Join Superstition Review in congratulating past contributor John Nieves on his new poetry collection, Curio, out now. Winner of the 13th Annual Elixir Press Poetry Award, Curio, with a lens of curiosity, explores a wide range of topics, including the significance of humans and the traces we leave behind.
“Augury— ‘the bones’/ can only reveal what is asked of them,’ John A. Nieves writes in this stunning first book. Part scientist, part shaman, Nieves is unswervingly intelligent and deftly imaginative at knowing what to ask of the world. Human-scale, empathetic, and far-reaching, these poems engage the full range of the curiosity at the root of curio: the epistemological work of a mind turning/returning. From a father’s machine work to Schrodinger’s cat, archeology, bloodwork, and language, Nieves reminds us of the ‘magic / in the artifact’ and ‘in the making.”
Alexandra Teague, author of The Principles Behind Flotation
To order your copy of Curio click here. Be sure to also check out John’s website as well as his past work in Issue 9 and 15.
We are pleased to announce that former Superstition Review contributor Sigrid Nunez has just released a new book titled What Are You Going Through. Sigrid is a New York Times bestselling author and her newest book is one of seven she has written over her career. What Are You Going Through is narrated by a woman who uses the stories of friends, family members, and even strangers to assess the beauty of human nature through the conversations they hold. The narrator is a passive listener until she gets whirled into a life-changing encounter of her very own. What Are You Going Through is currently available for purchase on Amazon.
“Reading Sigrid Nunez’s absorbing new novel is somewhat akin to having a long conversation with someone who is telling you something very important, but is telling it in a very quiet voice. You have to really pay attention. Be assured, however, that the experience will be worth it. You will emerge calmer, meditative, more thoughtful, as if you have benefited from an excellent literary massage of sorts.” –The New York Times Book Review
Learn more about Sigrid at her website here or by reading her Issue 10 interview here.
Today we are pleased to feature author John Milas as our Authors Talk series contributor. In this podcast, John discusses his short story “Tide Roll Away,” and emphasizes the theme of the “humanity of people who wear uniforms.”
John states that “We live in a society in which we are taught to dehumanize the uniformed, regardless of our place on the political spectrum.” Whether it’s the uniformed police, members of the military, or even “the teenager behind the cash register at a fast-food franchise,” John emphasizes that we are taught to use uniforms as a way to “dehumanize and exploit” those who wear them, and to only see such individuals “as part of a larger group.”
John muses on the idea if we, as members of society, “ever interrogate the specific, detailed reasons that an individual may have for wearing [their] uniform.” Eventually, he finds that “we spend more time jumping to conclusions than we do exercising our ability…to empathize with individuals, or our imperative as artists to do so.” He concludes by quoting “fellow veteran writer” Ulf Pike, who says that “I can’t tell anybody else what they should be writing about in terms of war or the military…My responsibility is to myself, that I write from a genuine conviction…to find traction and friction and move forward.”
You can read John’s story, “Tide Roll Away,” in Issue 19 of Superstition Review.
Arizona State University Project Humanities is hosting their signature event for this semester: Music and Social Movements – The Unveiling of Humanity (Love is in the Air). The concert is Friday April 7th, 2017 from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. and will take place at Sun Studios of Arizona (1425 W. 14th St. Tempe, AZ 85281.)
The concert will include performances by PressPlay, Gina Fletcher and the Band, Leach Marche, and more. At the concert Project Humanities will be debuting their Humanity 101 theme song written by guitarist Dick Wagner and produced by Motown’s Bobby Taylor.
This event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP through Eventbrite.
I saw an uprooted tree on the bank of the Tappahanock River in Virginia once. It was enormous. The underside of its body was a mass of knobs, big as newborns. It was dense with tubers fizzling out into great hairy clumps. There were nodules and sinuous roots re-entering the body of the tree at every juncture from which they did not originate. All of it dripped with mud and sand, an obscenity of growth.
When I saw it, I thought, this is what writing looks like in me.
Writing is, I confess, at the root of everything. It enters at every juncture, and leaves in every exhalation. It is connected to my meals, my health, my intelligence, my sex, my spirit. This is, of course, vaguely dangerous and out of balance. But it is also true.
When I was a child I read. Books were not about comfort or forgetting. They were about going everywhere, with everyone, seeing everything, feeling everything. Some nights I faked an upset stomach so that I could lie on the carpet of the bathroom and finish a library book for the third time before it had to be returned the next day. Other nights I hung halfway off my bed, book at the end of my outstretched arms, catching the triangle of hall light for just one more sentence, just one more paragraph, just one more hour. I was ravenous. I grew to understand the way stories unfolded, and when they did so, an essential flesh and bone piece of me was satisfied. Through reading, I learned my earliest method of sorting out existence. I learned how it was in the world with loss, success, curiosity, beauty, grief, love, sorrow. I learned what it was to be human, and what that meant in connection with the larger human world.
If reading led me to my first understanding of humanity, writing broadened this education. Where once I merely imagined the hearts and bones of other people, the act of writing allows me to inhabit them entirely. I eat and drink them, birth them and kill them. Evidence of humanity’s brilliance and degradation is what I seek when I write. I never cease in my desire to know more intimately the ways of women and men, and I never cease to be nourished by them. Through writing I make sense of their history and hope.
I do this because I believe that literature represents a collective human sigh, an exhalation of existence. Stories, all stories of the world, the ones we live by and the ones we write, repeat themselves in infinite variations, both seamless and eternally interrupted by change. I crave this exchange of stories, the infinite variety of them. It is in their expression that I find myself most deeply alive and interested. The infinity of what it is to be human and what it is to be a writer never ceases to beckon me.
Writing has made me complicated, like that knobbed mass of roots I saw on the riverbank. What drives me to live is buried under the soil of the known world. Like those huge roots, I am pulling for something far deeper, something unmapped. I am pressing the fingers of my yearning into the mysterious regions of existence which are unknown. Where the source of our divinity, our essence, waits to be recognized again and again.
Since writing is clearly my religion, I created some devotionals for daily attention to this reverent act.
Turn yourself into an archetypal character of the kind you feel most aligned with today: witch, queen, prince, monster, god, mythical figure, etc. Write a line that this character always repeats. (for example: Monsters never eat hair!) Now write an internal monologue for this character where they name what is bothering them right now.
Answer the following for you or a character you have created: Where does truth reside? In your brain? Heart? Describe where you hold truth. To whom do you lie? To whom do you always speak the truth? Is truth possible in memory? Is the opposite of a lie always a truth? Are there absolute truths?
Devotional for Others:
Write a set of instructions for how a reader should read your work. Have a variety of suggestions. Perhaps hint at the content they’ll find, or what they might learn.
Write an etiological tale that explains the existence of rain, fire, ocean, human murder, redemption, the color of the sky, psychology, domesticated pets, or sin.
Write a paragraph of text. Now add at least five footnotes that give additional information or add to the plot, character development, or theme of the story.
Name four things you want to write about, but believe that you shouldn’t. Name the “editors” who block this writing or any reasons why you will not write of these particular things.
I was gonna write about making stories in second grade with my spelling words. I was gonna write about how my mama, who grew up abjectly poor and who didn’t go to college herself until she was forty-seven, understood so well that she gave me Walt Whitman when I was nine–A child said What is the grass?-– and the collected William Carlos Williams when I was twelve. I was gonna write about loving Wittgenstein, that space between the name and the thing he explores, that space I think we inhabit as artists. The power of story, poetry as prayer, how teaching reminds me every day of how miraculous the language we use to live in this life–I had written 500 words.
Then Boston blew up.
And West, Texas.
I quit watching the news years ago, but I stalked Facebook, texting people I know and love in the Boston area. I heard snippets of the working-class drawls of people on the streets in Texas. And I cried.
One sweet-faced freshman at the small liberal arts college where I teach in Virginia, shifted from foot to foot in my office, saying he had family in Boston, asking if he could keep his phone on vibrate.
Other freshmen–wide-eyed and curious and scared–in my American Lit class the next morning, discussed Whitman’s Song of Myself–”What is removed drops horribly in a pail”–as a manhunt locked my Boston friends in their homes, keeping their children home from school, away from windows and doors.
Shelter in place.
My students asked me Why and I didn’t have an answer. I said, “He’s your age, the one they’re chasing. Can you tell me why?”
They didn’t have an answer either.
What we did have was pain, fear, the shared understanding of how vulnerable we all are. We talked about that vulnerability, and they revealed to me that they, these children who were only six years old when planes hit the Trade Towers, feel that vulnerable, that defenseless, all the time.
One, a girl, generally giggly, who reminds me of a sparrow, bit her bottom lip and, said, “We know how much there is to lose.”
Yes, they do.
They were first-graders, carrying lunchboxes and crayons and Pokemon trading cards, when our military went into Afghanistan They barely remember when we haven’t been at war in the Middle East.
They were in middle school when the economy tanked. They’ve seen their parents lose jobs; they’ve packed up their picture books and soccer gear to move out of their childhood homes as a result of job loss or foreclosure. Some of them have learned what it means to be hungry, to be without heat or healthcare, what it means to make do. And to do without.
I, like lots of other people, have lived or still live in these kinds of truths, but for these kids, this is new.
Many of the kids I teach are from northern Virginia, growing up in the shadow of DC, in those belt-lines of power, in a culture accustomed to not only financial security, but to the security of government work. They are, for the most part, sheltered by their DOD and corporate parents, more so than the kids I taught at a large state school before this. Sending them to our mostly residential university in rural Virginia is, for a lot of them, a continuation of their parents’ desire to protect them.
I’m not judging any of this. It is what it is. But much of the work I do with them, coming from my own poor and rural background, is simply helping them understand, through writing, through literature, that not everyone lives the way they do, in this country, or elsewhere.
I teach as a writer. It’s how I live in the world, and I simply don’t know how to be anything else. I work at a teaching institution; everyone teaches General Education classes, and I love teaching those brand-new-just-out-of-high-school freshmen more than I can say. Even when one of them asks, every semester—
I’m a Bio-PoliSci-Business-Anything-but-English major. What does this class have to do with me?
I tell them, as best I know how, what literature, all art, means to me, and why I think it matters to them.
For me, it is only in literature, in art, that we hear and can intimately know the individual human voice. I tell them that, to my mind, the literature we read belongs much more to them than it does to us, the writers who create it. We, I believe, are reflectors, and in fifty years, the literature created by their peers will reveal their time, their dreams, their fears and values, the hopes they hold close to their hearts. .
Without apology for the tears this discussion always brings, or for what I know many of my own peers will dismiss as sentimental, I tell these young people, that for me the function of all art is to allow us to look across the room at another human being, at each other, and say You are not alone.
We felt alone that day.
As Boston’s police force sought a broken young man their age, and as the death and injury toll rose outside the fertilizer plant in West, Texas, and as the media bombarded the airwaves with conflicting and frightening partial stories, one of my students quietly said, “You know, at first I was kinda pissed at having to read a fifty page poem.” He leaned back, arm thrown over the back of the desk, sprawled in the seat like a young strong animal. Then he smiled. “But, yeah, I really like this Whitman guy.”
I asked, as I do at the beginning of any reading discussion, “So…what struck you? What didn’t you like? What part stayed with you?”
He gave us a page number and we turned to the part he selected, reading it, gratefully, together.
“The city sleeps and the country sleeps,
The living sleep for their time, the dead sleep for their time,
The old husband sleeps by his wife and the young husband
sleeps by his wife;
And these tend inward to me, and I tend outward to them,
And such as it is to be of these more or less I am,
And of these one and all I weave the song of myself….”
The hotel brimmed with wedding parties and attendees of the National Black MBA Association Conference.
I was attending neither.
I’d been nominated for an award for my story collection Girls in Trouble—an award I didn’t win—and had just returned from the dinner celebration and award ceremony. Was I disappointed that I came back empty handed? I’ll lie: the honor and a thrill of being nominated was award enough.
Having fulfilled my obligation of smiling and shaking hands and chatting and posing for photos, all while waiting in agony until the winner was announced, my wife and I decided to check out the town.
We hit the hotel, changed, then made our way down the hall.
Waiting at the elevator was a group dressed in gowns and suits.
Nodding hello, I stated the obvious. “Just come from a wedding?” It was 10 p.m. The reception would have been in full swing. Drinks, dancing, and fun. The group should have been elated. Instead, they were dour. They looked like they’d just been brutalized in bankruptcy court and were now pondering a eight-floor window exit to the parking lot below.
No one responded to my question. So I asked again. “Come from a wedding?”
A grunt. “Yeah,” one woman said.
The elevator arrived. We all clambered in silently.
Guess they’re not in the mood to talk, I thought. But I was cagey. (Was it due to the fact that I hadn’t won the award, the effects of the three strong cocktails, or nasty dessert kicking about in my stomach? I can’t say.) There was no way I letting this group off easy.
When the doors slipped closed, I turned to the young woman nearest me. “What did you do wrong this week?” I asked.
She looked up at me, startled. “Nothing.”
I turned to her friend. “What did you do wrong this week?”
Her face lit with fear. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
One last query. A man in his early 20s. “And you, sir. What did you do wrong?”
He shook his head, refusing to meet my eyes.
The leader of the pack poked me in the back. “You can’t ask that kind of question in a public elevator!”
“Is there any other type of elevator?” I said, realizing that—of course—there was.
But my question silenced him.
“Well,” I announced, “would you like to know what I did wrong this week?”
Everyone turned to me, rapt.
“I lied to my students,” I said.
“About what?” the poker asked.
“Yeah, tell us,” the grunter said.
“Well, I lied about—”
The elevator chimed. The doors glided open. The lobby. “Looks like we’re here,” I said, striding out with my wife.
“What’d you lie about?” they all called after me.
But I didn’t answer.
Yes, I’d been a bit of an ass. And what did that accomplish? Nothing.
But after a day or so, I realized I had been striving for something more.
I was trying to connect. Trying to find commonality in a crowded elevator. But we’d all done something wrong that week—how could we have not? We’re human. I was, heavy-handedly, trying to tap into that fact. Trying to acknowledge that we are all in a fight to be better individuals, and that we all, daily, experience the failure of accomplishing perfection. And it’s the acknowledging and sharing of failures that make us able to relate to one another. It is what enables us to bond, to understand, and to feel we are not alone. It’s how we endure.
Good fiction does the same thing. It connects. As readers, we may never experience an Oklahoma dustbowl, a vengeful ghost, or espionage in a foreign country. But as readers, we have experienced similar joys, heartbreaks, terror, love, and disappoint as the characters in our favorite stories. And that’s the connection. The bond. The unique universality that affirms our humanity.
And for the record, I didn’t lie to my students—at least not that week.
Sometimes on the subway my husband and I play a game. We choose a person and silently take in the details, from the obvious physical characteristics to the more subtle indicators of who this person is and what type of life he or she might lead (Is that a wedding ring? What’s the title of the book he’s reading, and is he really reading it? Why does she keep checking her watch? Look how she’s noticing her reflection in the window). We assemble narratives, which we share with each other later on, using the observed details to explain and defend until we combine our efforts into one story of a stranger we will most likely never see again. Some might call us nosy, but I prefer to think of us as curious. Either way, my husband and I are shameless. At restaurants we eavesdrop. One of us will catch a juicy tidbit at the next table and widen our eyes, and whatever conversation we were having will stop as we both lean forward and listen.
I have been a people-watcher all my life, and my home, New York City, is the perfect place to indulge. People are endlessly fascinating with their complexities and contradictions, their histories and quirks. But what really pulls me in is the raw humanness we all share—that mash-up of love, uncertainty, fear, and want swirling around just below the surface. We are more alike than we are different, yet these common vulnerabilities are the ones we guard most carefully, ashamed and afraid of the judgment of others, or even ourselves. When we let those vulnerabilities slip through—that is a moment of beauty.
If asked why I write, I could give many answers: compulsion; the joy of words; the freedom in creation; a desire to leave a mark, however small, on the world. But, really, I write for the same reason I read, and the same reason I people-watch: to learn about others and try to get at that common, messy human core. My novel, Spark, addresses subjects that have interested me for a long time; I’ve written elsewhere about my initial inspiration and the research involved. But the actual act of putting pen to paper began with one character, the narrator, Andrea. Her name came to me on a walk one afternoon and with it a feeling of anguish; I understood that she was a woman fighting to gain control and losing badly, although I didn’t know why yet. I wrote her name down in my notebook and began listing everything about her. From there, the relationships then the themes of the book revealed themselves to me.
Almost all my fiction begins this way, with one character coming up to me out of the ether. As I write, I feel that character pulling me along, as if the story is already there, the character impatient for me to uncover it. I’m sure my people-watching has helped, the details filed away in my subconscious for later use.
In my writing I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to bring out that messy human core as completely, or with as much clarity, as I would like, but it gives me something to strive for. And in the process, I find myself feeling more connected to those beautiful strangers on the subway.
Superstition Review intern Crista Jackson conducted this telephone interview with Tina Packer, the founder and artistic director of Shakespeare & Company. Her play “WOMEN OF WILL” is running at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival July 5 through Aug. 12 at the University Theatre on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder. Directed by Eric Tucker. Created by Tina Packer. Featuring Packer and Nigel Gore. Part 1, July 5, 7, Aug. 10; Part 2, July 10, 14, Aug. 11; Part 3, July 17, 21, Aug 11. (7:30 p.m. curtain) Part 4, July 24, 28, Aug 12. Part 5, July 31, Aug 4, 12. Single tickets, $10-54. Special packages available. Info and Tkts: coloradoshakes.org or 303-492-0554
Superstition Review: When did you first begin acting? What was the first production that you were involved in?
Tina Packer: I first began acting in high school, although, not a lot. It was not like American high school where you do musicals all the time. I performed in three plays, or something like that, but I liked it enormously. Then I went off to Paris, and obviously, I could not act there, but I thought to myself ‘hmm…maybe I could stay here forever and become an actor.’ When I came back to England I applied to drama school. I went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and studied there for two and a half years. After that, I did some television roles and went on to the Royal Shakespeare Academy. Essentially, I did my training and then went straight into professional acting. The first production that I was involved in was a television show called “No Hiding Place.” It was a thirty minute program that ran every week.
SR: When did you discover your interest in Shakespeare’s plays?
TP: I did eight plays in school and then I went to see the Royal Shakespeare Company, which I had always loved. I suppose my real interest began when I started to work at a theater company that had very weird ideas about how to perform Shakespeare. In any case, I started to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company almost immediately after drama school. I was getting deeper into it but I kept encountering the problem of wanting to work on Shakespeare’s plays a certain way while they wanted to work on it in a different way. That is where I felt like I could see the brilliance of Shakespeare’s plays and that brilliance just grew over the years. I was in the regular theater as an actor for about six years and doing television when I thought ‘I’ve got to switch to being a director because I have all the ideas of what Shakespeare is about. Unless I’m a director I’m never going to have the power to put them into practice.’ I switched to directing at that point. The kind of directing I was interested in was how actors could go further than they were with their acting and their bodies. So, it was an ongoing process. There was a eureka moment when I set up my own company but there was no eureka moment concerning why I was fascinated with Shakespeare; my fascination just grew and grew.
SR: You have authored several books, how has your experience as a writer differed from your experience as an actor and director?
TP: It is a completely different medium. When you are an actor you use your entire body and you are in a state of being. You are being as truthful as you can with the whole of your being. When you are directing you are directing other people to be as truthful as they can. You are absorbing all of their energy and their emotional state of being. So being a director is quite painful in a way because you are absorbing other people’s energy. When you are writing you are imagining what is going on and you are getting it on paper as fast as you can. It is just a different state. Of the three mediums, acting, writing, and directing, I find acting the most organic. I like directing because it really spins my brain and forces me to think through what every character thinks; what the overall shape and form is and how I can best represent it. Being a writer you only have yourself. You do not have an audience that is going to react to you and say “this is good. That is bad.” You do not have a load of actors trying to do what you are saying; all you are doing is imagining it and writing it down on the page. You have no idea whether it is any good or not.
SR: You were quoted in another interview as saying “the actor’s job is to speak that which cannot be spoken.” Can you explain the concept of the actor as a messenger?
TP: Yes. The function of theater, I think, is to articulate those things which are hidden. They are hidden because they live in the subconscious mind. All art, whether it is painting, music, dance, etc., functions to bring those things that are subconscious to consciousness so that you can see them. Well, with the actor you have to take it a bit further. Especially in Shakespeare, it is the language that makes the difference. There are things that are not being said, either because they are suppressed by the powers that be or the people have just absorbed those ideas as thinking ‘oh, that’s reality,’ but it is not reality it is the way reality is depicted. You know how in the ’50s movies they presented a kind of very innocent, un-embodied sexuality? The films would always present a certain kind of sexuality which was the form that society wanted to think about sex in, or was comfortable with. With the ’60s came a whole turnaround that showed the ’50s as a misrepresentation of what humans are, of what marriage is. So really, in a way it was theater’s job to point out that that was not how things were. That is an example of how theater articulates a further truth.
SR: What inspired you to explore the female characters in Shakespeare’s plays?
TP: I had done about two-thirds of the canon and I suddenly saw that there was a progression in the female characters. It came to me one day when I was watching one of my own productions. I had done different parts of the canon by then; the beginning, middle, and end. Suddenly, I realized a pattern in the female characters. Once I got the idea I wanted to explore it further, because obviously, I am a woman and Shakespeare’s relationship to women is very important to me.
SR: What do you mean when you say that Shakespeare’s writing embodies or explores feminine qualities?
TP: As a rough categorization we ask, what is masculine? Well, masculine is much more linear, based on glory and is going to have an aggressive streak to it. The cliché of what is masculine is going to be goal oriented rather than relationship oriented. It is going to be cerebral. That is what people usually consider as masculine. What are usually called feminine are relationships, feelings, allowing your intuition to take hold. If you have got a goal it is usually related to a relational goal. For instance, you want your family to be really happy or you want everybody to get along. It is similar to how I felt when I wanted a deep collaboration with everybody, not wanting some people to be stars and others not. Those characteristics are usually called feminine. So if you think about what an artist uses, whatever kind of artist, what they use are feminine qualities. They are very much to do with feelings, intuition, and relationships. Whether the relationship is paint on a canvas, of one color against another, or whether it is how your characters relate to each other on stage. The attributes are very much feminine. When you think of the embodiment of female sexuality and physical function it is very internal. Menstruating, being pregnant, etc. Whereas, masculine is much more exterior physicality—who runs the fastest, throws the ball the hardest— it has more to do with action than female physicality does. So if you are embodying a role like actors do it is a much more feminine attribute regardless of the actor’s gender.
SR: What do you think of the evolution of Shakespeare’s female characters? What caused the transformation of his early characters from the false dichotomy of modest virgins and harlots to more complex, multifaceted and realistic female characters?
TP: Well, this is what I got a Guggenheim for. I spent a whole year finding out what the answer was and the answer is in “Women of Will.” The best way to have this question answered is for you to come see “Women of Will,” because I can’t do it justice but I will have a go. Basically, what I believe happened to Shakespeare is that he started off as most young men do, being full of sexual hormones and feeling that women had the upper hand or did not have the upper hand. He didn’t really associate with women; he projected onto them. In part one, women were usually either shrews or virgins on a pedestal. During this phase of his writing he either over idealizes them or makes them into marauders. That is a very early Shakespeare. Suddenly, he seems to fall in love himself and becomes passionate and suddenly the women like Juliet have as much air time as the men. He begins to explore the female characters as deeply as he explores the men. They are allowed their full sexuality, their full voices, they are whole people. So suddenly, he is not seeing women as something he thought he had to control or deal with, instead, he is seeing women as human beings and that might be because he grew up, fell in love, and therefore saw women differently.
The only way men and women can have real, deep relationships is if you have power to give up. You cannot have a deep relationship, then or now, if you don’t have power to give the other person. So what you see out of this is that Shakespeare starts using women to tell the truth about what is going on because women are always outside of the power circle. They don’t particularly have power; they get power through the men they have associated with, the exception being Cleopatra, of course. So, by and large, women are looking at power much more deeply than men are. So we go into the third part of his writing life where women are really trying to tell the truth about what they see. Here if they disguise themselves as men, if they live underground, they can say what they like and everybody responds to them and that is just fine. Then at end of the play they can say “oh look, I’m really a woman,” but by that time they have organized the society; everyone gets married, procreates and it is all well and good. If they stay in their frocks and they start telling the truth about what they see they get killed or kill themselves so their voices are useless. So you really see what women are up against.
In the fourth section, the women take on power the same way as men, like Lady Macbeth, the eldest daughter in Lear, etc.,the women have power just like the men do. They want power just like the men, they start going after power in the same way that the men do and the country ends up in chaos. In the fifth part he finds a way out of the killing cycle which he has been telling for so long and it is by the daughters revealing the fathers and the art of acting. He shows that art has to come into life somehow, otherwise, we will never be able to stop the killing cycle. That is the sixth part, when Shakespeare has gone back to live in Stratford and he is with his daughters again who he has not seen for 20 years while he has been in London working. So it is all about how the daughters can redeem their fathers. That is the briefest of outlines.
SR: After four decades of studying The Bard of Avon are you still mesmerized by his writing? Do you still find yourself gleaning new epiphanies from the texts and plays you have become so familiar with?
TP: Yes, because texts which hold big truths, you tend to see differently at different points of your life. You might read something that you never thought anything of and then all of a sudden it holds some significant meaning because you have reached a new place in your life. So you can see things you had not seen before. For example, a hundred different books have been written on “to be, or not to be, that is the question,” and it is still the question. People still come out with a whole host of answers about what it means. It is the exploration which is important not the answer. That is true of all of Shakespeare’s plays or any great poetry; it doesn’t give you the answers to life, it breaks life open.
SR: What are the unique benefits of theater as compared to other forms of art? Is there something special about using the body as an instrument of communication?
TP: Yes, there is something special about theater but it depends because different people are awakened by different art forms. If you are the type of human where music awakens all of your sensory perceptions then maybe theater isn’t going to do it for you. So it really depends on the human being but why theater is very important is it is really trying to recreate life as a whole so it can include music, dance, poetry, and all of the other art forms. It is really trying to use life itself as the art form. So that means there is a huge demand on the body because you are putting your own body there. With your own body you are trying to recreate life. All art forms awake sensory perception, which means that you see the world more clearly; you have got more tools to look at the world. What happens to me when I am acting is that I get to feel more consciously what it is that I am feeling. It is not just the body; it is the body and the voice together that make theater so incredible. The body looks like it is solid and it feels solid, the voice is ephemeral and it is coming and going.
SR: What about the difference between live theater and broadcast theater? Is there something lost in the intimacy between the actor and the audience in broadcast theater?
TP: Acting in front of an audience gives you incredible energy and focus. When acting for television and film, you have a more internal focus; you don’t have that huge blast of energy from the audience. What happens to you when get the focus of all those people is that it starts transforming the energy and something starts happening, that you have no control over, because of the energy that you receive from the audience. In that respect, theater is an incredible medium. You feed off of the audience’s energy and it takes you places that you didn’t know you could go.
It isn’t that film and television can’t do some really good work, they can, but it is much more self-representing than when you have the audience. I think that a large part of it is the acknowledgement, ultimately, that you are all in the same space. You just pretended something and maybe everybody wept and laughed and you have done that together and there is a real sense of unity in that which you never get on television or in film. In film the camera is picking up your performance and then translating it and you are never in the same space with the audience. It is a different experience and I think that it lacks the sense of community that theater builds.
SR: The story behind the founding of Shakespeare and Company is incredibly inspiring. You began with 20 homeless actors and a couple thousand dollars. What was going through your mind? Was there ever a moment when you thought of giving up?
TP: What was going through my mind was the kind of theater that I wanted to do. I was just seizing the opportunity of having a house to live in and having a few thousand dollars so I could pay everyone. All I was thinking was ‘okay, so we can get a Shakespeare play up in this amount of time and we can do the kind of work that exemplifies what I am talking about. Then we can invite everybody to see it. They will get inspired and give us more money to work on more projects.’
SR: Do you think Shakespeare had a special message he was attempting to convey to fellow artists?
TP: No. I think that he was doing what all artists do; he was not sitting around trying to think up special messages. Artists try to find out what the truth is and try to figure out what life is about. To the best of their ability they try to see how power structures work, the way in which we deal with our families, etc., and how it affects everyone else. You know, all the big issues of life they were simply trying to tell the truth about. What he did in his later plays, when he got back to Stratford, he started trying to tell the truth about the impact that daughters have on their fathers.
SR: How important do you think it is for artists to teach and pass on their art?
TP: I think the desire to pass on what you have learned is natural. I think that if you are an artist it does not work until the audience is there. Whether it is theater or someone looking at your painting, reading your poem, it does not work until somebody else interacts with you. Then if you find it at all exciting your next reaction is to start telling people how you did it so they can do it too. I think all creativity has been a continuous stream from the very first time people were creating plays around the campfire or doing paintings on the cave walls.
SR: Do you have any advice for novice actors, playwrights, or directors? Were there any words of wisdom that helped you through the dark hours of your career?
TP: Keep on honing your vision. If things are not working just persist and keep on looking to see what is keeping the communication, from artist to audience, from happening. It is all about persistence.
SR: What are you currently working on? Do you see yourself writing anymore books?
TP: I will write some more books on methodology in Shakespeare and Company but the writing is really an expression of the acting and directing so I will write about those subjects. Right now, I am so immersed in the struggle to get “Women of Will” up and the book out that I cannot think further than getting it all done.
Our Issue 9 Fiction Editor Sarah Murray shared these thoughts about the editorial process.
What was your favorite piece?
“The Ruins” by Elizabeth Rollins. The details in her story were so vivid and poetic. I saw a vast humanity in her desert imagery.
Where there any submissions that you would have liked to include but you weren’t able to?
There were several. There was one about a little girl, set in India, that really left an impression on me. I think it was her agency that attracted me.
How do the editors choose which submissions to publish?
Submissions were honed through a voting process, and after we had figured out which ones got the most responses from our editorial staff (Fiction had 4), we would have a round-table discussion about each one. We really do pay a lot of attention to each submission.
Were there times that you just knew that a piece was perfect for SR?
Yes. Those are the pieces that, when you read, you can’t shake them for days afterwards.
What were some of the common pitfalls of the submissions that were not selected?
That’s actually a really hard question to answer, because a lot of the submissions we received were very different from each other. We did receive quite a few pieces that we did not feel were fully developed yet, and at that point it’s really easy to decide that it’s not the right time to publish, both for Superstition Review and the author.
What was the strangest submission you read/reviewed?
In the realm of fiction, there isn’t really a lot that I would consider strange, because it’s an arena where anything goes. Otherwise, it’s not art.
Please sum up what you’ve gained from your internship this semester. Do you feel like you have a better grasp on editing? Literary magazines? Why?
This internship was my first experience with literary magazines from the inside. I know what it’s like to submit to one, but it’s comforting to now know what goes on behind the scenes. You learn how to navigate your audience better, working for one. It was definitely a great experience.
How has editing impacted your own writing?
Reading always affects writing, and I’ve read more literary fiction through this internship than I had before.
What were some of the obstacles you faced in preparing for Issue 9?
Mostly it was just the decisions on which stories to publish and which ones you had to say “no” to. Those were really, really difficult decisions.