Guest Post, Dylan Brie Ducey: Kind Words

I work thirty hours a week as a tutor at an elementary school in the West Contra Costa Unified School District. The school is struggling – it’s had four principals in less than three years. The last one left suddenly, just before Thanksgiving, with no explanation or apology. The school was without a principal for more than two months. There’s huge turnover among the teachers, too. The district has managed to create a budget deficit of almost fifty million dollars, so massive cuts are coming. Morale is low, and the kids can feel it. They think it’s their fault.

My students are children of color, and all of them have a cognitive disability. About half have a diagnosis already, and the other half have yet to be evaluated but exhibit signs of dyslexia, dysgraphia, ADHD, and other processing disorders. All of them struggle with school in general, and reading and writing in particular. All are at least three grade levels behind in all subjects, and all are from low-income families. There are shootings in their neighborhoods. They are faced with racism and bias, overt and subtle, every day of their young lives. Many of their parents were not able get any higher education, so they, too, have mixed feelings about school. My bilingual students have ESL issues, and often their parents speak little or no English. A few of my students are functionally illiterate. One third grader has trouble recognizing not just letters, but numbers. Several of the fourth graders can read maybe fifteen one-syllable words. Every week, at least one student looks at me and says, “I’m dumb, Miss Brie.” Or, “I’m dumb at reading.” One student, a fifth grade boy, confided: “I’m bad. I was born this way.” When I hear “dumb” or “bad” I say no. No, you’re not. My students are stressed at school and stressed at home. There are so many obstacles for them. So in the short time I spend with them every day, I try to be kind.

My co-worker and I started bringing snacks, because we noticed the kids are always hungry. They are happy to get one Trader Joe’s chocolate chip cookie. Or a handful of popcorn, or a tangerine. Or a sticker, or one of the plastic trinkets that my co-worker gets at Daiso Japan. Or some one-on-one academic attention, or just five minutes of listening to their tribulations. They’re so innocent, and also so hardened and cynical.

I frequently go to work worried about my own problems: It’s not easy parenting two teenage girls. They attend a large urban high school in a town that used to be middle class, and is now frighteningly affluent. My husband has a couple of chronic medical issues, both of which have no cure. Our medical bills are astronomical. Oh god, our property tax is due next month. Why is our electric bill so freaking high? I’m still taking an anti-depressant because I’m terrified that my suicidal depression will come back. We haven’t taken a vacation in years. I haven’t published enough. I don’t really need my MFA, why did I bother? And so on. However, after a day at my job, I know – again – that my life is ridiculously easy: We own our own home, and there’s no landlord hassling us for the rent. Incredibly, we have two bathrooms in our house. I have two beautiful children and a husband I love. Our neighborhood is safe. I may face sexism (what woman doesn’t?), but I do not face racism. I’m educated, and have spent time in other countries. There are trees on our street. I can pay my bills. There’s a wall of books in my bedroom, and I love to read. In short, I am fortunate.

What does any of this have to do with writing? Not much, at least not directly. Indirectly, however, there is a connection. For example, sometimes I wish my students loved books, even just a little bit. I want to talk about books with them, and books just aren’t part of their world. Even while wishing this, I think about how hilariously funny, and very smart my students are. And I think about their many extenuating circumstances, of which I’m hyper-aware every day in the classroom. I know that when a kid comes into our classroom pissed off and acting out, the thing to do is not to reprimand him, but to take him aside and ask him what’s wrong. This often works. One time, the kid wouldn’t talk at all. He shook his head and sat down in a chair, and tears started rolling down his face. Sometimes all a kid needs is sympathy, a kind word.

What I’m getting at is this: It’s not reasonable for me to expect my students to love what I love. Why should they? They love Fortnite, and Roblox, and Takis, and NBA YoungBoy, and Lil Nas X. Not books. Rather, the equation works like this: I teach my students a bit of what I know about reading and writing – because they’re in school and they have to learn. In exchange, my students allow me a glimpse into their world. They let me get to know them. That’s the gift they give me.

Growing up, I never thought I would be a teacher. I thought that teaching would only distract me from my real work, writing. But, weirdly, I have been writing a lot lately, in big bursts. Long shitty drafts. Maybe this is because, although my job can be emotionally exhausting, it gives back to me, too. As I suggested above. When a kid runs to say hi to me in the morning, for example. Or when the sixth graders all cluster around my desk at the beginning of class. Or, in general, by opening so many more windows on the human experience than I could have ever have found otherwise.

Authors Talk: Todd Dillard

Authors Talk: Todd Dillard

Today we are pleased to feature author Todd Dillard as our Authors Talk series contributor. Todd answers questions submitted by his Twitter followers, building a discussion of his new collection: WAYS WE VANISH, his methods, and ninja turtles.

WAYS WE VANISH centers around the loss of his mother and his grief at her absence. Todd details how he curated his collection, how he originally failed, and why his collection is better because of it.

Todd also talks about poetry in general–from knowing how to revise, to knowing when a poem is ready for publication. He also touches on a wide variety of other points like the importance of the musicality of poetry, line lengths and their effects, and how to assemble a book of poetry.


You can read Todd’s work “Rewind” in Issue 21 of Superstition Review.

Check out Todd’s website and preorder your copy of WAYS WE VANISH.


Intern Update: Elizabeth Sheets

Elizabeth Sheets

Today’s Intern Update features Elizabeth Sheets, the Blogger of Issue 12 of Superstition Review. She was also the Content Coordinator for Issues 13 and 14.

With a BA in English Creative Writing from ASU, Elizabeth now works within the university as an Editorial Assistant in ASU’s Biodesign Institute. Here she manages incoming manuscripts for the Associate Editor of Journal of Proteome Research. She also invites subject matter experts to review, track manuscripts through the review process, and communicate with authors regarding editorial decisions.

She has also works as a Freelance Copy Editor for many types of media including web content, blog posts, fiction and non fiction manuscripts, and business documentation.

We are so proud of you Elizabeth!

If you’d like to learn more, you can visit Elizabeth’s LinkedIn here.

Or her website here.

Contributor Update, Matthew Zapruder

Congratulations to Matthew for his recent interview on Tricking Himself to Write About His Life, published on Literary Hub. Here, Matthew discusses how he accidentally stumbled upon a method to force him to write the work he needs, rather than just the work he wants to make public.

Matthew has a BA in Russian literature at Amherst College, an MA in Slavic languages and literature at the University of California, Berkeley, and an MFA in poetry at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is the author most recently of Father’s Day, Copper Canyon, 2019, and Why Poetry, a book of prose, Ecco/Harper Collins, 2017. He is editor at large at Wave Books, where he edits contemporary poetry, prose, and translations.

For more on Matthew, visit his website here.

To read more from the Literary Hub visit their homepage here.

Congratulations again Matthew!

Event: PC Rising Hosts Jimmy Santiago Baca

Join our friends at Phoenix College Rising as the Creative Writing Department hosts Jimmy Santiago Baca. Events include: Viewing of A Place to Stand with focused discussion, Writing Under the Influence led by Baca, and Baca reading from his new book, “When I walk Through That Door, I Am.”

Please visit PC Rising’s Facebook page for more details.


A PLACE TO STAND

When: Wednesday, March 18, at 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Where: Phoenix College Dalby Building Room 224, 1202 W Thomas Rd, Phoenix, Arizona 85013

Facebook event: A Place to Stand

Based on the memoir of the same name, “A Place to Stand,” is a 90-minute documentary about Jimmy Santiago Baca’s rise from a barely literate inmate at Florence State Prison, to poet, teacher, and inspirational leader. After the film, stick around for a focused discussion about the film.


WRITING UNDER THE INFLUENCE

When: Wednesday, March 18, at 6:00 PM – 7:30 PM

Where: The Clarendon Hotel, 401 W Clarendon Ave, Phoenix, Arizona 85013

Please visit PC Rising’s Facebook page to purchase tickets.

Facebook event: Writing Under the Influence

This writing experience aims to expand and explore the variety of ways that writers are influenced: drinking and drugs, other writers, art, or supernatural voices. Hosted by a visiting writer who will determine how they respond to the idea of influence, offer a riff on this theme, and then provide participants writing prompts to respond to while enjoying a drink on Clarendon’s SkyDeck rooftop bar. Please bring paper and pen or an electronic device.


LIVE READING

When: Thursday, March 19, at 7:00 PM – 8:30 PM

Where: Phoenix College Dome Room, 3310 N 10th Ave. ( Parking is available in the lot on 11th Avenue. And the building entrance is on Flower.)

Facebook event: Live Reading

In his new book, “When I Walk Through That Door, I Am: An Immigrant Mother’s Quest for Freedom,” the Pushcart Prize winning poet continues his legacy, putting a human face on the crisis of family separation at the United States-Mexico border. Oscillating between prose poetry and more traditional verse, the book-length poem tells the harrowing story of Sophia, a young mother from San Salvador who travels north in search of asylum after her husband’s brutal murder.

Intern Update: Kevin Hanlon

Intern Update: Kevin Hanlon

Today’s Intern Update features Kevin Hanlon, an intern who was the Fiction Editor for Issues 12 and 13.

With a BA in English, Creative Writing and a Doctor of Law JD, Kevin began working as a proofreader for RR Donnelley last year. Kevin is also working as a Writer for Java Magazine, an in-depth tech journal with bi-monthly issues on the language and platform.

We are so proud of you Kevin!

If you’d like, you can learn more by visiting Kevin’s LinkedIn here.

Contributor Update, Sam Sax

Congratulations to Sam Sax for his recent poem Hangover 1.1.2019 published in ZYZZYVA’s issue 117.

Sam Sax is a queer, Jewish, writer & educator. He is the author of Madness (Penguin, 2017) winner of The National Poetry Series selected by Terrance Hayes & bury it (Wesleyan University Press, 2018) winner of the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets. Sam has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Foundation, Lambda Literary, & the MacDowell Colony.

For more on Sam Sax, visit his website here.

To read more from ZYZZYVA visit there homepage here.

Congratulations again Sam!

Guest Post, Lisa Biggar: Inviting the Muse

I am convinced that our best writing comes from outside ourselves, which is the opposite of what I used to think when I first started penning poetry and short stories. I used to think that my writing was sacred in a sense that it was a part of me, my inner being, my ego. And because of this, it was difficult to revise, to tear down anything that I had built. But over the years I have completely reversed this notion. My best writing seems to come when I let myself fall away or dissolve, and I am able to tap into a universal consciousness, the source, the muse. It is more like channeling than thinking; In fact, thinking just gets in the way. Sena Naslund claims to have channeled her entire brilliant novel, Ahab’s Wife. And when I wrote “Reenactment” all of Sir Parker’s dialogue came from this ‘other’ place. I didn’t write his voice; I heard his voice. Now, not to get too woo-woo on you—I don’t really know where this voice comes from, but I think it’s something we, as writers, need to cultivate in order to work on a higher, deeper level. Writing is not easy; we can use all the help we can get.

So here is how I go about inviting the muse into my writing studio:  I read somewhere a while ago that we should visualize our muse, personify him/her. I visualize my muse as a flamboyant red-headed lady decked out in silk scarves and bangles, stretched out on a chaise lounge in her flowing brightly-colored skirt and blouse. I make her a cup of tea and serve it in a fancy china cup with matching saucer. She has discerning taste and is used to being pampered and surrounded by the finest things in life. She is not a snob; but she expects the best from me, and is willing to help if I am open and accepting. There are days, of course, that she doesn’t show up. Perhaps she is busy helping others, or is not convinced that I am serious about writing that day. Our material presence is not enough. We must be fully present; not splitting our attention with social media, or Amazon, or Pinterest. . . Not an easy thing to do in these times that cater to the cultivation of short attention span. But if we expect to get help from the universe, the source, the muse we must give her our full attention. And, go ahead, give her a name. I call my muse Frida and have, at times, had lively conversations with her (in my head).

One such conversation:

Me:  Frida, thank you so much for being here.

Frida: Think nothing of it, darling.

Me: I’ll try my best.

Frida (waving her hand): Dream away. I’ll orchestrate today.

Me:  Then who will sing the song?

Frida: The song is already sung.

She can be maddening at times, evasive, and elusive, but patience and commitment are key. And once you have both settled in, the magic will begin. You will come to love her; and she, despite her seemingly indifference at times, will come to be fond of you. As Beethoven wrote, “Music from my fourth year began to be the first of my youthful occupations. Thus early acquainted with the gracious muse who tuned my soul to pure harmonies, I became fond of her, and, as it often seemed to me, she of me.”

Event: Desert Nights, Rising Stars Literary Fair 2020

Come and celebrate Desert Nights, Rising Stars Literary Fair with us! The event is free, but seats are first-come, first-served so be sure to get there early!

When: Saturday, February 22, 2020, 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Where: ASU Tempe Campus, Front Lawn, Old Main, 400 E Tyler Mall, Tempe, AZ 85281

More event details here.

Superstition Review is holding a panel from 2:15 to 2:45 on Getting Published in Literary Journals, come meet some of the interns behind our magazine and hear from them and author Scott Daughtridge DeMer!

RSVP for our event here. Note: You do not need to RSVP to attend this event and RSVP’s do not guarantee a seat.

Hope to see everyone there!

Contributor Update, Sarah Vap

Contributor Update, Sarah Vap

Join us in congratulating Sarah Vap on her book, Winter: Effulgences and Devotions. It is available from Noemi Press here. Recently, Cutbank has done an extensive interview with Sarah discussing Winter, talking about where the book sprung from and the process of its creation.

Winter is the product of years of work, documenting Sarah’s struggle to write a single poem while she confronts other thoughts, raises her family, and forces herself to remember to remember the world at large.

To learn more about Sarah and her work you can visit her website. You can also read our interview with her, “Writing Out of My Own Life!—Sort of” featured in Issue 13 of Superstition Review.

Congratulations Sarah!