Join Superstition Review in congratulating past contributor Matthew Gavin Frank on his forthcoming book. Matthew will be releasing Flight of the Diamond Smugglers: A Tale of Pigeons, Obsession, and Greed Along Coastal South Africa on February 23, 2021.
Equal parts memoir and investigative reporting, the latest from Frank … is a page-turning tale of suspense…With novelistic writing, Frank masterfully weaves a fast-paced history of South Africa’s Diamond Coast, and the impact of De Beers controlling both the land and the government. His thorough reporting on mineworkers, their pigeons, and towns that have struggled in the wake of mine closures makes for compelling reading. The author excels in allowing people to speak for themselves, adding personal touches to a history of greed and trauma. VERDICT Frank writes a fascinating story of grief and history that will draw readers in from the first page. Must-read narrative nonfiction.
I’ve been thinking about spice. As vine, as flower. As catastrophe in the mouth. As some kind of biological confusion. The duping of the blood, the forcing of it to the tops of us. The feeling faint, the feeling amorous. The disintegration of the tongue, even though it’s all we can do to keep from kissing anything that moves. Even the Kokopelli tablecloth in our dining room. The window’s open. It’s unseasonably warm. I had too much red chile sauce on my Sonoran Hot Dog this morning.
This is Arizona and the saguaros are wilting; Arizona, where the hot dog shuns the boiling, demands the comal. In this: 30 horrible jokes about how it’s a dry heat.
Here, in the Sonoran Hot Dog, everything assimilates: cotija cheese to onion, red chile to mayonnaise, tomatillo to tomato. This is what we tell ourselves.
In Hermosillo, the Yaqui Indians dance dances named after the coyote. In Phoenix, we allow even our hot dogs to hurt us.
There’s a hunchbacked flute player on my tablecloth, playing to my fertility. I wonder what this has to do with my longing for ketchup and mustard.
I’m keeping from kissing the tablecloth. From taking it into my mouth. Tablecloth as spice blotter, as shroud. As if, post-spice, the tongue is grieving. Sonoran hot dog as a blurring of borders. As both brain and heart. As American as manzana pie. As the pig graffiti’d in chili-cheese. I will say nothing of the encased, or defaced. It’s too hot to speak about the heat.
In Hermosillo, you can top your Sonoran Hot Dog with pineapple, with avocado, with chorizo, with poblano crema. In Arizona, you can perfume your neck with saguaro flower essence, in order to, according to Sonoran Alchemy (Let the Essence of the Desolate Uncover the Essence of You ™), “balance your masculine and feminine attributes… help in working through power struggles with parental or authority figures… and, like a true father, help us see how we can help ourselves,” while you eat your Sonoran Hot Dog.
I help myself to too much red chile. You blow hot air over my nape. If you blow hot air over my nape, why do I shiver?
The Sonoran Hot Dog as all confusions of the body.
The tongue as false father, the Sonoran Hot Dog as sexually confused. The saguaro is braced to praise or punish, hands on its hips, hands in the air. It calls penis, penis, penis through the window. I’m not sure if this is ridicule, or advice.
My mouth hurts. I want to kiss. It’s hot, and I’m in the Sonoran, and there are no yellow leaves here, nothing to remind me of ketchup, mustard, any less spicy sauce. If there were yellow leaves here, every yellow leaf but three would have fallen from the maple in the backyard. This big-ass eyelet of yellow on the lawn, the tree itself the stick jammed into the iris—precisely the shit they warned us about at recess all those years ago, back when I lived in the Midwest. Ronald Jarrell lost an eye that year. Lucio Aguilar too. Mr. Basofin, the principal, that winter banned snowball fighting. We all stood around, whistling, holding our snow. Hot dogs holding their mysteries in the casing, the chile confusing the mouth—mystery eats mystery. I can’t make sense of these things. Can’t tell how blindness informs assimilation. Can’t tell what depth perception has to do with the Sonoran Hot Dog—the eating of it from the top down. And: Open windows, yellow leaves, a little rain, spice? The maple is a cactus. The snow, red dust. And lawn?! If it rains here, we have to double up on the most surprised of our vowels. The hot dog is meant to be eaten horizontally, you tell me, but I’m not sure how you know this. But we know this: When it rains here, we call it monsoon.
The heat outside as authority figure, as sheriff. The heat in my mouth as my true father. Outside, the brush dances in the wind, and some wild canine tears the throat of the javelina. Moaning pigs communing with other moaning pigs. Each moving closer to the bun.
The brush as lit from the inside. The lovely creosote as creosote burning.
The Sonoran Hot Dog as stereotype made dangerous. As the sort of communion that makes us scream before accepting…
Hydrochlorofluorocarbons dripping from the walls like malarial perspiration, we eat our dressed-up hot dogs in the shuddering, weakening A/C. The spice beats in our temples like a machine gun.
In spice, a confusion of identity. How, when the sun burns us, we feel cold.
Here, in this kind of heat—no trees—even the hot dog needs a costume.
The hot dog as inappropriate chills, as trying so hard to contain its violence. As a racist sheriff in need of window-dressing. As a demand for papers. As tortured criminal, red chile sauce as his monster mask.
In the summer of 2005, Phoenix decided to ice its 120-degree cake with a pair of simultaneously-operating serial killers: The Baseline Killer (or Baseline Rapist, so named for his prowling of Baseline Road, who escalated his criminal activity from robbing at gunpoint a Little Caesar’s Pizzeria to murder, and who disguised himself in a Frankenstein mask, or as a homeless man, and raped his targets before shooting them in the head) and the Serial Sniper (or Serial Shooter—who later turned out to be two men, or shooters—who began blowing away dogs and horses before going randomly after human pedestrians, especially those on bicycles, a vehicle which, at the time, served as my primary mode of transportation to and from work at Arizona State University). My wife would wring her hands until I came home from talking with other nerds in a cinderblock classroom about the poetics of space. The entire city was gripped in this fist of fear, this cult of anxiety about setting foot outdoors into the be-pricked and be-bulletted heatwave, the communion with Son of Sam a pale conferva indeed.
The spice shooting the hot dogs from our mouths. This landscape of sand as a neat trick. Indeed.
Now, I can’t tell if it’s the spice that invades the hot dog, or the hot dog that invades the spice. Can’t tell creosote from algae, the plant from the meat.
Now, I can’t tell if it’s the spice that’s the flower/vine, or the hot dog. Which has the longer stem. In what part of us, it is planted.
Here, the kudzu uses other plants as its grow-base in order to invest the least amount of energy in reaching the sunlight. Here, the kudzu is known as an “invasive exotic.”
Here, for the light, the plants mask themselves in other plants. Here, too much light yields the burning, and the burning begins with the smoke.
Mascara means “mask,” or, literally, “more face.” During early carnivals, behind a mask, one could be who one wanted, do anything one wanted (from illicit sexual escapades to murder), and would not be held liable. In the mask, is the pardon.
The Sonoron Hot Dog is not liable for its spice.
Disguise means “off-style.” Costume means “custom.” These are meant to be opposites. Linguistically-speaking, we mask our costumes in disguises.
Something outside of our window is burning. On your breath, something so much more than the hot dog. You’re hot, and confused, so you pull the blanket around you. In this is confused theory, and a spicy mouth craves the sort of water that will not cool it down.
The bun as more efficient cooling tool. Your breath as inadequate to uprooting the saguaro.
Camouflage means “puff of smoke” or “to blow smoke in someone’s face.” No one knows where Sonora comes from. Its origins are merely theoretical. Some feel it’s the Yaqui pronunciation of señora (in response to an image of Nuestra Señora de las Angustias, or Our Lady of Anguish). Others feel it’s a Spanish mispronunciation of the Yaqui term sonot, or natural water well. Like Water to Anguish, each theory is inadequate to the other.
In home, in home, in home is ownership. In ownership, an assertion of dominance. Dominance sweet dominance.
So, we dig beneath the toppings to find a sense of home, the home being closest to the bread. The bread as tablecloth as spice blotter as the soaking of one thing into another thing. The awful stain into the purity of the napkin. This is also what we tell ourselves. The home as the familiar hot dog, the familiar as the familial, the home as the thing we, be-masked, stole for ourselves. Words like destiny and birthright confused as whether to be the blotter or the blotted, the costumes, or the disguises.
So, we praise, we punish, we rise like the vines:
At the Phoenix Wells Fargo, I fill out a deposit slip for $165.00. A young mother in a green neoprene kerchief (Dragonfly Salon is just around the corner) walks up the six steps from Home Mortgage into the bank lobby. She’s out of sight of the tellers, and the personal bankers, as usual, are away from their desks. She drags her daughter, seven-years-old at the most, by the sleeve of the girl’s pink windbreaker. The girl’s hood is up. It’s 114-degrees outside and the little girl’s hood is up. Tendrils of blonde hair snake from beneath it. By the way they hold their mouths, I can tell they’ve had an argument—the little girl acting up in front of the loan officer. A pink mylar foil balloon—a gecko—is tied to the girl’s right wrist with a length of scrolled green ribbon. The mother carries an obese white purse, stops at the landing. The tellers can’t see her. I sign my deposit slip and stand where I am. The mother opens her purse and removes a wooden pepper mill as long as my forearm. The little girl knows, frowns. She lifts her chin, sticks out her tongue. The mother raises the bottom of the pepper mill to the girl’s mouth, completes eight twists and the eight twists of ground pepper collect into a pile on the girl’s tongue. The girl closes her mouth, tightens her lips. Is silent. The deposit slip is getting wet in my palm. The ink is beginning to run. Mother and daughter walk to an open teller window, and the mother chats to the teller—a young man in a white shirt, red tie—about the heat. They laugh. The daughter is too short to see the teller. The teller sees the mother standing next to the gecko. The daughter’s face becomes more and more red. Her eyes close. She says nothing. Makes no sound. No cough or sneeze. Not a whimper. Her feet begin to dance on the tile as if she has to go to the bathroom. The sleeves of her windbreaker swish so quietly against the torso, as if shushing all of us. The gecko begins to shake. After four minutes, the mother yanks the daughter, still tight-lipped, by the arm. I imagine the popping sound of her shoulder dislocating, a half-dollar of bone jumping from the pink collar. The balloon failing. The pain and its wonderful release. The spitting of the pepper. The scream. They open the door to the sidewalk. Silent. The weather storms inside. Defeats the A/C. They turn the corner. I watch a lone Fry’s shopping cart push itself up the street. I’ve never been good at these things. At divining the rubric necessary to decide what they are. I have trouble distinguishing the cacti from the redwoods. I’ve been lying again. I don’t live in Arizona anymore. Now, I live in Michigan. At my neck, I can’t tell if that’s your breath, or the desert, or the snow.
Matthew Gavin Frank is a contributor for Superstition Review’s Issue 7. In this interview, SR talks to Frank about work and his newest piece, The Morrow Plots.
SR: After so much time spent in the food and wine industry, what inspired you to pursue degrees and careers in writing and poetry?
Matthew Gavin Frank: I loved writing well before I fell into the food and wine industries. I remember—I was about 10—going through my parents’ dresser drawers when they were otherwise occupied. I remember it as a Saturday. My dad was likely working. My mom was likely working-out: one of those Jane Fonda VHS tapes. In one drawer, I found a short essay she wrote about her own father’s death when she was 13. She spent her life teaching grammar—past participles and shit—to 7th graders, but, up until that point, I never knew she wrote. And, she never wrote anything again outside of letters to the editor. So stumbling onto that essay allowed me a richer engagement of my mother as a human being, I think.
Soon after that, I remember (this was 5th grade) collaborating with my friend Ryan Shpritz on a series of gross-out stories. A few years ago, when my wife and I were visiting my family in Chicago, my mom sat us down with these scrapbooks she made when my sister and I were toddlers. In the column that asked for my interests, she wrote, “Ghosts, blood, anything ghoulish.” Fucking blood. According to my own mother, one of my primary interests as a toddler was blood. So my later collaboration with Ryan, on this series of stories called “Death at Dark” (I, II, III, and so on) had its roots in those early interests. Mrs. Buccheim, our teacher—fabulous perm—allowed us to read our work in front of the class each week. She loved that we were writing extracurricularly. Once, in D at D part VI, I think, some poor sap caught his hand in a garbage disposal, and we compared the resulting carnage to a punctured egg yolk. Shannon Elliott, the cheerleader, cried. After that, Mrs. Buccheim, bless her proper heart, put a stop to our public readings. So, I then realized that writing not only had the power to reveal, but the power to get one banned.
This knowledge sort of fed all kinds of ideas about revolt, writerly and otherwise. Soon, I started thinking a lot about food. Growing up in a microwave-and-saturated-fat-centric family, it took me a while realize that the food world was larger than a radiated Lean Cuisine paired with Crystal Light pink lemonade. There was some impetuous revolt growing in me in my late teens in response to the crappy undergraduate meal-plan dinners (if you could call them that) served in Hopkins Hall, where I worked for a while—a very short while—clearing trays and washing dishes. I remember the particular dinner that inspired this culinary rebellion. It was this disaster of Creamed Chipped Beef on Texas Toast. It broke me. I began reading books on food and wine, determined to do better than this, which took a while actually. At some point, I came across an article on Barolo wine and vowed to go to the region where it was made. After a couple days, lazing in the vineyards, eating fresh pasta and white truffles, I vowed to return to live there and, upon returning to the States, trashed my microwave in vulgar ceremony. I thereafter took all sorts of restaurant jobs, and found a common thread: when chefs get together after work for drinks, and one chef asks me what I like to do in my spare time, and I say, “write poetry,” it’s ever a great conversation killer. Eventually, I realized I needed to chat about such things with some like-minded folks.
SR: I have heard some poets say that it is important for young writers to first go out into the world and experience life before writing about it and/or attempting to go into a MFA program. Others insist that the jump straight from undergraduate school to a MFA program is necessary. As someone who left home at age 17, experienced the world young, and returned to academia, what advice would you give to young writers?
MGF: I feel perfectly ill-equipped to give young writers lifestyle advice. There is no prescription for this shit. If you need and want to write, you will need and want to write, whether flipping eggs in an Alaskan diner for a living, or immersing oneself in academia. Folks are always talking about how MFA programs can be ruinous to burgeoning writers, who should first experience the world and gather stories; other folks insist that the training provided by the MFA is not a stylistic evening-out, but is essential to burgeoning writers and that it’s the outside world with its various bankrupt distractions that can be ruinous. So, everything can be ruinous, is the thesis, I think.
I tend to believe that these extremists are giving both the MFA program and the “world-at-large” too much credit. If you want and need to write, I’m not sure either choice has the power to strip that away and ruin you. Everything is situation-specific. The shunning of the academic construct in order to lead a vagabond lifestyle worked for me. That’s what I needed to do. I know incredible writers who never left academia—went straight from undergrad to MFA to PhD to a tenure-track position. That’s what they needed to do. I do think surrendering to whimsy is important, but such whimsy manifests itself in myriad ways for myriad people.
SR: I noticed that comments about your books by poets such as Norman Dubie and Cynthia Hogue are quoted on your website. Did you work with them during your time in the MFA program at ASU and if so how do you feel that they have influenced your writing?
MGF: Yeah, I worked with Norman and Cynthia, also Beckian, Jeannine, Alberto—all of whom were fabulous and influential. I love Norman’s poems for their drama, their characters, their social conscience, generosity of spirit, and their hilarity. I love watching the master of the dramatic monologue do his thing. I love how some of his poems combine the best of PBS’s Nova with the joy inherent in the telling of a fabulously bad joke. Norman once told me: “Dude, all my poems are jokes,” which is, of course, a joke, I think. This has inspired much of my own work. Wrapping joke in verse is hard, but so much fun. I can sense Norman’s joy in writing these poems as I read them. And every so often, Norman drops the veil, and steps, larger-than-life, center-stage. I love these moments, when he breaks the fourth wall. His poem, “Oration: Half-Moon in Vermont” is a great example of this. It ends:
In a year the owl will go on a shelf in the shed
Where in thirty years there will be a music box
Containing a lock of hair, her rosaries,
Her birth certificate,
And an impossibly sheer, salmon-pink scarf. What
I want to know of my government is
Doesn’t poverty just fucking break your heart?
Reading this for the first time, I felt like Ronnie Ballenger had just pulled the chair from beneath me at the junior high lunchroom table again, and Kelly Konopka laughed so hard milk came out her nose. I’m similarly disarmed and embarrassed, and delighted. As a poet, it seems Norman could not help himself here. There is a time for restraint in poetry, and a time when restraint should not be part of the poem’s language. Norman understands this. And the result is often an exhilarating, guilty pleasure. The line break after the “What” is essential to this effect, this surprise. In my own work, as a challenge, any time I try to pull off the presence of a booger, or something like it, that’s Norman’s influence.
Cynthia’s work taught me to stay in one place, poetically-speaking, for a while, to allow the poem to become itself. To keep looking at the thing again and again and again—to micro-examine the thing via various contexts and lenses, and then, just when you think you’ve got it, to turn away from the thing, to stare into the opposite direction, and then to describe what you see there. This sort of technique allowed me, in a thematically-linked book like The Morrow Plots especially, a fulcrum to which subsequent poems could attach like burrs, and spin.
SR: Was The Morrow Plots the original title for the poem? And if so, did it come naturally? What made you choose it as the title for the entire collection?
MGF: When I lived in Upstate New York—way up on the Canadian border—during the awful winter, I became obsessed with The Morrow Plots, an experimental cornfield on the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign campus. The local and campus agronomists conduct important crop experiments there, and then disseminate the findings among the U.S.’s farming industry. So, it’s an important square of land, and hallowed ground in downstate Illinois. You do not trespass on the Morrow Plots. The legal and social consequences for such things are dire. The Plots are regionally revered. Yeah: holy, even. I was born in Illinois, and I think I was oddly homesick for the Midwest all the way up there near Canada among the defunct Go-Kart tracks and Shining-esque hedge maze that my wife and I lived behind (the area was a bedroom community for Manhattanite boaters in the summer time, and so had all of these kitschy tourist traps that would go skeletal come winter). Upon researching old newspaper articles from the ’20s and ’30s, I found that the Plots were then known as a popular site for violent crime, or a dumping ground for bodies. And, if some mutilated remains went unclaimed, the University of Illinois would claim them for “experimental purposes.” And now, The Morrow Plots are a National Historical Landmark. So dealing with that discrepancy consumed me for a while. This is a great, if nauseating, way to sink into the comfort of the winter blues. But I was so glad to reemerge after that one. See some light after all the murder. I had to temper a lot of the darkness by reading Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s sumptuous At the Drive-in Volcano that winter. So yes, this obsession came naturally, and acted as that fulcrum on which I hung a bunch of murderous Midwestern things.
SR: In The Morrow Plots there is an enchanting set of lines that I am curious about. “…The book opening/to your knees/explodes with border scenes—/skeletal fish becoming women/with piñata faces.” The imagery and the musicality are beautiful. Where did your inspiration for these lines come from?
MGF: Firstly, thank you! When I was long ago an undergraduate at The University of Illinois, I used to sneak into Lincoln Hall at night. I was taking a Biology course from this guy George Kieffer—this wonderful old madman on the cusp of retirement who would run around his lecture stage, waving his hands and screaming about having found dead bodies in the nearby Boneyard Creek. He would triumphantly howl, to his teenage and twentysomething students, “You’re all headed toward Max S [the end stage of entropy], Max S! That’s when you’re dead!”
It was one of those buildings that had locked behind Plexiglas cases all sorts of wrinkled beasts pickled in jars of alcohol. I remember halls of fetal pigs, halls of snakes—both of which are good for poetry, of course.
So I would sneak in there at night, climb to the top floor, exit a window, and sit on the roof’s ledge overlooking the center of campus. Sections of the roof were made of copper and were beginning to green. I would often write up there, read up there by a pocket flashlight. From that vantage, The Morrow Plots were visible. I have this memory—fabricated or real, I can’t tell—of sitting up there, watching the stars or some other youthful romantic shit, with two books open on my lap: a biology textbook, and a glossy book of old Mexican movie posters. One book on each thigh. I’m trying to hold them both open, while also trying to not fall off the roof. The stars. The Plots. In the biology book, I remember some anatomical cross-section of a cod or something. In the second, an image of the second. Honestly, I don’t know if this is true or not, but this memory, when coupled with the violent history of The Morrow Plots, served to inspire this line, and this poem. The poem struggles, I think, to make all of these odd histories gel with the images that attend them. Struggles to deal with the ways in which height and distance both reveal and obscure. And how everything on earth is, of course, magnificent, terrible, and indistinct from a rooftop.
SR: Is there a particular poem or poet that first provided inspiration for your stylistic choices as a writer?
MGF: The poet Mike Madonick was the first poet who taught me that the muse occurs during the writing process, and not beforehand. That, to write a poem, in his words, is like, “[being] a dog let loose in a field, you pick up scents, another dog perhaps, a pheasant, or the quick motion of a grasshopper turns your head, and then your owner calls, you scramble back or you want to run or you just stand there and cock your head, look at him because you’re puzzled about the strange demand he’s put on you, as if he owned you.”
I was lucky enough to have Mike as a teacher, and am lucky enough to have him as a friend. I remember, as an undergrad, I declared a psychology major. Then, I took my very first poetry workshop with Mike, and he said something as simple as, “Poets are fucked-up people, generally,” and I rushed out of class and switched my major to Creative Writing, as if Madonick had given me some sort of permission to be my dumbass self, and to do the dumbass things I wanted to do.
SR: What advice do you have for writers with an interest in travelling and/or cuisine as subject matter for their work?
MGF: Don’t skimp tent-wise. Purchase one that decently blocks out the rain. This is your home for a while. Make it so. Create a little nightstand in the corner with a stack of books you plan on reading, and your notebook. Keep your watch, glasses and lantern on it, each in their own little spot.
Remember how when you were five, the optometrist told your mother in front of you that you’d be blind by age 30. Remember how you used to walk around your parents’ house at night, feeling your way in the darkness, practicing for blindness. Remember bumping into your dad’s collection of antique metal Coca-Cola trays. Remember the loudness. Finger your glasses on that makeshift nightstand in the tent—see in them, and your (however limited) retention of your sight, a lovely Fuck You to that optometrist’s version of fate. Contemplate fate, and other such nebulous things, no further. Go to sleep and dream about pasta.
If camping along the ski valley road in Taos, New Mexico, bring your own toilet paper, lest you want to succumb to the discarded Subway napkins the guy the next site over push-pinned to the pit toilet wall.
When camping in Kruger National Park in South Africa, listen at night to the hippos laughing. Take notes in vocables.
Camp at Wonder Lake in Alaska’s Denali National Park in mid-September. Wake up in the middle of the night to see the aurora borealis dancing pink and green over the mountain. Write a horrible poem about it. Revise it into a better poem, but realize it’s still horrible. Write a new poem. Put an oyster in it.
In a pinch, when preparing ramen noodles over a propane camp-stove, choose the pork flavor; boil the noodles in half-water, half-pineapple juice. Contemplate the illusory makeup of gourmet. Remember: ratio is everything. Two cans of Stagg Chili + one can of Libby’s Corned Beef Hash = tolerable high-calorie meal. One can of Stagg Chili + two cans of Corned Beef Hash = digestive demoralization from the throat on down—this is a ratio that may cause you to abandon your current course, flee the woods, get on the first plane to Paris, and have a vegetarian dinner at L’Arpege. After that, think differently about the tomato.
Meet your spouse in a Latin jazz bar on one island or another—one that you previously defined as fickle. Propose to her at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. Do this realizing that you are surrounded by nuclear test sites. Do this realizing that nearby Arco was the first town in the U.S. to be lit by atomic power. Do this realizing that you are camping on the rocks on which the astronauts practiced for moon landings.
No matter where you are, surrender to the street food, even though it will make you sick.
“Every writer I know has trouble writing.”— Joseph Heller
It’s been said by hundreds of writers hundreds of ways, each more eloquent than the last, and certainly more eloquent than this: writers write. They don’t moan about it. They don’t mow the lawn to avoid it, and they certainly don’t get stuck while doing it—counting the cursor’s every pulse, praying that inspiration will strike, and fearing with every silent second that it never will.
Except, they do. Of course they do.
Despite the proliferation of writing programs in schools across the nation, despite writing groups and conferences and online communities like Fictionaut, Writers Café, and others, there’s no getting around the fact that most writers do the difficult work of generating original material all by their lonesome. And it’s hard work. Sometimes doing it well can seem impossible. But there’s also no getting around the fact that for many of us, writing is our reason for being. It can help to impose meaning on chaos, forge meaningful connections with readers and other writers, and do the necessary work of exploring the possibilities, challenges, and rewards of being human.
At The Southeast Review, we read hundreds of submissions each year. Poems, essays, stories, interviews, book reviews, comics, and everything in between. There are few feelings as wonderful as reading a submission that glimmers from the first word with that special something—a confident voice, striking image, surprising premise, linguistic deftness, or some other distinctive element. It’s hard to predict what kind of work we’ll love because we don’t look for specific kinds of pieces. Rather, we want to be moved, and we are well aware that the works that move us are the result of a writer’s daily struggle against the ticking cursor while she or he molds essays that refuse to cohere, trims bloated stories, and invents language that takes poems past familiarity into a breathtaking newness.
Because we know how hard it can be to face that blank page, we at The Southeast Review developed our Writer’s Regimen Program. Participating writers receive emails for 30 consecutive days full of prompts and exercises applicable for all genres, craft talks from working writers and industry professionals such as poet Matthew Gavin Frank, literary agent Nat Sobel, and memoirist Jillian Schedneck, podcasts of live readings by literary icons like Barry Hannah, Ann Patchett, and Robert Olen Butler, as well as riff words and inspirational quotes designed to ignite any writer’s natural creativity. Each cycle costs only $15 and that entire fee is funneled directly into the production of The Southeast Review. All participants also receive a copy of SER’s most recent issue. We run four cycles per year—two new and two repeats—and our next re-run launches on December 1. To crank up the motivation, we invite participants to submit work at the end of the cycle for a chance at publication on SER Online. You can read the work of our most recent regimen’s winner, Susan Bulloch, here.
Writing may always be a solitary process, and it may never get any easier, but we at SER believe that daily doses of inspiration are the best cure for the writing block blues. If you agree, sign up before December 1 to try out our next cycle, and leave the lawn for another day.
In our Issue 7, Superstition Review had the honor to publish poetry by Matthew Gavin Frank. We would like to share that Frank’s new book Pot Farm (The University of Nebraska Press/Bison Books), is now available for pre-order on the press website and on Amazon. The book is a behind-the-scenes exposé of a Northern California medical marijuana farm.
Praise for Pot Farm:
“Pot Farm is the curious and compelling tale of a hazy season spent harvesting medical marijuana. The cast of characters rivals those found in the finest comic fiction, except these folks are real, and really peculiar. Pot Farm is smart, sly, revelatory, often laugh-out-loud funny, and entirely legal.”—Dinty W. Moore, author of Between Panic and Desire
“Sex, politics, intrigue, crime, adventure, life and death—it’s all here, in a strangely compelling hybrid of action flick meets postmodern philosophical meditation meets Cheech and Chong. This compulsively readable exposé from a self-proclaimed ‘unreliable narrator’ has it all, including a cast of outcast characters who simply jump off the page.”—Gina Frangello, author of Slut Lullabies
Frank’s book Barolo has gone into its second printing in paperback, and will include links to Italian Piemontese recipes. This new addition is available for preorder here.
Superstition Review Issue 7 has launched and to celebrate we will be featuring blog posts about our artists and authors. Today we will be highlighting a few of the talented poets who are featured in Issue 7.
Angela S. Gentry is the two-time recipient of the Devine Summer Fellowship in Poetry from Bowling Green State University. Her first chapbook, Stirrings of Movement, was released in 2010 from Finishing Line Press. She received her BA in Christian Education from Cedarville University and her MFA in Poetry from BGSU. In her spare time, she would like to build a tree house, in addition to writing, but finds herself inordinately occupied with evaluating student papers. She currently resides in Michigan. Read her poem “My Barber” featured in issue 7. Angela Gentry’s Website
Marge Piercy is the author of 18 collections of poetry, most recently The Crooked Inheritance and this spring, her second volume of new and selected poems 1980-2010 The Hunger Moon, out from Knopf. She has published 17 novels, most recently Sex Wars. Two of her early novels, Dance The Eagle To Sleep and Vida, are being republished with new introductions by PM Press this fall. Her work has been translated into 19 languages. Her memoir Sleeping With Cats is available from Harper Perennial. Read her four poems featured in issue 7. Marge Piercy’s Website
Matthew Gavin Frank is the author of Barolo (The University of Nebraska Press), Pot Farm (forthcoming from the University of Nebraska Press), Warranty in Zulu (Barrow Street Press), The Morrow Plots (forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press/Dzanc Books), Sagittarius Agitprop (Black Lawrence Press/Dzanc Books), and the chapbooks Four Hours to Mpumalanga (Pudding House Publications), and Aardvark (West Town Press). Recent work appears in The New Republic, The Huffington Post, Field, Epoch, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Indiana Review, North American Review, Pleiades, Crab Orchard Review, The Best Food Writing, The Best Travel Writing, Creative Nonfiction, Prairie Schooner, Hotel Amerika, Gastronomica, and others. He was born and raised in Illinois and teaches at Northern Michigan University. Read his poem “The Sticking-Place, Stripped Screws” in issue 7. Matthew Gavin Frank’s Website
Patricia Clark is Poet-in-Residence and Professor in the Department of Writing at Grand Valley State University. Author of three volumes of poetry, Patricia’s newest book is She Walks into the Sea; she has also published a chapbook, Given the Trees. Patricia’s work has been featured on Poetry Daily and Verse Daily; she has won Mississippi Review’s Poetry Prize; and been honored as the 2nd prize winner in the 2005 Pablo Neruda/Nimrod International Journal Poetry competition. Her poems have appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, Slate, Stand, The Gettysburg Review, and many other literary magazines. Read her poem “Until it Speaks” in issue 7. Patricia Clark’s Website
Tanaya Winder is from the Southern Ute and Duckwater Shoshone Nations. She graduated from Stanford University in 2008 with a BA in English. Tanaya was a finalist in the 2009 Joy Harjo Poetry Competition and a winner of the A Room Of Her Own Foundation’s Spring 2010 Orlando prize in poetry. Her work appears in Cutthroat magazine, Yellow Medicine Review, Adobe Walls, Barrier Islands Review, and Lingerpost. She is the co-editor of a forthcoming collection Soul Talk, Song Language: Conversations with Joy Harjo. She is currently pursuing a MFA in Poetry at the University of New Mexico. Read her two poems published in issue 7.
The full magazine with featured art and artists from issue 7 can be found here.
Superstition Review was pleased to feature Matthew Gavin Frank’s poems in our very first Issue. Recently I had the opportunity to correspond with Frank to discuss his latest published work, Warranty In Zulu. Frank has published several poetry manuscripts including, Aardvark, SagittariusAgitprop, Four Hours To Mpumalanga, and 6 X 6. His prose has also been published in Blue Earth Review, Plate Magazine, Brevity, Transfinite, and elsewhere.
Superstition Review: How is Warranty In Zulu different from your other works?
Matthew Gavin Frank: Warranty is far more research-based than my previous collection, Sagittarius Agitprop. Warranty began as a project to engage the ways in which the exhibits of South African museums and galleries have changed since the fall of apartheid in 1994, documenting how the “landscape” of the South African art scene has changed in style, substance, and accessibility with the socio-political landscape, with the aim of uncovering a larger statement about the interaction between politics and aesthetics.
SR: What has it been like working with Barrow Street Press?
MGF: Risking overstatement: heavenly. Barrow Street is wonderfully hands-on when it comes to the editing process, design, lay-out, etc. They’re very involved, continually offering feedback and suggestion, which contributes to the rare, essential dialogue between writer and editors (who, in the case of Barrow Street, are brilliant writers themselves). The experience of working with them will likely save me a crap-load of time when it comes to self-editing future manuscripts before submitting.
SR: What was the most difficult part about writing Warranty In Zulu?
MGF: Avoiding “othering” or “exoticising” the various cultures of South Africa. In order to aid in this, I felt I had to immerse myself in the country via research and travel, many-handed observations. After numerous trips to South Africa, my wife’s homeland, and her family’s country of residence, the project became laced with the personal, the various narrators herein (many inspired by unofficial interviews, casual conversations, and folklore) engaging issues of history, identity, confused observation, the nature of healing, irrational fear, irrational love and the collision between insider and outsider voices. While not every poem in the manuscript is set specifically within South Africa (most are), each struggles with similar thematic strains.
SR: How have your life experiences (such as working the Barolo wine harvest) shaped your views in your writing?
MGF: I’ve been incorporating things from my own life into the work, more than I have in the past. In the past, I always had a great time wearing masks, playing the asshole, protecting myself. But lately, I’ve been finding greater fulfillment in taking a risk, meaning: being honest. Or more honest at least. This desire ignited at about the same time I began to feel a draw to return to the Midwest, my roots, after wandering and traveling quite a bit. Both desires can, I think, be leashed to my mother’s recent illness. In 2006, Louisa (my wife) and I had just, on a road trip (after leaving Tempe), landed in Montpelier, Vermont, and decided we wanted to live there for a stretch. On the day we were to sign our lease, we received a phone call from my sister in Chicago telling us that my mom was sick. We fled Vermont, returned to Chicago for a year, lived in my parents’ house, and took care of the family while she battled illness (and won, thankfully). This infected my writing with the honesty I mentioned earlier. Does this mean I’m being merely confessional? Attracted solely to the Midwest and the actual? It’s complicated, but no way. As if to balance this, I’m presently working on a series of short essays based on photographs I took in Oaxaca, Mexico, and a poetry manuscript based on couching the bad joke in verse. Its working title is “Your Mother.”
SR: What are you currently working on creatively?
MGF: Well, the Oaxaca book, tentatively titled, SELF-HELP, MEXICO, deals with the aftermath of living in my parents’ house in suburban Chicago for over a year, helping my family during my mother’s battle with cancer. Louisa, and I, struggling to rediscover our footing as a married-couple-in-love, fled to Mexico. Our search for ourselves, our sanctuary, our relationship, took us from the wild crowds and violent social protests of Mexico City, to the culinary jewel of Oaxaca City, and finally to a tiny indigenous Zapotec village in Oaxaca’s Sierra Juárez mountains. The manuscript, which is still in-progress (I’m hoping to finish my final tinkering before 2010 ends), is fusing the narrative storytelling techniques typical of memoir with historical and folkloric research, becoming a series of sort-of lyric essays, and situating the sense of loss and confused search of one particular young married couple within a larger socio-cultural context. In this village, we discovered an unlikely band of U.S.-American expatriates of various demographics, on grappling journeys of their own, contributing to a community both unique and ubiquitous in its quest for some version of fulfillment. I’m going to go back to the “Your Mother” project after I’ve finished SELF-HELP, MEXICO. My nonfiction book, POT FARM, about my work on a medical marijuana farm in Northern California will be coming out from the University of Nebraska Press in 2011 or 2012.
SR: What advice would you give to an aspiring author?
MGF: Travel. Eat things that scare you: cock’s combs, for example. Force perspective onto your life. Allow your memory to distort things. Write a lot, even if it’s crappy. Read a lot. Be vulnerable. Allow the act of writing to play various roles in your life: mother, father, son, daughter, lover, pet goldfish. Argue with all of them, even though you love them. I will not say, be persistent. I swear to you: I will not say it.
With just over three weeks left in our submissions period, SuperstitionReview staff are reaching a critical point in Issue 6. Submissions are pouring in and our section editors are reading and sorting them daily.
Our photoshopper has been busy formatting the head shots of confirmed authors as well as staff. We’re also looking to our Advertising Coordinator to develop new ways to expand our readership. Interview Editors are continuing their research by listening to National Public Radio broadcasts and reading previous interviews from our selected authors. This is allowing them to form more refined interview questions.
Content Coordinator Carrie Grant has confirmed poets James Hoggard and Amanda Auchter for this semester’s issue. Hoggard’s work has been published in MississippiReview, HarvardReview and others. His most recent work, out of the 19 books he’s published, is Triangles of Light: The Edward Hopper Poems.
Author of The Glass Crib, Amanda Auchter‘s writing has appeared in numerous reviews and magazines and she has received accolades from Crab Orchard Review and BellevueLiteraryReview, among others. We look forward to their work with SuperstitionReview.
In addition to providing these weekly updates on our progress, I strive to provide information on Superstition Review authors, and upcoming literary events in the community. Stay tuned in the next few weeks for features on Matthew Gavin Frank and Melissa Pritchard.