Review: Third Class Superhero by Charles Yu

Third Class SuperheroThird Class Superhero by Charles Yu

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Short, genre-defying stories that look at people and things—mothers, relationships, language, infidelity, etc.—in unexpected ways. A prospective superhero has to make a choice between hero and villain, and neither are especially promising. In the land of Marketing and Platitudes, a couple have to keep deciding “What now?” A man discovers himself, and himself doesn’t discover a man. The mathematical precision of Janice’s “maybe”, a curious mother discovering the limits of language and storytelling, and an alien Florence swimming in circles while time and space march on in escalating cosmicomics of the boring and mundane and lonely.

Third Class Superhero is a quick read full of surprising gimmicks and unexpected revelations, precise details and laments about how language and other disciplines aren’t really all that precise in any particularly useful way, and characters that feel a little too close to home, even if home is a place you can’t quite return to ever again.

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Review: Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Moby-DickMoby-Dick by Herman Melville

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An incredible if interminable reading experience made nauseating by deplorable racist interjections (sometimes an excruciating chapter long) and gory slaughter. This was not a pleasant read; I had to take frequent breaks from what was so upsetting about the novel and Melville’s comments about other races, especially black people, and other cultures. Melville may be a product of his time and his novel a reflection of those times, but that doesn’t mean the book’s not entirely odious and offensive in my time.

Yet I still want to give the book 5 stars. 5 stars for the writing (I highlighted so many images, phrases, and sentences), the various forms the 136 chapters took, the humor, the philosophical musings, the encyclopedic overview of whales and whaling (yes, I actually enjoyed learning more than I really ever care to learn about topics I have no reason for knowing anything about.) 5 stars because of the variegated terrain of emotions I experienced while reading this book. 5 stars for those incredible final chapters. 5 stars because Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan is entirely new to me again. 5 stars because references and allusions elsewhere are going to make a lot more sense to me now.

And 5 stars to me for finishing the damn thing.

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Review: Shekhinah by Eleanor Wilner

ShekhinahShekhinah by Eleanor Wilner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I started reading Eleanor Wilner’s second collection of poems from 1984 before she read at the University of Arizona Poetry Center in January 2018. I knew I was going to love her work after I read the first poem, “Emigration,” about Charlotte Brontë and her friend Mary Taylor: “There are always, in each of us, / these two: the one who stays, / the one who goes away”. It’s not that I know much if anything about Brontë or Taylor beyond what I found in Wikipedia; it’s that Wilner draws them so vividly and profoundly on the page that I’m inspired to find out more about them.

I find Wilner’s style to be very straightforward and clear (as is her reading style) and her poems full of beautiful sensory detail and movement, featuring persona narrators who are typically distant and generally focus almost all their attention on the subject and themes of the poem. I’ve read that Wilner generally prefers to avoid autobiography, confession, and self in her work, focusing instead on a cultural memory and perception of subjects and themes. This is exciting to me because I’m tired of the autobiographical and personal in my own writing and I’m eager to explore subjects and themes in a different manner.

After I first started reading poetry seriously a few years ago, it took a really long time for me to see the imagery in my mind (a problem I don’t at all have with prose and fiction.) Even then, these mind tableaus were static. Starting with Wilner’s work, I’m finally seeing poetry cinematic and in motion in my mind. In “Labyrinth,” the Minotaur and its lair are vividly constructed:

“[…] The walls have narrowed
to a channel, damp to the hands
that grope your way; the rank air
hangs against the stone, as if
the stone had hooks and held it.”


“The floor that opens out around you
is spread with straw, in places worn almost
to dust that rises from the ground
where something stamps and stumbles
in its place;”

Where movement kicks in in the following stanzas and the second-person persona narrator leads the Minotaur out of the labyrinth and into the sun, the cinematic quality of these lines gave me chills!

I’m eager to read more of Wilner’s work. The poems she read during her reading were much newer than these, and reflected how her already fantastic poetry has matured and compressed over time without losing that incredible vividness and movement. A poet’s ability to shine a light on an object, person, scene, and theme with preciseness and clarity of detail turns out to be one of the first things I look for in their poetry. In this way, Wilner’s poetry evokes in me the same appreciation and wonder I have for the great Wisława Szymborska’s poetry.

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Recommended: “Leave” By Katie Predick

Adelaide Literary Magazine magazine cover, Year III, Number 10, November 2017
Adelaide Literary Magazine magazine cover, Year III, Number 10, November 2017

There aren’t many poets in the workshops I take at the Writers Studio Tucson, sometimes only two or three of us in a class of ten writers. I’ve been fortunate, however, to have been in several workshops with Katie Predick, a poet I regard highly. Her poetry is rich with images and surprises as she explores myth and nature and themes of woman- and parenthood, relationships, science, and human impact on the environment (she’s also an accomplished scientist.) I learn a great deal from her and her poems, and she has always provided me with kind, helpful, and insightful feedback about my own work. And that’s why I’m so excited to see her poetry published so I can share it with others!

Katie’s poems “The Physics of Loss” and “Leave” were recently published in Adelaide Literary Magazine. These poems are as always with her work full of image, emotion, and keen observation. I love how in “The Physics of Loss” really gigantic ideas about the physics of time are prompted by and further prompt nostalgia about the persona narrator’s child. I find that Katie’s poems often end with a further, deeply felt observation that lingers in the reader’s mind. “Leave” accumulates various meanings of “leave” and “leaves” while a more personal and heartbreaking story is glimpsed, and it ends with a remarkable and poignant observation about the word. Truly outstanding poetry.

Recommended: “How We Cured Racism” by Philip Ivory

Screenshot of Rosette Maleficarum website header
Screenshot of Rosette Maleficarum website header

Philip Ivory, one of my instructors and a fellow writer at the Writers Studio Tucson, has a new short story titled “How We Cured Racism” published online at Rosette Maleficarum. I read a couple of the earlier drafts of this story; the final published version is a polished work of chilling alternative history. This is a story that will get under your skin, no pun intended. Phil also wrote in a post on his blog about the day he found out the story had been both accepted and published.

Appearance Wrap-Up: “Room: A Literary Reading” at Antigone Books

Last Friday, I and two other writers from the Writers Studio Tucson had the singular opportunity to read our fiction and poetry that we wrote in response to a spooky prompt by guest judge Ted McLoof for the third annual “Write-to-Read” contest:

“Three people wake up in a room. They have no idea how they got there. They have no idea how to get out of it. They have no idea how long they’ve been there. But they only have until midnight to get out…”

We read at Antigone Books, a great setting for such events. The staff there was fantastic, including Kate Stern who was very kind, helpful, and knowledgeable. After she and then Writers Studio Tucson Director and instructor Reneé Bibby kicked off the night with opening remarks, Ted McLoof spoke briefly about the contest prompt and the submissions he had selected.

Kay Murrens read “Where We Are Silence,” her poem about a room, the women there telling about their own experiences as women, and waiting for God. The last line was a gorgeous expansive moment about God entering the room after the other women had left.

Jennifer Makowsky read her short story “Room 6016,” a thrilling story about three people in a room who think they recognize each other but cannot recall for sure or how they got there. The details of the room were perfect, the story full of surprises, and there was a moment related to that number in the title that led me to gasp out loud.

I finished the evening by reading my poem “These Are the Animals You May Eat.” I was ridiculously nervous before I started and had to keep pinching the skin between my thumb and index finger to make sure I didn’t faint. My wonderful coworker, Sarah, brought me a cup of water, the kindness of the act helped to calm my nerves a little, and then I stood up to head toward the podium. Once I started reading, I relaxed and got into the horror and voices of my five-part poem. Another coworker, Audrie, filmed the opening minutes of my reading; I have embedded her video above.

I’m grateful to everyone who attended. It was quite the crowd, much larger than I expected. I cannot thank my coworkers enough, or my fellow writers and everyone at the Writers Studio Tucson and Antigone Books. It was a night of nerves, surprises, and appreciation for all the people who surround and support me.

Happy National Coming Out Day!

I came out to my mom twenty years ago, the day after Ellen Degeneres came out on national television. I was so inspired but I was so terrified. I could only make the attempt over the telephone and I couldn’t even say the words; I made my mom guess until I finally said “Yes” when she finally got around to “Are you gay?” Coming out became easier after that, but you never really stop coming out.

Why, when we have marriage equality in the United States, is it still important to come out? Because some tolerance is not full acceptance. Because intolerance never seems to go away. Because it’s still necessary to stand up and be counted. Because people still react in surprise or anger or hate. Because LGBTQA+ children and adults are still being bullied, attacked, murdered, shunned, disowned, fired, and discriminated again. Because the globe is still overwhelmingly bigoted and violent toward LGBTQA+ people. Because it still matters and will continue to matter.

Things were better for me after I came out. Every time I come out. But why shouldn’t things have been good to begin with, despite me being gay? Why couldn’t I have grown up loved unconditionally, free to be me, comfortable with my sexuality? Why did I wait until I was 24 years old to start the process? Why did it take a celebrity to inspire me enough to start? Why is coming out still so hard? Why does there have to be a process of coming out at all?

Because we still have so far to go.