Guest Post, Svetlana Lavochkina: The Winged Shackles

Svetlana LavochkinaImagine you are an unemployed cook from a different planet, and your job agency gives you the last chance on the Earth. You desperately want to do your best but the problem is that your alien metabolism is so different from the terrestrials that eating human food for you is like eating hot lava. So you replace taste and smell by sight and touch. You take beef, potatoes, eggs, vanilla, and treat them as if you were in a chemical laboratory and not in a kitchen. When you finish, you cannot even savor the boef stroganoff or the crème brulée you prepared. This is approximately what writing fiction in a foreign language is like.

A mother tongue is poured into babies, in the case of English, with the milk of Mother Goose. It is then honed through years of everyday washing in the language – from contrast showers of classical literature at school to TV bubble baths to puddles of teenage slang.

A normal writer using his native language casts off or alters usages deliberately to create something fresh, hitherto unread. A madman of a writer, a foreigner, is blissfully unaware of rules as such, trampling them with the innocence of an elephant in a porcelain store. It seems by pure accident that the resulting debris sometimes assumes interesting configurations.

Writing in a foreign language is scary – because, high up in the sky, there shine the suns of Conrad and Nabokov, and you feel as if below the earth’s surface, you are in the dark void. You fumble for every word, you suspect every sentence of malfunction, you make paranoia your writing method – crawling out of this darkness is a lifelong labor of Sisyphus.

The shackles of a foreign language give the writer a unique opportunity of refuge, of abandonment – soaring yonder and beyond in absolute freedom from one’s own ethos and culture, belonging nowhere, free from responsibilities, from shame and fear, obeying no laws.

My parents don’t speak English, neither do most of my friends, so I can assume a different persona while writing, as whimsical, arrogant or mischievous as I wish, something I would never dare to dream of on my native Russian territory, where every word is soaked in idiosyncrasy or taboo.

Working in English provides me both the necessary distance and intimate closeness so necessary for writing.  In a way that is as strange as some twist or turn in an alchemical formula, English is both a bridge and a home; a place to live in and journey toward.

Guest Blog Post, Cynthia Hogue: Thoughts on How Poetry Resists Suffering

Cynthia HogueFor Adrienne Rich (1929-2012), in tribute

Adrienne Rich, suffering from an excruciatingly painful and disabling disease, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, observed in her brief, haunting essay, “Voices from the air,” describing poetry’s peculiar relationship to suffering, “one property of poetic language [is] to engage with states that themselves would deprive us of language and reduce us to passive sufferers.” My opening sentence hesitates, interrupts itself, revises what I’ve just stated (or comments upon it), because I have previously had occasions to muse on poetry and suffering.  Not long ago, an anthology entitled Beauty Is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability included a brief essay about my revised relationship to Rich’s poetry upon contracting the disease from which she had suffered since childhood.  I quoted her poetry and referred to poems and the essay I love, “Voices in the air,” which became, during my own most physically painful years, words that guided me away from a passivist, physical suffering that had silenced me and back to poetic language.  I guess a simpler way of putting it would be to say that she has inspired me—that she was a life saver (in the sense of the life of the mind)—for most of my adult life!

If one wrote much on Rich when she was alive, one came to realize that she read and personally gave (or denied) permission to quote.  To my relief, I was always granted permission, and it was clear that she remembered accounts of my own illness when we met a decade ago.  I recall her smile as she came into the lobby, moving slowly, but holding herself with the dignified posture of pain.  We sat next to each other by a fountain in the luxurious Scottsdale resort hotel where she was a featured reader and I was, of all accidents, her host at a local conference.  We did not need many words to reflect awareness of the cognitive dissonance of the fancy resort.  Rather worse for wear, our bodies not bathing-suit worthy, we shared the experience of remembering our bodies every single minute of our lives because of pain.  We spoke of other things.  I’m grateful for those moments of fellowship with this great poet and feminist activist.  But it lulled me.

My last exchange with Rich was a fitting reminder of her exacting, poetic and ethical standards.  The brief essay I wrote for Beauty Is a Verb profoundly irritated her.  Although she gave her permission for me to quote her, she wrote the Permissions Editor at Norton (not me) that she wished “Ms. Hogue could find a less reductive way of articulating my poetry’s importance to her” than claiming the following:

I have been moved by poetry that conveys the essential.  I live with, contemplate Adrienne Rich’s poems and essays about having rheumatoid arthritis (as it happens, the very disease I have).  I never took in the details until I was myself living them.  Rich reported news I had no way to understand, because it was about a body’s experience I did not share, and described the indescribable (pain).  (BIAV 307)

“To my knowledge,” Rich wrote the Permissions Editor, “I have never written ‘about’ having RA.”  I had been happy with this little essay until I received Rich’s cautionary email warning me that my expression was reducing her poetry to her illness.  When I went back to the essay, to my horror, all the “abouts” leapt out at me like so many pointing fingers!  Thus were Rich’s final words directed to me, some months before she died of the complications of RA.  After the ashamed shock receded, I acknowledged her great-hearted, hard-won, and rigorous empathy.   To honor her, I must re-vision (in Rich’s well-known definition: to see with new eyes) my own engagement not only with her language, but also with my own.

And I wanted to share my musings on this experience, because it is in the spirit of poetry’s verbal precision and conscious attentiveness that we all may participate more care-fully in helping to carry on her legacy, to convey some part of the Rich heritage of all she gave us. 

Guest Blog Post, Elane Johnson: For the LOVE of the Language

Elane with FrappuccinoAs many writers know, we have to get a “real job” in order to keep those Strawberries & Crème Frappuccinos ® coming because those things ain’t cheap, and my thighs aren’t going to get fatter all by themselves. Wait a minute. That’s clearly not true. The longer I sit here doing jack, the more thunderous my thighs become. But I digress.

 

A real job. That’s where I was. There are many careers for which a writer would be a good fit, but just because we would be good at something doesn’t mean we should do it. Sure. I’d be the most celebrated WalMart manager south of Canada, but then I’d have to come home and self-flagellate at night to atone for the murder of my brain cells. So most writers without a multi-volume book deal about zombies coming of age during the apocalypse do that thing we do, which is teach.

 

I’ve many, many years of teaching under my tight belt, and there have been thrills and laughter and heart-warmth and breakthroughs and achievements and success and enormous paychecks that compensated me well for the services I’ve provided. Except for that last part. That’s bullshit. Anyone who teaches knows. Teachers—even those with an M.F.A. in creative writing—get paid squat to impart our wordsmith’s knowledge to hordes of students who may or may not capitalize the personal pronoun I. Yet we continue because A) We love our language and its beauty. B) We care about the success of our students. And C) Those Frappuccinos ain’t going to buy themselves.

 

The English language—while it is the most difficult of all the languages in the world to learn because of its plethora of rules and exceptions and integration of foreign words—thrills me with its lyrical malleability. My father and I played games with grammar all my young life so that I came to appreciate the ways in which a writer may play with the poetry of English. And my own children have blossomed in the linguistic soil their grandfather tilled. My younger daughter delights in learning and sharing new words. She recently dropped this one on me: Apricity. The word sounds lovely, and its meaning slays me. It is a perfect example of how the English language proffers just the right word for any instance. In this case, “the warmth of the sun in winter.” Isn’t that just breathtaking?

 

I rushed to the window that morning—the first of which in weeks the sun had finally burned through the snow-thick clouds—to luxuriate in the apricity.

 

Yes, yes. I know it’s an obsolete word and that we’ve moved on to such accepted terms as homie and vajazzle, for God’s sake, but still. Our language is a living entity, forever evolving (or devolving, it appears). But thank goodness our language throws back some of the “new” words that end up in its net, such as the words some of my students create because they learn primarily through hearing instead of reading. The most common, of course, is should of. Because those two words sound just like should’ve, it’s an oft-made error that makes me want to poke out my eyes with dull sticks. In the last week of grading papers, I’ve come across mind bottling and world wind romance. Lord, help me, but what the hell?

 

Aberrations like these are an affront to writers-who-must-be-teachers-in-order-to-eat everywhere! We poor, struggling souls toil like cats in a sandbox in our attempts to improve the writing skills of our charges. But c’mon! There is no excuse for college students NOT to capitalize I or to think that pit bulls have a “killer instant in them” or that “taking something for granite” means anything! The least that our students can do is to read, read, read excellent models of our language so that they can experience and emulate the right way to write (not the “rite way to wright”). And bringing us a Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino once in a while couldn’t hurt either.

Guest Blog Post, Connor Syrewicz: We Incomprehensible Screw Ups

Connor Syrewicz

There is a pervasive view in many humanities departments. In most instances, it goes unspoken: a common understanding of the timeless relevance of language. Language is the base, the supposition goes, if not at least the most immanent, collective construction of the world.

If the Lacanian psychoanalysts are correct, for example, than the moment that we, as children, begin speaking and collecting meaning from a system of signifiers, is also the moment when the impossibility of impossible categories (the impossibility of a mother, for example, being wholly Mother) begin to fully impress themselves upon our psyche.

This is only one permutation of this assumption. To put the question simply: of all the signifying operations—consider even the multiplicity of signifying operations that exist within only “the arts”—why should language be considered more (or less) expressive, affective, or relevant than any other?

Would language, on the other hand, be better considered one of many expressivities which populate the human capacity to be affected?  “I can only see what I have been trained to see through learning to say,” an adage that belies not merely preference nor belief but a refusal to acknowledge, sense, or experience—in short, be affected by—any expressivity of the world beyond that which finds its way to signify through language.

What does this humble reading of language’s relevance contribute to a creative writer? This is not a call to abandon language for any other signifying practice. Rather, it is a question of whether or not a thorough understanding of a multiplicity of signifying operations can increase the capacities of a creative writer.

We experimental linguists. Neologisms, misappropriated terms, aberrant rhythms, jargons— poetries—populate the landscape of a language affecting and being affected by the signifying expressivity of other communicable forces, repetitions, and patterns.

An active language, if not intentional, unsure feet tripping across slippery rocks; an uneven and unpredictable earth upon which signification is lain; contours emerge mapping novel striations—for a moment, a multiplicity of points wandering the surface connect; an intensity manifests and then scatters, driving new processes of intensification.

Rather than creative “writing” the operation that I am describing is more akin to that of a translator; a translation, however, is no simple event.

To philosopher Gilles Deleuze, a translation is paradoxical insofar as translating from, in our case, one signifying mode to another both passes on something of the original (which relates it back to the original and all other repetitions) while, at the same time, actively manifesting difference from the original and all other repetitions. Deleuze’s point is that Western thought has almost always privileged the same over that which changes. It has always treated evolution as an afterthought, a byproduct.

Deleuze, on the other hand, does not presume that sameness is what necessarily marks a repetition and, instead, proposes to track how repetition, on the contrary, operates as a vehicle for change. Like a phrase passed through children in a game of telephone; it is not a passive process. We do not simply mimic. We screw up. The phrase passes through a number of physiological, psychological, and neurological failures, mutations, mispronunciations, and, after only a few repetitions, the phrase is incomprehensible.

We incomprehensible screw ups. Change is no phenomenon which arises from the ether. It is out of our inability to repeat something exactly as it is, our screw ups, that processes continue and splinter in novel directions. If we no longer screw up, then an equilibrium is reached; an equilibrium which, for any creature, body or system, is synonymous with death.

The creative-writer-as-creative-translator, a linguist who who subjugates language to themselves, to the unimaginable screw ups which fuel processes and, at various speeds, make a phrase, a style, a tradition incomprehensible.

The creative-writer-as-creative-translator, lost in a sea of expressivities and signifying operations, chasing language like a whisper caught in a storm, trusting that the whisper will never stagnate, be found, or effortlessly offer itself to the senses; the writers of the new, of change, subjugating themselves to their screw ups in the hope that something truly relevant might emerge, a pack of dogs chasing off in one general direction and then, slowly, quickly, dissolving into many. We incomprehensible screw ups; we give language speed, the capacity to run, tripping and falling upon new gradations, hoping not to find our way.

Guest Blog Post, Bruce Cohen: Why I Read Poems

Bruce CohenThere are illusive, mysterious, hard to pin down ideas skirting away from us, on the periphery of understanding that cannot be expressed in prose, so next to sideways-glance silence, poetry is the best alternative. When I experience language in a way that forces me to witness disturbing aspects of the world or calms me in the undisturbed limbo outside of all else, or provides me with an insightful glimpse into myself, that insists that I consider the nature of life, I know I’m in the swirling Dust Devil of a real poem. I freely admit, my psychology is such that I am more comfortable being uncomfortable and vice versa as though the two were different, and perhaps they are, because poetry is always making finer and finer paradoxical distinctions. The world is infinitely more complicated and complex and unknowable than we are able to comprehend or articulate, so in those rare moments when I am darkly honest enough, with eyes that are not delusional, poetry is the linguistic vehicle by which I arrive at those almost impossible to grasp fleeting notions, emotions, psychological dilemmas, and vacancies of the heart. There is so much my intellect cannot solve and I am constantly in a state of awe.

I am curious how other people live; I’ve always assumed they are privy to some secret that I am excluded from. For me it is not an illogical leap to say I have no interest in poetry that I understand completely on the first reading, but it must quietly insist that I come back. It must be intellectually intriguing, be flirtatious, politely demanding. Allegedly, there are huge portions of our brains that go unused, untapped, and those are the hemispheres where poetry burrows, reproduces, creates its own microscopic civilizations and builds secret tree forts. Its contains its own logic and laws, both scientific and social, are designed by the citizens of poetry who are so diverse no two are alike, like proverbial snowflakes, but like aliens on a secret mission to earth, we recognize each other but rarely acknowledge one another. That’s why, sometimes, a stranger will offer to buy you a drink in a bar with no apparent ulterior motive. Naturally poetry has its own lingo and the buildings are often invisible and the landscapes change directions according to the seasons (we like to stare at eclipses without cardboard boxes), and the trees go by their first names, and their leaves change color on whim and there are always peepholes in fences and there is virtually no distinction between dreams and objective reality and we can paint with our eyes, our X-Ray eyes, and see what others cannot. Gravity is not a requirement!

What is so euphonious about echoes of sound? Does rhyme make a statement feel truer? Is truth more musical than lies? Is, as I think Frost said, the iamb the voice of God? If you’re reading this you are likely a serious reader of poetry. So, if you were to construct an anthology of your top 20 favorite poems, what would your choices say about you? If someone put a metaphorical gun to your head and demanded you shrink your list to 10, then five, then that solitary one, what would it be, and what would that one poem say about you, your esthetics, your artistic sensibility, who you are in your essence? How does that one poem define you? Perhaps you cannot be defined by one poem. Is your inner self indistinguishable from the poem, as though your hidden voice wrote it? Do you simply recognize yourself in the poem? Are you relieved there’s another human being in the world who feels as out of place as you? Is the poem so like you or so unlike you? Is it something you believe you could have written or something so beyond your artistic ability you could compose for infinity and never come up with that perfect turn of phrase, the way the poet captured that difficult to capture…what is it? My friend says poetry solves everything and I’d like to believe that that’s true. But if poetry is the solution, what is the dilemma? Why do we believe life is so difficult or is life that difficult? Do we even know the right questions? Of course there are horrible atrocities that have made the most religious among us question the very existence of God. Is our world arbitrary or is there some mysterious pattern we are simply not intelligent enough to understand? How does one become comfortable in a world where, clearly, goodness does not always prevail?

The world is so selfish nobody gets to live forever. Is the moment in the poem you love the timelessness, the sense that you can suspend time, that instant when you feel on the verge of understanding the secret to eternal life? But I like poems that make me smirk! So many poems fall short, so short. Maybe they shouldn’t have been read by anyone other than the person writing the poem. Maybe they shouldn’t have even been written. But writing a poem, even a failed poem, makes us feel more included in the world, more in control of our destinies. I hate to admit this, but most of the poems I read in literary journals, and I read a fair amount, leave me wondering what the editor saw in this poem. A poem that falls short for me is an insult and an assault and a salt in the wound of my artistic sensibility. I may as well watch reruns of my favorite sitcoms. I go to poetry to be surprised, awakened if you will, and shocked out of myself so I can find myself. I like poems smarter than I am. I am infinitely curious about the world and would love to understand it a little better. I want to feel like the first one to arrive at a party, before the host is ready, and be the last one to leave, when the hostess is pleading with me, with only a look, to please go home. She’s tired and has a hectic day tomorrow. She might say something she regrets, something she wishes she could take back. Yes, I have worn out my welcome. We are sitting there staring at one another. Her husband is starting to do the dishes, clanging the pots. I have ignored all the subtle and not so subtle clues. So, we open a fresh bottle of wine and begin to tell our life stories, the privately exclusive things we think, that which we have never told anyone before. Those are the poems I like: becoming comfortable in the discomfort, revealing something utterly untapped, never spoken before.

My favorite writers have a distinctive, unmistakably individual voice. I often harp on that point to students, but I have begun to think about voice more in terms of the way writers esoterically think before they censor themselves with the written word. That’s where the poem begins and ultimately where it exists. Aside from the fact that we suffer from odd, egocentric logic, and our minds jump or bounce or leap based on associative ideas and experiences, interweaving with our emotional distress or glee, or suffering, or resignation, what is going on in our lives and our own little language packets, the real problem is by the time a poet writes what she thinks, by the time her thoughts become voice, she had edited, filtered, altered, adjusted her language to be safer, more politically correct, not as dark or jarring. How can the intellectually inoffensive be more interesting or approach the truth? Please don’t confuse this idea with good manners. I am not suggesting you act impolite, walk up to an obese man in Wal-Mart and tell him he’s fat. A: he knows it. B: it’s mean. Why do we shy away from that which makes the potential reader uncomfortable? In a nutshell, we don’t want our readers to think badly of us, that we are cruel, or bigoted, or lazy, or ignorant. Please plug in any negative adjective that you would like. We seek safety when art should make us pose the most difficult questions we only ask ourselves when we wake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. As Jon Anderson, one of my teachers and a close friend said in his wonderful tongue-in-cheek poem—“The Secret of Poetry is Cruelty.” A poem cannot be so shy that it will not undress in front of you, but must be modest enough that it conceals something it will never share, only imply. A poem should contain an enormous Yes that spills & multiplies. And an understated No. Maybe good poem-ing should be so invisible that the reader sees only the world within the poem because we all know being in a state of wonder is more authentic than being in a state of knowing and only assholes claim to exist in the world of doubtlessness. I am perpetually unsure and the most intelligent among us are, undoubtedly, comfortable with ambiguity!

Guest Blog Post, Connor Syrewicz: Nothing-but-Language: Literary Theory and Creative Writing


“I cannot say what cannot be said, but sounds can make us listen to the silence.”
R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience

Connor SyrewiczHaving just graduated from a research university, this seems like a convenient forum to reflect on the intersection of what became my main fields of study: literary theory and creative writing. What has struck me most profoundly after my four years (and what this article is in reaction to) is that philosophers are better creative writers than the creative writers are. I would levy a guess that few people could find more beautiful lines written, think what you will of their theories, than those of the first chapters of Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus. And is there a writer—literary, creative or otherwise– who has ever conveyed the sublime joy of linguistic play better than the dense complexity of Jaques Derrida? While this list could be endless, after four years of studying literature, I came to be left with this question: How is it that those who wrote about literature became superior to those actually writing it?

For those of us unfamiliar and those of us repelled (perhaps rightly so) from theory and philosophy by its urgency or self-importance, ‘literary theory’ predicates a multi-disciplinary basis of insights (philosophical, sociological, linguistic) centered loosely around  language. In university literature programs, it functions in so far as pursuits in knowledge parallel to literature can draw a critical focus on how a reader experiences language (for the act of reading is at essence an experience of language). At its best, theory in the context of literary criticism belies the question: what of my experience (of reading) belongs to me (of course, what am I?) and what belongs to the words themselves?

Hardly approached, the question remains. What is the use of literary theory for a creative writer?

Few neither before nor since have made the point more radically than Julie Kristeva, a French semiologist: literature does not exist. There is only language. In The Ethics of Lingustics she approaches the linguistic community with an object of ‘poetic language’ (i.e. language which does not assume first and foremost communication as its goal) and follows by positing that from this view, all language is always already-poetic .

Suddenly, walls fall. Ernest Hemingway runs screaming through Tucker Max’s kitchen. Sigmund Freud is washing his hands after taking a shit in Ariana Huffington’s bathroom. A how-to manual is telling a joke to a poorly written blog post while standing in line behind a coffee table book about pop art. ‘Poetic language’ is the ambiguous line at which language approaches but never meets meaning absolutely nothing. ‘Poetic language’ is a kaleidoscope through which all writing, especially that which makes such pretensive strides at considering itself ‘creative’ writing, becomes exactly what it is: nothing-but-language.

We creative writers should be (and sometimes are: http://poeticjabberwocky.blogspot.com/2010/06/my-favorite-legal-terms-that-sound.html) looking on in a jealous rage at the rate at which scientists and lawyers create language in their everyday pursuits (‘dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane’ pulled from a schizophrenic need to find this chemical distinct from that chemical, ‘habeas corpus’ kept from the linguistic grave that is ‘dead’ language).

Creative writers! Do not fall prey to genre-writing, forcing language between some minimum and maximum point at which it is allowed to mean anything. Creative writers! We are the linguistic scientists of our time. Let us allow our vast, oft-loved and romanticized empty pages become the playful laboratories of language itself. And as we, childish scientists, send language through our experiments, meant to prove nothing at all, only valid if results cannot be repeated, creative writing becomes all that it already is and ever hopes to be: language. Not stories or narrative or characters (not that these things need to be avoided) but tone and rhythm and rhyme and meter and lineation and alliteration: just language. Beautiful, playful, surprising language. Nothing- but-language.

Guest Post, Gregory J. Wolos: Dear Story

Gregory WolosDear Story—

It’s over between us. We knew it would come to this, and the news that you’ve been accepted by a new lover is a bittersweet reminder of what we once meant to each other.

It’s with an effort, Story, that I remember our first days together: you showed up at the back doorstep of my awareness—naked, untamed, willful—dangerous! You entered my life as a vague notion, a possibility. How could I resist falling passionately and obsessively in love? For weeks I could think of nothing else but you. Friends knew—they saw it in my inwardly turned eyes, my inattention to their conversation. “Not again,” they warned, shaking their heads. They know me to be a destructive lover.

And they were right—I followed my old patterns. It wasn’t enough to cherish you as you came to me—I had to try to change you. I insisted that you look a certain way: with fierce demagoguery I controlled your language; you spent time only where I allowed; only those individuals I chose for you were permitted inside your paragraphs. Worst of all, nearly every time we met I questioned your size. Trim down, I commanded, tighten up—what will others think? Yes, my lost love, I confess, how you appeared to others was always a priority—when they appraised you, what would they be thinking of me?

Can you believe that I was only searching for your heart? Can you believe the paradox of my love—my efforts to improve you were intended to prepare you to be loved by someone else.

Then, Story, you were nearly done. How old the new looks in retrospect. The truth is, in our last moments together, even as I straightened your seams, swept your hair from your eyes, and corrected with a finger wag the last imperfection of your speech, I was already forgetting you! “Finished” is a cruel word, dear Story. I sent you away, and you didn’t object. I forgot about you, until your new lover wrote: “Is Story available? We love her and want to feature her in our pages.” And without a moment’s pause I’ve given you up. It’s a formality—our end was born in our beginning.

It will be months before I see you again, Story. Our names will be paired, but you’ll no longer belong to me. My eyes will scan your glittering new font and narrow, justified columns, but I won’t read you. I’ll have archived your heart. Acquaintances will quote you to me, and I’ll look at them, confused. “Who?” I’ll ask. “What?”

I’ll be listening for the backdoor laughter of a new lover.

So, Story, adieu—forgive my fickleness—even the brief flirtation I’ve shared with this letter has cooled. It’s all part of the game.

Your Author,
Gregory J. Wolos

Meet the Review Crew: Evan Lopez

Evan Lopez is currently a sophomore at Arizona State University pursuing a degree in English Creative Writing with a concentration in Fiction. As a content coordinator at Superstition Review he is responsible for overseeing submissions in fiction and art, as well as copy editing, proofing past issues, inputting new content, and more. He’s hoping to use the experience he gains at the magazine to help him as he pursues a career in publishing.

Born and raised in Southern California, he hopes to attend graduate school abroad or on the east coast where he will be able to experience new people and places while furthering his education. In his free time, he enjoys dabbling in songwriting and music production. He has always admired all genres of music and the way that musicians use language in beautifully unexpected ways. He hopes to be able to incorporate his love of music into his future studies and career.

Growing up, he had always wanted to be a writer and was inspired by the work of Ayn Rand, J.K. Rowling, Ray Bradbury, George Orwell, Richard Adams, and Kurt Vonnegut. Eventually, he hopes to publish his work and inspire and connect with readers in the same way that he was inspired by his favorite authors.

Meet the Review Crew: Mai-Quyen Nguyen

Mai-Quyen Nguyen is a junior at Arizona State University, majoring in English with a concentration in Fiction and pursuing a certificate in Technical Communication. She is a Fiction Editor for Superstition Review, which is her first role at the online literary magazine. Not only is she seeking to gain experience with the editing and publishing industry, but she is also hoping to develop relationships and build networks.

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area in California, she moved to Arizona to study nursing. However, her career plan changed when she fully realized her passion to write and edit. Language and words are multifaceted; people communicate through both spoken and written words and she wishes to affect the lives of others through her own.

What Mai-Quyen finds fascinating about writing is the bond it creates between the writer and the reader. Regardless of how deeply literature is read, people take away different meanings. Writing searches for the truth, a concept that humans sometimes find difficult, and Mai-Quyen seeks to find who she is through literature.

One story that has changed her life is “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison. She enjoys not only the works of contemporary authors such as Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Stuart Dybek, Jim Shephard, and John Irving, but also those of John Green and Ernest Hemingway. Inspired by Hemingway, Mai-Quyen is interested in exploring his theory of omission, or the Iceberg Theory, in her works.

Aside from writing fiction, Mai-Quyen likes to compose lyrics and on occasion, poetry. She grew up as a performer: she sang in her elementary school and high school choir, swing danced in elementary and middle school, acted during middle school, and took piano lessons for seven years. Although she is no longer committed to those activities, she continues to play the piano in her spare time.

After graduating from ASU, Mai-Quyen plans to apply to Columbia University to earn an MFA in Fiction. She aspires to become a book editor and a literary fiction author. She dreams to have her work published and read across the world, evoking a positive response on her audience who will gain valuable lessons from her stories.

The Shape of the Eye, Memoir by George Estreich

George Estreich, poet and author of “Shape of the Eye”

Issue 7 contributor George Estreich recently published a new memoir, The Shape of the Eye, in which he describes the blessings and challenges of raising his daughter Laura, who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Estreich is known for his book of poems, Textbook Illustration of the Human Body, which won the Rhea and Seymour Gorsline Prize from Cloudbank Books.

While writing Shape of the Eye Estreich was faced with new challenges, both technically and personally. Having a strong background in poetry, Estreich found writing a memoir to be both a foreign and familiar experience: “When I wrote poems, I was mainly concerned with language, line by line and word by word […] In a way, I was still writing poetry, trying to get each sentence right, to find the right word and metaphor and form. At the same time, those formal choices became part of a larger goal.”

Creative nonfiction can have its own challenges, especially when the topic is so personal. Estreich commented on that intimate quality of Shape: “It’s odd to have written so much autobiographical work, in poetry and prose, because I think of myself as a private person. So there was a tension between necessary truth-telling and privacy. Also, if one is writing about people one cares about, and one acknowledges that true stories can do harm to relationships, then writing and family are in tension too. Storytelling is an ethical act. I don’t have a formula for resolving these tensions, and I don’t think there is one, but these issues were never far from mind.”

Despite the challenges creative nonfiction presents, Estriech found that, “in writing nonfiction prose about Laura, [he] wanted to be, in a small way, an agent of change.” Estreich goes on to say, “I wanted to raise questions about what “normal” meant, and to raise the question of who counts in our society. More specifically, I wanted to oppose a complex and singular portrait of Down Syndrome to the generic, medically ratified portrait that most people know.”

Estreich’s memoir has received attention from both the medical and literary fields. He has spoken and presented excerpts of the novel at the Willamette Valley Down Syndrome Association, the Spring Creek Conference on Nature and the Sacred, and the World Down Syndrome Conference in Vancouver. Estreich remarked: “I don’t know what effect Shape has had, but I hope it’s been positive. I do know that the responses to the book so far have been very gratifying, from other parents and from medical professionals. I’ve spoken to a number of medical audiences, and am always glad to have the chance to answer questions and have the necessary conversations. In general, I’ve found an extraordinary amount of goodwill, which reflects the goodwill Laura seems to inspire in person. This isn’t to say that attitudes don’t have a long way to go, about Down Syndrome or disability in general. But as a writer and a father, I’ve been very happy with the response to my book so far.”

The Shape of the Eye is a finalist in the 2012 Oregon Book Award for creative nonfiction and has been nominated for a Reader’s Choice Award (you can vote online for the memoir here). You can read an excerpt from Shape of the Eye and find out more information on George Estreich’s webpage.