Guest Post, Terese Svoboda: In Dreams Begin Responsibility

I hover in a helicopter over a beach where my two grown sons race to catch the spy-worthy ladder I’m dangling. Once they climb up (how do those spies do it, hand-over-hand, with a fierce wind at the rungs?), my husband seals the cockpit from the poison that’s building up below, I gun the motor to leave–but to where? We hover, using up valuable fuel. Out to sea where smoke billows over the Atlantic? Up or down the nuclear-blasted north or south?

My dream brain knows we can’t flee West. After 9/11, my father bought a truck that fit seven, certain he could drive to New York and quickly return us to the family homestead in Nebraska, sure bombs would reflect in his taillights all the way. Never mind that the SAC airbase in Omaha was where Bush hid until he was forced to make an appearance, that the cornfields of home lie a mere 300 miles away from the missiles – he would rescue us. Now my brother has commandeered my father’s truck, along with the deed to his house—and dumped him into assisted living. Home no longer exists.

I dream my homelessness, I hover and know that the helicopter fuel will run out, joining the realities of travel with the impeccable dream-logic of anxiety. I’ve had experience: the post-nuclear world of the fifties was filled with such dreams. My father – like most – never explained why he didn’t invest in a bomb shelter like the neighbors, was heedless of the rising inflection of the inquiring helpless child, busy ducking and covering at school. Well, we only ducked and covered once, were expected to remember forever (we did) not to look at the fireball. Oh, Orpheus! If we were attacked by night, were we supposed to run back the twelve blocks to school to hide under our desks? I imagined running in the dark, the school gone, I dreamt it.

Imagination is crucial to terror, and night causes the imagination to consolidate our rational daytime fears with our nighttime, the terror billowing out of control, forest-fire-wild, all light and shifting dark. Dawn sweeps the pre-verbal visions away, and holds terror at bay, no longer baying. The sun shines and the plants grow and those post-war children uncurl from their balls that they instinctively imagine protect them, never mind the desks. “In dreams begin responsibilities” according to Delmore Schwartz, whose book from the Fifties and Sixties chronicled disappointment with the American dream, reminding readers that they had to labor hard not to be pulled under by its false economic promise, its faux egalitarianism.

Nothing bad happened on American soil for two hundred and twenty-five years except 9/11, nothing compared to the rest of the world. Our complacency makes violence elsewhere hard to imagine, we have only the little sparks of fear that light up our brains after any one of the thousands of mass shootings in the last five years, nearly all of them committed by Americans. But such complacency is also the result of partial blindness and deliberate amnesia. We’ve had at-home bombings throughout our history, anarchists planted 44 bombs that brought on the Palmer Raids and the first Red Scare 100 years ago, George Metesky set off dozens of bombs throughout NYC between 1940 to 1957 (he also slit open seats in movie theaters to hide explosive devices), Ted Kaczynski planted 16 bombs nationwide, fatally injuring three as recently as 1995. Our worst insurrection was also home-made: the Civil War killing 630,000 citizens, but mention should also be made of the 1921 bombing by Oklahomans of black Wall Street in Tulsa that left 10,000 people homeless and 300 dead. Are terrorists terrorists if they’re your fellow Americans, part of the family, as it were?

While I was teaching for the Summer Literary Seminars in Lamu, Kenya, my husband went on a trip up the coast to interview a man who had been imprisoned for two years by the Mossad. Suspected of working for Al-Qaeda because his sister married one of the most important operatives on the continent, he pled innocence. “He was just my sister’s boyfriend,” he said. “It’s true, at the wedding his family didn’t come but they were so far away. He played soccer with everybody else. Even my sister didn’t know.”

A terrorist can be in bed with you, dreaming, night after night.

My brother threatened to bring a gun to a meeting about the family farm. He believed (believes) in the right to bear arms wherever he wants. Does that make him a bully or a freedom fighter? It’s hard for me to understand how someone in my own family could redefine democracy so radically. Taking the benign concept of the family and delivering a gunman is a little like turning a plane into a weapon.  Of course the surrealists believed that whatever can be imagined becomes real. The most potent threat is the threat: the imagining of terror. The current administration is adept at promulgating imagined terror, posturing with North Korea, actually dropping bombs on Syria, political moves that create enormous stress, the opposite of what a government is supposed to provide.

Writers have a responsibility to use their imagination during times of stress. We need to imagine our survival and spread word of that imaginative act to others. I’ve always argued that novice writers have seen enough media violence to imagine any variation themselves, but when they need to imbue those scenes with emotion, they have to go to method-acting, and remember when their brother chased them around with a baseball bat, when their father’s hand was raised to hit them, or when the family dog turned, and magnify that response to fit the scene. Thank god, we survived it.

Writers also need to read and translate from countries that have lived through drone attacks and American terror to understand what they have gone through, to imagine whether that cost is worth our feelings of security. The proposed wall along our border also raises this question. What is the illusion of security worth? Fiction writers traffic in illusion, which is not alt-facts but seeks to establish the truth through accurate portrayal of emotion. Readers understand that. The domestic novel of an unhappy marriage can be a distraction, a method for relieving oneself of terror, but the story about a totalitarian brother making one’s father suffer is perhaps more apt.  The bluster of bullies is possible because they have never lost or never had the ability to imagine losing, they feel assured of their win because they can’t imagine otherwise. To imagine winning, we need to write out our fears with an urgency that makes them impossible to ignore, to make them real enough to act on. We can’t depend on twittering birds and daylight to trigger our survival instincts.

Sleeping at night has become a problem for me. Dreaming is always the goal, reorganizing those brain bits so they work faster, unconscious enlightenment, rest. Waking from the dream, having imagined the worst, panting in the dark, I recognize that even my personal psychic safety has been withdrawn. I can’t go back to sleep anymore than I can go back home. Home is imagined: I’m awake and I have to make home again and again. Ask any refugee.

Contributor Update: Simone Muench

Good morning, everyone! Today, we’ve got a great start to the day with some news about one our past contributors. Simone Muench, whose work was featured in the Poetry section of our 3rd issue, has recently announced that her collection of poetry “Suture,” which she co-authored with poet Dean Rader, has been selected for publication by Black Lawrence Press. You can check out Simone’s work that we featured here, and when you’re done, do yourself the favor of adding “Suture” to your bookshelf by following the link here. Congratulations, Simone!

Buy this book!

The brilliant cover for “Suture” co-authored by past contributor Simone Muench, out now from Black Lawrence Press.

Guest Post, Steve Weiss: What Didn’t Happen This Spring

Something didn’t happen this spring, and I’m still mulling it over.

People who live in Phoenix experience two and a half seasons. We have the well-known season; Summer and we have the other one, Winter. In-between are really the nicest two months of the year, March and October.

Our fall is practically one month of blessed cooling with the leaves actually turning mostly in December and January, and descends into winter or “Tourist Season.” Tourist Season begins generally after Christmas and ends after baseball spring training.

From the time in my youth when my thoughts turned from banana seat bikes to the girls that were never noticed, I also noticed spring, or at least my response to spring. It wasn’t just that the girls went from grey sweaters and knit caps to off the shoulder peasant tops and flowing locks. It was spring. When I attended college, I saw a trend develop as women came to school; either they met someone or carried a love from a far place and settled in. By spring, changes were due. New flings happened. Relationships changed. The budding blossoms always turned the relationships around, it seemed. I was both the recipient of and benefactor from both, and it truly was something in the air.

The scent of Spring, wafting languorously from fields of citrus trees and rose bushes, or the tall “stocks” at the South Mountain Flower Garden on Baseline. When spring comes to the desert, many times after a good wet winter, it’s not subtle. It’s explosive. It’s almost deafening. It never failed to stir me emotionally. Practically all my teen through post-college life was a series of spring romances amongst bursting orange blossoms. I might have been taken by the wistfulness of fall and the coziness of winter, but spring slapped me around emotionally time after time.

After marriage and settling down, I’ve spent the last 30 some years appreciating spring’s lure from a safer, less emotional space, or so it seems. Inside, my thoughts swivel like my head used to at the first sign of female exposed skin in spring clothing. I remember the rush of the newness of a relationship, the not knowing and confusion, the unsaid things mixed with passion and pleasure. Spring was always in the background yet pulling the strings. It’s something I could at least savor from far off memories, every time that first blossom blast hit the air.

Until this year, I figured spring allergies were something others coming from places like Wisconsin and Michigan would experience as they dragged their Midwest maladies with them. Sure, I knew the days of “Take Your Sinuses To Arizona” ads were long gone; a product of the same Midwesterners who craved familiar plants and grasses. Needless to say, Bermuda grass is not indigenous, though I question whether the island is covered with the stuff.

I figured as long as I had the lung scars of exposure to Valley Fever that any desert dweller gets after a lifetime here, I was immune to spring allergies. In 2017 I found I was dead wrong.

It began in late winter with a nagging tickle in my throat, then nose running and sneezing. By March I had to see a doctor, as I was worried it was something worse than a seasonal thing. My throat was cobbled and raw, my nose red from frequent blowing.  The doctor threw the works at me, even an ultrasound on my throat to look for anything worse. I started for the first time an allergy pill regime, which barely cut it by the end of the day. I’ve gone through lots of painful things, from concussions to knee replacement, but I don’t think I’ve been so afraid of not knowing when or if this awfulness would end.

In hindsight, it may have been my own dread of unexplained sickness that made me forget that spring was the time for renewal, awakening and romantic thoughts. Who feels nostalgic when you wonder if surgery is imminent?

By mid-April the season and blooming started to wane. Our intense heat typically makes short work of the pretty flowers and just a week ago I stopped the allergy pills, much after the throat soreness had left me. It was a spring on steroids and it took me with it on a new journey, totally unlike my dreamy memories. When you get older and doctors are mystified what is wrong with you, it’s way more ominous than when you are in your bulletproof youth. I felt I honestly looked at what it would be like without another spring.

Now summer’s coming quick. It doesn’t take Memorial Day for our unofficial summer to begin. Mother’s Day is a stretch to eat brunch outdoors, but we suspend reality and Mom gets cold easy anyway.

I dread summer every year, and probably will again this year, but not the same way. It took summer’s fury to kill spring’s allure, and as much I’m the romantic I always hope to remain, I’m relieved by its passing.

Intern Update: Elijah Matthew Tubbs

A warm welcome on this warm afternoon, everybody! Today, Superstition Review is proud beyond reason to announce that former intern Elijah Matthew Tubbs, who was with us for the Fall of 2015 and the Spring of 2016, was recently featured by the good folks over at Passages North, an annual literary journal sponsored by Northern Michigan University, with his poem titled “In through a Door, out a Window.” Elijah is the founder of ELKE “a little journal,” which you can check out here, and his poem over at Northern Passages can be read here. Our congratulations to Elijah, and to our dear readers, stay posted for further updates on the successes of the staff and contributors of Superstition Review.

Former intern Elijah Matthew Tubbs, whose poem "In through a Window, out a Door" was featured over at Northern Passages.

Former intern Elijah Matthew Tubbs, whose poem “In through a Window, out a Door” was featured over at Northern Passages.

Contributor Update: Jennifer Givhan

Good afternoon, dear readers! We here at Superstition Review are thrilled to announce that past contributor Jennifer Givhan, who was featured in the Poetry section of our 14th issue, has won the 2017 Blue Light Books Prize for her collection “Girl With Death Mask.” Says contest judge Ross Gay “How many times I found myself looking into space, sort of shaken, sort of grasping, turning and turning inside a line or phrase, inside an image or metaphor, inside some devastating music while reading these poems, I do not know. But again and again. Put it like that.  These poems beautifully, convincingly do what I hope poems might–they disrupt what I know, or what I thought I knew. And in that way they invent for me a world.  A world haunted and brutal, yes. But one mended, too, by the love and tenderness and vision and magic by which these poems are made.” The winning collection will be published in 2018 by Indiana University Press, but you can get a taste of Givhan’s work now, by checking out her poem here.

Stay posted for more contributor updates!

Past contributor Jennifer Givhan, whose collection of poetry “Girl With Death Mask” won the 2017 Blue Light Books Prize.

Contributor Update: Patricia Murphy

Congratulations to our Founding Editor Patricia Murphy. Patricia’s collection of poetry Hemming Flames has won the 2017 Milt Kessler Poetry Award! The award is presented by Binghamton University and has some prestigious previous winners including Yusef KomunyakaaTarfia FaizullahJim DanielsMarilyn NelsonMartin EspadaC.k. WilliamsRobert BlyRuth StoneAlbert GoldbarthDenise Duhamel. Patricia wins a cash prize and a travel allowance to do a reading and class at Binghamton University.

Click here to find out more about the Milt Kessler Poetry Award. You can read an interview with Patricia in Issue 18 of Superstition Review where she talks very powerfully about writing with both honesty and empathy.

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.