Good afternoon, readers! We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Amanda Eyre Ward, a contributor featured in the Interview Section of our 7th issue, has a new novel available for preorder, titled “The Nearness of You,” which will be put out from the good people at Ballantine Books, an imprint of the literary titan Random House. Jodi Picoult calls the book “Wrenching, honest, painstakingly researched.,” while People Magazine calls “The Nearness of You” “Deeply affecting.” Ward has created a braiding of perspectives that offer the reader a number of intertwining narratives, all centered around the story of a family in its formation, meditating on ideas of motherhood, love, relationships, and what it means to be a family in this day and age. Don’t wait another moment to go out and preorder yourself a copy of Amanda Eyre Ward’s transformative new novel, “The Nearness of You.”
Top of the afternoon, dearest readers! We here at Superstition Review are rife with news from the Occident after a barn-burner of a conference at this year’s AWP, held in the belly of the beast in Washington, D.C. Past contributor Patrick Madden is co-editing the 21st Century Essays series with none other than David Lazar! 21st Century Essays is put out through Ohio State University Press, and they themselves have some great news: The 2017 Gournay Prize is taking submissions from now until March 15. If anyone out there has a book-length collection of essays, or knows someone who might, tell them to check out this link here. There’s a publication deal with a cash prize of $1,000 in it for ’em if they win!
And the proliferation doesn’t stop there: Madden also has provided us with the announcement for not one but TWO collections of essays, titled (respectively) “After Montaigne” (which was also co-edited with David Lazar), out from University of Georgia Press, and “Sublime Physick” (for which Patrick Madden is the sole progenitor), put out through University of Nebraska Press.
Suffice it to say, Patrick Madden keeps the hits comin’, and we here at Superstition Review are only too happy to share these with you, dear readers. Congratulations to Patrick Madden, and David Lazar, for all their hard work!
That about does it for us today, gang. Thanks for reading, and always, let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Hey there, campers! Have you found yourself wandering the dark recesses of your streaming video service of choice, looking for something to watch and coming up short every time? All caught up on Breaking Thrones and Boardwalks & Recreation? Perfect, then we’ve got something you’re going to want to watch; Superstition Review contributors David Shields and Caleb Powell co-wrote a book called “I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel,” which has been turned in to a feature-length film, directed by none other than the proverbial Renaissance Man himself, James Franco. Here’s the trailer:
“I Think You’re Totally Wrong” is currently available in select cities across the U.S.A., but we here Superstition Review got our hands on an advance copy of the film, so we can tell you with some authority: it’s good. The film combines the simmering tension and wit of two writers at the height of their argumentative powers, with the all the introspection and sincerity that one finds in conversations with their closest friends. Shields and Powell muse on the what it means to be engaged with a life well-lived and how that relates to craft and creation, the responsibilities of an artist with respect to honesty and vulnerability, and whether or not it’s possible, or even advisable, to stay out of trouble while being an artist. Raw, funny, and tender as all-get-out, this one is a “must-watch” for anyone who has ever found themselves wondering about the importance of art as it relates to the life of an artist, and conversely, what is the importance of the life of an artist as it relates to an artist’s life.
Covered by everybody from Elle Magazine to the Boston Globe, “I Think You’re Totally Wrong” is by any metric, a burgeoning critical hit. Do yourself the immense kindness of finding a screening near you (details can be found here), and as always, drop us a line in the comments section below.
Greetings, true believers! We here at Superstition Review have an extra-special announcement: Our dear friends over at diode have released their 10th Anniversary Issue, replete with the profoundly excellent poetic stylings of more than a few past contributors to Superstition Review, including (but not limited to);
- John Gallaher
- Rae Gouirand
- Carolyn Guinzio
- Kathleen Hellen
- Bob Hicok
- Susan Rich
- Lee Ann Roripaugh
- Patricia Colleen Murphy
Do yourself the immense kindness of taking a lil’ poetry break with the 10th Anniversary issue of diode, and to the goodly gaggle over at diode, Superstition Review says congratulations! Here’s to a hundred more years of poetry.
Every so often, I like to listen to Stephen Sondheim’s thoughts on writing. This isn’t because I want to write musicals. And while some people may herald Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize as the long overdue blurring of songwriting and literature, I’m not one of them. As much as I like Dylan, I don’t believe a songwriter is also a poet. In fact, one reason I seek out Sondheim’s thoughts on language is because lyric writing is different enough from what I do to make his observations feel fresh.
For example, in one interview, Sondheim said that “words that are spelled differently, but sound alike, such as rougher and suffer, engage the listener more than those spelled similarly, rougher and tougher.” It’s true! Rhyming differently spelled words adds extra interest to the lines. What does that suggest, other than we’re unconsciously spelling words while we’re listening to certain kinds of language? That makes me, a prose writer, wonder about my own work, and how the spelling of words can subvert a reader’s expectations.
Sondheim is an excellent wordsmith. His songs are full of intelligent, character-driven storytelling that illuminate larger issues, whether it’s female misogyny in Ladies Who Lunch, the creative process in Finishing the Hat, or the pre-wedding freak-out in Getting Married Today. His songs are sharp, funny, and self-contained. They just aren’t poetry.
Sondheim would agree with me on that. Unlike the Nobel Prize committee, he doesn’t consider poetry and lyrics to be the same. Because of the richness of music, he says, lyrics must be economical and spare. Complex ideas are pared down to simpler language so that the audience can follow along.
“That’s why poets generally make poor lyric writers,” he said. “Not always, but generally they do, because the language is too rich. … I firmly believe that lyrics have to breathe and give the audience’s ear a chance to understand what’s going on. Particularly in the theater, where you not only have the music, but you’ve got costume, story, acting, orchestra. There’s a lot to take in. The whole idea of poetry is denseness, is concision, is abutment of images, and that sort of thing. You can’t do that when you’ve got music going, and expect the audience to take it in.”
When people equate lyric writing with poetry, they’re often trying to express how meaningful they found a song. The word “poetry” is associated with depth, so to call something poetic is to say it’s beautiful, eloquent, or profound. Thus, songwriters who are adept at language are called poets despite the fact that they aren’t actually writing poetry.
But to say that lyrics and poetry are the same is to discount the role music plays in a song. Song lyrics, no matter how lovely, are meant to work with music. When you separate one from the other, you’re getting only part of a whole. On the other hand, a poem, as poet Paul Muldoon said, “brings its own music with it.”
Perhaps the solution isn’t to give songwriters prizes meant for writers, but to acknowledge the skill and eloquence that goes into writing a successful song. In one interview, Sondheim said it took him seven-and-a-half hours to come up with the line, If I must leave tomorrow / One thing before I go / You’ve made me see the passion of love / And I thought you should know. He added that he wouldn’t recommend lyric writing to anyone.
“It’s very difficult work,” he said in another interview. “And it’s not often rewarding work because I find that I almost make it, almost make it, if only there were a two-syllable work that began with a “B”, it would be a perfect line. And you can’t find it, and it’s very frustrating.”
Whether you’re a musician or a writer, if you’ve ever agonized to find the exact word, you know what he means.
I am thrilled to announce the launch of Issue 16 of Superstition Review. This marks eight years of incredible institutional support from Arizona State University; stellar work from over 250 undergraduate students who have completed all the tasks of running the magazine; and art, fiction, interviews, nonficiton, and poetry from nearly 900 international and national contributors.
This semester I’m particularly proud of my students for several things.
Thank you to Student Editor-in-Chief David Klose, who helped manage the new #ArtLitPhx series, which is a catalog of Arts and Literary Events in the Phoenix area, warehoused on our Blog and Facebook pages. Through #ArtLitPhx, the SR Team gathered together at many events, such as: Mark Doty reading his poetry at the Phoenix Art Museum, Matt Bell signing copies of Scrapper at the Poisoned Pen, ASU’s MFA GALA at the ASU Art Museum, volunteering at UMOM for a Read-to-Me Night.
Thanks also to Leah Newsom, one of our two wonderful Interview Editors, who conducted three of our Interviews for Issue 16 in person during the NonfictioNOW Conference in Flagstaff. You can read the transcripts of her interviews with Daisy Hernandez, Maggie Nelson, and Sarah Einstein in the issues, and the videos will be appearing on our blog starting today.
Thanks also to Cass Murphy who began a new series for our blog called “Authors Talk,” encouraging writers and artists to talk about their work for our audience.
I hope you enjoy the issue as much as I do.
I met Regina at Brooklyn’s A.I.R. Gallery in May of 2009, when her pencil drawings were being exhibited there in a one-person retrospective exhibition called “Increments.” We became friendly and about six months after our first meeting she sent me the questions below. I rewrote some of my answers after she passed in January of 2013.
Regina Granne: How has your art changed over time?
Dmitry Borshch: My earliest drawings were abstract, probably influenced by Russian Constructivism, De Stijl, and Soviet Nonconformists, many of whom were abstractionists. I saw their work at various apartment exhibitions in Dnepropetrovsk and Moscow that I participated in. My current drawings try to balance between abstraction and figurative, representational art. I am fascinated by artistic trajectories, so your question is a fitting one to begin our interview with.
RG: What work do you most enjoy doing?
DB: First marks, which establish the structure of the image, are thrilling! And last ones; they give relative completeness to that image. It will never be complete, but may become acceptably so to warrant exhibition.
RG: What is your dream project?
DB: I am working on such a project now. It’s called Iconography. Inspired by prints after Anthony van Dyck’s drawings which collectively bear the same name, it includes portraits of living artists, writers, politicians, distinguished soldiers. ‘Koch – Mayor of the City of New York’ and ‘Doctor Kissinger’, also called ‘In seine Hand die Macht gegeben’ belong to this project.
RG: I did some research on you, not too much because I was hoping to find an understanding of your art through this conversation. Are you a ‘mixed-media artist’?
DB: ULAN, a project of the Getty Research Institute, classifies me as a ‘mixed-media artist’ because I photograph drawings and exhibit these photographs instead of drawings themselves. They feel the marriage of photography and draughtsmanship justifies such a classification.
DB: Yes, one of them was described thus: “I realized after completing much of the series – “When girls meet, hearts warm!” is an unwitting response to Diane Arbus’s “Girls in matching swimsuits.” The delay is understandable as her picture and mine are not directly connected. What I hope connects them is a feeling the viewer gets of strong poetic exchange between their subjects’ faces – an interplay of facial movements, heightened by framing and vignetting. Often a certain ludicrous quality attracts me to one subject or another, expressed in overapplied makeup (the most made up faces are the most revealing, I find), overbleached teeth or hairdos that are ludicrously overdone. After expanding the series to include males I renamed it “When friends meet, hearts warm!” or “Friend, you are my second self!” I view these pictures as manipulated found objects, shot with a disposable camera by some “disposable” photographer – me, subjects themselves whom I directed, a bystander…”
RG: What motivated you to make drawings like The Undertaker’s Pale Children?
DB: I distinguish between narrow and broad motivations, which may not always interact. The second type of motivation is a desire to speak as an artist — silence, especially artistic, is painful. The first involves being challenged by narrower, often technical problems – arranging successfully a group or one-figure portrait, succeeding as a landscapist, still-life painter.
RG: What would you like us to know about Betrothal of the Virgins?
DB: The word on male figure’s cap means groom, on female’s — bride.
RG: Blue Architects, The Undertaker’s Pale Children, Fencing on the Gallows Tree belong to a series. What is its title and why?
DB: ‘Exiled from Truth: Nine Allegories by Dmitry Borshch’ is the title under which some allegorical pictures are collected, possibly more than nine: the series continues to develop. They are united by color, style, and technique, so I view them as a homogeneous collection of drawings. Allegory, drawn or written, is a product of that mind which regards truth as existing-in-absence: it does exist yet is absent from our view. Allegories like mine would not be needed if truth were openly present.
RG: What is the best advice you’ve been given?
DB: Art books offer many valuable advices, I cannot place one of them above others. They mostly confirm what I feel instinctively.
RG: What jobs have you done other than being an artist?
DB: I was a student — at universities, never art schools — then became a self-taught printmaker, draughtsman, sculptor. No other jobs.
DB: I admire certain drawings of Michelangelo, Dürer, and Leonardo, but no contemporary artist should be compared to them. Among contemporaries, I find Semyon Faibisovich, Boris Mikhailov, Chuck Close admirable. Not being a photographer or photorealist, I doubt anyone would compare me to them. It would be pleasing if someone did.
RG: What’s your favorite art work?
DB: No favorites. I return to many works for reasons that continually change.
About Regina Granne:
Interview Editor Erin Regan recently had the opportunity to interview Edgar Cardenas, a photographer and Ph.D. candidate in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University who integrates art and science in his work. His photography, taken from a collection titled “One Hundred Little Dramas,” which explores his own backyard as a natural place, was published in the 12th issue of Superstition Review.
Erin Regan: On your website you included a statement about the project that’s peppered with quotes by Aldo Leopold. What has your relationship with Leopold’s work been like?
Edgar Cardenas: I grew up close to Madison, Wisconsin but I didn’t know who Leopold was until I started my Ph.D. in Sustainability. I started, like most do, with Sand County Almanac which struck home. I related to his musings of being out in the woods and close to farm life.
In Sand County Almanac, Leopold makes clear his intent to integrate aesthetics, ethics, and ecology; I had and continue to have similar sentiments regarding the integration of art and sustainability science. I think he was using the terminology of ecology but his interest was the overall health of the community, which included humans. Many would identify his sentiment with a “strong sustainability,” one focused on ecological integrity that places humans in the system, not above it.
This initial introduction to his work led me to read more of his essays and biographies as well. He was a pragmatist, his attempt to unite aesthetics, ethics, and ecology were based on an understanding that holism is the way forward. He pushed against the reductionist methods of understanding the world and realized they were insufficient for understanding, not only the ecological system but our place in that system. He also pushed against preservationist or conservationist ideologies, there was nature to be found just as easily in the city as there was in the wilderness, it was a matter of looking curiously at the world and understanding how things connected to each other.
His essays weren’t the impetus for beginning the backyard project but they definitely kept me company as the project unfolded. They became ways of understanding and exploring the backyard. I would, often times, say to myself, “If Leopold was in my backyard what would he say? What questions would he ask? What would excite him? What might confuse him?” Sometimes I would make changes to the backyard or begin to get a little controlling about how I wanted things. Playing out his presence in the space helped reset my intentions and I could go back to openly observing and discovering. This openness to discovery was critical because the backyard is a small space, I worked on it for 3+ years, so you have to find new ways to look at it continuously. Leopold was one of the influences in exploring and eventually framing what the edited work would look like.
ER: I love how your work reclaims backyards as wild spaces. Would you describe the process of discovering your own backyard as a wild place?
EC: As my artist statement mentions, my backyard was a very undesirable space. Growing up in the midwest and then moving to the northeast, I was unfamiliar with the desert’s ecological pulses. The backyard looked dead when I left for a 10-day project in the Czech Republic. It rained practically the entire time I was away, so I returned to a very different, and green, backyard. The realization that the desert was alive, just waiting for water, started me photographing. I wanted the starting point to also have an ecological connection.
I was also grappling with what sustainability meant at the time. We often think about sustainability in a large and abstracted human-environment interaction manner and in a simple, “we should recycle and compost” manner. I was interested in the inbetween space, what “personal sustainability” looked like and what it meant to be engaged in it, not just studying it; the backyard felt like a good start.
I was also interested in what someone with very little money could do; most of our current sustainability solutions seem to require significant capital investment. I collected wood that was thrown out to build my planter boxes. I also collected food waste from the School of Sustainability and sustainability students to keep my compost going. Tree services would drop off chipped wood in the frontyard and I would take it to the back one wheelbarrow at a time. I would dig up seedlings in the frontyard and replant them in the back. I collected seeds from several places for planting in the backyard as well. My intention was not to restore the backyard to some previous desert site but be ecologically minded in its design. Humans and animals engineer the environment regularly so I was aware that I wasn’t returning it to a former “wild space.” I was becoming mindful of how I would use the space. That meant compost for nutrient-cycling, planter boxes for food, as well as drought-tolerant trees and plants that provided food, shelter, and a habitat for the small critters that shared the space with us. I wanted to bring the biological diversity up to a maintainable level, which also meant being mindful of the water usage, and nutrients. By the end, I was supplementing the plants exclusively off the compost I was making.
That process really got the “discovering” going; I learned a great deal about my relationship to the space as I worked in it and changed it. The process really became a ritual of stepping out into the backyard with the camera and looking, exploring, and engaging. The most important realization, to me, was that personal experience connects you to the land. I was learning to see ecological principles at play, but I was also growing to care about the ecological health of the space, from the compost, to the insects, to the lizards, to the birds; they mattered to me.
ER: Animals and insects are very much present but sometimes hidden in your photos, which seems to mirror our relationship with animals. What was it like searching for those creatures in your yard? Did invisible things become visible to you in the process?
EC: I think the natural assumption for most people is that not much is going on in the backyard. I was fascinated by the fact that the more time I spent in the space the more I saw; it wasn’t just things, it was processes as well. I knew when the house sparrows were mating and when to be looking out for fallen nestlings; we took several to a bird rescue. I knew where lizards were laying eggs in the yard and would be conscious to stay clear of the space so that I didn’t step on their eggs.
My “seeing” developed, I learned what to look for. Often times I was on my hands and knees looking or standing in my plants. I would go out at different times of day, so much happens just before the sun rises, so often times I would be outside waiting in the dark so as not to miss anything. To me the whole thing is resonant in the quote by Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” I had to learn to see in new ways. That has transferred to how I see the desert when I go out too.
ER: In addition to being a photographer, you are earning your PhD in sustainability. Would you explain how these pursuits intersect in your life and work?
EC: I find that the separating of the arts and sciences has done both of them a disservice. They are both fantastic and divergent ways of knowing the world. When I began the program my intention was to find ways to unite the two. I wanted to bridge the knowledge that is acquired in the sciences with the humanistic interrogations the arts bring to the dilemmas sustainability discourse is engaged in. In many ways, I’m picking up Leopold’s challenge to integrate ecology, ethics, and aesthetics for a holism that is necessary in sustainability. That holism needs rigor though. Herbert Simon states, “If we are to learn our social science from novelists, then the novelists have to get it right. The scientific content must be valid.” We are now in a space where, not only does the science need to be valid, the art must be salient as well. I take both endeavours seriously. For me, art and science are a discourse; my scientific learning helps push my art forward, usually by introducing new questions that I have to grapple with. Then I will make art and that process helps me reflect on the scientific questions I’m asking and how I feel about those questions. I can’t see myself doing one without the other; it would stunt my intellectual growth and creativity.
ER: Since completing “One Hundred Little Dramas,” what does your personal brand of sustainability look like?
EC: It has further grounded me in some of the ideas I had regarding sustainability. I find ecological literacy to be a critical component of understanding how we are in the world. I often felt that I had to somehow prove that art belonged in sustainability discourse. I think I’m beyond having to prove it. Now I am working towards what to interrogate with this way of knowing; it’s so powerful and underutilized right now. One of the big pushes for the project was exploring what an “ethic” looked like. This isn’t about judging people and classifying their actions as sustainable or unsustainable, but of understanding how an ethic develops. Leopold’s work resonates in a significant way for me. Through an ecological and aesthetic development of the backyard project I simultaneously began to understand how and why I cared about a space like the backyard. We go out to the wilderness to see nature and vistas, but the most intimate natural experience I found was the one in my backyard.
The most significant change however was understanding the importance of empathy. We speak a lot about human/environment interactions in sustainability but not about human/environment relationships. I think our relationship, how we care about the world is critical. I also feel we shy away from this idea because it sounds so unscientific and subjective; it’s hard to scale up empathy in a systematically controlled fashion. Nonetheless, if we are to be sustainable we actually have to care about a place. We need to have an intimate relationship with that place, get to know it like you would a friend. That means you can visit it regularly, see it change, know its hidden secrets. You can’t do this with vacation places but backyards are wonderful for this; you take care of them and they take care of you. There was a sense of loss when I moved. I think that’s a very powerful motivator for being more sustainable, having an emotional connection to a natural place.
Recently, s[r] posted Julie Matsen’s review of Becoming a Doctor: From Student to Speciaist, Doctor-Wrtiers Share Their Experiences by Lee Gutkind.
The overwhelming importance of storytelling in the medical field is reflected in Becoming a Doctor, within which we see what goes into the formation of a doctor. Perhaps I should not phrase it like that: Lee Gutkind, the editor of this anthology, describes doctors not as extraordinary people, but as “ordinary people engaged in an extraordinary profession.”
The anthology begins with Sayantani DasGupta’s description of the almost maniacal intern who hoards everything she can, from pens to patients and from scented soaps to dreamless sleep. Danielle Ofri describes the chasm between the sheer beauty of her dance classes and the agony associated with her patients during her second year of residency at Bellevue. Average resident Chris Stookey describes the dubious distinction of being the first in his residency class to be successfully sued for medical malpractice. Seasoned pediatrician Perri Klass, who has a son in medical school, encourages her students to pay close attention to the remarkable privilege that is getting to know a patient. With Thomas C. Gibbs, we see the magic behind a doctor’s hands. “If not me, then who,” geriatric specialist Zaldy S. Tan asks, will care for patients like his aging grandmother, who are only going to get more numerous as Baby Boomers get older? William Carlos Williams, another “American physician who happened to write,” is resuscitated by Robert Coles, who was inspired to become a doctor by his experiences with Dr. Williams.
Some may see the formation of a doctor as we see the creation of their trademark white lab coats, as something that can be formulated and documented. X number of years are spent as an undergrad, Y number in graduate school, Z number in residency. But a doctor’s calling is an inherently human profession, and is thus so much more than the sum of the parts. It is made of more than the student loans, the (hopefully occasional) lawsuits, and the long hours. It is more than the cries of agonized patients, the helpless hand-wringing in the family room. Postmortem, a doctor’s actions can be dissected with all of the clarity of hindsight, and we must proceed with the understanding (as Marion Bishop puts it) that becoming a doctor is a matter of supporting someone in an all-too-human way.
You can read our interview with Lee Gutkind in Issue 1.
During my time as a journalist, I’ve found that the hardest part of my job isn’t reviewing, or writing features: it’s the interview. An intimate one-on-one where anything can go wrong if you ask the wrong question (or the right question at the wrong time) can be nerve-wracking for first-timers (or even seasoned veterans).
I’ve interviewed dozens of people, and each time I do I get this horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. When this happens, I remember a few pieces of advice that I’ve heard over the years, and it helps put me at ease. Hopefully, this will help you with any future interviews that you may have to do.
1) Give a shit
This is probably the best piece of advice I’ve ever heard in regards to pulling off a successful interview. If you don’t care about what someone has to say or what they’ve done, your subject will notice it. They will pull away, mentally retreating from your interview, and your piece will suffer for it.
Listen intently, react to what the other person is saying. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most boring thing you’ve heard, or you don’t care about the topic. You’re there on assignment, and it’s your job to make sure that you get a solid interview. Even if you have to fake it, care about what you’re doing.
Research your subject before hand. Find out what they’ve done, who they work for, etc.
Prepare a list of questions that you can ask if you end up off topic to get you back on track. At least ten, just in case you lose your place.
An unprepared interviewer will fall on their face, and your subject will notice if you haven’t done your homework. If you go in blind, you will regret it.
3) Don’t be afraid to deviate from your prepared questions.
That said, don’t stick to your prepared list of questions for the duration of the interview. Let the conversation flow naturally, and you’ll be surprised where you’ll end up. I’ve gotten fascinating information out of subjects because they feel comfortable just talking – it’s a great way to get away from stock PR responses and delve right into the heart of what makes their work special
4) Don’t go for the big guns right away. Lead up to it.
A friend of mine was talking about an interview he had, where he had asked a rather hard-hitting question right off the bat. The subject was immediately on the defensive, and immediately shut off.
I interviewed the same person a few months later, and asked a very similar question, but lead up to it with a series of smaller, more broad questions to start with. I got a great, honest response from him, and it just became the next part of our conversation.
Be careful how quickly you try to go into “investigative journalist mode.” It can backfire on you very quickly.
Calm down. Take a deep breath. If you’ve prepared, have some questions ready, and just approach it as two people having a conversation, you’ll be fine. It may be a bit intimidating at first, but your subject is a person, just like you, and will appreciate an honest, genuine conversation with someone about their work. So loosen up and have fun with it!