Join us in congratulating SR poetry contributor Emma Bolden. Emma recently published a poem with The Adroit Journal titled, “Plenary Absolution.”
Emma is the Associate Editor-in-Chief for Tupelo Quarterly and recipient of a 2017 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship. Her work includes House Is An Enigma (Southeast Missouri State UP, 2018), medi(t)ations (Noctuary Press, 2016), Maleficae (GenPop Books, 2013), and four chapbooks. You can also find her writing in several journals.
To read Emma’s latest poem, click here. You can also find her poetry from SR’s Issue 23 here.
As a child, I spent a lot of time in the library of my family’s Catholic church, reading stories about the lives of the saints. Though ostensibly written for children, the books nonetheless attended to each saints’ tribulations in gruesome, grizzly detail: Saint Lucy, typically depicted carrying her own eyes on a plate; Saint Agatha, who did the same with her own breasts; Saint Rita of Cascia, whose head was marked with stigmata in the shape of the Crown of Thorns. The books terrified and fascinated me. From them, I learned much—not necessarily about the moral fortitude necessary to reach sainthood, but about one prevailing subject: suffering.
Perhaps this is why the subject of suffering remains an ever-present preoccupation in my work as a writer. It is not necessarily an easy subject to address in language. It’s impossible to exactly and verbally convey the experience of suffering, which is necessarily personal, as intimate as our own bodies. When writing about suffering, one therefore always risks running into cliché, in the tropes—religious or otherwise—we tell ourselves to make sense of our pain. Not that one can, ultimately, make sense of pain—another reason why writing about it is difficult enough to be a form of suffering in and of itself.
As I grew older, I sought out and studied depictions of suffering in other art forms, particularly visual art and music. While stuck in traffic on my evening commute (that particularly acute modern experience of agony), I found myself riveted by an NPR story about Michelangelo, whose Pietà is itself an awe-inspiring portrayal of grief, loss, and sanctification. The story centered around a hidden room in the Medici Chapels, where scholars think Michelangelo hid in the months after he betrayed the Medicis, his patrons. After cleaning the walls, a museum director found a series of sketches on the walls, now believed to have been drawn by Michelangelo while in hiding.
One sketch depicted Laocoön and His Sons, or the Laocoön Group, a sculpture excavated in 1506. Like many artists of his day, Michelangelo studied Laocoön and His Sons with an obsessive fascination. The sculpture depicts the last moments of Laocoön, a priest of Poseidon, and his sons, poisoned by sea snakes. Versions of the story vary. In some, Poseidon sends the snakes to kill Laocoön, who warned the Trojans that the horse the Greeks gave them wasn’t a gift but a weapon (in Virgil’s Aeneid, Laocoön is the source of the lines that became the English proverb “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts”). In this version of events, Laocoön is killed for telling the truth; it seems fitting that Michelangelo would sketch this sculpture on the walls of his hiding place after speaking out against the powerful and poisonous Medici family.
This story fascinated me as much as the stories about saints; I knew, instantly, that I had to write about it. When I (finally) got home, I looked up Laocoön and His Sons so I could study it myself. What struck me most about this masterpiece is that it portrayed suffering in a way I’d never seen in hagiography, with its insistence that suffering led to salvation, that there was a meaning—redemption—at the end of the most treacherous road. In the Laocoön Group, there is no redemption. The figures writhe; even in photographs, the marble appears to be in motion. Though they die together, they find no comfort in family. In fact, they seem separated from each other, each existing in and aware of only their pain. It’s a searing portrayal of what human suffering, at its center, truly is: a force that separates us from the world, even from those in the world we love the most; a force that consumes us entirely; an experience during which, no matter how saintly the sufferer may be, the light of redemption cannot be seen.
When I sat down to write “Laocoön and His Sons,” the story that preceded it similarly darkened into disappearance. I found myself focused on the father in the moment of a death brought by the god he’d served for so long, on the wild terror of the human moment behind the stories of divine faith and redemption that we sculpt and share.
Peter Twal, winner of the Etel Adnan Poetry Prize, reads from his debut collection, Our Earliest Tattoos.
These long-lined sonnets, inspired by the LCD Soundsystem song “All My Friends,” celebrate the surreal, embracing the nature of memory as fragmented and inherently bizarre.
Open reading follows.
ABOUT THE POET PETER TWAL is a Jordanian-American poet, an electrical engineer, and the author of Our Earliest Tattoos, winner of the Etel Adnan Poetry Prize (University of Arkansas Press). He earned his MFA from the University of Notre Dame, where he was awarded the Samuel and Mary Anne Hazo Poetry Prize. Since then, his work has appeared in The Believer, Best New Poets, Kenyon Review Online, West Branch Wired, Ninth Letter Online, Berkeley Poetry Review, Columbia Poetry Review, Pleiades, Bat City Review, and elsewhere. Drawing from his professional career, Peter’s poetry seeks a common ground where the seemingly disconnected worlds of writing and engineering learn from each other’s malleability and strength. Our Earliest Tattoos, his debut collection, furthers that pursuit through the use of poetic form, imagistic layering, and more.
Location: Changing Hands Bookstore, 6428 S. McClintock Dr., Tempe
The Morgan Lucas Schuldt Memorial Reading features emerging and innovative poets. This event is presented annually as part of the Poetry Center’s Reading and Lecture Series, and is named after poet and publisher Morgan Lucas Schuldt (2/11/1978–1/30/2012).
This year, the University of Arizona Poetry Center is proud to present Erika L. Sánchez and sam sax, who will read from their work. After the reading, there will be a short Q&A and a book signing.
Erika L. Sánchez’s debut poetry collection, Lessons on Expulsion, was published by Graywolf in July 2017, and was a finalist for the PEN America Open Book Award. Her debut young adult novel, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, published in October 2017 by Knopf Books for Young Readers, is a New York Times Bestseller and a National Book Awards finalist. She is currently a 2017-2019 Princeton Arts Fellow.
sam sax is a queer, Jewish, writer and educator. He is the author of Madness (Penguin, 2017) winner of The National Poetry Series selected by Terrance Hayes & ‘Bury It’ (Wesleyan University Press, 2018) winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. sam has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, Lambda Literary, & the MacDowell Colony.
Location: University of Arizona Poetry Center, 1508 E. Helen St., Tucson
Join us in congratulating SR poetry interview contributor Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. Xochitl was invited as a guest instructor to teach a class on poetry for current times at Writing Workshops Los Angeles. The course takes place from July 22 to September 16 and allows students to read, analyze and discuss contemporary poetry from women, people of color, and queer poets “cultivating their own poems of resistance, persistence, and celebration.”
To read more about Xochitl and her upcoming workshop, click here. You can find her interview from Issue 19 here.
Poetry selections from the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music
WEDNESDAY, JULY 31, 2019 – 5:30PM
This event takes place at the Copper Room at Hotel Congress (311 Congress St., Tucson AZ).
Join the University of Arizona Poetry Center for a short reading of poems that the Poetry Center library staff has selected for the programs of the Arizona Friends of Chamber Music (AFCM) Programs over the past two years. Supporting AFCM’s diverse and excellent programming, the featured poems speak to the pleasures of music and the transformative experience of excellent art. Poems will be read by Library Director Sarah Kortemeier and Senior Library Specialist Julie Swarstad Johnson. The band Young MacDonald will play before and after the event.
There will be a short 20 minute reading of curated poems. Event will feature complimentary snacks and a cash bar; doors at 5:30, program at 6 p.m.
Join us in congratulating past poetry contributor Joannie Stangeland. Joannie recently won Crosswind Poetry’s grand prize for her poem, “Air on Air.” The Crosswinds Poetry Journal looks for well-crafted English language poetry on all subjects, supports poetry and outreach efforts, and completes charitable work each year.
More information about Joannie and her award can be found here. You can find her poetry from Issue 10 here.
Today we are pleased to feature Megan J. Arlett as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, she takes the time to discuss her nonfiction piece, “Narrative,” published in SR’s Issue 21. The lyric essay explores the 2008 disappearance of Amy Fitzpatrick as well as language and storytelling.
Megan looks back at her 2017 notebook to discover what she was reading while she drafted “Narrative” and to find out which texts influenced her work. While she struggles to remember an initial spark of inspiration, aside from constantly thinking about the disappearance of her classmate and neighbor, she does notice how certain writers have tapped into her “brain space” to influence what she originally “thought was going to be a poem,” but later became the lyric essay that sits nicely between the nonfiction and poetry genres.
Looking to the musings in her old notebook, Megan discovers that she was obsessing over the poetry of Li-Young Lee at the time. She had written a note to herself about his work that reads, “Long poems need externalities.” In her old notes, she also finds a scribbled question— “Bowman-style meditation for the cyclical obsession with missing people?”—referring to Catherine Bowman’s poem “A Thousand Lines.” Lastly, Megan realizes that the newsprint style of “Narrative” was influenced by Jehanne Debrow’s The Arranged Marriage, which helped give her lyric essay form and made the nonfiction piece feel complete.
It seems that Megan’s creative work was driven by her obsessions at the time: her fascination with poets Li-Young Lee and Catherine Bowman, her admiration for Jehanne Debrow’s literary style, her love for true crime, and her curiosity about Amy Fitzpatrick’s disappearance.
Reflecting on her writing, Megan wants her readers to acknowledge that beauty and horror can exist simultaneously, concluding “There can be voicelessness even amid countless voices.”
Superstition Review is sad to share that Four Chambers Press is closing. Please join us in thanking this group for their strong support of the local literary community by attending the Four Chambers’ Final Farewell, “Our Hearts Go Out to You.”
A note from Four Chambers Press:
After five years of pumping literary blood through our local community, Four Chambers officially flatlined in January, 2019. But even though we’re gone, our stories and poems live on in you. Please. We don’t want your money. We just want your love. Let us give you a piece of our heart.
Join us on Sunday, May 19th from 4 to 6 pm at Changing Hands Phoenix and help us finally put this thing to rest. We have 1,000 books and artwork that we would like to give away for free. Maybe they’ll find a home on your coffee table, or in your bathroom, or your classroom, or your child’s Christmas stockings. Who knows. Wherever it may be, we hope Four Chambers can occupy a space in your life and the life of Phoenix as we all continue to work, collaborate, and create in the ever-growing Phoenix literary community. (There will also be a short reading at 5:30.) We’re so grateful to have been a part of it. We hope to see you there.
**If you are a local creative writing or literature professor or instructor and would like a specific Four Chambers title in bulk, please email email@example.com for availability and reservation.
Day: Sunday, May 19
Time: 4 to 6 p.m.
Location: Changing Hands Bookstore, 300 W. Camelback Rd., Suite 1, Phoenix