Today we are pleased to feature author Afaa Weaver as our Authors Talk series contributor. Afaa reads three of his poems from his new book, Spirit Boxing. He says of the book, “Spirit boxing continues my direct conscious application of principals of Chinese culture.” Much of his influence comes from the ideals of Tai Chi.
You can read four of Afaa’s poems in issue 3 of Superstition Review here.
On Friday June 16th, Rinky Dink Press will be hosting a launch party for it’s newest series of micro-chapbooks. The event will take place at Wasted Ink Zine Distro from 7PM to 9PM. Stop in for refreshments and pop-up readings from ten brand new microzines and micro-chapbooks. All books will be on sale for $1 each, and performing poets include Virginia Chase Sutton and Randy Heflin. Other published poets include Justin Rogers, Jasmine Chatfield, Woody Woodger, Dane Hamann, Jessica Van de Kemp, Caroline Kessler, Alex Skorochid, and Nick Hopkins.
You can find the Facebook event here. Wasted Ink Zine Distro is located at 2222 N. 16th St. Phoenix, AZ 85006.
Today we are pleased to feature author Natalie Young as our Authors Talk series contributor. Natalie begins by reading “Notes on Earth Life” before explaining how the poem is part of a larger series about a human woman, an alien, and a monster. She shares that her “goal is to combine actual history and reality with speculative fiction to explore identity and human absurdities, as well as culture and environment.”
Natalie also explains how her manuscript attempts to “show a different perspective of things our culture does that we tend to accept as normal, but when seen from fresh eyes can be peculiar.” She reveals that using the voice of an alien helped her achieve this because putting on a mask adds distance. Natalie also delves into her inspiration and the process of choosing what topics to include in her poem.
Today we are pleased to feature Roy Guzmán as our Authors Talk series contributor. In his podcast, Roy discusses community, culture, and struggle with Christina Collins from Lockjaw. Specifically, the pair discusses these ideas in the context of Roy’s piece, “Payday Loan Phenomenology,” which was published in Issue 18. They share how they first met on Twitter and then how they both ended up living in Minneapolis, which brings them to a discussion on displacement.
When discussing his piece in Issue 18, Roy notes, “it’s me trying to work with memory…if I’m looking at my past and I do not want it to depress me and I want it to sort of propel me, I need to create some kind of beauty.” Later, Christina tells Roy, “your work is so rooted in culture and it’s so rooted in your experience of being…an outsider to this monolithic American culture,” which leads to a discussion on the importance of culture and sharing the experiences of those who are disadvantaged.
It’s impossible to list all of Roy and Christina’s comments and insights here, so you’ll just have to listen for yourself! You can access Roy’s poem in Issue 18 of Superstition Review, and you can stay updated with his website as well.
Recently, in my graduate fiction workshop, we were chewing over that vexing subject of the artist’s role in human society. Our discussion stemmed from having just read William H. Gass’s provocative essay “The Artist and Society,” which originally appeared in The New Republic in 1968 and then was reprinted in his 1971 collection Fiction and the Figures of Life. Gass’s theme is a timeless one certainly, dating back far earlier than the 1960’s. How can one not remember Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famous formulation from 1821 that “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world”? It’s a line that sounds grand but has never made much sense to me, to be honest. Unless we take “legislator” to mean something entirely different from what it actually does. I’m from Washington DC. I know about all about legislators.
When I was in my wandering twenties and searching for a satisfactory career within which to apply my English degree, I toyed with the idea of finding employment in a congressional office on Capitol Hill. I did end up trying but was unsuccessful in my attempt, probably because I was completely half-hearted in my approach. Deep down I knew that working for a congressman wasn’t really what I wanted to do or what I should do. After all, I had come to the conclusion years earlier, early on in my college days in fact, that while everyday politics seems to get the press’s and the public’s attention, in the long run the arts have a lot more to do with forming human people and human societies; the arts, one could argue, help form the human soul. And how could there be anything more vital and more lasting than that? I was sure then that I was right, and I remain sure now. Indeed, when we look back on past eras it is the political events that we often have a hard time remembering, while it is the artistic accomplishments that we study and revere. And it is those societies whose artistic accomplishments seem minimal that we dismiss as less vigorous and less interesting, less demanding of our attention.
But knowing all that doesn’t really help the contemporary workaday artist struggling for purchase in a society that seems indifferent to him or her. It’s unavoidable that artists–whether literary, musical, theatrical, or visual–all go through periods of profound alienation from the culture in which they exist; and I dare say that most suffer a kind of low-level alienation their whole lives. Alienation from institutions; alienation from coworkers; alienation from churches; alienation from the world of commerce; alienation (most painfully) from the families in which they were raised; possibly even alienation from their own spouses. This alienation seems especially acute here in America, where–more than in any other country I can think of–an artist is made to apologize for and explain his or her ambition. Calvin Coolidge famously noted that “the business of America is business.” Sad to say that more than ninety years after that appraisal, with all the social upheavals and revolutions that have since occurred, the statement may be more true now than ever. No one ever asks a businessman to explain his interest in business. No one makes him explain why. No one makes him squirm. Too bad artists are not afforded the same respect. But they aren’t. Period. Hence this blog post and the discussion in my fiction workshop class.
So given the climate in this country–a climate that looks to get only more harshly anti-artistic and nihilistically money-grubbing with the advent of the Trump administration–it is fair to ask what’s an artist to do here. What can he or she hope to accomplish? How can he or she ever influence more than a narrow band of people? How can he or she actually affect a whole culture? It’s a common adage about writing that writers take up their pens (or their computers) because they have something to communicate, important messages to pronounce, compelling ideas to pass along. In fact, that perspective seemed to dominate the discussion in my fiction workshop class. One student stated quite plainly that he knew all of his readers “would not agree with [him]” but that didn’t matter; what mattered to him was getting his ideas down and out. He was confident that those ideas would certainly affect someone, and possibly in compelling ways. Another student argued that all the absurd prejudices and false ideas he saw professed by those around him, even those in his own family, maybe especially by those in his own family, would eventually be disproven by science. Science would eventually provide answers to everything, and the force of its cool logic would prove too powerful to deny. We all found this student’s faith in science, and, even more, his faith in his countrymen’s ability to listen to reason, conspicuously naive.
As interesting as the discussion was–and it was quite interesting–in the end I felt it missed the boat entirely. Because the truth is I don’t think writers–that is, creative writers, the kinds of writers and writing about which I specialize–write because they have “something to say,” some specific message with which a reader would instantly agree or disagree. If that were true, the job of the novelist would be essentially no different from that of the sermonizer or the philosopher or the editorial writer or–more harshly–the propagandist. In my opinion, those jobs are vastly different from that of the novelist. I can only speak for myself, of course, but I cannot tell you anything in particular that “I have to say,” any singular message or compulsive idea that drives me to write. I write because I want to tell stories. That’s it. That’s what I want to do. And that’s true whether I’m writing a short story, a one-act play, a poem, or a memoir. I want to tell stories that engage a reader’s imagination. After all, this quality is exactly what makes creative writing so different from any other form of written communication. So when I hear terms like “the fiction of ideas” I tense up; not because I don’t think fiction can transmit ideas, but because I worry that a fiction writer who defines himself or herself as such won’t take care of his first and only mandatory duty–to tell a story; I worry she will use the idea of ideas as an excuse to avoid that duty.
But here’s the rub, and here’s the magic. If I say that creative writing isn’t primarily about transmitting ideas does that mean that creative writing can’t be deeply affecting, even formative? Do I mean it’s no more than escapist entertainment? No, not at all. I would not assert that the stories I write are “merely” anything at all, and certainly not escapism. But if you’re not in the game of making messages, I hear you ask, how do you expect that what you write will affect the wider culture? I’m going to answer that question by ending this post the same way I opened it: with William H. Gass. Gass does not have the exclusive answer to your question, but he does have a great one. Gass asserts that artists definitely do affect their culture, but not from spinning any coherent “messages.” Indeed, despite being a philosopher himself, Gass does not look for a sustained, organized philosophy from the fiction writer. What does Gass think fiction can do? In a world in which we are too quick to dismiss the humanity of those outside of our immediate tribe, when we are given to characterizing others with prejudiced and belittling slogans, so much so that we dismiss their lives as fundamentally unreal–we “unperson” them, to use Gass’s phrase–it is fiction, Gass argues, that can act as a corrective. It is fiction (broadly defined) that reminds us how real we all are, and how more real we can be. “Works of art confront us the way few people dare to: completely, openly, at once. They construct, they comprise, our experience; they do not deny or destroy it; and they shame us, they fall so short of the quality of their Being. We live in Lafayette or Rutland–true. We take our breaths. We fornicate and feed. But Hamlet has his history in the heart, and none of us will ever be as real, as vital, as complex and living as he is–a total creature of the stage.”
How do we affect reality? By adding to reality. That’s what a good, well-told story is: a beautiful object added to the sum of what we are as people, what we have done, what we can do. Gass: “The aim of the artist ought to be to bring into the world objects which do not already exist there, and objects which are especially worthy of love.” That’s enough–and that’s everything. A well-crafted human tale matters more than any message. And maybe it matters more than ever now, following a presidential campaign that from its very first day, its very first speech, attempted to “unperson” an entire population, and then went on to “unperson” several others. Maybe the way we “defeat Trump” is to portray reality so broadly, so fully, and so compellingly that even he and his lackeys and his henchmen and his sycophants cannot deny it.
What is the source of inspiration for “Words Like Love?”
Good question! I suppose that is the question, too and it’s complicated because I’d have to say that it comes from, well…everywhere. The inspiration came from my life, events I’ve experienced, things I’ve born witness to, and people I’ve crossed paths with along the way. It comes from my own unpacking, attempts at deconstructing, questioning, interrogating, and re-examining what it means to love. For me, questions like “what is love” and “how do we live love” have made their home at the back of my mind. Love is the lens through which I view the world; I’d like to think everyone (family, relationships, friends, etc) and everything (my home, the land I grew up on, the earth we inhabit) I have had a connection with has somehow influenced my understanding of love. One of the main driving forces of the book was a deep connection I had with a friend who ended up taking his own life. The combination of who he was, the role he played in my life, how he died, and where I was at physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally at that time in my life forced me to look deeply at my own understanding of love in all its forms.
You discuss the idea of cultural love in an interview with Indian Country. How does your heritage impact and shape your work?
I think for any writer “who you are” deeply impacts how you live in this world and how you live impacts and shapes your work. For me, my heritage is who I am. I’m very blessed to be grounded in my culture and heritage…they’re a big part of my identity. My worldview is shaped by the beliefs I grew up with. I write from that beautiful, strongly rooted identity and it is my love for my culture and Indigenous people that also fuels my motivation as a writer. I want the youth who follow in my footsteps to know that there are many talented writers from all backgrounds and different walks of life. I hope that Native Americans can continue to be more present in the literary landscape that often leaves us out of the conversation.
What was your writing process like?
My writing process was basically: put on my “writing” playlist, get some coffee, read over the poems, and edit. During this time I was also reading other poems as well as books of poetry by writers I admire and look up to. Also, whenever I write I always take notes (pen to paper) in my journal. It always starts out organic like that, my mind works better when I can feel the words being penned onto the page. From there I usually take the notes and translate lines that resonate with me to my laptop. I write rushed and not as methodically as I wish I did. By that I mean I need to develop more of a daily routine. Right now, I’m a writer who writes when I’m inspired, although when it comes to revision I’m more of a sit down daily and work out lines like I’m a sculptor constantly chiseling away piece by piece until the form slowly reveals itself.
What was the process for organizing the poems?
I’d compare organizing the poems within the theme of the book to the way one would organize stanzas within an individual poem just on a grander scale. I thought about the bigger picture, the overall theme(s), and emotions I wanted the reader to feel before the release at the end of the book. In my mind, the metaphor for the book is a person’s heart unfolding with each page; I wanted each poem to open into another room into the spaces we try to keep locked and private. For me, that meant breaking it down into sections that related to one’s understanding of love from life’s fragility, the way time impacts our living to the lessons we learn without words (the power of actions, things done and undone), to questioning ways we’ve been taught (perhaps even unhealthy) to love, express ourselves, and view the world, to finally contemplating the order in which things happen to us. Some might call it fate or relate it to the expression “timing is everything” and honestly, I think it is. I wanted to bring home that point extra hard at the ending.
Can you tell us a little bit about your favorite poem from the collection?
I have a few favorites from this collection but right now I’d have to say my favorite is “in my mother’s womb” because it gets to the “heart” of ancestral memory and the historical and personal traumas that can be passed down from generation to generation. Our duty as human beings is to figure out within our own lives how does that happen and then we must ask ourselves – am I (or is my generation) going to be the one to break cycles of hurt and/or trauma to bring about the healing we all deserve.
What are you working on now?
Right now, I’m at the tail end of an 8-month book tour. I’ve been very fortunate that it’s been going on this long. Later this month I have a reading at the British Library in London and will be reading/performing at the Lincoln Center La Casita Out of Doors in NYC later this summer so writing new work has been on the backburner though I’m slowly working on a second collection and dabbling in writing my first play. I’m also working more on music (singing) and finding ways to experiment with my voice in that capacity.
RED INK Journal is the new version of RED INK Magazine, a magazine started at the University of Arizona. RED INK Magazine was published for twenty five years, but now it has found a new home and a new name. Arizona State University English Regents Professor Simon J. Ortiz brought RED INK to Arizona State University and is working to make it a literary journal. Simon Ortiz is a well-known and well respected Acoma Pueblo poet and writer. The purpose of this journal is to promote a native voice through literature, art, and humanities. This serves two functions. First, it preserves native voices by collecting and publishing their writing. Second, it promotes native voices by distributing the journal and getting people to read native writings.
RED INK Journal is a periodical published bi-annually and is being run by Arizona State University grad students.. The journal aims to preserve the native voice with writing about land, culture, identity, and community. While RED INK Journal is relatively new, they are looking toward the future and hoping to grow. They are accepting creative writing, essay, and scholarly submissions. In the future, they would like to get submissions from global indigenous people.
The journal looks different from the magazine, but what remains the same is the promotion of the native voices. RED INK Journal is part of a larger initiative Ortiz is working on called RED INK International. RED INK International has the same goals as the journal: to promote and preserve the native voices. It wants to educate and get a native view point across to the public. RED INK International is working toward those goals, but through a different method than publishing a journal. Ortiz wants to put native voice out into the community. Not only is a native voice important to native peoples, it is an important part of America’s voice and history. Ortiz thinks it should be taught at all grade levels. RED INK Journal is just one of the ways to help get the native voice heard in the community.
To find out more about the journal and the RED INK initiative, click the links and check out this article. You can also follow them on Facebook to stay up to date with all the RED INK Journal news and happenings.
Everyone lately has been talking about American political and cultural fragmentation—red states vs. blue states, natives vs. immigrants, cops vs. African Americans, and on and on. Even BBC News, to judge by its website, finds our cultural battles more interesting than MI5’s phone spying.
Not only do we disagree about everything, but we’ve combined our disputes with a new form of segregation. Most of us manage to live in a way that keeps us safe from The Others, namely, those whose opinions we can’t abide. In his 2008 book The Big Sort, Bill Bishop documented how Americans sort themselves into like-minded communities that have little contact with each other. We live in different cities and neighborhoods, we watch different TV programs and browse different websites, we listen to different music, we hear different types of news.
When by accident we stumble across The Others, our typical reaction is to brand them as ludicrous. Here’s an illustration: A friend of mine from Philadelphia, an American citizen born in Chile, recently flew to Santiago for a family visit, along with his American-born wife. When they returned to the U.S., they came through customs at the Houston airport. As is normal, my friend filled out a single customs declaration form for himself and his wife. The customs officer studied the form and the passports and then looked up suspiciously. “How come your wife has a different last name?” the guy wanted to know. Well, the wife is an academic who has published books and papers under her maiden name, so she’s not about to change it. She started to get upset, but my friend gently explained the matter to the agent: “You know,” he said, “some women who teach in universities like to use their original names, it’s pretty common these days.” The agent thought about this awhile. “Where you from?” he then demanded. “Philadelphia,” my friend answered, and the agent grimaced, “I don’t like Philadelphia. They hate guns up there.” My friend tried to finesse this point, saying there are plenty of people in our area who own guns (although he is not one of them). At last, the customs agent gave in and let the couple pass, but he issued a stern recommendation: “You gotta get yourself some guns!”
Naturally, as my friend told me the story, we both guffawed about it. How stupid that customs guy was! He didn’t even know that lots of American women have been keeping their maiden names for, like, the past 50 years??? A Neanderthal! There was no doubt that my friend and I shared the same opinion—and disdain.
When Pope Francis came to Philadelphia this past September, I thought about the issue again—because the Pope was the exception that proved the rule. On my Facebook feed, I encountered various reactions to the papal visit:
Appreciative: It’s so great that we can host a major religious figure in our city.
Mildly critical: It was a nice occasion, but the security measures went over the top.
Angry: It was a goddamn military occupation—National Guard, Secret Service, and Homeland Security everywhere!
Outraged: What the *@#%!! happened to the separation of church and state?!!!
What was remarkable was that my Facebook friends showed a significant range of views on the subject. This made me realize that, on most days, I encounter little diversity of opinion either in real life or on social media. Admittedly, there’s my one friend who believes Wall Street bankers should be shot, which I think kind of extreme; but everyone else I know thinks Wall Street should be converted into a maximum-security prison, so that’s not a huge spread of values. I dare say the same is true for most other Americans. Maybe you have Facebook friends who think everyone should have automatic weapons in the house, but if so, your other friends probably think at least a couple of .38s are necessary—again, not much of a spread.
There’s no doubt that our insularity, the way we isolate ourselves from other viewpoints, aggravates our differences. So what can we do about it? When my two kids reached college age, I tried encouraging them to attend schools in the Midwest, just for exposure to different sceneries and cultures. Our college tours took in Minnesota, Iowa, and Ohio as well as Maine, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. Where did they end up going to school? The Philadelphia suburbs and New York City.
My daughter did spend a semester in London, on one of those standard college exchange programs. She learned to ride double-decker busses, appreciate different types of curry, and spend pounds as if they were dollars. And I fondly remember my own time as a graduate student in London, when I learned to love beans on toast with milky tea. (That was before the whole city went upscale.) So, along those lines, I’ve been thinking: What about a student exchange program within the USA? Our contrasts with each other are much bigger than our differences from the average Londoner. I mean, my British landlords laughed at me when I asked where to put the “garbage,” but that was mere vocabulary, hardly like the gap between Sarah Palin and Elizabeth Warren.
Imagine how a domestic student exchange would work. That Houston customs agent would send his kids to Philly or New York for a semester. We’d have to quarantine their weapons, but they’d learn a hell of a lot about people different from them. And the same if we sent Muslim kids from, say, Flatbush to Kentucky.
I’m proposing to call this initiative ISEP: The Interstate Student Exchange Program. It will have to be set up by individual states, of course, because Congress can’t create anything except acrimony. I myself will be happy to host a young Houstonian, whom I can introduce to NPR, vegan cheesesteaks, poetry readings, and my friend who wants to shoot bankers (the young person’s guns might be useful for that). And I’m willing to send my grandchildren to Houston to learn about Tex-Mex cuisine, oil drilling, Kenny Rogers, and the proper way to hold an assault rifle.
The upshot of ISEP may be that we come to value our differences. Or perhaps we’ll just be better informed, so that instead of finding The Others totally weird and absurd, we’ll hate them for good reason.
By now, I confess, I don’t know how serious I am. Do we really need to treat other states like foreign countries? Must we set up an acronymic government program to help us talk to one another? Maybe I’m being earnest-ironic-whimsical—and if so, isn’t that appropriate for our times? Let’s ask Ms. Palin and Ms. Warren.
In case you do want to call your state legislator to promote ISEP, I’ll offer one final note: The program can be entirely tax-neutral. It can be funded by cutting regular school budgets, which many states already love to do.
Ljubo Popovich, Poetry Editor from Issue 8, shares some thoughts about his time at ASU and his discovery of non-Western literature.
I always thought that my parents and elders were pulling my leg when they told me to enjoy my college years – that they are the best years of my life and so forth. When I was in college I came close to feeling overwhelmed with schoolwork, and I never got heavily into the social life of the students that lived on campus, of going to the football games or participating in clubs or fraternities. I had a few friends, but my main concern was getting out into the world, and getting through this period of uncertainty and dread of the future. Eventually, I switched my major (twice), and landed in English. Finally things were getting interesting. I could stop plodding through Architecture and Engineering and simply learn what I genuinely cared about. My appreciation for literature grew and blossomed at ASU in my last two years. I felt much more comfortable in this realm.
I spent hours in the library, wandering through the stacks, always using what I learned in my classes as a jumping off point for further exploration. This curiosity has become a central part of my life. I became interested in literature and culture outside of the United States. When I stayed in Montenegro, I had the chance to visit Italy, Greece, Germany, England, Switzerland, Serbia, and Croatia. Now I can’t wait to go back and eat the exotic food, walk on the beaches, drive through the mountains, and experience entirely different cultures. The great European and Asian writers that I discovered gave me further encouragement to see as much of the world as possible.
What the future holds is still an unknown, but I know that I found a limitless source of joy in the works of Chekhov, Goethe, and Gogol. Dostoevsky and Akutagawa, Maugham, Victor Hugo, Cervantes, Italo Svevo…wherever I turned, there was a fresh perspective. I have learned that one book is always the doorway to another, and that life makes sense when you are lost in a good book. My experience with Superstition Review gave me a taste of the publishing world, and I think that my thirst for literature will now lead me toward a career with a publishing company, or perhaps as an editor of a magazine. For the time being, I work at ASU Online, in student services. Though it gives me much needed work experience and enough of an income to plan for the future, I am always on the lookout for opportunities in the fields I am most interested in.
Although I have only been out of college for half a year, I am beginning to understand what my parents meant. My years at the university were formative and they were some of the happiest years I have had, despite the struggle and uncertainty of that period of my life. Most importantly, I met the girl to whom I am now engaged, and I received the basic tools I will use for the rest of my life: education, determination, love, patience, and intellectual curiosity.
Each week here at Superstition Review, we like to showcase the talents of our interns. This week’s piece comes from Samantha Allen on her recent discussion with author bell hooks.
Feminist writer and cultural critic bell hooks visited Arizona State University’s Tempe campus to speak about race and gender in a historical context. Earlier in the day some of our staff at Superstition Review were given the opportunity to participate in a small group discussion with bell. This discussion covered everything from the recent ban of ethnic studies in Tucson, to the novel The Help, to evangelist Billy Graham’s changing religious views. A prominent theme of our talks centered on the idea of community. “Communities,” she said, “are what give us the strength to live our convictions even in the face of hostility.”
As bell illustrated through stories from her personal life, these “communities of resistance” aren’t always free of conflict. She shared stories about the people in her life who have acted in ways that are harmful to her and to her views, all the while doing good by supporting her in her work, or by making great strides towards promoting racial equality. She called this contradiction “multiple intentionalities” – when people or groups do both harm and good. How do we cope with these contradictions? Do we ignore the good in someone’s actions because they have also done wrong? Do we overlook the unpleasant qualities so we can continue to idealize them as saints and angels? We live in a binary culture that has no place for contradictions. bell hooks used a story about a conflict in the humanities department at Berea College, where she teaches, to discuss how the inability to deal with multiple intentionalities can become an impediment to building communities of resistance. Even when the goals are the same, it’s easy to be divided by our differences.
This message of importance in building communities of resistance seemed to resonate deeply with everyone in the room. It’s no secret that Arizona has been the battleground for a number of contentious political issues in these past couple of years. The actions of our state legislature have given Arizona a particular reputation for intolerance, one that conflicts with the values of the Humanities Department at Arizona State University. The ASU Humanities department celebrates diversity and the commitment to social justice. The very act of getting together to discuss these issues with bell hooks is a step toward building a similar community here in the heart of Arizona. Although this state is mired in ideological conflict, it’s important to remember to act with loving-kindness, as bell pointed out in our discussion. No one is black and white; no one acts in only one direction. The concept of multiple intentionalities is particularly applicable to the current cultural climate in Arizona.
In the end, the discussion with bell hooks left me with this thought: as artists, writers, and readers, it is our job to tackle these contradictions in life. The human tendency to do good with the right hand and harm with the left is, perhaps, the very thing that drives us to create. How else can we make sense of ourselves and our world with all its contradictions if not through art? I’m thankful to be a part of the community here at Superstition Review, where our interns, contributors, and readers are all committed to the art that makes sense of our crazy, convoluted world.