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.
Each Tuesday we feature audio or video of an SR Contributor reading their work. Today we’re proud to feature a podcast by Laurie Blauner.
Laurie Blauner is the author of two novels, Infinite Kindness and Somebody, a novella called Instructions for Living,and six books of poetry. A new novel titled The Bohemians is forthcoming in 2013 from Black Heron Press. She has received a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship as well as Seattle Arts Commission, King County Arts Commission, 4Culture, and Artist Trust grants and awards. She was a resident at Centrum and was in the Jack Straw Writers Program. Her work has appeared in The New Republic, The Nation, The Georgia Review, American Poetry Review, Mississippi Review, and other magazines.
Most of us would be lost, wandering around aimlessly, without signs. Enter, exit. Push, pull. Take a ticket. Some people who know me might say I am an inflexible rule follower with no sense of adventure or humor, but I have a wild streak. For example, I walked up to the convenience store and considered the sign: No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service. So I took off my shirt and spray painted my upper torso black but the cashier threw me out despite my protests. What constitutes clothes? Must they be made of cloth? I mentioned that Lady Gaga wore a gown made of raw meat. My argument was shown to the curb, so I rapped on the glass door until another minimum wage attendant shuffled out and I inquired if flip flops and tank tops were acceptable. He shrugged, not seeming to have a problem with that wardrobe choice, so I went home to put on some real clothes, came back and bought my energy drink, two unlucky lottery tickets and read the front page of the scandal sheet while standing in line, which technically is probably illegal, since I wasn’t going to buy it, but what are they going to do? They can’t make what’s in your mind or what you see illegal, can they? Technically it’s probably stealing but is it really? Plus, there’s no rule (or even a sign) that states that your eyes must remain forward while waiting for the cashier to make change. Some women have eyes in back of their heads, but I don’t want to go down that road. Also, because of this digital age, part time cashiers are terrible at basic arithmetic and fewer and fewer can even make proper change in their heads. My bill was $7.43 with tax so I gave the girl a ten-spot and three singles and she acted flummoxed, horrified and said I had given her too much money. She seemed angry with my explanation that I just wanted a crisp five dollar bill and a few coins as though that was somehow more taxing for her brain. She reached under the counter for a calculator and freaked out when she discovered the batteries were dead. I hate to have singles crowd and clutter up my life and wallet. Plus, I am an active political advocate for abolishing the penny. Ironically we should all stash our pennies till they become obsolete and then they will be worth something but if everyone does it they will continue to have no real value. Life is filled with such ironies and paradoxes.
I am the last person in America to not have automatic deposit or an ATM card, at least that what my friends say, not my real friends. My real friends know who I am and don’t judge. The idea of paying bills online is so beyond me I believe more in the feasibility of time machines or the lost continent of Atlantis. Besides, I like going to the Post Office and picking out the various specialty stamps. I especially love the jazz musicians and famous poets and baseball legends. Every other Thursday, when I get my paycheck, I drive over to the bank. Often I am the only customer in line. I remember back in the good old days there would be long lines on Thursdays and it was almost impossible to find a parking spot and people would grow impatient and eat their lunches while fidgeting in line but now the tellers look bored and are more friendly, welcoming the few patrons who actually come into the bank and they know each of us by our first names. There is a sign on the door that I believe is not so subtlety directed at would-be bank robbers that I don’t remember verbatim but the gist of it is that it’s against bank policy to wear masks, hoods, sunglasses or anything that covers your face when entering the bank. Footnote: when a man walks into the bank wearing a Ninja Turtle mask it’s a safe assumption that he also is carrying a gun unless it’s Halloween and he has fake nun chucks. It says it’s for the safety and comfort of all patrons but everyone knows the deal. Plus, there are cameras all over. Nothing is secret in America anymore. You can’t get away with anything. You can even get speeding tickets when there are no cops around. They put microchips under babies skin the instant they are born and the government, of course, can trace are whereabouts by our cell phones. Some convenience stores have signs over the lottery tickets that say the premises are under recorded surveillance but I don’t believe it. I think the sign is just for show. Fake cameras with no film. Scare tactics so you don’t stick-up the joint. And out of human compassion, they offer an 800 number to call if you think you have a gambling problem. So, in summer I put on more clothes for the convenience store and in winter I take off my warm head and facial gear to cash my checks. I love how the world dictates how I should dress. It’s nice that there are dress codes that are designed, in essence, to protect us from harm and health hazards and signs everywhere, when to slow down, when to inform us deaf children are at play, when to beware of dogs, when the seedy hotel, indeed, has a vacancy.
The fancy-schmancy restaurants dictate that I wear the appropriate attire and in the olden days they had spare crass sport jackets for men who came ill suited (get it) for dinner. I went out to a restaurant for my birthday, not my real birthday but my family birthday, and printed in bold letters on the menu was a directive that I should tell my server if I had any peanut allergies. I was curious why it was linguistically phrased as though one could have more than one peanut allergy. I called the waitress over and excused myself but said shouldn’t the menu say “a” peanut allergy because I was confused how a person could have more than one peanut allergy and she asked if I was telling her that I had a peanut allergy and I told her I didn’t, that it was a grammar, not a peanut, issue. When I was a kid, no one used to have peanut allergies but now it’s swelled to epidemic proportions. And every other person must be Glutton Free. What happened? A sore leg is now a stress fracture and being lazy and disinterested is an Attention Deficit Disorder. There used to be no such thing as anxiety or depression; you were just blue, down in the dumps. There must be something to this modernization of naming things. In fact, it’s poetic, as poetry was originally “the naming of things”. I learned that from my poetry teacher way back. Our society is becoming more poetic. Yeah! So the waitress blinked multiple times, overly dramatic, as though she wanted her eyelashes to inform me I was being a dope. She told our table she’d be back to take our drink orders in a minute. It’s nice that they don’t want folks unknowingly consuming stuff that would make their throats swell, turn their faces bright red and make them gasp for oxygen during their meals but what if you don’t know about your peanut allergy until you consume peanuts in their restaurant. So much in life is nobody’s fault. I won’t even go into the fact that for some reason, on the back page, it says I should tell my server if I am lactose intolerant or to inform the manager if I require special service. I always want special service; that’s the idea. At the finer restaurants the servers don’t wear name tags. I guess they figure you don’t care about the plebian’s name or that the patrons are smart enough to remember the server’s name when they introduce themselves. On the drive home, I notice there are no more stationary billboards only electronic gizmos that change their messages every twenty seconds and traffic signs that alert us on the highway about delays and accidents and there are Amber alerts for kidnapped children. I want to know less, not more. That’s what I want.
When I was a kid, not that I believed in God or anything, but churches were serious places, no sense of humor or fucking around. Now the clergy try to be clever, comedic in a way that might guilt you into attending services with signs like: “I don’t know why some people change churches; what difference does it make which one you stay home from?” or “There are some questions that can’t be answered by Google,” or my favorite slogan, cloaked in Anti-Semitism: “Christmas: easier to spell than Hanukkah.” I guess all the clergymen got together at some convention when they experienced a major drop-off in church goers and said we need a new strategic plan, a marketing brand. Comedy works and maybe we should be more inclusive while we’re at it. Nah, just kidding…I wonder if the banks will succumb to comedy to make would-be robber chuckle and decide not the stick-up the joint. Smile: You’re on Candid Camera; We Can Use This Same Photo for Your Mug Shot! People don’t take things seriously enough anymore, but then again we don’t really have stuff like the Black Plague and Leprosy and Concentration Camps but in their stead we do have unstable, unemployed college drop-outs who live in their parents’ basements and gun down children and entire populations without clean drinking water and a world that makes it illegal for people who love each other to be legally married. And let’s not forget suicide bombers and doomsday anti-government preppers. Maybe they know something.
I love those stories of love letters written by a lovesick teenage draftee in a foxhole during a war that never reached the intended person and shows up half a century later, having been accumulating dust in some dead letter bin. The Post Office makes a valiant effort to deliver it, news station cover the event, cameras galore, but alas, the woman is usually long dead and the story evolves into the fantasy of unrequited romanticism. We want to believe such rare love still exists. We want to believe the written word has that power over us. The woman leaves for a short errand and never returns to her Paris apartment so the mail carrier returns the next day with the letter to nobody home and a half century latter some great granddaughter inherits the dusty, untouched farm house and enters it and finds a primitive Van Gogh and handmade toys from Germany and first editions of the Great Russian novelists. On the door was a hastily scribbled sign: “Back in an hour”. I guess the ultimate sign is that which one wants etched on his gravestone. My poetry teacher, on his deathbed, whispered to me what he wanted: Never Mind. I guess that sums up life with an exclamation point and makes people realize you can develop a sense of humor even after you’re dead.
This coming Wednesday ASU will be hosting a reading by author, poet and professor of Creative Writing at the University of Arizona, Alison Hawthorne Deming. The reading will take place at Arizona State University on the Tempe Campus in the Education Lecture Hall EDC Room 117 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Check out the Superstition Review Facebook page for full details.
Alison Hawthorne Deming is author of four poetry books, most recently Rope (Penguin Poets, 2009). This was preceded by Science and Other Poems, which won the Walt Whitman Award, The Monarchs: A Poem Sequence, and Genius Loci. She has published three nonfiction books, Temporary Homelands, The Edges of the Civilized World, and Writing the Sacred Into the Real. Among her awards are two NEA Fellowships, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship, Bayer Award in Science Writing from Creative Nonfiction, Pablo Neruda Prize from Nimrod, and the Best Essay Gold GAMMA Award from the Magazine Association of the Southeast. She is Professor in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona.
As part of Project Humanities launch week festivities, they will be holding an event at the Tempe Center for the Arts on Monday, February 7th at 7 p.m. The keynote speaker for the event will be author, poet and screenwriter Sherman Alexie and he will speak on the topic “People, Places and Stories.”
Alexie, currently residing in Seattle, Washington, bases much of his writing on his experiences as a Native American. Some of his best known works are a book of short stories entitled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1994), the film Smoke Signals, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, an autobiographical novel for young adults.
In 1999, Alexie was named as one of The New Yorker’s top 20 writers of the twenty-first century. In 2007, Alexie was awarded the National Book Award prize for Young People’s literature for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Last year Alexie won the PEN/Faulkner Award for War Dances, the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas Lifetime Achievement Award, and was the recipient of the Puterbaugh Award and holds the distinction of being the first American to receive the award.
The event takes place February 7th at 7 p.m. at the Tempe Center for the Arts located at 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway Tempe, AZ. 8528. Parking is free for guests in the lot adjacent to the facility. No tickets are needed for this event; seating is on a first come first serve basis. Guests may arrive at 6 p.m. and doors to the theater will open at 6:30 p.m.
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