Looking for things to revise in my folder of old, unpublished poems, I came across this poem I wrote in early 2017.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 gameof 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:
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.
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.
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.
This interview about Ryan Greene’s translation and collages was conducted via email by Art Editor Anna Campbell.
Ryan Greene likes text + image. He has exhibited visual poetry rooted in infectious disease biology, coordinated installations of multimedia work by artist-scientists, and published handmade books of poetry/collage by local artist-writers. He is the instigator behind F*%K IF I KNOW//BOOKS and he dreams of bilingual, immersive public poetry projects. Like Collier, the ground he stands on is not his ground.
Superstition Review: You work as a translator of poems from Spanish to English as well as with creating collages. How would you define the relationship between these forms of art?
Ryan Greene: Both collage and literary translation involve a type of friction. A rubbing up of edges. A joy in the sound of that scrape. A question of when one thing ends and another begins. Put differently, both translation and collage are rooted in a convergence that results from [and in!] a kaleidoscopic, and often cacophonous, conversation between context, authorship, and collaborative creativity.
All that sounds kind of floofy though…
To be more concrete, I am drawn to collage and translation because of the “layered-ness” of their many moving parts. In collage, I like that I can take scraps and snippets from many sources and ask them to share the same space. Torn advertisements and ripped photographs and scrawled text all mingling, fighting, love-making, whatever. A COMMUNITY COHABITATING THE PAGE! There’s a charge that becomes possible when these different components live together.
When translating poems, there’s a similar tangling. The original text/author and all of its/their context comes into conversation with the translated text/me and all of its/my context. In other words, translation becomes the work of re-mapping one composite object [the original poem and its interplay of rhythm, sound, repetition, breath, space on the page, idiom, register, personal/political/historical context, etc.] into another composite object [my translation written in my english]. Navigating this poetic web of relations can be sticky, AND it’s part of what keeps me coming back to translation over and over again.
SR: Can you explain your process for translation?
RG: I think about my translation process at two primary scales:
At the level of my body, I often feel like I’m in an airplane cockpit with an overstimulating array of buttons and lights flashing in front of me. I typically translate on a computer, and I tend to get set up in nearly the same way every time. On the left half of my screen, I have the original text displayed. On the right hand of my screen I have the document where I am translating and an internet browser window with several tabs [typically Wordreference, DeepL translator/Linguee, an English thesaurus, an English dictionary, Google images, and a Google web search page]. As I work on my translation, I toggle back and forth between the various resources that I need, stopping to do research when necessary. Depending on the poem, I may end up using additional references to supplement the ones listed above. For instance, when I was first translating the collection Tránsito [Transit] by Claudina Domingo, I spent a lot of time using Google Maps street view to explore the various street corners and neighborhoods that she mentions in the poems. Having this extra visual context was a huge help when working on the early drafts of the book.
At the level of the project, my translation process often looks like this…
I read a poem and I get an itch to translate it.
If the author’s alive, I do my best to get in contact. This can be straightforward, or it can involve various grapevine gymnastics.
Eventually [to my eternal amazement and delight!], I’m typically able to get in touch and begin an email correspondence letting them know that I’m interested in translating their poem[s].
I’ll start working on my translations, highlighting questions/options/alternatives along the way. This can involve several drafts.
Next I’ll get in touch with a trusted friend [or friends] to read over the translations, and we’ll discuss possible edits and brainstorm solutions to various snaggles.
After this first round of edits, I’ll do another bit of smoothing/tightening and then spend time talking with the poet to clarify questions, discuss possibilities, and get additional context.
At this point, I’ll go back to my drafts, make adjustments based on our conversation[s] and let the poems marinate.
After this percolation stage [anywhere from a few days to a few weeks] I’ll revisit the poems to make some final adjustments and to clarify any remaining questions with the author.
Then, finally, I feel ready to start finding ways to share the poems more publicly.
It’s important that I emphasize, the list above is a generalization. My process is sometimes far more condensed, and other times far more convoluted. Also, I must say in all caps that I DO NOT BELIEVE IN DEFINITIVE TRANSLATIONS. This means that I often will revisit translations even after they are published to make changes, return to earlier versions, or try out new approaches. Each translation I make is just that, a translation.
Also, I want to highlight that my translation process relies heavily on collaboration. Collaboration is built into my conversations with the author, my editing/brainstorming with friends, and ultimately with all the translators whose work has shaped me and my own approach. Also, in the past year, I have been more intentionally experimenting with collaborative translation involving multiple translators in the entirety of the translation process. Here is an interactive portal that documents a collaborative translation experiment I completed with my friend Janice Gan using a poem by Elena Salamanca. It is a multimedia attempt to visibilize the often invisible parts of the translation process.
SR: Can you discuss your collage making process, both hand-cut and digital?
RG: For hand-cut collage, I tend to take that pretty literally. In the past, I used scissors and sometimes an X-acto, but these days I almost exclusively use my fingers to make the “cuts.” In 2019 I met Jocelyn Samayoa at the Tijuana Zine Festival and I was moved by her commitment to hand ripping each scrap of her collages. The added time and effort this takes adds something to the process. An intimacy? A tangibility? A concision? Whatever it is, I like it, and I think it’s good for me not just to accept, but to CELEBRATE, rough edges!
When I’m making digital collages, I find that I’m much less decisive. I tend to work in bursts. Trying out ideas. Piling on images and snippets from different sources. Then trashing and rehashing. Sifting and shifting. Flipping it all upside down and seeing what sticks. What this means is that my digital collages often include multiple versions of the same images with different sizes, crops, transformations, opacities, etc. This repetition and overlay is where I find my favorite textures emerging!
One thing I’ll add is that I rarely, if ever, make collages that do not include at least some text. On the flip side, I rarely, if ever, make poems that do not include at least some visual elements. So I guess image + text serves as a gravitational center for me. A good example might be this goofy clickbait sonnet I made earlier this year as a part of a fleeting pandemic writing group with co-workers.
SR: What does your physical workspace or studio look like? What is one thing you must have with you as you work?
RG: My primary creative endeavors are translation, collage, bookmaking, and poetry. I am currently subletting a friend’s apartment, and due to the pandemic, most of my “making” happens right here! This means that under my [friend’s] bed there are two paper cutters [borrowed from the Cardboard House Press Cartonera Collective], several reams of paper, stacks of salvaged magazines for collaging, and partially completed books. The space under my [friend’s] nightstand is the home of my trusty saddle stitch stapler. On my [friend’s] desk, there is a computer where I do my writing and digital collage work. Next to the desk is a scanner that I recently inherited from another friend. This is where I have been digitizing my own hand-made work as well as the work of friends. In the closet, I have stacked some additional bookmaking supplies above and below my clothes. In the kitchen/living room, there are two small tables where I set up the paper cutters when I’m working on making books. Under one of these tables I’ve stashed a box with finished books and the guts and limbs of books in process. So I guess you could call it a live/work studio…Ha!
SR: How has the pandemic affected your art and process?
RG: Most of my art is done at home now. I used to facilitate bookmaking workshops for the Cardboard House Press Cartonera Collective at Palabras Bilingual Bookstore every week. This was a central part of my community and my support network. Finding new ways to not just maintain, but build, creative community has been difficult, but not impossible. For instance, in September [National Translation Month], I co-coordinated a translation celebration called BOCALLAGE//COLLAGEMOUTH with two other local translators [Mary Hope Whitehead Lee and Claudia Nuñez de Ibieta]. The reading featured poetry by seven womxn writing in Spanish from the Americas, the Caribbean, and Central Africa and was a wonderful reminder that even in a pandemic, we can [and must!] continue to work intergenerationally, interlingually, and interculturally.
One interesting shift for me in this time is that I’ve had more opportunities to read publicly with the poets whose work I translate. Given that most of the poets I collaborate with live in different countries, it’s rare that we are able to be together in person for an event. Since most readings are taking place online these days, the opportunities for reading together have multiplied. No travel necessary! Being able to share the poems bilingually has been a true treat, and something that I hope to continue going forward.
SR: How is your work touched by social justice?
RG: My translation practice has been greatly informed by the “language justice and language experimentation collaborative” Antena Aire, co-founded by Jen Hofer and JD Pluecker. Their collective (and individual!) work has provided me with both theoretical and practical frameworks to approach my own translations. I return again and again to this section from their Manifesto for Ultratranslation:
We recognize how translation has been used, is used and might still be used as a tool of conquest, assimilation, or domestication…Ultratranslation is a process of working against languages that seek to dominate. At the most basic level, the message of translation: there is something being said elsewhere that is of crucial importance for us here (in this language) to hear. It is worth great effort to listen to that “something elsewhere.” Ultratranslation would not bring something elsewhere into a dominant language (English, for instance) in a smooth, seductive, unproblematized way, as if to suggest that now “we” “understand” “you.” Ultratranslation nudges dominant languages away from dominance, toward the space between original and translation. Into the space of the ultra.
Here, there is a recognition of translation’s non-neutrality. And so the question becomes, how do I choose to use translation? For me, I think a lot about voice and leverage. Because I am a white, cis-het, well-off, English-speaking, male, U.S. citizen, my voice is undeniably [and undeservedly] privileged. As a translator, I’m always looking for ways to leverage that undeserved power in order to amplify the voices of the undersung poets with whom I collaborate [most of whom are womxn, none of whom are widely known in English, and several of whom identify as queer]. As a publisher and cultural worker, I’m also always looking for ways to celebrate [and learn from] the voices of undersung translators in my community who do not have the same privileges I do and whose work is undercelebrated within the undercelebrated world of translation.
At the level of the text, I return again to Jen and JD’s demand to “[nudge] dominant languages away from dominance….” Ringing in my ears is always the voice of Mónica de la Torre, who argues that “voice necessarily ventriloquizes, necessarily voices.” In other words, all voice [and therefore all writing] is chorus…is collage. For me, that means that the original text I’m translating is not in capital “S” Spanish, but in the particular composite spanish that belongs to the poet with whom I’m collaborating. In turn, as a translator I am bringing the poem into my particular compositeenglish. My question, then, when translating is how to use my own english to push and prod capital “E” English outside its comfort zone while also doing honor to the original poem [and poet]. I’m a translator in progress and this is a direction in which I’m hoping to grow.
In my collage work, I’ve been thinking a lot about how collage as a medium can enact the type of world that I’m dreaming toward. I remember working on a poetry/collage/sculpture thing back in 2016 just before and after the election. In that project, I was specifically exploring the connections between the xenophobic language of the trump machine and the types of language used in the world of immunology. In both, there is assumption of a body [think nation] that is at constant threat of infection [think immigration] and that seeks to protect itself through maintenance of barriers [think borders] and vigilant surveillance [think border patrol, think police]. Four years later, in the lead-up to a mid-pandemic election with nationalist, law-and-order rhetoric at full volume, I’ve been reflecting on that project. I’m convinced there’s something to learn from collage, whose primary charge [and potential] stems from the juxtaposition of difference.
SR: What are your upcoming projects?
RG: On the translation front, I recently finished working on a series of political performance poems by Elena Salamanca called Landsmoder, and I am now in the process of trying to publish the full manuscript. Some individual poems are available here and here. I also finished working with Claudina Domingo on her sprawling collection of poems centered on Mexico City called Tránsito [Transit]. I am similarly in the process of submitting the full manuscript to publishers. A selection of the poems are available here, here, and here. In terms of translation projects in progress, I’m working on a book of poems called El Nuevo Mundo I [The New World I] by Yaxkin Melchy, which is the first of five full-length collections that comprise his decade-in-the-making poetic project EL NUEVO MUNDO [THE NEW WORLD]. The first translations from The New World I will be coming out in the next issue of ANMLY. I am also working on translating a book of poems called GAME[R] OVER by Giancarlo Huapaya which explores the nexus of late capitalism, digitality, and USA-brand racism, xenophobia, and exoticization. The first set of translations will be coming out in issue 17 of Tripwire.
On the collage front, I’m working on a digitally-mediated poetic project called SPACE ROCK. Broadly speaking, it’s an exploration of “faithstuff” that includes contributions from nearly 30 friends and loved ones. Several portions of the text will be a mixing and mashing of the various things people have sent me. In this way, the project is rooted in a spirit of textual collage. Additionally, I am going to be creating several digital collages [visual] that will be incorporated into the online interface for the project. SPACE ROCK is a bit of a slow-burner, so I’m sure to be working on it for a while ☺
Lastly, as I mentioned earlier, I do a lot of bookmaking. I’m currently working on several projects with friends around the Valley. I’m working on a small comic with a 8-year-old friend named Keenan. I’m working on helping to publish my friend Sean Avery’s forthcoming audio/textual poetry/essay collection called 808s & Otherworlds. I’m collaborating with my friend Raji Ganesan to make a book object for a series of rituals/meditations she’s getting ready to share. I am working with my friend Shaunté Glover to publish a collection of Instagram collage poems called A Series of Journal Entries Disguised as Poetry: Written by a Lesbian. I have also been collaborating with my friend June Powers to publish her first three chapbooks of poetry. We are getting ready to launch all three very soon! Lastly, I’m finishing up a print run of a project called 4M Books: Vol. 1 that is a bilingual, bidirectional, four-in-one book featuring four local authors writing in English and Spanish.
Andi Boyd is an educator and writer living in Waco, Texas. She holds an MFA from Texas State University and a BA in English from Northwestern State University. She has taught literature and writing to students from kindergarten through university. Her poetry and fiction has been published in anthologies and journals such as Nasty Women Poets, If You Can Hear This: Poems of Protest, Black Warrior Review, Gulf Coast Magazine, Narrative Magazine, ANMLY, Fiction Southeast, Juked, etc. and was named for a top 50 flash fiction piece by Wigleaf.
Graciela García is a graphic designer, artist, and writer from Madrid. She studied Fine Arts and holds a Ph.D. from the Complutense University of Madrid. Passionate about psychology, her research on the creative processes in outsider artists are collected in her book Art Brut. La pulsión creativa al desnudo. Her blog El hombre jazmín is an international benchmark in the field of Art Brut. She is currently working in the graphic design studio Se ha ido ya mamá, of which she is a founding partner, combining this activity with research, criticism, and creative curatorial work.
In the mid-twentieth century, in a stretch of high desert near the U.S.-Mexico border, people are living their lives for the long haul, without lotteries or easy answers or particular luck. Theirs is the everyday, with its small but meaningful joy. Celebrate our Director Alberto Ríos latest novel, A Good Map of All Things on Thursday, October 29, 2020 at 6:00 p.m. Arizona time on Zoom. Open to the public and free. Individuals who purchase a copy of the book through the Piper Center’s website will receive access to a special meet-and-greet following the event. Learn more and register today here.
This interview about Sève Favre’s recent collection was conducted via email by Art Editor Anna Campbell.
Sève Favre is a visual artist originally from the French part of Switzerland. Sève was introduced to arts from a young age but decided to follow an academic study first: Art History at University. She supplemented her literature degree with secondary school teaching. She continued her education by taking several seminars and workshops in the visual arts, notably at the Ceruleum School of Art in Lausanne. In 2005, she created her first modular artwork and during several years she maintained both careers simultaneously, teaching and private commission for artworks. Today she completely devotes herself to her art practice and promotion. She has been exhibited in Switzerland and abroad. This year, Sève was nominated by Arte Laguna Prize in the installation and sculpture section. Passionate about the concept of integration, she concentrates on transcending the classical boundary between the artwork and the viewer. The main feature of her art is interactivity. The keywords that support her concept are interaction (be together), variation (be different), and activity (be active). Her name for this experience is intervariactivity. Sève can be found on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @sevefavre. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Superstition Review: You frequently talk about your “intervariactive” art as a synthesis of being together, being different, and being active. What attracted you to the idea initially, and how do you continue to explore it through your work?
Yes, being together is interaction, being different is variation, being active is activity. At the beginning, I really wanted to break this classic boundary between the artwork and the spectator, especially through the work on canvas. I found it interesting to integrate the spectator in the process of creating the work, which is a continuous process that starts in my studio but then continues elsewhere thanks to the possible appropriation by the public, a process of co-creation, by revealing the different possibilities of the work. Then, I extended this principle to the interactive double digital of certain works, as you can test it here.
These different possibilities, both real and virtual, multiply the possibilities of participation and interaction. For example, from the digital realisations I can create a gif containing the different proposals made by the participants: a collective work, like this one :
All this can then be shared on social media….
SR:The human component of your work is quite striking. Can you explain your process for creating these pieces?
SF: Indeed in my artwork, the human can be the subject of a work, but is above all the vector of metamorphosis of the artwork (real or digital). In our world where the development of artificial intelligence is dazzling, I find it interesting to highlight our fragility with/on human characteristics, Moreover, by allowing the spectators to intervene directly on my works, I would like to point out specifically human attitudes, such as trust, risk-taking, respect… etc… The spectators are not mistaken because the first question that comes up most often is if I am not afraid of the consequences of their action on my paintings. I don’t believe that this emotion is one day likely to be a characteristic of robots. This is really what I find interesting and important to make the viewer feel: his humanity.
SR: What does your physical workspace or studio look like?
SF: My artworks require different stages; my studio is organized according to them. First of all, I have a relatively large storage space for materials because I mainly work with mixed techniques so I use different types of materials. Secondly, there is an easel workspace which is very practical especially when I work with pastel chalks; I can tilt my easel to manage the dust from the chalks. On a workbench, I can concentrate on measuring, cutting and origami work. And finally, as far as assembly is concerned (gluing the different parts made), I have to do it on the floor so that the canvas is horizontal and stable. And I like to have a cup of tea near me when I work while listening to the radio or music during my time in the studio.
SR: What is one thing you must have with you as you work?
SF: My necessary tool for absolutely every artwork is my favourite pair of scissors.
SR: How has the global pandemic affected your process?
SF: The pandemic had more of an impact on my exhibition schedule. However, it has allowed me to develop the digital part of my work more, notably thanks to my participation in CADAF online (Contemporary and Digital Art Fair). I also remotely managed the setting up of an in situ installation for an exhibition, as I couldn’t travel to London to do it myself. That was a challenge I wouldn’t have considered in the past.
SR: How is your work touched by social justice?
SF: Behind my work there are fundamental concepts of value and participation. The notion of value in my work is linked to the different possible variations. Are they of equal quality? Only the owner or the public can determine this: is it preferable to keep the artist’s proposal, as this visual will have more value than theirs? Would they like to invite a celebrity to interact with the work and then, religiously preserve the evidence… or do they feel that the choice of a relative will be much more valuable? All these questions are much more intimate and personal in scope than the purely economic value, but they are all equally necessary because they challenge the relationship with objects in a world that continually produces them in disproportionate quantities.
SR: What are your upcoming projects?
SF: First of all, I am working on my new website. Secondly, I am preparing a new installation normally for a Festival, but we have a lot of uncertainty about how it will be held in relation to the pandemic. Next year, I will exhibit my installation “Être au pied du mur” at the Arsenal in Venice as part of the Arte Laguna Prize finalists’ exhibition. As this year is special, I am trying to focus on my digital presence; I think it’s important to also highlight the digital part of my artworks, especially with a project of cultural participation in Switzerland.
You can find Sève on Instagram here and on Twitter here.
This week’s BIPOC creator feature is local Phoenix-based artist Antoinette Cauley. Antoinette is a Phoenix native and studied art at Mesa Community College. She apprenticed with oil painter Chris Saper and is now known for her hip hop and urban-influenced work. Antoinette is an educator and an activist, teaching inner city youth how to paint. Her work focuses on her own internal struggles, as well as modern social issues and rap culture. Antoinette was named best local artist by AZ Foothills Magazine in 2017 and 2018 and was featured in Phoenix Magazine’s “Great 48:48 Influential People in the State of Arizona.” Her most recent project was a portrait of the late poet and novelist James Baldwin, which was transformed by Jason Harvey into a mural on the side of his Ten-O-One office building in the heart of the Roosevelt Arts District in downtown Phoenix. The installation of this mural was in response to the Black Lives Matter movement that took place earlier this year.
Antoinette’s work is colorful and striking. It plays with the public imagination of the black community in a way that exposes the fears that often come with inner city youth. Her paintings display images of young Black girls in powerful positions with dynamic juxtapositions that challenge the viewers perception on gender roles, childhood trauma and the influence of pop culture on our youth. It is a brilliant way for a black rights activist such as Antoinette, who works with inner city youth on a regular basis, to shine a light on societal misconceptions that encompass the lives of black youth.
Be sure to take a look at Antoinette’s Instagram, Twitter, and website. If you are interested in finding out more about Antoinette’s personal life and the motives behind her work, check out this interview conducted earlier this year by the Phoenix Art Museum.
History of Violence Binds Us to Live a Life We Don’t Want to Live
L’existence précède l’essence
When Eddy Bellegueule at the advent of his teenage was carrying the unbearable lightness of Anglo-Saxon name representing constructed masculinity intoxicatingly to present himself to the expectations of the social system and to act as per the principles of social exclusion and to remain silent–
a crisis of gender representation,
I standing at the exit door of my teens had encountered an event among the gathering of orthodox Muslim relatives first ever to be acquainted with in my own sister’s marriage ceremony and when I had introduced myself, obviously, as Palash Mahmud, a name combined by Arabic-Bengali words, within a second showing a distaste and shock on their faces, they asked why I am bearing the Bengali word despite of being a Muslim; I could not open my mouth further but to remain silent–
a dilemma of lingo-religious representation.
As Eddy said to Alessandro “Every reality is secretly built upon the rejection of something else,” he excluded the imposed qualities of masculine archetypes for Eddy Bellegeule and transcended to the exposed desires of human qualities for Edouard Louis, on the other edge, I am still carrying the bearable weightiness of intersectionality and enduring the pressure of excluding my linguistic identity to hold up my religious spirit, I could not say anything or write anything but only asking over and over again inside my mind that what’s the sense of not taking a Bengali name along with Arabic name although I don’t speak in Arabic but in Bengali.
Edouard and I have been going through the same societal pressure living in the opposite pole of the world, tolerating the same mass of humiliation and suffering by the different and distinct reasons that proves the objectivity of the human conditions, and adopting two opposite defense mechanisms – rejecting the name Eddy and being a voice of Edouard, oppositely, for me keeping the name Palash and being silent that also denotes the universality of human resilience.
The French debut novel, a global sensation of Edouard Louis, The End of Eddy (En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule in French, 2014) sets in Hellencourt in segregated far-right dominated and melancholic grazing land in Northern France which deals with name, sexuality and identity that are formulated by the norms of class-systemized cultures, social and political decisions that bring shame, humiliations, abuses and sufferings to the individuals. It links up Eddy’s gender representation and sexual preference with his family’s honor and dignity, political bourgeois and supremacy with Eddy’s ruthless poverty which make the analogous tones and themes with Scottish-American novelist Douglas Stuart’s Shuggie Bain which is shortlisted for the 2020 Booker prize and the National Book Awards for fiction; and with Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake which won Palm d’Or in 2016. It shows us the basic structures on which persons and politics intersect and react with each other.
In his second novel, History of Violence (Historie la violence in French, 2016) which has been shortlisted for the 2020 International DUBLIN Literary Award extends the structure into more deeper level where readers can know how person’s identity is reconstructed over and over again by the political malice; and in process politics effectuates violence as a workable instrument evidently.
To show a model of violence in the universal characters, Edouard use bodily assault, the incident of rape from his own life which is very unique in the literary landscape illustrating his psychological journey of pain and grief, rage and revolt so subtly. The truth is no violence or injustice is not singular in nature – it is like multi-folded spider’s web- as soon as you are victimized by any kind of violence- like touching any thread of the web – you are immediately included in the other associate and collateral violences, injustices, humiliations, dominations and sufferings. But the thing is to find out the formula of remodeling the web to degrade the degree of violence and to upgrade the line of human freedom and spirit.
The story has been unlocked after “a whole year since it happened” on the Christmas Eve in 2012 at dawn in Edouard’s apartment when his sister, Clara, is throwing up the swallowed stories of the rape violence to her husband. “Hidden on the other side of the door” Edouard is adding the edited memories and practicing “anxious nagging feeling” and failing to describe the event truthfully because of lacking appropriate vocabulary.
Humans are far behind to picture their conditions in deficiency of exact lexical resources for the feelings and emotions which are kept under the veil of avoidance and rejection.
Being distorted by the rave feeling of reading way back to home, he encounters an Algerian man, Reda, whose “features were soft yet rugged masculine” and with a feeling of romantic and carnal desires for being close together as a man and a woman. They spend a very intimate time, crossing the boundaries of prohibitions and exclusions. During the departure time, Edouard witnesses his valuable appliances and gadgets are stolen and against his charges and protest, Reda exhales his air of violence, rapes him at the death threat. Though the whole narrative is sourced from Edouard own life, he can also replace his physical tribulation and post-traumatic upshots with William Faulkner’s Temple Drake’s rape and its ramification in Sanctuary (1931).
Consequently, Edouard as in Hanya Yanagihara’s Jude in A Little Life (2015) starts to pass through the chronic struggle, internally and externally, to resolve mental trauma; to clean his body, belongings and even his memories. After being raped with physical bruises and spasms he goes to the hospital for medical checkup for “post-exposure prophylaxis against HIV” and speaks “the torrent of words” to make believable the violence to everyone he faces not knowing either is nurse or switchboard operator. He even takes a tactic “remained stuck in metallic moments,” he speaks:
I had cried too much already, I had no tears left to offer. If you don’t cry he won’t believe you, I thought to myself, you need to cry. But my eyes seemed now to belong to a stranger. I made a huge effort. I tried to force the tears to come, concentrating on images of Reda, his face, his gun, so that the tears would flow, but there was nothing to be done, the tears wouldn’t come, my efforts were all to no avail, no tears welled up at the corners of my eyes, my eyes stayed resolutely dry, … I turned to other scenes from my life for help. I brought back to mind other painful memories, the saddest and most painful I had, in order to produce some tears. I thought back to hearing the news of Dimitri’s death.
The reader will also be possessed by every word and even every punctuation mark will occupy you. The most absorbing scenes start to appear when he begins to clean the mirror where Reda has observed and even absurdly strives to dissolve Reda’s reflections and shadows inhibited on it, meanwhile, “possessed by an almost maniac energy” he yields that it’s not any object but his own body and existence to be washed out:
I was the problem. I got in the shower; I washed myself once, twice, three times, and so on. I lathered my body with soap, shampoo, conditioner to perfume it as best I could, it was as if his smell were encrusted inside me,
We know the rape thing happens in everywhere around the world but how many we know their feelings, emotions and everything they endure and adapt except pathological reports, legal and judicial hearings and the most popularly journalistic testimonies. As soon as I come to know the first hand narratives of Edouard’s history of violence disclosing shame, humiliations and the chain of sufferings, I slide down into the whirl of befuddlement and fail to decide of which feeling of him I would exclude or skip over from my list of quotations.
There are controversies and mixed reactions to narrative forms like History of Violence where you cannot draw a clear demarcation between fiction and fact, reality and imagination. Many says without aesthetic imagination you cannot define the ideology of literature, but, surprisingly, Edouard Louis believes when finding truth is the only purpose or making change in human despondency and on the map of violence is the only utility of literature then ornamental literature is an obstruction, and l’art pour l’art is a bygone dream.
Like social or political exclusion, Edouard revolts against the literary exclusion by which writers and poets escape our lived realities to make it more appalling and tantalizing. He uses his own life in the first-person narrative view as a literary material like Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knasusgaard uses in My Struggle series (2009-2011) and Seasonal Quartet series (2015-2016); Annie Ernaux in The Years (2017) uses third-person narrative angle with her memories, impressions, archival documents and visuals. Svetlana Alexievich uses “the real testimonies that make a unique literary form. Writing lived realities is very much risky and dangerous that can make furies and cries into the hearts of people involved.
The next door neighbors, old school-friends, accidental acquaintances or the closest persons will confront the author incriminating for defamation of their images and disclosure of silence.
Edouard Louis has acknowledged in public his indebtedness for the sociological and political analysis of Pierre Bourdie and Didier Eribon; he had published, in collaboration with philosopher Geoffroy de Langasnerie, the article “Manifsto for an Intellectual and Political counteroffensive” on the first page of Le Monde imposing the vitality of the redefinition of ethical principle and praxis in politics:
Si l’on veut redéfinir et transformer la scène intellectuelle et politique, il est urgent d’adopter quelques principes éthiques la pensée et l’action.
The mythology of the working class exposes when people get down to status of muteness and the difference from the mainstream then people only survive and not have a chance to live a flourished life that brings the spiral of violence to society. As Toni Morrison brought the voice in Black literature in America; as Teju Cole commented in the essay “Unmournable Bodies “(2015) “that unmournability, just as much as the massacre in Paris, is the clear and present danger to our collective liberté.”; or as Edouard tries to break the silence of “the compulsive racism” in France:
At the police station I’d given a brief description of Reda, when they asked, and immediately the officer on duty cut me off: “Oh you mean he was an Arab.” He was triumphant, delighted would be an exaggeration, but he did smile
Lorin Stein, the erstwhile editor-in-chief of The Paris Review (2010-2017), is the translator of History of Violence (2018) and subsequent completion of Who Killed My Father (2019), who has been patrolling the fictional world for years restlessly to find the narrative that always speaks the truth and can “settle a troubled conscience”. Like Edouard Louis he also keeps faith in Ken Loach’s maxim, “art should be anything, it should be what imagination produces”. A translator is a surrogate author who goes through the same creative labor and impeccable pressure to make a bridge between two minds, languages and cultures. As Edouard’s real life appears almost fictional and fictions emerges nearly real, Lorin’s quality of translation draws a blur line between linguistic differences and creates a vivid impression down to the original in the French version. It’s a perfect example of oxymoron (blur-vivid) in transfiction.
The tone of the narrative pushes us to feel stranger than Camus’L’Ėtranger(1942) because it depicts our minuet life that we are habituated with that always has been excluded from the ink and letters. The submission of the story is more on pluralism, truth and optimism than Houellebecq’s Soumission(2015).Memory and imagination make the archeology of knowledge and story that governs and binds us to live a life we don’t want to live.
Once you cross over the title you cannot look away, in some parts you will wish to transplant yourself with the characters only to know how it feels to live a life you have never seen at its core or have been ignoring or keeping in the dark shadows.
I was never very interested in politics. Aside from being taught it was not polite to discuss politics in social settings, the subject never genuinely interested me all that much. I never really saw the point in arguing with someone who was unlikely to change his or her political views anyways. That is, until this year. With everything at stake right now, there isn’t much option for someone as interested in human rights and social justice as me to not be actively engaged in politics. There is simply too much at risk right now to not care about the state of the United States political system. So, in an honest attempt to witness and take place in the election this year, I watched the first 2020 presidential debate. I was hoping to glean something about both candidates by watching the debate, an event that even those least involved in politics can watch to get a sense of the political atmosphere and personal beliefs of the two rival candidates and their parties. Unfortunately for my best friend Hannah, (whose plans for the evening involved spending time with me until I cancelled last minute in order to watch the debate) I think I would have been better off spending the evening with her than watching what I personally believe can only be loosely defined as a debate.
I sat in my mom’s room as we watched the debate unfold before us and witnessed it all in horror and shock. How can anyone in the United States right now expect to have a civil political discussion with his or her peers when the top two 2020 presidential candidates can’t? Many have called this most recent presidential debate one of the most embarrassing they have witnessed in their entire lives and I think it is important we unpack why. 2020 has been, for lack of better term, a total and undeniable dumpster fire. As a nation, we have watched our family members die from a novel deadly disease for which there is no current known cure. We have said our last goodbye to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins over facetime. We have isolated ourselves from the world in order to keep ourselves and others safe. We have seen some of the worst police brutality in 21st century America this year. We have seen our brothers and sisters lose their eyesight from being shot by rubber bullets during Black Lives Matter protests. We have seen local businesses shut down because of the pandemic and we have seen family members succumb to drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and depression because so many of us were forced to stay inside and avoid human contact for months on end. We have all witnessed ugly, demeaning, and hateful speech on the internet because of rising racial and political tensions. It has been an incredibly tumultuous and taxing year for just about everyone. I think that a lot of us, including myself, were looking to Vice President Joe Biden and President Donald Trump to let us know that, however hard it might be for any one of us right now, they would keep the country together for a brighter future.
However, that is not what the American people got. What we got was a high-school-level battle of insults and interrupting, with President Donald Trump being the executor of several low, personal jabs at Vice President Joe Biden. Though there has been much debate over who “won” the debate, I am inclined to believe that, as upsetting as it was to see Vice President Joe Biden stoop to the level of President Trump on several occasions, President Trump was the initiator of the majority of the bickering that ensued during the debate. Neither candidate let the other speak for what seemed like any appropriate amount of time on any given topic. Several times, Chris Wallace had to yell in order to announce the end of segments and was forced to assign two minutes of uninterrupted (yes, he did have to emphasize that the two minutes would be uninterrupted) speech to each candidate. Watching this all happen, I felt frustrated and sad. Were these two men engaging in petty arguments and name-calling the best America had to offer during the devastating year that was 2020? Was this debate indicative of what the political future of America would look like? After the debate, I spent the next few days thinking about what the nature of the debate meant to the American people. I eventually came to the bitterly dismal conclusion that it meant absolutely nothing.
When I was asked to formulate my reaction to the debate, I thought “How can I think about the debates from the lens of an English Literature major when absolutely nothing was said? What literature was there to react to?” And then it hit me – the interrupting, the name calling, and overall immature behavior on behalf of both presidential candidates was not all that different than what I have been witnessing from my friends and family since April of this year. They had stooped to our level. They had stopped listening to each other for fear that in a battle of pride versus fact, fact would win.
What I personally think most of us can take from watching the first presidential debate of 2020 is that we could all be a bit better about listening to one another. During this unprecedented time of fear and uncertainty, we are all scared. We are scared of what the future holds and what that means to us as average American citizens. And what we need most during this hate-filled, angry, defensive time of heightened emotions is to sit down and talk with each other. If you do not feel like your black brothers and sisters have a reason to feel threatened by police, sit down and ask them why they might feel as though they do. If you do not feel the need to wear a mask in public, sit down with someone who thinks you should, and ask them why they feel that way. Remember that there is no “correct” way to respond to the pandemic, police brutality, looting, rioting, and general violence 2020 has been host to. Remember that you do not control the emotions of others, nor do they control yours. All that is left for us to do as a collective people is to respect that 2020 has been a time of exceptional pain for many Americans – and then talk about it. Ask your friends and family how they are doing. Check in on your coworkers. Respect the cultures and wishes of those different from you. Make sure that in the next coming month, as all of us jointly rush to the polls to make our final decision, you understand that no matter who becomes the next president, we are all in this together. 2021 will be the year of fixing. Of building our lives back up to what they once were. Of making amends. And we cannot successfully build any sort of promising future if we act as the two 2020 presidential candidates did, without regard to what the other had to say. Because we must listen to one another if 2021 will see the reconstruction of a changed (if not a little battered) American society.
On July 18, 1974, Pete Seeger wrote to me: “Dear Dave: Thanks for your letter and the magazine. Please believe me, in a very short while most individuals’ names are forgotten. But the work we do will play a part in the future, for good or bad. And the work that millions of people must now do is to realize that it is they who are important, not a few well known individuals. I hope that you in your writing can make people proud of themselves and help them get off their asses as they will if they would only realize how effective each one of us can be if we want to. Best Wishes, Pete Seeger.” Underneath he wrote, in script, his tag line, “Take it easy, but take it.” Here’s the context: I was the co-editor of my high school history magazine, with Rob Steele (first and last names synonyms), and Rob agreed with my dedicatory desire.
I sent a copy of our magazine, a ragtag issue of mini-essays mostly indicting Nixon, though I wrote a mixed review of the recently released Planet Waves by Bob Dylan for, I now imagine, without a great deal of ballast, some arty cred. It was smart and committed for seventeen year olds, and Pete Seeger’s response—I don’t have a copy of my undoubtedly sincere letter—is a redoubt of his reputation for being a good guy. And, as you might imagine, from my little row house perch in Brooklyn, I was just so pleased that that this icon that I admired politically and musically was encouraging me to write.
In 1974, I had already had experience working in a political campaign. Rob Steele (I’m trying not to say it again) and I were co-managers of canvassing for the McGovern campaign in our Brooklyn district. This says something about our dedication and perspicacity, or the terrible organization of the campaign. There have been moments over the last 45 years when I’ve thought, “how was he supposed to win with a couple of 15 year olds directing his canvassing?” In any case, I went on to work for the campaigns of Bella Abzug and Ramsey Clark, and got into the habit of thinking that throwing my heart into the campaigns of those who were throwing their hats into the ring meant inevitable heartbreak. These were the campaigns of, to use Leonard Cohen’s phrase, “beautiful losers.”
My next directly political foray was working for the Sanctuary organizing committee in Syracuse in 1982-3. It was mostly a group of nuns and me meeting and trying to find a way to use the upstate Catholic churches to give safe have to political refugees from Guatemala and Nicaragua. Anyone remember all that, or has all of this faded into the morass of Reagan hagiography?
I’ve almost forgotten one other early episode: I was a on a ballot slate in the NY primary in 1977, to be an elector to choose the Democratic nominee for State Supreme Court in NY. I won a slot for undoubtedly obscure reasons—perhaps the perverse people in my district thought I was Swifty Lazar, and spent a quiet few hours months later casting an inconsequential vote.
Since then, my direct action has been limited to political donations, a few marches here and there, signing petitions, and spouting off incessantly about a series of mostly fixed betes noirs: the cupidity of the Republican party, the misery of thinly (if at all) disguised racist, misogynist and homophobic indulgences by the seemingly endless dying white patriarchy. You know: that kind of thing. I am, after all, no less a type than any one else: a progressive New York Jew born of familial connections to the labor movement. A quirky type, yes, even perhaps inconsistent, perchance unpredictable if the barometer is swinging wildly, but mostly close to the set of beliefs I had, lo, those many years ago in Brooklyn.
Now, as for Pete Seeger’s admonition about using my writing, and my own consideration of how politics has figured in my work: the result has been rather indirect, I think, but far from absent. I’m tempted to say to I’m not a political writer until I realize that I’m not at all an apolitical writer—far from it. My politics, which is to say my political self is too essential to me, too bound, to ever be too many rooms away from where I’m throwing the children’s hammer down on the walnut of whatever obsession I happen to be chasing in an essay. It makes itself known in almost everything I write, even if what I write doesn’t lead with political questions or ideations. The Rosenbergs, Donald Trump, 911 . . . my indignity at various forms of human indignities make themselves known. But to be fair these are all things that I discuss as part of my thinking-feeling self, not as leading subjects.
One of my favorie essays has always been Orwell’s “Why I Write,” just as Orwell has always been one of the polestars of the essay for me—a bit, I suppose, like saying, “I just adore Bach. He’s one of the best.” In any case, in “Why I Write,” Orwell speaks to his reputation as a political essayist and surprises, as an essayist might, an essayist should, by upending our expected sense of his motives. First he describes his sense of the political, telling us that no book is apolitical, and that he means the word in the widest sense, as the “Desire to push the world in a certain direction, to alter other people’s idea of the kind of society that they should strive after” which can manifest itself in so many ways, in deeply personal writing, in fact. Along with insisting on his rational, committed, getting people of their asses motives (which Orwell, however, took more ambitiously into a desire to change consciousness), he acknowledges, “All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention.”
It is precisely in the ability to combine these impulses, sometimes jarring, but hardly contradictory, that great works are born. Think Baldwin, Hazlitt, Woolf’s Room of One’s Own. One of the reasons I love Orwell is his understanding of what he could never be free of: “I am not able, and I do not want, completely to abandon the world-view that I acquired in childhood. So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to feel strongly about prose style, to love the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information. It is no use trying to suppress that side of myself. The job is to reconcile my ingrained likes and dislikes with the essentially public, non-individual activities that this age forces on all of us.”
This is one of my favorite passages in the entire essay canon: so clear, self-knowing, resigned to what cannot be changed, what must be. The essay, one comes to almost feel here, is a solid object that can change the world a little through oneself.