Today we are pleased to announce news about past SR contributor Irena Praitis. Irena’s newest collection of poetry, titled “Rods and Koans,” is now available for purchase from Red Mountain Press. Of the book, poet Alberto Ríos notes, “From elemental odes to precise definitions, rather than each acting in a vacuum, it’s the imaginative connectivity bridging differences that pulses in the heart of this collection. Through these pieces, we are edged toward a better grasping of the great jigsaw that is this world.”
It is with a heavy heart that we here at Superstition Review would like to remember Adrian C. Louis, who passed away September 11, 2018. Louis was a two time contributor with us and we’d like to express our most heartfelt condolences to his loved ones. It was an honor to read and share his remarkable work. Here is Louis’ poem “Brother Bear,” which was published in our first issue.
ASU’s Creative Writing Program is so excited to present its brightest, most talented alumni writers in this new series, the Stellar Alumni Reading Series. In this installment, Irena Praitis (MFA 1999; PhD 2001) and Bojan Louis (MFA 2009) will read from their work.
The reading will take place Thursday, October 26 from 7pm to 8:30pm in the Cochise Room of the Memorial Union on the ASU Tempe campus. A book signing will follow the reading – Bojan Louis is the author of Currents, and Irena Praitis is the author of The Last Stone in the Circle.
In Currents, Louis discusses the kinetic dissonance of the contemporary struggle to coexist with self-inflicted eroding environments. In The Last Stone in the Circle, Praitis chronicles experiences of prisoners in a WWII German work re-education camp based on eye-witness accounts. The synopsis details, “Delving into the murkiness of human experience in the face of suffering, the poems consider the complicated choices people make in impossibly difficult circumstances and explore the sheer resilience of survival.”
This event is free and open to the public. We previously featured this event in our Contributor Updates because Irena Praitis was featured in our very first issue – read her poems in Issue 1 here.
Today we are pleased to announce that past contributor Irena Praitis and future contributor Bojan Louis will be featured in The Stellar Alumni Reading Series on ASU’s Tempe campus.
Irena Praitis will be reading from her latest book titled The Last Stone in the Circle. The collection of poetry is based on eyewitness accounts and chronicles experiences of prisoners in a WWII German work re-education camp. Purchase a copy of The Last Stone in the Circle from Small Press Distributionhere. Bojan Louis will read from his forthcoming book Currents, which encompasses the kinetic dissonance of the contemporary struggle to coexist with self-inflicted eroding environments.
For more information about the reading click here.
Read two of Irena’s poems in Issue 1 of Superstition Reviewhere.
Garfield is a small city in northern New Jersey, not far from Manhattan, that sits on the Passaic River. This is the same Passaic River that William Carlos Williams wrote about in Paterson and the same Passaic River my grandmother repeatedly wanted us to throw her into: “I don’t want to be a bother – just throw me in the river.” Garfield is still a very blue-collar place with a large Polish population, enough so that the early Easter Mass at St. Stanislaus’ my grandmother would take us to was conducted in Polish. She was the only one of us who understood anything other than the three Polish words the rest of us knew: Jezus, Chrystus, and Amen. It was, and I imagine still is, an unusual place to find oneself thrust into poetry.
20 years ago or so, in Garfield, there used to be a bar on River Road, running along the Passaic, which tried very hard to be Tony Soprano-ish before there ever was a Tony Soprano. On one night a month, though, they hung a thin scrim to separate the bar from a small area with tiny circular tables and an even smaller stage and held poetry readings. My first dose of poetry outside of a high school classroom (and the worn copy of Oscar Williams’ Immortal Poems of the English Language that I carried around with me for years) was on those nights when I would sneak into that bar. I don’t know how many normal 18 year-olds sneak into bars to see poetry readings, and don’t actually buy a beer, but few poets that I know are what most people would categorize as normal anyway.
Essence, the student-run literary journal from William Paterson College (now University) is still put out every year (to the best of my knowledge) and most of the readers were students whose work made it into those pages. The thrill of sitting in that bar, someplace I shouldn’t have been anyway, with the lights low, tea candles lit at the tables, and real live poets reading their work just feet away created a seismic shift somewhere inside of me that previously had been used for common sense and sound decision making. I had wanted to study film, or go to art school, but sitting in that bar, holding a copy of that little magazine filled with poets who were never heard from again but remain larger than life to me today, utterly convinced me that I was going to be a poet.
Of course back then there was never a thought of MFA programs or AWP or competing for residencies or fellowships. There was never even a thought of actually publishing a poem beyond making a bunch of copies of some 8 ½ by 11 sheets at the library to hand out to friends (and I’m not sure I even realized that there were magazines that published poetry). This was before email, so we would have to hand deliver or mail poems to each other and we kept them in different colored folders separated by which ones we thought were real poems and which ones were just cool. And then we’d occasionally sneak into the bar.
I vividly recall one night where one of my favorite poets (whose name I no longer recall and I doubt I even knew then) read a poem about waiting for a train, backed by a guy playing a standup double bass. It was like the poetry reading scene from So I Married An Axe Murderer. Later, another reader started reciting his poem from the back of the room, slowly walking towards the stage holding a lit candle. He finished the poem as he reached the stage, then turned toward all of us and blew out the candle. Our minds were collectively blown.
Of course as soon as I was a regular I got pinched by a new guy working the door and was told never to come back. I tried to explain that I was just there for the poetry. He laughed. Hard. So I drove away and found a diner to sit in and drink coffee.
Now, having two very little kids, I don’t get to as many readings as I used to, but I still manage to get to the KGB Bar in New York every other month or so. Some days I sort of miss that innocence, that feeling that everything ahead was going to be new. But that’s the beauty of poetry, even this many years into it: there is always something new. So even as I write this, waiting for the blizzard that will apparently slam into the entire Northeast, I’m thinking about finding a good poetry reading next week, and maybe trying to sneak in.
You have heard it all before: No one reads anymore, buys books anymore, supports small presses anymore. Fiction is taking a beating from crass consumerism and poetry has been bludgeoned to death by a stylized ennui that has no patience for long sentences like this one. Plays are either musicals or revivals of musicals. Anyone untalented can publish anything bad at any time in any format so no one has time to find the good writing. The whole culture of American literature is in one sorry state. Why should you—why should anyone—bother to write at all?
I am here to tell you that your poetry/short stories/essays/plays/novels—whatever your creative writing genre happens to be—matters. That your contribution to making the culture of our time matters. That your devotion to the craft of writing and your efforts to sit down and write with considered purpose and focus, or as Lucille Clifton has said, with majorintent, matters.
I can say all this to you with some impunity because I have witnessed firsthand how the power of language—despite the protestations of all the cynics and the naysayers—moves audiences and readers in profound ways.
In 2012 I was nominated for U.S Professor of the Year, an awards program sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE). Of the award, The Chronicle of Higher Education writes: “The honor is the nation’s most prestigious teaching award.”
However, as a poet and a community college professor who teaches creative writing and women’s studies, I was certain I would never win such an award. I was certain I would not win—not because I was insecure or doubted my abilities as a poet and teacher, but precisely because I believed these abilities were at best misunderstood and, at worst, completely disregarded by most of America.
I only completed the application for the award because the very earnest and very sweet student who nominated me insisted that I do so. She sat in my office with her moon-eyes and her Tinkerbell-sweet voice insisting that I simply had to fill out the application which, as it turned out, wound up taking me 20-plus hours to complete. I simply did not have the heart to tell her no. And even as she thrust the application material into my hand, I told her yet one more time that I was not going to win. “Poets don’t win these kinds of awards, Carolyn. Please don’t be disappointed when I don’t win. I’m not going to win.”
But she was right and I was wrong. I did win.
In fact, I am the first national winner of this award that Arizona has ever had in any category. As a national winner, I was asked to give a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. to an audience that included the U.S. Under Secretary of Education as well as college presidents and chancellors, deans and professors from all over the country.
Indeed, during the last few years I’ve had other successes, awards and honors, all of which have given me opportunities I would never have imagined possible when I was first starting out as a serious writer.
I have been invited to give poetry readings, speeches and workshops to audiences across the country, and I have seen the cultural cynics proved wrong many times over. As I look into the faces of strangers whose eyes seem to lock onto mine with an intensity I find both humbling and scary, I have learned—rather I have re-learned—that language used with “major intent” is still a powerful, transforming force. People tell me they are moved by my words. People tell me they have been changed. People tell me the words matter.
So, to all of you who are sitting down today to write with major intent, know that your efforts—though solitary and so often fraught with frustration, longing and despair—matter. Know that there may be one person or whole rooms of strangers who need and want to hear what you have to say. It matters to them the work you do.
I came across an elderly man at the local sandwich store. He had swollen ankles and thin gray hair. His skin was white like paper, with the occasional splotch on his face. I made eye contact with him and smiled somewhat kindly, motioning for him to come sit at my table. He didn’t smile but nodded and came over. I asked him if he lived around here, and he said he lived off of MacArthur Boulevard, near the cross section of High Street. I knew this area well. I took casual carpool every day at that corner, and had been to a dinner recently at a house just down the street. Anyways, I asked the elderly man what his name was. He said “Harold” and I introduced myself. He asked me what I did, and I told him I worked with mentally disabled children at a school in the hills. He could tell I hated it. I explained to him it wasn’t the children who bothered me, but the administration and the way the teachers were treated. Regardless, Harold listened. He told me he enjoyed taking photographs and had taken up his own venture into landscape and garden photography after he retired. Being a painter myself, I was interested in seeing his photographs. He invited me to visit and have coffee at his house in a neighborhood known as Maxwell Park the following weekend. I agreed haphazardly, but was pretty sure about being there.
I arrived at Harold’s house on Saturday, and his house was a large white New England-style colonial appearing out of place within a row of Spanish-style, one-story houses lining the street. Because it was late rain season when I first saw the house, the small front yard was muddy with puddles and soaked grass. The house met tall fir trees on its left, and to its right was a small patch of grass sloping down to a ravine. Harold knew what time I was arriving and walked out a door near the back. Jade plants were scattered to the left and right of the dirt driveway. The back porch was where Harold usually entered the house, it seemed, so he gestured with his hand to follow him in. We went inside and, while in the kitchen, he showed me some photographs he had taken on the walls. They were portrait-sized photographs of dried flowers, in sepia and dark violet. One particularly stuck out to me. It was of a dried jasmine and wild rose bouquet. They had been framed by wood panels which were starting to lose its varnish. The light in the room was too dull to make the photograph have any bright character, which I liked. While I was roaming around the corridor of photographs, I opened up a door that led to the closet in the kitchen. The door was dressed in an old coat of paint. On the side of the door, markings had been scrawled. Upon closer examination, I noticed they were markings that denoted the height of Harold. The first marking said “6’2 / 3-15-1971” and the one right below it said “6’0 / 8-14-1976”; upon further looking, I noticed how the scrawl continued to descend down in date until there were no more markings. It stopped somewhere around 5’6”.
I glanced over at him and noticed he was looking out his living room window towards his garden. Something about the appearance of his self cast against the glass struck me peculiarly. The longer he stood there the more apparent something became. His body was vacant from the living room. His reflection, which had been faint before began to color in more deeply. His skin became pink in the face, his hair a darker, but still grey, grey. Around his shoulder glowed a green line, which seemed to trace the rows of hedges outside in the driveway. His ear began taking on the contour of the lilies hanging outside, which appeared just ready to drop. It was then that I realized he was no longer measurable in terms of feet and inches, but to where his body ended and other forms began.
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.
This week on Goodreads.com we featured a review by our Poetry Editor, Abner Porzio.
Snow Water Cove by Jeannine Savard
Simply superb from start to finish! Poet Jeannine Savard’s debut poetry collection Snow Water Cove is both pleasant and fascinating. The mastermind’s affinity with nature makes the ineffable more tangible. The elusiveness of childhood is examined realistically through nostalgia.
Savard’s colorful speakers and characters, spectacular settings, profound prefigurative language (plot), place readers in the landscapes of the soul. Locale influences the fullness of possibilities, provides wakefulness changes that prove to be transcendental. Savard’s attentiveness to imagery raises alertness. Inquiry, meditative qualms, and accurate observations render the perfectly nuance of uncertainties and certainties.
Whether it’s Savard’s speaker’s question if one can dream the same dream twice in her poem “CLASSICISM ON THE WATER,” or if it’s the respondent’s absolute certainty of disbelief, the reader can be the witness such paradoxical moments. Nor can one deny the moment flesh heals itself. This fact as well as the news of a deadly accident arrives in her poem titled “THE STITCH.” The naive child may see the world with all its innocence; however, Savard’s adult speakers make sense of caramelized identities and roles within the mythical community while exploring what it feels like to define the boundaries and limitations of returned to memories and also learned physicalities.
Savard’s eloquent style, her sophisticated descriptions unfold with deep harmonious ideas intertwined masterfully. Purified meditative lyrics can be found ever so resonating, can be heard for example in her title poem “SNOW WATER COVE”: “The blond violin resting/ In the glass case shines as no other, a face/ In wintertime lifting off a stretcher.” What cadence! Meditational poise lyrically composed, gorgeous music between the lines; elegant euphony, eloquently put language and diction heightens these poems. Also technical satisfaction can be found with Savard’s effects of not using punctuation at the end of her lines.
Some lines that I really enjoyed:
“I’ll learn/ To breathe another way just as my eyes/ Will sharpen, cut a precise line/ Wide enough for my whole body/ To slide through to the other side.”
“For acquiring the sense of something new,/ Something on the verge of becoming, and the names,/ Say, the yellow burrs of sticktight, I prize/ Will have more to do with the water they drink,/ With the steps we didn’t take, taken from us,/ Gladly.”
“The sky/ Was too blue ever to be real, overexposed/ And as thick as a wall painted over/ By generations.”
“As I stand on the shore holding the hand/ Of someone who feels like an ancestor./ We are without faces here. We are the stars/ We look at.”
Superstition Review is fortunate to have published Jeannine’s poetry twice! You can read her work in our Issue 1 and in Issue 7. Enjoy!
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Jim Daniels.
Jim Daniels is the winner of the Blue Lynx Poetry Prize for his book, Revolt of the Crash-Test Dummies (Eastern Washington University Press, 2007). In addition, he has edited or co-edited four anthologies, including Letters to America: Contemporary American Poetry on Race, and American Poetry: The Next Generation. He has received the Brittingham Prize for Poetry, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and two from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His poems have appeared in the Pushcart Prize and Best American Poetry anthologies. He is the Thomas Stockman Baker Professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University, where he directs the Creative Writing Program.