Guest Post, Chauna Craig: Thanks and Ponies

Thanks and Ponies: The Art of Acknowledgment

 

Acknowledgments pageI am that reader who devours every word between the covers of a book—the dedication, preface, prologue, epilogue, notes, and everything in between. I even pay attention to the copyright page, like the one in Justin Cronin’s The Passage that catalogues the novel under the subjects Vampire-Fiction, Human experimentation in medicine-Fiction, and Virus diseases-Fiction, story clues that not even the book jacket copy gives away.

I especially enjoy reading the acknowledgements. While every other part of the book ultimately belongs to the reader, an author’s acknowledgments offer a glimpse into her own life. Who or what we acknowledge reveals what we value in writing and life. Who does the author recognize, care about, appreciate? Does she thank family, friends, mentors? (Most everyone does.) A place of employment? (Only if they provided time or money for the writing project.) Sorority sisters with spare couches? (Angela Flournoy). La Virgen de Guadalupe Tonantzin? (Sandra Cisneros). What about the person who bought the writer his first dictionary? (Junot Diaz scores big points with me here.)

I’ve been named in book acknowledgements, and it’s usually an unexpected honor from a former student or a writer whose manuscript I read, someone who wants to remind me I’m a small part of their work, a member of their tribe. Now that my short story collection approaches its publication date and it’s my turn to appreciate the village it takes to bring a book to a reader’s hands, I’m terrified I’ll forget someone I’m expected to thank, like when Oscar winners ramble the names of everyone from their director to their barista but forget to mention a long-suffering spouse. Alanis Morissette, in her song “Thank You,” takes an even wider view, recognizing everything from India, a country of over a billion people, to more abstract concepts like disillusionment.

But an acknowledgments page has a specific purpose: to give recognition to whomever or whatever supports the writing and production of a book. That narrows it down some. India has no role in my story collection and needs no thanks, and I don’t always appreciate my moments of disillusionment. Still, give credit where it’s due. Writers don’t create books alone. Sure, the actual act of writing is solitary. You alone plant your butt in a chair, turn on a computer, open your document, and conjure words. You pace the floor and cry on your own, and you alone decide to push past the urge to play Candy Crush or Pokemon Go. When you fail, which every writer does, over and over, you do that all on your own too.

But you never succeed on your own, as the very custom of acknowledgment reminds us. Every writer who keeps sitting in that chair depends on the invisible community of people carried into the writing space. Maybe it’s the teacher who taught you how to “nibble the pig” so your project seems less daunting (thanks, Ron Carlson, for all those years I kept a picture of a roast pig on a platter above my computer to remind me it was only possible to eat that thing one bite at a time). Or the relative who bought you books every birthday. Or the small town you thought you hated and wanted to leave, while the people there hang on in your mind, populating your pages.

The acknowledgments page is where writers honor the people and places that nurtured and mentored them. Writers frequently mention professors, workshop members, even the program administrators who made their MFA years easier. Junot Diaz, in four pages of acknowledgments in The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, goes well beyond that, thanking his many clans and the people who “bought me my first dictionary and signed me up for the Science Fiction Book Club” and also “Every teacher who gave me kindness, every librarian who gave me books.”

Acknowledgments also credit those people who provide whatever the writer needs to shape a book and usher it into the world, everyone from trusted friends who read and comment on drafts to agents, editors, designers and publicists.  And I discovered in a quick survey of books in my personal library that those people deserve not only gratitude, but small horses.  Justin Cronin offers “thanks and ponies” to his supporters, and Jenny Offill promises her “crackerjack editorial, publicity, and production staff at Knopf”:  “I owe each and every one of you a pony.”

Some writers share gratitude specific to a book’s content. Margaret Atwood, in Oryx and Crake, thanks the people from whose balcony she saw “that rare bird, the Red-necked Crake,” and Alice Munro’s acknowledgements for the collection Too Much Happiness focuses solely on the people and books that led to her discovery of Sophia Kovalevsky, subject of the title story.

Nearly every author saves their final thanks for those intimates who, as Margaret Atwood describes her husband, Graeme Gibson, “understand[s] the obsessiveness of the writer.” No surprise there, as those are the people who respect your closed door, nurse you through every “art attack,” and celebrate those small victories peculiar to writers, like a “good” rejection note. They deserve public recognition and your private appreciation—every day.

My acknowledgments page is already with my publisher. I still have a small window of time to add names. But really I think of those acknowledgments as formalizing what the people who support me—or any writer—should already know and feel, whether it’s between the covers of a book or not: their value exceeds what mere words can say.

Thanks. Just thanks. (But no ponies—they really don’t make good gifts.)

 

Intern Post, Erin Regan: AWP Round Two: Like Coming Home

A few weeks ago, I packed a suitcase with extra room for books and literary paraphernalia and boarded a plane for blustery Minneapolis. It was my first time in the city and my second time at the annual AWP Conference. (You can read all about my inaugural trip here.)

Attending AWP last year gave me such an incredible boost of enthusiasm and motivation. I went home with a backpack full of journals, business cards, and call-for-submissions fliers. I was ready to really commit to being a writer, and to my own happy surprise, I have submitted a few pieces to various literary journals – all without success. That’s why this year, I attended a few panels about how to cope with rejection!rejected-1238221

This time, I not only entered the conference with a more personal knowledge of the reality of rejection but with a greater understanding of the madness I was descending on. As I boarded the plane to Seattle for the conference last year, I imagined the looks I would get when I told people that I hadn’t been published yet or that I was only getting my bachelor’s degree in literature. I expected everyone in attendance to have already written their first novel. Now I know that is wholly not the case.

Of course you do run into some profoundly successfully writers, and it’s such a joy to see them and hear them speak. (This year, I chatted with Ron Carlson and was able to attend panels with Stuart Dybek and T.C. Boyle.) But the AWP conference is also full of students and new writers who are trying to break into the world of literary publishing through small journals and publishing houses. It’s incredible to be in the company of thousands of aspiring and inspiring writers and editors. This year, walking into the book fair at the Minneapolis Convention Center felt just a little bit like coming home.

Here are some things I’ve learned from my first two AWP experiences:

Offsite events are the best. This year, Superstition Review co-hosted a reading with Blue Mesa Review and Hayden’s Ferry Review at The Nicollet, a lovely little coffee shop. I also attended Literary Death Match and a poetry reading in a supposedly haunted German hotel.

Missing the keynote is part of the AWP experience, especially after your first year. Admittedly, I was pretty disappointed to miss Karen Russell, but I was enjoying a really tasty bowl of pasta at the time, so I can’t complain too much.

It feels great to represent a magazine. Having Superstition Review printed on my badge did wonders for my confidence, and meeting past contributors as they stop by the table is pretty exciting. Plus, table 318 was my little haven in the swarming book fair.

Go outside. It’s easy to forget that there’s a world outside the convention center, so when you get a chance, go for a little walk; grab a bite to eat that isn’t a personal pizza or boxed salad.

The book fair is where it’s at. The panels are great, but there are so many people to talk with and new publications and presses to meet. Plus, you can get some amazing reading material and literary loot.

See you in Los Angeles at #AWP16!

Guest Post, Bill Gaythwaite: The Inspiration Game

I think about creative inspiration a fair amount. It can be hard to explain to others because it is so specific to the individual.  Like every other writer I have certain authors that I simply worship — Edith Wharton, E.M Forster, Alice Munro, Ron Carlson, Lorrie Moore, Katherine Mosby, Michael Cunningham. These are just the first few names that come to mind as I write this. But it’s a rather long and varied list, a haphazard collection of the famous and the unknown. I keep adding to it over the years and no one ever really gets knocked off. It’s not like Survivor — there’s room for everybody here and they all inspire me one way or another.  But my creative inspiration can come from some pretty random places too. For instance, in the 1980 movie Ordinary People there is a climactic scene on a golf course, where the character played by Mary Tyler Moore has this huge meltdown. It is where her character’s true nature is revealed for the first time. I have a lot of thoughts when I watch this scene.

Ordinary PeopleFirst, I think of Judith Guest, who wrote the wonderful novel and created the characters on which the movie is based and then I think of the screenwriter Alvin Sargent who faithfully did the screenplay adaptation and won an Oscar for it. I think of Robert Redford too, who directed the film and (according to an interview I saw once) shot this difficult, pivotal scene in one fluid take. And of course, there is Ms. Moore’s performance which is so raw and terrifying; it kind of takes your breath away, particularly because she had long been known as one of Hollywood’s sunniest performers. Her acting here was considered something of a revelation. The scene had an enormous impact on me the first time I saw it, but even then I realized a number of very talented people had collaborated on it. Everyone was working to get their piece right. I think it gave me a very early sense of how one can aspire to create something (or be a part of creating something) that will have a lasting impact on others. This is true even if you are not tackling a major motion picture, but working on a much smaller scale.

Still, if we are lucky we can be inspired everywhere we look. Creativity exists on a number of levels, from Tom Brady’s surgical precision during his triumphant fourth quarter performance in Super Bowl XLIX (defaltegate be damned!) to my own son’s insane (and for me heartstopping) landing of a 16-stair jump with his battered and beloved 5Boro skateboard. These breathless moments, whether they are on the page, on the screen or on the playing field, when I am left asking “How did they do that?” often energize me to jump back and focus on my own stuff, to see what I can do. I am always grateful to encounter amazing work, whether it’s reading a flash fiction piece in a little magazine or hearing Broadway star Sutton Foster sing a show tune — or watching some terrific episode of Girls or Looking — those two beautifully written, character-driven shows on HBO.  Yes, I’m one of those people who believe Lena Dunham is a true genius; and my devotion to the characters of Patrick and Richie on Looking (created by Michael Lannan and so persuasively acted by Jonathan Groff and Raúl Castillo) approaches the restraining order territory (HBO’s recent cancelation of this show is perhaps the first real sign of the Apocalypse!).

At any rate, in these random ways (and countless others) I have been moved and been better off for it. But it all comes back to the idea of trying to make an impact with your own work, of adding to the conversation, of attempting to put something out in the world that hasn’t been there before and, most of all, paying attention to what truly inspires us.

Guest Blog Post, Elizabyth A. Hiscox: Part of What it Is

(This piece was originally delivered as part of the panel “Yoga & the Life of the Writer” at the 2013 AWP Conference)

It was suggested—perhaps in a sly way to urge us to hit that sacred middle-mark of the AWP Panel between 5 and 10 minutes—that each of us contribute testimonials of 7 minutes or so; quote: “one minute for each chakra.” Coming to yoga practice as I have, which is recently and already invested in a practice of poetry, I thought what you might expect: “too bad about the seven chakras, six would have made such a swell entrance to the form of the sestina.”

This is just to say that I am coming to most of the teaching of a yoga practice through my understanding of verse. So that when it is suggested I might visualize a purplish ball of light, it is not at all unlikely I will think of Williams Carlos Williams’ icebox plums, sweet and cold. I don’t see this as a conflict. It is in translation altered but enriched. There are connections; obvious alliances: the way we are encouraged to take our poetry off the page, carry our embodied mindfulness off the mat. An implicit understanding that boundaries blur and that to begin a poem or a session is to begin again living the practice in that strange and arresting world of the moment.

I was once staffing a function at which the general consensus was that the best verse was that which could be recited with military vigor. After hearing C.D. Wright read from her impressionistic, liminal, experiential, imagistic, voice-heavy, Deepstep Come Shining an indignant audience member asked the poet an interesting and entirely impossible question: “So, if it doesn’t have to rhyme, then what is poetry?” I thought her response graceful. Savvy. It was not reactionary against one who wanted parameters by which to appreciate and condemn, but something along the lines of “I don’t pretend to have a definition, but I can tell you what some other people have said about the art of poetry.” She then presented an eclectic array of possibilities about how one—or many—might get at not defining an art. And what is “yoga and the life of the writer” if it doesn’t rhyme? If it is not simply this pose, this form, this collection of stressed and unstressed moments, how can it feed us or be made valuable? I offer seven non-definitions of the connective tissue:

 

1.

In translation. It begins with breath, with which the history of poetry begins. It is the most basic. It is salvation. Inspiration is not a misnomer. So, thus, as a writer I cast back to that call from an outside source with which to work: my time on the mat is an act not of pure creation, but of translation. Chuparosa: the Spanish for hummingbird. Rose sucker. Does it hum or rose? Yes. The French have a word for the moisture created around inclusions in an omelet. I need that word but know it already in my body. What is found there.

2.

Alice Fulton’s Feeling as a Foreign Language on the table beside my desk. She is gesturing at the content of poetry rather than form alone, that the correct form, rather than being debated for its external merits be the one that allows us to feel something. In a poem. Perhaps elsewhere.

3.

Kathleen Fraser’s Translating the Unspeakable is on the table too. These titles resonate. They are next to each other and close in my mind to this project. And that vibrates. There is field poetics in this book. And in this moment. There is Charles Olson’s “the unit/ the smallest/ there is.” There is the concept that placement in space matters, that proximity matters and the slightest adjustment makes major cognitive shifts possible. I am speaking in analogies. There is the concept that placement in space matters and that the slightest adjustment makes major cognitive shifts possible. Adjust your shoulders, adjust your margins.

4.

I speak to my beginning writing students of the embodied character or moment. I am channeling a bit—something that one of my instructors, Ron Carlson, was wont to say. When students became—and would complain of—(what they viewed as) “mentally exhausted” from the process of creating, Carlson would underline another possible aspect; would emphasize the relation between the actual etymology of “manuscript”—something manual, something built by the sweat of your brow. The connection of your physical body to an abstract concept. I, too, recall Carolyn Forché saying whether you ever go back to the notes you are taking for a poem that the jotting down of them physically, them passing through your body, changes you. It is not merely—and I mean ‘mere’ in the Yeats-ian sense: ‘mere anarchy is loosed’—it is not merely the life of the mind we engage when we write. It is clearly not merely only my hamstrings I go to the mat to limber up.

5.

In a one-of-a-kind erasure book by Mary Ruefle, Now It, there are certain lines of a previous text uncovered or, in light of her technique of obscuring with white-out, left uncovered. One struck me particularly because it included a poetic noun that, like the nightingale, resonates almost prismatically, within poetry: Seamus Heaney’s “Blackberry Picking,” Sylvia Plath’s “Blackberrying,” Robert Hass’Picking Blackberries with a Friend Who Has Been Reading Jacques Lacan,” Galway Kinnell’s “Blackberry Eating.” And yet it undid expectation: the un-covered lines were: “looked for blackberries/ else you would never find the strawberries.” A reaching to a known edge and finding something else beyond that is just as sweet, more vibrant: a new place within you, a new access, a greater access-point.

6.

In a sculpture park outside of Grand Rapids, Michigan is a massive work by Mark di Suvero: Scarlatti. It is situated in an open field and it is—to my eye—doing a forward-bend of immense weight and gravity. Its nonfigurative, inhuman sits-bones thrust beautifully back and to a cool sky. But the wind is moving—almost imperceptibly, but perceive it—moving the enormous steel beams that are the childhood slash of stick-figure arms. So there is stillness and balance without rigidity. Make it new.

Sculpture

 

 

7.

Finally, a line from Permission, an incredible forthcoming collection of poems by Katie Peterson: “The raven lifts/ like having to is part/ of what it is”

Superstition Review’s Fourth Issue Reading Series, first reading

This past Monday was Superstition Review’s first reading of the semester and, I have to say, it was pretty amazing, particularly with the small and intimate setting of our favorite local bookstore, Changing Hands, literally setting the stage for the event!

Not only did we get to hear from American Book Award winner Stella Pope Duarte, who was previously featured as an interviewed writer for her award-winning book, If I Die in Juarez, but she also asked two of her writing students to join her. Accomplished writers Rita Ackerman and Annie Lopez accompanied our main guest reader that night as they too shared highlights from their varied portfolios. After a brief introduction to the readers for the evening via our Editor-in-Chief, I grabbed a seat off to the side and settled in for the reading–notebook, camera, and BlackBerry (for live-tweeting!) in hand.

Reading Series Editor, Samantha Novak, took the Changing Hands stage first, quickly introducing Trish Murphy, our Editor-in-Chief, inviting her to speak a little about SR. As Trish gave the rundown of how we work, take submissions, and run the magazine all through semester-long undergraduate internships, she also gave an update on submissions and solicitations that have already drifted into the magazine. Among the poets and authors submitting work, we learned that award-winning author and former ASU professor Ron Carlson will be interviewed for this upcoming issue–how exciting is that? With the logistical side of the reading out of the way, we were ready to hear from our esteemed readers.

First to read was Rita Ackerman, a scholar of the history of the American Wild West. She read an illuminating narrative on the shootout at the O.K. Corral from the perspective of Ike Clanton, an under-celebrated outlaw of Arizona’s history.

The story came from her recently published O.K. Corral Postscript: The Death of Ike Clanton and provided a street view of the shootout. It was particularly interesting because it viewed the famous Earp brothers from a fairly neutral position. Ackerman continued with a short dip into the death scene she has reconstructed from the obituaries and accounts of Ike Clanton’s death. Introducing ‘Pigleg Wilson,’ her writing explained that Ike, though a pivotal member of the Clanton gang, is not buried in a dignified grave in Tombstone like the rest of his family, but he instead resides in a unmarked grave somewhere in Springerville, Arizona.

It was particularly interesting to hear a detailed and engaging account of one of Arizona’s famous outlaws. Ackerman really brought to light the benefits of well-written nonfiction narratives, highlighting one of the under-sung genres of many literary journals, and one that SR is proud to feature.

Next up was Annie Lopez. Not only is Lopez a great storyteller, but she’s also an artist–one featured at the Phoenix Art Museum (and giving a lecture on her work on October 21st at 4 and 7 p.m.).

Lopez’s work collectively focused on the naivety of youth, especially as a young woman growing up in Phoenix. In her partly auto-biographical stories, the fourth-generation Phoenician read about her young adult mishaps. In, The Dress, a middle school-aged Lopez shows us a glimpse into a home-economics class. She and a friend made complete fools of themselves by knowing a little too much about sewing and trying to flaunt their skills, resulting in becoming the laughing stock of the Phoenix Suns basketball team. Her other story not only brought about laughs from the audience as she explained the awkward situation she was put in when her high school guidance counselor exposed herself to Lopez, but also reinforced the need to feel comfortable in your surroundings as a young adult.

Enterprising on the hilarious hi-jinx of youth, Lopez really connected with her audience as she shared her humorous tales and reminded everyone in the audience the importance of staying on the good side of friends-who-happen-to-be-writers–whatever you do, she warned via her shared anecdote, don’t forget that whatever you say and do can, and often will, be written down and used against you in the future if it has high humor value. In all fairness, you should know better!

Finally, it was Stella Pope Duarte’s turn to take the small stage. The audience seemed particularly excited to hear from her as she was introduced.

The ABA award-winner greeted everyone with a quick, unabashed admission: she loves rumors and secrets. As she talked about the upcoming acceptance of her award, she revealed that, though she loves Phoenix more than she could ever like NYC, she enjoyed the City for its eavesdropping goldmine that it is; she claimed she loves nothing more than walking the streets there to gather as many rumors as she could. It wasn’t just a random comment, though–she said none of her stories would really be possible without them, especially from the collection she was reading from.

Duarte is a passionate activist and writer defending human rights issues, particularly bringing child prostitution wrongs to light. On Monday she shared one of her newer stories, “One of These Days I’m Gonna Go Home,” a selection to be published in her upcoming collection of short stories, with the working title of Women Who Live in Coffee Shops, that focus on rumors and the lives of individuals whose worlds are affected by the rumors. The story dealt with the adoption and rehabilitation of a former child prostitute being raised in the Phoenix desert.

Our featured reader was really engaging with her audience and she had complete command of local Phoenician dialogue, slang, and speech. Her reading, as well the other women’s, really featured the outstanding talent of local writers. It was refreshing to hear these home-grown southwestern stories of our state’s history, growing up in Arizona, and dealing with the complexities of such a culturally rich state.

Overall, I’d say that the reading was a complete success and a wholly enjoyable event. I’m extremely excited about the next one, October 26!

Did you attend the event? What did you think? What was your favorite work you heard?

Video Interview with Rita Ackerman on ‘O.K. Corral Postscript: The Death of Ike Clanton’

Phoenix Art Museum lecture schedule

Stella Pope Duarte wins 2009 American Book Award

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Moving Right Along…

With our solicitations sent out and the submitted works starting to filter in, the Prose and Poetry Teams been busy looking things over in that realm, but have had to shift their focus to the upcoming series of interviews in their future. Our prose and poetry editors were busy this week researching the writers they intend to interview this semester, gathering facts and preparing questions to submit to the authors. And, as was announced at the SR reading on Monday evening, we’ve already got an exciting author lined up–award-winning fiction writer, Ron Carlson!

The Art editors have already had their hands full looking through the submissions drifting in. They’re be working on responding to their solicitations and have been queuing up potential contributors for this upcoming issue of SR.

The Administrative Team had their work cut out for them: besides coordinating the reading at Changing Hands, they also made progress on the Kindle project and worked on the parameters for the first-ever SR writing contest.

Our Content interns are starting to piece together the actual work that’s being considered for publication in the journal. They’re been busy logging all work that’s been drifting in so as to keep things from slipping through the cracks; because SR is digital, and all exchanges are through electronic means, it becomes critical that we have a way to track all of these and make sure all the work we receive has a record to track; this team keeps the magazine running smoothly.

The Web Design Team has simply continued working behind the scenes on the redesign of the website. We released some potential design ideas this week and are receiving feedback from all the interns before we proceed, but the site is progressing nicely. As part of my duty as Blogger I attended the reading and live-tweeted, so in case you missed it you can catch up with what the reading was like here, at least until the reading review is posted. And, as always, I’ll be here, filling you in, so you can stay up-to-the-minute with the editing process here at SR.