On Friday, March 3rd, at 6:30 pm, join best-selling authors Andrew Greer and Amanda Ward at the Changing Hands Bookstore in Phoenix. There, they will be discussing their creative journeys, their writing, and their friendship. This event is free and open to the public. To learn more and register, go here.
Amanda Eyre Ward lives in Austin, TX. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Sleep Toward Heaven, How to Be Lost, Love Stories in This Town, Forgive Me, Close Your Eyes, The Same Sky, The Nearness of You, The Jetsetters, and The Lifeguards. An interview with Amanda Eyre Ward was published in Issue 7 of Superstition Review.
Andrew Sean Greer is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of seven works of fiction, including The Confessions of Max Tivoli and Lessis Lost. He lives in San Fransisco and Milan. An interview with Andrew Sean Greer was published in Issue 15 of Superstition Review.
Ampydoo the cartoonist is otherwise known as Alan Michael Parker, the author of four novels, nine collections of poetry, and coeditor of five scholarly volumes. Parker’s awards include three Pushcart Prizes, two selections in Best American Poetry, the Balch Award, the Fineline Prize, the Lucille Medwick Award, the Randall Jarrell Prize (three times), and the North Carolina Book Award. In 2021, he judged the National Book Award in fiction. He holds the Houchens Chair in English at Davidson College, where he teaches courses on experimental fiction, creativity studies, and inhumanities; his cartoons appear each Friday online in Identity Theory. To view more cartoons, visit Ampydoo’s website.
We are please to present an interview with Alan Michael Parker below, conducted by Addie Ascherl—one of SuperstitionReview’s art editors for Issue 31. Please note that the transcript has been edited for clarity.
Addie Ascherl: Hello, my name is Addie Ascherl, and I’m Superstition Review’s Art section Editor. Today I’m interviewing Alan Michael Parker to discuss his art. He is extremely multifaceted, being a poet, novelist, professor, and cartoonist. He creates his comics under the pseudonym “ampydoo.” Am I pronouncing that right?
Alan Michael Parker: You are.
AA: His works are published weekly in the online literary magazine Identity Theory. Thank you for talking with me today and I’ll give you the chance to introduce yourself, if you’d like.
AMP: Well, I’m still ampydoo, Alan Michael Parker, and this is Addie, with whom I’m speaking. I’m talking to you from the historical property of the Catawba Nation—a little land acknowledgment, just getting that in there. This is my studio, so I’m in my house in North Carolina—upstairs in my house. There used to be books—there still are books—but they’re kind of hidden over there, because I went and did something different during the pandemic, which is I started drawing. And now I can’t stop. That’s my intro.
AA: What about the cartoon medium speaks to you, and do you have any inspirations or similar artists that you look up to?
AMP: Oh, wow, yeah. The inspirations and artists, it’s a really long list. And in fact, I have one of my commitments when I started doing this was to put together exactly that kind of list and to keep it current. And so I’ve got on the Ampydoo Cartoons website, I have a page called “People Are Great,” and I’ve got about 100 people that I’ve linked to their Instagram or their website or just work of theirs that I like. And I would say probably three quarters of them are doing cartooning in some way, but then there are a bunch like I haven’t gotten to. I need to update it. In fact, talking to you, I was like, “Oh, dang, I should update my ‘People Are Great’ page.” But of particular importance, I have to think about that.
So certainly some of the great, most familiar names would be Maira Kalman, Gary Larson, Bill Watterston—I mean, some of the comic artists through the years, definitely Art Spiegelman, very important people. And I’ve taught these artists often, but just hadn’t made my own work before. And then people I’ve discovered along the way would be the total weirdo who was Abner Dean; an artist on the West Coast who I admire very much named Johnny Damm, doing a lot of political work. A person I’ve come to know a little bit and really like is the co-editor of the Comics Journal named Austin English. He just sent me this zine from an artist from Julliete Collete called Blah Blah Blah… Tara Booth, Liana Finck, GB Tran—these are all living, wonderful, amazing, working artists. Kate Beaton has a new great graphic memoir about growing up in Western Canada. On the whole, I’m not choosing graphic novelists or sequential art. On the whole, the folks who are moving me most are people doing what I’m interested in, which are these single-panel cartoons that are sometimes called “gag cartoons.” That’s the genre because it has a gag punchline, but I don’t know what else to call them…
What draws me to the medium, to flip-flop my answers to your questions… I’m fascinated by the combo of image and text that have to work independently, that unto themselves are already, between a caption and an image, a kind of hybrid genre, because it’s writing and it’s art. And that fascinates me. The sense that both the image and the text have to be independent, and have to further the ambitions of the other, in these one-panel pieces, fascinates me. That really draws me to the form.
AA: Yeah, and I feel like, the fact that it’s a single page often can be an interesting way of, not constraining you, but you almost have to think outside the box.
AMP: Yeah. Oh, no, that’s a constraint. It’s a formal constraint. It’s not so far from, in that sense, the kind of constraint you have when you have to write a sonnet, or when you say, “I’m going to do a drawing of someone’s eye, and I’m not going to let myself change.” It’s just going to be the eye and then keep going and getting granular with the detailed, microcosmic, just getting in there as much as possible. I mean, there are formal constraints.
I have all sorts of wack theories about the way cartoons work now that I’ve started making them. One of them is that I have roughly seven seconds to get you to want to read past the joke, into something else. I have seven seconds to deliver a joke that you get, and then that has to push you further. It’s a wack theory.
AA: No, that’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but that makes sense. You have a singular focus that you want people to understand and want that to translate.
Another question that I have is… A vast majority of your comics have a humorous tone. One in particular I noticed is titled “The Mona Lisa from behind,” in which the back of a woman’s head appears to be much more simple than the complex Da Vinci painting we are all familiar with. Could you describe your process for making these comics? And coming up with such ideas?
AMP: Sure. I can describe the process. I’m coming at this medium as someone who has a long history writing poems, as well as flash fiction. The sense of the encapsulated, narrative moment, the ability of a poem to create offstage, subtextual, and psychological meanings that are resonant beyond the denotative. They imply or intimate or make meanings off the page, in your head, that stuff really interests me. That’s very much part of my process and part of my goal.
The literal process is that I’m drawing in ways that are sometimes doodling, sometimes inspired by everything from infographics to pictures of animals to something that I saw on the web. When I first started, I would put a piece of paper on top of you and trace your head, and then I’d have the rough outline. And now I’m learning—I’ve got like this much more skill [pinches thumb and index finger together] as someone who draws. But I’m trying to trust my freehand drawing, and then very much early on in the drawing process, I begin to work with what I think might be the narrative that’s implied or the caption I might deploy.
After the drawings are made, and they’re made in alcohol-based markers—they are my markers—as well as pencil and sometimes, as you can see from behind me, charcoal. Then, I scan them, and I have a pretty high-end, nifty scanner, and then I work in Photoshop. So what you’re seeing is digital work, and it’s meant to be digital. There are high-end print-outs, and that’s what this stuff is [points to the left]. My printer’s good, color mixing is good… And my monitor is good. I have good studio equipment, good tech. This is digital work, fundamentally digital work.
Having said that, I’m also interested in what it looks like if you put it in a book. I like the notion that the work is not as precious as poetry. I like the fact that it’s on Instagram, I like the medium being disseminated. It suits my Neo-marxist, semi-capitalist, full-disclosure, freeware aesthetics, shareware, cultural commons, kind of like, “Get the work in the hands of people who are gonna giggle.”
AA: Like fully accessible, kind of, I guess.
AA: I thought they were completely digital. I didn’t realize that you actually physically draw on paper. I thought you used maybe a tablet—because, I don’t know… I just assumed, I guess.
AMP: I tried a tablet, and I found I didn’t have enough command. And I really like this mix of—and it sort of suits me—like, for the Mona Lisa one… This mix of the hand-drawn and then the Photoshop, the lettering being Photoshop. And I’m willing to make them, to sort of give into their DIY, self-trained art tendencies. I’m not looking to be Edward Hopper, here. I like the imprecision of the artist’s hand, the brush work being visible. I think it, to me, it’s expressive, it communicates the brain of the maker. And that, in this art form that’s relatively new to me—as someone who makes these things—I find it kind of fascinating.
But I didn’t answer your question! There was another question about sneaky, dark meanings. Was that your question?
AA: That’s my next question.
AMP: What was the question about the Mona Lisa then? Oh, about the concepts—where the concepts come from. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, drawings first. Captions second. There. I think because I’ve been a writer for a billion years—because I’m old—that the captions feel much more fungible. Like I could throw them out and try another one. I’ll write thirty captions in my head or take ten in my sketchbook, with each drawing. And I’ll run them by my partner, and she’ll say, “No, no, no, no, no.” Well, she likes saying “yes” to the captions, but they all stink so she’s right.
At some point, that helps me get there. I am interested in the least number of words. That is a goal. Sometimes that’s fifty words. Sometimes it’s four. Or two.
AA: Okay. Interesting. Yeah, going on to the next…
AMP: Sorry, I read ahead in the lecture! Sorry.
AA: No, it’s all good! A vast majority of them are humorous, with one-liners that accompany the images. But some do have a seemingly darker nature, I noticed. I couldn’t help but feel as if… The comic in particular, “How Mark the Marionette imagines Heaven”—it’s almost cynical, with the perspective, in my eyes, of the puppet being controlled. What are your intentions with these more cynical perspectives?
AMP: Well, if you let me share the screen, I’ll show Mark and talk to you about it. Can you make me co-host for a second? Know how to do that?
AA: I believe so. Did that work?
AMP: Yeah! I think that worked. Okay, so… You have Mark now?
AMP: Great! So, first of all… It’s just a really scary, shitty moment in history. And it’s pretty hard for me to simply make humorous work, despite my deep interest in comedy, and not think harder about the scariness. Not want some element of that… Or inevitably, just simply have some element of that out me. Sometimes I do think that kind of content outs the artist, rather than the artist names the content.
I had to wrestle a lot with this. It’s one of those things that, if I were 20 years old, I’d be up till four in the morning with the candle burning. And I’d be staring at it and saying, “What does this mean? How can I make jokes? People are really, really not happy. There’s a pandemic! What does this mean? What does this mean?” And one of the things I’ve come to understand is that there’s an honored tradition in literature, certainly, of the fool—as well as the court jester—and the way in which those people speak truth to sadness and truth to power. While being funny. And without full-on satirical novels—which I have written in the past—this form lets me speak truth to sadness, speak truth to power.
“Mark the Marionette…” So, he gets to hang there without any strings. That might be heavenly for a marionette; that’s possible. But also, he doesn’t get to walk around, and, in fact, being free of the strings, he still needs something to hold him up. So the ambiguity of that, which I think is in his physical gestures and also the fact that this is what he’s imagining to be Heaven… As in, he’s not imagining anything where… He can’t imagine walking around. He can imagine being without strings. So maybe it’s a failure of Mark the Marionette’s imagination. Maybe it’s a comment on that, in some ways. It’s also kind of just… creepy-sad for our Marky-Mark.
AA: Yeah, no, I like this because it’s not obvious, I guess. I really had to think about it, so… Which is interesting because it’s so—such a short line.
AMP: Yeah! It’s one sentence. It’s a very apparently simple drawing of a puppet, colors, hanging on a—I don’t know—a plant stand? I don’t even know what that is. But he’s hanging. And I’m glad that the simplicity of it is what’s drawing you in. Because that’s very much my goal.
AA: Yeah, it very much does. You think it’s supposed to be easy to come up with the idea.
AMP: I don’t really do easy. I love the notion that things look easy, and as a result you get sucked into them. And when you get into them, the ideas are hard. That tends to be my jam.
AA: It definitely reflects, so that’s good.
AMP: Good! Shall we stop sharing? We stop shared. We’re back.
AA: Oh yeah. I did have a follow-up question. So what are some broader issues that are most important to you—that you try to portray in your cartoons?
AMP: I’m very much interested in gender. I don’t handle body dysmorphia and gender, but I think a lot about gender. I’ve done some gender studies scholarship. I think a lot about misogyny and sexism. I’m playing hard with identity issues that I usually give to animals, or I give to humans looking at animals or animals looking at humans. Most of the political stuff that happens in my work happens between cross-species. Some of that has to do with my own feelings about appropriation and being a cishet white guy and not believing that I could represent experiences that are so distinct from my own that I’m bullshitting to try to make my neoliberal cause somehow.
But some of it, too, is that I just love funky animals. I’m turning funny, funky animals into… I’m not differentiating people or animals by physical signifiers. There aren’t white animals or Black animals or Latinx animals. It’s not George Orwell… But I really think that animals give me a good way into sociology and into social practice. And also into questions about how screwy people are. Which is probably my subject. I think it’s just, ultimately, just like, “People are screwy.” So my job is to show that.
AA: Yeah. Well, that kind of did go into my next question. A lot of your drawings, the subjects are often animals. There’s one I noticed, “Have we met?” It’s the name of a cartoon picturing a giraffe face-to-face with a lamppost—with similar height and stature. And then, I guess, you did go into your inspiration for this anthropomorphism idea and theme. Yeah. Is there anything more you’d like to say about the animals interacting with human-made objects?
AMP: Yeah, so… Pretty clearly the giraffe, here, is looking kind of surprised, I think. I hope. By the “cousin” that the giraffe has just met. One of my goals in this is actually make you believe that the giraffe is asking the question when it could also be the lamppost asking the question. And that’s part of the wackiness, of my humor—is that I don’t want to say. It’s not, “Have we met?” said the giraffe to the lamppost—or vice versa. And the anthropomorphism lets me do that and lets me think hard about the physical world, that very often objects in my cartoons are sentient. There’s a kind of animism to them, if you want to think about them in religious terms, which is that they have souls. They have thoughts. And again it’s an excuse for me to talk about how screwy people are.
So I think that, for example, in this the affinity between them—which is clearly physical, the color rhyme that happens, the relationship between their bodies—is all there. And then maybe you go a little further and you say, “Wait a minute, what is the giraffe doing there? Why do we have this? What is this scenario, that gets a giraffe—not in a zoo or in its natural…” You know, and there’s sort of this creeping eco-thing that might be underneath there about animals and technology. Any number of things that I’m also not going to explain. Just let ’em be screwy. I love the absurd, just deeply… My students will tell you—so much so, that I am completely irritating.
AA: It’s another example of the simplicity being… I’m not sure the word, but, you know—you think it’s simple, and then you get confused it’s not as simple as it may seem.
AMP: Yeah. And then may you have a take. So do you think the giraffe is asking it? Do you think the lamp is asking it? Which one?
AMP: No, I’m really asking you.
AA: I don’t know. When I first saw it, it’s very much, with the text being in the middle, with the two on both sides… It comes across like it could be either. So I agree. But it’s confusing.
AMP: Yeah, who’s saying it? And why? It’s often very much—that’s very much a response to my cartoons. People go, “Why?”
AA: Yeah. Going into the idea—as you said—of the absurd that you like to incorporate into your work… You have a section on your website called “Weirder Earth,” and it deals with ideas like that—that throw all logic out the window, dealing with the absurd. What is your creative process for generating your work in that area? Or just your more absurd ideas?
AMP: Well, I teach a class in experimental fiction writing. And one of the first times I taught the class, I tried to come up with a motto for the class. I just taught it this last semester, but the time before, the motto for that semester was, “Throw a pineapple at it.” Wait, you don’t know what to do? Throw a pineapple at it. My ambition for the weirder-er work is an ambition that persists, and I think, in fact, is getting even more central to the cartoons that I’ve been making. Which is… Go as weird as you can, Parker. Like, what are you doing? Trust it.
And trust the fact that no one really wants my autobiography. I’ve said this before, in other contexts. I go to work; I teach my class; I go to the grocery store (I love to cook, so I’ll buy fresh stuff); I’ll cook dinner; I’ll go home; I’ll read; I’ll watch a hockey game; I do my homework. I do it again. And what I trust is my imagination as a distinctive—as one of the most distinctive qualities that I own—that I have, my characteristic. That’s my bling. And weirder-er is even more so. So I’m trying to get weirder-er. I’m not actually naming it and saying, “Okay, these are weird. I admit it.” I’m actually trying to go beyond those and just trust it. And I think that the artist’s obligation—for me—it’s the inner freak. That’s who I want to be on my cartoons. I want to share the inner freak.
AA: I think it’s very much an exercise because of… Kids are also drawing in art—creative ideas and imagination. And as you grow up, you have a disconnect with it. It’s very interesting… It’s hard, but it definitely shines through in your work.
AMP: Cool! What kind of work do you do? You’re the Art Editor for this super-duper review.
AA: I have an art minor, so I do… I’m in a figure-drawing class right now. That’s really hard.
AMP: Yeah, I’m doing that, too! I’ve never done it in my life. I’ve done it now five or six times. Once a week. It’s hard!
AA: It’s so hard. I just always strayed away from drawing entire bodies because it’s scary. Because if you’re not good at it—if you don’t have practice with it, you’re not good at it. I was just used to drawing, you know, the face. That’s the easiest. Everybody draws that first. So definitely that’s an exercise in and of itself. I need to look at a person and understand, like, how to translate that into methods where you view it.
AA: It feels like a mental workout. But you can definitely see the results. As I keep working on it, yeah.
AMP: As I say, I’m getting better like this [pinches thumb and index finger together]. I don’t know if you feel that way. It’s like, “Look at that little square on the leg!” That’s like, I did something! And the rest of it sucks. It’s so hard. It’s really gratifying how hard it is, I find. In a weird, kind of perverse way for me. Because… I know how to type. I teach typing. Okay, writing. But I know how to fix—like, I can fix your cover letter. I can fix a poem, within limits. I’m not promising greatness, but I can fix problems. I can’t do that in figure drawing. I can’t fix drawing! It’s remarkably frustrating. And then I’m like, “That was totally fun!” And it’s a complete fail.
AA: Yeah. You can know that something’s wrong, but it’s hard to know why. Like I’ve been struggling with the proportion of legs, but I don’t know why they’re wrong. I just know that they look wrong. Those were all the questions I had for you! Thank you so much.
In Nothing Follows, published by Texas Tech University Press, Lan P. Duong explores the girlhood of Vietnamese refugees through government documents, memoir, and poetry. Their sanctuary in the US, however, is questionable in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and they face racism, objectification, and violence.
Lan P. Duong is Associate Professor in Cinema & Media Studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Her research areas include Feminist Film Theory, Postcolonial Literature, Asian American Cinema, and Genre Studies. She is the author of Treacherous Subjects: Gender, Culture, and Trans-Vietnamese Feminism (Temple University Press, 2012). Duong’s creative works have appeared in Watermark: Vietnamese American Poetry and Prose, Bold Words: Asian American Writing to Span the Centuries, Tilting the Continent: Southeast Asian American Writing, Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies, and Crab Orchard Review. She lives in Pasadena, California. To learn more, visit her website.
Lan P. Duong’s debut collection is forthcoming April, 2023, but you can pre-order it here.
Nothing Follows is part of the Diasporic Vietnamese Artists Network Series, an on-going project to “foster dialogue and understanding by supporting contemporary Vietnamese and Southeast Asian authors whose rich and complex stories need to be championed and heard. It supports a range of works including novels, memoirs, poetry, anthologies, and graphic novels.” DVAN‘s first book in the series is Abbigail Rosewood’s Constellations of Eve.
We are ecstatic about Jenny Wu’s solo exhibition Ai Yo! at Morton Fine Art in Washington, D.C. featuring her sculptural paintings. Wu’s work combines latex paint and resin on wood panels to explore “tactility, in-betweenness, embodiedness, and construction,” an approach she has been refining for nearly a decade.
To view more pieces from Ai Yo! and read about Wu’s process for creating her artwork, visit the exhibition page. The exhibition opened on February 8th and is viewable until March 8th. Gallery hours are appointment only. Information about pricing and appointments for in-person viewing is available by contacting email@example.com
Jenny Wu’s art and upcoming exhibitions can be found on her website. Her sculptural paintings were featured in issue 30.
At turns hilariously absurd and gut-wrenchingly heartfelt, Terese Svoboda’s Dog on Fire, published by the University of Nebraska Press, defies genre. Svoboda juggles comedy, mystery, tragedy, horror—and masters them all. The book follows a recently-divorced woman grieving the mysterious and early death of her estranged brother. Her unusual circumstances lead her to move back to her small Midwestern home town, where everything and anything she does creates ripples of rumor. There, she confronts perilous Halloween parties, Jell-O inventions, guns, grave-diggers, and, of course, dogs on fire.
With rich prose more reminiscent of poetry, Svoboda’s characters burst from the page. One “harbors streaks of shyness the way bacon is streaked, between boldnesses,” while another drags “nothing out of this primordial water and [tries] to turn it inside out, into a something.” They’re as compelling and unforgettable as they are human.
At its heart, though, Dog on Fire is about two women struggling to find themselves—and overcome their mistrust of each other—when someone they love has died and their worlds seem to be falling apart.
Tense, poignant, urgent, and at times scathing, with Dog on Fire Svoboda has performed the astonishing dual feat of writing what could be called a contemporary Dust Bowl Gothic novel and creating a pitch-perfect work depicting the feelings of rage, grief, and isolation that come with losing a loved one. Without a doubt, Dog on Fire is Svoboda at her finest.
Rone Shavers, author of Silverfish
Terese Svoboda has written 20 books—including Cannibal, which won the Bobst Prize and the Great Lakes Colleges Association First Fiction Prize, and Tin God, which was a John Gardner Fiction book Award Finalist. She has won the Iowa Prize for poetry, an NEH grant for translation, the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, a Jerome Foundation prize for video, the O. Henry award for the short story, and a Pushcart Prize for the essay. She is a three time winner of the New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, and has been awarded Headlands, James Merrill, Hawthornden, Hermitage, Yaddo, McDowell, and Bellagio residencies. To learn more, visit her website.
Dog on Fire is a blisteringly perceptive novel about grief, secrets, and the intractability of love. The mysteries surrounding one man’s death, narrated alternately by his sister and his lover, yield no easy answers in this haunting and darkly witty reckoning.
We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into Terese Svoboda’s book. This interview was conducted via email by our Blog Editor, Brennie Shoup.
Brennie Shoup: In your novel, only one character—Aphra—is named. The rest are given titles or referred to by their familial role. Could you discuss why you chose to do this?
Terese Svoboda: I like to think by not naming the characters, the reader identifies more quickly with them, has no Jane or Edward that he despises that might stand in the way of relating to the character’s predicament. Besides, naming suggests a familiarity that isn’t there, especially at the beginning of a book. You’ve just been introduced and you’re plunged into a narrative-of-no-return? There’s resistance. Aphra is named so as not to confuse the two female voices but I could have done without hers too—my fifth book of fiction, Pirate Talk or Mermalade, uses only unnamed voices in the 18th century—but to police that is a lot of work, and too arch for Dog on Fire.
BS: What were your inspirations for this work? Do you have any other authors or creators you look to when you write?
TS: A dead brother was the main inspiration, and how his epilepsy and death affected the (much camouflaged but emotionally true-in-the-book) family. I’m originally (and still) a poet and that’s where most of my influences lie, where words and emotion drive the narrative as much as plot—with poetry’s emphasis on accuracy and conciseness thrown in. I’ve always loved Russell Edson’s surreal prose poems. In prose, I would’ve liked to have written Self-Portrait in Green by the French writer Marie Ndiaye.
BS: Many of the themes in this book revolve around family, gender, love, hate, and abuse. Could you talk about what drew you to these themes? Did you have a hard time interweaving these themes, or did they seem naturally drawn to each other when you wrote?
TS: The world of family, gender, love, hate, and abuse—that’s the stuff of most novels! And you really can’t have one without the other. But I never think about themes. That’s for you, the critic. The sentence is my guiding principle, and seldom do I imagine much beyond it. If a theme coalesces around a group of sentences, that’s great. Words pack so much connotation that it’s enough to get out a sentence, let alone a theme.
BS: In this novel, you don’t use quotation marks for dialogue. You also go between Aphra’s point of view and our main narrator’s point of view. How did you decide to write the book in this way?
TS: I never use quotations marks for dialogue in my fiction. I don’t like to clutter up the page with a lot of symbols—they’re like cymbals to me, clanging away to remind the reader, This is speech, when sometimes speech is half-imagined. A writer should be deft enough to manipulate the syntax to show who’s speaking.
Aphra’s point of view came late in the book’s revisions, in response to an excellent reader’s review. I’m hoping Aphra offers additional information and complexity to the plot, and another point of view makes the narrator’s perceptions more credible. I feared that a new reader might not be able to shake off pre-conceived notions about someone of a certain size without listening to her side of the story.
BS: Do you have any novels or other projects you’re working on?
TS: My eighth book of fiction, Roxy and Coco, about two harpies-turned-social-workers who now and then off abusive parents, will be published by West Virginia University Press next spring—and I’ve just won a prize (I’m not supposed to say which for another month!) for a collection of stories called The Long Swim that will also come out next spring. My second memoir, Hitler and My Mother-in-Law is, at the moment, longlisted for possible publication. When it rains, as in NZ, it pours. I am particularly grateful to university presses, especially the University of Nebraska Press that has published two of my novels and reprinted another two.
But stand back! My drawers are deep—I have two more collections and three more novels needing homes, and I’m very excited about a new novel manuscript I’m working on called Goose Girl.
Join the Young Authors’ Studio’s Writing Retreat this Saturday, February 18, at ASU’s Polytechnic Campus! This event is free and open to everyone of all ages. Beginning at 9:30am, Dr. Wendy Williams will lead attendees through nine YA books to spark their creativity. Then, attendees will have the option of choosing three breakout writing sessions from 10:30am to 12:00pm. After, there’s lunch and spoken-word poetry.
This event has free parking, free pizza, and b00k giveaways! To learn more and register, go here.
Artists Carolyn Lavender, Monica Aissa Martinez, and Mary Shindell, known for their previous exhibitCreature-Man-Nature at Mesa Art Center, have come together for a projecttitled Unintended Consequences to be showcased at Center Space at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. The project tells the story of life in Arizona through a combination of biology, botany, and zoology, all expressed in paintings done by the three artists.
Registration and directions can be found by visiting the Center Space’s website here. Their project’s opening ceremony is on Friday, February 17th from 7:00PM to 8:00PM Arizona time. Tickets are free. Beyond the opening ceremony, the group’s paintings can be viewed at the Center Space from February 17th through May 28th.
Carolyn Lavender and Monica Aissa Martinez’s drawings were featured in issue 9. Mary Shindell’s artwork appeared in issue 11. Learn more about them and their works: Carolyn Lavender’s website, Monica Aissa Martinez’s website, and Mary Shindell’s website.
Joanne Diaz is the author of two poetry collections, The Lessons and My Favorite Tyrants. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her recent poems have been published in American Poetry Review, Colorado Review, New England Review, Poetry, River Styx, and Waxwing. She is the Isaac Funk Endowed Professor of English at Illinois Wesleyan University. She is also the co-host of the Poetry for All podcast.
Her poem “Facts in Review” appeared in Issue 30 of Superstition Review, accompanied by one of Jason Reblando’s photos. We are pleased to present an interview with Joanne Diaz below, conducted by Madison Latham, one of SuperstitionReview’s poetry editors for Issue 30.
Madison Latham: What was the process like for creating the mixed media?
Joanne Diaz: I created the collage that accompanies this poem during a residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts (VCCA). I am by no means a visual artist, and I hadn’t made a collage since I was in elementary school, but I knew that I wanted to try this, just to see where it would take the work. The black-and-white image is from a film that documented the Berlin book burnings of 1933. I had known about that image for years, and it haunted me—the way the face of the Nazi youth is facing away from the viewer, and toward the flames—and I used a simple color blocking technique to emphasize the shape of his body and he hurls the books into the fire. For a long time, I was feeling stuck with this poem, but when school boards all over the United States started banning books, I knew that I had something to say.
This collage is one of a few in the collaborative project that I’ve been working on with Jason Reblando. The majority of the word-image pairings in this collection are comprised of my poems and Jason’s photographs.
ML: How did you decide what sources to use for the poem “Facts in Review”? What makes a reliable source? What is your advice for poets that want to include facts in their own poetry?
JD: Well, the title of the poem is actually a lie. As I say in the note to the poem, Facts in Review is the title of a Nazi propaganda magazine that was sent to American subscribers between 1939-1941. I first learned about this magazine when I read Mark Monmonier’s amazing book How to Lie with Maps, which provides an analysis of how maps never tell the whole truth, and how often nations and empires use maps for propagandistic purposes. Monmonier included some examples of Nazi maps in his book, and when I saw his citation of the magazine, I read through every issue, just to see what was published there. I noticed something right away: the magazine was full of lies about Nazi aggression—lies that made the Nazi regime seem benign, even beneficent. So many times in my life, I’ve wondered what it must have been like to live in Europe during the rise of fascism in the 1930s. Reading Facts in Review helped me answer that question. It also helped me understand the rise of fascism in our own nation right now.
ML: How would you describe your experience working with one another on collaborative media? What did you learn from the collaboration?
JD: In brief: Jason’s photos came first, and my poems came second. For Jason to create the photos, he had to walk La Ruta Walter Benjamin, a difficult mountain pass that begins in Banyuls sur Mer in the south of France and ends in Portbou, Spain. For millennia, the Pyrenees have been the site of many kinds of crossings, but there are two kinds of crossings that interest us most: the trek that writer Walter Benjamin took from France to Spain in 1940 when he was escaping the Nazis who were set on persecuting him; and the walk that 500,000 Spaniards took from Spain to France in 1939 in order to escape persecution in Franco’s fascist regime.
As Jason walked the route, he took photos that not only attended to the natural landscape, but to the history and culture of the land as well. As I meditated on his photographs, I conducted research—on the Spanish Civil War, on the Nazi regime, on Walter Benjamin—and wrote poems that helped me to understand the terror of that time. Jason is often my best editor, and he provided a lot of important feedback on the poems.
When we share excerpts of this work in art galleries, we print the poems on vellum and position the photographs underneath the vellum. That way, a viewer can read the poem, then lift the vellum to see the photo that inspired it. This palimpsest effect allows the reader to think about the layers of history and language embedded in every landscape.
ML: We see that you both teach at universities in Illinois. How do you know each other? And what is the story behind the collaborative media? Have you done collaborative work before, and would you do something like it again?
JD: We’re married! Jason is a photography professor at Illinois State, and I’m an English professor at Illinois Wesleyan, just a mile down the street. We’ve never collaborated on a project before, but we’ve really enjoyed this experience and would happily do it again.
ML: What are each of you working on next?
JD: In recent months, we’ve completed work on La Ruta and are looking for a publisher. Meanwhile, Jason is creating a series of new collage pieces that draw upon archival photographs of the Philippines from the turn of the last century. You can see some of his amazing work here.
We’re excited to share Addison Rizer, a past Interview Editor, has just joined Publishers Weekly as a nonfiction reviewer. Addison’s academic and professional accomplishments have bloomed since her time at Superstition Review. She graduated from NAU with an MA in Professional Writing in 2022.
Before graduating from ASU and starting her MA at NAU, Addison was part of ASU’s Psyche Inspired program from 2018 to 2019, a program that gathers undergraduates from all disciplines as interns creating content for NASA’s Psyche mission. You can read about her experience as part of Psyche Inspired here.
Superstition Review is excited to share a podcast project planned and produced by SR intern Claire van Doren. In this four-episode audio series, Claire will be talking with SR’s queer contributors. In today’s final episode, Claire interviews Gretchen Rockwell, who is a queer American poet and educator. Xe is the author of the chapbook Lexicon of Future Selves (published by Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), which was nominated for the 2022 Elgin Award. Xe has work published in Drunk Monkeys, theLumiereReview, Up the Stairs Quarterly, Glass:Poets Resist, and elsewhere. To learn more, visit xer website website.
The following transcript has been edited for clarity. Credit goes to FreeSound.org for the sound effects.
Claire van Doren: Hi! My name’s Claire van Doren, and you’re listening to the Superstition Review Pride Community Project. Today, we’ll be hearing from Gretchen Rockwell. They’ll be discussing their experiences with the queer community and how it impacts their work. This is one of four Pride Community specials. Stick around to hear from more of Superstition Review’s queer contributors.
Gretchen Rockwell: My name is Gretchen Rockwell—pronouns xe/xer, the “xe” as in “xenomorph,” but I’ll also use they/them. So my work is—how I do I summarize it… A friend of mine told me my brand is space, science, and the deep sea, and I feel like that pretty much sums up a lot of what I write about. I also write about gender. I’ll write about mythology sometimes.
I also really enjoy writing about unusual connections. So, a lot of times my work will start one place and then pivot abruptly to something else and then come back. I really enjoy taking things that don’t really go together and saying, “No, yes, they do, and here’s how.” I find a lot of joy in exploring connections like that.
I like to combine gender and sexuality with history, myth, with science-based, the deep sea—for a lot of reasons. I think partially it’s because my process of discovering my own gender and sexuality has been a lot of discovery and a lot of self-questioning and self-interrogation and a lot of probing myself. I feel like that really mirrors a lot of what we’ve done with space and the deep sea, in terms of you have to send these probes into this mysterious, unknown territory that you learn only as you explore it. And there’s something in that that resonates with gender and sexuality—for me, at least.
I feel like part of why I shift between these disparate things is part of my ADHD—that my mind just kind of pinballs around. I see the connections, and sometimes I have to trace them out for other people, say, “Here’s how I got from A to G. You don’t see the steps, but they’re there.” In my poetry, that’s something that really has shaped it as well—just pulling those thought processes together.
For me, it’s always been about my own interests and my own experiences, rather than trying to tell a unifying story or speak for a group of people. I really can only speak for myself. And so I think that’s something that my identity—in a lot of ways—has shaped. I’m very aware of my identity and what it is and what it isn’t. I really try to be conscious of only speaking from that and to that, rather than trying to speak for other people.
I have never really felt, necessarily, a connection to the broader queer community as such. My queer community has always been my friends and the people around me, and somehow we’ve all just discovered our own queerness, kind of side by side, and unintentionally we’ve just found each other, somehow. But I don’t necessarily feel that I have a broader queer community that I’m connected to. Figuring this stuff out about myself has been something that’s done either in isolation or with close friends. And so the way I feel, the connection to the broader community, is that I’ve always kind of hoped that putting my work out there, and putting out my voice, someone—like an individual somewhere—can find it and see themselves and feel connected to it. Rather than necessarily writing for a community or to a community.
It’s just kind of funny how we all seem to find each other. It’s just something that we sense in other people that we’re drawn to. I’m not sure how that happens or why that happens, but you just feel that sense of sameness. Like I have a lot of neurodivergent friends as well because we just all flock together.
I guess that kind of unusual connection that I find in my work is represented to an extent in how I relate to other queer people. Because it’s this… Counter-cultural is maybe the way to put it. Counter-this is heteronormative, making it by default unusual. I don’t know if I’d call it an unusual connection, but I think that the threads of connection and finding those threads of connection—in small ways and in small things—has been more evident to me than finding big connections.
What I’m hoping to accomplish with my writing in the future is, again, just putting myself and my work out there so that maybe someone who hasn’t seen themself in poetry so far or hasn’t seen themself represented in art so far—can maybe one day find my work and be like, “Oh, this person gets it, xe gets it.” Just to have it resonate with even one person is what I would love for my work in the future. There’s so many projects that I’m sure will come to me; they seem to kind of spring out of nowhere.
I can’t wait to see what’s coming, I have no idea what’s coming, but I’m sure it will be interesting.
[Phone hangs up]
CVD: Thanks for joining us! Be sure to check out our YouTube page for more audio and video content, as well as our official Superstition Review blog.