Please Hold cover

Guest Post: Martha Zweig Reviews “Please Hold” by Muriel Nelson

Please Hold by Muriel Nelson, Encircle Publications, 2021

Praise be to Encircle Publications for selecting my friend Muriel Nelson’s Please Hold as the winner of their 11th annual chapbook competition. Any and all lovers of poetry currently suffering frustration, blahs, even despair, over lineated topical prosaics may take heart. These twenty-five poems bind together actual poetry: musical-magic words. Deployed from within the courteous, indefatigably sunny suburban disposition I remember from my own childhood, they flick quirts & quips of vocabulary at the thorniest issues in Christianity’s crown: the suffering and death of innocents, ripping as usual through the here and now, while a good-enough god’s vital creation flourishes, for instance, its novel & ingeniously variable virus. Nelson (sometimes assisted by a stone-faced sidekick gargoyle) rubs dry sticks together, flint-striking among them worrisome sparks of prayer over nature, beloveds and the commons, such as they (and we) may seem-or-not to get along these days. Or ever? Organ of vox humana, ”That ultra-low purr,/ is it your scary business? Your pleasure?” (God Deafness).

Nelson’s work, full of noises and mouth feel, craves and rewards reading aloud: “words like worms wriggle out” (A Few Words from a Haystack with Facehole); “gold leaf down brown water, brown spot down gold leaf” (Up to You) as “radios amplify hubbubs” (Nap). “Rather than dazzle, please mail juncos”, a speaker requests. (You There). “Sanctus,” via violin, “rises/ over orange machines and trills through diesel” (Hold Sway). Wanton, irresistible frolicking language made of everyday diction we already know by heart.

Anxieties addressed in addition to pandemic include other illnesses and infirmities, clear air turbulence in aviation (Nelson’s own son the pilot at risk); hair overgrowing unruly in lockdown, nearby Mt. St. Helens’ volcanic eruption and forest fires, plus whatever else may fill in any of our blanks. Why is our local nit picked of the universe such a mess-in-plain-sight? Because this world of oops is God’s mirror-image shattered in a truck mishap. (Nap) Image-recognitions like this, more persuasive and quicker-to-the-pinch than rational proofs, are why/how we get to make sense of things, even as sense may go on to make and unmake the best efforts of artists, fans and rationalists. Because seeing is believing, the gardener –reluctantly conceding that god obviously prefers weeds– can’t really mind. Don’t look there. Look over here instead.

More ‘Notes’ than just one on hummingbird arithmetic would be nice:  Vox humana, gargoyle, worm moon, clear air turbulence, retrograde, ankyloglossia,  A440. I do like reading notes before I begin a book, getting that initial feel for what’s in store. And, what with everything zapping all around the world’s diverisities all the time, a particular writer’s cultural tropes are not so much common knowledge as used to be.  

The sheer antic fun of Nelson’s wordplay, nimble, precise and outlandish enough never to get caught out in bourgeois complacency, wins us over and wins. Goofy poem “Hug,” for instance, declares its own title a word too ugly to be tolerated, and so (um, ‘embrace’?) substitutes (why not?) “waffle,” enumerating the latter’s superior fluff and sugary qualities and ending up (neverminding stiffly-posed ancestor portraits) in the very waffle that created us descendants.  Or, “A woman with a hole in her brain the size of a lemon says”/ I find repetition soothing. Really?” The poem’s skeptical speaker attempts a few irritatant repetitions in rebuttal, but soon concedes the issue utterly. 

Atheist Zweig engages these glories in awe for quite a while, as the music tickles and soothes. Gradually, though, an inner Richard Wilbur begins to notice the gigantic absence here of any human (and systemic) depravity in the world. If we can’t blame God (busy puttering light and music among the weeds), who gets held to account, and how? One poem, after ee cummings, seems to indict Mister Death, but this, sez I, is mere Manichaean heresy: did superpower Death create Itself? “Second Story Window” acknowledges a “God, who contours love with dark // who forsakes even Christ,” yet ends beguiled hearing bells and a shadow singing. In these poems music and wit (soothing, satisfying) never accuse. “Nap” comes closest: “God of great pain, lone, // self-bombing, bloody-crossed God… whom no one hugs, you untouchable, sharp, broken One.” Christianity, though, is obliged to address deliberate human sin— which the crucified god, (as we’re told by numerous authorities), forgives in advance and for all time. Wow! Thanks a bunch! Let’s sin again, maybe more so this time! Did I miss the parts where the moneybaggers get bounced out of the temple and barred from the heavenly kingdom even as some lumpy beast slicks through the needle’s eye?

Approaching the end, Please Hold arrives at “doting,” three times: a word I resist because doting is foolish. Am I supposed to be foolish for having indulged in delight among these poems? Must I, must other readers and Nelson herself, commit to holy foolery for Jesus and Saint Paul? After some research I reread “A woman with a hole in her brain the size of a lemon says” –increasingly my favorite. We cultured folk know perfectly well that art and all its witness entail willing suspension of disbelief; likely you and I can entertain Holy Foolishness without becoming wholly foolish. My atheistic smarts briefly snooze right over there, safe-&-sound.

Revisit the commodious mischief of this robocroon title, perpetrated, surely, by the gargoyle sidekick: Your prayer is very important to us. Our only-one god is busy hearing other supplicants and will respond to you in the order of your prayer received. You are currently number four trillion and eighty-two, please hold, or pray again later. (music) Organ, please hold that vox humana note. Dike against the sea, please hold; my place in the soup line; wall against the dark hordes, shutters against the storm, please hold. Hug me a little longer, (urgently/politely) don’t let go. Endure, don’t disintegrate, don’t die. And so on, let me count the ways. Please Hold your horses, your fire, your tongue, that thought, this book.


Please Hold, poems by Muriel Nelson, Encircle Publications, 2021, 28 pp.

EJ Levy author photo

Keeping Alive a Feminist and Transgender Icon


Congratulations are in order for past contributor E.J. Levy, whose newest book, The Cape Doctor, was released this summer. E.J. was kind enough to send us her own description of the book, found below.


I’m delighted to have had my debut novel, The Cape Doctor, out from Little Brown on June 15th, after nearly a decade of work. The book is inspired by the life of Dr. James Miranda Barry–born Margaret Ann Bulkley circa 1795 in Cork, Ireland–a brilliant, irascible, dandified, army surgeon who advocated for the rights of the marginalized and was the first person known to perform a successful caesarian in Africa; Barry was caught in a sodomy scandal with the aristocratic governor of Cape Town (then the Cape Colony) in 1824, and eventually rose to the level of Inspector General, only to be discovered after death to have been “a perfect female” and to have carried a pregnancy late to term.

In the 150 years since Barry died, the doctor has been celebrated as both a feminist icon (as the first female-born person to receive a medical degree in the UK, 50 years before Elizabeth Garrett Anderson would, and 35 years before Elizabeth Blackwell would earn her degree in the US) and more recently as a trans icon. Both are valid interpretations in my view. I agree with biographer Jeremy Dronfield (author of Dr. James Barry: A Woman Ahead of Her Time) who has said that he sees validity in both a feminist and a trans reading of Barry’s life, but he rejects any effort to impose one interpretation to the exclusion of the other or to present one as definitive. Mine is one reading of a richly ambiguous historical record of the fascinating and courageous life of Margaret Bulkley and James Barry. In writing the book, I was aiming for something like Virginia Woolf’s Orlando–in which the protagonist changes sex over centuries–but I think I’ve ended up with something closer to Charles Dicken’s David Copperfield.

I have changed Barry’s name to be clear that mine is a work of fiction. But it has felt at times more like a seance. I first learned of Barry on a trip to Cape Town; as we traveled around the city and into the countryside, I felt a little possessed by that spirit, as if Dr. Barry was whispering in my ear; I’m delighted that others have a chance to hear that same voice now. 

I’m gratified that Booklist has given The Cape Doctor a Starred Review, calling it “Remarkable…Absolutely superb… beautifully written…In sum, an unforgettable work of art that deserves raves.” The book was also named among Barnes & Noble’s “Best 100 Books of Summer” and was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.

I hope The Cape Doctor helps bring wider attention to and awareness of the remarkable life of both Margaret and James.


The Cape Doctor is published by Little Brown and available for purchase from Bookshop, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, Google Play, and Amazon.

E.J. was interviewed by SR about her story collection Love, In Theory in Issue 16. Keep up with what else E.J. is up to on her website and Twitter.

Internship Opportunities for ASU Undergraduates Spring 2022

Superstition Review

Internship Opportunities with Superstition Review 

Are you an ASU student interested in creative writing, publishing, marketing, social networking, blogging, or advertising? Do you wish you could get marketable job skills while earning college credit? Do you like to have a little fun while you learn?

Then an internship with Superstition Review is right for you.

Superstition Review is the online literary magazine produced by creative writing and web design students at Arizona State University. Founded in 2008, the mission of the journal is to promote contemporary art and literature by providing a free, easy-to-navigate, high quality online publication that features work by established and emerging artists and authors from all over the world.

We publish two issues a year with art, fiction, interviews, nonfiction, and poetry. We also enjoy honoring all members of our Superstition Review family by maintaining a strong year-round community of editors, submitters, contributors, and readers on our blog and social networks.

Trainees

Trainees will register for a 3 credit-hour ENG 394 course. The course will offer a study of the field of literary magazines.

Upon successful completion of ENG 394, trainees will enroll in ENG 484 and become active interns with the magazine.

  • All work is done completely online.
  • We welcome interns from all fields.
  • The internship is not available to ASU Online students.
  • Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

What Interns Say:

Trish provided valuable experience in my field of interest that is not offered anywhere else. This class has been a huge eye-opener for me and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to work in the publishing and editing industry before graduating.

The skills I learned have given me a huge amount of confidence as I begin my search for a job, and I’m so glad this course was available.

Trish is enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and very trusting of her students. Although all the work for SR goes through her, she allows for students to take control and engage in the work fully. Thanks for the wonderful experience!

Trish is extremely personable and is great at making people feel welcomed and she listens very well to her students.

Trish is extremely accessible and welcoming. I felt very comfortable coming to her with questions. I feel I got a great internship experience that will help me post graduation.

Read more about us on our social networks:

        

Contributor Update, Paul Luikart

Contributor Update, Paul Luikart


We’re so excited to share that past contributor Paul Luikart has published a new book! The Museum of Heartache, a short story collection, debuted this week from Pski’s Porch Publishing.

Paul Luikart earns his spot on the shortlist of writers who can sink you right into the skin of a character in only a few lines. This collection of stories, some almost poetry, captures moments in his characters’ lives when they aren’t just down and out but squeezed in the vice of their circumstances, whether peculiar or mundane. In their shoes, you’ll grapple with what it means to be fully human and come out the other side changed.

Audrey Keown, Author of the Ivy Nichols Mysteries

The book includes Paul’s story “Blessed Assurance,” originally published by Superstition Review in Issue 22. That story touches on the reality of things we may never expect to encounter, framed by the binaries of heaven and hell, alive and dead. It’s an honest and intense glimpse into a life the narrator wanted to escape. Yet we leave the story hopeful. To read “Blessed Assurance,” click here.

The Museum of Heartache is available on Amazon and more information can be found on the Pski’s Porch website. Check out Paul on Twitter.

Editorial Preferences in Fiction: Spencer Litman

One of the most important realizations of my life was that people are not one way, that they often do and say conflicting things not out of malice or to deceit, but because it a necessary part of the ever-changing human condition. There is a sort of dialectic behavioral therapy that must take place within all of our minds when we consider that good people can do very bad things and bad people can do very good things. This is the dynamic nature of humanity. It is unavoidable. It might be the only unchanging and shared characteristic of humanity.

And it is for this reason that I am drawn to literary fiction. There often isn’t a clear line between good and bad. The characters in literary fiction make terrible choices and deal with the repercussions. As a reader and editor, I want to read stories that sink deep into these chasms between right and wrong, stories that teach us something about what it means to be fallible and imperfect. I want to read stories that challenge me, that make me so angry I hold my breath until the final sentence, so sad that I think of the characters long after I finish the stories. I want to see myself and my flaws laid out before me. I want to read narratives that do not pass judgement but present a situation and ask me to consider a point of view I may never have arrived at myself.

Literary fiction is a conversation between all of the writers in the world, constantly arriving at theses only to have them blown up and reordered by the next. Show me a side of humanity only you can construct, the things that make your perception unique.

But above everything, I want to feel something. I want to finish a story, let take root in my brain and change my long-held beliefs. Whether it is characters, setting, plot, language, form, it doesn’t matter. The stories that stick with me are the ones that make me think about life in a way I couldn’t or wouldn’t. This is the goal of fiction, and this is the fiction I want to see adding to the literary conversation.  

Spencer Litman is the fiction editor for Issue 23. He is a fiction writer and essayist living in Phoenix with his wife, Kristine, and his two children, Jayden and Aubrey. He is finishing his undergraduate degree in English with a creative writing concentration and hopes to attend an MFA program somewhere cold, with pine needles and snow.

Contributor Update, Terese Svoboda: Great American Desert

Terese SvobodaToday we are happy to share news about past contributor Terese Svoboda. Terese’s new short story collection Great American Desert is to be published by Mad Creek books. The collection has found its home in the new genre of ‘cli-fi’, or climate fiction, as it explores the relationship between man and earth from the past to distant future.

The collection launches at the Corner Bookstore on March 26th at 6 pm in New York City. Terese will be in Phoenix to teach a workshop at Pipers Writing Studio on April 20th.

S[r]’s author interview with Terese can be found here, and her short story “Madonna in the Terminal” can be found here.

Congratulations Terese!

Contributor Update, Jenn Givhan: Trinity Sight

Today we are thrilled to share news of past contributor Jenn Givhan. Jenn’s debut novel, Trinity Sight, is available for preorder from Blackstone Publishing, and will be published October 1, 2019. The novel, inspired by indigenous oral-history traditions, takes a new spin on dystopian fiction. Jenn’s characters are confronted with dueling concepts of science, faith, modern identity and ancestral tradition as they attempt to understand how the world fell apart.

The book is available for preorder here.

Congratulations Jenn!

Contributor Update, Pam Houston: Deep Creek, Finding Hope in the High Country

Today we are happy to share the news of past contributor Pam Houston. Pam’s memoir “Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country” was just published by W. W. Norton & Company in January of 2019. Reminiscing about her life living in the Colorado Rockies, Pam discusses the beauty and pain of human life and her ties to the earth, specifically her 120-acre ranch. The memoir not only includes her essays but also 12 of the author’s own black and white photographs.

The book can be purchased here, and information about her signing event at Bookshop Santa Cruz can be found here.

Congratulations Pam!

Editorial Preferences in Art: Shalanndra Benally

Through the process of curating art, I would say that I have gained new eyes for looking at different pieces of work. I can admit that I was never one to look at art in the manner of color, context, and composition before. I mainly base what I like on no other context other than just liking the way things look.

I think art as a medium can be something over saturated with the sheer number of artists, but I believe that I have learned so much. Through this journey I was also able to differentiate an artist from a hobbyist.

Looking at art now, I am finding myself drawn to artists that have a lot of work and specifically work that contains the three C’s. The first aspect I like to look for is composition. I really like to take composition into consideration and make sure that it matches the Superstition Review and what the audience would engage with. Secondly, I like to look into the context of the piece. Not simply understanding what the piece looks like, but taking the time to understand what the underlying theme is or what the piece is trying to say. And of course, taking color into consideration with each piece. All of these elements have helped me understand on a different level of viewing and appreciating art.

With that being said, I don’t particularly have a specific type of art I enjoy, I can look at any piece of work from any medium and still be able to apply what I have learned.

Overall, I am very grateful and pleased that I am able to see art differently. And I will continue to utilize what I have learned as I flourish throughout the art community.

Shalanndra Benally is the art editor for issue 23. She is currently in her first semester of her Senior year at Arizona State University studying Digital Culture with a concentration in Design. Currently she is working on the design team for TEDx at ASU, as well as being the sole designer for the 40th annual Ms. and Mr. Indian ASU. She is always looking for new opportunities to show off her artistic abilities and demonstrate her extensive design experience. After graduation she hopes to work in digital media or another creative field.

#ArtLitPhx: Meet Your Literary Community

#artlitphxMeet Your Literary Community

Event Description:

Meet your literary community at the Open Air Market at the Phoenix Public Market Saturday, October 6, 2018 from 8:00 a.m to 12:00 p.m.

Featuring the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, Wasted Ink Zine Distro, Cardboard House Press, PC Rising, Superstition Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Lux Undergraduate Creative Review, Normal Noise and more.

Additional space will be provided for local authors and other literary organizations and groups to engage with the community. If you’re interested in participating, learn more by visiting our website at http://piper.asu.edu/events/meet-your-community.

More information about activities and programs will be announced soon.