A few recent poetry newsbites...
-- The San Francisco Chronicle has a nice review of Book of Sketches by Kerouac.
-- The Loft Literary Center of Minneapolis has announced that it will cease publication of its print magazine, Speakeasy. The last issue is due out this summer. The center plans to expand its online presence as a way to continue its excellent standard of promoting and recognizing great poetry and prose.
-- British novelist and poet Muriel Spark died on Friday in Florence, Italy. Spark is best-known as the creator of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Her tightly crafted work is often noted as being bizarre or dark -- she remarked, "I'm often very deadpan, but there's a moral statement too, and what it's saying is that there's a life beyond this, and these events are not the most important things. They're not important in the long run."
This would be a good day, though, to call some attention to the current incarnation of our Action Poetry page, which remains the creative shining light of this website. Please check out the strong work that keeps rolling up on this page every day, and, of course, please consider uploading a poem or short prose piece yourself if the mood strikes.
The Action Poetry writing board was first launched in 2001 at the suggestion of a LitKicks member (the name came about, naturally, because I'd just seen the Ed Harris movie Pollock at this time).
We create a new version of the Action Poetry board every month; the current page is only three days old and already rockin'. Here are some prior pages for your enjoyment. Some of the writers who were published in the 2004 book are still posting new poems here; others may appear in future books that we may produce (who knows?).
Thanks to the amazing eternal LitKicks Action Poets for making us proud!
Have I lost my mind, you ask? Possibly, but before I cross over into the hyperreality of absurdist fiction and car commercials, perhaps you'd like to come along?
Quite simply, "The Neverything" is a tightly crafted, well-produced mini-film series (and associated interactive website, of course) with the ultimate goal of getting people to talk about the sheer bizarre-kooky-Napoleon Dynamitesque approach ... and Lincoln-Mercury products. But it's not just the oddball factor that makes this so appealing (and it is appealing). There are dark elements, humor and real intelligence driving the concept behind the story.
"The Neverything" revolves mostly around two brothers living on a ship in the middle of a field. They have no outside contact with anyone but the milkman who brings their "sustenance". They survive on cereal (which looks an awful lot like Kix) and run around in their underwear all day. Sounds a lot like college, I know. The trick is -- they don't actually exist -- they're fictional characters created by a struggling novelist named Marian Walker (who is also, for our purposes, fictional). While we learn about the strange world of Humkin and Mopekey out in their field of nothing, we also find out that Marian has started to blur the lines of what is real life and what is happening in her developing novel. Which makes sense as she intentionally creates one of the characters to have an awareness that she's writing about him ... Are you starting to catch the Borges/Calvino-style metafictional drift here?
As if that weren't enough to pull you in and make your head spin at the same time, there's a movie and corresponding site that focuses on the perspective of the author, called Lovely By Surprise, brought to you by Lincoln (while "The Neverything" is specifically attributed to Mercury.)
What does all this mean? What does it have to do with selling a car and furthermore what does it have to do with literature? I'll leave it to you to come up with your own answers, but the whole phenomenon has already started to generate some buzz, mainly by ad industry types and perplexed onlookers. I'm not sure what more to say ... and perhaps I've said too much already; however the convoluted, intriguing, highly addictive storyline and motivation behind it may just possibly be the most clever bit of writing and creativity I've seen in a long while.
And I'm not even in the market for a new car.
I'd like to thank the contest's esteemed judges for making this decision, and I'd also like to thank the great LitKicks writing community for making the book happen. More than anything else, I want to brag about the fact that I totally called this one, Babe-Ruth style, back in December over at Metaxu Cafe. I knew we'd at least make it to the final round, because the writing in this book is that good.
Will we go all the way? Well, some of the other finalists look pretty good, so I'm going to refrain from calling it a second time (even the Bambino knew better than to push his luck). If our book doesn't win, the book I'd most like to get beaten by is Keith Thompson's novel Gus Openshaw's Whale Killing Journal, an appealingly bizarre sendup of Moby Dick featuring a white whale with a scar in the shape of a double letter 'B' on his forehead, which his hunters believe stands for 'blubbery bastard'.
We didn't have the budget for any big whales or other special effects when we published Action Poetry in 2004, but we hope we still have a chance.
Nasdijj started participating in LitKicks discussions last July, first showing up to respond to a weekly critique of the New York Times Book Review with a post titled "yawn, indeed". I think we were all glad to see him here and certainly tried to make him feel welcome, but I was slightly peeved when I wrote an article about a favorite book of mine, Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain, only to have Nasdijj slam me and Charles Frazier in a message that seemed to me more inflammatory than rational.
For the next few weeks, Nasdijj would drop in on conversations and, whatever the original topic was, tie it back to his key themes: white oppression of native Americans, the tragedy of AIDS and the corrupted state of corporate publishing. I'm naturally sympathetic to all these causes, but I also have a litblog to run, and I occasionally sent Nasdijj private or public messages asking him to please try harder to stay on topic. He was clearly a talented writer and a deeply driven soul, and I was hoping we could find some way for him to participate on LitKicks without stomping over discussions that weren't meant to be about native Americans, AIDS or the corrupted state of corporate publishing. Finally, he stopped showing up, but kept me on his email list, and we exchanged a few halfway-friendly messages late last year.
I sent him an email last night asking if he had a response to the accusations that he is not a native-American at all, and that his critically-acclaimed memoirs should be categorized as literary hoaxes. The email (the same one he's used for the last year) bounced; the account is apparently closed. He left this message on his blog: "For those seeking Refuge consult the Hyena. Follow those directions to the Old Hotel. To find N, take the stairs to the roof. Bring your medication. The view is magnificent. And safe. You know who you are. Do not answer questions. Sealed. They do not care about you. You know that. Do not be fooled. Someone will. You will connect. Follow the Hyena's path."
I'm following, but the hyena's not talking.
Despite his generally hostile personality, I liked Nasdijj's writing, and I hope he's doing well, wherever he is. I understand Nasdijj is also involved in some type of recovery/crisis caregiving for AIDS-stricken children, and mostly I hope the kids are not suffering as a result of the latest news.
I got the Complete New Yorker for Hanukkah. This impressive eight-DVD set contains digitized facsimiles of every page in every weekly issue of the New Yorker from 1925 to 2005. That's quite a mound of cultural signification. The boxed set is shaped like a monolith, and at first it feels like one too.
Digging in to a collection like this is not easy. I bet most people who buy this set or get it as a present just jump in and start breezing through, and then quickly find themselves gasping for air. That's the wrong way to use a set like this, and I'm not going to make that mistake. I'm going to plan my expeditions carefully, working towards specific goals. I've got a few missions in mind, most of them focusing on the magazine's first two decades. I will be posting reports of my discoveries here.
First, I'd like to figure out exactly what the the New Yorker was. It's interesting that this culture rag was born in the same era as Time magazine, both institutions brought to life by smart young entrepeneurs who understood the importance of advertising. The New Yorker and Time were both "indie" outfits of their era, and both drew readers in by printing punchy, highly opinionated articles.
Time became the pillar of a vast multimedia corporation, but the New Yorker has always kept a tighter focus and clung to a certain essence. What is this essence, exactly, and what is the nature of this beast? Well, let's click through to the earliest issues and see what we find.
The debut issues of the New Yorker had little substantial writing. The whole magazine was short bits -- talky gossip and humor items, mixed with a few longer analytical or creative pieces, most of it under either of the headings Talk of the Town or Behind the News. This, for instance, appears in the Talk of the Town section of the very first New Yorker, dated February 21, 1925:
As it grows throughout the rest of the country cross-word puzzling wanes in New York. At least it wanes in the small group that helped make it fashionable when it was revived a year or two ago. Not that Simon & Schuster, whose green, yellow, red, mauve, ochre and blue puzzle books flood the country, are worrying. This week they are publishing a new volume of the series. According to the advertisements "celebrities" contributed all the puzzles contained in it, and (business of blushing furiously) they tell me (oh, how my cheeks are burning) mine is one of the best in it. At least I think it is.
In the second issue, dated February 28, we find this extended anecdote:
"Well, young man," said the Great Editor, "I suppose you want to become a writer."
A timid bow signified assent.
"Have you lived?"
"Of course, of course. What I mean is, have you sinned -- sinned greatly? Have you tasted any of the dregs of life?"
"Not since my last class reunion. The cocktails were terrible."
The Great Editor frowned. It was evident my obtuseness made him impatient.
"I'm afraid you don't understand", he said, a bit sharply. "I shall explain. There is no field at present for imaginative works. The reading public wants actuality. You must write something that has happened to you. Now," he broke off, "let us consider your own life. Have you ever had an illicit romance; ever stabbed your mother-in-law with a bread knife -- great title for a story like that, 'The Bread Knife and the Butter-In' -- every poisoned your wife?"
"I'm not married," I interposed.
"Ever eloped with a married woman?" he went on. "Ever rolled drunk in the gutters; ever been divorced because of a duchess -- even a countess will do, if it's well-written; ever blackmailed anyone -- blackmail hasn't been done lately; ever fought a duel over a notorious adventuress; ever cheated at cards?"
He beamed expansively.
"These are a few examples of what I mean," the Great Editor concluded. "Go out and live, my boy, and when you have a real story to tell come back."
I am determined to accept his advice. I shall begin at the bottom and work up.
Accordingly, I wish to ask my friends not to become alarmed if they see me rolling around any of the town's better gutters. I shall be merely gathering inspiration. They will owe it to literature to leave me where I lie.
That's basically the kind of stuff the debut issues of the New Yorkers consisted of. Okay, let's add up the ingredients here:
-- Excessive use of irony
-- Rampant sense of exclusivity with small group of fabulous friends
-- Chronic self-pity mixed with compulsive fake-coy self-promotion
-- Jokes that don't make sense
-- Subtle but disturbing hints of true mental illness
Do the math. You see it as clearly as I do ... the original New Yorker was a litblog.
These days, of course, the New Yorker is more like public television with ads for Omaha Steaks. But it's good to know that, way back then, the proto-Alqonquin crowd was just as pointless, just as trite, and just as greedily insecure as we all are today. Okay, maybe not that bad, but close. The only difference I can see is that this stuff was printed on paper.
My first expedition into the New Yorker archives is complete. I'm now taking a deep breath before going back in for my second mission, in which I will unearth the earliest scribblings of a favorite writer of mine (though largely forgotten by literary critics): John O'Hara, who started writing for the magazine when he was 23.
In fact, through the happy accident of alphabetism, our book is at the very top of the list, and we like the way that feels. We believe we should win this award, and in a vain attempt to drum up a huge groundswell of popular support I'd like to talk about what this book is and how it came about.
Our fine friends at Minnesota Public Radio tipped us off to a fun contest that begins today -- it might be just the thing to work around that writer's block ... and best of all, there's a great prize for the winner. See below for the details and I hope to see a LitKicks face bring home the victory.
It is the time of year when we send or receive those end-of-year newsletters filled with funny family news: details about successes, delicate references to life's setbacks, and sometimes dramatically honest sentences that you have to re-read to believe.
If you also sometimes miss an important literary birthday or anniversary, we have the answer for you. If you'll please scan your eyes a few pixels to the right, you'll notice a new daily feature, Today In Literature. We hope this will inspire people to visit LitKicks each and every day, not only because a good litblog really is an important part of a balanced breakfast, but also because you can now find out what significant literary events -- fictional, biographical or otherwise -- happened each day.