Well howdy, readers! This afternoon, Superstition Review is glad to announce that past contributor Darrin Doyle, who was featured in the Interviews section of our 8th issue (which can be read here) and the Fiction section of our 16th issue (which can be read here), has recently released the first album from his rock/folk/karate trio Daryl & the Beans, titled Burnin’ the Eagle, which can be purchased here. The album itself is $8, and all proceeds from the sale of this record go to funding a scholarship for students in the Creative Writing program at Central Michigan University. If you’re so inclined, feel free to up the proverbial ante and pitch a few extra bucks toward this wonderful cause when you purchase the album! Do yourself, and the students of Central Michigan University, a huge favor and purchase Burnin’ the Eagle.
Hello everybody! Today, we here at Superstition Review are thrilled to announce that past contributor Alison Hawthorne Deming, who read for us back in April of 2011, has just been named Regents’ Professor at the University of Arizona, by the Arizona Board of Regents. To be named a Regents’ Professor is the highest honor that can be bestowed on a faculty member in the university system, and we can think of none more deserving than Alison Hawthorne Deming. You can read the full press release here, and if you’re interested in Alison’s work, check out her most recent publications: a new book of poetry titled”Stairway to Heaven,” out now from Penguin (found here), and her collaboration with photographer Stephen Strom, titled “Death Valley: Painted Light” (found here). Congratulations to Alison and the University of Arizona!
Hey readers! Superstition Review is proud to announce that Ruben Quesada, a former faculty member at Eastern Illinois University who was featured in the Poetry section of Issue 13, has been named a faculty member at the UCLA Extension, and will be teaching a course on Poetry and Popular Culture alongside Rosebud Ben-Oni this summer. Do yourself a favor, and check out Ruben Quesada’s poem “On Witness” here, and stay tuned to the blog for more updates on the beautiful happenings here at Superstition Review.
The Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing at ASU is proud to offer four creative writing classes through the Piper Writers Studio. Classes are taught by acclaimed and award-winning writers from the community, and cover topics such as first-draft novel writing, novel revisions, persona poetry, and creative non-fiction.
The faculty for the Fall 2016 session of the Piper Writers Studio are:
- Michael A Stackpole, a New York Times best-selling author known for his extensive fantasy and science fiction work in the Stars Wars, Conan, and World of Warcraft universes. Stackpole will be teaching Winning NaNoWriMo Tuesdays, October 4 – 25, 2016 from 6 – 8 p.m.
- Carol Test, an award-winning short-story writer and former editor in chief of the Sonora Review who has taught workshops for the University of Arizona, Arizona State University, Phoenix College, and Mesa Community College. Test will be teaching Remodel Your Novel: Five Key Scenes for Fiction Writers Wednesdays, October 5 – 26, 2016 from 6 – 8 p.m.
- Marshall Terrill, veteran film, sports, music, history and popular culture writer with over 20 books to his credit, including bestselling biographies of Steve McQueen, Elvis Presley, and Pete Maravich. Terrill will be teaching Beyond the Facts: Writing Compelling Non-fiction Wednesdays, October 5 – 26, 2016 from 6 – 8 p.m.
- Lois Roma-Deeley, an author with three collections of poetry and numerous publications in anthologies in journals who founded the creative writing program at Paradise Valley Community College and received an Artist Research and Development Grant from the Arizona State Commission on the Arts in 2016. Roma-Deeley will be teaching Another Voice: Creating Memorable Poetic Personas Saturday, October 22, 2016 from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
Classes are open to individuals of all backgrounds, skill levels, and experiences, and are designed to fit around the schedules of working adults (taking place weekday evenings or weekend afternoons). Most classes are held at the Piper Writers House, the historic President’s Cottage on the ASU Tempe Campus. Class sizes range between 8 and 12 students in order to ensure an intimate, individualized educational experience, and start at $75 (with discounts for individuals who are members of the Piper Circle of Friends). Classes can also qualify for professional development credit with the Arizona Department of Education. Individuals can register for classes through the Piper Center’s website until Monday, October 3rd, 2016.
For more information, please visit the Piper Center’s website at http://piper.asu.edu/programs/piper-writers-studio/current-courses.
When I say Mrs. Dalloway is unforgettable, I don’t mean that I didn’t accidentally leave my copy by my bedside table on a day I was supposed to teach with it. Two days, in fact. It’s the beginning of the semester, and my students keep calling me “Doctor” like we’re suddenly in a hospital. I have a last name, but maybe they’ve forgotten it and are embarrassed about asking. For my part, I was afraid to ask them for page numbers and look like an idiot professor who forgets his book (twice); therefore I kept beginning my questions with, “Just off the top of your head…”
I think I covered fairly well, thanks to the memorable antics of Sally Seton—you know her—Mrs. Dalloway’s youth-hood friend who, to my students’ delight, once forgot her bath sponge and ran naked through the crowded house to fetch it. “I like Sally because she doesn’t care what people think,” a shy student said from the third row. Me, I like Sally because she doesn’t let embarrassment get in the way, and this may be why she’s reached literature stardom even though she shines for only a dozen or so pages of the twentieth century.
Sally knows something that we writers sometimes forget.
You’re at your writing desk, and you have a maybe-great idea, but it’s actually a horrible idea. Because mixing metaphors is always a horrible idea. Wrong, wrong, wrong—do you want people to think you’ve never read a good book or attended a workshop in your whole life? A horrible idea—except maybe this one risky time it could work? Hamlet, after all, does say, without apology, “…to take arms against a sea of troubles.”
In my daydream, Ezra Pound sits at his desk chewing his lips and thinking, “Will anyone take a two-line poem about a metro station seriously?”
Other wrong ideas include putting on a jumpsuit and pretending to be a dancing cat. (You’ve seen this?) Maybe in the production days of this video, those members of Ballet Zoom didn’t admit to their families exactly what they were up to. Maybe when their spouses or children asked, “How was work today?” they changed the subject. Or maybe their cheerful leaps weren’t just performance, but a sincere, artistic moment. Either way, look at the joy they’ve given many of us viewers now.
We often hide from potential embarrassment, but everything new is embarrassing. Every poem, essay, or story draft is gangly before it outgrows adolescence. And taking a risk gives others permission to do the same. From time to time, let’s all dare to eat a peach, even if we might end up with food between our teeth.
So yes, I forgot the book like an idiot, and both days turned out fine. Sally Seton forgot her soap, which led my shy student to speak up in class. And in offices, and kitchens, and empty corners, many of us heard that 1970s beat, and—even if we won’t admit it—tossed up our hands as if they were feline paws and bounced them a bit, laughing like (to mix a metaphor) happy hyenas at a birthday party.
I teach 11th grade English at a high school located in downtown Portland, Oregon. I see my students every day, and as you might imagine, I have my ups and downs. Some days, when the lesson plan is solid and I’m properly caffeinated, I feel like I’m nailing it. The conversation is great, kids are forming opinions and getting passionate about the subject matter, and any minute my trophy will arrive for teacher of the year. But other times, I can’t help but wonder why somebody hasn’t come along and yanked me off the stage already.
I do a lot of talking to the students, and in turn the students do a lot of talking with me and with each other. Mostly, we talk about literature and writing. Stuff like tone, character, plot structure, symbolism, the works. How we feel about the characters. How we feel about the author. How we suspect the author might want us to feel about the characters. I really do love it, and I consider myself incredibly lucky that I get to have these conversations all the time with people who are engaged and informed and excited to learn.
But when it comes to writing, there’s a limit to the value of talking. At a certain point, I truly believe, you have to shut up and listen, and not just to other people, but to the world itself.
So on one particular afternoon, when I saw that the conversation was dragging, the eyelids were getting heavy, and the post-lunch yawns were on the creep, I decided that it was no longer time to yap. It was time to take a walk, as a class, around the neighborhood.
Before we set out, I laid down the rules. No talking. No cell phones. Avoid forms of nonverbal communication with each other (e.g. poking, tripping, massaging, mouthing curse words, etc.). We were going to shut up and walk, taking note of anything that we might come across. This, I hoped, was going to be an important lesson on writing.
A few nightmare scenarios ran through my mind just as we set out. The sky might suddenly open up and cast down rain, hail, lightning, brimstone, etc. upon us, sending my tightly organized and mindful class into a frenzied, save-your-own-ass stampede. One of the many disenfranchised individuals camping on the street might decide it’s the right time to take issue with my face. A student might get so absorbed in the present moment that she wanders into the middle of traffic. Or, more realistically, the whole thing will feel weird and just…kind of silly.
But there we were, walking out of the school building and onto the busy sidewalk. We made our way through the city streets silently, a slow-moving mass emitting no sounds except maybe the rhythmic pads and clicks of our shoes against the pavement. On the first block, we carried with us a kind of shrugging sheepishness; we’d pass by people and greet their puzzled expressions with half-smiles, all too aware of our unusual noiselessness. This was a new thing, to simply observe without the distraction of conversation or the filter of a Spotify playlist or podcast in our earbuds. It felt awkward.
Gradually, we settled into it. It’s a totally bizarre and worthwhile feeling to move in a silent group. You feel calm, reflective, but also sort of badass. Based on their quizzical expressions, the people we passed by on the street were unnerved by us. How often do you see a group of 20 teenagers just walking? Not talking, not looking at their phones. Just walking. Were we some kind of cult?
As we waited for the walk signal at an intersection, a blue BMW with tinted windows boomed and rattled past us. From its slightly cracked windows blasted UB40’s “Red, Red Wine.” The car’s presence was enormous. We resisted the immediate urges to laugh, dance, sing along, or scoff. Instead, we just watched as it trundled down the avenue, rippling its effects across the afternoon.
When you’re doing nothing but observing, every movement in the world becomes a story, and every image becomes a composition: construction workers framed by the cubic bones of an unfinished apartment building; the catch and release of cars at a four-way intersection; the violent hock-hock-spit of a red-faced jogger. And, to me at least, an ineffable humor becomes apparent. From a detached eye, the disparate elements of an urban street corner can come together in a cosmic and gentle punchline.
Now, in full disclosure, I have no idea what my students felt about this exercise. I kind of lost track of time, and when we finally arrived back to the classroom the period was just ending. I dismissed the students with a thank you and a nod. Maybe some of them were wondering why we just wasted fifteen minutes of class time. Maybe some of them were just happy to get outside for a little bit. But I prefer to think that a few of them, at least, were genuinely moved by the experience. Maybe they saw the same old neighborhood with a completely new perspective. And that is as good a place as any to begin writing.
A writer always has a mother and a father, who very often have nothing to do with her biological manufacturers; neither does the mother have to be female or father male. A writer also has a husband/wife of whatever gender that sparks off her desire, often not the one who shares her daily bed and bread. The mother is the reason of why she writes at all. The father is the one who actually puts a pen into her hand and presses it onto the paper. The partner is aka, well, her muse.
The first piece ever that a writer produces is usually about one of this trinity. If I am ever invited to contribute to this blog again, I will tell you about the latter two. But today, it is my mother-in-letters, Maria Ivanovna Moskvina. A little vignette in her honour that I would like to share here was written ten years ago to be performed at an international teachers’ conference. It was received very favorably, and I submitted it to a British literary magazine, where it was accepted at once, my very first publication, which gave me the courage to write on, on, and on.
My name is Svetlana. I learn English every day. I am learning English now. I have learnt some English already. I have been learning English for ten years. If I hadn’t been so lucky I would have never had a chance to learn English. Even the gorgeous Present Perfect Progressive have I mastered, and the mysteries of the nebulous Subjunctive Mood, too, as you can well hear, without ever having visited London, which is the capital of Great Britain and stands on the river Thames.
I live in a fuming Eastern-Ukrainian town with dandelions poking through concrete in some places. Grey people swarm into trolley-buses to get to factories in the morning. In the evening they storm groceries to get some sausage for supper.
I don’t mind an hour’s ride to school in a bursting trolley-bus because I am fortunate to go to the only school in the town where English is taught from the first class. Maria Ivanovna, the town’s premium teacher of English, reigns there. We are all in awe of her. She makes us meek and silky just with the glance of her bespectacled eyes. Maria Ivanovna takes a syringe and injects a dose of success right into our assiduous bottoms. She says, ‘Don’t you dare come to see me in ten years unless you are driving a black Mercedes, working in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and own an apartment in Moscow.’
We try to detect Maria Ivanovna’s mood and the degree of her irascibility by her clothes. Experience has shown that Maria Ivanovna is in the worst of her moods when she wears blue Margaret Thatcher suits. It is then that she throws objects around and bangs our heads against the blackboard at even the tiniest mistakes. On the contrary, the nicest queen-like half-smile crosses her face when she wears red. It is usually then that her ears are adorned with rubies the size of peas, and, believe it or not, it is their warm shimmer that melts my brown school uniform and my skin under the uniform and pours the mellow melody of the strange language directly into my veins.
I am jealous of Maria Ivanovna’s jewels, the more so because I know that I myself could get rubies like this by right of inheritance, but I never will. They say my great-grandmother Celia was married to a rich merchant in Odessa. She was an illustrious beauty. She spoke five languages, had relatives in London and never condescended to wearing such vulgar jewels as rubies. Even at the market place, accompanied by her kitchen-maid and a drunkard hired for a kopeck to carry the heavy baskets, she chose the best vegetables and chicken for a Sabbath meal wearing no less than diamonds the size of cherries.
But then the Revolution swept the wealth of the family away together with the diamonds torn directly from her earlobes by a waif on the streets of hungry Odessa. It was only in the thirties that Celia’s surviving children were able to afford to give their mother earrings albeit only rubies the size of peas, so she had to condescend to the red.
The earrings were inherited through the female line. When Celia died, my grandmother wore them, and after that, my mother. Unfortunately, my mother lost them shortly before I went to school. Not once was she reprimanded for that.
I gaze at Maria Ivanovna in scarlet glow and imagine myself not in a black Mercedes, not in the ministry of foreign affairs and not in a flat facing the Kremlin. In my dreams I go to London, step onto a boat on the river Thames and meet a whiskered young lord whose accent is the finest RP. We fall in love and marry and live in his castle with a ghost. To the ghost I also speak in my own finest RP.
I gaze at Maria Ivanovna in scarlet, she is gleaming. I think how lucky I am to be sitting here. Everybody says that it is impossible without connections or heavy bribes, customary and going without saying nowadays, but my parents are ordinary clerks, they have neither money nor connections. English equals freedom and wealth, though nobody dares to say that in our concrete town. So parents tacitly gamble all they possess on their children’s future, because English is a spaceship, a password, a catapult to a different, perilous, much railed against and forbidden world, a world teeming with bright colours and ingenious people.
It is widely known that a healthy bribe is a passport into Maria Ivanovna’s classroom. They say she receives several eager mothers in her flat simultaneously, and she has them all wait in different rooms and holds her audience with them separately so that they can’t see each other. There is even a wild story passed on in a whisper that Maria Ivanovna once locked a mother in the bathroom because all the other rooms had been occupied.
When asked how I had obtained a place, my mother always said, ‘it was your fortune, there was that one last place left.’ I finished school and tried to catapult myself into the longed-for perilous world. The concrete curtain fell and the cord of fate connecting me with Maria Ivanovna was cut.
I must confess I’m neither exactly in London nor exactly married to an English lord, neither exactly living in a castle nor exactly speaking RP. I haven’t fulfilled Maria Ivanovna’s black Mercedes precepts either, but I am trying to teach the English I learned from her to German children, who are not in the least fascinated by London, which is the capital of Great Britain and stands on the river Thames. They are not in the least in awe of me either, and if anything, it is I who would need to bribe them to listen.
Last Sunday I was marking the exercise-books and cursing loudly when the doorbell rang. A man with a concrete-like greyness about him was standing at my doorstep. I had never seen him before. ‘Is your name Svetlana?’ he asked me in my hometown vernacular. ‘Yes it is,’ I answered, surprised. ‘I was asked to hand you this,’ he said, and gave me a plastic bag. Before I could open my mouth he vanished into the dusk of the hallway.
Inside the bag there was a folded letter and a small tightly cellotaped box.
‘Dearest Svetlana,’ the letter said, ‘you forgot me, who taught you the Subjunctive Mood and told you all about London, the capital of Great Britain, and this is a shame. You were my most diligent pupil and I still remember your charmed face. It was a pity to bang it against the blackboard. So for you to remember me I bequeath to you the contents of this box.’
I undid the cellotape and opened the box. The rubies the size of peas shone up on me, unwinding a caravan of scenes and memories, jewels of the vanished world.
I learn English every day. I am learning English now. I have learnt some English already. I have been learning English for thirty years. Even the gorgeous Present Perfect Continuous have I mastered and the mysteries of the nebulous Subjunctive Mood as well. Had it not been for my mother, who had spent the spookiest hour in her life in my teacher’s bathroom locked from outside to offer her the only family treasure, I wouldn’t be struggling for words to tell you this story now, with rubies the size of peas in my ears.