Literary Kicks launches a new design and layout today. I'll write more about that shortly, but for now I'm just glad to be blogging again after a hiatus of nearly two months. My primary goal for the new design is to allow a more natural and spontaneous flow of content on the site, and in the spirit of natural and spontaneous content, here's a great piece of writing by Jack Kerouac: his Belief & Techniques For Modern Prose.
This thirty-point program was tossed off by Kerouac in 1958 in a private (and probably drunken) letter from Kerouac to a friend, but it has become one of his most popular texts. I think of the Beliefs & Techniques often. I didn't have a wireframe for this new site redesign ... but Jack Kerouac's words will serve as a symbolic wireframe for what I hope the new version of the site will be.
Belief and Techniques For Modern Prose
1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
3. Try never get drunk outside yr own house
4. Be in love with yr life
5. Something that you feel will find its own form
6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
My name is Levi Asher. This is me, and that's my guitar and my son and my book collection.
I created Literary Kicks in July 1994, and have been running it continuously (with occasional short sanity breaks) ever since. Litkicks is about literature ... and also about philosophy, art, history, religion, society, culture, music, politics, technology, nature, psychology, life. The articles are written by either me or one of several great contributors. If you have an idea for an article, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We always love to get your feedback via comments to every piece we publish.
in the middle of the journey of the life we share together
i became lost in the woods, and could not find the correct path
Dante, the Divine Comedy
I am not actually lost in the woods, though I know I promised to finish the redesign and relaunch of Literary Kicks by early September, and I'm running late. The project is going well, but I'll need at least another full week before the new thing is ready to drop.
Here's the real honest truth: I'm enjoying the break from blogging. I decided to allow myself to take my time with the technical redesign, because ... well, I've been blathering on this infernal website for a whole long time. Sometimes I just want to be stop blogging for a couple of weeks.
You may find this hard to believe, but I sometimes just want to be silent. Silence is a good thing. The latter-day Beat poet Bob Kaufman once took a vow of silence for 10 years, whereas I'm pretty sure Litkicks will be back in the next two weeks.
The Literary Kicks upgrade/redesign is progressing well. I'm on a rare family vacation out on Long Island, catching up on my reading and thinking (sometimes it feels great to just take in, to not be writing) and I'm looking forward to coming back refreshed in early September.
Meanwhile, up in the real world, some people are asking if Mitt Romney's selection of enthusiastic Ayn Rand follower Paul Ryan as his running mate represents the closest Ayn Rand has ever come to the White House, the zenith of her influence on American politics. Actually, Ayn Rand has been in the White House, and in Congress, and all over Washington DC, for nearly 40 years now.
Ronald Reagan was a Randian (though the fiercely independent Ayn Rand herself refused to salute him back). Trickle-down economics -- the idea that government policies should favor the wealthy, ignore the middle and lower classes and "allow the rising tide to lift all boats" -- is Rand's economic philosophy in action. This unfortunate and dangerous ideology, which culminated in the ruinous financial crash of 2007/2008, has dominated federal economic policy since the 1980s. Even the supposedly liberal administrations of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have barely managed to make a dent in the trickle-down system. The fact that President Obama's call for the wealthiest Americans to pay more taxes is controversial (I think it's a no-brainer that wealthy Americans need to pay more taxes, and begin to pay off the deficit they voted for) shows the powerful presence of trickle-down policy in American economics today.
The photo at the top of this page shows Ayn Rand and her close friend and prize student Alan Greenspan, along with their spouses, visiting President Gerald Ford in 1974. Alan Greenspan had just been appointed chairman of Ford's council of economic advisors, and would eventually go on to run the Federal Reserve Bank under Ronald Reagan. Greenspan was not a strict Objectivist -- a strict Objectivist could never endure the endless compromises of real-world politics -- but his vision of deregulated and hyper-charged American capitalism was highly consistent with Ayn Rand's economic philosophy. That was nearly forty years ago. The important question today isn't whether or not Paul Ryan intends to bring Ayn Rand into the White House. The important question is: what do we have to do to finally get Ayn Rand out of the White House, and out of Congress?
I'm off for a month of rest and rethinking. As I've mentioned before, Litkicks is going to go through some changes before it returns in early September. The main goal of the redesign is to enable a more natural flow of content on the site, and to allow the site to do more of what works and less of what doesn't. I'm still sketching out the basic plan, but here's a slightly more detailed breakdown of the changes I have in mind:
Literary news and essays. This will remain the primary purpose of the site, though we'll be posting shorter pieces at a faster rate on the new version, along with the regular stream of longer pieces by myself and excellent contributors like Michael Norris, David Richardson, Claudia Moscovici, Alan Bisbort, Garrett Kenyon, Dan Barth, newcomer Tara Olmsted and hopefully other new voices too. The main change in this area will be a bifurcated design for content: there will be one stream of short, newsy blasts and another stream of more substantial writings. I think this will help the site a lot. As for the style and sensibility of the literary coverage, that will stay exactly the same: opinions, observations and research.
This is a story about blogger's block, and about two novels I tried to review and couldn't.
I liked one of the two novels a lot, and didn't like the other one at all. One had been sent to me by the author, the other by a friendly publicist, and I intended to blog about both of them. But when it came time to write, I found myself strangely stunted. I'm not often at a loss for words, but a weariness with contemporary fiction seemed to have stormed me like a derecho. The ensuing struggle helped lead me to a decision (Rilke: "you must change your life") that it was time for me to do something new and different with Literary Kicks.
Here's what happened: first, I read The World Without You by Joshua Henkin, a smooth professional novelist who runs the MFA program at Brooklyn College in New York City. He's a master talent who takes his craft very seriously, and he's got a lot of heart. The World Without You is a family story -- love, divorce, conflict, misunderstanding -- in the great tradition of Laurie Colwin or John Updike or Anne Tyler or Katharine Weber or Jonathan Franzen or Roxana Robinson. The novel satisfies in the same sublime way that most novels about families satisfy: it wrenches at you, surprises you, aggravates you, and totally makes you relate.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. But I found myself lacking a desire to write about it. Should I describe the characters, the taciturn Dad, the fiery Mom, the brother who died, the angry sisters who remain, the outrageous (and hilarious) former slacker turned Orthodox Jew who marries into the family? I could describe them, but Joshua Henkin already did. Should I explore the meaning of the novel? I couldn't think of a meaning, except "this is a family". (Which means plenty, if you say it right.)
Next, I read Sheila Heti's How Should a Person Be? A Novel from Life, a very trendy and Zeitgeist-y metafictional thing about a self-conscious writer (named, coincidentally enough, Sheila) and her artsy/literary friends. I thought I might like this book because it's structured as an inquiry into ethical philosophy. As the title suggests, it's a novel about a writer trying to figure out the best way to live.
Changes. Funny thing ... I was planning on writing a blog post today about some changes I'm planning on making here on Litkicks. The site turns 18 years old (!) this Monday, July 23, and I'm planning to shake a few things up. I was going to write about that today, and then I heard some news about the Bowery Poetry Club.
The Bowery Poetry Club has always been my favorite night spot in New York City. It opened in the spring of 2002 -- a great time for a new spoken word poetry club to open in a New York City still recovering from the shock of the previous September. The club is the handiwork of poetry raconteur Bob Holman, a guy we like a lot and think should be Poet Laureate of the United States.
For the past eleven years the BPC has been a cozy and friendly spot for amateur and professional poets and slammers and lyricists. Everybody who worked there was a poet, and you'd find Moonshine and Shappy (two good spoken word guys) mopping the floor or tending the bar. There's a Walt Whitman Lite Brite behind the stage, tasty organic coffee and tarts out near the front ... and halfway decent poetry acts at least half the time. Whenever a friend was coming in from out of town, I'd tell them to hit the Bowery Poetry Club.
Unfortunately, it's closing down. A restaurant will probably replace the club, though there is some word that the restaurant will continue to host poetry events. Bob Holman sent out an encouraging message earlier today:
The rumors of the death of the Bowery Poetry Club are greatly exaggerated!! It is true that ten years into Project Utopia, the hamster-tail chase of booking 30-35 gigs a week to allow the Poetry we know and love to live has produced a fatigued staff, a ragged Board (of Bowery Arts + Science, the nonprofit that books the Club), and a space that's crying out for a dose TLC. But toss in the Po' Towel? No Way, Joe! By spending the summer renovating and working out a partnership with a restaurant (rumors of Duane Park as our collaborators are sweet and the two entities surely do share a love for the populist arts of the Bowery, but nothing is signed yet folks), we hope to reopen come fall and be SUSTAINABLE with a neighborhood (Loisaida/Earth) focused poetry schedule, utilizing other neighborhood resources as well as the Club. Look for a fuller deployment of the POEMobile around town, state, country, solar system, and a commitment to a global poetics rooted in the Endangered Language Movement. To the communit-y/-ies who have supported us, and to our staff, deepest thanks! Stay tuned -- we love you. Come party with Sean T and Ann and all on Tues July 17. Everything is Subject to Change! -- and for our Tenth Anniversary next year, the BPC will look different. To survive and sustain. All the better to serve the world poetry.
In other words, Holman says we don't need to worry about poetry in New York City ... and from what I know of the strong slam poetry community in New York City, we definitely don't need to worry about it. It's good news that the Bowery Poetry Club organization will continue to be active, and I'm sure they'll keep it hopping on the Lower East Side.
I had an excellent blog post planned for today. But sometimes I just can't get it done -- or I get it done and it's just not good enough. Well, I've been working hard on many things, and sometimes I need a break. I'm taking one.
But, we've got something good planned here for next week. Michael Norris and David Richardson, who began exploring the works of J. D. Salinger in our Seeing the Glass Family series last year, are back with the concluding series of this project: a visual and textual tribute to the characters of Catcher in the Rye. See you in a few days!
It's an unpretentious and friendly poetry board, but remarkable poems do show up here often. Every December between Christmas and New Years, we put up a randomized display of many of the favorite poems from the past year. Here, for your clicking pleasure, is Action Poetry 2011.
Half a year ago I began assembling Beats In Time: a Literary Generation's Legacy, an anthology of the best articles about the Beat Generation from the Literary Kicks archives. Many of these articles dated back to this website's first five years, 1994 to 1999, when Litkicks called itself the Beat Generation website.
I've expanded the site's focus since then (and vastly expanded my scope as a reader too), which is probably why I now look back at some of these early Litkicks articles with wistful dismay, even though I treasure them. I am no longer the same innocent person who wrote or published these enthusiastic pieces about Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady and Gary Snyder, and I suppose a big part of my subconscious impulse in assembling Beats In Time was to gather all these articles together so that I could say farewell to them, and send them on their way.
In retrospect, this is not a good reason to publish an anthology, and fortunately my readers let me know this nearly the minute the book hit the Kindle store. The initial feedback I got was spookily perceptive; everybody seemed to notice that I had done a rush job on the editing, that I hadn't pored through every individual piece for necessary tweaks and fixes, that I hadn't even thought about the ways the book's implicit themes -- ecology, religion, digital communication, violence, love, the writing process, the mercurial process of literary criticism -- could be highlighted as relevant to today. One person, a book marketing professional who'd been following my ambivalent and semi-agonized blog posts about my editorial process, was particularly helpful and perceptive, and volunteered to work with me on a complete edit of the entire text, followed by the publication of a new, better edition of the book.