Mozartean, Guest Post by Timothy Reilly

“Art is our chief means of breaking bread with the dead.”–W.H. Auden

For Jo-Anne

Mozart statue on Mozart Square (Mozartplatz) located at Salzburg, Austria

In late autumn of 1972, when I was twenty-two-years-old, I visited Mozarts Geburtshaus (Mozart’s Birth House), in Salzburg, Austria. I was one of only a handful of pilgrims climbing the narrow stairs to the cramped, former living quarters. Looking into a display case containing some of Mozart’s personal effects, I became transfixed by a lock of the composer’s hair. I recalled a familiar passage from Michael Kelly’s Reminiscences: “[Mozart] was a remarkably small man, very thin and pale, with a profusion of fine fair hair, of which he was rather vain.” And there it was: a lock of that same “fine fair hair”—exactly as described by one of Mozart’s personal friends. I was in a dream-like state, until a tall, uniformed man, in his late-sixties or early-seventies, tapped my shoulder and motioned for me to follow him. I didn’t think I had done anything wrong—so I followed without complaint, and was led to a small, eighteenth-century clavichord. The curator’s stern face suddenly gave way to a benevolent smile, as he pulled back a plexiglass covering from the clavichord’s keyboard: granting me permission to play. A placard identified the instrument as the one used by Mozart while composing his opera The Magic Flute. I was a tubist; not a pianist. But thanks to a former college piano proficiency class, I was able to plunk out the opening measures from Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11. My fingers were touching the very keys Mozart touched.

It’s not my intention to present the above memory as a travel-log boast—or a “Bucket List” notch (the Bucket List craze was not around in 1972; and at my current stage of life, I consider that practice an empty pursuit, and more than a little macabre). Mozart was—and remains to this day—my absolute favorite composer. My experience in Salzburg freed the composer from his plaster-of-Paris bust and helped me to see him as a fellow human being, with whom I could have shared bread and wine and enjoyable conversation. And for reasons I can’t explain, my newfound “long-distance” friendship enhanced my awe of the inscrutable genius of this “remarkably small” man’s remarkably profound music.

Around 1980, my professional music career was cut short by a non-life-threatening condition called “Embouchure Dystonia.”A few years later, I was able to lose my self-pity,and turn my creative energies to writing short stories. Good friend that he is, Mozart stuck around; and his music has continued to be a balm for my soul, and an influence on my writing. Which brings me to the Mozartean.

For most of my years writing short stories, I have considered the Mozarteana touchstone. My use of the term refers not to musicological analysis, but rather the emotional and spiritual elements Mozart’s music lends to deep expressions of the human condition. The fact is, I’ma bit rusty on my music theory. And even if I were able to outline an analysis of, say, the finale movement of the “Jupiter Symphony,” it wouldn’t explain the workings of Mozart’s imagination. Genius and the imagination cannot be deconstructed,distilled, or tacked upon a Periodic Table. The best we can do is attempt informed and thoughtful descriptions of the mystery.

In 1956 (the bi-centennial of Mozart’s birth),theologian Karl Barth wrote: “What occurs in Mozart is rather a glorious upsetting of balance, a turning in which the light rises and the shadows fall, though without disappearing . . .”That same year Frank O’Connor (a patron saint of the Mozartean short story) describes the Mozartean way of seeing things as “half way between
tragedy and comedy, [representing] a human norm.”

Cross-pollination in the arts is nothing new. Ernest Hemingway, on more than one occasion, said that he wanted to write the way Cézanne painted. In a 1958 interview for the Paris Review, Hemingway was asked to name his “literary forebears.” He responded with a long list of great writers, painters, and two composers: Bach and Mozart. He said: “I should think what one learns from composers and from the study of harmony and counterpoint would be obvious.”

The actual study of harmony and counterpoint would be a stretch for most people these days (or even in 1958). There are, of course, less severe approaches for the layperson. One approach would be to find Leonard Bernstein’s Young Person’s Concerts on YouTube. These incredible concert/lectures were broadcast on CBS (network television!), from 1958 to 1972.

A certain amount of spadework is necessary for all levels of art appreciation. We become better readers if we are able to see, hear and explain the differences between free verse and a Shakespearian sonnet. We become better listeners if we are able to hear and explain the differences between a Gregorian Chant and a Bach Cantata. Great art does not reveal its deepest treasures to a passive audience. It won’t happen by osmosis or pharmaceuticals.

But at the risk of sounding contradictory, I think it would be perfectly reasonable to begin the Mozartean quest simply by listening to some of Mozart’s compositions. I highly recommend beginning with two very short pieces: The Clarinet Concerto, and Ave Verum Corpus. Both of these pieces were written in the last year of Mozart’s short life; and both are exemplary of music in which the light rises and the shadows fall, though without disappearing.

Poetry Blog: Usha Kishore

Following is an interview conducted by Superstition Review‘s Poetry Editor, Erin Peters.

Usha Kishore is an Indian born British poet, and translator, resident on the Isle of Man, UK. Usha is currently a Research Scholar in Postcolonial Poetry at Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland. She has been anthologised by Macmillan, Hodder Wayland, Oxford University Press and Harper Collins among others. Her work has appeared in international journals like Asia Literary Review, Index on Censorship, Indian Literature, Pirene’s Fountain, Poetry Salzburg Review, South Asian Ensemble, South Asian Review, The Stinging Fly and The Warwick Review.

Usha’s poetry has won prizes in UK competitions, is part of international projects and features in the British Primary and Secondary syllabi and Indian Middle School and Undergraduate syllabi. Winner of an Isle of Man Arts Council Award and two Culture Vannin Awards, she is the author of three poetry collections and a book of translation from the Sanskrit. Her latest collection, ‘Immigrant’ was published in 2018 by Eyewear Publishing London.


“Drug Mule” by Usha Kishore:

She embroiders time under an alien sky:

chikankari on handkerchiefs, kutchi work

on cushion covers, kashmiri couching

on bedspreads.  Draping a pristine white sari

over her wasted life, she clicks crochet needles

in the hollowed air of betrayal.  Her seventy-five

years, spanning the length and breadth of India,

now cocooned in an English prison. 

Here, she is everybody’s Ma – mother,

the word means the same in any culture. 

She does not want to learn the sahib’s tongue;

she is content to live in the silence

of another language that mutters apologies   

for her predicament.  She has no visitors. 

she is a drug mule, carrying a toxic crime;

a contraband for an air-ticket to see

her beloved grandchild.  She shows me

smudged photographs of her great grandchildren

she has never seen, chanting their names

as if in a litany.  Her frail voice wraps me

in dialect Hindi, as she searches my face

with faded kajal eyes.  It is all His will,

she points to some sovereign of the skies,

summoned in reluctant cloud that peers

through the watery eye of the ceiling.

She does not dream of redemption, she does

not envisage freedom.  She has nowhere to go. 


Every morning, she mumbles a wounded prayer

to the miniature Ganesh, poised on a makeshift altar

in the corner of her cell.  She measures her days

with skeins of crewel threads, snipping them

at pre-destined length, with tiny sewing scissors. 

She sieves afternoon light in grams of flour,

translating it into her recipe of onion bhajis. 

Counting the stars trapped in a weathered rosary

of tulsi beads, she falls back into her reverie:

cross stitch, chain stitch, smyrna, herringbone;                              

each stitch knotting an unheaved sigh. 


Interview With Usha:

In a previous exchange, you had mentioned that this piece is particularly close to your heart. Could you speak more to that statement? 

‘Drug Mule’ is based on drug trafficking and the use of women as drug carriers.  The poem is close to my heart as I am committed to gender equality and I feel that the vulnerability of women is being exploited.  According to BBC statistics (2005), 18% of the UK’s female prison population are foreigners and are imprisoned for drug related offences. It is also a painful fact that older South Asian women are being used as drug mules. It makes you wonder if these women are criminals or victims.  

How do you incorporate social justice in your poetry?

Many of my poems are themed on social justice, especially on race and gender equality.  As a member of an ethnic minority community in the UK, I am very much aware of differences and my poems highlight the need for more integration.    My third collection, Immigrant (Eyewear Publishing, London, 2018) highlights the politics of being an immigrant professional interacting with discrimination and reflects on the binary perspectives of assimilation and marginalisation. 

My second collection, Night Sky Between the Stars (Cyberwit India, 2015) reflects my pre-occupation with Indian womanhood and articulates concerns of a marginalised gendered identity.  The poems in this collection draw heavily from Indian myth, rendering voices to female mythical characters and projects Indian womanhood in a different light.  

You have written three books of poetry as well as a book of translation from Sanskrit. How has your work in translation influenced your more personal writing projects?

My translations from the Sanskrit certainly influence my poetry in the form of thematic concerns and uniquely Sanskrit literary devices such as vyatireka (comparative excellence), dṛṣṭānta (a figurative device that can be described as ‘simile-like’ or parallel) and vakrokti (creative twist). 

How has the global pandemic affected your writing process?  

I am an English teacher in a secondary school on the Isle of Man, where thankfully, the effect of the pandemic has not been that severe.  So, the schools are open and functioning (we were only briefly shut in Spring. We re-opened in Summer).  I usually have to find time to write, amidst a busy schedule.  I am currently a PhD scholar in Postcolonial Poetry with Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland.  So, in the last two years, my writing has been put on the back burner. 

The global pandemic has brought a creative surge, especially in poetry, signifying that the human spirit rises above global challenges.  At this difficult time, a considerable number of poetry anthologies, themed issues of journals and discussions on poetry have all come to the forefront.   Poetry is a healer!  

Some editor friends have been keeping my work alive by soliciting submissions and giving me opportunities to participate in poetry webinars.  Coincidentally, a friend of mine alerted me to your call for submissions on Social Justice.  My writing has certainly picked up again.  

What is the most important piece of advice you have received as a writer?

 It’s not over yet!

It was a real struggle to get my first collection into print, despite being published internationally.  I was about to quit.   The above advice, ‘it’s not over yet,’ was given to me by the founder-member of the Isle of Man Poetry Society, the late Jeff Garland.  Soon after this conversation with Jeff, I received Arts Council and Culture Vannin grants and my first collection, On Manannan’s Isle was published on island in 2014.  I have not looked back hence.  

What are your upcoming projects?

As mentioned earlier, currently my research takes priority.   

However – Translation wise, I have completed the translation of the Sanskrit epyllion, Ṛtusaṃhāram by the legendary Kalidasa.  I am seeking a publisher for this project.  

I am also translating Jaisankar Prasad’s Hindi epic, Kamayani (1936) that falls under the Chhayavaadi school of Hindi Poetry.  Chhayavaad has been interpreted as Neo-Romanticism, I would call it Romantic mysticism.  Kamayani addresses human emotions in pathetic fallacy, personification, and mythological metaphors.  This has been a slow process as I would like to do justice to this epic, amidst time constraints.   I have found this translation extremely challenging, but highly inspiring and enlightening. 

The poetry goes on! I don’t think I am ready for another collection yet. But recently, I have started submitting to journals like Superstition Review!  Thank you very much for accepting my work for your blog on social justice.   

Sea Level Rise and the Two Cultures, a Guest Post by Thomas Belton

High tide rushes out upon the sour smell of sulfur and methane gas released from the drying peat beneath our feet. Ribbed mussels exposed along the creek bed seal their twin valves tightly and go to sleep under the drying sun as gulls and terns plunge into the shallowing water searching for killifish and flashing silversides in the receding flow. The water is brown and silt-laden under skies blue and wispy with tattered clouds. Walking out onto the marsh we look like hobbits carting heavy equipment into the misty mountains, each slumped under the weight of canisters of dry concrete, steel rods and a jackhammer. We’d come to drive steel rods into the salt marsh until we met refusal against a subterranean gravel bed, possibly deposited a thousand years ago by a hurricane. Some of the rods go down seventy feet, pushing the limits of the jackhammer to anchor our devices, delicate things called “surface elevation tables” or SETs. These devices will let us measure the marsh surface elevation, which over time will let us know if the land is sinking or rising.

The dreadful mathematics behind these measurements are inexorable, the SET like nature’s chronometer tuned to silt accretion on the marsh’s surface or its erosion and loss due to sea level rise and global warming. This fearful symmetry is a balance we must measure and maintain if life along the coast is to be sustained. For by all measures the coastal lands in New Jersey are expected to lose this long-term war with the sea because climate change is no longer a hypothesis but a fact that must be understood, measured, and adapted to. As seawater heats up it expands like steam whistling from a kettle, the shoreline sinking under this expansion, water permeating rivers and coastal bays like a child’s bathtub filling with bubbles. The air above these waterways fill with moisture, as well, which moves inland on the sea breezes until cooling heights bring it down again in rainstorms and floods. Unseen and distant, yet no less important to this rise in sea surface, are the shrinking glaciers in the mountains and calving icebergs at the planet’s poles. Until at last, their melting tonnage is added to the mass of the seas, which move they must, inland and up over the millions of homes that line the earth’s waterways.

Adaptation is the key to what we need to do now. For to survive in our flimsy houses along the beach, our skyscrapers in New York City, or even the quiet village a hundred miles upstream of the coast but whose tidal intrusion brings salt water and killing infiltration of drinking water wells along the estuaries, we must adapt to what the world will become. For scientists these facts, based on field-collected data from ice cores and SET tables, are an abacus we cannot ignore. A multitude of empirical facts like those we collect from our SETs alarm us as to their long-term implications. Yet the populace seems asleep, wary of the predictions from natural scientists whose job is to watch and measure.

In his famous 1959 book “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution,” C. P. Snow the scientist and popular novelist posited that there are two modes of knowledge, the humanistic and the scientific. He postulated that because of these differing educational approaches, which are mutually exclusive, they generate two opposing worldviews. His famous challenge to the “literary intellectuals” after hearing them harangue about the illiteracy of scientists was to challenge them to describe Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics. He noted, “The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is the scientific equivalent of, “Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s?”

This dichotomy, Snow felt, impeded any meaningful communication between the two camps without serious translation. Subsequently there emerged a furious debate on whether the phenomena really existed at all, and if it did, whether a means existed to bridge the two cultures. Snow felt it might which he described in a subsequent book entitled “The Third Culture,” which called for an infusion of both science and humanities into higher education. I have been fortunate in my own education to have lived in both worlds, first by studying Classical Languages and then Marine Biology. So, I can see both sides and understand this dichotomy in practice. In fact, even among practicing scientists there can be a communications breakdown due to the forced early specialization required in universities. Listening to an engineer’s explanation of an event sometimes makes me feel a “stranger in a strange land.”

For science uses not only a technical vocabulary but also a different way of processing information. In fact, we now know from neurological studies that humans use different parts of the brain to process information. This phenomenon called the “right brain – left brain” dichotomy where research showed that the two different hemispheres of the brain are responsible for different manners of thinking. The left-brain is logical, sequential and rational, analytic and objective, and tends to look at the parts of a problem. In contrast, the right brain functions more randomly, is intuitive, holistic and synthesizing, and subjectively looks at the totality of a problem.

Most individuals are born with a distinct preference for one of these styles of thinking although some are more whole-brained and integrated. Left-brain people are naturally adept at logical thinking, analysis, and accuracy, with linear reasoning and language functions such as grammar and vocabulary lateralized to the left hemisphere of the brain. In contrast, right-brained individuals focus more on aesthetics, feelings, and creativity with an enhanced sense for processing visual and musical stimuli. They are also good at spatial manipulation, understanding facial perceptions and possess what we call artistic ability.

This “right brain – left brain dichotomy” found useful application by speech pathologists when dealing with left hemisphere brain injuries. For example, in cases of aphasia, or speech loss, due to left hemisphere head traumas they will use music therapy to reintroduce language since this involves the right side of the brain, which reaffirms the grammatical rules lost to the damaged left hemisphere. Thus, when I turned to studying science after years of Latin and Greek poetry my brain fizzled a bit at first under this new paradigm. But with perseverance, I mastered the fundamentals and gained proficiency in both worlds forcibly creating the third culture envisioned by C.P Snow within my own cerebellum.

Yet the discontinuities of the two cultures paradigm I found persisted when I moved out of Academia and took my first job, especially due to the unique characteristics of an applied scientist working for a government agency where my endeavors required both practicality as well as accuracy. I was also fortunate in as much as my position as a “research scientist.” Now many layman and people un-attuned to the process of science may not see the significance of this statement. To elaborate, a scientist or a technician may use science but not study science or understand the underlying principles that drive its conclusions.

For example, a mathematics teacher may understand the elements of algebra and calculus, which he dutifully teaches to his wards in a junior high school. Similarly, a structural engineer will use these same mathematical equations to devise a stress diagram for building a bridge based on the know load capacity of commercially available steel plate. However, in selecting his steel he may have access to a dozen metallurgical mixtures using various combinations of chrome or titanium to augment the mineral composition of the steel. These are both applications of science. Yet the materials scientist who painstakingly devised experiment after experiment to test hypothesis on which mixture would make the best steel superstructure for the bridge, he engaged in research using the time-tested methods that have come down to us from antiquity on how best to pose and answer scientific questions.

The scientific method of research has four steps including the observation and description of some interesting phenomenon; the formulation of a hypothesis to explain this phenomenon; the use of the hypothesis in an experiment to predict your phenomena and quantify the results of your observation; and the lastly performance of experiments testing your predictions by other independent researchers. In my own field of marine biology and environmental science, this hypothesis might be as open as “How many fish are in the sea?” to more pragmatically “How many bluefish can fishermen catch before the population crashes?”

Research by the National Marine Fisheries Service addresses this latter question, which entailed catching and tagging bluefish off the Atlantic coast. The released fish were subsequently captured by fisherman from Florida to Maine with a promise of monetary reward if the tags were mailed back to the Service. After careful deliberation and years of capture, the Service concluded that the bluefish population off the east coast had a complex, size-specific migratory behavior. They self-sorted into similar size and age schools that started inshore then moved progressively offshore to seek larger prey as they grew. Moreover, these schools moved seasonally in echelon up the coast to feed on the billons of tiny animals called zooplankton that grew in response to the annual explosion of microscopic one-celled plants called plankton, which thrived in the cold yet nutrient-rich northern waters. Because of these studies and others like it, the United States government sets both commercial and recreational fishing quotas based on science as validated by research. The policy of the limits on certain types of seafood is typically protested by fishermen, but buoyed by the scientifically defensible research, thus policy-makers can assure them that their actions are not indiscriminate but based on a sampling and what each fishery can endure.

It is unfortunate that many of today’s politicians and policymakers confronted with the same kind of empirical facts about “climate change” and its more insidious symptoms such as sea level rise and the increase in extreme weather events, fail to see the facts and trust the scientists hired to inform them. Adaptation is the human genius. From the first hominid making a stone axe that saw flints spark and the savannah grass around him flame up to the eighteenth-century alchemist who invented chemistry by mixing chemicals in pursuit of gold, the analytical mind of man has lead the way to the modern world and all it technological wonders. But scientists are trained to be skeptical and to only weigh evidence despite the shaman in the corner of the hut screaming at his loss of prestige.

Climate change and sea level rise are the latest challenges to our long-term survivability on the coasts of the world. If given unfettered resources and allowed to work closely with planners and policymakers, the 21st century and its unusual hazards might be managed more effectively. If not, what we will see are a series of short-term fixes after each extreme weather event, or a hap-dash collection of sinking impoundments as each mile of coastline falls beneath the waters.

As I note in my book, “Protecting New Jersey’s Environment: From Cancer Alley to the New Garden State” (2010) data from deep sediment cores suggested that stable barrier islands with shallow lagoons and salt marshes behind them evolved in New Jersey only 4,000 years before the present. Prior to that the ocean swept in unhindered to crash against the continental margin. Native Americans arriving on the eastern coast of North America around 10,000 years ago may have witnessed the slow rise of these shoals into islands, their greening by windblown seeds and eventual colonization by diverse animal species during winter freezing of the bays. Eventually this gave rise to the unique forested ecosystem that Europeans found in the sixteenth century and which persist in protected areas today.

The tragedy is that in this current era our children may have the reciprocal experience of watching helplessly as the islands are reclaimed by the sea due to human negligence. The waves pushed ashore will be aided by the unseen hand of man, the greenhouse gases of our industrial revolution undoing in a century what it took a millennium for storm surge and wind to create. So, from my perspective sea level rise research projects are more critical and convey a greater sense of urgency than any that have gone before. Because of the greater risk at stake it is important that we study, plan, and act now before it’s too late.

The coastal landscape in New Jersey will most likely be different to my grandchildren’s eyes, as it was to mine and my father in his day. And seeing this change they may wonder what we did, or did not do, to protect that most valuable natural resource. And I’d like to think I could answer that I helped to preserve a beach or a forest. Even a headwater swamp reclaimed to forest along a mountain ridge along the Appalachian trail. And when they saw it, they might say, “Yes, that’s beautiful.”

To Hear the Universal Voice of Violence, Guest Post by Palash Mahmud

Milkman: To Hear the Universal Voice of Violence

One fine day Aristotle proclaimed man is a political animal which is still echoing at the very moment of our time, however, this omnipresent idea of politics pushes the lives of “us” and “others” into troubles, into a split nut but not equal halves, always in discomfort; and one bad not-fine night the same Aristotle preached woman is a mutilated male lacking of principle of soul which is still resounding from “over the road” to “over the water”, nevertheless, that ubiquitous logic of womanhood pull all of them back to the blind alleys of losses and sorrows, always in silence. Politics in knife-edge times and womanhood in tight-knot communities are the two prime themes have been dissected under the spotlight of Anna Burns’ exquisite narratives in ‘Milkman,” which won Man Booker Prize (2018), National Book Critics Circle Award (2018), and The Orwell Prize (2019) respectively and most recently won for the 2020 International DUBLIN Literary Award. It is one of most award hunter-gatherer novel in this century.

Back in early October in 2017, the whole world was suffering from the Harvey fever infected by the sexual exploitations by the men sitting at the centre of respective power structures. I was doing an assignment on Rebecca Walker’s seminal personal essay “Becoming the Third Wave”, a reaction to the hearing of Anita Hill’s harassment allegation, where she opined so intensely asking “how many men not used their protected male privilege to thwart in some way the influence or ideas of a woman colleague, friend, or relative” and “assault of the human spirit”. In addition, I was swaying in indecisiveness to choose a thesis statement of my research paper for the course titled Research Methodology in Literature and Cultural Studies during October, 2018, at the first anniversary of #metoo movement, Milkman earned the acclaimed 50th Man Booker title and I had immediately decided to write up on it. Fortunately or unfortunately, I had to travel inevitably to Singapore at the eleventh hour of my writing the first draft of the paper. And I had to keep on the writing while I was waiting at the departure terminal, on the flight, in the immigration queue at Changi Airport, in the hotel room at Outram Park, on the Bank of Singapore River at Boat Quay and at the café and restaurants in Little India. It was an overwhelmingly tenacious and forceful experience I had gone through. Now I find a resemblance between my writing-while-flying or writing -while- travelling and middle sister’s, the protagonist of Milkman, “reading-while-walking”.

The author has invented a unique narrative technique, apparently almost-stream-of-consciousness but in author’s testimony it is not, and applied it so adroitly to tell us the story of an unnamed girl, a middle sister, standing at the last dot of her teenage year deviant from status quo, opted for living in Victorian mise-en-scene and tagged as over-the-pale by her communities, and  then milkman, an associate of obsessively nationalistic paramilitary, appeared in a shape-shifting white-van on the scene without any hint out of nowhere and approached her and she could not deny him only because he was not rude and then she turned into an epicenter of gossips and rumors that unlocked the Pandora box of state-sponsored-violence, civilian terrorism, community policing, almost panoptic surveillance on every citizen, that locked the main gate of reality- as if what is not happening is seen but what is going on is hidden- above all, the narrative is a marathon race between state and individual, especially women experience in it.

Politics emerged in Milkman with negation to exercise its power like thunder creates a crack in the sky; they drew a map of “religious geography” and created a nationalistic weather, and swayed between in unitary territory (totalitarianism) and in sectarian territory (nationalism) of power in “troubles”, an unspecific time in seventies in Northern Ireland, they administered a dichotomy of “groupdom”, of renouncer-of-the-state and defender-of-state, of over the road and over the water, on top of that between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The first negation they imposed on freedom by conducting never-ending recordings of everything in the territories as “They even photograph shadows. People here can be deciphered and likeness discerned from silhouettes and shadows”, on the basis of “audible clicks”, they decoupled the right butter and wrong butter, they compressed the room of information as ‘Every resident was supposed to know what is permitted based on what was not permitted”, by that the reality is distorted in many folds and James-Bond-like-lies and Walter Mitty-like-hope occupied the civilians’ mind.

The protagonist, the middle sister, acts as an archetype of every woman at anytime, anywhere in the world. The experience she went through, at first with the “lewd remarks” and “manipulative nosey questions” by her first-brother-in-laws; with an imbalance characters of her third-brother-in-laws because only he regarded woman as an “essential element” or “higher aspect” contrary to Aristotle’s half-formed-creature; with aggressive stalking and talking of Somebody McSomebody, her wannabe husband; with compulsive contacts in rendezvous with her maybe-boyfriend who wanted to live together in red light street; and finally, the antagonist, milkman, tracked and trailed her without her knowledge backing up by paramilitary references and fell her into an “emotional numbness” that pushed her to find his invisible existence everywhere in her room. In response to anomalous approaches, she took refuge in “silence” in her defence. As in Milkman, Anna Burns questions the relationships between female experiences and male domination, in other words, does women‘s silence generate men’s privilege or vice versa? They also show how both silence as a resistance and power as an aggression can naturalize an individual’s sexual harassment in society.

Like silence, “marriage,” is another weapon “after territorial boundaries, is the foundation of the state” to consume privileges and to exercise domination over women. Like nineteenth-century, the traditional women take the position of in-charge of patriarchy, her mother so adamantly pursues her to lead “an ordinary life” by marrying McSomebody, and her longest-friend convinces her to “stop her stubbornness”. They are pleased to tell her the purpose of woman body that “they called menstruation stopped inside you because you were excessively sporty” and they also teach her physical violence is undefined until “your blouse ripped off” and sexual charges is denied until they have evidence of “one-quarter rape”. “I, too, came to find me inaccessible. My inner world, it seemed, had gone away” is one of the most heart-twisting sentences in the entire narrative which scratches the mental aberration a woman can go through, that claims an existential answer also.

“Anna Burns’ utterly distinctive voice challenges conventional thinking”, comments Kwame Anthony Appiah, chair of the judges for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, “and form in surprising and immersive prose.”  The form of the words, syntax, and narrative technique is as interesting and important in parallel as the contents of the book. They are influenced by Russian formalism like not calling the characters and places by their proper names and German phenomenalism like looking at the reality at different angles, like in French class the chorus get suspicious about fixed idea of le ciel est bleu, like the Russian literature middle sister was reading-while-walking obsessively.

In an interview with Aubrey Moraif in New School Writing, Anna Burns says, “My own history and experience of growing up in Ardoyne in Belfast at this time of huge pressure undeniably informs my interest in these issues. This is based on my need to understand and explore how these pressures built up and worked out in that specific time and place, as well as of what this might mean for similar places throughout the world in all different time frames.”  This alluring and brilliant novel forces us to ask about the nature of reality and its validation, to see the experiences of women in the time of turmoil and to hear the universal voice of violence. 

Art Blog: C. Christine Fair

The above images were first published by Vox Populi.

C. Christine Fair is a professor within the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. She studies political and military events of South Asia and travels extensively throughout Asia and the Middle East. Her books include In Their Own Words: Understanding the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (OUP 2019); Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War (OUP, 2014); and Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States (Globe Pequot, 2008). Her forthcoming book is Lines of Control:
Lashkar-e-Tayyaba’s Militant Piety, with Saifina Ustad (Oxford University Press, 2020). She has published creative pieces in The Bark, The Dime Show Review, Clementine Unbound, Awakenings, Fifty Word Stories, The Drabble, Sandy River Review, Sonder Midwest, Black Horse Magazine, Furious Gazelle, Hyptertext, Barzakh Magazine and Bluntly Magazine among others. Her visual poetry has appeared in Awakenings, pulpMAG and several forthcoming pieces in Abstract: Contemporary
Expressions, The Indianapolis Review, Typehouse Literary Magazine and PCC Inscape Magazine. She causes trouble in multiple languages.

In this interview, Fair explores her experiences with art in the world of science, and she explains her process of developing her work centered around Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s State Counsellor. 

You can find C. Christine Fair here on Twitter, here on Facebook, at at her website here.

Art Blog: Brenna Fisher

Brenna Fisher is an artist and early childhood educator interested in how artistic expression can be used to foster empathy, connection, and community. While teaching 3 and 4-year-olds in New York City, she collaborated to create a “compassionate curriculum” with the arts at its core such that students’ voices were heard and expressed through artistic expression.  At Hunter College, her graduate research in Early Childhood Education delved into the ways drawing in particular could facilitate social justice work in early childhood settings. She is now continuing this research and her goal of supporting authentic and imaginative art practices by leading workshops with teachers in early childhood settings.  Her introduction to teaching developed out of my experience as art director of Kingsley Pines Camp and then as a teaching artist at the Children’s Museum of the Arts in NYC. 

Drawing and painting defined her time at the College of Wooster where she graduated with a B.A. in Studio Art and a minor in English.  During this time Brenna’s artwork focused on the relationship between landscape and personal narrative.  While at Wooster, she also participated in the New York Arts Program as an intern for Bruce Pearson, Nancy Bowen, and Daniel Zeller.  Her experience with NYAP, and particularly with her mentor Emilie Clark, taught her how to sustain her art through any transition.

Superstition Review: How do you come up with ideas for your work? 

Brenna Fisher: When I experience a strong feeling – either physical or mental – I need to draw or write in order to understand it, process it, and move through it.  When I think about my mind and body I see it in colors, shapes, and lines.  When you look at my art you are looking at me. Ideas for my art emerge while nursing my now five month old, during the deep breathing in a stretch, after a dream that lingers into the afternoon awake time, or during a conversation with a friend when I get the tingle of, “Oh, you feel that too.” One of the many mantras is Louise Bourgeois’ famous quote, “Art is a guarantee of sanity.”  Another comes from Hannah Gadsby’s “Nanette,”  “There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.”  

After college, I lost that artistic community, and during this time, journaling sustained my art practice as I learned how to create the structures I would need to nurture my art career.  Once I found a fulfilling day job in teaching, my art started to grow in scale and concept.  Working with young students re-engaged me and allowed me to let go enough to really flourish independently. 

“Where Jane’s Rock Lives”

SR: In your most recent collection, “Sisterhood, Motherhood, “Krasnerhood” what was your process for creating each piece?

BF: Each piece in this ongoing collection is a window into a moment in my life that carried weight along my journey into motherhood.  Right now, as the new mother to daughter born in the June of the pandemic, I am grappling with the way dichotic emotions can exist simultaneously: tension and release, love and grief, hope and fear, pain and joy.  In each piece, these emotions battle each other for attention, find resolution, turn to mud, and marry each other as I visit my paintings during long evening or brief daytime sessions. 

“You Smell Like Toasted Marshmallows”

For a deeper look into my process I reflect on creating, “Sisterhood, Motherhood, Krasnernood,” the painting that this series is named for. I made this piece over the course of three months after my first pregnancy ended after 14 very hard weeks with the loss of a little girl.  Shortly after this, my husband and I adopted a cat that we named Krasner after one of my favorite artists, Lee Krasner.  That cat (whom the painting is partially named for) and this painting healed me.  This painting, which is quite large, started on my desk, then moved to my wall, and then spent a long time on my floor where I worked on it while laying flat on the ground.  As a result, Krasner the cat (at that time a kitten) ate portions of the paper, meandered through the green paint and dragged burnt sienna chalk pastel to places I might not have put it.  She knew best however, as cats often do.  While I painted I thought of the place where I put the rock I picked out for the girl I grew for 14 weeks and then grieved for (also depicted in “Where Jane’s Rock Lives”), I thought of the space in my body where another child might grow into, and I thought of all the women in my life – my sisterhood – who supported me and helped me feel strong and powerful even when I didn’t.  This painting now lives with one of those women.

The more recent paintings in Sisterhood, Motherhood, Krasnerhood carry grief from that loss but also the fresh hope and fullness that comes from new motherhood.  I made “You Smell Like Toasted Marshmallows,”  while my daughter slept on my chest.  This work feels like a triptych with the digital drawing, a poem, and a larger drawing currently in progress.  I resisted the urge to use digital drawing for a long time because the choices available to me felt overwhelming.  Now, after some experimentation I find it feels like a friendly blend of many of my favorite mediums including the between the urgency of drawing, the loss of control I find in watercolors, and the layering possibilities in oil paint.

SR: What does your physical workspace look like? What is one thing you have to have with you as you work?

“Tiny Seahorses”

BF: Ha! The top of my stoop in the sunlight, in my tub with my work taped to the shower wall, all over the dining room table, running the length of my bedroom….I make work when and where I can and as often as I can muster what I need to render myself in colors and lines.  All of the digital drawings and writing I have made have been made in motion or with one hand wrapped around my child. But, then I also carve out time to return to these ideas and manifest them into larger works, which you can see in the digital drawing, “Tiny Seahorses” and its companion painting, “Tiny Seahorses that Live Inside my Left Breast.” 

For a long time I had a studio in my home.  Now, I carve out my workspace with the limitations of the pandemic, my husband working from home, and the enormity of space a baby takes up.  I draw and write as much as I can and I have done everything I can to let go of any rules or definitive needs I had for making art.  Virginia Woolf writes in A Room of One’s Own, “There is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.”  I had my own version of this when I was put in time out as a child: “You can’t put me in time out because I am having fun in my imagination.” It still feels true.  When I sat with answering this question I pulled Virginia Woolf off the shelf and pieced through and felt tremendous solidarity with everyone in exactly my situation at home without a workspace right now but still resolutely making art because they know art matters deeply.

SR: How has the pandemic affected your art and process?

BF: During this time when my own sense of agency has shifted, I still feel whole and have the space I need to grapple and grow because I am determined to make and share my art.  I am a more empathic and compassionate person because I am an artist.  I feel empowered because I am an artist.  Without art I know I would feel incredibly alone, afraid, and disconnected during this time.

When the pandemic hit, my career shifted.  I am now at home full time making art and caring for my 5 month old daughter.  Originally, my vision for this year looked very different. I had planned to continue teaching and to move into a new role as a studio teacher that would support the arts curriculum and work with individual students to use art as a problem solving tool.  While it felt disappointing to let go of that position, one I had helped design myself and felt like a huge leap for my career, I have not let go of my art practice or my desire to connect with a broader community through art.  Since the pandemic, I have opened myself up to others through social media and other digital platforms.  

I am leaning into sharing the mucky, disgusting, or downright challenging parts of this experience and also hope to show how those parts exist in equal parts to the ecstatic moments, the wonder, and the bliss of a little face looking up at you.  I have often described the process of making as a “thin space”; a space where the artist feels connected to herself and her world deeply. 

SR: How is your work touched by social justice? 

BF: I see myself as an artist-educator.  I both seek to use art to understand myself as a form of auto-ethnographic research and also to make art more accessible to others.  

Now, more than ever, art matters.  The act of making and sharing art is an act of radical vulnerability and empathy.  Through art, we can still see each other when half of our faces have to be covered in order to protect each other.  There are a lot of causes and stories that matter, but the only one I can tell is my own.  

“Colors that Built Her”

I truly believe that art changes lives. I believe that art is the best form of self-reflection and self-discovery that we have available to us. But in the same way that authentic play is often missing more and more from early childhood classrooms, I’ve noticed how often children’s art looks the same when made in school. These experiences often drive people away from making something because we’re only taught to replicate an artist’s style rather than how to trust our vision, practice a skill in order to manifest what we imagine, process our feelings of discomfort inherent in creation, and finally to take the brave step to share our work, receive criticism, and return to ourselves again.  I think everyone has a desire to create something that is truly unique to themselves and have that part of themselves be heard, but we either tell ourselves no one needs our story or that we aren’t talented enough to tell it ourselves. I’m eager to change the conversation around art from what something looks like towards why someone made it, how they made it, and most importantly to center it around their story.  All I have is the story that belongs to me and a willingness to listen to the stories of others. 

SR: Do you have any upcoming projects or work you would like to discuss?

 BF: Over this year I am continuing to build this series and hope to show the work from this first year of motherhood either in person or digitally depending on the way the world manifests.  I’m continuing to explore digital art making as a medium and playing with the relationship between my drawing, writing, and painting.  I am compiling my writing and art into a show or installation that takes my process and invites others into it to share their stories. In this time when the scale of my work has shrunk, the aspirations for my work have grown and I am looking for opportunities to paint on a bigger scale, create sculpture, and invest time into the work of sharing and revisiting my work as it expands.

You can find Brenna on her website and on Instagram.

Book Giveaways: Upcoming Contests

Over the next few weeks, SR staff is running a contest on Twitter, and each prize will be a book from one of our interview authors for Issue 26.

The first contest will be Social Justice Book Recs, taking place on November 12-15. Tweet us a pic of your favorite social justice book and tell us why you love it. Two winners will be selected to receive a copy of The New American by Micheline Aharonian Marcom or The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans.

The New American by Micheline Aharonian Marcom

Simon & Schuster

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

Riverhead Books

The second contest will be a Social Justice Book Spine Poetry Contest, taking place on November 19-22. Tweet us a poem made out of book spines that has to do with Social Justice and tell us why you are a social justice advocate. We will pick two winners to receive a copy of This Is All I Got by Lauren Sandler or Disability Visibility by Alice Wong.

This Is All I Got by Lauren Sandler  

Random House 

Disability Visibility by Alice Wong

Vintage

A Lesson in Political Poetry, Guest Post by Jennifer Met

A Lesson in Political Poetry

Looking for things to revise in my folder of old, unpublished poems, I came across this poem I wrote in early 2017. After all that has happened in 2020, it is eerily prescient. Yes, I remember writing the poem, but reading it with current eyes startles me—it is like reading someone else’s words. It has moved from the safe realm of hypothetical to a place that reads as diary—personal, confessional, present. It is unreal to me how it is no longer just me but someone else’s truth—a true microcosm. Here is the poem:

Thanks to the Children

Thanks to the children, I have another

cold today. Hacking a yellow smell

like clogged drains, my head swimming

like summer asphalt. Another cold, this

constant parade. Spring and it returns


with the tulips—was never truly dead

but just lingering. Hand sanitizer empty

and of course I never touch my face,

even to check for sadness. Never hide

coquettish, never blow kisses, never mock


mustache. People don’t trust men

with facial hair, I tell the President,

who knows this, but somehow not

schoolyard physics. Let’s form a line,

he says instead. Like a recess game,


clasping hands and daring the other side

to send Johnny right over—let’s hold

hands across America. So close, pore to pore,

our sweat with nowhere to go, permeating

each grasp. Forget the states on the flag


are in constellation only—ionic bonds. Forget

that the country air is so sweet in effect

because it’s free—a space between

the fingers. How easily a wire fence slips

or is circumvented here where we live


and let live. In the red, where roads

aren’t paved. Just a suggestion—

but forget immanent influenzas, stealthy

infections. A wall cannot keep out the birds,

cousins of air, I press. No, he says, ignore


Avian Flu, Smallpox outbreaks. It isn’t

part of our America. Not part of my agenda.

Says the man without looking at his planner.

Great! Only it’s hard to ignore this growing tickle

at the back of my throat. The way fear becomes


an interminable barking—to no effect. President

already turning, the air between constituents

growing. Gaps between atoms expanding in heat—

the space between us a molecule’s width

instead of half. You’re covered. Go back


to the game of Red Rover. But…I cough in alarm.

Cough. I cannot stop. I cannot stop it. But…

I steel myself, know that children pick up

on panic. That for every breath I take of theirs,

they are inhaling mine—this air we share. Coughing,


the heavy heart in my throat’s cavern throbbing

to ear. Don’t listen, I whisper. To myself,

my daughter, my son. A cold now and then

makes us stronger. We need air to survive. But

through muffled stink ear a voiceless fear


floats. Neighbor standing with neighbor—isn’t it

Great? Don’t worry. We’ve got it covered.

Refill the hand sanitizer and just forget

the children about your knees—how quickly

ignorance can piggyback an innocent touch.

These were my notes when submitting this poem to a current event poetry feature in April 2017:

“I live in a remote 800 person town in the “red state” of Idaho and generally avoid discussing politics. But in poetry circles you hear a lot about Trump’s wall. You hear a lot about his proposed budget cuts to the arts and increase to national defense. But what about other areas of his budget plan or his health related administrative appointments? Worrying about the recent Smallpox outbreaks in the Czech Republic due to the trends of parents not vaccinating their children, I came across this article https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-trump-administration-is-ill-prepared-for-a-global-pandemic/2017/04/08/59605bc6-1a49-11e7-9887-1a5314b56a08_story.html?utm_term=.e8d1945eb285 pointing out the unpreparedness in the current administration for a pandemic outbreak of infectious disease. Yikes, as if “Dawn of the Dead” and Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” weren’t already giving me nightmares.”

Why am I sharing this now? As a way to say “I told you so?” Ha. Maybe a little bit—especially with the “no touching your eyes, nose and face” bit. That has always been my rule—one that my family would just not take seriously. Is it because I am becoming more overtly political in our country’s current state of crisis? Yes, I think this is maybe my personal “coming out” celebration. But much more importantly, I think this poem holds a crucial lesson for the future (mine, yours, ours, theirs): this poem was rejected and that was that.

This poem was rejected and I only submitted it to a few places before it fell out of my rotation and I never felt it good enough to even try to revise further. (Honestly, I’m embarrassed sharing it). Of course, it isn’t the strongest poem I’ve ever written, but in retrospect I wish I had believed in it more. I am taking this as a reminder, both as a writer and an editor, to look for poetry that matters. Even if it isn’t the best writing, there is something admirable in a force of conviction, something imperative in an idea. I should have worked on this poem.

Another lesson—important poetry is timely. This poem is now out of date. I used to think that a good poem had to be timeless. Because of this I would spend years refining each poem. But some of my best poems missed their moment. I have always believed that poetry is firmly rooted in time and even “classic” poetry reflects the era in which it was created. But what I didn’t realize is that this feeling of time is compressed for current poetry—it is often easy to tell if a poem is a year or two out of date. This is a lesson to write timely poetry intensely, quickly, and go with it. Work hard, not long. I will still let things set for a month to read with a fresh eye, but I will no longer let doubt rule my voice.

I feel, now more than ever, that poetry has a duty to be more than beautiful or entertaining. Responsive poetry has the ability and job to invoke standards of social justice. I wonder how many poems have made a reader stop to think. I wonder if a poem would have given emotional credence to the Washington Post’s journalism article—made it stick, made people recognize the importance of such words and work harder for change. And I wonder how many unpublished poems could have made a difference.

Reading my old poem’s ending, I am ashamed. I chose to ignore revising and submitting this poem. Took an easy way out due to fear. Spent time with my kids instead. How ironic. I wasn’t very political, especially in vocally pressing issues with which I privately disagreed. Especially in not realizing how an issue holding personal significance can quickly affect us all—how public policy isn’t just a wall somewhere, but here. And now. And coming for you.

So I am making this public promise to be better—to fight for social justice of all kinds and not just write, or think, pretty nature poems. Poetry is a medium of communication and all writing is political. We can and must speak up, and, to do that, we must stick with things that we know will matter—now and in all hypothetical futures.

Contributor Update, Dorianne Laux

Join us in congratulating past Superstition Review contributor Dorianne Laux on being nominated a 2020 Pulitzer Prize finalist! Her sixth collection, Only As the Day is Long: New and Selected Poems was named a finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. Dorianne is also celebrating her forthcoming chapbook Salt edited by Vaughan Fielder. Since being featured in Superstition Review, Dorianne’s piece “Lapse” was listed in the 2017 Best American Poetry edited by Natasha Tretheway. The poem was originally published in the online literary magazine Plume and can be read here.

Congratulations, Dorianne!

Hear what Richard Blanco, fifth presidential inaugural poet in U.S. history, has to say about Dorianne here. Be sure to also check out Dorianne’s website here and her Twitter here. Take a look at her poetry featured in Issue 8 here.