Superstition Review is open to submissions for Issue 31! Our submission window closes January 31st, 2023.
Our magazine is looking for art, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Read our guidelines and submit here.
Winner of the Kore Press Institute Poetry Prize, Jessica Lawson’s new poetry collection Gash Atlas is both beautiful and devastating. Combining sexual violence, history, and the speaker’s own complicity, Lawson creates a twisted mirror of our own world. Suffusing this world is the figure “Christopher Columbus,” a villain personifying a long legacy of colonization and current political terror. Columbus’s lines are filled with haunting references: “there is no turning the globe can make away from me… The fake news says there is no / oxygen in space, but anywhere is breathable if you know who to pay.” This is a collection that lingers.
Gash Atlas gives us a map of words—the physical and philosophical language—to navigate a visceral reckoning. History and the present move insidiously through bodies that serve as “soft / places to plant menace.” There is relentless difficulty, complexity, setbacks, toughness, rage. There’s hard humor alongside the exhaustion of everyday fear. Actual and symbolic horror, borne and delivered through the tender precarity of motherhood and violently performative femme-presence, show us the unsustainable cost of institutional force. How intimate it is, how prevalent, how invasive even to one’s own private thoughts—“I have a fantasy of lying down in snow and not being.” Jessica Lawson’s poems, images and stagings take the pulse of existence and offer a bold, intimate conversation that shows us just how close we—humans—are to the ultimate wreck, if we continue charting our world according to the persistent peril of ignorance.Khadijah Queen, author of I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On
Jessica Lawson’s work has appeared in The Rumpus, Entropy, The Wanderer, Cosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. Gash Atlas is her first book. To learn more about Lawson, visit her website.
Behind every great man/ is too much forgiving/ and an awl of blood” writes Jessica Lawson in Gash Atlas, a collection that erodes the statue Christopher Columbus has erected like a gash in each subjectivity colonized by powerful men. Lawson has given us poems that strike a balance between daring to ask the urgent questions and posing them with the care of one who knows how language often operates as a colonial mode.Raquel Salas Rivera, author of lo terciario/ the tertiary and while they sleep (under the bed is another country)
To purchase Gash Atlas, go here.
We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into Lawson’s collection. This interview was conducted via email by our Blog Editor, Brennie Shoup.
Brennie Shoup: What inspired you to create Gash Atlas?
Jessica Lawson: I had multiple moments of inspiration, or at least motivation, that defined this project for me. The first was the 2016 election, which transformed my previous plans to write a manuscript about maps into a project that was much more directly political. I began to accrue poems about the terror of that current moment, as well as the violent histories informing it. The character of an antagonist emerged, who would later become Christopher Columbus. Then a second defining moment came, this time more quietly but perhaps more powerfully. It was when I realized that my book wasn’t just, or only, about Trump, but was about the complicity of my own speaker in the violence he was performing. The book didn’t really come together for me until I did the difficult work of problematizing the voice through which the book itself is coming, letting the book question its own speaker. The book and its composition, in real time, became about strategies for fighting against a system that imbues one’s own subject position. It’s why I gave the book an epigraph that came from a protest slogan by liberal white women, and attributed it to Columbus. My book is about maps, about violence, about Trump, and about white womanhood, and I realized each of these through the act of writing it.
BS: Your collection includes what’s been described as visual and poetic “maps.” Would you be able to discuss why you used the forms you did in this collection?
JL: Visually experimental literature is something I’ve been passionate about for a long time, and is reflected in a lot of the work I’ve already published. I think there is sometimes a misconception that visual literature, or experimental literature more broadly, is necessarily apolitical, and I’d love to see that change. Visual and hybrid poetry gets associated with a messed-up school of poetic elitism that uses “experiment” as a way of looking down upon any readers who can’t (or don’t wish to) understand it. And while there are absolutely writers who create experimental literature that way (those are the boring ones), there is also a rich history of activist writers who use experimentation to activate their texts and their readers, jolting us out of our seats by demonstrating that this is not business as usual. So, that’s a big part of why the forms of these pieces are so important to me. Sometimes, the political needs of the time necessitate breaking away from the forms we’ve inherited. Sometimes, when the world feels like it’s breaking apart, the pages and words need to break with it.
BS: Gash Atlas examines both past and present atrocities, with a particular focus on Christopher Columbus. Could you describe what your research process looked like?
JL: I was researching for this book long before I ever knew I’d write it. I remember years ago learning that Columbus was a terrible navigator, that he thought that the globe was shaped like a pear (or breast) rather than a sphere, that he wholly mistook the place he landed for an entirely different continent. I didn’t know I’d ever be using those bits of information to write poems, but once I decided to include Columbus in the book, this entire set of trivia flooded back in. From there, most of the other research had to do with the present moment I was writing in. I wrote about the United State’s opposition to the U.N. resolution banning the death penalty for homosexuality as it happened. I felt like my book wasn’t just reaching back into a history I’d already learned, but sprinting frantically forward after history as it was happening. The very last poem I put in the book, days before my draft was due to my press, responded to the January 6 attack on the Capitol. I was scared as I wrote it, both about what had just happened, and about having to let go of the manuscript before Trump left office. In a way, it feels like he never did.
BS: Do you have plans for future poetry collections or novels?
JL: I’m currently working on a second book of poems (though, like Gash Atlas, it includes hybrid elements that sometimes complicate its status as poetry). It’s about the body’s relationship to money, sexuality, and trauma. I’m getting pretty far along: the structure is falling into place, and a substantial portion of the poems have been written. Now I’m working on making the space to really look at it and push it toward completion (which is a challenge to do while I’m teaching four classes and raising three children). I’m excited and scared about it, which makes me think I’m where I need to be.
I was a senior in high school when the Notorious BIG died. Back then, during the height of the East Coast vs. West Coast Rivalry, hip-hop figures felt more like professional wrestlers than young men. They had “stage” names. They had entourages. They operated in a constant state of conflict. Their whole scene was so over the top, it ceased to be real for me. Now it’s 25 years later. I’m 42 years old. I teach English at an inner-city high school in Upstate New York. And I’m still trying to process Biggie’s violent death, to properly lament all that was lost on that tragic night in 1997.
A few days ago, I saw a Facebook post from a woman I grew up with. It read, “SiriusXM channel 105 is now Notorious BIG radio!!!” Without delay, I punched it up, and suddenly I was 17 again. It was Memorial Day Weekend, which meant everyone was at Lake George, a resort town sixty miles north of Albany, and “Mo Money, Mo Problems” blared from tricked-out cars and Jeeps with no doors that crawled down the crowded strip, Federal agents mad ‘cause I’m flagrant/tap my cell and the phone in the basement… Biggie had been dead just two months, and his posthumously-released double-album Life After Death ruled the radio waves. We had no idea who’d shot Biggie. But we understood it was revenge for Tupac Shakur’s slaying the previous November. And now that both kingpins were gone, America’s Rap War could end.
It might seem strange for a white boy from Upstate New York to feel any kind of connection with Biggie Smalls, whose birthplace of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn is practically on another planet. But my life began much like his. I was born September 26th, 1979 at Albany Medical Center. My mother was just twenty years old when she had me. I never knew my real father. Me and mom started out with her parents in a part of North Albany that had once been dominated by an Irish-Catholic constituency. But, by the time I arrived, a racial shift was in full swing. I was the only white kid in my kindergarten class. Like Biggie, I suffered from strabismus, a medical condition in which the eyes don’t properly align. From this, I developed a crippling inferiority complex. I refused to have my picture taken. I wouldn’t make eye contact with people when they spoke to me, often giving the impression that I was hiding something, or lying about something. Then I heard Biggie say, Heartthrob–never/Black and ugly as ever, with all the confidence of a King. And that gave me confidence. That lyric became a mantra. It helped me stop hating myself. Instead of letting my unfortunate eye condition defeat me, I took steps to correct it.
As a teacher, my first classroom was a converted storage area in the school’s basement level. The walls were paint-peeled and pockmarked. There was no window. No bookshelves. No books. I was assigned five sections of remedial English, the ones nobody else wanted to work with. My students were mostly black or Hispanic. They had discipline problems. They came from unthinkable living situations. The average literacy was at a second or third grade level. Before I could actually teach them anything English-related, I had to establish some sort of connection. I tried icebreaker games like “This or That” and “Desert Island.” Nothing worked. They saw me as just another white-guy teacher in their endless line of white-guy teachers. Then everything changed. One day, in early October, two boys at the back table began to loudly argue, and I wasn’t sure what I’d do if they got physical. At some point, one boy said to the other, “You want beef, bring it.” Without thinking, I began to rap, What’s Beef?/Beef is when you need two Gats to go to sleep/Beef is when your moms ain’t safe up in the streets…
“Yo, Huba, you know Big!?”
“Yeah, I know Big.”
I still work at that same school. My current classroom is on the top floor. Its windows overlook a courtyard that doubles as the Senior Lounge in warm weather. I’ve been here for sixteen years. In that time, I’ve taught all the most-recognizable writers, everyone from William Shakespeare to Stephen King, Maya Angelou to Ernest Hemingway, John Grisham to John Steinbeck, Harper Lee to JD Salinger. And I can tell you with total certainty that the Notorious BIG is a finer wordsmith than all of them. Don’t believe me? Google the lyrics to “Everyday Struggle,” then ask yourself: who can write this? Who can so masterfully manipulate the English language? I’ve poured over Biggie’s catalog for two decades and it still scrambles my brain. Every line, every lyric: stratospherically brilliant. As an educator, and a published writer, I wouldn’t have the first clue how to teach someone to do what Biggie could do. All before the age of 24! I can only come up with two conclusions. 1) He read everything under the sun, fully absorbed every word on every page, then instantly understood how to weaponize it. Or, 2) Biggie Smalls was a God.
Sometimes when I start class by saying, “Okay, guys, here’s today’s agenda–” I’ll silently sing to myself, …Got the suitcase up in the Sentra/Go to Room 112/Tell them Blanco sent ya…
The best hip-hop song of all time is Biggie’s aspirational anthem, “Juicy,” which begins with the line, Yeah, this album is dedicated to all the teachers that told me I’d never amount to nothin.’ This sentiment hits me hard. Presumably, if what Biggie says is true, there’s a teacher out there who once upon a time dismissed Christopher Wallace as a lost cause. I’ve made it my solemn vow to never be that teacher to any student. Public education isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. Talent and potential come in countless forms, and it’s my job to detect it, then guide it, then help it grow. A teacher who couldn’t see that Christopher Wallace was the Notorious BIG…I cannot imagine a more-appalling indictment against our profession.
25 years later, and the murder of Biggie Smalls remains unsolved. Whoever fired that fatal bullet might still walk among us, knowing he got away with it. Biggie was just 24 when he passed. Today he’d be 50. In 2017, Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace, said, “He was so young, so talented, and his life was taken far too soon.”
While Tupac seemed to thrive on the idea of a bicoastal rap war, I truly believe Biggie didn’t want it. When Shakur died, Biggie’s estranged wife, Faith Evans, said, “I remember Big calling me and crying. I think it’s fair to say he was probably afraid, given everything that was going on at that time and all the hype that was put on this so-called beef that he didn’t really have in his heart against anyone. I’m sure for all he thought, he could be next.”
Don’t get me wrong: Biggie was a rough-and-tough guy. Biggie was a criminal. And he didn’t write Walt-Disney songs. Not even close. Yet, when I listened to his lyrics, I always sensed a soul-deep desire for the good life…back of the club/Sippin Moet is where you’ll find me…
When Biggie died, the usual slew of conspiracy theories made the rounds. It was staged. He’s still out there. Him and Tupac played us all. This sort of thinking was certainly helped along by the fact that the album released shortly after his passing was eerily-titled Life After Death (which followed the also-eerily-titled Ready to Die). The album’s cover showed Biggie in a long black coat leaning against a hearse. He wasn’t smiling. He wasn’t mad. It was what it was. But what sticks with me most about that album is a line in the song “Kick in the Door,” Your reign on top was short like leprechauns.
Looking back, such conspiracy theories were a way for us to cope. I recognize that now. The world’s greatest rapper was cut down in the prime of his life, and we lacked the sophistication to properly process all that was lost. But he was so much more than just a rapper. He was a son. A husband. A father. Or, as he would put it, My daughter use a potty so she’s older now/Educated street knowledge I’ma mold her now. Biggie didn’t deserve to die the way he did, when he did.
But maybe, just maybe, this tragic tale has a happy ending. Maybe our crazy conspiracies are actually true, or sort of true. Maybe Biggie Smalls is still out there living his best life after death. Maybe he’s lounging on a private beach in a parallel universe. Maybe that fatal bullet missed its mark on March 9th, 1997. Maybe there never was an East Coast vs West Coast Rap War. Maybe It was all a dream.
In one of my English classes, there’s a kid named Angel. He’s not a traditionally-good student. He frequently blows off assignments. He gets in trouble…a lot. But Angel has a dream. Angel wants to be a world-famous rapper, and he works nonstop at it. He’s always busy thumbing lines and lyrics into his iPhone. His “stage” name is “AngelFromNE.” He tells us to “Stream AngelFromNE on all platforms.” So, one day, I did just that. I streamed AngelFromNE, and listened to a few of his tracks. He’s very raw, but there’s potential there.
When I saw him again, I said, “Angel, you need to read everything you can get your hands on. All the great ones know words. They use words to tell their story. They find a way to make unrhyming words rhyme. You have to be able to manipulate the language.” Then I asked Angel, “You know about Biggie?”
“Not really,” he said. “Biggie’s before my time.”
“Okay,” I said. “There’s this song I think you should Google.”
Congratulations to Chauna Craig for her new short story collection Wings & Other Things, published by Press 53. While her characters differ in terms of circumstance, each story centers around women trying to fly: a widow searching for her past self, a stranded artist accepting a ride from a stranger, lovers sequestered in a cornfield. Her collection is both a migration and a transformation, filled with unusual, eye-catching phrases. Railroad tracks morph into an “infinite number line,” and a lightning bolt becomes a “tentacle of the unseen.” Craig captures longing, loss, and freedom as she tells the women’s stories.
The women in these stories are certainly willing to pay to get where they need to go—whether it’s out of bad relationships or into new formed lives. These stories are full of hard-won wisdom, sharp insights, and generous compassion. Her characters suffer from and bear up under ordinary though devastating failures and disappointments, but through force of will, wit, and wonder they persevere and often prevail.Kerry Neville, author of remember to forget me
Chauna Craig grew up in Montana. Her work has appeared in Jellyfish Review, Blue Fifth Review, and elsewhere. To learn more about her, visit her website.
In small-town, rural, or city life, these women, in perfectly drawn revelatory moments, show us what we settle for and how we are haunted by what could’ve been. These stories and the characters in them disquiet and rivet, demanding our attention and inviting our reflection on how one reconciles the desire for escape with the need to stay put. Subtle and artful in its choreography of miscommunications and conflicting desires, this is an intelligent and absorbing collection.donna miscolta, author of Living Color: Angie Rubio Stories
Visit Press 53 to purchase Wings & Other Things.
Join ASU’s TomorrowTalks with Jocelyn Nicole Johnson, October 13th at 7pm AZ time. TomorrowTalks is a student-engagement initiative meant to put students in conversation with authors who explain how they use their writing to address society’s most pressing issues. It’s led by the Division of Humanities at ASU and hosted by ASU’s Department of English in partnership with Macmillan Publishers.
This event takes place over Zoom and is free, although registration is required. Johnson will be discussing her book My Monticello, published by Henry Holt and Company and winner of the Weatherford Award, the Balcones Fiction Prize, and the Lillian Smith Award. Set in the near future, her stories feature Da’Naisha—a Black descendent of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings—a university professor studying his son in secret, and a single mother grasping to purchase her first home. Johnson reckons with America’s past and present in this thrilling debut.
A badass debut by any measure—nimble, knowing, and electrifying.Colson Whitehead, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Nickel Boys and Harlem Shuffle
Jocelyn Nicole Johnson’s work has appeared in Guernica, The Guardian, Kweli Journal, and elsewhere. To learn more about her, visit her website.
…’My Monticello’ is, quite simply, an extraordinary debut from a gifted writer with an unflinching view of history and what may come of it.The Washington Post
To learn more about TomorrowTalks and register for the event, go here.
Equatorial is a literary magazine dedicated to publishing talented undergraduate poets. Its founding editor, Benjamin Faro, is pursuing his MFA in Poetry at Queens University of Charlotte.
Issue One of Equatorial featured five outstanding students and focused on themes of exploration. Submissions for Issue Two of Equatorial will be open until November 30, 2022. Read Equatorial‘s guidelines and submit here!
Congratulations to Philip Gross for his upcoming poetry collection The Thirteenth Angel, published by Bloodaxe Books. Coming November 17, 2022, Gross’s collection examines patterns in the world around us and also within ourselves. It teeters between the before and after of the pandemic years, focusing in the opening sequences on almost-aerial views of London streets and Europe’s motorways. It ultimately reveals that “if there are angels, they are nothing otherworldly, but formed by angles of incidence between real immediate things.”
Moving from island to island, continent to continent, Between the Islands is concerned with memories, with resonances throughout time, but also with emergent dangers; ecological fears and the rising islands of refuse accumulating in our oceans.Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Spring 2020 [on Between the islands]
Philip Gross has written over twenty books of poetry and won a number of awards, including the TS Eliot Prize for his book The Water Table. To learn more about Gross, visit his website.
Great poetry is like walking on water. In this paradoxical, humane collection, Philip Gross achieves that miracle.Polly clark, The Guardian [on the water table]
To preorder The Thirteenth Angel, go here.
Philip Gross’s poem “Survivor” appeared in Issue 6 of Superstition Review.
The Narrative Storytelling Initiative‘s goal is to enhance access and public engagement with narrators and narratives. They are currently looking for messages written to Mother Earth in the future, with a maximum of 100 words. These messages will be included in a special exhibition piece at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory during the last two weeks of October.
Learn more and submit your message here!
Alice Kaltman’s short story collection Almost Deadly, Almost Good will be released this November, published by the Word West Press. Kaltman’s book features fourteen interlinked short stories: the first embody the seven deadly sins, the last the seven heavenly virtues. With rich, reoccurring characters and compelling plots, Kaltman creates a collection that’s impossible to put down.
Kaltman’s opening story “Sunset Lounge (Lust)” follows a woman pining after her daughter’s attractive older boyfriend. In an unexpected but riveting twist, we discover tantalizing details about the boyfriend in “A Fancy Job (Gluttony),” and the ultimate conclusion comes in “Knickers in a Twist (Charity).” Just as the stories are linked, Almost Deadly, Almost Good links good and bad, with a special attention to gender and class.
Story after brilliantly written story, we’re shown our own fears, our own foibles, our own forbidden desires, and tenderest heartaches. These are stories of human beings under pressure, at their most “changeable” moments, and we readers can’t look away. Nor do we want to. With candor, wisdom, and humor, almost deadly, almost good reminds us to be good to ourselves and to each other for we are all at once, beautiful and aching and ridiculous.Kathy Fish, Author of Wildlife: Collected Works from 2003-2018
Alice Kaltman is the author of Staggerwing, Dawg Towne, Wavehouse, and The Tantalizing Tale of Grace Minnaugh. To learn more about Kaltman, visit her website.
To preorder Almost Deadly, Almost Good, go here.
We’re also very excited to share an interview that dives deeper into Kaltman’s collection. This interview was conducted via email by our Blog Editor, Brennie Shoup.
Brennie Shoup: Could you discuss your inspirations for Almost Deadly, Almost Good?
Alice Kaltman: The original idea for a linked collection occurred to me after I wrote the first story in the book, Sunset Lounge. It was so clearly a story about LUST that it got me thinking how fun it would be to create a chapbook based on the Seven Deadly Sins. I already had a few stories and characters that fit the bill for other Sins: Greedy Senator Levinson from Into the Woods, poor languorous Cecil from Cecil’s New Friends, envious Greta from Come On Over to My Place. Once I’d finished the other sinful stories, I fiddled with content to link them. Characters appear deeply in the plots of other stories, or sometimes they just pass by. So much fun!
BS: This collection is full of humor. Could you discuss this humor and how you balanced it with more serious themes?
AK: I’ve always felt that pathos is more tolerable if it can be softened with humor. That’s not always the case, and there are writers out there who do gut-punching stuff that I love, that make me weep. Sometimes tragedy needs to stand on its own broken, bloody legs. But in my own writing, I veer towards the humorous. It makes it feel more human and authentic to my vision of people and the crazy misguided things they do. I’ve been a psychotherapist for over 30 years. If you can’t laugh, you’ll sink. Need I say more?
BS: Despite its title and theme, most of the stories in this collection don’t appear to be explicitly religious. What made you choose the motif of the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues?
AK: I can’t recall who it was, but I mentioned this project to someone along the way and they said, “Hey, why don’t you do the Heavenly Virtues also?” I had no idea what the Seven Heavenly Virtues were. I’m an agnostic Jew, who veers towards the areligious. And Jews don’t really ‘do’ sins and virtues. But I looked the Virtues up and …goldmine. I fiddled with new content and old content, pulled some sections from my novel Dawg Towne, added some new stories and revisited old ones. It was super fun to change POVs, add links that weren’t there before, change timelines, etc. Plagiarizing one’s own work is one of a writer’s deepest pleasures. Or at least one of mine.