Guest Post, Sean Lovelace: Literary homage

The publishing vultures (or more likely turkey buzzards) are circling my apartment balcony, but why begin in such a sour mood? A mild, morning hangover, not so unlike the lingering ribbons of a common cold/sneeze (at least to my thinking), yet the coffee is hot and science has proven many, many cups of caffeine won’t actually kill you. Thank you, science, you national mutt/political football/current turd. But there goes a cloud in shape of portobello, a puffy suitcase or two, shreds of cotton…Then jump-cut, an actual squadron of honking Canada Geese, a lost and demented species, seemingly as comfortable in a Walmart parking lot (probably eating Cheetos) as in a glittering city pond or even a natural lowland marsh. Look, there goes one smoking a cigarette while perched atop a city bus. I wave, no response from the goose. Most likely they are human.

Two books arrive (people send me books constantly, a sweet curse) like roadkill in the mail, pungent but a bit vulgar: A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand and Just Before Dark, Collected Nonfiction, both written by literary crow/mountain lion, Jim Harrison. Harrison died in the spring of 2016. Oh look, the spring of 2017 and two brand new publications. Editors of the post mortem. Ink stained vultures, New York hyenas, etcetera. So let’s not read them at all.

Instead, let’s discuss what I term, literary homage. An aside? No. Bear with me; just come along for a short yet hopefully fruitful ride through literary time and space. Consider this a metaphysical self-driving car, or maybe a horse (actually the first self-driving car, no?).

In 1925 Russian poet Sergei Yesenin is found dead at age 30, hanging by braided rope from a pipe in his hotel room. I purposely structured the sentence in this manner, hanging by braided rope. Was it a suicide? Who knows? Yesenin had recently pissed off the soviets in several ways (the details not so relevant here), and it’s very possible the government “silenced” him (much in the way a modern day critic of Vladimir Putin may awake one morning in London to a teacup of sugar and polonium-210). Yesenin’s final poem was found on a nearby desk, and written in his own blood:

Goodbye, my friend, goodbye
My love, you are in my heart.
It was preordained we should part
And be reunited by and by.

Goodbye: no handshake to endure.
Let’s have no sadness — furrowed brow.
There’s nothing new in dying now
Though living is no newer.

Let’s move to 1972 (as I mentioned, extra-stellar travel), to American writer, Jim Harrison, at age 35. He has a wife and a daughter and a literary career sinking into the mosquito bogs and chokeberry thickets outside his Upper Peninsula Michigan cabin. His poems and novellas are not finding publication (they will later; including Legends of the Fall). He’s broke and depressed. He’s drinking too much. But also obsessed with literature, currently of the Russian variety—Yesenin. So begins a correspondence in lyrical, confessional verse. Letters to Yesenin, notes to the dead poet, questions about poetry and depression and suicide and life…these missives published in 1973 by Sumac Press and republished by Copper Canyon Press in 2007 and still in print (like all of Harrison’s books, before and after Yesenin).

Time and Space, Space and Time—now to 2006. Return to Michigan, Grand Rapids…a southern boy stands shivering on a bridge above the Grand River. What are these frosty humpbacked boulders below, these jagged cracked platters of ice…these copper steelhead shards holding in the current, occasional smudge of trout? This alien confetti snow now swirling down about his red nose? Where is his family? His friends? Solitary meals in low-slung bars. Drinking silty beer (Michigan is truly a land of serious beers). Studio apartment the size of a van, more an aquarium, fourteen windows, some sort of exhibition case in some rarely visited museum…cracks in the panes. I am lost and in Michigan and teaching at Grand Valley University and stumbling upon extinguished night seas of an odd city and slippery ice and cobblestoned mind, I mean to say the moon, dark side…but one lonely evening I walked down the hill and into the city library and Jim Harrison discovered me in my illness and gave me courage to move forward, yes, to survive.

Spring, 2016: Jim Harrison suffers a fatal cardiac arrest. His body found in his Arizona home, on the Navajo rug below his desk. He died while writing a poem (this sounds apocryphal, but fact-checked). Harrison’s death affected me greatly, more than I would have thought or believed. And my response was to write him letters, in the spirit of his transmissions to Sergei Yesenin. Time and Space…they began with just one, a sort of goodbye. And thank you. Then another and another and today I continue writing in this literary respect:

Example here.

And here.

And here.

I will assume most readers of this site are writers or dancers or artists of some questionable shade/hue. Here is a concept that may excite you, or lead you to your next endeavor, or simply an idea to ponder, your own passing cloud to name and shape. Literary Homage.

  • First, select your artist. The one you mind-meld with; your totem, your token, your one-of-a-kind coffee mug, your favorite beer. Boom-boom! Thrill! Sex, love, religion, or death. Crushed Dexedrine or cute puppy or fast car or that time you made out with a Goth kid in the funhouse at the state fair. The one that made your heart pound, feet float down the golden boulevard, Kafka’s axes for the frozen sea within us, etcetera.
  • Read hard and vividly. Read seriously your artist. Over and again. I’ve read Letters to Yesenin maybe 50 times (and counting). Then dove into Harrison’s Selected and New Poems and The Shape of the Journey, the many novellas (that cad, Brown Dog), Sundog and Dalva and Farmer and Wolf, Harrison’s memoir, and his excellent book of food writing, The Raw and the Cooked.
  • Can you take it further? Yes, you probably can. Interviews, obituaries, various studies and source material. Letters. For me, I’m on leave from my job in the fall and will be repeatedly visiting (once again) Grand Rapids, Michigan, to dive deep into the Jim Harrison archives. You’re doing this sort of research correctly once the artist haunts your tangled dreams.
  • Another level? Personally, once I decided this would be an entire literary homage undertaking, I knew at once it would be essential to immerse (I know “immersion” is hyperbolic, but it’s the best word I can find) myself within the very life of Harrison. I suggest you do the same with your particular author. If selecting Simone de Beauvoir, date a philosopher, smoke cloves, and join a clandestine Resistance. If Haruki Murakami, collect vinyl and run long distances while hoarding cats. If Ikkyu, visit local brothels in your Buddhist robes. And so on. For me, this was simple. Harrison was a devout daily walker; I’m a devout distance runner. I already hunt and fish. I can read a river eddy or a neap tide, can differentiate a pirouetting dove from a flushed quail. Yes, I can skin a buck and run a trot line, etcetera. As for sensuality, I avoid strip clubs (one of Harrison’s obsessions), but—like Harrison—if I am offered a sexual opportunity, I usually take it. Love of drink? I’m basically an alcoholic. Occasional soft drugs? Why not? One thing does elude me—Harrison was a true gourmand, while I usually eat nachos. So this took some adjustment. I increased greatly my input of garlic (and still do). I bought olive oil and wooden spoons. And to kick off the project, I ate a Harrison dinner, an ordeal that dealt with multiple shipped packages of frozen flora and fauna and definitely sent my bank account into the suck-hole, but these things we suffer for art. The dinner was oysters, snails, a braised lamb shank (on a bed of eggplant, green and red peppers, scallions, a pinch of lemon zest, and a couple heads of garlic), fresh pork sausage made by the local Mennonites, a venison round steak, two strawberry Pop-Tarts, salt-cod chowder with a wedge of cornbread, pea soup, five fried mourning dove, breaded asparagus, a plate of Greek olives and basket of onion rolls, Baked Lays potato chips, macaroni salad from the nearby deli, sliced apples, and two bottles of a pretty decent Cabernet (Oliver winery, right up the Indiana corn-lined road). Followed by a shot of white rum for grit and a sleeve of Girl Scout thin mint cookies. For Harrison, this would of course have been only a light lunch.
  • Lastly, and the most important lesson for a writer during this literary homage is to understand form=function. My letters actually nod to Harrison’s technique, as Harrison’s own letters to Yesenin gave respect to that poet’s content and style. Letters to Yesenin are political (Yesenin writes about the soviets; Harrison rails against Nixon) and this gave me permission to write more about this country’s political climate, something I’d generally avoided. Harrison’s letters are chock full of literary references and so are mine, my brain being relatively well-read, since books are actually a necessary aspect of my job. Authors were weaved within. Finally, I noted Harrison’s wonderfully varied sentences, on a level I hadn’t seen since Annie Dillard. Harrison crafts sentences, prods them, twists and jerks them, smells and yells them, jolts them, songs them, unearths them…I tried to do the same.

I suppose that’s enough, a blog traditionally a flavor of compression/brevity. Initially planned on leading us through several examples of literary homage, from worthy Chinese poets (Tu Fu to Li Pai to Chu Shu-chen) to a lovely act of reverence by contemporary poet Bruce Smith to the epic (and epically attractive) Edna St Vincent Millay, who herself homages to Shakespeare… (I have a profound literary crush on Millay, if you didn’t know [and I don’t know why you would]). But way leads onto way, as Frost told us. At any rate, the NFL draft is tonight (upon this writing), a form of Christmas for any true fan. I have my plans. To sauté three cloves of minced garlic (slowly, slowly, let the herb express itself…), add black beans and rice, crumble in venison burger, and hit it all with Dave’s ghost pepper sauce. Skull-kicker, but in a good way. Serve with rotel dip (rotel and melted Velveeta) and tortilla chips. A shot of herradura and several bottles of Pacifico (one of Harrison’s favorite beers). Okay then. That should do.

Guest Blog Post, Sean Lovelace: Why Flash Fiction is Like and Unlike Nachos

I enjoy afternoons sprawling out on my roof (toasty shingles at my back) while drinking a six pack of beer and reading flash fiction. I’ll bring several books, collections, anthologies. Usually I haul them up in an orange bucket. A bucket is an excellent bookcase, when reading on your roof. As I drink, the pages flutter and unspool along with my synapses. Crackle, caterwhomp, hum. Words and bubbles rising in glass elevators. The mind, the mind’s eye, two dragonflies on the chimney edge, mating. I’ll start with a realist, Kim Chinquee (North America’s Queen of Flash), wander over to the imaginative minimalism of Ana Maria Shua (South America’s Queen of Flash), onto Bruce Holland Rogers’s expressionism, then into stranger territories, Magical Realism (the terrific Amelia Gray), and, finally—clink, fzzzzzz—I’ll crack open the final beer, watch a V of geese overhead as they honk in all their glorious goose-ness, and then the last book of the day (the sun kneeling out like an exhausted llama), all the way sideways, yes into the wonderfully absurd, the madman of flash, Danill Kharms. I likewise enjoy beer while eating nachos, usually Dos Equis in an icy mug the size of my forehead.

kim nachos

Nachos were invented in 1943. They are a contemporary genre. Many flashcists (denigrators of the flash genre)—in a reductive attempt to link the genre’s sensibilities with the ephemeral ether of the Internet—claim flash fiction is also contemporary. They attempt to minimize the genre to bits of media, basically dash-offs and lollygags for our “modern attention span” These critics know not of what they speak. They are jackals chasing their own tails in miserable circles. They smell like scabby knees or lower math. They are wrong. Flash fiction is a proud and venerable genre, eons old. Fables, folklore, parables, mythology, all flash fiction. From Nubian creation myths (6000 B.C.) to Chinese Pangu (350 B.C.), to the wellspring of more modern authors (though still hundreds of years old), miniature stories have always been essential to human life and art.

Flash fiction can be consumed as an appetizer or a meal. Same with nachos.

Nachos go from hand to mouth to stomach. Flash, by its very essence, goes much further, off the page. All of the glorious white space that surrounds a flash—everything that isn’t shown, paradoxically leading to an even further telling. The writer brings technique, all of the tools to create a breathing genre, a living thing. The reader has to arrive! To flesh out the context, to meet the writer, to shake hands and bang heads. To create together. Flash is collaborative, like all of the finest imaginative endeavors.

nachos 3

Though invented in Mexico, nachos are international. Irish nachos are a ponderous dish based upon potato wedges. Italian nachos utilize mozzarella cheese and banana peppers. Greek nachos are best eaten alongside the sea (or at least in the bathtub) and consist of pita, hummus, and feta. Japanese nachos (Machi Cure), a light and delicate treat, use juniper berries and tuna. American ballpark nachos are a combination of tortilla chips and Ricos, a cheese product that resembles a polymer used in the construction of lava lamps. Flash fiction is also international. Nobel Laureate Yasunari Kawabata felt the essence of his life’s work was contained in his flash collection, Palm-of-the-Hand Stories. The French are prolific, both in the prose poem, the flash, and the hybrid. See Paris Spleen by Baudelaire. See Ponge or Jacobs. See Bertrand. From Italy, I suggest Calvino. From Austria, Peter Altenberg (a man who wore flip flops all winter). From Russia, many choices, but I suggest Before Sunrise, by Zoschenko. The Pearl Jacket and Other Stories is a good place to start for contemporary Chinese flash fiction. Oh, and the Latin Americans. Mexico to Chile, I wish you luck. Why? Because the Latin Americans adore flash fiction. They call them microficciones. From Shua to Cortázar to Gracián to Dario to Bolaño to Arreola to Monterrosso to Gabriel José de la Concordia García Márquez (hell of a name) to Borges (his powerful shadow cast over everything), you could be reading Latin American flash authors for the rest of your life. Which wouldn’t be a bad thing.

Celebrities rarely read anything, much less flash fiction. (A notable exception is actor/scholar/ writer/scholar/actor/scholar/director/scholar/scholar/artist/scholar James Franco, who will read and write anything [and he’ll be sure to tell you about it, probably in an over earnest poem] ). Celebrities can’t get enough of nachos. They eat nachos. They sleep with nachos. They are nachos.

Justin Bieber

To make nachos you usually need a knife. To make flash fiction, you usually need a knife. It’s the DELETE key.

One time, during dinner, this young lady ran off with my heart and my Camry and I dropped her plate of homemade nachos (cold, uneaten) on the floor and drank two bottles of red wine and everything (I do mean everything) shattered and I stumbled outside (the wind raw, like an onion or a tax audit) and shook my fist angrily at the moon and screamed out an unraveling stream of spittle and obscenities and later woke up completely naked on the kitchen floor. This hasn’t happened in my life with flash fiction. Yet.

There is no limit on the ways to make nachos. I should know. I personally have made over 414 different varieties. Same for flash. Real to surreal, lyrical to narrative, traditional to experimental, any form, any style, any technique, mode, method, way. Flash fiction is as endless and unique as art itself.

A fully realized flash fiction takes inspiration, intellect, execution, and meticulous care in revision. You can make a decent plate of nachos while drunk.


Obsession. I once ate nachos for 141 day straight. I just had nachos (spicy crawfish over blue tortillas, with a painful dollop of Dave’s sauce) for lunch. My last two books were written in the flash fiction genre. (My upcoming manuscript is flash and is about Velveeta.) I spent last year reading only flash fiction. I teach university classes dedicated to only flash fiction. I have a flash fiction blog. On that blog, I also discuss other things. For example, what I am having for dinner. Usually nachos.

Issue 5 Launch

Hello SR readers,

The team at Superstition Review is happy to announce that issue 5 is now online.

Art ImageOur art editors Lauren Brown and Gary Blair gathered work from 6 artists, including Edna Dapo, Nicki Reed, and Daniel Elson (pictured left).Born in northern Illinois, Daniel Elson has made props and animatronics for spook houses and theme parks, co-starred on a reality television series about torture for the History Channel, and sold the rights to his likeness to Cartoon Network. Former clients include Disney, Playboy, The Tonight Show, Rockstar Energy Drink and “Screech” from Saved by the Bell. He now exhibits “fine art” internationally and works for his alma mater, Columbus College of Art and Design. His paintings and sculptures can be found in the private collections of people like Kevin Smith, Pete Wentz, and Ashlee Simpson.

Click here to view the art in Issue 5.

Fiction ImageFiction editors Donald Weir and Ginna Rosi collected stories from 10 writers, including Sean Lovelace, Fletcher Cline, and Anthony Varallo (pictured left).Anthony Varallo’s short story collection, Out Loud, won the 2008 Drue Heinz Literature Prize (University of Pittsburgh Press). His first collection, This Day in History, won the 2005 John Simmons Short Fiction Award (University of Iowa Press). Varallo is the recipient of an NEA Fellowship in Literature, and his stories have appeared in Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Epoch, Shenandoah, Harvard Review, and elsewhere. He received his M.F.A. from the University of Iowa/Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and his PhD from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Currently he is assistant professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he is the fiction editor for Crazyhorse.

Click here to read the fiction in Issue 5.

Interviews ImageOur editors conducted interviews with seven authors, including Pam Houston, David St. John, and Nick Flynn (pictured left).Nick Flynn’s most recent book is The Ticking is the Bomb (Norton, 2010), a memoir of bewilderment and becoming a father, which Kirkus calls “. . . a stunningly beautiful cascade of images.” His previous memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (Norton, 2004), won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award, was shortlisted for France’s Prix Femina, and has been translated into thirteen languages. He is also the author of two books of poetry, Some Ether (Graywolf, 2000), and Blind Huber (Graywolf, 2002), and a play, Alice Invents a Little Game and Alice Always Wins (Faber, 2008), for which he received fellowships from, among other organizations, The Guggenheim Foundation and The Library of Congress. Some of the venues his poems, essays and non-fiction have appeared in include The New Yorker, the Paris Review, National Public Radio’s This American Life, and The New York Times Book Review. His film credits include artistic collaborator and “field poet” on the film Darwin’s Nightmare, which was nominated for an Academy Award for best feature documentary in 2006. Each spring he teaches at the University of Houston, and he then spends the rest of the year in Brooklyn (and elsewhere).

Click here to read the interviews in Issue 5.

Nonfiction ImageNonfiction editors Britney Gulbrandsen and Kimberly Singleton gathered eight essays from authors such as Jerry Eckert, Susan Messer, and Marie Mockett (pictured left).

Marie was born in Carmel, California to a Japanese mother and American father. Her Japanese family owns a Zen Buddhist temple where she often played as a child, and which, among other things, performs exorcisms. In 2009, Marie attended the Bread Loaf Conference as a Bernard O’Keefe Scholar in Nonfiction. Marie’s essay “Letter from a Japanese Crematorium” was published in Agni 65, cited as distinguished in the 2008 Best American Essays, and anthologized in Creative Nonfiction 3, edited by Lee Gutkind. Marie’s debut novel, Picking Bones from Ash, was published by Graywolf Press on October 1st, 2009.

Click here to read the nonfiction in Issue 5.

Poetry ImagePoetry editors Haley Coles and Anthony Cuevas gathered poems from 17 poets, including Jesse Lee Kercheval, Marcia Golub, Simon Perchik, and Kelle Groom (pictured left).Kelle Groom’s poetry collections are Five Kingdoms (Anhinga Press, 2010), Luckily, winner of a Florida Book Award, and Underwater City (University Press of Florida, 2004). Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and Poetry and is forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2010. She has published nonfiction in Agni, Bloomsbury Review, Ploughshares, West Branch, and Witness, among others. Groom has been awarded fellowships and scholarships from Atlantic Center for the Arts, Millay Colony, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and a grant award from the State of Florida, Division of Cultural Affairs.

Click here to read the poetry in Issue 5.

Many thanks to all of the student interns, faculty advisors, and supporters who made this possible. I hope you enjoy the magazine.


Patricia Colleen Murphy,
Managing Editor