Guest Blog Post, Hannah Jones: Cutting Loose: The Case for A Language Without Limits

Picture courtesy of Kollage Kid

Recently a friend showed me the pleasure that can be had in not knowing something. Something a younger and far less patient version of myself would have been very insistent about “knowing.”

My friend’s name is Dean, and we were standing in his kitchen sharing a meal of barbecue and potato salad when the subject of our parents came up. “God bless America,” he said (what Dean means when he says “God bless America” is “by the grace of God”). Then he added, “my mother saved me. I love her. She’s gone now but I carry her with me all the time.” In that hour at the dinner table we spoke about our mothers. We shared their strengths and resilience and the blessings they’d brought into our lives — how they might have been aloof or maybe drank a lot or beaten us or shamed us, but were still our mothers and therefore part of us.

Later, when Dean said good night, I saw an old man of French and Cherokee descent who’d led a tough and volatile life, but also a deeply fulfilling one. And he ended our conversation with a word or phrase in an unfamiliar tongue that sounded beautiful to me. “Oh-shee-tay, my friend,” he said as he shook my hand. “And you will never find out what that means, because my father made me swear never to tell anybody, just like his father before him, and his father before that.”

This of course greatly roused my indignation. And my imagination. And because I’m a writer, and it’s my nature to get swept up by language and its myriad hidden treasures, I went to find out what “Oh-shee-tay” meant. I’m now ashamed to admit that I tried to look it up online, and when that yielded nothing, I guilted and begged Dean a little, and when he still wouldn’t tell me, I resorted to eliminating possible meanings by carefully noting down the context every time he said it. I didn’t get far. The most I was able to gather was that it did not mean “f*ck you” or “go to hell.”

Mystified, I found myself driven progressively deeper into a place of search and puzzlement — which, looking back, I now suspect was the kernel of a lesson I think Dean was trying, consciously or not, to impart to me. And the lesson I found in that deep dark forest of not-knowing was that language at its richest, contrary to the uses civilization would have for it, wants one thing more than anything: to be relational more than rational.

I bring this up because we live in a time of distancing, due in no small part to how we use or abuse language, and the stories we tell ourselves. Most of us are acquainted through essays like Orwell’s “Politics and the English Language” with the corrosive effects of language on public opinion and social freedom when we don’t pay enough attention. Yet I’d go even further than Orwell to suggest that by naming or needing to name everything that exists in our world, we abstract ourselves from it and thereby impoverish our sense of its possibility. Rather than a genocide in Rwanda because one group dehumanizes another, it’s now about our states of mind. Steeped as we are in a hyper-Cartesian outlook on science and culture, it doesn’t matter whether what we seek is the name of a secret admirer or the suspect responsible for the latest bombing or shooting; our insistence on clarity and certainty has colonized us. Patience, deliberation, and awe and wonder and mystery have all been replaced by a growing feeling of alienation, loneliness, and above all, fear — that we will flunk the exam, not land the plum job, fail in our witch hunt; be on the losing side of a game or an election or a war.

To explain what relational language sounds like, a friend once described to me two possible ways one might give somebody directions to a place. How do you get to Grandpa’s new house? One version of the answer, he said, has us taking a left onto Latona Avenue from 50th Street in Seattle, going three blocks and then looking for the yellow house with the big red door. The relational version would sound something more like, that place where you got your first tattoo? His house is two blocks from there, kitty corner across from the burrito truck where we had breakfast last Saturday. Look for the watering can you gave him, it’ll be just outside the fence. 

Why is it useful to think in this way? Because it’s inherently creative and intimate instead of distancing and static. The one approach favors efficiency and saves us time, but lost in that is our inborn capacity to envision the world as a place of possibility, alive with not one but many stories.

Perhaps this is why I so love the petroglyphs of my southwest desert home, with their wordless multitudes of possible meanings; why my appreciation continues to grow for those who chafe at binary and nondualistic views regarding gender and politics and who choose an infinitely circular way of thinking instead of the tyranny of the linear or the square. One of my favorite short stories by Ursula K. LeGuin, “She Unnames Them,” suggests what can happen when we take the things we love out of their limiting conceptual boxes. How would the world change, LeGuin seems to ask, if we came to understand a dolphin or whale not by the letters that make up its name but by its clicks or songs over the vast distances of an infinite ocean?

William Stafford, in his poem “Cutting Loose”:

Arbitrary, sound comes, a reminder

that a steady center is holding

all else. If you listen, that sound

will tell you where it is…

And could this be what Dean was trying to tell me, in his own way, when he said, “Oh-shee-tay?”

 

Guest Post: Barbara Crooker, Writing Abroad

Right now, I’m getting ready for an international artist residency, at the Moulin á Nef, Auvillar, France.  This studio is owned by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA), where I’ve been fortunate to have had a number of previous writing residencies.  As I’m beginning to think about organizing and packing, I thought I’d use this blog post to talk about how one goes about planning for this type of residency.

Right off the bat, the biggest difference (for me, anyway) is that I won’t be planning to take any books along.  I’m of the school that thinks that 90% of my job as a writer is to be a reader, and yet I won’t be taking any of the piles of books and journals that are at my feet right now. A hazard waiting to be tripped over, because I don’t want to incur that $200 baggage overweight fee. So I’ll be traveling lightly, relying on the serendipity of the books that are in the little hallway library outside the studios. Last time when I was here (three years ago), I stumbled  across a book by Fidelma Cook (an unknown author to me), and this poem came out of something I read in her book:

 

SIXTY-FIVE

Why would you want to strip off at our age?
Mingle all that sagging, crepey skin with another’s greying flesh?
French Leave, Fidelma Cook
Well, why would you not?  If the lights are dim and the candles are lit,
surely this old skin will do, the two of us rubbing along slowly like freight
trains chugging up a grade.  So your stomach’s not a ridge of washboard abs
or tablettes de chocolat as they say here; mine’s a puddle of warm crème brûlée.
Pears ripen slowly as they concentrate their juice.  Brie slumps in the shell
of its rind.  And both of them, and all of me, are absolument délicieuse.

 

Another part of traveling lightly means no printer. My usual method of writing is to do a number of drafts by hand, then move to the computer, and I print out copies of all versions. I often find, in revision, that I need to go back a few versions to find the right words or the right lines. But when I was in Auvillar previously, I learned that I could scrap my usual method and edit on the computer, something I didn’t think I could do.  Also, I’m wed to writing on lined yellow legal pads. Which I found out do not exist in France. They use grid paper, in much smaller notebooks  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to write on them (Am I superstitious? I guess I’m superstitious), but learned that I could be flexible. Which is, I think, a key to being able to travel, and to use this gift of time wisely.

Last time, I went with a project in mind, which was to do a series of ekphrastic poems based on the Fauves, especially Matisse. I found that having a project gave my work some structure, which seemed to prime the pump and get other poems started. Here’s one of the Matisse poems:

 

LANDSCAPE AT COLLIOURE, 1905

~Henri Matisse
The last line of the poem is also Matisse’s
“From the moment I held the box of colors in my hands
I knew this was my life.  I threw myself into it like
a beast that plunges towards the thing it loves.”
Henri Matisse
This hillside’s the shade of grape soda,
lawn an ooze of electric jaundice,
and the sky’s a violet slither. The red,
blue, and green trees are dancing, supple
and sinuous, and the leaves are singing, a riot
of light.  He squeezed out red-orange like plastic
explosives.  Painting is an act of belief.

As I began to work on the ekphrastic poems, it occurred to me that I might also create a section where I attempted, in words, to do some of the wild and crazy things that the Fauves did with paints. I called these poems “word salads,” and many of them ended up in form. This one uses abecedarian end rhyme:

WOMEN

after Dorianne Laux’s “Men”
It’s tough being a woman, feeling you’re an object to be bought,
an elusive quarry, something to be chased and caught,
when you know you’re more than that.  So pull me a draught,
Charlie, give me something dark and frothy.  Wars have been fought
for less—   I came in wondering what a girl’s got
to do to get herself noticed?  I mean, I’m so hot,
I could melt neon.  You want my number?  Well, jot
it down, big boy.  I won’t call you.  I have a karaoke slot
at nine pm; I’m thinking a Madonna medley will do.  Lots
of water under this dam.  I want to be a player, not a mascot.
I want something bathed in dark chocolate, with a nougat
center.  I want a lobster in my steaming pot,
champagne on ice, and two chairs by a wrought
iron table on a terrace in France.  Whoever sought
the fountain of youth can forget it.  The lies the movies taught?
They’re a crock, a foolish dream, a vicious plot.
Life isn’t fair, you’ve got to play your cards, no matter what.
I could have been Dean of Women, a cover girl.  An exot-
ic dancer at a go-go bar.  Or married to a guy with a yacht.
But I’m not.  So pour me another shot of Jack, O Great Zot.

Writing in form and writing ekphrastic poems imposed a sense of discipline on the residency, but I also wanted to leave myself open to serendipity. So when, in my daily visits to the boulangerie, I noticed that there were a number of desserts with religious names, I decided to a) try them all (tough job, but someone had to do it) and b) incorporate them in a poem:

LES BOULANGERS

Blessed be the breadmakers of la belle France
who rise before dawn to plunge their arms
into great tubs of dough.  Blessed be the yeast
and its amazing redoubling.  Praise the nimble
tongues of those who gave names to this plenty:
baguette, boule, brioche, ficelle, pain de campagne.
Praise the company they keep, their fancier cousins:
croissant, mille feuille, chausson aux pommes.
Praise flake after golden flake.  Bless their saintly
counterparts:  Jésuit, religieuse, sacristain, pets de nonne.
Praise be to the grain, and the men who grew it.  Bless
the rising up, and the punching down.  The great
elasticity.  The crust and the crumb.  Bless
the butter sighing as it melts in the heat.
The smear of confiture that gilds the plane.
And bless us, too, O my brothers,
for we have sinned, and we are truly hungry.

 

Picture of French desserts

These poems ended up in my new book, Les Fauves (C&R Press, 2017). And now, I’m thrilled to say I’ll be going back again in a few weeks. I’m doing an hour of French lessons every day, I have my passport, my plane ticket, and my packing list (yes, I’m obsessive, and I keep packing lists for all my travels, whether they’re family camping, a beach vacation, or a writing residency).  I’m hoping to do more ekphrastic work while I’m there, and so am taking several art calendars along.  I’m also hoping to do more poems in form, perhaps the Golden Shovel, perhaps half-rhymed couplets, perhaps embedded sonnets.  I know the muse doesn’t appear magically; you have to be at your desk (or at a café, or down by the river, with a notebook) to greet her. But whatever happens, I know this stay is going to be magical.

Authors Talk: Daniel Aristi

Daniel Aristi

Today we are pleased to feature Daniel Aristi as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, structured as an interview, Daniel reflects on how his nomadic lifestyle has influenced his writing, as well as how different languages (his native Spanish and French, as well as his acquired English) interact during his writing process.

Daniel also comments on the inspiration behind his poems in Issue 18 and discusses his unconscious tendency to gravitate toward father-son relationships and the aging process in his writing. He then reveals that he “believes that anything can trigger a poem at any point in time.” Finally, Daniel touches on his success with flash fiction, his experience with rejection, the poets who inspire him, and his future writing projects.

You can access Daniel’s pieces in Issue 18 of Superstition Review.

Guest Blog Post, Caroline Knox: On her Poem “Singing in Yoghurt”

Singing in Yoghurt Caroline Knox

Singing in yoghurt – chanter en yaourt
An ignocent pretends to get you through this:
Oh, it’s Pas de lieu Rhône connu
It’s Paddle your own canoe.
Pas de lieu Rhône connu?
No place known in Rhône? WHAT?

“There was a hypoon, and the ship went underboard.”
So I go “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet.
You need an ignocent.
Yoghurt on the macaroni.
Or macaroni on the yoghurt.

From Flemish, copyright 2013 by Caroline Knox. Reprinted with permission of Wave Books and the author (http://www.wavepoetry.com/products/flemish)

“Singing in Yoghurt” is a short poem about the use of language; it also acts as and sounds like a song. Recently when I read it I got this audience question: How did you put the poem together? The answer is that the five ingredients in the poem are examples of the sort of activity that I try to put into poetry. They all belong together. The poem got written fast. It tries to remind us that we don’t always know just what we’re writing about or singing about, and that this may not be a bad thing. Here are the ingredients.

1. I had been reading a wonderful book, The Secret Life of Words, by Henry Hitchings (New York, 2008, 337). Hitchings describes a global trend and practice of poets and songwriters called singing in yoghurt – chanter en yaourt. Poets compose in their own languages, but they include words from other languages, even though they may not know exactly what the words mean. They don’t care, they like it. It sounds beautiful, cool, sophisticated, original. This seems to me endearing and healthy.

2. A friend of mine was asked to be a museum docent. She did all her homework, but she left some things out and got some facts wrong. She declared herself an ignocent.

3. My middle-school French teacher wrote this on the board:

Pas de lieu Rhône connu

and she made the whole class say it very fast. It sounded stupid and it was – it’s nonsense in French, but it’s just fine in English: Paddle your own canoe!

4. I was driving a carpool of little kids. The girl next to me in the front seat (she had never seen the ocean) was telling me the plot of a Disney movie. She said, “There was a hypoon, and the ship went underboard.” Marvelous girl! Two brand new words – hypoon and underboard – full of drama and fear.

5. Up to here I’ve been praising new, ingenious, and nutty uses of language. I conclude the poem with Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet. The speaker is saying this, but as all typesetters and graphics people know, the phrase is a scumbled piece of written Latin which has come to mean “This is where the content in our text will go, as soon as we get it. Please be patient.” It’s a practical, charming, and generous work custom – I wish all professions could be so thoughtful! And finally, macaroni is combined with yoghurt because macaronic poetry is a form which uses two languages.

Meet the Review Crew: Caitlin Demo

Each week we will be featuring one of our many talented interns here at Superstition Review.

Caitlin Demo is a Nonfiction editor at Superstition Review and a senior at Arizona State University. She will be graduating in May with a major in Creative Writing (with a specialization in Fiction) and two minors in French and Political Science. She is hoping to be accepted into the MFA program at Arizona State and then to escape the heat of Arizona summers.

Caitlin has lived most of her life in Arizona, but the allure of big city life has been calling her name. Living in the beautiful San Francisco bay or the bustling streets of New York City has been a constant dream of hers. After school, Caitlin is packing her bags and plans to become a well-seasoned traveler, especially abroad.

Caitlin’s intimacy with literary magazines and the world of short fiction has been instructed both at Arizona State and particularly at Superstition Review. She has limited knowledge about individual magazines, but through these two avenues she has come to realize that it is a wide and ever-expanding field. Her interest in writing is mainly focused around prose, but in reading she is drawn to flash fiction and poetry.

If she had to live the rest of her life with only a handful of books, she would need Augusten Burroughs’ memoirs, Jane Austen’s collected works, Hemingway’s short stories, Fitzgerald’s novels and Allen Ginsberg’s poetry.

This is her first semester with Superstition Review, but she looks forward to plunging further into the literary publishing world. She’ll be the girl in high heels.

4+1 Conference on Literary Translation

I was given the opportunity to attend a 4+1 traduire/übersetzen/tradurre/translatar in Vevey, Switzerland this past March. When I chose Switzerland as the destination for my study abroad program, I thought I knew a thing or two about the country; I knew I would be housed in the French-speaking region, and that the other region was German-speaking. I knew that my favorite French author, Rousseau, was actually born in Geneva.

I was surprised, however, to find out just how much I didn’t know about the world of Swiss literature and writing. For instance, I had no idea that Switzerland has four official languages and that any Swiss author publishes in one language typically has his or her texts translated into the three languages. Many organizations strongly promote this translation of native authors, and, for that purpose, the 4+1 conference was created. The 4+1 conference is held annually and organized by the Swiss Foundation for the Pro Helvetia culture, along with other organizations of similar interests. This year’s conference was dedicated to the English language – promoting both the translation of texts from English and translation of native authors’ work into English.

Discussion was led by prominent British writers Jonathan Coe and Jon Steele with the help of their translators. Well-known Swiss writers publishing in Italian, German, Romansh, French, and in the Swiss-German dialect and notable American translator, John Taylor, were also present. While, in most cases, translators tend to work outside of the spotlight (their names sometimes don’t even appear on the book jacket) a translated work is just as much the translator’s as it is the author’s.

“More than a translation, the work I do is rewrite another version,” translator Donal McLaughlin said at one keynote. Taylor and McLaughlin shared some of the poems they were in the process of translating—work by Clo Duri Bezzola, Pierre Chapuis, and many more. They discussed the obstacles they faced when translating and the rewarding feeling that came from finding the nearly right word that almost has the same nuance as the original—and how in this way a translated poem becomes a version of the original.

One of the most interesting discussions flouted the French title “L’anglais n’existe pas!” or for those of us who don’t speak French, “English doesn’t exist!” Surprisingly,  the amount of people who spoke English as a second language far surpassed the amount of native English speakers. The debate touched on the validity and plausibility of English as a universal, global language.

Interestingly, questions were often asked in French and then answered in English. Within the same panel, the speakers often would converse in  three or four different  languages to each other and to the audience at any given moment. As technology makes our world feel smaller, the possibilities for growth and community within the literary world becomes greater and greater. We have unlimited access to stories from all over the world, and readers who can read our work from every corner of the globe.

 

Intern Highlight: Stephanie De La Rosa

Advertising Coordinator Stephanie De La Rosa is a junior at Arizona State University pursuing concurrent degrees in Creative Writing and French and a minor in Art History. After graduation, Stephanie would like to live abroad and learn more languages, establish herself as a writer, and
eventually apply her literary and linguistic knowledge in the publishing
industry as a translator. This is her first semester with Superstition Review.

Watch this video to see Stephanie shares some of her literary inspirations.