Today we are pleased to announce news about past SR contributor Irena Praitis. Irena’s newest collection of poetry, titled “Rods and Koans,” is now available for purchase from Red Mountain Press. Of the book, poet Alberto Ríos notes, “From elemental odes to precise definitions, rather than each acting in a vacuum, it’s the imaginative connectivity bridging differences that pulses in the heart of this collection. Through these pieces, we are edged toward a better grasping of the great jigsaw that is this world.”
The Department of English presents a celebration of the annual Glendon and Kathryn Swarthout Awards in Writing, with readings by award-winning ASU fiction writers and poets. Also, join us in celebrating the life of the late Miles Swarthout. The free and open event will take place Thursday, April 21st, from 6-8 pm in the University Club, Heritage Room on Arizona State Tempe campus.
Among the oldest and most celebratory traditions in the Department of English—this year will be the 54th year—is the evening we gather to honor our student creative writers at the Annual Swarthout Awards. Because the Awards are in creative writing, it is easy to forget that Glendon and Kathryn Swarthout gave their gift to the Department of English as a whole in support of all students who write.
There will be a pre-reading reception to welcome friends of Miles Swarthout, son of Glendon and Kathryn Swarthout. Before the Awards, a brief tribute to Miles will be offered by Stacie Anfinson. Arizona Poet Laureate Alberto Ríos will serve as inimitable emcee. We in the Creative Writing Program hope many of you will join us to celebrate the students of the Department.
Refreshments will be served. For more information, please visit the English department website and the Facebook event.
Join us in the annual celebration Thursday April 21, 2016 from 6-8 p.m. in the Heritage Room in the University Club (ASU Tempe Campus).
Among the oldest and most celebratory traditions in the Department of English–this year will be the 54th year–is the evening we gather to honor student creative writers from across the ASU campuses at the Annual Swarthout Awards.
There will be a pre-reading reception to welcome friends of Miles Swarthout, who recently passed away. Before the Awards, a brief tribute to Miles will be offered by Stacie Anfinson. Arizona Poet Laureate Alberto Rios will serve as inimitable emcee. This event is free and open to the public.
Even Though the Whole World is Burning is an intimate documentary portrait of the extraordinary life of acclaimed poet and ecologist W.S. Merwin. This feature-length film from independent filmmaker Stefan Schaefer chronicles Merwin’s significant place as a leading figure in American poetry and highlights connections between Merwin’s environmental advocacy, his daily horticulture practice and his writing life.
In a career spanning nearly six decades and more than 60 books, Merwin’s poetry and translations have won nearly every major award available to poets, including two Pulitzer Prizes. For the last thirty years this former U.S. Poet Laureate has made his home on Maui, surrounded by acres of land once devastated from years of erosion, logging and toxic agricultural practices. Following a daily gardening practice, Merwin has painstakingly restored the property to a lush palm-filled landscape that is now recognized as one of the most comprehensive palm forests in the world.
A short panel response and reception featuring Susan Norton, Paul Hirt and Alberto Ríos will follow the screening. To get tickets, please go to their LEARN site.
Tickets include admission into the Garden, so you can also stroll through and enjoy the incredible Bruce Munro exhibit before or after the film. This event is not included with Garden membership. Poetry Center Walt Whitman Circle Members enjoy membership pricing (code “PoetryAZ”).
On the very first day of TA training, back in 2007, we were asked to think about how we were going to introduce ourselves to our students. They asked us to consider teacher identity in the classroom. Things like where we sat, what we wore and what we called ourselves were tossed around the discussion. Were we going to make them call us mister, miss, professor, or by our first names?
I had a bigger problem. Since the very first day I entered school as a young boy, my name took on another sound. Fur-nan-doe Pur-rez fell from the lips of all of my teachers and classmates. My identity split. I was no longer just Fernando Pérez, as my parents pronounced it. It was at this point that my curiosity with the power of language grew. At home my name was always pronounced in Spanish. My folks and relatives said it correctly, but all of the new people in my life made me think that Spanish held only a place for intimates in the homes of cousins and grandparents. It’s not that my relatives could only speak Spanish. In fact, we are quite assimilated. Most of us have actually held on to the language and culture of our Mexican roots while integrating successful American practices, careers, and attitudes.
I, however, internalized the split as the following: English belonged at school, among friends, and in the classroom; Spanish belonged at home. Whenever Spanish crossed into the English boundary that had been set, I would become nervous or embarrassed. I even began pronouncing my own name in English. The struggle with identity increased as I encountered far more Latino students in high school than I had ever had in my elementary and junior high where I was among only three.
Fast-forward to graduate school and TA training. My first semester at Arizona State University, I had a Poetry class with Professor and renowned poet, Alberto Ríos. I remember the first day he took roll. When he got to my name my face flushed with blood. He said my name in Spanish. The line had been crossed. This was the first time any teacher had ever said my name the way my mother does. What’s more, I felt the guilt that I associated with the times my mother said my last name—usually reserved for moments of scolding. I remember asking my professor after class if he was embarrassed bringing Spanish into an “English” class. His answer has stayed with me to this day. It was something along the lines of saying, “We are in the Southwest, and what’s more, we are in a place of higher learning, where language and culture is not limited to those whose primary language is English.” He continued to say that Spanish and any other language should be attempted by those who cannot speak it—at the very least a word or two here and there as a way of building bridges. From that moment on I felt empowered, yet I still accommodated my English language students by providing them the option of pronouncing my name in English, the way I had been used to hearing for half of my life. I felt content having at least provided the Spanish option as recognition for those students who knew my struggle.
Today, I don’t provide the English option. Instead, I say my name in Spanish, provide Ped-diss as a way of sounding it, or tell my students that they can call me “Mr. P.” Introductions are important. Identity is important. I share the history and struggle of reconnecting with my name on the very first day of every class. Seeing myself as belonging in this place of higher learning has been a struggle. I know that several students feel the same way. It is not surprising that students both at Arizona State University and now here at Bellevue College have come up to me after class and told me how much they can identify with the struggle of holding two different languages in their heads and how they have also struggled with the split in identity.
It is with identity and my name in mind that I had to speak up when my business cards here at Bellevue College were printed and my last name was misspelled. I was not insulted or even slightly stirred; I just knew that it would be important for me to ask that they be reprinted. I thought about how my cousin Carlos used to tease me when we were children, asking me, “I bet you don’t even know where the accent mark goes in your last name. From that day forward, you better believe I learned it. It was important then for me to set an example for my Latino students that our names should be pronounced and spelled correctly, that they can be points of pride, and that the sounds they create are welcomed on this campus. It was an easy mistake for whoever printed the business cards to make. I don’t consider it a micro-aggression in any way. How can anyone know how important a little accent mark is? In the end, what mattered was in the way my request to fix the problem was handled. No one raised an eyebrow, no one sucked their teeth, or rolled their eyes. The cards were changed and that was that. This was very reassuring to me as teacher of color at this school.
All aside, I find that my mere presence before these students of color is important. Teaching is a humbling vocation for me, but my face and my name are important for students to see, especially in an English class. I do find that my students of color, my Latino students especially, are eager to speak up and share their thoughts in class. They are eager to come up and establish a relationship with me after class as well. They want to tell me their stories and they want to know how I am adjusting to the weather and culture here. This is not to the exclusion of my white students. Because I care about education and learning, because I am excited about nerdy things, or articulate well, I find—understanding that I am making a sweeping generalization—my white students are eager to invest in me as well. They are curious about me at the very least, and I am certainly eager to invest and to be a bridge to all my students.
Whenever I take roll, I read my students’ last names and ask them to tell me how they would like to be identified. This is an important way of empowering my students and honoring pluralism. How they identify themselves within the context of race, gender, or sexual orientation matters. I will be honest, it used to upset me inside that some of my students had “American” names they would ask to be called by—as a way, I thought, of accommodating English speakers. I used to want those students to accept their “foreign” names and allow me the room to learn how they were pronounced. When I think about it, I can only offer my anecdote about my name and the struggle I faced with identity as a model for my students. If they are not worried about it or if they are not ready to address that within their own lives, it is not up to me to push. Honoring their choice to be called what they ask to be called has been my pact.
One student last quarter shocked me then, when she asked me to call her “Skunk.” Had she not been in my Creative Writing Poetry class, I might have found it difficult or odd, but I honored her request because she seemed sincere. As I got to know her through her writing and our conversations, I learned that she too was struggling with identity in her own way. Skunk identified culturally as Persian. If that weren’t complex enough, she felt the burden of feeling out of place in a White-dominant society. She could have passed for being “white” but she didn’t identify that way. She would say things like, her parents don’t like her speaking Farsi in public or that they don’t want her to date anyone whose culture comes from the Middle East.
Her own family and the dominant culture at large placed Skunk in the middle of complexity and confusion. Sometimes her confusion was self-imposed, but whatever the case, it was real and felt.
I worked with Skunk, nudging her to drop a line or two of Farsi into her poems. I told all my students that other languages or modes of speech were priceless nuggets in poetry. I think, if properly placed, other languages and modes of speech add a tremendous amount of flavor to any writing. Over the course of the quarter I noticed subtle changes in Skunk’s behavior. Her confidence improved. This quarter she is registered in my ENGL 101 class and when I took roll on the very first day, she wasn’t embarrassed when I came across her last name—something she quickly discouraged me from saying in our Poetry Class. Skunk now goes by her given first name.
English Language Learners populate my classrooms as well. One such student in the fall quarter was Zaw. He was a quiet guy, rarely offering his thoughts during class discussion. I would carefully nudge him every now and then and one day after class he approached me. Zaw informed me some students feel uncomfortable speaking their minds because that is not how they are culturally used to doing things. He asked that I bear with him as he adjusted to my request to share his thoughts. I was happy that he felt comfortable sharing this with me. Zaw also told me that he felt stupid because he had an accent and because his English was limited. I quickly informed him that my pedagogy favors clarity of thought over mechanics and the use of “big” words. I told him that if it made him feel more comfortable he should consider writing out his ideas in his native language first and then work toward translating his ideas into English. I wanted him to know that his intelligence was not going to be measured by how well he spoke English. Zaw’s attitude and confidence improved from that point on and he was further supported after we read and discussed “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan in class.
I want my students to feel like they can come to me for anything. I don’t pretend to know everything, but I inform them that we can work through their issues with writing or life outside of class, and that I will help them to find additional resources if necessary. Some students recognize and utilize my accessibility and support right away. For a variety of reasons, others do not.
Being so far away from my own forms of support/community has, at times, made the days seem very long. My family and friends are integral to my being. Transitioning into the new culture here at Bellevue College, the culture of the department, the quarter system, the Pacific Northwest (my apartment, the climate, the people), and all without my partner and while dealing with the recent loss of my grandmother, have shaken the ground I stand on. Remembering my identity, who I am and where I have come from in the midst of these challenges, has helped me to grow as an individual and as a teacher.
My identity is constantly being forged. I am working on the relationship I have with myself so that I may also improve the relationship that I have with others. I am learning to quiet the voices that say that I don’t belong here and that I don’t deserve this position or that I do not have anything to contribute to the department or the college.
I am becoming more deeply rooted in the belief that students have the right to their own languages and that I am not a gatekeeper toward the “next level” of the English language or writing. I want to encourage students to fall in love with writing the way I did. I want them to enjoy their time in all of their writing class, whether they are required courses or not. I do not believe that a student’s writing will be transformed over the course of one short quarter, but I do believe that their relationship to the subject and desire to continue on this path can be fostered in my classroom.
Ultimately, I have come to accept that students respond to my style of teaching, my accessibility, and who and how I am as a person. When students invest in me, they begin quickly to invest in the class.
When I was an undergrad I made similar investments. I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I sat as a student in Dr. Velvet Pearson’s Intro to Poetry Workshop at Long Beach City College. I liked how we sat in a circle and each weighed-in on a poem. Everyone, from their own corner of the world, with a fresh and different take, offering their perspectives on issues that affect us as human beings made me realize how valuable this act can be. It made realize that we learn from each other, not just the teacher, that our voices matter, and that we need these human stories. Dr. Pearson was the first English teacher that treated me like I was someone who was smart and that made me feel like my contributions were valid. She got me excited about writing, which made me invest in the journey that lay ahead of me as a writer. That is, at least, what I took away from her class and what I hold as an integral part of my pedagogy as an instructor today.
The Waste Management Open (still referred to as the Phoenix Open by most people) is not about golf. The people I talked to never talked about golf, except for one couple who wondered if anybody famous was playing. The day I went was the day of the Pro Am and it was Emmet Smith and Randy Johnson and some other non pro-golfers playing. I guess Bill Murray had played there once before and someone told me that Tiger Woods never plays the Open anymore because he had been heckled by an onlooker, someone yelling racial slurs. The day before I was at the open two people were kicked out for spitting on a member of the National Guard.
People trade passes to get into exclusive blocked off parties. Each party is at or near a certain hole. Everyone wants the 16th hole. The wildest hole in golf where drunks toss things at the course, where people throw punches, do body shots, dance on tables and everyone, everyone, wants at least one more round. People moan about the loss of the infamous caddie races, about how hard it is now to get tickets to the Bird’s Nest, the night club which opens early evening and closes after three a.m. There were four thousand DUIs last year as a result of the drinking at the Phoenix Open.
It isn’t all bad. This is just the logical end result of what happens when thousands of people meet in one area and drink and interact.
This was my first time at the Phoenix Open, and it made me think of other events I’ve attended. I thought of how I saw Kanye West at U.S. Airways, or how I celebrated the 4th of July at Chase Field, or the time I spoke broken German through the city of Munich on its Birthday Party years ago during my Summer vacation.
Then I remembered the first time I won an Award for Creative Writing. I placed third in a community college competition. I still won a decent amount of money for bronze. The Awards Ceremony took place in a large room at the top of the library. The people in the audience as I read my poem were made up of the judges, of creative writing faculty, of creative writing students who were interested and those were in desperate need of extra credit. After I read, no one talked really but golf clapped as I walked back to my seat. It was a standard reading, which isn’t a good thing. For after-ceremony snacks, they served brownies and lemonade.
I have been to a few other literary events after that one. Usually I dread going to a reading, especially if it is an author whose work I love, because I often don’t like the actual voice of the author compared to the voice I had created in my mind. I had seen two married poets read in that same library room at the college, a year or so later. I placed in the same Award contest again, this time coming out on first in two categories. I remembered to bring Tupperware with me, to take home the left over brownies. I had gone to Changing Hands before, too. I saw Benjamin Hale read from his first novel The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore. It was the first reading I really enjoyed, because the author was more of an actor than a reader. It was one of those readings where you just wanted to start talking to the writer, where you just wanted to go up to him and ask him anything. I was once at a coffee shop on its Open Poetry Mic Night and drank my espresso, my poems pulled up on my phone, waiting for someone to go up to the mic and read first. No one did and I went home before finishing my drink.
At the Open my first drink was a gin and tonic and my brother got a beer. It was just about to hit 11:30.
“You have somewhere you have to be today?” he asked.
“Not really. It’s my day off, but I thought about going in to work. And there’s a reading tonight at a bookstore that I may go to for school.”
“I don’t know. A poet, I guess” I said.
It was the Alberto Rios reading at Changing Hands Bookstore. I didn’t know at the time that he had been named Arizona’s first Poet Laureate and that this was a small celebration in his honor.
The poetry of Alberto Rios is literal. Not so much the kind of poetry I was used to reading, where a tree becomes a metaphor for the way your father used to beat you. It was more a Garrison Keillor-like story told with funny formatting but without the Lutherans. It is dipped in politics and accompanied by the voice of someone who is not impressed with tricks or gimmicks. His poetry was enjoyable, and his conversations with the audience were fantastic. A really great reading, I think, is one where you almost want to tell the poet to close his book and come down and join the crowd.
It isn’t that the golf at the Phoenix Open, like the reading at Changing Hands, doesn’t matter. It is golf that got people to show up, but something more was needed to make people stay. The poetry needs to be there, in all its incarnations, between and around the people as they move closer and closer together. The poetry was there at Changing Hands, too, even after he finished and looked up at the small audience and smiled.
As strange as their juxtaposition was, I’m glad I got to experience two, if very different, rich Arizona traditions.
The Superstition Review staff continues to gain momentum while working on Issue 6. Section editors are voting on submissions via our website, Submishmash, which has allowed advisors and editors to work quickly, reading submissions then assigning them to additional readers. As a reminder, the SuperstitionReview submission period concludes on October 31st and submissions can be made to http://superstitionreview.submishmash.com/submit.
Our Interview Editors have confirmed several interviewees for Issue 6 including Beverly Donofrio, Elizabeth Kadetsky, Alberto Ríos, Rishma Dunlop, and Erick Setiawan. Interview Editor Kimberly Singleton was delighted by positive feedback from Erick Setiawan about the SuperstitionReview website. He stated, “great website, by the way, and very much needed.” These interviews will take place in the next few weeks and will appear in Issue 6 of Superstition Review.
Additionally, Reading Series Coordinator Mary Richardson is pleased to announce that the Melissa Pritchard reading has been scheduled for November 18th. Pritchard is the recipient of numerous awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Howard Foundation at Brown University, the Illinois Arts Council. More details about the reading will be announced soon.