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Gawker Response

Earlier this week, Sophia Katz posted a piece on Medium detailing her experience of being repeatedly sexually assaulted by an alt-lit editor and writer, identified as ‘Stan.’ Her writing was honest and deeply affecting – explaining in excruciating detail that rape doesn’t have to be spectacular to be very real, very violent, and very devastating.

Sarah Jean Alexander then came forward on the Facebook group, Alt Lit Gossip (Spread) to support Sophia, detail her own experience with the perpetrator as a former roommate, and to identify him with Sophia’s permission, as Stephen Tully Dierks.

Soon after, a woman named Tiffany posted on Tumblr about her own experience with Dierks last April. She identified Dierks by name and explained how he pressured her into intercourse multiple times while she was intoxicated and after she explicitly told him she wasn’t interested in being physical with him.

In response to Sarah Jean’s growing thread in the Facebook group, Dierks posted a short apology, tying his actions to ‘our society’s patriarchal structure’, and resigning from his public writing career.

The story was picked up by Gawker. They published a piece titled, “Hip Alt-Lit Editor Quits Public Writing Career After Rape Accusations,” which seems more concerned with writing off the entire alt lit community than with addressing these specific instances of sexual assault. This is not only a misrepresentation of the community, but also a way to implicitly excuse Dierks’ actions by identifying them as part of a mentality held by the group at large.

Gawker paints alt lit as a ‘boys’ club,’ effacing the contributions of the community’s many talented and prolific female writers and editors.

Alt lit has produced an exceptionally large number of extremely influential and visible female writers whose work is informed by feminism and contemporary women’s politics. Mira Gonzalez, Gabby Bess, Sarah Jean Alexander, Stacey Teague, Melissa Broder, Ana Carrete are just a few members of alt lit who have not only come to shape this community, but who have become influential voices within the poetry, fiction, and feminist communities at large.

These writers have in many ways been more important than their male counterparts in putting alt lit on the map, and forging the literary and political values it represents. To paint them as anything else, or to not address their existence at all, is an incredibly violent and disrespectful act.

This “boy’s club” narrative of the alt lit community also distracts from the real problems at hand – that rape, sexual abuse, and destructive understandings of consent and power can and do exist in all communities – even those widely populated and helmed by women and individuals uniquely committed to addressing feminist issues.

This understanding is essentially adopting the same position that Stephen does in identifying himself as a “straight white male who clearly has taken in the toxicity of our society’s patriarchal structure.” While it is essential that we recognize the systemic problems at work here, ultimately Stephen needs to take responsibility for his own actions, and we need to hold him personally accountable.

Passing these assaults off as a product of “society’s patriarchal structure” or an alt-lit “boys’ club” transfers responsibility away from the perpetrator himself. It ultimately excuses the individual, while also erasing all of the incredible women in this community who are not only extremely talented writers, but who have dealt with the situation at hand in a way that is to be applauded.

The story of Stephen Tully Dierks is a chance for both men and women to reflect on what consent means, and how to better identify, prevent, and respond to sexual assault. This is an issue that every single community must grapple with, and that few respond to well. Individuals within alt lit like Sophia, Sarah Jean, and Tiffany have addressed these events with a level of intelligence, sensitivity, and urgency that few communities have matched.

Their writing and responses have been inspiring and humbling to me as I work to be a better ally to those who have been victims of sexual assault. Using this story as merely a way to write a spectacular portrait of an entire community does a disservice not only to those women who have been abused by Dierks, but to these individuals who have worked so hard to create a community I feel proud to be a part of. Especially now.

Opinion / Comments Off
October 1st, 2014 / 9:49 am

Reviews

25 Points: Wolf in White Van

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Wolf in White Van
by John Darnielle
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014
224 pages / $24.00 buy from Amazon

1. I don’t like writing. The actual act of writing, I mean. It’s hard to get started. Just getting this first of twenty-five points written took longer than the next twenty-four.

2. I like better having written, when there’s a mess of text on the page to play with. It’s not really creating anymore at that point; it’s discovery, exploring. Moving around in it and finding what I might have missed the first time.

3. John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van is a book about a lot of things. Mostly, though, it’s about exactly this kind of discovery and exploring that appeals to me. Discovery through text, exploring between your ears. Imagined mountains, dreamt-up spaces.

4. “It gets so lonely living inside your own head,” writes the narrator, as way of explanation for having dreamt up one particularly dangerous space. The book centers on this hero’s reasons for—and the consequences of—dreaming up a game called Trace Italian.

5. Trace Italian is a by-mail role-playing game of sorts. “The way you play Trace Italian,” the narrator tells us, “seems unbearably quaint from a modern perspective, and people usually don’t believe me when I tell them it’s how I supplement my monthly insurance checks, but people underestimate just how starved everybody is for some magic pathway back into childhood.”

6. “A magic pathway back into childhood” is a better way of describing what this book is about. Memory, remembering. Finding the path back to a place where anything is possible.

7. It’s just the kind of book I like best.

8. I’m so glad this book isn’t called Trace Italian.

9. The “monthly insurance” checks the narrator mentions in point 5 above are part of the mystery of the book. What exactly happened that led this person to create a game and collect insurance checks? What caused him to live sequestered from the world? Why does he order swords from a catalog? Real, honest-to-god swords?

10. Players begin Trace Italian by sending an SASE to a PO Box and receiving in turn a sheet of paper telling them where they are in the imagined world. It’s a post-event world of sorts; they must traverse a landscape toward an end goal, the Trace, where they’ll find safety from the bad things that have taken over.

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September 30th, 2014 / 2:50 pm

In Defence of 4chan

There’s a message being conveyed by mainstream journalists and clickbait sites alike that 4chan hates women. This is true to the extent that 4chan hates everybody. 4chan hates 9GAG and Reddit, which are in many ways its direct descendants. It hates My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic culture, even though it has an entire “containment board” dedicated to it. 4chan will most likely hate me for writing this post. 4chan, as one local Fox News station stated, is “an Internet hate machine.” And you’re just going to have to deal with that.

I started visiting 4chan after reading Parmy Olson’s excellent book We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency. At first I didn’t know what to make of it. User friendliness and design function were not priorities for founder Christopher Poole when he created the site as a 15 year old. Nor are 4channers welcoming of newcomers. When there’s an influx of new users, which happens every summer, or after a big media event like the fappening, the /b/ros get busy posting beheadings, coprophagiac gifs, and all manner of hair-raising content.

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September 29th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Reviews

Rachel Jensen’s Free Junk: The ghost of a flea

FREEJUNKFree Junk
by Rachel Jensen
Snoot Books
$10 / Buy from Snoot Books

 

 

 

 

Perhaps the most recent tie between humor and gloom is the suicide of Robin Williams. Yet, the examples are plenty: comedian Mitch Hedburg—”My fake plants died because I did not pretend to water them,” was reported dead due to drug overdose; addiction invariably traces to depression. Sarah Silverman jokes about her ups and downs, “I am diagnosed with not having enough insanely-addictive drugs coursing through my body.” Maria Bamford, Google her. And Shakespeare, that guy, he divided his mojo between comedy and tragedy. I think of this waltz of contrasting sentiments when I read Rachael Jensen’s chapbook, Free Junk. Jensen’s poems can be comically-surreal and bearers of realistic insight. She provides details that make me want to laugh-weep. Ironic, romantic, yucky, naive, searching—she’s got as many voices as a self-help hotline on Valentine’s Day night.

For starters, Free Junk allows itself the liberty to be bizarre. Despite whatever “junk” the poems begin with, they have confidence that they will end up somewhere meaningful or at least where they need to go. Here is a list of first lines:

In the dark park I saw them gleaming
in a bush: Levi’s classic fit denim,

Once, a stranger sent me a message on the Internet
to tell me she dreamed I gave birth to a kitten. I responded,

I like marshmallows over an open flame.

I heard ‘toaster dream’

We begin with found, odd and banal things, sometimes misunderstandings. Whatever the particular point of entry, the peculiarity is fetching. I am intrigued to see where the poem could go, and Jensen manages to find her way: classic fit Levi’s washed and dried throughout the night become a drunken loneliness, self-satisfied and clad in “victim shorts”; an internet message about cat-birthing yields cat-water-holding which funnels into an inquiry regarding the nature of a priori knowledge. I think of another recently-dead person, Russell Edson, his surreal miniature fables. I also remember what a classmate told me once during a workshop: “It’s hip to include whatever you can in a poem.” That lady was right; it is hip to include gallbladder stuffed animals in poems, but as Mitch Hedburg once postulated, “Is a hippopotamus a hippopotamus, or just a really cool Opotamus?” Free Junk has the opotamus, too. The chapbook engages with the trend, but the poems are grounded by their odd specificity and drift into profundity.

Free Junk plays with romance, too. It romances, playfully. There is a brunette lament: READ MORE >

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September 29th, 2014 / 10:00 am

Sunday Service

Stella Corso

PERFECT PERSON

and when I laid my hands upon his person
I thought this is the perfect person
and so was stricken
and became nauseous

then he asked me for money
and I was honored
I felt flattered

and when his freedom finally leaked
I thought how terrifying
how torturous
and was touched again

everyone around us grew disgusted

I leaned over
and threw up into their milk

Bio: Stella Corso lives in the Pioneer Valley where she runs a vintage clothing shop called Pale Circus and teaches at Western New England University. Some of her poems can be found in Coconut Magazine, jubilat, Caketrain, notnostrums and Everyday Genius. She is a founding member of the Connecticut River Valley Poet’s Theater, also known as CRVPT.

Reviews

I Loved You More by Tom Spanbauer

I_Loved_You_More_244_400_80I Loved You More
by Tom Spanbauer
Hawthorne Books, April 2014
468 pages / $18.95  Buy from Amazon or Hawthorne Books

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Loved You More by Tom Spanbauer starts with a slow burn, like an acid trip, of which there are a few in the book:  There’s a preliminary period of seemingly aimless hanging out, and just when you start thinking nothing is going to happen, the room lights up, your heart lurches, and everything begins to glow.

Other writers have tried to quantify the transformation that occurs reading Spanbauer’s writing, the feeling of truth as opposed to artifice, the sense that now we’re really talking. The closest I can come is that it felt like letting air and light into a dark room. The book’s narrator, Ben Gruneberg says it much better, “When you get close to the vein that’s pulsing truth, when you open that vein, you can scrub your soul clean with the blood.”

Spanbauer is known for his truth-telling and open veins. He’s a gay writer and creative-writing teacher in Portland, Oregon, one of the gang of Portland writers of whom Cheryl Strayed and Chuck Palahniuk are the most famous, and Lidia Yuknavitch is the most beloved to me, personally. (Though, I don’t know if all these people are really a gang, or if that’s an outsider’s perception; I’m calling a Portland School, and assuming Spanbauer is a founder.) His Wikipedia entry says that he’s been living with AIDS since the 90s, and his AIDS book, In the City of Shy Hunters is a literary classic.

This latest novel, I Loved You More, published by Hawthorne Press in April 2014, is also a gay coming-of-age story, a living-with-AIDS story, and a story about male friendship, which seems to be mostly autobiographical. In it, Spanbauer’s alter ego, Ben Gruneberg—like Spanbauer, a writer and writing teacher with the same basic points of biography—chronicles his lifelong friendship with a straight male writer, Hank Christian, and the explosive end of that relationship. A bit of Google-digging will reveal a possible candidate for the real-life model of Hank.

On one level, it’s not a particularly dramatic story—a love triangle! featuring three writers! in Portland! and a pot of kale!—and how it all ends is mostly revealed on the first page. Moreover friendship is usually a side-story, not a main event, and devoting a book to the demise of one feels odd. The first section takes place in New York in the late 80s, when Ben and Hank are young writers at Columbia, studying under a fictionalized version of Gordon Lish, and their hanging-out, and the importance Spanbauer imbued it with, took a while to seize hold of me. And then it did.

Part of the alienation and then the magic is Spanbauer’s prose style, which is beatnik-ish in an old-fashioned way, using slang and refrains, a lot of fucking this or fucking that, man. His sentences are unconventional and fragmentary: “That old litany in this strange new place, how it made my heart stop.” Or this description of a leather bar: “In front of us, three men deep. Beyond, the bar is dark. Smoky dark. A foggy night, an ocean of men, dark waves. They have a sound, the waves, here and there bursts of pirate laughter, then no laughter.”

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September 26th, 2014 / 10:00 am

JUDSON HAMILTON: Why Shld I Read YOUR Book ??

judson with colorsx

ok, Judson, so why should we read YOUR book ???

Let me answer your question by way of analogy, I had a dream recently, in which I asked Ashbery to look after my two kids and when I came back they were parked in front of the TV in the living room, seemingly unharmed. I looked around and found Ashbery clad only in a pair of tidy whities rolling around laughing on the bed, deep in conversation with a woman in her 70s, an old friend apparently. They were lost in reminiscence, they’re faces lit up with the joy of nostalgia, and I didn’t have the heart to be angry with him.

sugar numbers

The Sugar Numbers (by Judson Hamilton)

Then he jumped up and joyfully began to pop lock, like in some shitty kid’s video,with electric cutout arms blinking blue, red, yellow and that pretty much sums up how I feel about this book. It’s surprising, delightful and absurd.

To answer your question by way of digression, about 6/7 years ago I started receiving emails that looked as though somebody had fed the better portion of the western canon through a shredder and then affixed it to emails, I assume to bypass the spam filter. I liked some of the initial juxtapositions that turned up and began playing around with the text, and while I was doing that, a narrative emerged from the depths in the form of: a Speed-hearing Judge, his brother the Duke of Marmalade and, Morel and Valentine, the two servants trying to overthrow them.

Look, I know Syria’s been forgotten and the Congo’s a mess and let’s be honest who needs another book-length absurdist narrative on their bookshelf, am I right? But we’re all doing what we can and together we can right this ship…. that and the e-book version shouldn’t cost you more than a trip to the taco truck, so what’ve you got to lose?

(Judson Hamilton 9/2014, Poland)

Author Spotlight / No Comments
September 25th, 2014 / 5:19 pm