Congratulations to Shannon Ward for her new article featured in Truthout, I’ve Seen Firsthand the Hearbreak of ICE Detention. This Must End. Read and share her amazing account of her visit to Stewart Detention Center in Georgia and her efforts to help those in need.
Ljubo is a Phoenix native who received his BA in English Literature from ASU. He married a fellow ASU graduate (Sydney Popovich) and now lives in Denver. After discovering a shared interest in writing, they began collaborating on short stories. Their science fiction and fantasy were accepted by several literary magazines and their first science fiction novel was serialized by Bewildering Stories in 2019. It is called Echoes from Dust.
A second novel, Undertones, a comedic noir about an anthropomorphic jazz band, was published on January 2, 2020, featuring a cover design by the co-author, Syd.
Aside from writing and raising a very needy cat, they frequently travel to Montenegro to visit family, and learn everything they can from literature, art and film. They couldn’t have asked for better writing (and life) partners, and will continue publishing under their nom de plume, L. S. Popovich.
Ljubo loves networking with other writers and readers and can be found on Goodreads. You can read excerpts, poems and stories on LSPopovich.com
Congratulations to Meg Johnson for getting her third book accepted for publication by Vine Leaves Press! Without: Body, Name, Country is a collection of poetry and flash nonfiction pieces. Set to be published September 15, 2020. Find out more at megjohnsonmegjohnson.blogspot.com
The shower has long held the title of “Place Where the Best Ideas Come To You,” but I would humbly submit that a close contender for this title would be the treadmill. I would also humbly admit that the idea that came to me weeks ago on my last treadmill run was not wholly my own, but inspired by that most august of 21st century muses: an audio guide on my running app.
After writing, running is my second love, but for many of the same reasons that writing is my first: the tendency for it to be a solo activity, the flexibility for it to be a community activity, the simplicity of tools/gear needed to do it, the need for persistence, focus, and self-determination, the way in which fundamentally your biggest rival is really yourself. I only started running the year I graduated from college, and since then I’ve logged thousands of miles and completed dozens of races, some of them half marathons.
And then I became a teacher. And suddenly running time was in shorter supply than I had ever known. The runs themselves grew shorter than the list of reasons why I couldn’t go for one. Races—deadlines of a sort—became goals to cram for, sometimes at the risk of injury and occasionally at the expense of the same. Now in my 4th year as a teacher my second love has become more acquaintance than partner; my first love has fared much the same.
I am not special. The teaching/writing life is a well-worn one that has made or broken many a writer, or for most of us it’s made us want to break something. The underlying assumption driving this maddening symbiosis is that writing time is valuable and so should be the fruits of any such time. When this isn’t the case, it’s hard not to think that the time could have been better used on work. Likewise, a run that gets off to a bad start makes you think “Maybe I should have just gotten straight to my grading,” or “Now I have even less time to plan that lesson.”
For a while now I’ve been thinking on and grappling with this reality. Last year at AWP in Portland, OR, I presented on a panel about maintaining a beginner’s mindset in the classroom. Panelists wrote, shared, and discussed poems inspired by the work in the classroom around writing novices and amateurs, stressing the point that putting yourself in the mindset of someone writing for the first time—all the risks and mistakes and clichés included—is a liberating and rejuvenating activity vital to the writing lives of teachers and other professionals. I didn’t know it at the time, but this experience would be the first key advice shouted trying to bore its way past the writing impasse and into my ear.
Then came through the other ear (quite literally) this running advice from my audio guide: focus on running the run you can rather than the run you want to (paraphrased, but shout out to Coach Bennett). It’s a corny image, isn’t it? A writer on a treadmill nearly knocked over by a prerecorded, linguistically basic piece of advice that ought to make any beginner think “Well, duh.” But that’s the whole point: the fundamentals. It reminded me of the start of my karate classes as a high schooler, watching highly ranked black belts spend several minutes practicing simple punches on a punching bag when they were capable of high flying kicks. The kicks aren’t the goal and the bag isn’t your adversary—the perfect punch is both.
Sometimes experienced writers can be quick to forget or even snub the wisdom of those early, foundational years. Count me among those who have strayed down that path. Count me, too, as the hypocrite who has told students glibly that writer’s block is a myth and that what the sensation really means is that you need to push through your bad writing to get to the good writing, then turns around and throws up his hands as his own inability to get started on a writing project.
Humble pie is bitter but nutritious, and the slice served up by my audio guide has been fueling me ever since. The crappy draft poem writing is all the same as the flashy and deft poem writing; the smattering of blasé lines scrabbled together on a piece of looseleaf but containing one solid image, one beautiful sentence, is valuable in its own way; the one or two mile run you’re capable of right now is more valuable than the six or eight mile run you want to do but, for now, is out of reach; keep it as a goal, something that you aspire to much as a beginner might.
I’m lucky. I have an MFA, a book published, and a few awards to speak of. Rather than finding myself in a false position of grandeur, I’m finding myself back in that beginner’s mindset. I find myself asking “How can I write another good poem?” while simultaneously thinking “Shouldn’t all your poems be good?” And yet, I’m finding myself lacing up for a half marathon knowing I haven’t so much as run a 5k in months. I’m finding myself pushed, externally and internally, for a specific set of writerly goals: “Write this often,” “Write this way,” “Write at this level all the time.”
Writers must learn to replace these impostor mantras with simpler affirmations. A good poem and a bad poem both have in common that they are poems; good and bad runs share the same stride that can get you a few feet or a mile; the same twist of the hips lands weak and strong punches alike. Ignoring where you started is as flawed as assuming you know where you’re going. So for me, my starting and finishing point going forward is one and the same: write the poem you can write. That’s it. Sometimes you get lucky and write a stellar draft, or run miles at your best pace; sometimes each mile feels like a ball and chain around your ankle, or the poetry refuses to come clean out of the pen no matter how much you drag it across the page. But no matter your level of experience, the path of progress is that of a beginner. Keep punching out works on the page. Keep punching the bag—the only thing standing between you and that perfect strike is yourself.
Recently I came across notes for a
paper I presented in 2010 for the Geo-Aesthetics
in theAnthropocene conference
in Salisbury, Maryland. Nine years ago. The term “anthropocene”
had not yet been assimilated into the collective vocabulary beyond the academic
culture. Spell check still doesn’t recognize it. Although many of our waking
hours were increasingly spent behind the computer screen, social media had not
yet exploded, and what my colleagues and I had heard of it we scorned as the
height of hubris and vanity: Facebook-how
aptly named. We were artists, individualists-we did not join!
I look at these notes in wonder and cringe at how earnest, clueless
and naive I was about what was coming and what we were to become. I include them
“As a writer, primarily of poetry,
I can testify to the veracity of Gaston Bachelard’s assertion in The Poetics
of Reverie that
solitary contemplation of the natural world is the transcendent vehicle to poetic reverie, the wellspring of the
poetic impulse, which will
give birth to a new born poetic image-a simple image, with will
be the seed of a new poem. I
know so well of how all the senses awaken and fall into harmony
with poetic reverie and how
my writing depends on this harmony. Yet, at this moment, the crisp, sea-scented
breeze clicking the lacquered leaves of a magnolia like castanets vies with the
petty dramas unfolding in e-mail on the flat screen of my computer. Will I
respond to this invitation and take twenty minutes before my next class to sit,
bundled against the bracing fresh air, on a bench in the sunny courtyard, or
will I, as I seem to do with more frequency, use the time to respond to this e-mail,
or add my two cents to a blog? Will I choose the cold glare of the computer
screen instead of the sun’s warm glow on my face? Will I miss the opportunity
to wonder at how the bare, slender branches of a familiar tree could have
supported the profusion of leaves that swayed in the summer breeze as
gracefully as furled silk, how the tree is like a seemingly voluptuous woman
who, in shedding the ruffles of her bell-skirted ball gown, reveals her slight
frame? I see my colleagues hunched over
their computers and wonder and if I’m alone in this struggle. I know very well
the deadlines, committee meetings etc., which suffice to explain why a
committed relationship with natural world is so difficult to sustain; yet I’m
beginning to think these are not reasons but rather excuses.
Rilke writes… beauty is nothing but the beginning of
terror. Why terror and
terror of what? There are reveries so
deep, Bachelard writes, that help us
to descend so deeply within ourselves that they rid us of our histories. They liberate
us from our name. In reverie we are situated in the present, the now, in
which we are not defined by our past or are pulled to the imagined trajectory
of the future. We are liberated from
our name, from what “we do,” what we have “done,” and what “we will do,”
and must dwell instead in what we are in that moment, without the mirrors that
constantly reflect our importance, our identity. Without these affirmations, we
do not know who we are, and nameless, we are terrified, terrified that we will
lose our selves rather than find ourselves within ourselves.”
Who could have imagined that nine years later, a century of
selfies, so many of us would be caught in the vortex of social media, designed
to be endlessly self referential, a meta-loop propelled by the centrifugal
force of the most powerful of all addiction— intermittent reinforcement. Never
have we been so far from being liberated from our names, of being rid of our
histories. But look what we get—all these hundreds, thousands of friends!
All we are now is floating text next to a thumbnail of the body we left. We reminisce on all the ways a warm body feels against another body, how voices sound so differently in fog than in the dark and day and everything the smell of rain changes. We try not to complain about the constant ache of the phantom body and to be grateful: we like each other; we have emojis.
–from The Out-of-Body Shop
There is growing evidence that use of our personal electronic devices is becoming a major contributor to climate change.
If we could save the planet by giving up our cell phones, our tablets, our PCs—would we do it?
We talk the talk with such passionate intensity, but can we walk the walk?
Today we are pleased to feature an interview with Sarah Viren. Sarah is a journalist, writer, and translator working at Arizona State University specializing in the art of the creative nonfiction essay. She is the author of an essay collection entitled MINE.
In this fascinating interview she discusses her experience with writing from her working in journalism to her transition to writing literary essays. During her time as a journalist, she found that she wanted to write about things that “had no place in newspapers” and essay writing provided a new solution. The literary essay presents its own problems as the author is dealing with real people and Sarah explains how she has learned to write ethically about close loved ones from her sister to her children. Literary essays allow the author to “find ways to let those people have their voice be heard” while also showcasing the uniqueness of their own.
Sarah also takes time to explain her writing process from inspiration to research and observation identifying herself as a fan of the idea of “writing something and giving it time.” She uses moments of inspiration and wants to write honestly about herself and others, to share meaningful stories. In memory writing she says “remembering the self I was” can be hard and that in writing of others it is the “people that are outside of our sympathies… those are the people you need to write about.” Her essays are dark and honest and real, and though they are at times difficult to write she remembers “it’s hard work, but good work.”
This interview is a culmination of immersive student work on non-fiction narratives for ENG 509 in the Narrative Studies program in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. In this class, students read longform non-fiction writing and listened to author interviews to theorize writerly practices related to a variety of non-fiction genres. Students’ final reading for the course was Sarah Viren’s essay collection Mine. After a semester of critically engaging with author interviews, they composed their own questions and interviewed Dr. Viren on Tuesday, November 19. Watch the full interview to learn more about her creative process and inspiration and be inspired yourselves by the reflections and advice of a fellow creative mind.
Sarah Viren is a writer, journalist, and literary translator. Her essay collection, Mine, won the River Teeth Book Prize, was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and was longlisted for the Pen/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. Her translation of the novella Córdoba Skies by the Argentine author Federico Falco was published in 2016 by Ploughshares Solos, and her co-edited anthology of the essay in the Americas, The Great American Essay, is forthcoming from Mad Creek Books. An award-winning newspaper journalist for half a decade in Texas and Florida, Sarah holds an MFA from the University of Iowa and is now an assistant professor at Arizona State University.
Michelle Stuckey is a clinical assistant professor and the writing program administrator for the Writers’ Studio, a fully online first-year composition program in the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. Stuckey is an interdisciplinary scholar whose research and teaching are informed by feminist and critical race theories.
Kendall Dawson is a current Narrative Studies Master’s student at Arizona State University. She holds a Bachelor’s in Communication and English Literature from Central Michigan University, enjoys reading, and loves her hometown of Chicago, IL.
Delena Humble is a first year graduate student in the narrative Studies MA program at Arizona State University. At ASU, she also serves as the primary research assistant to New York Times best selling author, Jewell Parker-Rhodes. Delena’s passions include writing and studying Latinx identity negotiation, ethical story representation, and autoethnography. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her two cats.
Riley Hess is a second-year graduate student in the Communication Studies Master’s program at ASU’s West Campus. He is working on a short memoir about his trials and tribulations as a student-athlete in high school and college, as well as an applied project using persuasion theory to effectively fill out a general grant application form for nonprofit organizations.
Monique Medina is a second year graduate student. She is in the beginning stages of her Capstone project, which will focus on the relationships between parents and their trans children. This topic hits close to home as she has a trans nonbinary child and it’s been a journey in rediscovering who my child is, while building upon and redefining our relationship.
H. Rae Monk is a graduate student in the Narrative Studies Master of Arts program. She is currently doing grant funded public history research in the rural towns of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico. She resides and works in Mesa.
Past SR contributor Kirsten Voris has recently taken part in the creation of the Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Deck for Kids along with Brooklyn Alvarez and David Emerson.
The 50-card deck and the informative booklet are meant for caregivers, therapists, and teachers as a way to encourage agency and embodiment in children who have experienced trauma. The unique yoga deck is perfect for every kind of instruction and specifically informed to help people, offering games and activities to use yoga as a way to heal.
You can buy this yoga deck from the publisher’s website. Read Kirsten’s work featured in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.
Recently, while chatting with an author about their book of poems, I asked them about the ordering of their collection. I was particularly curious about the placing of a few poems about half-way through the book that focused on personal experience.
Reading these personal poems in the context of the prior poems, which were primarily concerned with the world outside the self, was incredibly striking. The author responded by first noting that he is always unsure how people will engage his books—whether they will pick up the book and read one or two poems and set it down, or if they will read the book in larger chunks or even in one sitting.
Poems are individual units of possibility. They enchant us and surprise us. We delight in their layers upon layers of meaning. But poems do not only contain layers of meaning—they contain layers of experiencing.
We can experience a poem through its visual appearance on the page, through its sounds and rhythms, through the way it feels leaving our mouths. We feel and come to understand all at once the tensions and releases found in reading both lines and sentences and seeing a poem as well as hearing it. These multiplicities are at the core of the lyric poem—they allow us to engage with the poem in a present moment and to return to its music often.
While we can experience the many facets of a poem all at once, often to gain a deeper understanding of the poem or an understanding of the ways in which the poem is crafted, we must isolate its particular components—such as solely examining a poem’s use of sound or whitespace. We often engage a poem not only in multiple readings, but in different readings.
I think this concept of engaging in multiple and different readings can apply to the poetry book. I also like the idea of applying some of Jonathan Culler’s Theory of the Lyric to poetry books. These books are rather different from other books we often read, such as novels. A poem within a poetry book is self-sufficient, yet is always altered by its existence within the larger text. And the text, the whole, exists as its own entity that at the same time cannot exist without the individual poems in their particular form and order. And in addition to the poem, there are other units within the poetry book that create complexity, such as series of poems and larger sections.
The complex dynamic between parts and wholes allows some poetry books to function much like poems. Through reading a poetry book, the reader is creating a web of connections and tensions that can be experienced in a present moment. This ‘web’ separates narrative forms, like the novel, from other forms, like the poetry book, which can be much more lyric.
While we can read narrative forms like the novel from beginning to end, we often read poetry books circularly—constantly referring to previous poems and ideas to consider the relationships between the many parts and wholes. When reading the last poem in a collection, we often return to prior poems in thought—the context of experiencing the whole changes the parts we have already experienced. We are continuously re-experiencing units of the poetry book in a ritualistic way, similarly to how we return to reconsider lines or stanzas or the title of a poem after reaching its end.
Just as there are multiple ways of reading a poem to yield new understandings or experiences, there are multiple ways of reading a poetry book. Sometimes, when poems expect a lot of us as readers, we must absorb them in smaller chunks. Other times, we may be able to read a collection straight through. After reading a poetry book in smaller chunks, we might consider re- reading it continuously. I think a continuous reading sensitizes us to the ebb and flow of a poetry book—to the various turns or climaxes within series or sections or the larger whole.
We can have a different experience through reading the last poem of a book back into the first poem. We could also isolate poems written about a particular subject or in a particular form and read them continuously rather than reading them in the order they appear within the collection. We could read a poem specifically in the context of another poem within the collection. These different readings will illuminate new aspects of both the poems and the book, providing us a way to experience the complexities of the poetry book as a form.
I am not advocating for a particular way we should be reading poetry books, but rather that many readings exist as possibilities for us to explore. Just as we delight in whole poems as well as in their lines, stanzas, sounds and rhythms, we can delight in whole books as well as in their individual poems, series and sections. We not only delight in these parts, but in the various tensions and connections present—the spaces that exist between these parts and their larger wholes. Regardless of how we read a poetry book, we should consider more often these spaces between—the wondrous web of meanings and experiences that draws us to encounter a poetry book again and again.
Today’s Intern Update features Natalie Volin, a Content Coordinator from Issue 17 of Superstition Review.
With a BS in Technical Communication as well as a minor in Spanish and a certificate in publishing, Natalie was recently promoted to be an Operations Manager at the Baby Bathwater Institute, a network of entrepreneurs.
Natalie was also a co-founder of the Iron City magazine, an online and print journal that publishes work from incarcerated writers and artists to highlight and find value in their stories to pave the way for understanding and transformation.
We are so proud of you Natalie!
If you’d like to learn more, you can visit Natalie’s LinkedIn profile here.