Guest Post, Dana Curtis

poetry

“Palimpsest” is one of the poems I wrote in response to a friend’s death. It is not just about my own “sadness” and “fear” but my friend’s. Her pain was so much greater than my own. This poem is one of the ways I grappled with the inevitable and my helplessness. It is also meaningless in the face of reality. I have trouble grasping that the world could continue without her, that despite my knowledge of the terrible unfairness of existence, I cannot help but continue my protest and record my objections, as though they matter.

I did not realize I was writing a palimpsest until I had completed the poem. It was obviously one thing written on top of another and in the end, which was on top was irrelevant. Sadness and fear interact within the dark room that is this poem and can never be separate, maybe that is always the case: no escape.

Wouldn’t it be nice to get out of the darkness? For me, the worst thing is that writing the poem is an escape and did make me feel a little bit better. Of course, this also led to a sense of guilt and the feeling that I was exploiting not just my friend’s death but my own feelings about it. The starless night pulls me in, sits me down, and delivers a stern lecture about the world/unworld that expects me to do something, anything about it. And again, no escape.

I do find some refuge in Elixir Press. I really love reading all those manuscripts, seeing all this great poetry and fiction before anyone else then bringing at least a little bit of it into print. There is usually very little conflict between my own work and the work I do with Elixir. I’ve gotten pretty good at carving out time for myself without taking anything from Elixir. I have to spend some time on my own work, or I wouldn’t be able to run Elixir at all.
I think most people understand this.

#ArtLitPhx: Poetry Reading with Javier Zamora

#ArtLitPhx: Poetry Reading with Javier Zamora

Join the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing for a poetry reading with Javier Zamora on Saturday, September 14, 2019 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at Palabras Bilingual Bookstore (1738 E McDowell Rd, Phoenix, AZ 85006), courtesy of the Distinguished Visiting Writers Series. RSVPs are encouraged, but not required. This event is free and open to the public.

Zamora will be presenting his own bilingual, debut collection, Unaccompanied. It is poetry that delves into race, borderland politics, and immigration on a journey throughout El Salvador and Mexico, rife with civil war. Zamora himself was born in El Salvador and moved to the United States when he was only nine–over 4,000 miles–to reunite with his parents. In a 2014 interview for the National Endowment for the Arts’ Art Works Blog, Zamora stated, “I think in the United States we forget that writing and carrying that banner of ‘being a poet’ is tied into a long history of people that have literally risked [their lives] and died to write those words”. 

 He is also the author of the chapbook Nueve Anos Inmigrantes/Nine Immigrant Years, which won the 2011 Organic Weapon Arts Contest, as well as a winner of 2017 Narrative Prize.

The Piper Writers Studio will also be presenting a class with Javier Zamora, Engagement in Poetry/Engaged poetry from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Piper Writers House (450 E Tyler Mall, Tempe, AZ 85287). To learn about Javier Zamora’s class, you can find more information about it on the website.

#ArtLitPhx: An Evening with Danez Smith

#ArtLitPhx: An Evening with Danez Smith

Join the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing and Burton Barr Central Library for a talk with poet Danez Smith on Thursday, September 12, 2019 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Pulliam Auditorium at Burton Barr Central Library (1221 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004). RSVPs are encouraged, but not required. The event is open and free to the public.

The #PiperWritersStudio will also be presenting Poeming in Code, Singing to Our Beloveds with Danez Smith on Wednesday, September 11, 2019 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Burton Barr Central Library, Pulliam Auditorium (1221 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004). To learn more about the class, visit the Piper Writer website at https://piper.asu.edu/classes/danez-smith/singing-to-our-beloveds.

Danez Smith is a Black, Queer writer & performer from St. Paul, MN who is the author of Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017), winner of the Forward Prize for Best Collection, the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, and a finalist for the National Book Award as well as the poetry book [insert] boy (YesYes Books, 2014), winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award and the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Poetry. Smith has been the recipient of fellowships from the Poetry Foundation, the McKnight Foundation, the Montalvo Arts Center, Cave Canem, and the National Endowment for the Arts. The poet’s work has been featured widely, appearing on platforms such as Buzzfeed, The New York Times, PBS NewsHour, Best American Poetry, Poetry Magazine, and on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Smith is also a member of the Dark Noise Collective and is the co-host of VS with Franny Choi, a podcast sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness. Smith’s third collection, Homie, will be published by Graywolf in Spring 2020. 

For more information about Smith, visit their website. For further information on the event, see the Facebook page.

#ArtLitPhx: Underground Poetry Slam | First Friday Artwalk

In the streets of Phoenix, up to 16 poets will compete against one another in an open mic poetry slam for the title of champion and a $500 grand prize based on the audience’s applause. Hosted by International Poetry Interpretation Champion and Lawn Gnome Publishing founder Aaron Hopkins-Johnson, these poets will go head-to-head on September 6th, in the middle of the First Friday Artwalk in front of the Roosevelt Row CDC Headquarters (417 E Roosevelt St, Phoenix, Arizona 85004), from 9pm to midnight. The event is free and open to the public.

In addition to his eight years as the Phoenix Poetry Slammaster, Aaron Hopkins-Johnson has spent ten years in advertising and promotions for Arts and Culture non-profits, small businesses, and social media heavyweights, while also contributing to the power of words and both spoken and written language. Some of his poetry collections include the titles “Roach Killer For Her”, “Chainsawsmoking”, “Rights4Lefty”, “Watering The Poetry”, and “Irony Stinks: My Life Is Irony”.

For more information, please visit the Facebook page.

#ArtLitPhx: Engagement in Poetry

WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 11, 2019 – 6:00PM TO 8:00PM

What keeps us engaged? What drives us down the page to the end of the poem? We will explore “speed” or “momentum,” by analyzing poems that keep our attention. But also, we will explore how as writers, we can be engaged with our surrounding world, to the point that we must do something about it. We will look at poems that have been a “call to arms” of sorts. To inspire our creativity, we will look at the current headlines to draw poetry from the media. This workshop will be half generative and half revision.

COST: 

$60

PEOPLE: 

Javier Zamora

Location:

University of Arizona: Poetry Center, Room 205, 1508 E. Helen St., Tucson

For more information, click here.

Guest Post, Christopher Burawa: Writing as Seeking: A Perspective on Contemplative Practice & Poetry

zen stones

When the three poems of mine appeared in Issue 10 of the Superstition Review in 2012—“An Act of Ghosting to Avoid Complications,” “Like a Good Horse,” and “Vultures and the Constant Application of Them”—I had just experienced a creative burst after almost a year of not having the time or energy to write because of my job as an arts administrator at a state university and also because I had founded a Zen Center in Clarksville, Tennessee. And most importantly, I had become a father in 2011 and was spending as much time as I could with my daughter and wife.

I wrote these poems (and four others) after returning from a dai-sesshin (or intensive 7-day Zen Buddhist retreat) in California. I began my Zen Buddhist practice in 1994 at Haku-un-ji Zen Center in Tempe, Arizona, and my teacher, a Japanese Zen master, had ordained me as a monk in 2005. I’ve come to understand that a contemplative practice like zazen (often translated as meditation) is very much like what is often called “the creative process” (and I would extend that to include the “scientific method”). The practice emphasizes quieting discursive or conceptual thinking which makes room for the intuitive mind to enter and form new experiences of understanding (which relates to “solving” Zen koans). Contemplative practice is, in fact, the foundation or matrix for all wisdom traditions; however, writers and artists employ it all the time. Poetry, to me, is another manifestation of contemplation in action—like walking meditation, samu (or work practice; like sweeping)—where self-consciousness drops away and the intuitive appears and plays, albeit a serious form of play. In Zen Buddhist terms to achieve this state the practitioner must “break one’s bones and sweat blood,” which essentially means to establish a routine and put in the effort.

I had developed a rather careful writing practice when I was in the MFA program at Arizona State University. I meditated early in the morning, wrote in my notebook for at least two hours and would draft poems on my laptop in the afternoons. But this routine didn’t transfer into my life after the program. Once I entered arts administration, my free-wheeling life was curbed by my responsibilities which included travel, after-hours work at home, and attending programs, among other things. And yet I kept to the notebook writing and when I had the energy or time (vacations were limited to consecutive weeks) I would draft and edit one or two poems. I was slowly assembling a manuscript, or so I thought. However, whenever I sat down to review the manuscript, the poems just didn’t seem to be in harmony, and then one day, last year, I had an epiphany: I was writing two books, not one. One book continued my preoccupation with Iceland and reinterpreted its canonical history as well as my own biological family’s (versus my adopted family) history. The other book was poems I wrote out of my insights into Zen practice.

Like a good horse on who a whip alights, be earnest and energetic. By faith, discipline, vigor, concentration, and discernment of truth, expert in knowledge and action, aware, slough off this mass of misery.

Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha, translated by Thomas Cleary, p. 49

So the poems in Issue 10, as I have mentioned, sprung from a sesshin and the notes I took at night under the covers of my bed. One poem, though, bridges the two books, “Like a Good Horse,” which turned out to be an elegy for my beloved Icelandic uncle, whose health after a nonstop working life was in decline. The title is borrowed from the first line of the Dhammapada, or the Sayings of the Buddha, from the penultimate verse in the chapter about violence: how violence against others is violence against oneself (i.e., on how important it is to cultivate compassion):

My uncle was a large and physically strong man but had a sweet nature, one that endeared him to every child that ever met him. However, there were men who, because of his legendary strength, wanted to take him on and thereby elevate their own prowess. My uncle, though, never succumbed to their taunts and actually abhorred violence. And so the poem.

Of the other two poems in Issue 10, “An Act of Ghosting to Avoid Complications,” is not about ending a relationship by suddenly disappearing. The term, “ghosting” was used by my Zen teacher to describe the activity of becoming the other. Dissolving one’s I-am self to join in a profound relationship with another person or even thing. And this definition should probably have appeared as a note at the bottom of the page. My bad. The other poem, “Vultures and the Constant Application of Them,” is about acknowledging and restoring our connection (as humans) to the natural world, from which we have become separate. So is it Zen? To me, yes, but perhaps not to some readers.

Returning to the subject of my notebooks and scribbling. Because I have amassed over 10 years (since my first book) of notebooks, I’ve begun to mine them, which led to the poem, “Desire, Speckled by Want,” in Issue 23. This poem incorporates an important Zen Buddhist theme, of developing compassion for oneself before one can expand it to others. It addresses obliquely the subject of my adoption and a feeling of loneliness I have always attributed to separation. The landscape, for me, is the interior of Iceland, where the barren stratified mountains lean into the floodplains with their alluvial fans. It is a haunted landscape that reflects extreme isolation. And the forgiveness sought in the final line is essentially that of my present self observing the past self, as an object, and thereby acknowledging that self’s struggle.

Contributor Update, Dara Elerath: ‘The Dark Braid’

Join us in congratulating SR poetry contributor Dara Elerath. Her manuscript, The Dark Braid, was selected by Doug Ramspeck for the 20th John Ciardi Prize for Poetry through BkMk. The book is scheduled for publication in fall 2020.

“What makes these poems so engaging is the way the poet constructs them from contradictory elements. The works feel both personal and mythic,” says prize judge Ramspeck.

More information about Dara and her new book can be found here. You can find her poetry from SR’s Issue 23 here.

Congratulations, Dara!

Authors Talk: Kate Cumiskey

Authors Talk: Kate Cumiskey

Today we are pleased to feature Kate Cumiskey as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she discusses two factors that relate to her writing process in today’s political and social climate: community and inertia.

She reflects on the beginning of her writing career, where she felt a sort of isolation before being introduced to Atlantic Center for the Arts, which gave her a literary community that she feels changed her life and fueled her growth as a writer. With this experience, Kate encourages writers “to build a community which enhances your work.”

She also explores the importance of tackling current events in one’s poetry, explaining, “If writers—serious writers—do not write about what’s happening in their nation, then who is going to speak?” Although writing about topics like these are so critical to Kate, she admits she has difficulty approaching the heartbreaking and terrifying current events she sees happening in the news, government, and even her own classroom. To help her discuss these important topics, she plays with the idea of changing point of view and suggests that we remind ourselves that there is still good in the world and that we must remind ourselves that “there is honor in our politicians, there’s honor in our government and there’s honor in the American people.”

She closes the conversation with two poems: one published with Superstition Review that examines honor and a new poem that uses second person to approach her fears about America today.


You can read Kate’s poetry in Issue 23 of Superstition Review.


Guest Post, Dara Elerath: Going by Way of the Unknown

Writing poetry requires us to get away from the rote maps of meaning we follow in our daily lives and enter our imaginations. There are many ways of doing this, but one of the most helpful I’ve found is to focus on a subject I am not particularly knowledgeable about and have little to no emotional stake in. I don’t mean areas of expertise that are not my own, like cellular biology, beekeeping or astrophysics. I mean small things: words or objects I encounter that do not appear to carry great weight or significance. Certain objects, like knives, are so laden with symbolism that it seems almost impossible to approach them without invoking particular narratives; however, other, less freighted objects retain their mystery because they’re often overlooked. They exist in shadows—dropped under one’s desk, forgotten in a drawer or hidden beneath a pile of papers. An eraser, for example, is a small, functional piece of rubber that we’ve all likely interacted with on numerous occasions, but have probably never had reason to give much thought to. It embodies the concept of erasure, of course, but erasure on a small scale. I think of times I used one as a child—when trying to learn cursive, or when sketching figures in a notebook; otherwise, the object is not associated with any moment of great importance in my life. For me, these things make it an ideal starting point for a poem.

This brings me to the approach I took when writing “Oriflamme.” Instead of an object, I began with a word I did not know the meaning of (it was not oriflamme, incidentally, but another word with similar qualities). I chose it because it was not associated with any crucial stories or memories in my life; it was merely a series of syllables that pleased my ear. Granted, there may have been certain ideas the sound evoked, or echoes of other words that informed my thinking, but, on the whole, it was a sealed box I had to open by way of language. Knowing only the music of the syllables I was compelled to use my sonic imagination; instead of following a particular narrative thread, I imagined possible definitions of the word by following the syntax of the language and the sounds of the words, looking for rhymes, slant rhymes and patterns that might guide me towards meaning. I used this same approach when writing “{ }”; taking a mathematical symbol I had little knowledge of, I began to make associations with it visually. Over time I’ve come to realize that the more my sonic or visual imagination is engaged, the more elastic my thoughts grow; at such moments the language of metaphor and figuration comes to me naturally. 

Our minds want to make meaning; they want to recite, over and over, the particular myths and stories that constitute the logic of our lives. If we write expressively and choose a conduit through which to channel this poetic thought—be it a crumb, a pair of hands, or a beetle—these stories will begin to manifest themselves. The key thing is to surprise ourselves, and this is most possible when what we’re describing is somewhat unknown to us. Chances are that the image or sound will trigger some associated thoughts that, if we follow them deftly, will guide us down towards deeper meaning. There is also the fact that we experience these everyday things—an eraser, an orange, a word—tactilely and intimately, by the way an eraser feels in our palms, the way an orange smells and tastes, or the way letters look as our eyes move across them on the page. We can use these simple, physical facts to anchor our writing in reality and sensory detail. These objects and words (if we are speaking of words with definitions we choose to remain ignorant of) can have as much or as little meaning as we elect to ascribe to them, whereas the subject of one’s parents or other high-stakes topics come with expectations that we may be inclined to lean into. Often, the sentiments and ideas that emerge when I write about subjects of known importance tend towards the cliché, as though I’m merely reflecting back the many stories about birthdays, death, pet dogs, and so on, that I’ve heard or seen over the years, instead of discovering anything new about myself. 

Going by way of my own unknowing (innocence with regards to the self might be another way of thinking about it) is certainly not the only way to approach poetry, but it helps me to overcome the cultural and personal maps of reality that I’m used to orienting myself by. It allows me to become disoriented, to discover the secret mythologies that my psyche is always trying to find a way to speak. Because the self is small and the heart is vulnerable, the smaller, more vulnerable and lesser known objects (in my experience) often make the best conduits through which to pull the weight of the tender and diffident psyche.

#ArtLitPhx: Come to the Table

Come to the Table Opening Reception: August 31 at 2:00 PM

Curated by Leela Denver in collaboration with Wren Awry, with additional curation by Dr. Laura Vázquez Blázquez.

Come to the Table presents work about, inspired by, and in conversation with food. This exhibit explores the many forms of food poems that exist while also asking “what can a food poem be?” Organized by four fundamental stages of a food experience—growing, sourcing, cooking, and eating, with a highlight of food culture along the US-Mexican border—this exhibit explores the various ways poetry uses food and food uses poetry. Come to the table and join us for an interactive exhibit where you can explore the world of food poetry and share your own with us.  

Exhibitions are displayed in the Jeremy Ingalls Gallery of the Poetry Center at the University of Arizona, 1508 E. Helen St., Tucson.