A picture of Benjamin Faro.

Benjamin Faro’s A Party of One and Many: An Interview

Benjamin Faro’s poem, “A Party of One and Many,” is forthcoming in Nimrod Journal. A brief but moving piece on grief and reminiscence, it was chosen by Amsterdam University College’s creative writing students to be the focus of an interview with Faro. They have also curated a variety of questions for Faro about “A Party of One and Many” and his writing process. We are pleased to include those questions and Benjamin Faro’s responses in an interview below. Due to the time difference, this interview was conducted by Brennie Shoup, Superstition Review’s blog editor. Read more about the collaboration between AUC’s creative writing students and Superstition Review here.

Benjamin Faro is a green-thumbed writer and educator living in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on stolen Taíno lands. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Equatorial, an international curation of undergraduate poetry, and is also pursuing his MFA in Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte, where he serves as Poetry Editor for Qu Literary Magazine. His poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared or is forthcoming in a number of literary journals, including Atlanta Review, EcoTheo Review, Interim Poetics, JMWW, Portland Review, West Trade Review, and others. Learn more on his website.

Brennie Shoup: Hello! My name is Brennie Shoup. I’m Superstition Review’s blog editor, and today I will be interviewing Benjamin Faro on behalf of the Amsterdam University College Students, who have curated a variety of questions about his piece, “A Party of One and Many” (I believe [this] is the title of it). And they were super happy to read this poem, and they wanted to talk to him about the process and his work. So, would you like to introduce yourself?

Benjamin Faro: Yeah! Sure. So my name’s Benjamin Faro, and, you know, this is a piece I wrote over this past summer. And so it’s relatively recent, and I’m really grateful for the questions that the students sent and for this opportunity. 

BS: We are so happy to have you and so happy that you agreed to do this interview. We’re so excited to see what you say about your process and all that. I’m sure the students are really happy about that, too. So, getting into the first question: what inspired you to write this piece?

BF: Yeah, so, recently—within the last few years, I would say—a number of people in my life have passed away, unfortunately. And as people do, we sit with that, and we think about that. We think about those people. And even after the writing of this piece, another person close to me passed away, and one of the unique things about it—all of these people liked to cook. They’re people that I know from the kitchen, which, of course, is where the poem is set. 

Thinking about those things, and thinking about how—as you get older—the more people you know will pass away. That number accumulates, and then you find yourself thinking about, “Oh, it’s the anniversary of so-and-so’s death, and this person’s death.” And thinking about that in terms of a celebration. I realized I can bring these people together in one space, like as I was cooking and thinking about all of them. And, interestingly, in a way that probably would never have happened if they were alive because they lived in such different places… [I was] really just sitting with the idea of having all of these people with me in the post-life. 

BS: Yeah, I think the poem definitely has that sort of unity, and I think it really comes through. And the title of this piece specifically—and maybe your poetry in general—how do you decide on those titles or on a title for a work?

BF: I’ve been thinking about titles… It’s been a focus of mine in my work over, I’d say, the last year or two—and really trying to—you know, of course, maybe not all of my titles achieve this or reach this end… But I really try to make all of them do some kind of work, whether that’s contextualizing the space in which the poem is embedded or initiating a narrative or something like that. Or just stimulating some kind of contemplation. And I think that’s why this title went a little bit… hinting that there’s an ambiguous number of people here—or number of entities, at least. That hinting at that idea of celebration with “party” and playing on that word… Yeah, sometimes you just land on a—I don’t know—as with poetry… I know that I wanted it to do something there, and this is what I landed on. 

BS: Yeah! I will also say the title, at least for me, when I saw it was very intriguing—very like, “Oh, what does this mean?” Would you say that you also try to intrigue the reader a little bit with your title as well?

BF: For sure, yeah! You know, that’s what, I guess, what I meant by bringing them to a space of contemplation, of being—of wondering, of curiosity. Like “What’s behind this?”

BS: I would say you definitely did that with this poem. It’s very much like, “Oh, I wonder what that means,” like what the poem is going to be about. So, for our third question: what is the meaning behind the poem’s narrow form—to you?

BF: Yeah… I was thinking about this question, and, of course, I thought about all of them. But this one in particular I was thinking about as a question where thinking about it—after the fact—actually I think is more clear than how I was thinking about it in the moment of writing. And it kind of feels like it was a subconscious thing to make it this structure. I mean I did it on purpose, but I wasn’t necessarily thinking of the reasons that I’m thinking of now. 

And the reasons that I think of are that I think it mirrors the kitchen, the tight space that it’s talking about. I’m a young adult, but I have lived in nothing but houses with small kitchens or apartments with small kitchens, so that’s kind of the feeling of this setting. But also what it’s talking about in the sort of—the slippery slope between reminiscing and then dwelling, and the kind of tight space that dwelling on somebody who has passed can bring you in emotionally and mentally. It’s a very constricted mental/emotional state. And I think it reflects both of those things. 

BS: For sure. For me, I feel like the form works—I think you did a good job choosing that. And then, for our fourth question: do you think that art can or cannot be—or should or should not be—political?

BF: I have had mentors—people, poets—I’ve heard them say that all art is, in some way, inevitably political. And I don’t know that I think that that’s true. To be honest, I’m not 100% sure what I think about this. But I think that it can and cannot. And which is related to my answer to the should, which is that I don’t think it’s my place to judge whether or not someone should be political with their work. If they decide to… Because it’s your own creative space. And if in your own creativity, it manifests as political or as some people might call political—or the intention is political… Then more power to you.

If your creative space is something that, you know, isn’t—and that’s hard to define, but I do think that they exist—then also power to you. I think they can both happen.

BS: Yeah, and then just for you—would you say that the majority of your pieces are—I’m just curious, I guess—about how you would define most of your pieces or your work. 

BF: I mean, most of my work—I don’t know that most of my work falls into any certain category—but I definitely have two major things happening, one of which is definitely political. And it’s thinking about the socio-political state of the world, the United States—so it’s explicitly political. And then, another body of work that kind of explores the space of family and emotion and what’s there, which is hard for me to say is political. I don’t know if I would call it that. 

BS: I think that’s a great answer! So thank you. And then for our fifth question: how do you know when a poem is complete—or is it ever complete?

BF: This is something that I’ve thought about also. I can ask myself—or anyone—can ask themselves a couple of questions. Have I surprised myself? Have I said something that I have never experienced before? Either reading or in my own writing. Which, that alone doesn’t mean that you’re done. But if it’s not there, then maybe that’s a good indicator to keep digging. 

And then, I was thinking about this in terms of fullness and comfort. Of course, [I] read it over many times and give it space between readings, but… Upon repeated readings, does it feel full? Does it feel like it’s asking for more? There’s something, you know—there’s a vacant space. Or does it feel nice and bulbous and full? 

And then comfort—it may feel full, but the things within that fullness… Do they want to be in there? Are they comfortable there? Or does something not want to be there? And then, if you pull it out, that affects the fullness again. I think those are two criteria to think about. 

BS: That’s a great answer! Something really actionable—something people can look at… And I assume something you use sometimes for your own work. And then, for question six, we have—what is your process for discovering literary journals to submit to? Do you have a system for keeping track of your submissions or deciding where is best to put your piece?

BF: The simpler questions first: my system for keeping track is Submittable basically. I’m on there, and I can keep a handle on that. Deciding where to submit to is a matter of reading, which is a thread through the next couple of questions—is reading. But super crucial, and that’s also my process for discovering journals—is reading. Reading until I find someone—or a poem that I’m blown away by. And then I go down and read the bio—okay, where else are they published? And then go there and then read. And see who else is there, and do the same thing. It just becomes a rabbit hole of finding great writing. 

And I built a database—a whole excel database of hundreds of journals. It’s plotted out like—what do they accept? Is it flash, fiction, poetry? Their submission dates and all of that. It’s a work in progress, but it’s what I use. 

BS: Awesome! I feel like excel spreadsheets, you know? Gotta use them. And then for question seven—what do you wish you had known before starting out as a writer?

BF: This was an interesting question to me because of the wording—“started out” as a writer. Because it makes it feel intentional, which I don’t feel is true in my case. I feel like I had an affinity for it for a long time—like in college. And even before that, musically, creatively fiction—and then set it aside because of career and stuff like that. And then [I] came back to it. And then it really took off. So I didn’t really “start out” in the way I perceive this. 

But something that I learned early on that was helpful—and I think would be helpful to people who are thinking of spending their time being writers—again, comes back to reading. It’s profoundly helpful to just read and see, expose yourself to all of the different ways creative people out there are expressing themselves and doing it in ways that you never thought about. And then that is inspiration for you to do something in a way you’ve never thought about. So for me, and I know for many people, reading is a super inspirational tool. I think I’d say that. 

BS: Awesome! Would you say currently—and I know this isn’t part of the question—do you usually lean toward reading poetry or do you like to read all kinds of things? 

BF: I like to read all kinds of things—poetry, short stories, novels, non-fiction… I really enjoy all kinds of things. And you can get different kinds of inspiration from different kinds of things. But I think, related to the next question about writer’s block—is inspiration and stuff like that. When I’m in a space of writing, or when I’m looking for inspiration, then I will intentionally read poetry, because that’s what I’m looking for. 

BS: Awesome. Yeah—so going on to that next question. Do you believe in writer’s block? And if yes, how do you deal with it?

BF: Yeah. I feel like my creative space or productivity or whatever has been in a little bit of a slump over the past… Well, maybe for a few months, from maybe August, September, October, there was a lot going on, and that can affect things. Whatever the reason is that you get into creative slumps. And then you sit down, and it’s not as much as coming out as what you may be used to. So that definitely happens, because I’ve experienced it, you know?

I think, for me, what worked—reading, like I was saying. And that’s the big one—I’ve realized. I have not been reading, and I get so much… The “wow” factor that you get from poems—from reading—is a really powerful thing. And I think if you’re a creative, you—or, maybe I should say… Many creatives feed off of that “wow” energy and what to do that, then. And turn around and figure out a way to do that. And that can be a way to access that energy. 

Maybe switching up routine… Something I realized was—you know, simple—and maybe it’s simple things. Something I realized—because I’m a morning writer—is I was waking up and trying to write first thing and then walk the dog later. But I realized that if I wake up first and then go walk her, take her thirty minutes outside and wake up a little bit and come back, I’m in a better space. I have more energy. It’s important to also pay attention to yourself and how you’re working and how you’re feeling—your energy levels. And make little changes, if you can. 

BS: I think that’s super valuable advice—thank you for that. And then this is our final set of questions. Do you consider yourself an artist? And did you answer change overtime? 

BF: I think I do consider myself an artist. And I think my answer… Thinking back, I think I was an artist at different times in my life. There was a time when I was an artist doing this kind of thing, and there was a time when I wasn’t in a creative space. And maybe at that time I wasn’t an artist, and now I am. I think it can fluctuate—it’s a flexible, fluid state of being. 

BS: Alright! Well, thank you so much. If there’s anything else you think you would want anyone to know about this piece or about your pieces in general? 

BF: I don’t know that there’s anything else I would want people to know about it. Just—when it comes out, read it and experience it. Let it bring you to the space that it brings you to. And I’m grateful for that. 

BS: We are super grateful that you submitted to Superstition Review, and congratulations on getting it published in Nimrod Journal! That’s so exciting, and it definitely deserved it. I read it, and I was very much “wow”ed, I guess you could say. The “wow” factor—I very much liked it. And I know that the creative writing students in Amsterdam also really enjoyed it. And I’m sure they’re super appreciative of this interview and getting to know your process a little bit. So thank you so much!

BF: It’s been a pleasure! Thank you—to you and the students.

Headshot of Erica Goss.

Erica Goss’s Cubic Zirconia: An Interview

Cubic Zirconia,” a poem by Erica Goss, was published Dec. 5th in Moria.

Cubic Zirconia

I’m fake-sick, trying to fool
my body into declaring war,
a war I cannot see, only feel.
I think most wars are like this:
once unleashed, they have their
own ways of behaving that
have nothing to do with us.
We won’t know when the worst
is over, can’t move until the all-clear
shatters the air leaving us limp
with relief. Or maybe my body
is having a torrid affair with a
lover who doesn’t exist.
Wouldn’t be the first time.
The racing heart, the prickling
skin, the dazed feeling. It’s all
too real to be real, has that tang
of the huckster, the con,
the snake-oil salesman. I’m alive,
too alive, brain lit with a cheap glow,
like the cubic zirconia rings
at the jewelry counter,
shining from their little velvet boxes
with a ridiculous optimism you never see
in real diamonds. Today, my mouth tastes
like a metal spoon, and it all smells
slightly burnt. On little ghost feet,
tiny dead creatures scatter under my skin.
Everything sparkles.

Erica Goss is the author of Night Court, winner of the 2017 Lyrebird Award from Glass Lyre Press. Her flash essay, “Just a Big Cat,” was one of Creative Nonfiction’s top-read stories for 2021. Recent and upcoming publications include The Georgia Review, Oregon Humanities, Creative Nonfiction, North Dakota Quarterly, Spillway, A-Minor, Redactions, Consequence, The Sunlight Press, The Pedestal, San Pedro River Review, and Critical Read. Erica served as Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California, from 2013-2016. She lives in Eugene, Oregon, where she teaches, writes and edits the newsletter Sticks & Stones. Learn more on her website.

Amsterdam University College’s creative writing students, in an on-going project with Superstition Review, have chosen Erica Goss’s “Cubic Zirconia” for a feature in our blog. They have also curated a variety of questions for Erica Goss about “Cubic Zirconia” and her writing process. We are pleased to include those questions and Erica Goss’s responses in an interview below. Due to the time difference, this interview was conducted by Brennie Shoup, Superstition Review’s blog editor. Please note that the transcript has been edited for clarity.

Brennie Shoup: Hello! My name is Brennie, and I am Superstition Review’s blog editor. Today, I will be interviewing Erica Goss on behalf of the Amsterdam University College students, who have curated a variety of questions for her about the recent piece she submitted to Superstition Review. Alright, would you like to introduce yourself now, Erica?

Erica Goss: Hi, Brennie. Thank you so much for having me! It’s really an honor to be here, and thank you to the students at the Amsterdam University. I’m Erica Goss, and I’m a poet and nonfiction memoir writer. I live in Eugene, Oregon, and I’m very happy to be here.

BS: Alright, awesome. We’re so happy to have you! So why did you choose “Cubic Zirconia” to be the title of your piece?

EG: Well, I don’t know if you realize it or not, but it’s actually a pandemic poem. And I realized that the world is getting really tired of pandemic poems. Who wants to read another poem about loss and death and our government’s completely bumbling response to the whole thing? So I was trying to figure out—I guess, not consciously—a fresh way to tell this same story. And I had just had my second booster shot. So I don’t usually have any reactions to boosters. I don’t have reactions to flu shots—I just don’t. But I thought about what was going on in my body. The way to protect yourself was to fool yourself into thinking you were sick. And that’s where the fake flu came from.

So in May of this year, I was writing in my journal, sitting outside in my garden. That was right after I got the vaccine. And then the idea of the fake flue somehow popped in my mind with the idea of fake diamonds—which are “cubic zirconia.” They were a big deal for a while. Everybody had a cubic zirconia. Somehow, they just struck me as flashy and fake—and that that flashy and fake thing went with getting a vaccine to trick your body into thinking it was a real thing. Like you might trick someone into thinking a cubic zirconia was the real thing—a real diamond. Those two ideas combined in my head, and then the poem took off.

And, of course, cubic zirconia is a good title. It’s probably better than “I’m having the fake flu” or something like that. It was always the title, and then I just had to figure out how the poem fit in there.

BS: I have to agree. It’s an extremely good title—very eye-catching. You know, you see and you’re like “I want to know more.”

So your last line “everything sparkles,” the students really loved it. So why did you choose it as your last line?

EG: Well, thank you for the nice words on that last line. That last line was very deliberate. I picked that last line before the rest of the poem was done. I kind of knew that would be the last line. It refers to that false sparkle that the vaccine and the cubic zirconia share. And it’s also a reference to the Shakespeare quote, “All that glitters is not gold” from The Merchant of Venice. It’s kind of a round-about way of saying everything sparkles—everything can’t really sparkle. Something’s false in there if everything sparkles, right? But sometimes when you’re sick, I’m sure you’ve had that feeling of when your blood pressure drops when you stand up, and you almost feel like you’re going to black out. And everything is kind of fuzzy at the edges. That’s also sort of what went into that. It’s a physical and mental way of connecting those two ideas.

And then maybe it was an optimistic comment on the coming of summer. I wrote this poem in May and June, and hopefully a reduction in the pandemic—which I think did happen, at least during the summer. Our numbers are probably going up now because of the winter. I was kind of like, “Maybe we can have this—maybe this fall sparkle can actually be real.” That was why I put that at the end.

BS: Yeah, yeah. I would say—it’s interesting how it’s almost hopeful but also a warning at the same time. I think that’s very cleverly done.

EG: Yes, that’s true.

BS: And then, how long did the process of writing “Cubic Zirconia” take? Did you spread it out over a long time, or was it a poem that came together relatively fast?

EG: I guess it took a little while. The poem started on May 20th, which I know because I wrote it in my journal. Students, always have a journal and put the dates on. So there’s a note on May 20th titled, “Here I am gardening after the second vaccine booster. I’m outside putting mulch around my strawberry plants like a slightly deranged mother, wobbly from poison. I’m having a fake flu; I’m having the cubic zirconia version of the flu.” And then I just sort of made those notes, and I was like, “Hmm. I think there’s something here.” That was around almost the end of May, and I finished the poem early in June. So I think it was probably about three weeks from start to finish. And from my notes and stuff, I think it went through about ten drafts. It was kind of mushing around—although I always had “everything sparkles” at the end. I had to get the poem to dribble down into what that would actually mean. How I could end on that line. I think that’s what took longer than actually composing the poem, composing it so it would end there. Yeah, took about three weeks.

BS: I always find it interesting that sometimes those end lines come to you, but not necessarily the middle ones. A lot of people know endings for stories or poems at the beginning, right?

EG: Yes. That’s true. You have to write your way to that ending. And if you’re really kind of—if you’re really depending on that ending, then it really limits how you can write the poem. If you decided to chuck the ending, you could change it. But I really wanted that to be the ending.

BS: Yeah, I think it’s a good ending. Do you write your poems through personal experience? If so, do you find it hard to put your thoughts into words? You sort of already touched on this with the journal, but maybe if you want to expand.

EG: Yeah, all of my poems come from my life. All of my writing comes from my life in one way or another. For poems, I write many, many, many, many words, and the hard part is deciding which words to keep—because most of them are removed, right? In the process of writing a poem, I’ll probably get rid of—I don’t know—a thousand words, maybe at some point. If I really count up all the drafts, and all the times that I put the word in and took it out again; I go back and forth with that.

But it’s a really good question to ask about personal experience. I think some of us writers—especially young writers—have been told falsely that they should not rely on their own personal experience. So then you get these really confusing messages. I have some teachers say, “Write what you know,” and then some say, “No, no, don’t write what you know.” The thing is that if you want to write about what you don’t know, by the time you write about it, you now know it. It all becomes part of what you know.

I think it’s a really good place to start—in your personal life—and some writers never go farther than that. Some move into different topics, different subjects—some have them kind of thrust upon them. I was thinking of a lot of the poets who are in exile, who never wanted to be in exile, and suddenly they’re faced with political upheaval that they never asked for. But they’ve got great stuff to write about; they’re writing eloquently about that. Or disasters that happen, or things in your family that you didn’t foresee. These are not things you could possibly anticipate, because you wouldn’t want to have them happen. You wouldn’t necessarily ask for that stuff. I think it’s always a good idea to start with what you know very, very well, and then keep educating yourself. So that what you know grows, right? So that you keep adding to your wealth of experience that you can pull from. And keep notes! Write all that stuff down.

I think I read somewhere there was an auction with Joan Didion’s stuff, and people were looking at her notebooks. I guess they’re selling for millions of dollars, and she would keep notes all the time. There were even some notebooks that were blank that belonged to her—but still sold, just because they belonged to her. She didn’t get to fill in all the notebooks, but it’s a good practice. So then what you know grows, and you know more and more. You never run out of ideas.

BS: I think that’s a good way to never run out of ideas, yeah. It’s a good thought. And then, how does the process of writing nonfiction differ from your process for writing poetry?

EG: That is a really good story. I look at both of them as ways of telling a story. Sometimes I’ll look at a topic, and I’ll think, I don’t know if it’s going to be a poem or an essay or a piece of prose—or an article. I don’t know, often when I’m looking at topics. Sometimes I know right away this will be a poem. Most of my writing starts out as a poem. Even a review or an article—I think I’ve written almost a hundred reviews, up to this point. And they almost all start out with the question being, “How did it feel?” To me, poetry is about how did it feel, and prose is more like what happened. So if I want to tell a story about something that’s long and involved and has many chapters and requires research—I’m certainly not going to write that in a poetic form. I think really long poems lose their energy pretty quickly, and I think people really don’t want to have a poem that’s longer than—at the absolute most—500 words. To me, that’s a long poem.

I was looking at how long most of my poems are when you contacted me. They’re usually around 200 words. That’s about it—that’s where I run out of gas, too, as the writer. If, for example, I’m writing about something that has to do with politics or mental illness—you know, all the topics I tend to write about a lot—the environment… If I really want to write a poem, I’m going to look for those—not cubic zirconia moments—but those real diamonds in there that show how a particular event in history or something recently happened effected me or somebody I know. But I’m not going to use the same approach if I want to tell the story of that event—unless I wanted to write a whole cycle of poems. And that’s something I haven’t attempted yet, but that’s possible.

I mean, some people are great at writing political poems, and that is not one of my strengths. But writing about topical issues… Like weird things you see in the newspaper, or just an odd fragment that someone says in passing. Those can be really good triggers for poetry. They are not such good triggers for prose I think—for prose I want to tell you a lot more details. And I don’t want you the reader to figure things out, so much. But for poetry, I’m giving you, the reader, a lot more leeway, and I’m trusting you to make those connections because that’s what I think poetry does the best. It stimulates your brain into making connections that—I have no idea about, that you will make on your own.

That was a little bit long-winded, but I see them as two separate ways of telling a particular story. I could tell the same story in poetry or prose, but it would be a different experience for the reader—for sure.

BS: I think it’s very interesting to see someone who writes both of them, and how those processes differ, even for the same person. And then, do you ever follow prompts when you write? And how many hours a day would you say you write?

EG: I do often follow prompts when I write. I find them very helpful when I’m stuck for something to write about. Sometimes the urge to write will just hit, but I don’t have any particular topic in mind. And sometimes those can be the most fun because I’ll just do things… I have another poet friend, and we’ll switch off words. We’ll each come up with a few words, and we’ll just toss them around to see what happens because poems are—someone said—machines made of words. And they require words to exist, but the relationship can be fairly loose and open to interpretation. So when you have good words—or any words, really—you can find the story in those words. You don’t even really need to know what it is before. It’s like going somewhere without a map. It can be more fun because you can discover things on your own. And you might get lost, but you’ll find your way back hopefully.

So prompts are really useful—like I said—if I’m in the mood but I don’t really have a topic to write about. Or if I’m sort of stuck, it’s a way to stave off the writer’s block. If I’m feeling stuck or if I’m feeling like the poem is ending too soon—sometimes that happens, it’s like, “Oh, it wrapped up.” But I know it’s not really done. My brain jumped to the end, and now we’re done.

Then I’ll go through prompt books. I have a lot of them here. Some of them are my tried and true ones, and I’ll just read. I don’t even need to know what the prompt is, just reading it will get me going. But I would have to say: the most generative prompt for me is reading other people’s poetry. If I’m stuck on a poem, especially—this doesn’t work for prose, but this works for poetry. If I’m stuck on a poem, I’ll just sit down and start reading Shakespeare sonnets, or I’ll start reading some poetry by Mary Oliver. It almost doesn’t matter, as long as it’s good poetry. And I will slowly get over the anxiety that I’m stuck, and those ideas will flow.

And the stuff that I write isn’t going to sound like Shakespeare or Mary Oliver. It just opens some doors for me, neurologically.

How many hours a day do I write? I write anywhere from one to eight hours a day, depends on the day. The days where I get a lot of writing done are really good days; I always feel really great at the end of it. The day’s a blank canvas, and I have articles to write; I have reviews; I have an essay I’m working on. I’m starting to write a book. And I just kind of go, “Yay!” And I can just lose myself in my writing. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been in a dream all day, and I wake up and I’m like, “Oh, it’s five o’clock, and I’m awake finally.”

But most days are not like that. The days I have teaching to do, or I have other obligations. Sometimes I’m waiting at the doctor’s office, and I’m scribbling things… In fact, often I’ll be writing things in my book. It kind of depends on the day, but also… If you want to be a writer, it’s one of those things that you can really fit into all the little pieces of your day. It would be very hard to fit ice-skating or soccer into these little bits of time that you find that you have. But you can do something as innocuous as writing. You can do that. You can even write on your phone, if you want to do it that way. You can end up with a whole lot of ideas at the end of a busy day, if you just pay attention.

BS: Yeah, I have to say young me really took advantage of the Notes app on my phone. And then, for our next question, do you mind if readers don’t fully understand what you try to transmit in a poem?

EG: Well, I can’t really anticipate what readers will see in my work. But I think it’s really exciting and amazing that we all bring this wealth of experience and expectation to any work of art that we encounter. I was really lucky last summer that I went to New York City, and I went to a bunch of art museums. This was what popped into my mind when I read the question. I was just walking along, looking at photographs and sculptures and art and mixed media and videos and all the stuff that they have… I was thinking, everybody in this room is seeing something different from what I’m seeing. We’re all looking at the same thing, but we’re all bringing our own life experience and our own particular biases and lack of biases to these works of art.

And I think it’s the same with reading. With writing, with encountering any written work… I also think that readers create the poem when they’re reading it. They create that as they are reading. They’re finding things in the work that I didn’t even know existed. And sometimes people will tell me that: “You know, this poem reminded me so much of my mom!” And it’s like… It was about a tree in my backyard, so who knows, right? And that’s what’s so mysterious and wonderful about sharing your art, which is why I really encourage people to try and get their art out there in any way they can. Share it, publish it, find ways to further that conversation. Because you never know who you might touch with a poem you wrote or whose life might be influenced that way.

But the gift of connecting with readers is that you don’t know what they’re going to find in your poem, and that’s really exciting I think.

BS: I love that response. And, then, for our final question, or there’s two questions here, I guess: What prompted you to start writing poetry? And then was it always your genre of choice?

EG: I started writing poems when I was very young. I think I was eight when I wrote my first poem, and from then on, I would write these little poem-like things in little spiral-bound notebooks that my parents would buy for me. I was lucky my parents would always encourage me to write, and they always praised my writing—even when it probably didn’t deserve it. And they introduced me to their writer friends, and I grew up thinking a poet was a totally normal thing. You could be a poet; that would be a job you could have, a practice that you would have.

I saw how my words could move people, and that was kind of exciting and kind of startling. Once I scared my mom to death by writing a poem about death. And when I saw her react like that, I wrote a poem to counter that one, which was about being born. I was hoping to make up for the death poem. But I think the death poem was inspired by finding a dead bird that had hit the window outside, and I was just looking at it… And it was not moving. I didn’t feel sad; I just kind of felt curious, like, “What is this about?” The poem was curious. I still have it; it’s a very strange little block of words. I can’t believe I wrote that when I was eight.

But I think poets are a little odd that way. I’m not sure it’s a gift—or the other thing. Even really young poets look at things differently than other kids, other people. It teaches you not to talk about things that you know you’re going to get a weird look for, but it can put you in a strange corner, too.

I don’t know what prompted me, but I know it was a very strong urge. I loved words; I learned how to read when I was really young. And I taught my brother to read when he was really young. I just loved how words were so important and so amazing. I love fonts; I love big words; I love word stamps. Just the physicality of words. I always did, even as a kid.

So essays and memoirs—which is the prose that I write—those are both an extension of the poetry-writing urge, I guess. Even my reviews—as I mentioned before—all start out in a form that I would call a prose-poem. I do certainly write notes that look like prose. But they feel more to me like “How did it feel?” impulse that you have in poetry. I’ll ask myself: How did it feel to read this book? How do I feel at the end of it? Do I feel confused? Do I feel anxious? Do I feel like maybe the author has taught me some new thing that I didn’t know before, that I didn’t know existed? Those are usually the good ones. Do I want to read more by this writer? That’s another signal that this was a really good book. And if I don’t feel those things, how can I present my experience reading that book in a way that is most open to the reader, who might read this book and not… Like I said, we don’t know what a reader is going to see in a piece of written work, so they may read my review and go, “I really want to read that book!” Whereas I was a little confused.

With essays, I guess I’m looking for that deeper meaning. I’m looking for the motivations in the story, whether it’s about me or someone else. But with poetry, it’s very clear to me that that is an emotional thing. That is about the emotions of that moment. And with “Cubic Zirconia,” I guess I was feeling a little bit sarcastic at the same time as I was feeling kind of terrified. Because this pandemic has been going on so long… And it’s like, “What can you do?” The only thing you can do is get your shot and then wait, and hope you stay well. Poetry’s always been my number one genre, and I think from that point, from that practice, all of the other wants have evolved. They revolve around that style of writing, that type of writing.

BS: Well, that’s so interesting! I loved hearing all of your responses to all of the questions. They were so well thought-out, and I know that the students will also really appreciate them. We really thank you for taking the time to submit to Superstition Review and then agreeing to do this interview. It really means a lot, and we really loved your work and all of that.

EG: Well, thank you, Brennie, for asking me. And I’m so happy to be able to share some thoughts about poetry and writing with more people. I’m very happy that you asked me.

A picture of Amsterdam University College.

Amsterdam University College Interviews SR’s Poetry Editors

Pictures of Amsterdam University College’s creative writing students

Amsterdam University College’s two creative writing classes are hoping for hands-on experience with literary magazines by reading through Superstition Review’s poetry submissions. They’ve interviewed SR’s poetry editors—Madison Latham and Au’jae Mitchell—to better understand what SR looks for in a poem, how they balance reading submissions between them, and to get to know them. Some responses have been edited for clarity.

Amsterdam University College: What are your criteria for choosing poems?

Au’jae Mitchell: My main criteria for choosing poems is rooted in three questions: Does it incite feelings inside me? Does it feel like the poem has something important to say? And is it unique? A poem or collection of poems that has a positive answer to all three of these questions is one that I contend for and am passionate about. Poetry is an artistic form of expression that ranges in structure and execution, but every poem, despite this diversity, can accomplish absolutely powerful things.

AUC: Do you discuss with one another what you choose or do you split work between the two of you? How long does it take for the two of you to agree? What’s the collaboration aspect between you?

Madison Latham: We use a platform called Submittable. Our founding editor, Patricia Murphy, assigns us poems to read through and vote on. We vote on the same poems and meet with each other—as well as Patricia at the end of September—and discuss the poems we voted yes on.

AUC: Do you consider the poets’ experience or amount they’ve published?

ML: We publish both emerging and established authors. This could range between one and a hundred previously published poems, to someone who is a part of an MFA program.

AUC: Is there a limited number of pieces you can publish in a given issue?

ML: There is no cap for how many authors we will take. In previous issues, it has ranged from 10-15, but we decide based on the poet and the collection of poems they have submitted. We may publish one of their poems, or all of their poems. It can vary, but there is no set number during a reading period.

AUC: To what extent do you edit the poems before publishing them?

ML: We do not. There are no revisions accepted for poetry submissions. If a poem needs revising, we vote against it. We get so many submissions that we always have enough polished poems to publish.

AUC: Is there any content that you refuse to publish?

AM: We do not publish harmful, disparaging, or discriminatory content.

AUC: How do you decide on the order in which the poems are published? 

ML: Poetry is published in the issue alphabetically by the author’s first name. Each author receives a page that includes their bio, headshot, selected poems, and an audio recording of those poems. Issue 29 demonstrates how the poetry section is organized.

AUC: How many submissions do you get in a submission window?

AM: This semester we received more than 422 submissions in poetry. These were narrowed down to 55 submissions to consider for Issue 30 of Superstition Review.

AUC: Do you write poetry? 

ML: I do! I finished my capstone in poetry at ASU last semester (Spring 2022). I still write poetry in my free time, but I also enjoy reading work by other poets—which is why I wanted this position.  

AM: I do write poetry! I write poetry in my free time between research for my Master’s program and my narrative writing. It is very hard for me to sit down and write poetry, so most of the poetry I write I jot down in my notes at spontaneous times during any given day and build upon that initial thought.

AUC: Is there anything you’d like to add?

ML: Thank you for your interest in SR and our work! We accept submissions from any creative writer that is not an ASU undergraduate. Our submission period for Issue 30 has closed, but we will begin accepting submissions for Issue 31 in January 2023. 

AM: To any aspiring poets, writers, or artists, I encourage you to consider submitting to Superstition Review. And to all creative minds out there considering putting themselves and their work “out there” for consideration, I believe in you and what you can do!

AUC’s creative writing classes consist of 25 students, each with different majors and many from international backgrounds. Later, they will be selecting poetry from Superstition Review‘s submissions, which will appear on our blog!