Joanne Diaz’s Facts in Review: An Interview

Joanne Diaz is the author of two poetry collections, The Lessons and My Favorite Tyrants. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Illinois Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. Her recent poems have been published in American Poetry Review, Colorado Review, New England Review, Poetry, River Styx, and Waxwing. She is the Isaac Funk Endowed Professor of English at Illinois Wesleyan University. She is also the co-host of the Poetry for All podcast.

Her poem “Facts in Review” appeared in Issue 30 of Superstition Review, accompanied by one of Jason Reblando’s photos. We are pleased to present an interview with Joanne Diaz below, conducted by Madison Latham, one of Superstition Review’s poetry editors for Issue 30.

Madison Latham: What was the process like for creating the mixed media? 

Joanne Diaz: I created the collage that accompanies this poem during a residency at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts (VCCA). I am by no means a visual artist, and I hadn’t made a collage since I was in elementary school, but I knew that I wanted to try this, just to see where it would take the work. The black-and-white image is from a film that documented the Berlin book burnings of 1933. I had known about that image for years, and it haunted me—the way the face of the Nazi youth is facing away from the viewer, and toward the flames—and I used a simple color blocking technique to emphasize the shape of his body and he hurls the books into the fire. For a long time, I was feeling stuck with this poem, but when school boards all over the United States started banning books, I knew that I had something to say.

This collage is one of a few in the collaborative project that I’ve been working on with Jason Reblando. The majority of the word-image pairings in this collection are comprised of my poems and Jason’s photographs.

ML: How did you decide what sources to use for the poem “Facts in Review”? What makes a reliable source? What is your advice for poets that want to include facts in their own poetry?  

JD: Well, the title of the poem is actually a lie. As I say in the note to the poem, Facts in Review is the title of a Nazi propaganda magazine that was sent to American subscribers between 1939-1941. I first learned about this magazine when I read Mark Monmonier’s amazing book How to Lie with Maps, which provides an analysis of how maps never tell the whole truth, and how often nations and empires use maps for propagandistic purposes. Monmonier included some examples of Nazi maps in his book, and when I saw his citation of the magazine, I read through every issue, just to see what was published there. I noticed something right away: the magazine was full of lies about Nazi aggression—lies that made the Nazi regime seem benign, even beneficent. So many times in my life, I’ve wondered what it must have been like to live in Europe during the rise of fascism in the 1930s. Reading Facts in Review helped me answer that question. It also helped me understand the rise of fascism in our own nation right now.

ML: How would you describe your experience working with one another on collaborative media? What did you learn from the collaboration?

JD: In brief: Jason’s photos came first, and my poems came second. For Jason to create the photos, he had to walk La Ruta Walter Benjamin, a difficult mountain pass that begins in Banyuls sur Mer in the south of France and ends in Portbou, Spain. For millennia, the Pyrenees have been the site of many kinds of crossings, but there are two kinds of crossings that interest us most: the trek that writer Walter Benjamin took from France to Spain in 1940 when he was escaping the Nazis who were set on persecuting him; and the walk that 500,000 Spaniards took from Spain to France in 1939 in order to escape persecution in Franco’s fascist regime. 

As Jason walked the route, he took photos that not only attended to the natural landscape, but to the history and culture of the land as well. As I meditated on his photographs, I conducted research—on the Spanish Civil War, on the Nazi regime, on Walter Benjamin—and wrote poems that helped me to understand the terror of that time. Jason is often my best editor, and he provided a lot of important feedback on the poems. 

When we share excerpts of this work in art galleries, we print the poems on vellum and position the photographs underneath the vellum. That way, a viewer can read the poem, then lift the vellum to see the photo that inspired it. This palimpsest effect allows the reader to think about the layers of history and language embedded in every landscape. 

ML: We see that you both teach at universities in Illinois. How do you know each other? And what is the story behind the collaborative media? Have you done collaborative work before, and would you do something like it again? 

JD: We’re married! Jason is a photography professor at Illinois State, and I’m an English professor at Illinois Wesleyan, just a mile down the street. We’ve never collaborated on a project before, but we’ve really enjoyed this experience and would happily do it again.

ML: What are each of you working on next?

JD: In recent months, we’ve completed work on La Ruta and are looking for a publisher. Meanwhile, Jason is creating a series of new collage pieces that draw upon archival photographs of the Philippines from the turn of the last century. You can see some of his amazing work here.

A headshot of Cavar.

Pride Community Project Episode Two: Claire van Doren Interviews Cavar

Superstition Review is excited to share a podcast project planned and produced by SR intern Claire van Doren. In this four-episode audio series, Claire will be talking with SR’s queer contributors. In today’s episode, Claire interviews Cavar. [sarah] Cavar (they/them) is a PhD student and writer of transMad things. They are editor-in-chief of Stone of Madness and swallow::tale presses, and their writing can be found in CRAFT Literary, Split Lip Magazine, Electric Lit, and elsewhere. Their debut novel, Failure to Comply, is forthcoming with featherproof books (2024). To learn more, visit their website, follow them @cavarsarah on twitter, and at

The following transcript has been edited for clarity. Credit goes to for the sound effects.

Claire van Doren: Hi! My name’s Claire van Doren, and you’re listening to the Superstition Review Pride Community Project. Today, we’ll be hearing from Cavar. They’ll be discussing their experiences with the queer community and how it impacts their work. This is one of four Pride Community specials. Stick around to hear from more of Superstition Review’s queer contributors.

[Phone ringing]

Cavar: I’m Cavar. I use they/them pronouns. I’m a PhD student in Cultural Studies at UC Davis, and also run around, put my little raccoon hands in a bunch of different writing and editing kinds of projects. I usually describe my work as—not really bridging the creative and the scholarly—but rather, sort of, undoing the binary between them. I hope to write things where dividing them into creative work and academic work doesn’t really make sense anymore. I’m also interested in doing work that really confounds sense-making, as a goal—mad works, quite frankly, which is a theme that comes up again and again.

I think that surrealism, in a lot of ways, is a way that writers approach—and tap on the shoulder—of madness, even if they don’t quite feel comfortable with the terminology of madness specifically. I think that the idea of the surreal—this idea that you’re able to cross from this reality to into a slightly bent or modified reality… It’s something that’s so in line with this “mad politic,” where multiple realities are accepted and celebrated. Instincts that one person might see , might not be the things that you see. And using surrealism to really get into those spaces—I think it’s a really incredibly valuable, mad tool.

It also frees me up to write things that feel a lot truer to me. I feel like I often experience these feelings, thoughts, experiences that go beyond what realism has to offer. And, to be freed up to use the language of the surreal, paradoxically, even though it’s supposedly “fake,” actually allows me to be a lot more honest. So growing up, I actually didn’t write fantasy or science-fiction very much. I think it’s because I associated all of it with—either like the hard sci-fi, where it’s hard to understand it. Or, like, A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy, with the maps and the names and the seven hundred pages. And so I thought that that was completely not for me. And I was right, but there’s a lot more to fantasy and science-fiction than that.

And so I gradually dipped my toes in later and got more enthusiastic about fantasy and science fiction. And I was really compelled by the way the authors used the languages of the future to address those realities and contemporary problems. And I was really impressed by the way that systems of magic and sorcery can be used to articulate everyday forms of violence and strife that we were dealing with now. And from there, I passed from a more grounded sense of fantasy and science fiction, to people beginning to recognize it—folks like Samuel R. Delany, who is taking fantasy and science fiction—being like, “Okay, but what if we challenge the structure of realism itself? What if we didn’t simply imbue future politics or wizards or witches into a kind of present-day logic? What if we up-ended logic?” And I think that both discovering the surreal that way—and also beginning to read my first collections of poetry when I was in college—it really made me realize that I was allowed to write things that didn’t only not exist, but didn’t really make sense in any universe.

One of my favorite authors is actually a literary young-adult author named Neal Shusterman. He writes mostly speculative fiction-slash-dystopian kind of books, for the broad category of reluctant readers. And I was skeptical because I feel like reluctant readers books are often stereotyped as “boy books” and books that don’t really have a lot of interest for people who are already drawn to a bunch of different genres and to writing. But I began reading Shusterman’s books when I was in middle-school. And I physically cannot put those books down—and I still can’t. And I think that that’s a testament to the fact that good work is good work, and it’s going to draw people from all different backgrounds and all different spaces.

I would really like to focus more on forms of writing that right now I simply don’t have the tools or knowledge to do. I talked to a couple of colleagues who are into boardgames, and they’re like, “Oh my God, what if I made a novel that was a game?” Or thinking about multi-modal approaches to writing. Things that involve QR codes and music and videos and all kinds of weird shit.

One of the great things about using mixed media is that it draws in people who are into music and into graphic novels and into computer games and into board games. I would love to work on something where visual art was the central component to it. I would love to work more on “found” documents and work more on archives. Really, just using as many forms and technologies and methods as possible—because so far, my expansion beyond just writing prose on a page has just gotten more fun the more weird stuff I do.

[Phone hangs up]

CVD: Thanks for joining us! Be sure to check out our YouTube page for more audio and video content, as well as our official Superstition Review blog.