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Kyle Minor

http://www.kyleminor.com

Kyle Minor is the author of In the Devil's Territory, a collection of short fiction. Recent stories and essays were published in The Southern Review, Gulf Coast, Arts & Letters, Surreal South, Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers, and Best American Mystery Stories 2008.

Bill Knott Week: Q&A with Kathleen Rooney

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press. With Elisa Gabbert, she is the author of That Tiny Insane Voluptuousness (Otoliths, 2008). Her prose collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs is now available from Counterpoint Press. She lives in Chicago, where she works as a Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at DePaul University, and where she will be the Writer-in-Residence at Roosevelt University for 2011-2012.

Q: You’ve told me, more than once, that Bill Knott was a formative figure in your development as a poet. Why and how?

A: First, I have to get something out of the way because Bill is unflagging in his commitment to reading—and potentially weighing in on—practically every single statement uttered about him on the Internet, and that something is: Hi, Bill! Hope you’re well.

So: Back in 2001, when I was in my senior year of undergrad, my then-boyfriend, now-husband, Martin Seay introduced me to Bill’s work by way of Selected and Collected Poems, published in 1977. It had an ugly-attractive, sleazy-cheesy seventies cover and the poems inside were similarly repellant-yet-alluring. They made me feel weird and I could not stop thinking about them. After that, I sought out The Naomi Poems and fell totally under their spell; the fact that almost every aspect of the book (from the Corpse and Beans pun in the title onward) was in questionable taste was compelling. And even though, as I say above, Bill is obviously still alive, one of the things that drew me to his work was the way he “killed” himself right from the start, publishing The Naomi Poems in 1968 as being by St. Geraud, “a virgin and a suicide.” By killing him “self,” Bill sort of set himself free. I’ve written about these ideas elsewhere, but the metaphor of a person’s books as being their ghosts (as Christian Hawkey says in Ventrakl: “Books—of the living or the dead—are the truest ghosts among us, the immaterial made material”) and the notion that a poet is always already dead are appealing concepts to me, and Bill’s poetry helped me think about those ideas before I even know what they were or how to label them or why I liked them.

Anyway. I was trying to decide where to get my master’s and wanting to study with Bill was huge among my reasons for deciding to go to Emerson College. See? Formative.

Q: What is your favorite Bill Knott poem?

A: At the risk of stating the obvious, I have to say that by saying what my “favorite” Bill Knott poem is, I’m not trying to assert that it’s in anyway the “best.” But this is it, from page 49 of The Naomi Poems. And it is not even the first poem on the page. There is a poem above it called “Poem” (which is something he told us, as his students, never ever ever to title a poem):

Nuremberg, U.S.A.

In this time and place, where “Bread and Circuses” has
become “Bread and Atrocities,” to say ‘I love you’ is
like saying the latest propaganda phrase…’defoliation’…
‘low yield blast’.
If bombing children is preserving peace, then
my fucking you is a war-crime. READ MORE >

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May 2nd, 2011 / 9:29 am

Bill Knott Week Begins Today

original book cover art (part of a series of handmade and staplebound books) by Bill Knott

Bill Knott, born in 1940, is a vital and idiosyncratic force in American poetry. His first book of poems, The Naomi Poems: Corpse and Beans, was published in 1968 under the fictitious persona of Saint Geraud, a poet who had supposedly committed suicide two years earlier. His subsequent books have appeared under the imprint of presses large, medium, and small, from FSG to Random House to the University of Iowa Press to Salt Mound Press. Many of his books and chapbooks, especially in the last twenty years, have been self-published, or, more recently, made available for free electronic download at Lulu.com, a situation Knott half-balefully and half-gleefully describes as “vanity publishing” in interviews and on the blogspot blogs he carefully maintains.

I first became acquainted with Knott’s work during a 25-city READ MORE >

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May 2nd, 2011 / 3:11 am

Loving All These Thieves

This week I noticed a correspondence between the opening sentence to Great Expectations and the opening of Lolita. I’m interested in the idea of Nabokov stealing from Dickens, a writer he admired and about whom he lectured at Cornell.

Here is the opening of Great Expectations:

“My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.”

Here is the opening to Lolita:

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.

“She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.”

Note the correspondence between the two openings in terms of wordplay, the repetition of the consonant sound (p- and l-), READ MORE >

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April 27th, 2011 / 4:43 am

Last Sentences

Last sentences are more difficult to evaluate absent context than first sentences, because first sentences are a handshake, a promise, an invitation, an opening. They are establishers of context. They mean in conversation with what follows them, but not only in conversation with what follows them. Last sentences mean only in conversation with what precedes them. Still, I think it is (or I hope it will be) a useful exercise to look at some last sentences absent context, and see what’s there. I plan to post about this matter again, and at greater length, but for now I want to just offer a selection of last sentences for your edification and mine:

“The widow begs you, therefore, if you ever pass through our village, to be good enough to spend the night in her house as her guest, and when you leave in the morning, to take the santuri with you.” – Nikos Kazantzakis, Zorba the Greek

“These spirits, they’d left her for good the morning that the news was broadcast on the radio that her brother had set his body on fire in the prison yard at dawn, leaving behind no corpse to bury, no trace of himself at all.” – Edwidge Danticat, The Dew Breaker

READ MORE >

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April 26th, 2011 / 6:07 am

Bill Knott Week Notice

The Week of May 2, HTMLGiant will be running a series of posts about the poetry and person of Bill Knott (he who painted what you see below.) If you would like to contribute an anecdote, some words about a favorite poem, an appreciation of a particular aspect of Knott’s work, a story about Knott as a teacher or public person, or any other Knott-related thing, please email your submission to: kyle (at) kyleminor.com

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April 23rd, 2011 / 3:56 am

Open Letter to Bill Knott

"Cover 6--03/15/11," media unknown, Bill Knott

Dear Bill Knott,

I love the free PDF books of your poetry. I have greedily downloaded them, even though I also have copies of your more traditionally published books. I’m writing to let you know that it would be really easy to make these already free books available for wider free dissemination on ebook readers including the Kindle, Nook, and SonyReader. Although there are sophisticated softwares that would make possible extravagant multi-platform releases, the easiest thing to do would be to make the poems available as .txt files in addition to the PDF’s you already share so freely. I ask because I would like to carry your poems with me everywhere I go. Probably I am not the only person who has this desire, but probably other people are too intimidated to ask, for fear that the request will be met with an entertainingly self-deprecating response on your blog. So I also ask on behalf of the others.

Your small but rabid readership awaits your next gesture of charity. Also, if you choose to make these files available, I will link them prominently here on HTMLGiant, and you will have an instant readership of 100-1000 new readers (estimated), many of whom will be encountering your poetry for the first time. Happily, would be my guess. Also, given the reprobate nature of our readership, many of those readers would likely send copies of the poems to friends without sending you a cent. I would imagine that this imposition of piracy and victimhood might also appeal to you. If you chose to receive it as a gift, I would request a reciprocal gift of more visual art, some of which I would promise to display prominently on the site in celebration of your work and in lament of your frequent dismissal of it, which may be sincere, but which is anyway wrongheaded, since you are one of the most important poets of my reading life.

Sincerely,

Kyle Minor
Reader
Toledo, Ohio

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April 21st, 2011 / 3:09 am

Jeanne Leiby, 1964-2011

Very sad news today: Jeanne Leiby, editor of The Southern Review, died in a car accident in Iberville Parish, Louisiana. The preliminary news report comes from Avoyelles Today. A tribute from Alex V. Cook, a writer and friend, appears at his blog.

During Leiby’s short tenure at The Southern Review, she distinguished herself for the care and kindness she offered writers. Her short piece “Why I Call,” was her most public statement on the matter.

Condolences and best wishes in this difficult time go to the Leiby family and to Jeanne’s colleagues at The Southern Review and Louisiana State University.

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April 20th, 2011 / 2:07 am

Occasionally Wikipedia and HTMLGiant Seem Interchangeable: Exhibit C: Recurring Themes in John Irving Novels

(source: Wikipedia)

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April 19th, 2011 / 7:14 am

HTMLGIANT Features

HTMLGIANT INTERACTIVE FEATURES #43: Psychological Realist Story-Generating Machine (Reader Participation Welcome In the Comments Section)

Instructions:

1. Don’t be lazy. This machine isn’t going to write your story for you. It’s just going to provide your parameters.

2. You can drink beer while working with the assistance of the machine. But cut the Bukowski crap, cowboy. You need to be sober READ MORE >

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April 18th, 2011 / 7:01 am

Miroslav Penkov on “memory, loss, guilt, identity, family, country . . .”

So there is a story in the book, about the Ottoman times when Bulgaria was under Turkish rule and the Ottomans forcefully recruited Bulgarian boys for their army; janissaries, who were made to deny their families and god. There is a story about Bulgarian rebels who fought for Macedonia’s freedom, about the aftermath of the Balkan Wars. Stories about the 1923 Communist uprising, about the events of 1944 when the Communist Party finally seized control of Bulgaria, about the so-called Process of Rebirth during which the Party forcefully changed the names of all Bulgarian Muslims to what were deemed “proper, Bulgarian” names. There are stories about things I myself witnessed and lived through: the fall of Communism in 1989, the results of this fall, or about the people who leave Bulgaria every year to make their luck abroad. READ MORE >

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April 13th, 2011 / 10:43 am

“enslaved by its structure”

“When you examine most recent novels or screenplays, you can’t help but notice that there’s a very strong goal-motivation-conflict structure. I watched UP with my kids recently (in 3D!) and every single character, even the giant, voiceless bird, had a very clear goal and motivation that conflicted with the other characters’ goals and motivations in really obvious ways. It was actually kind of irritating, because the conflicts just deteriorated into logistics by the climax (one too many people dangling over precipices for me). The movie seemed enslaved by its structure.” — Rhian Ellis, in 2009.

“I find myself thinking of this as a ‘masculine’ storyline, though I’m not particularly eager to defend that characterization; I will say, though, that the primary way girls get to be the heroes of contemporary children’s movies is by proving that they can do the same stupid shit boys can.  Miyazaki, on the other hand, makes movies about intense, often directionless exploration.  He is contemplative, and his films often remain movingly unresolved.  Pixar movies look great, but the visuals are illustrative.  In Miyazaki, the images are the movie.  They make the story.  I can’t, for the life of me, remember the plot of Howl’s Moving Castle–but I will never, never forget the sight of it.  Is this perhaps a feminine ideal–that it is sometimes enough simply to be? In any event, it is a worthwhile ideal, gendered or not.” — J. Robert Lennon, follow-up post, 2011.

“We went through a lot of different options that way. But people just coming out of the theater on screening it here for ourselves, felt like, ‘Whoa, were you leaving it open for a sequel, that Muntz is going to come back and get the bird?’ No, we wanted the sense of closure that when the bird goes off with the babies, we know everything’s going to be fine and there’s no danger.” — Pete Docter, director of UP, 2009.

“. . . I did go to New York to meet this man, this Harvey Weinstein, and I was bombarded with this aggressive attack, all these demands for cuts. I defeated him.” –  Hayao Miyazaki, 2005.

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April 13th, 2011 / 2:55 am

Prelude to Hill William: Questions & Answers with Scott McClanahan

Scott McClanahan, author of Stories V!

MINOR: Stories and Stories II were published by Six Gallery Press, an indie with some street cred. Their follow-up, Stories V!, is published by Holler Presents, which is the same umbrella under which you offer the videos you direct, such as (my favorite) Preacher Man. In the video realm, of course, it’s a badge of honor to be able to produce your own stuff, but there’s still that lingering stigma (maybe this is changing) against self-published books. I know you well enough to know you take your writing career more seriously than any ten writers I know. So I’m interested: why this choice, to self-publish this book?

McCLANAHAN: Actually, I don’t think I take it that serious really. There is a part of me that does, but I guess I understand in the end that money’s just something you throw off the back of a train. READ MORE >

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April 12th, 2011 / 6:23 am

Literature as a Two-Way Conversation

After we posted about reading Alexander Chee’s blog Koreanish as though it were a book whose ending hasn’t yet been written, Chee tried to read Koreanish as though it were a book whose ending hasn’t yet been written, and he was surprised that what he found was different from what he thought he would find. An excerpt:

“What struck me, in other words, is that Koreanish the blog, is, if read narratively, something of a dystopic novel, in which a writer is living inside a country that is blind to its own destruction, a destruction it pursues relentlessly, to his increasing dismay.” (Read the rest at Koreanish.)

It’s a strange feeling to read a blog as a book whose ending hasn’t yet been written, then to have your note about reading the blog as a book whose ending hasn’t yet been written become part of the fabric of the book the blog has become, and in so doing to influence the future trajectory of the blog-as-book, which means the ending of the book you’re reading and about whose ending you are curious has now been influenced by you the reader as you act upon the writer by responding to what he has already written but has not yet finished.

If this seems newfangled and Back to the Future-ish (I briefly worried about the possibility of erasing my own existence, but, fortunately, time is only moving in one direction, for now), maybe it’s not. It seems likely to me that writers who serialized their novels in magazines or newspapers before they appeared in book forms (Dickens, for example, or Dostoevsky), and their readers, might well have been candidates for similar experiences. Ditto writers whose books appear in successive volumes over time, before they are complete — Cervantes, Proust, more recently Murakami. Or writers of trilogies or quartets — Updike, or Justin Cronin’s, which is one volume in progress.

This would be a useful subject for inquiry, I’d think — how does the reception of an in-progress book by its readership impact the future trajectory of that work. And then, of course, we’re soon thinking about the entire arc of a writer’s career, where these matters likely influence future work more often than we purists might imagine. Almost all the time, would be my guess, even if your name is Thomas Pynchon or Cormac McCarthy. Even Salinger’s great long silence seems a function of his response to the audience’s response to his work.

Maybe literature is more of a two-way conversation than we would prefer to imagine.

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April 7th, 2011 / 5:18 pm

Sometimes You Don’t Recognize What’s In Front of You Until A Writer Makes It Clear for You

When I was a child, my father worked in air conditioning. I never thought that was a particularly high calling, even though we lived in Florida, in the heat, and even though I seldom felt the heat when I was indoors, since the default indoor condition of everything in Florida was cool, comfortable air, or sometimes air that was uncomfortable because it was too cold. I never figured out the value of what my father did until I read Arthur Miller’s essay “Before Air Conditioning.” Here is a representative paragraph:

“Given the heat, people smelled, of course, but some smelled a lot worse than others. One cutter in my father’s shop was a horse in this respect, and my father, who normally had no sense of smell — no one understood why — claimed that he could smell this man and would address him only from a distance.”

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April 7th, 2011 / 4:16 am

Using Biographies

In Peter Bien’s introduction to his biography of Nikos Kazantzakis — Kazantzakis: Politics of the Spirit, Volume 1 — he quotes (apologies: this gets meta pretty fast) Stanley Hoffmann’s review of Annie Cohen-Solal’s Sartre: A Life, in which Hoffman says there are at least four ways to write biographies:

“especially those of writers as monstrously prolific as Sartre. One way is to try to deal both with the events in their private and public lives and with their writings. In the case of Sartre, this would require several volumes and an author who would feel competent to handle philosophy, epistemology, novels, plays, screenplays, politics, literary and art criticism and psychoanalysis . . .”

“Another possibility . . . is to try to find in the works the expression  . . . of the writer’s personal traumas and conflicts.” A third possibility is to discuss the works at least briefly and to show “their connection with the author’s and the general public’s concerns of the moment, without providing an extensive analysis of the content or indulging in psychological reductionism.” Lastly, one can leave the work aside and concentrate on the life. “It is, of course, a debatable choice. What is Sartre without his books?” READ MORE >

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April 5th, 2011 / 2:43 pm

Where to Begin?

One writer I know said a story begins on the day something different happened. Another said the story begins where the trouble particular to the point of view starts. Another said give away everything at the beginning, the way John Irving does. Another said start with the strongest possible bit of language or the strongest sentence. Another said start in the middle. Another said start with something mysterious and compelling. Another said start with some nonsense to make the promise you’ll keep. Another said start ambiguously. Another said start unambiguously. Another said start at the end. Another said start at the beginning. My uncle committed suicide, and I wanted to write an essay about it, but I couldn’t figure out where to start, so instead of writing about my uncle’s death, I wrote about “The Question of Where We Begin.” There was no satisfactory answer to the question of where we begin. Every time the question gets asked, it raises a hundred new questions. Where did the trouble begin? If you believe, as some stories do, in a cause-and-effect chain, can’t it be traced back to the beginning of everything? What then? Isn’t this the argument they’re having in school board meetings in Kansas and Texas? And isn’t it true that by dint of deciding where you begin, you’re already giving the lie at the center of “nonfiction”? Because nothing is untouched by subjectivity, and no story doesn’t betray something about its maker?

I’m intrigued, then, by the strategies employed by an old mass market writer named James Michener, who didn’t write books about Bob or Jane or Dick or Tiger or Terry or T.J. or Tylene. He wrote novels about Texas or Poland or South Africa or Space. And with subjects so large — subjects usually tackled by historians or political philosophers geologists or geographers or journalists, rather than by novelists — wouldn’t he have to come up with a strategy that made a rather different kind of promise than “Friday morning, Evelyn woke up to find her husband dead”?

Here is the opening to Michener’s novel Hawaii:

Millions upon millions of years ago, when the continents were already formed and the principal features of the earth had been decided, there existed, then as now, one aspect of the world that dwarfed all others. READ MORE >

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April 4th, 2011 / 7:53 am

Here Is One Good Way for a Reader to Approach a Book:

Go in with low expectations, a generous readerly spirit, and a desire to take incomplete pleasures on their own terms.

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March 31st, 2011 / 3:36 pm

Early 1Q84 / Murakami Roundup

At the Alfred A. Knopf blog, Chip Kidd discusses the process of designing the book jacket for the long-awaited American edition of Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84.

Murakami’s Random House site offers “The Murakami Mix” READ MORE >

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March 31st, 2011 / 3:32 am

Possible Paths to Freedom

Two competing suppositions:

1. The path to maximum freedom is maximum knowledge, maximum mastery, so that the largest possible range of options and possibilities is on the table, and so that improvisations and inventions and productive acts of play might rise from the foundation laid by the broadest possible exposure to everything.

2. The path to maximum freedom is a rejection of preexisting things. The way to invention, improvisation, and productive acts of play begins with a willful resistance to the idea that the making of art coincides with an engagement with the world of ideas, information, or the discourse of others. It is better not to think too much about these things. Good things rise from organic processes divorced from the analytic.

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March 24th, 2011 / 6:28 pm

137 Rules for Writing

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March 24th, 2011 / 5:19 am