Mean Week Looks Back

Coincidentally, the weekend before Mean Week, a book of essays from a poetry journal called The Reaper arrived for me at the public library.

The Reaper had it’s own little Mean Decade from 1980 to 1989, and it spent that time skewering poetry as it was and poets of note, and suggesting to readers that narrative poetry was the way out of the ever-widening gap between poetry and its readers. It helped give birth to the New Narrative movement. And New Formalism.

Fascinating stuff, really. Fussy? Maybe. But impassioned. Happily argumentative. Willing to call people out, too. Kind of like Justin’s critique of Valzhyna Mort there below this post, too, in that they dissect poems line by line and call bullshit when bullshit needs to be called—especially when the poets in their sights sail through a line without regard for accuracy.

I’ll post a few choice quotes this week. First, though, The Reaper’s Non-negotiable Demands in all their glory:

1. Take prosody off the hit list.

2. Stop calling formless writing poetry.

3. Accuracy, at all costs.

4. No emotion without narrative.

5. No more meditating on the meditation.

6. No more poems about poetry.

7. No more irresponsibility of expression.

8. Raze the House of Fashion.

9. Dismantle the Office of Translation.

10. Spring open the Jail of the Self.

Each demand is explained in the essay. I would encourage you to pick up the book to read them.

Keep in mind, also, that posting about The Reaper is not a full endorsement of their critique.  On the other hand, my poet friends: fuck you, read this.

All best,

Matthew

Kissed By…

I road the bus to work this morning, and 1) listened to Disintegration Loops by William Basinski and 2) read a random story from Kissed By by Alexandra Chasin.

The story was called “They Come From Mars” and in one of those all-too-common moments of synchronicity, that story is essentially a disintegrating language loop. It contains only—until its surprise ending—four letter words. (No, not profanity.) There are twelve words a line. The font is Courier, I think, which is a monospaced (fixed width) font, so all the words are the same size.

What begins as an incantatory: They come from Mars they come from Mars…gives way to a discussion of the arrival of visitors from Mars. Chasin abbreviates. “There” and “their” become “ther.” When we speak, we abbreviate without realizing it, and she uses that to her advantage. “Suspect” becomes “spec.” (Unless she means “expect,” but, she uses that ambiguity to her advantage as well.)

The long columns of twelve word, monospaced lines, the paranoia in the prose (they come from Mars, for Heaven’s sake!), the flatering, disintegrating prose loops—it reminds me of Howard Finster a little, outsider art. The text on the bottles of Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap.

And, as I said, it dovetailed nicely with the Basinski, a recording of a long, old tape loop repeating and repeating and repeating and slowly falling apart moment by moment in such minimal steps, you miss it.

Blake sent me this book. Thanks, Blake.

The Art of…

I guess I could preface this recommendation with a short essay on whether or not a person can learn to be a writer. I guess I could.

I won’t, though. Not now. Not in the mood.

I don’t, though, have a lot of interest in books on how to write. Not usually. Not many. Gardner’s book, sure. Some of Kundera’s essays. Some of Nabokov’s lectures. Borges’. Barthelme’s. Calvino’s.

And one more: Charles Baxter. Both Burning Down the House and The Art of Subtext have been invaluable to me. Not in that his books offer blueprints, or prescriptive advice. Baxter just thinks about his writing, and the writing of others, in really interesting ways. And reading an essay that he has written about one aspect of, say, Chekhov’s writing, invariably does the triple duty of not simply making you see an element in Chekhov’s writing in a new way, or getting you to find similar tactics in the writing of others, but his work rearranges the way you read, rearranges your brain, and you start finding new and interesting things that have nothing to do with Baxter’s essays whenever you read.

That’s what I’ve noticed, anyway.

He’s editing a series called The Art of…for Graywolf Press. His book is pretty damn good.

Eyeshot’s Tentacled Rejecting Appendage

The best thing about internet-published fiction writing a few years back was getting a rejection letter from Lee Klein at Eyeshot.

The best. Seriously.

“At first I thought you took some pages from a Frank McCourt memoir, copied them, then added a dash of Pac Man.”

Lee was funny. Lee was direct. Lee was fucking merciless.

(Lee is still all these things, by the way. Eyeshot remains. Eyeshot continues to publish and, as far as I know, continues to reject.  But, now, on the submissions page, you read: “PLEASE REALIZE we used to try to respond very quickly, often in mere minutes, generally within 48 hours. And that we used to tend to have some fun with our rejection letters. Now we might just send a link to a beautiful form letter. But occasionally we may still respond personally and performatively and whatever, depending on time and energy.”)

His rejections sometimes felt like a prolonged, broken narrative, a story being sent out to the world, one person at a time. Luckily, he collected them for us. Continue reading “Eyeshot’s Tentacled Rejecting Appendage”

Surgery of Modern Warfare

I’ve been thinking about places that published me when I was just starting out. Some sites I loved are now gone. Here are three:

Surgery of Modern Warfare

Second site to ever publish me. I met Amy Fusselman, author of the incredible book The Pharmacist’s Mate, on her book tour. She was pregnant. She had one of those acoustic guitars Buck Owens used to play, the ones painted red, white, and blue. She played the songs “Hell’s Bells,” on it. She was possibly the nicest person I ever met.

I sent her at least four stories, and she rejected all of them. Eventually, though, I broke through.

Surgery went away a while back. When I was the web editor at Monkeybicycle, I convinced a bunch of sites to undergo a month long redesign so that they all looked like Surgery. This is what Monkeybicycle looked like.

Reinventing the World

Reinventing the World was emailed out to people on a list. It was a nice looking Word Doc. I think I still have the one I was in on the hard drive of my old iMac.

What happened, I wonder, to Patrick Reynolds? Patrick, are you out there? Last I heard, you were at Yaddo or McDowell.

The American Journal of Print

First place to ever publish me. The very short piece I sent them is now the pituitary gland of a much longer, still homeless story about love and the faked moon landing. A couple of years ago, I tracked down the editor who accepted the piece, and sent him a fawning love letter. Who forgets their first?

We should put together a list. A canonical list of long gone lit sites. Comment or send me a note:

giantblinditems at gmail dot com

Markson

The guy from Bookworm talks to David Markson. You should listen to it, because David Markson writes books ostensibly without plots. But actually, they always sort of seem to have plots.

David Markson writes the books you wish you could write:

“Sophocles, I’ve used them all. Aeschylus, I’ve used them all…I’m running out of famous people to talk about!”

“I’m spending a million dollars on those little index cards.”