If you’re going to be in Washington, D.C. for AWP 2017, here’s something to keep in mind: Catherine Pierce, winner of the Saturnalia Books of Poetry Prize, will be participating in an offsite reading along with several other authors published by Saturnalia Books. This will take place on the 9th of February 2017.
To read her poem that was published in Issue 8 of our magazine, click here.
You can also check out some of her other poems on her website.
Award-winning poet Rigoberto González talk “A Life of Labor” takes place on Tuesday, November 8 at 1:30 p.m. in the Fulton Center room 2490. ASU Tempe Campus. His talk will focus on his writing career.
Rigoberto González is the author four books of poetry, most recently Unpeopled Eden, which won the Lambda Literary Award and the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. His ten books of prose include two bilingual children’s books, the three young adult novels in the Mariposa Club series, the novel Crossing Vines, the story collection Men Without Bliss, and three books of nonfiction, including Butterfly Boy: Memories of a Chicano Mariposa, which received the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation. He also edited Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Writing and Alurista’s new and selected volume Xicano Duende: A Select Anthology. The recipient of Guggenheim, NEA and USA Rolón fellowships, a NYFA grant in poetry, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, The Poetry Center Book Award, and the Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award, he is contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine and is professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey. In 2015, he received The Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Publishing Triangle. As of 2016, he serves as critic-at-large with the Los Angeles Times and sits on the Board of Trustees of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP). He earned graduate degrees from the University of California, Davis, and Arizona State University in Tempe.
This event is hosted by the ASU Department of English and its Creative Writing Program, along with the Humanities Division of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. For more information, please visit the event page and/or the Facebook event.
Rochelle Hurt’s recently published second collection of poetry, In Which I Play the Runway, has won the 2015 Barrow Street Book Prize. Richard Blanco, who selected her book for the prize, describes that her “words [are] spoken with a vigor and honesty that are felt in the gut; words that remain lodged in the back of the throat.”
Have you heard? Les Kay has written his first full-length collection of poetry, At Whatever Front. The poems are “lively, moving, rhythmically tight, and often sweeping, with a kind of lyrical activism” according to John Philip Drury, author of Sea Level Rising.
Every year, ASU holds the Homecoming Writing Contest to encourage aspiring writers to continue their craft. Here at Superstition Review, we were so excited to hear that one of our trainees, Jordan Dahlen, won first place in the poetry category!
Sometimes, on an airplane, I wonder if the person beside me thinks I’m a pathological liar after they ask, “What do you do?” and I begin to answer. Or fumble toward answering.
Sometimes I want to lie.
Do you lie?
Sometimes I do.
By omission, if nothing else. Too many answers when they want one. I work on ships. I am run a press. I teach. I do website design. And then the real answer, which to many is strange and either provokes awkward silence or too many questions: I am a poet and a naturalist.
At the core of my being, that reply rings and resounds. Poet and naturalist are callings I heed. Passions I am grateful to follow. They are ways of moving through the world. Words for how I navigate. They are not careers.
A career is paystubs and (hopefully) promotions. It is marked progress or at least marked time. It is commerce.
Being a naturalist is not commerce. It is carefully observing the world without humans at its center. You might get paid to lead a walk or give a talk, but being a naturalist constitutes more than that calendared moment. Being a poet is the same.
Poetry is not commerce. Sometimes, a little money might come from a poem. Sometimes. A little. But not often.
And that is our freedom, as poets. The poems won’t pay the rent. Their value is reckoned differently. Even after they go out into the world, they are ours. And we can allow whim and art and passion to make them. For most poets, there is no “brand” to protect for market-driven reasons, a narrowing of expression which would hinder our making with self-consciousness. The exploration and the experimentation of each new poem is the thing that makes us poets.
Career: v. move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way in a specified direction. “The car careered across the road and went through a hedge.”
If you’re like me, you’d probably say “careened.” The car careened around a corner.
In North America, that’s become an acceptable usage of the verb. But to careen is more truly to turn (a ship) on its side for cleaning, caulking, or repair. Where I live, we see ships careened in the summer. Wooden hulks coaxed to float by annual patching.
A boat out of the water is a vulnerable and strange thing. It keens with the weight of its careening. It does more than list. It leans. And it leans hard—maybe against a piling driven into the sand to hold it upright when the water pulls away.
Meander, when I was younger, was one of my favorite words. I loved the way my mouth had to work around it. Now, it sounds a little whiny to me, mewling, and I don’t use it in poems.
I would be careened without poems, without the deliberate observation, the delighted surprise that springs from being open to what emerges, that comes from both writing and being a naturalist. I would lean and break. I would be a hulk on the shore.
I career between these selves, these lives.
Odd hybrids have always held power. Minotaur, selkie, siyokoy, Anubis, angel, jackalope.
“In the 1930s, Douglas Herrick and his brother, hunters with taxidermy skills, popularized the American jackalope by grafting deer antlers onto a jackrabbit carcass and selling the combination to a local hotel in Douglas, Wyoming.”
Praise the jackalope. Praise the strange beauty of two lives deliberately brought together. And the secrets and omissions that conjoining must necessarily entail.
Secrets are held within us, alive but invisible. Some, of course, can be horrible and dangerous. But not all. Some fuel us.
When I am speaking as a poet, talking to students about image or line, the secret of my naturalist life pulses within me. I am comforted by its warmth. My shoulders hold an echo of the weight of my binocular strap and my eyes a squint of light on water. I need the power of that other, more physical life to buoy me when I flounder in the world of words.
When I am working as a naturalist, searching for animals or coaxing people to bend down and look at feeding barnacles, poems sing in me. Lines by other poets, phrases that might become a poem of my own. I don’t share them. I joke with the crew, drive the boat, do head-counts, take data. I don’t want to talk about writing poems. I want that buzz in my pocket, that secret gathering power in its unspoken form.
Sometimes, though, shuttling between poet-self and naturalist-self leaves me disoriented. As if I’m too much in limbo, liminal, always becoming and never there.
Dedicating oneself to two worlds can mean slower progress in each. There is a benefit to laser focus, to sustained and dedicated effort in one field. But not all of us are wired for that. Some of us struggle and itch if we have to offer only one answer to the question, “What do you do?”
I want to honor the power and necessity of that non-singularity. The energy of that pendulum swing between ways of seeing, ways of engaging. Poetry and plumbing. Poetry and psychoanalysis. Poetry and parenthood.
Many writers (myself included, at least partly, for the past four years) earn a living by teaching writing. But not all writers are in the academy, and not all writers want to be in the academy. Some hold writing apart from whatever they do to make money, keep it separate from their working lives, free to range and explore unseen by supervisors or colleagues. Free to rebel and speak against as well as for.
It’s harder, sometimes, to find these writers. It’s harder for them to take time to travel and give readings; they don’t have students who go out and share their work. But their books are out there to be found. Their voices sing.
Writers who have wandered, whether it’s into teaching or doctoring or carpentry, know that I claim you as kin. We won’t have “careers” as writers, but we will career, and the energy our non-writing life—its vocabulary and systems and specific conundrums—will make the words we explore vital and strange. We will have lives as writers. As jackalopes, as secret agents of words.
Are you ready for 88 pages of poetry that, according to Larissa Szporluk (author of Traffic with Macbeth), captures the “darkest and lightest aspects of being alive”?
Well ready or not, here it comes. In the fall of 2016, Modlin’s debut book Everyone at This Party Has Two Names will be available. His work has made him the Cowles Poetry Prize Winner. His previous works of writing have been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes.
You can read Modlin’s poetry that was published in Issue 8 of Superstition Reviewby clicking here.
Here’s some exciting news for all you poetry fans out there. Robert Wrigley, SR contributor from Issue 7, has a new book called Box coming out in March 2017. This will be the tenth published collection of poems from the acclaimed, award-winning poet.
To purchase or read more information about Box, click here.
To read Robert’s poems that were published in Superstition Review, click here.
The Coelacanths We Want to Believe: Monster Lore and the Uncanny
Confession: I am obsessed with cryptid lore. What are cryptids, you ask? They are animals (or “beings,” depending on how mystical you want to get) whose existence has “yet to be proven” by science. More simply put, cryptids are creatures that do not exist: think Bigfoot, the Mothman, the Loch Ness Monster, etc.
That is, they are creatures that don’t exist until someone drags a carcass in, or pulls them up from the bottom of the ocean—at least, that’s what a cryptozoologist (someone who studies cryptids) would have you believe. Their favorite example is the coelacanth, a fish from the Early Devonian period, around 400 million years ago. Long thought (extremely) extinct, the fish was found alive off the coast of Africa in 1937.
The coelacanth (pardon me, those who are devoted to it) is not a particularly impressive animal. It can grow up to 6.5 feet long and weight up to 200 pounds, but so can a tuna. (The ocean is full of mundane horrors, friends.) The coelacanth is about the shape and general coloring, I am sorry to say, of a muddy log. It is not a majestic creature. Yet, this is the animal that cryptid believers everywhere hang their hopes on. If this fish can survive unnoticed from the Devonian, then surely (here a believer’s eyes widen in the telling) it is possible that other animals—giant humanoid animals, plesiosaurs, etc.—could also live alongside us: unproven as of yet, but very much real.
There are many very good reasons why this is not so, including habitat sustainability, but I’m not going to go into them here. What I’m interested in as a writer is the why— why do people, in 2016, want so desperately to believe that fantastic creatures are real—that, just out of the corner of your eye, there is a giant hairy ape, an upright-walking wolf, or even a ghost, going about its business? What does consuming media of all kinds about these creatures get us, even when (I have to believe) most of us know in our heart of hearts that they don’t actually exist?
My point of view is that cryptids and their paranormal kindred are manifestations of our contemporary folklore, often to put a name and a poorly drawn police sketch on some faceless fear, you might say. Cryptids and other paranormal entities—ghosts, demons, aliens, etc.—are our modern-day monsters, our metaphors and un-deciphered dreams, channeling not just our fears, but dearest wishes. There’s an element of not just revulsion, but desire, in our quest for unseen monsters. This is why you have people filming themselves traipsing off into the underbrush in night vision goggles looking for Sasquatch or a ghost, eager to “make a discovery,” in their words—only to come bolting out terrified and laughing an hour later at the first snapped branch or white light in the bushes.
Sociologist Margee Kerr writes in Scream: Chilling Adventures in the Science of Fear, that many people have an innate desire to experience fear—thus the perennial popularity of haunted houses and horror entertainment of all kinds—and that these experiences can have a therapeutic value when we enter into them of our own free will. There’s a reason that people often leave haunted trails shrieking with laughter, or feeling a closer bond with the friends they attended the haunt with, Kerr argues. Maybe something similar happens to true paranormal and cryptid enthusiasts when they wander the woods or scour the internet for evidence of the existence of their monster of choice—they get to come close, to dance right up to the edge of a terrifying and exhilarating possibility, from the safe position of everyday reality.
These ideas surrounding belief, fear, and the weird pleasure of the unknown are fascinating to me as a poet interested in the Gothic and the uncanny. Maybe an intimacy with the uncanny, with a feeling of discomfort as well as surprise and delight, is what I’m after in my own poems these days—and sometimes in life.
I was recently visiting my family in rural upstate South Carolina, where I grew up. It is very quiet out there. I was sitting on the porch late one evening, looking out at the fields lit by an unusually bright moon, fog settling around the barn and in the ditches, fireflies going off like tiny flashbulbs ever so often.
Then I hear a barking. It sounded off, or wrong somehow—hoarse, half-panicked, not quite dog, but not high and eerie like a coyote. It sounded close. I grabbed and flashlight and walked toward the barn, slowly, light off. I stood as still as I could in the deeper shadow of the building, out of the moonlight. The barking stopped. I shone my light into the field, through the fog. There was nothing there but fog, rolling around me like cotton in a jewelry case, stalks of tall grass and apples trees poking out of it. Literal crickets. There was nothing out there, of course—well, something was. I was smiling. My smile was there now.
 Cryptids also include lesser-known creatures, such as Batsquatch, Sheepsquatch (which are exactly what they sound like), Ogo Pogo (a lake monster), and Momo, the “Missouri Monster.” Americans and Canadians seem to particularly enjoy vowel-heavy and rhyming monster names, apparently.
 Yes, this is a thing. See Linda Godfrey’s book Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America, for all about what she describes as the “upright canid ” phenomenon. Contrary to what you might think, she does not think that these creatures are necessarily werewolves. Some of them are possibly trans-dimensional Anubis-like figures that enjoy watching people while they sleep, she argues. Yes, really. You can’t make these things up.
 See historian W. Scott Poole’s study Monsters in America, outlining how monster literature and lore has channeled, reflected, and obfuscated America’s nuclear anxieties, racial injustices, and other societal issues.
 I’ve been writing a lot of poems recently from the perspective of monstrous and marginal entities, trying to inhabit the minds of ghosts, witches, and monsters of all kinds. The speakers of the poems hover between worlds, as women have long been asked to do—the worlds of the visible and the invisible, the domestic and the supernatural, life and death, desire and pain.
 The moon was not full. Real life, apparently, will only get so close to clichés.
Recently, I have had a block in regard to writing poetry. This really hasn’t happened to me before, at least not for this long. Something feels different, but I can’t quite put my finger (or pen) on what it is. When I started writing, I wrote a lot, like reams of really bad poems and then depended on my teacher to cull through it all and find the seeds that could germinate into real poems . Finally, he told me that I needed to do a little culling myself before turning them into to him. I just hadn’t trusted myself to know what was cull-able. When I got more confidence, I waited for the aha moment. That’s when I felt like a poem was coming that demanded to be written. Getting that idea was so exciting and the energy that emerged pushed the momentum of the poem forward, almost as if I couldn’t stop the poem from being born. These were fun, productive years.
But, gradually, I began to write more and more infrequently. There was still the initial rush that came from an idea that just jumped up and down and wouldn’t shut up, much like a two year old demanding attention. But as my poems matured (and maybe I did also) I found poetry less demanding of my attention and I could leave it alone for longer periods of time and trust that it would behave and still be there when I returned.
The years went by, and I would even wonder sometimes if my poems were leaving the nest for good, since I didn’t feel the urgency to write that I had before, and our relationship had certainly changed. We didn’t need each other in the same way that we had before. There was a phase where I wasn’t sure I even liked poetry anymore. It hadn’t really done a lot for me, in terms of tangible rewards. And the other poems that found their way to our house were not like the ones I had been taught to write as a younger poet. I was mystified by them sometimes and other times horrified by their shocking language and loose ways. Were they even poems? I wasn’t sure I knew anymore.
Which brings me back to where I started– five children sent out into the world, and living respectable lives, but none of them setting the world on fire. And I’m not sure where I go from here. As I write this, I’m sure of one thing. I will always love poetry, even if it doesn’t call me as often as it should, and even if it shows up pierced and tattooed, hungry and asking for a small loan. Maybe I need to branch out, think outside the poem—I might even write a blog.