?
I really enjoy writing short stories. Right now I’m in the process of brainstorming a new one.
8. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I see myself continuing my current hobbies and interests, while also pursuing new ones. I hope to be part of a community that appreciates the same aspects of life as I do.