Trajectories: an open talk about the many paths to becoming a writer.
Come listen to a panel discussion about some ofthe career trajectories that are available for English graduates on Friday, February 19th at ASU’s Polytechnic Campus Night of the Open Door. Superstition Review will be hosting this event in partnership with Four Chambers, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Chandler-Gilbert Community College, Mesa Community College, and Combs High School.
The panel will be free and open to the public in the UNION, Cooley Ball Room at Polytechnic Campus from 6 pm to 7:30 pm. Q & A will be welcome.
Meet the panel:
Gary Joshua Garrison is a prose editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review. His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and appeared in or is forthcoming from Southwest Review, Moon City Review, The McNeese Review, Word Riot, Gigantic Sequins, and others. He lives in Arizona with his wife and their two torpid cats.
Jess Burnquist received her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Arizona State University. Her work has appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Persona, The Washington Post, Salon, Jezebel, GOOD Magazine, Education Weekly, Time and various online journals. She is a recipient of the Joan Frazier Memorial Award for the Arts at ASU. Jess currently teaches English and Creative Writing in San Tan Valley and has been honored with a Sylvan Silver Apple Award for teaching. She resides in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area with her husband, son, and daughter. Links to her most recent work are available at www.jessburnquist.com.
Patrick Michael Finn is the author of the novella A Martyr for Suzy Kosasovich and the short story collection From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet. He teaches writing at Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
Jake Friedman is the Founder and Editor in Chief of an independent community literary journal and small press based in Phoenix, AZ called Four Chambers. He is also; drinking coffee (as the picture would indicate); a waiter and sometimes bartender at an unnamed casual-upscale restaurant (the restaurant being unnamed to protect it’s identity, not actually unnamed); working on a long-form experimental prose manuscript titled The Waiter Explains (no coincidence with his current profession, he swears; long-form experimental prose being a pretentious way of saying novel, even though he has legitimate reasons for doing so involving narrative perspective and deep structure he still feels pretentious). http://fourchamberspress.com.
Jessica Marie Fletcher serves as the current Superstition Review Student Editor-in-Chief and was fiction editor for issue 16. She studies creative writing, psychology, and family and human development in the Barrett Honors College at Arizona State University. She has worked as an Opinion Columnist for The State Press, and one of her short stories has been featured in LUX Undergraduate Creative Review.
Four Chambers is extremely excited to announce the English-speaking debut of internationally acclaimed South Korean poet Kim Kyung Ju with his best-selling collection, I am A Season that Does Not Exist in the World (with translator and poet Jake Levine).
Tuesday, February 2nd at 6:30 pm
Valley Bar (130 N Central Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85004)
21+ | Free
“Both a blessing and a curse to Korean Literature,” Kim Kyung Ju is considered to be one of the strongest voices of his generation, and I am A Season that Does Not Exist in the World is his hallmark work. In haunting, anti-lyrical verse, Kim explores the transcendental homelessness borne from the apocalyptic narrative of impending ecological extinction while, at the same time, celebrating it’s banal, messianic ecstasies. I am A Season that Does Not Exist in the World perfectly capures the emotional sensibility of a generation born into an age where emotional sensibility was said to not eixst. While the futures of the past may already have failed, Kim carries them into the present and offers them redemption. When the seasons of the world become so unpredictable that the only predictable thing left is their increasing unpredictability, a season that does not exist in the world might be anyother way to say utopia. It might be another way to say hope.
Reading with Kim is poet and translator Jake Levine, who received his MFA from the University of Arizona, serves as Poetry Editor for Spork Press, and is currently completing his PhD in Comparative Literature at Seoul National University.
I am A Season that Does Not Exist in the World will be available as general volume from Black Ocean Press and a special, handbound edition from Spork Press.
The room is a hot squeeze: words bounce and echo with the clank of mugs, the hiss of steam, the scrape of chairs. On the walls, there is artwork for sale, nailed against galvanized metal sheets or perched on wooden shelves. Behind the counter, a chalkboard menu. This is the kind of coffeehouse that serves organic foods and homemade pies, that hangs up rotating artwork and anti-racism signs. Nestled between a grimy convenience store and a tattoo parlor in central Tucson, its most frequent customers by day seem to be students and professors from the university, or people who make soap to sell at farmers’ markets, or tattooed elites. Once a month, it stays open for this poetry slam, which is regularly packed with high school students from all over southern Arizona, their families, teachers, passersby.
I got here early, and I’m sitting in a corner. I’ve got paper, but I am not, like so many of the young people around me, scribbling inspired lines of poetry or working thumb pads overtime on my phone. Instead of spinning out poems, I am drawing details – the mood, what poets say to each other, what they slam about, how they respond to their scores. I’m writing a dissertation about these poets. It’s a study of youth discourse, art, and activism, and I argue for the poets’ use of rhetorical strategies as suggestive of a specific kind of youth coalition. It’s hard for me to write such words, to work my mouth and ear around academic terms, but this is what I try to do now.
The first time I came to this poetry slam, I didn’t listen. I looked for craft. Pristine lines. I had the MFA ear, so precious. I did not want to hear explicit teen angst. I was with my friend, a writer who is working on a mystery novel. She is a PhD student with three children who supports her family on her own, and she runs at least a dozen miles every morning so she needs to eat constantly – she totes cartons of blueberries and bags of spinach, bagels and nuts.
We are both researchers on a grant that is funding work with local youth organizations, and this poetry slam is one of them. Our interdisciplinary research collective meets in a building on campus that is far from my English department home. This is how far: I was shocked when someone suggested that I could ask for undergraduate help in transcribing and coding my research data, and then I got access to a bright, clean room with a refrigerator where I could place my lunch without admonishment from tenured faculty. In this research collective, we talk about the problems and activism of marginalized Tucson youth who have suffered from increasingly restrictive policies in Arizona, such as the ethnic studies bill, the parents’ bill of rights, and the anti-immigration law. We sit in clean white rooms with bright lights and melodramatic air conditioning and expensive technology. We sit, and we try to figure out how this room squares with all the other spaces of Tucson.
This doesn’t tell you what I am trying to tell you, which is that my friend hears what is beautiful about this space long before I do. That first time, she, also, has brought paper, but, while I listen for gems, she hears the pulse. She nods and furiously writes, transcribing as many lines as she can. We squabble over awarding points because we have been asked to judge. Before the slam, we were handed a binder with scorecards numbering 1-10. At poetry slams, judges are chosen randomly from the audience, and no one is assumed to be an all-knowing critic. Or, everyone is an all-knowing critic because poetry is supposed to be public. After each poem, my friend clutches her heart and wants to give everyone 10’s. I wrinkle my nose frequently and insist upon a lower score, but no lower than 8.5 or we’ll get a big boo from the room. Sometimes she tosses up a 10 before I can object.
The problem with me is that I cannot yet bring myself to be generous, to love what is happening here. Writing has become a cool endeavor. For years, it has been difficult for me to look at my writing, at others’ writing, and be moved. This is not meant to be a quotidian lament about MFA programs, or the “workshop story,” or whatever else is, of late, a concern in creative writing. It is meant to suggest a simple question: how can writing move you (me), again?
Long ago, a New York Times columnist came to my MFA program, read one of my essays, and informed me I could not write a sentence. His pencil crawled over every line. I had felt that my essay was poetic. It had no meaning, no direction, sure, but it was a vivid narrative with comets and cornfields and a school field trip to the planetarium. Look how I’m undermining it. And the way I bowed to that creeping pencil. The way I agreed. The way I said it didn’t bother me while other students were weeping (he had done the same to all of us chosen to work with him). The way I thought my first publication worked because my favorite professor told me it was Chekhovian, and how that was the reason I figured I would submit it somewhere. The way I fool with myself. The way I can shrug at writing I’ve spent days, or years, producing. The way I learned to pause, to sip the sentence, close my eyes, approve of its warmth. And then the way the sipping could dismiss.
A poetry slam is not for sipping. You have to chug. It took a few slams for me to begin to learn how to listen, to be open to what moves these youth poets. There’s as much posturing in professional slam as in “literary” work, but this local slam is a different space. There are so many lines here, less the kind of lines that split than the lines that flow, a river of lines, a cacophony of lines, a supernova. Lines about racial tropes, familial bonds, the ideologies of citizenry, the notion of other. Lines tracing what it means to listen, to be heard, seen, felt. Lines of what it means to be young, genderqueer, gay, brown, white, poor, suburban, defined, confused, certain. Lines that cross, squiggle out past straight, open up the possibility of multifaceted identities, temporal identifications, complex humans. They write these lines before the slam, during the pre-slam workshop, or as the slam unfolds, anticipating their turn, almost-but-not-quite getting cold feet. They come here to write, to listen. They text each other after poems they like, or poems that baffle them; they give each other post-performance hugs. It’s not like the poetry readings of literary treasure. It’s not about “mmmm” or “mmm-hmmm,” the sharp intake of breath at a precious line, the expected silence or pregnant pause that signals we all are wandering in our separate, wooded brains. These lines often call me to reconsider what it means to write and act. They write as if there were no time for anything else, as if their lives were not scrolls just beginning to unfurl.
I want to use the opportunity of this blog post to discuss something I’ve observed often in my thirty years of teaching creative writing, most of it in an MFA program. Going into graduate school, a person often thinks this will be the real trial: Do I have what it takes to shine? Will I make it through? The real test comes after, when you don’t have weekly workshops to keep you productive, when you don’t have a circle of friends and competitors clamoring to see your next opus, when you discover that the writers on faculty who supported you so diligently now have a new crop of students to support, and that, frankly, (almost) no one gives a rat’s ass whether or not you write another beautifully nuanced poem or story or lyric essay.
The plummet that many MFA graduates experience begins gradually. You’ve got that degree in hand! You finished your thesis! You’ve worked damned hard for two (or three) years. Now you want just to chill for a couple weeks, stretch your head, shake your fingers and ponder what next while you look for a job or begin your next adventure. About three months in, you begin to notice that either you aren’t writing, or what you’re writing would not past muster in the rigorous workshops you so recently attended. After another couple of months of this, the panic and depression set in. You’ve lost your mojo. Who knows if you’ll ever get it back?
The more you worry, the worse the writing/not writing becomes. You remember every hesitation your thesis adviser expressed about your work. You remember the rejections that have piled up—sure, at the same rate they were piling up when you were in graduate school, but wasn’t the degree supposed to change all that? You remember the criticism leveled at your story/poem/essay by someone who—you’ve just now heard—has published a piece in a prestigious venue, or—worse yet!—had their thesis accepted for publication, which everyone knows almost never happens.
I’ve noticed that this state befalls younger MFA graduates especially, the people who go straight from an undergraduate program into graduate school. Often, it’s as undergraduates that the possibility that one is a writer begins to take shape. Maybe you’ve never shown your poems to anyone, and suddenly, you take a creative writing class and everyone is praising your work in a way you never dreamed would happen. Or the work isn’t praised, but you’ve a passion that helps you withstand the blistering criticism. However the experience plays out, you find a way into an MFA program to continue your growth as a writer, and immerse yourself anew. By the time you finish your MFA at 24 or 25, you’ve had a good four to six years of uninterrupted fostering. And then, suddenly, it’s gone.
People who’ve been out in the world a few years before going back to school to pursue an MFA have already experienced the world’s utter disregard of, and investment in, their writing. Many of them have written in solitude and obscurity for the middle part of their twenties, so when they get to graduate school they’re a little stunned that their work suddenly gets so much attention. Which is not to say that the older MFA graduate is exempt from post-partum depression. Sometimes it’s worse. They know how this isolation feels, they’ve been there before, and now—despite the hard work, the degree—they’re back again. Maybe they’re working the same jobs they were working before they went to grad school. Talk about depressing! What’s a writer to do?
The first thing is to prepare yourself. The terminal degree plummet is very like post-partum depression. If you know such a thing exists, when you wake up at 3 a.m. with a screaming, inconsolable baby on your hands and have thoughts of throwing him out the window, you can take a step back, recognize what you’re feeling, and deal with the situation like a reasonable human being. You are not the only one who feels this way. People have felt this way before and survived. This, too shall pass. Good mantras to cultivate.
Part of that preparation is to cultivate, over the time you’re in your degree program, a close circle of people whose work you admire and whose opinions you respect. These people will not include your teachers. Though you might have looked primarily to your teachers for guidance, they have now (it’s been three months, remember? The new semester’s already started!) turned to their next batch of students. Now, you have your peer group. And though one of you may be in Frankfurt and the other in L.A., the miracle of technology allows you to form an online community that will get you through the darkest of these days.
This peer group will also be a lifeline as you struggle to meet like-minded people in the place you find yourself after graduation. I’ve known former students who, after moving to the city where they’ve always dreamed of living, discover that meeting other writers to hang out with and show their work to is not always an instant process. Writers tend to be solitary folk. Sometimes, it takes a while before you meet the person who introduces you to her cohort of friends that includes a couple people who become your life-raft, because they get you and your work in a way that nobody ever has.
In my first year of graduate school, my teacher Charles Wright told our workshop, “Many are called. Few are chosen.” Does anyone ever believe he or she will not be among the chosen? But over time, most people—surprising people, including some of the most talented, the ones who seem the most driven, the luckiest ones—will go on to pursue different kinds of lives. As Katherine Anne Porter said, “Writing is, above all, a vocation. No one’s a writer ‘on the side.’” But for those of you who stay together in your close, narrowing circle of supporters, reading and commenting on each other’s work that may not see publication for years or at all, reading and commenting on work that will win prizes and awards and fellowships, you will ideally come to understand that what matters is the work itself—and that you’re doing it, and doing it to the best of your ability, and can’t conceive of a life without it.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Joe Neal.
Joe Neal has fiction forthcoming in Salamander Magazine. He is pursuing an MFA in fiction at Cornell University and is working on a collection of short stories and a novel. He is originally from Franklin, Ohio.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Lynda Majarian.
Lynda Majarian earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona (home to one of the country’s leading graduate writing programs) and has had several short stories and essays published in print and online literary magazines including The Faircloth Review, Eastlit, Narrative, PIF, Superstition Review, Marco Polo, Thin Air Review, and Spelunker Flophouse. Her short story, Postscript to Cloud Nine was a runner-up for a short fiction prize by England’s Stand magazine. Lynda formerly wrote articles and essays for Seven Days magazine, and her work has also appeared in The Burlington Free Press and Rutland Herald newspapers. She left a lucrative career in public relations to become a college English Instructor. Her teaching experience includes nearly seven years of teaching Creative Writing, Introduction to Literature, Introduction to the Novel, and English Composition at Community College of Vermont, and two academic years teaching oral and written English composition skills to both undergraduate and graduate ESOL students in Shenyang and Shanghai, China, respectively. She is currently writing a memoir about her experiences living and working in China.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Lee Martin.
Lee Martin is the author of the novels, The Bright Forever, a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction, River of Heaven, Quakertown, and Break the Skin. He has also published three memoirs, From Our House and Turning Bones, and Such a Life. His first book was the short story collection, The Least You Need To Know. He is the winner of the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ohio Arts Council. He teaches in the MFA Program at The Ohio State University.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Jill Christman.
Jill Christman’s memoir, Darkroom: A Family Exposure, won the AWP Award Series in Creative Nonfiction, was first published by the University of Georgia Press in 2002, and was reissued in paperback in Fall 2011. Recent essays appearing in River Teeth and Harpur Palate have been honored by Pushcart nominations and her writing has been published in Barrelhouse, Brevity, Descant, Literary Mama, Mississippi Review, Wondertime, and many other journals, magazines, and anthologies. She teaches creative nonfiction in Ashland University’s low-residency MFA program and at Ball State University in Muncie where she lives with her husband, writer Mark Neely, and their two children.