Art Blog: Brenna Fisher

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

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

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

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

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

“Where Jane’s Rock Lives”

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

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

“You Smell Like Toasted Marshmallows”

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

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

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

“Tiny Seahorses”

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

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

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

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

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

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

SR: How is your work touched by social justice? 

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

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

“Colors that Built Her”

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

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

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

You can find Brenna on her website and on Instagram.

Book Giveaways: Upcoming Contests

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

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

The New American by Micheline Aharonian Marcom

Simon & Schuster

The Office of Historical Corrections by Danielle Evans

Riverhead Books

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

This Is All I Got by Lauren Sandler  

Random House 

Disability Visibility by Alice Wong

Vintage

Contributor Update, Thomas Legendre

Join Superstition Review in congratulating Thomas Legendre on taking part in Creative Archaeology – Finding the Present in the Past. In this online event, hosted by Archaeology Scotland, Thomas Legendre takes us on a journey to Kilmartin Glen, exploring the prehistoric landscape through fictional writing. How do Neolithic sites become “personal” to us? How does the past become present, and the present past? Check out the video, available on YouTube.

Thomas Legendre’s most recent novel, Keeping Time, was published by Acre Books/University of Cincinnati Press. His previous work includes The Burning (a novel), Half Life (a play produced by NVA and the National Theatre of Scotland), and Dream Repair (a radio drama aired by BBC Radio 4). He is an Assistant Professor in English at the University of Nottingham. For more detail visit Thomas’s website here.

Congratulations, Thomas!

Check out Thomas’s Twitter and his fiction featured in Issue 18 here

Creative writing alumni Caitlin Horrocks & W. Todd Kaneko visit ASU

Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020 @ 7:00 p.m. (AZ/MST)  |  Online

Register: https://asu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMscO6urjstGd1dAZcjygFWu5cFf47IXAe1

The Creative Writing Program in the Department of English at ASU presents a virtual reading by two of its star graduates: fiction writer Caitlin Horrocks (MFA 2007) and poet W. Todd Kaneko (MFA 2006). The event takes place on Thursday, November 19, 2020 at 7 p.m. AZ/MST (6 p.m. PST / 8 p.m. CST / 9 p.m. EST). A link to attend will be provided after registration.

About the authors

Caitlin Horrocks is author of the novel The Vexations, named one of the 10 best books of 2019 by the Wall Street Journal, and the story collections Life Among the Terranauts (forthcoming January 2021) and This is Not Your City. Her stories and essays appear in The New YorkerThe Best American Short Stories, The PEN/O. Henry Prize StoriesThe Pushcart Prize, The Paris Review, Tin HouseOne Story and elsewhere. She teaches at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

W. Todd Kaneko is the author of This Is How the Bone Sings (Black Lawrence Press, 2020) and The Dead Wrestler Elegies, 2nd Edition (New Michigan Press, 2021), and co-author of Slash / Slash (Diode Editions, 2021) and Poetry: A Writers’ Guide and Anthology (Bloomsbury Academic, 2018). His poetry and prose have appeared in PoetryAlaskan Quarterly ReviewThe Normal SchoolBarrelhouseBest Small Fictions, and many other places. A Kundiman fellow, he is an associate professor of writing at Grand Valley State University and lives with his family in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Register: https://asu.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMscO6urjstGd1dAZcjygFWu5cFf47IXAe1

More information: Justin Petropoulos, Justin.Petropoulos@asu.edu

A Lesson in Political Poetry, Guest Post by Jennifer Met

A Lesson in Political Poetry

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

Thanks to the Children

Thanks to the children, I have another

cold today. Hacking a yellow smell

like clogged drains, my head swimming

like summer asphalt. Another cold, this

constant parade. Spring and it returns


with the tulips—was never truly dead

but just lingering. Hand sanitizer empty

and of course I never touch my face,

even to check for sadness. Never hide

coquettish, never blow kisses, never mock


mustache. People don’t trust men

with facial hair, I tell the President,

who knows this, but somehow not

schoolyard physics. Let’s form a line,

he says instead. Like a recess game,


clasping hands and daring the other side

to send Johnny right over—let’s hold

hands across America. So close, pore to pore,

our sweat with nowhere to go, permeating

each grasp. Forget the states on the flag


are in constellation only—ionic bonds. Forget

that the country air is so sweet in effect

because it’s free—a space between

the fingers. How easily a wire fence slips

or is circumvented here where we live


and let live. In the red, where roads

aren’t paved. Just a suggestion—

but forget immanent influenzas, stealthy

infections. A wall cannot keep out the birds,

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


Avian Flu, Smallpox outbreaks. It isn’t

part of our America. Not part of my agenda.

Says the man without looking at his planner.

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

at the back of my throat. The way fear becomes


an interminable barking—to no effect. President

already turning, the air between constituents

growing. Gaps between atoms expanding in heat—

the space between us a molecule’s width

instead of half. You’re covered. Go back


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

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

I steel myself, know that children pick up

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

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


the heavy heart in my throat’s cavern throbbing

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

my daughter, my son. A cold now and then

makes us stronger. We need air to survive. But

through muffled stink ear a voiceless fear


floats. Neighbor standing with neighbor—isn’t it

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

Refill the hand sanitizer and just forget

the children about your knees—how quickly

ignorance can piggyback an innocent touch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contributor Update, Dorianne Laux

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

Congratulations, Dorianne!

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

Art Blog: Ryan Greene

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 composite english. 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. 

Intern Update: Colleen Stinchcombe

Today’s intern update features Issue 11’s social media manager Colleen Stinchcombe. Her recent article “How One TikTok Star Is Giving BIPOC-Owned Seattle Restaurants a Big Boost” was featured in Eater Seattle. Eater is a Vox media food and dining network dedicated to food news and dining guides for some of the biggest cities in America. You can check out Colleen’s article featured in Eater here.

Colleen is a freelance writer and editor in Seattle. She has written for Sierra Magazine, Outside Online, The Seattle Times, Lonely Planet, and SELF. Check out her website here and her Twitter here.

Contributor Update, Mark Dostert

Join us in congratulating past Superstition Review contributor Mark Dostert on being featured in the Spring 2020 issue of the literary magazine Barzakh. The piece is titled “Step to Your Room” and is a narration on the time he spent as a full-time guard and Children’s Attendant at the Chicago Juvenile Jail. Be sure to check it out for yourself here. Mark Dostert is the author of Up in Here: Jailing Kids on Chicago’s Other Side. He currently teaches at Writespace and holds a Master of Arts in English from University of Houston.

Congratulations, Mark!

Take a look at Mark’s website here and his nonfiction feature in Issue 21 here.

Environmental Humanities Initiative Distinguished Lecture

Environmental Humanities Initiative Distinguished Lecture

WITH A READING GROUP SERIES AND GRADUATE COURSE OPTION

Join the IHR/GIOS for our (now rescheduled) 2020 Environmental Humanities Initiative (EHI) Distinguished Lecture, “From Garden Warriors to Gastrodiplomacy,” with Elizabeth Hoover (video recorded lecture and live Zoom Q and A), November 5, 2020, 4-5:30 pm.

Professor Hoover will explore Native American community based farming and gardening projects; the ways in which people are defining and enacting concepts like food sovereignty and seed sovereignty; the role of Native chefs in the food movement; and the fight against the fossil fuel industry to protect heritage foods.

Hoover is an associate professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Management department at the University of California Berkeley whose work focuses on food sovereignty and environmental justice for Native communities. Her first book “The River is In Us: Fighting Toxics in a Mohawk Community” (University of Minnesota Press, 2107), is an ethnographic exploration of Akwesasne Mohawks’ response to Superfund contamination and environmental health research. Her second book project-in-progress, “From Garden Warriors to Good Seeds; Indigenizing the Local Food Movement,” explores Native American community-based farming and gardening projects. She also recently co-edited a book “Indigenous Food Sovereignty in the United States with Devon Mihesuah” (University of Oklahoma Press, 2019). 

This event is cosponsored by the IHR’s Environmental Humanities Initiative, The Global Futures Laboratory, The Human Sciences Collaboratory, American Indian Studies, The Global Institute of Sustainability, The Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society.

Register for the lecture.

Reading Group / One Credit Graduate Course

Prior to the lecture Joni Adamson and Joan McGregor will lead three reading group sessions that aim to explore the work of Elizabeth Hoover and other writers and researchers who focus on the concepts of food justice and food sovereignty. Attendees will gain an enriched understanding of climate justice and food sovereignty activism and research focused on indigenous food cultures, knowledges and agricultural sciences. 

The group will also explore the concept of “global syndemic” or the notion that simultaneous and connected epidemics, including malnutrition, racism, structural inequities, catalyzed by over five centuries of colonization and accelerating neoliberal development, and resource extraction are linked to the current COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbate the underlying conditions — diabetes, asthma, violent policing—that are making the virus more deadly to some. 

Readings will be interdisciplinary and diverse so we learn from the expertise of disciplines both inside and outside of the humanities. With Andrew W. Mellon funding, we will also be collaborating with the University of Pretoria, and reading group members will have the opportunity to interact with our colleagues in South Africa. 

Reading group members have the option of earning one graduate credit in a course co-taught by Joni Adamson (Joni.Adamson@asu.edu, English) and Joan McGregor (j.mcgregor@asu.edu, Philosophy). Students may register for any section cross-listed section of the course ENG/HUL/SFS/SOS/PHI 598 and earn one credit by attending the reading group and completing the readings and some writing assignments. The course will be capped at 20. Please direct any questions about the course to Professors Adamson and McGregor.

·      Reading Group: Environmental Humanities Wrap-up, 11/12, 3 PM MST