Join us in congratulating SR interview contributor Jackie Shannon Hollis. Her forthcoming memoir, This Particular Happiness: A Childless Love Story, will be released by Forest Avenue Press on October 1. The book is now available for preorder.
In the memoir, Jackie explores her decision to marry Bill and commit to a childless life. But soon after the wedding, she holds her newborn niece and begins to question her decision to not have children. Told in short nonlinear chapters, the book examines what we gain and sacrifice when we love another person.
More information about Jackie and her new book can be found here. You can find her interview from Issue 7 here.
“This Particular Happiness, is a deeply moving story about Jackie Shannon Hollis’s decades-long yearning to have a child―and her complicated decision not to. But it’s also about so much more than that. With honesty, generosity, precision and insight, Hollis writes the story of her life―from her girlhood in rural Oregon, where she both broke and followed the rules, to her hard-earned self-acceptance at middle age. This Particular Happiness is a gloriously wise memoir about one woman’s unexpected path to becoming.”
Today we are pleased to feature poet Rose Knapp as our Authors Talk series contributor. Rose talks about how her poems deal with language and translation.
She asks what actual differences exist between common speech and poetic language. Also, is translation possible even within the same language? Finally, how do answers to these questions affect relationships?
You can read and listen to Rose’s poetry in Superstition Review, Issue 19.
“I can’t fathom writers married to writers and musicians married to musicians. There’s your enemy in bed beside you.” —T.C. Boyle
There isn’t a good history of writer couples. Think of the Fitzgeralds. Think of Plath and Hughes. But here I am—knock on wood—married to the poet Katherine Riegel for the past 11 years. I can say, without doubt, that our relationship has shaped me as a writer. If we had never met in Carbondale, IL, those many years ago, I might be teaching high school somewhere, or back in Chicago working at a camera store. Katie is my creativity fuel, my muse, my motivation. I can also say, with certainty, that without me, Katie would still be a poet.
Recent email to Publisher/Friend
You may know by now that Katie has gotten her second book of poetry accepted for publication. But you don’t know how much we are in fierce competition with each other, and how I need to have my second book come out at the same time. That said, would you guys be interested in taking a look at my essay collection, Southside Buddhist?
By the way, I’m kidding. Only a little. But seriously, you interested?
Ira “Bad Husband” Sukrungruang
P.S. She can’t win!
We have learned how to be with each other. We know that I prefer the left side of the bed. We know that she hates June bugs. We know that I hate spiders. We know that she has to figure out tips on checks at restaurants. We know that I will have to cook most meals. We’ve also learned what to say about each other’s work. This took years. We are both stubborn in our own ways, and believe, most of the time, that we are right. Katie is more outwardly stubborn. I’m more inwardly stubborn. She voices her displeasure. “You’re wrong,” she’ll say. I keep it inside. “You’re wrong,” I’ll say on the inside.
Now we have a system. It’s really not a system. We tell each other our work is the best on this planet. No other writers rival our brilliance. And together, we are like those Japanese animes where we can join and become an ultimate power.
“Wonder Twin Powers! Activate!”
We’ve come to know other writing couples: Jon and Allison, Chad and Jennifer, Jeff and Margot, Stacy and Adrian, Aimee and Dustin, Michael and Catherine. Sometimes we go on writing couple dates where most of the time we talk about TV. Writers love TV. TV and food.
We are known as Katie and Ira, a two-headed writing beast. She is the phoenix, and I am the dragon. At readings or conferences, if we are not together, people will say, “Where is __________________?” This happens a lot to writing couples. One of our friends once said, “We’re taking a break,” and this caused such a stir that soon the writing world was abuzz. “Did you hear? So and so are breaking up!” It was the best joke ever, she said.
When we appear by ourselves, it is to others as if we are suddenly without a limb.
In “Enduring Discovery: Marriage, Parenthood, and Poetry,” Brenda Shaughnessy and Craig Morgan Teicher write: “We root for each other’s work, which is good because these books delve into our shared private lives.”
I write about Katie often because I write about what it means to belong to two cultures—Thai and American. Katie, however, very seldom writes about me. When we were first dating, I’d say, “Write a poem about me.” I’d say, “You must not love me because I’m never in your work. I love you because you’re always in my work.” She’d shake her head. “Listen, if I begin writing about you, that means our relationship is not doing well. I only write about bad relationships.” This is true.
Eleven years later, still nothing written about me.
“An old lady poem,” was the judgment of a friend recently. I was offended, then considered—at 73, am I getting to be an old lady? How could that happen!
Yet, the poems I wrote in my 20s were sharper and less reflective. Many had to do with self-discovery, the landscape of the young. As time passed, I found this investigation tiresome. It was easier to accept the person I have always been, or through decades have become.
My poems shaded into narrative. Though I write short fiction, I found my natural rhythm and voice more suited to the poem, yet story increasingly intrigued me. Subject matter changed too. Poems on the struggles of relationships—parental, sexual, marital, social gave way to less personal, more external topics.
I wrote a series of poems on criminals and on saints (featured in The Lonely Hearts Killers), a chapbook on art (The Chagall Poems), on the natural world (The Boundary Waters) and most recently on decades of country life with a noir flavor (Dead Horses). It seems a predictable progression. While I am still interested in, and write about, a variety of subjects, with the passage of the years, elegies replace love lyrics, ruminations on illness, loss, loneliness and death, for good or ill, are new preoccupations.
I hope I’ve retained the sardonic outlook that speaks to my dread of falling prey to “old lady poems.” Hera forbid, I become a character in one of my own such as “Red Hats.”
A hat tribe based on a poem
Praising a notion of insouciance.
The intention to wear purple
With a red hat when old
Incited not a revolution
But a convention of the like-minded.
It’s over between us. We knew it would come to this, and the news that you’ve been accepted by a new lover is a bittersweet reminder of what we once meant to each other.
It’s with an effort, Story, that I remember our first days together: you showed up at the back doorstep of my awareness—naked, untamed, willful—dangerous! You entered my life as a vague notion, a possibility. How could I resist falling passionately and obsessively in love? For weeks I could think of nothing else but you. Friends knew—they saw it in my inwardly turned eyes, my inattention to their conversation. “Not again,” they warned, shaking their heads. They know me to be a destructive lover.
And they were right—I followed my old patterns. It wasn’t enough to cherish you as you came to me—I had to try to change you. I insisted that you look a certain way: with fierce demagoguery I controlled your language; you spent time only where I allowed; only those individuals I chose for you were permitted inside your paragraphs. Worst of all, nearly every time we met I questioned your size. Trim down, I commanded, tighten up—what will others think? Yes, my lost love, I confess, how you appeared to others was always a priority—when they appraised you, what would they be thinking of me?
Can you believe that I was only searching for your heart? Can you believe the paradox of my love—my efforts to improve you were intended to prepare you to be loved by someone else.
Then, Story, you were nearly done. How old the new looks in retrospect. The truth is, in our last moments together, even as I straightened your seams, swept your hair from your eyes, and corrected with a finger wag the last imperfection of your speech, I was already forgetting you! “Finished” is a cruel word, dear Story. I sent you away, and you didn’t object. I forgot about you, until your new lover wrote: “Is Story available? We love her and want to feature her in our pages.” And without a moment’s pause I’ve given you up. It’s a formality—our end was born in our beginning.
It will be months before I see you again, Story. Our names will be paired, but you’ll no longer belong to me. My eyes will scan your glittering new font and narrow, justified columns, but I won’t read you. I’ll have archived your heart. Acquaintances will quote you to me, and I’ll look at them, confused. “Who?” I’ll ask. “What?”
I’ll be listening for the backdoor laughter of a new lover.
So, Story, adieu—forgive my fickleness—even the brief flirtation I’ve shared with this letter has cooled. It’s all part of the game.
Sometimes on the subway my husband and I play a game. We choose a person and silently take in the details, from the obvious physical characteristics to the more subtle indicators of who this person is and what type of life he or she might lead (Is that a wedding ring? What’s the title of the book he’s reading, and is he really reading it? Why does she keep checking her watch? Look how she’s noticing her reflection in the window). We assemble narratives, which we share with each other later on, using the observed details to explain and defend until we combine our efforts into one story of a stranger we will most likely never see again. Some might call us nosy, but I prefer to think of us as curious. Either way, my husband and I are shameless. At restaurants we eavesdrop. One of us will catch a juicy tidbit at the next table and widen our eyes, and whatever conversation we were having will stop as we both lean forward and listen.
I have been a people-watcher all my life, and my home, New York City, is the perfect place to indulge. People are endlessly fascinating with their complexities and contradictions, their histories and quirks. But what really pulls me in is the raw humanness we all share—that mash-up of love, uncertainty, fear, and want swirling around just below the surface. We are more alike than we are different, yet these common vulnerabilities are the ones we guard most carefully, ashamed and afraid of the judgment of others, or even ourselves. When we let those vulnerabilities slip through—that is a moment of beauty.
If asked why I write, I could give many answers: compulsion; the joy of words; the freedom in creation; a desire to leave a mark, however small, on the world. But, really, I write for the same reason I read, and the same reason I people-watch: to learn about others and try to get at that common, messy human core. My novel, Spark, addresses subjects that have interested me for a long time; I’ve written elsewhere about my initial inspiration and the research involved. But the actual act of putting pen to paper began with one character, the narrator, Andrea. Her name came to me on a walk one afternoon and with it a feeling of anguish; I understood that she was a woman fighting to gain control and losing badly, although I didn’t know why yet. I wrote her name down in my notebook and began listing everything about her. From there, the relationships then the themes of the book revealed themselves to me.
Almost all my fiction begins this way, with one character coming up to me out of the ether. As I write, I feel that character pulling me along, as if the story is already there, the character impatient for me to uncover it. I’m sure my people-watching has helped, the details filed away in my subconscious for later use.
In my writing I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to bring out that messy human core as completely, or with as much clarity, as I would like, but it gives me something to strive for. And in the process, I find myself feeling more connected to those beautiful strangers on the subway.
Mai-Quyen Nguyen is a junior at Arizona State University, majoring in English with a concentration in Fiction and pursuing a certificate in Technical Communication. She is a Fiction Editor for Superstition Review, which is her first role at the online literary magazine. Not only is she seeking to gain experience with the editing and publishing industry, but she is also hoping to develop relationships and build networks.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area in California, she moved to Arizona to study nursing. However, her career plan changed when she fully realized her passion to write and edit. Language and words are multifaceted; people communicate through both spoken and written words and she wishes to affect the lives of others through her own.
What Mai-Quyen finds fascinating about writing is the bond it creates between the writer and the reader. Regardless of how deeply literature is read, people take away different meanings. Writing searches for the truth, a concept that humans sometimes find difficult, and Mai-Quyen seeks to find who she is through literature.
One story that has changed her life is “Recitatif” by Toni Morrison. She enjoys not only the works of contemporary authors such as Toni Morrison, Joyce Carol Oates, Stuart Dybek, Jim Shephard, and John Irving, but also those of John Green and Ernest Hemingway. Inspired by Hemingway, Mai-Quyen is interested in exploring his theory of omission, or the Iceberg Theory, in her works.
Aside from writing fiction, Mai-Quyen likes to compose lyrics and on occasion, poetry. She grew up as a performer: she sang in her elementary school and high school choir, swing danced in elementary and middle school, acted during middle school, and took piano lessons for seven years. Although she is no longer committed to those activities, she continues to play the piano in her spare time.
After graduating from ASU, Mai-Quyen plans to apply to Columbia University to earn an MFA in Fiction. She aspires to become a book editor and a literary fiction author. She dreams to have her work published and read across the world, evoking a positive response on her audience who will gain valuable lessons from her stories.
The Third Law of Motion, by Meg Files, Anaphora Literary Press, 2011 (reviewed by Mary Sojourner)
Newton’s third law states that for every action (force) in nature there is an equal and opposite reaction.
It is one thing to open a book and find yourself deep in a movie of the story; it is quite another to open a book and realize that you have become the character. Meg Files brings us into the mind, heart, body, longings and profound confusion of Dulcie White, a ’60s teenage girl too quickly becoming a woman.
You may have been Dulcie. I certainly was. She is a smart, curious, sensual young woman caught in a time when it was perilous to be both curious and sensual. She meets track star Lonnie Saxbe at a dancing class her friend has persuaded her to attend. The trajectory of their connection, or more accurately dis-connection, is predictable. Any woman who has gone into an abusive relationship or marriage knows the arc. Rather than describe Dulcie’s careening out of her own life, her own self, a discussion of Files’ craft in shaping Dulcie and Lonnie is more germane.
So often, the young are cursed by what they believe are their informed decisions. They are meteors propelled by desire and the longing to be desired. Files gives us in her perfect pitch renditions of conversations – both outer and inner – an exploration of the deep, intelligent and connected love between Dulcie and her college room-mate; and the hot and dissonant passion between Dulcie and Lonnie. By shifting point of view from Dulcie to Lonnie throughout the book, we are forced to know the young man’s inchoate violence and tangled driven mind.
Files brings us into intimate knowledge of two young people who most resemble the chaos of smoke. It is often easy for women to blame other women for entering and being unable to leave abusive relationships. Any of us who have found ourselves trapped in our own terror of being abandoned – “What if there is no other lover? What if I destroy my lover by leaving? I don’t want to grow old alone.” – whether we are gay or straight may know the sensation of being mired. We may know the equally energizing and terrifying rush of fresh air when we pull ourselves free. We may certainly know the descent that follows the liberation – and how old and new voices from our childhood and the society around us begin to natter in our minds, telling us to return to the mire.
To read The Third Law of Motion is to understand more than why a woman might find herself trapped by her past and present. As Dulcie and Lonnie tell their stories, the reader comes into contact with greater notions of cause and effect. We understand the degree that Second Wave Feminism – Files never preaches ideology – provides light for a dark and potentially deadly path. I imagine some of Files’ younger students reading the book and wondering why Dulcie didn’t go to a women’s shelter, to Planned Parenthood, to an empathetic woman OBGYN. Those of us who lived through the ’50s and ’60s can answer that question. There was nowhere to go. We were alone with what we believed were our choices. We didn’t yet know that there were few choices – and that all of them were part of the swamp that held us fast.
I found myself wanting The Third Law of Motion to be required reading in all academic women’s and gender programs. Meg Files has given the gift – subtle and sorrowful – of a woman’s truth.
Before I talk about my struggle with rejection letters, it’s important that you know how much I want you to love me. By “you” I don’t mean a general second-person all-encompassing kind of you; I mean you: the person reading these words awash in the light of a computer screen. And by “me” I don’t mean the don’t-assume-the-author-is-the-narrator kind of “me.” I really mean me, here, tapping at the keys in the dark, dog snoring softly at my feet.
My only hope of winning your love is to woo you with my words, to be smart and funny, and whip up a mean metaphor or simile now and again, so that’s what I’ll do if I can. Sometimes I can’t, and if I can’t win your love I will console my sorrow with an ice cream sundae or maybe a chocolate-covered cream puff.
Well, that’s how I would have consoled myself four months ago, before I gave up processed sugar in all of its devilish incarnations.
I gave up sugar because I wanted to know what drove me to eat it, in any form, in the car, and on the beach, in front of the computer or behind a book, after every meal, and just before I brushed my teeth. I thought if I sat quiet and still in that place of craving, the answer would rise to the surface of the abyss, returning like a bottle I tossed into the sea as a young girl. When I had the answer it would be over; no more cravings.
Of course I had the answer all along. I never tossed that bottle into the sea. I swallowed it whole, washed it down with a Coke sipped through a Red Vine, and it’s been sitting in my belly ever since: Sugar = Love.
Except that it doesn’t.
Now I’m working on the part where I love myself so completely that I don’t need your love, or anyone’s. I’m so not there yet. I’m reminded that I’m not there every time I open a rejection letter, and the urge to drive myself to the ice cream stand is so strong I very nearly have to chain myself to the porch rail and sing myself lullabies— because besides eating sugary products, writing is the one thing that I have, at times, done well. It is the basket in which all of my eggs lay. Or is it “lie”? Well, Sometimes those eggs do lie. They say, “This poem is your best yet. It is sure to be scooped up by the editor of [insert name of fabulous journal here] because you and the editor are both fans of skydiving clowns and blue-eyed mares named Maggie.”
Four months later I open the rejection, and it’s not even personalized. Sometimes it’s such a clever form letter that I can’t tell whether or not it’s personalized, and I have to go look it up on Rejection Wiki, which is incredibly humiliating, or would have been if I had ever dared to admit it to anyone before now.
There are very few places where people are rejected outright — romantic relationships, employment, college admissions, immigration, and the submission or audition process— where someone says bluntly, “No, not you; You’re not good enough,” and of those, the latter two are the only rejections that are likely to happen on a daily basis for the rest of our lives, although my rejection letters seem to gang up on the same day, like unwashed teenage boys loafing outside the corner liquor store, emitting a gauntlet of testosterone and cigarette smoke through which I was required to pass for my daily dose of Blow Pop.
If you’ve ever received a rejection letter, you’ve felt the misery, however brief, so I don’t have to tell you. My trouble is that I’m eternally optimistic, so when those poetry eggs whisper their sweet nothings, I believe them every time, no matter how often they’ve been proven wrong.
The rejection letter is the price I have to pay for that optimism, and indulging in a little snort of post-rejection sugary goodness was like paying that price with credit. Sure, the sting was still out there, but “I’ll get to it later,” I’d say. “Pass the cookies.” Now my credit’s run out, and it’s all cash on delivery, Baby. So what do I do instead of sucking whipped cream straight from the can? I write about it, and then I write some more, and the cycle repeats.