Guest Blog Post, Connor Syrewicz: We Incomprehensible Screw Ups

Connor Syrewicz

There is a pervasive view in many humanities departments. In most instances, it goes unspoken: a common understanding of the timeless relevance of language. Language is the base, the supposition goes, if not at least the most immanent, collective construction of the world.

If the Lacanian psychoanalysts are correct, for example, than the moment that we, as children, begin speaking and collecting meaning from a system of signifiers, is also the moment when the impossibility of impossible categories (the impossibility of a mother, for example, being wholly Mother) begin to fully impress themselves upon our psyche.

This is only one permutation of this assumption. To put the question simply: of all the signifying operations—consider even the multiplicity of signifying operations that exist within only “the arts”—why should language be considered more (or less) expressive, affective, or relevant than any other?

Would language, on the other hand, be better considered one of many expressivities which populate the human capacity to be affected?  “I can only see what I have been trained to see through learning to say,” an adage that belies not merely preference nor belief but a refusal to acknowledge, sense, or experience—in short, be affected by—any expressivity of the world beyond that which finds its way to signify through language.

What does this humble reading of language’s relevance contribute to a creative writer? This is not a call to abandon language for any other signifying practice. Rather, it is a question of whether or not a thorough understanding of a multiplicity of signifying operations can increase the capacities of a creative writer.

We experimental linguists. Neologisms, misappropriated terms, aberrant rhythms, jargons— poetries—populate the landscape of a language affecting and being affected by the signifying expressivity of other communicable forces, repetitions, and patterns.

An active language, if not intentional, unsure feet tripping across slippery rocks; an uneven and unpredictable earth upon which signification is lain; contours emerge mapping novel striations—for a moment, a multiplicity of points wandering the surface connect; an intensity manifests and then scatters, driving new processes of intensification.

Rather than creative “writing” the operation that I am describing is more akin to that of a translator; a translation, however, is no simple event.

To philosopher Gilles Deleuze, a translation is paradoxical insofar as translating from, in our case, one signifying mode to another both passes on something of the original (which relates it back to the original and all other repetitions) while, at the same time, actively manifesting difference from the original and all other repetitions. Deleuze’s point is that Western thought has almost always privileged the same over that which changes. It has always treated evolution as an afterthought, a byproduct.

Deleuze, on the other hand, does not presume that sameness is what necessarily marks a repetition and, instead, proposes to track how repetition, on the contrary, operates as a vehicle for change. Like a phrase passed through children in a game of telephone; it is not a passive process. We do not simply mimic. We screw up. The phrase passes through a number of physiological, psychological, and neurological failures, mutations, mispronunciations, and, after only a few repetitions, the phrase is incomprehensible.

We incomprehensible screw ups. Change is no phenomenon which arises from the ether. It is out of our inability to repeat something exactly as it is, our screw ups, that processes continue and splinter in novel directions. If we no longer screw up, then an equilibrium is reached; an equilibrium which, for any creature, body or system, is synonymous with death.

The creative-writer-as-creative-translator, a linguist who who subjugates language to themselves, to the unimaginable screw ups which fuel processes and, at various speeds, make a phrase, a style, a tradition incomprehensible.

The creative-writer-as-creative-translator, lost in a sea of expressivities and signifying operations, chasing language like a whisper caught in a storm, trusting that the whisper will never stagnate, be found, or effortlessly offer itself to the senses; the writers of the new, of change, subjugating themselves to their screw ups in the hope that something truly relevant might emerge, a pack of dogs chasing off in one general direction and then, slowly, quickly, dissolving into many. We incomprehensible screw ups; we give language speed, the capacity to run, tripping and falling upon new gradations, hoping not to find our way.

Guest Blog Post, Bruce Cohen: Why I Read Poems

Bruce CohenThere are illusive, mysterious, hard to pin down ideas skirting away from us, on the periphery of understanding that cannot be expressed in prose, so next to sideways-glance silence, poetry is the best alternative. When I experience language in a way that forces me to witness disturbing aspects of the world or calms me in the undisturbed limbo outside of all else, or provides me with an insightful glimpse into myself, that insists that I consider the nature of life, I know I’m in the swirling Dust Devil of a real poem. I freely admit, my psychology is such that I am more comfortable being uncomfortable and vice versa as though the two were different, and perhaps they are, because poetry is always making finer and finer paradoxical distinctions. The world is infinitely more complicated and complex and unknowable than we are able to comprehend or articulate, so in those rare moments when I am darkly honest enough, with eyes that are not delusional, poetry is the linguistic vehicle by which I arrive at those almost impossible to grasp fleeting notions, emotions, psychological dilemmas, and vacancies of the heart. There is so much my intellect cannot solve and I am constantly in a state of awe.

I am curious how other people live; I’ve always assumed they are privy to some secret that I am excluded from. For me it is not an illogical leap to say I have no interest in poetry that I understand completely on the first reading, but it must quietly insist that I come back. It must be intellectually intriguing, be flirtatious, politely demanding. Allegedly, there are huge portions of our brains that go unused, untapped, and those are the hemispheres where poetry burrows, reproduces, creates its own microscopic civilizations and builds secret tree forts. Its contains its own logic and laws, both scientific and social, are designed by the citizens of poetry who are so diverse no two are alike, like proverbial snowflakes, but like aliens on a secret mission to earth, we recognize each other but rarely acknowledge one another. That’s why, sometimes, a stranger will offer to buy you a drink in a bar with no apparent ulterior motive. Naturally poetry has its own lingo and the buildings are often invisible and the landscapes change directions according to the seasons (we like to stare at eclipses without cardboard boxes), and the trees go by their first names, and their leaves change color on whim and there are always peepholes in fences and there is virtually no distinction between dreams and objective reality and we can paint with our eyes, our X-Ray eyes, and see what others cannot. Gravity is not a requirement!

What is so euphonious about echoes of sound? Does rhyme make a statement feel truer? Is truth more musical than lies? Is, as I think Frost said, the iamb the voice of God? If you’re reading this you are likely a serious reader of poetry. So, if you were to construct an anthology of your top 20 favorite poems, what would your choices say about you? If someone put a metaphorical gun to your head and demanded you shrink your list to 10, then five, then that solitary one, what would it be, and what would that one poem say about you, your esthetics, your artistic sensibility, who you are in your essence? How does that one poem define you? Perhaps you cannot be defined by one poem. Is your inner self indistinguishable from the poem, as though your hidden voice wrote it? Do you simply recognize yourself in the poem? Are you relieved there’s another human being in the world who feels as out of place as you? Is the poem so like you or so unlike you? Is it something you believe you could have written or something so beyond your artistic ability you could compose for infinity and never come up with that perfect turn of phrase, the way the poet captured that difficult to capture…what is it? My friend says poetry solves everything and I’d like to believe that that’s true. But if poetry is the solution, what is the dilemma? Why do we believe life is so difficult or is life that difficult? Do we even know the right questions? Of course there are horrible atrocities that have made the most religious among us question the very existence of God. Is our world arbitrary or is there some mysterious pattern we are simply not intelligent enough to understand? How does one become comfortable in a world where, clearly, goodness does not always prevail?

The world is so selfish nobody gets to live forever. Is the moment in the poem you love the timelessness, the sense that you can suspend time, that instant when you feel on the verge of understanding the secret to eternal life? But I like poems that make me smirk! So many poems fall short, so short. Maybe they shouldn’t have been read by anyone other than the person writing the poem. Maybe they shouldn’t have even been written. But writing a poem, even a failed poem, makes us feel more included in the world, more in control of our destinies. I hate to admit this, but most of the poems I read in literary journals, and I read a fair amount, leave me wondering what the editor saw in this poem. A poem that falls short for me is an insult and an assault and a salt in the wound of my artistic sensibility. I may as well watch reruns of my favorite sitcoms. I go to poetry to be surprised, awakened if you will, and shocked out of myself so I can find myself. I like poems smarter than I am. I am infinitely curious about the world and would love to understand it a little better. I want to feel like the first one to arrive at a party, before the host is ready, and be the last one to leave, when the hostess is pleading with me, with only a look, to please go home. She’s tired and has a hectic day tomorrow. She might say something she regrets, something she wishes she could take back. Yes, I have worn out my welcome. We are sitting there staring at one another. Her husband is starting to do the dishes, clanging the pots. I have ignored all the subtle and not so subtle clues. So, we open a fresh bottle of wine and begin to tell our life stories, the privately exclusive things we think, that which we have never told anyone before. Those are the poems I like: becoming comfortable in the discomfort, revealing something utterly untapped, never spoken before.

My favorite writers have a distinctive, unmistakably individual voice. I often harp on that point to students, but I have begun to think about voice more in terms of the way writers esoterically think before they censor themselves with the written word. That’s where the poem begins and ultimately where it exists. Aside from the fact that we suffer from odd, egocentric logic, and our minds jump or bounce or leap based on associative ideas and experiences, interweaving with our emotional distress or glee, or suffering, or resignation, what is going on in our lives and our own little language packets, the real problem is by the time a poet writes what she thinks, by the time her thoughts become voice, she had edited, filtered, altered, adjusted her language to be safer, more politically correct, not as dark or jarring. How can the intellectually inoffensive be more interesting or approach the truth? Please don’t confuse this idea with good manners. I am not suggesting you act impolite, walk up to an obese man in Wal-Mart and tell him he’s fat. A: he knows it. B: it’s mean. Why do we shy away from that which makes the potential reader uncomfortable? In a nutshell, we don’t want our readers to think badly of us, that we are cruel, or bigoted, or lazy, or ignorant. Please plug in any negative adjective that you would like. We seek safety when art should make us pose the most difficult questions we only ask ourselves when we wake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. As Jon Anderson, one of my teachers and a close friend said in his wonderful tongue-in-cheek poem—“The Secret of Poetry is Cruelty.” A poem cannot be so shy that it will not undress in front of you, but must be modest enough that it conceals something it will never share, only imply. A poem should contain an enormous Yes that spills & multiplies. And an understated No. Maybe good poem-ing should be so invisible that the reader sees only the world within the poem because we all know being in a state of wonder is more authentic than being in a state of knowing and only assholes claim to exist in the world of doubtlessness. I am perpetually unsure and the most intelligent among us are, undoubtedly, comfortable with ambiguity!

Past Intern Updates: Danielle Kuffler

Danielle Kuffler, from Issue 2 and 3, talks about her perception of “work,” how that perception has changed, and what “work” she is looking forward to doing in the future.

I am a tutor at a community college writing center in south Phoenix. Since graduating from ASU two years ago, I have been a nanny, a waitress, a bartender, and a freelance copywriter, among other things. When I started college, I viewed work as something physical with immediately visible results. I thought it meant serving others, and I thought it defined who you are. After holding an internship with Superstition Review, I knew that work had more meanings. I learned work can have tangible and rewarding results over a period of time, work can involve your brain and not only your hands, and a job is not who you are.

Superstition Review was still in its early stages when I was an intern. I helped write a manual for future interns, and Trish was constantly coming up with new approaches to make the publication better. When the site finally launched at the end of the semester, I felt proud of the long hours of sometimes tedious work. I gained appreciation for working towards a long-term goal.

Tutoring recreates this feeling in miniature. Each session is an opportunity for growth and learning, and at the end, I try to impart to students what change took place in even just 10 minutes. I want them to be proud of their work and look forward to making it even better. Tutoring takes patience and foresight. For each session with a student, I first assess what the student should take away from our meeting, and then set up a structure in my mind that will best utilize our time. Sometimes we will spend 30 minutes talking about sentence structure or verbs, and other times we create an outline for a long research paper.

As solicitations coordinator at Superstition Review, I honed my planning skills. I quickly learned that without attention to detail and structured use of time, I would lose control of the solicitations process. Equally important was clear and quick email communication with artists and fellow interns. Being able to get to the point and communicate clearly has served me well as a tutor working with a diverse student body.

I’ve struggled with committing to a career, but it helps to remember that a job is not who you are, even when you care deeply about what you’re doing. Being part of Superstition Review prepared me to pursue a career I feel something for. Nothing excites me more than diagramming a sentence with a student. Superstition Review challenged me to discover things not only about publishing, but also about myself. Taking all sorts of jobs and internships allowed me to see different ways of living, and I’ve slowly built confidence in and appreciation for my talents and skills. I plan on pursuing a master’s degree in linguistics in the near future, and I know my time at Superstition Review will continue to be a source of pride and motivation to grow, change, and do good work.

Guest Blog Post, Connor Syrewicz: Nothing-but-Language: Literary Theory and Creative Writing


“I cannot say what cannot be said, but sounds can make us listen to the silence.”
R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience

Connor SyrewiczHaving just graduated from a research university, this seems like a convenient forum to reflect on the intersection of what became my main fields of study: literary theory and creative writing. What has struck me most profoundly after my four years (and what this article is in reaction to) is that philosophers are better creative writers than the creative writers are. I would levy a guess that few people could find more beautiful lines written, think what you will of their theories, than those of the first chapters of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus. And is there a writer—literary, creative or otherwise– who has ever conveyed the sublime joy of linguistic play better than the dense complexity of Jaques Derrida? While this list could be endless, after four years of studying literature, I came to be left with this question: How is it that those who wrote about literature became superior to those actually writing it?

For those of us unfamiliar and those of us repelled (perhaps rightly so) from theory and philosophy by its urgency or self-importance, ‘literary theory’ predicates a multi-disciplinary basis of insights (philosophical, sociological, linguistic) centered loosely around  language. In university literature programs, it functions in so far as pursuits in knowledge parallel to literature can draw a critical focus on how a reader experiences language (for the act of reading is at essence an experience of language). At its best, theory in the context of literary criticism belies the question: what of my experience (of reading) belongs to me (of course, what am I?) and what belongs to the words themselves?

Hardly approached, the question remains. What is the use of literary theory for a creative writer?

Few neither before nor since have made the point more radically than Julie Kristeva, a French semiologist: literature does not exist. There is only language. In The Ethics of Lingustics she approaches the linguistic community with an object of ‘poetic language’ (i.e. language which does not assume first and foremost communication as its goal) and follows by positing that from this view, all language is always already-poetic .

Suddenly, walls fall. Ernest Hemingway runs screaming through Tucker Max’s kitchen. Sigmund Freud is washing his hands after taking a shit in Ariana Huffington’s bathroom. A how-to manual is telling a joke to a poorly written blog post while standing in line behind a coffee table book about pop art. ‘Poetic language’ is the ambiguous line at which language approaches but never meets meaning absolutely nothing. ‘Poetic language’ is a kaleidoscope through which all writing, especially that which makes such pretensive strides at considering itself ‘creative’ writing, becomes exactly what it is: nothing-but-language.

We creative writers should be (and sometimes are: http://poeticjabberwocky.blogspot.com/2010/06/my-favorite-legal-terms-that-sound.html) looking on in a jealous rage at the rate at which scientists and lawyers create language in their everyday pursuits (‘dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane’ pulled from a schizophrenic need to find this chemical distinct from that chemical, ‘habeas corpus’ kept from the linguistic grave that is ‘dead’ language).

Creative writers! Do not fall prey to genre-writing, forcing language between some minimum and maximum point at which it is allowed to mean anything. Creative writers! We are the linguistic scientists of our time. Let us allow our vast, oft-loved and romanticized empty pages become the playful laboratories of language itself. And as we, childish scientists, send language through our experiments, meant to prove nothing at all, only valid if results cannot be repeated, creative writing becomes all that it already is and ever hopes to be: language. Not stories or narrative or characters (not that these things need to be avoided) but tone and rhythm and rhyme and meter and lineation and alliteration: just language. Beautiful, playful, surprising language. Nothing- but-language.

Meet the Review Crew: Ofure Ikharebha

Ofure Ikharebha is a social networking intern pursuing a degree in Linguistics with a concentration in English, and a certificate in TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages). Upon graduating, she hopes to either attend graduate school for a master’s degree or jump into a career in publishing, editing, or localization.

Ofure was born on the West Coast, but Phoenix is where she has spent the majority of her time growing up. As a child, she was always an avid reader and developed a burgeoning interest in literature and language; Ofure believes that this is all due in part to her parents having used “Hooked on Phonics” and an interactive alphabet desk. Oh, to be a child of the ’90s…

While many might find the “classics” boring, they are Ofure’s literature of choice. This interest was first cultivated in middle school after reading various works by John Steinbeck, George Orwell, and Ray Bradbury. (You’d actually be hard-pressed to find her admitting her deep appreciation for old school sci-fi.) Aside from reading, she also enjoys embarking on creative projects, studying languages, watching a wide variety of television shows (from Asian dramas to Breaking Bad), and blogging.

Ofure applied to SR out of necessity and curiosity; while the extrinsic values of gaining more internship experience within a desired field are important, she is most excited about working with a team to organize a literary magazine issue and the publishing process. With her internship at Superstition Review, she hopes to help develop and maintain an active social media presence and put her years of extensive social networking use to good work.

One of Ofure’s favorite poems is John Gillespie Magee, Jr’s “High Flight”:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
– Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

Meet The Interns: Anthony Torres

Anthony Torres is a senior completing his last year at Arizona State University studying English Literature. He plans to attend graduate school in either linguistic studies or literature. His long-term goal is to be an editor at one of the major publishing houses. Along with his internship with Superstition Review, he also works freelance at the number one outsourcing company online, Burn Your To Do List, where he writes and proofreads article submissions to clients. This is his first semester with Superstition Review.

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

Anthony Torres: I am one of two art editors currently working with Superstition Review. As an editor our main job is to choose different works of art from different artists to have in our magazine. Along with choosing artists for our magazine, we also get to correspond with contributors, which includes sending rejection/acceptance notices, as well as asking contributors to advertise in our issue, and to gather headshots and bios of each artist that we select for the magazine.

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

AT: I first got involved with Superstition Review because it was one of the only internships that I was offered where I can actually get hands on learning experience in order to become an editor specifically. Once my education is complete, I will venture off in the world where I hopefully can become an editor for a magazine or publishing company one day, and with the skills that I will learn with Superstition Review I can feel better about doing so.

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

AT: I currently work freelance for the number one outsourcing company online, as their proofreader/writer. As well, I am also employed with Apple Inc. and spend most of my free time with either of those two jobs. My education is also a primary part of my day-to-day life. So studying takes up most of my time as well, and I usually spend my weekends with friends and family.

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

AT: I would also like to try interning as the advertising coordinator. I think that’s a major aspect of a magazine, that I feel like I could do some major damage too, in a good way of course!

SR: Describe one of your favorite literary works.

AT: This may be the existentialist me that currently seems to be possessing my body, but The Stranger by Albert Camus has got to be one of my favorites.

SR: What are you currently reading?

AT: Currently, I’m reading Franz Kafka’s The Trial and have been getting into more Albert Camus and existentialist sort of readings. They seem to be attracting my attention right now so I’ll just go with it.

SR: Creatively, what are you currently working on?

AT: As far as writing goes, I write everyday, or try to, whether it be keeping track of current thoughts in my head or just writing to write, the power that a pen and paper have is incredible and to do that every day is amazing. I also dabble a bit with photography, nothing extravagant but its fun to photograph your world, a kind of frozen memory.

SR: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

AT: In 10 years I see myself out of the internship realm and hopefully well into my career goal as an editor. Possibly employed with a great magazine company or even one of the major publishing houses. Either way, in 10 years, I see myself being happy.