October 19th, 2010 / 2:00 pm
Literary Magazine Club

{LMC}: A Letter to Padgett Powell, From the Famed Autodidact Lonny Nilsson

Ed: You can read a PDF of this interview, here, so you can better participate. Buy NY Tyrant.

Man, Powell, you are a redneck savant.

Powell, I’m writing to you about your interview with a Jacob, Jacob White. You know, you can say he’s a Jacob, because there’s a many Jacobs in the world, just as there are a many pitbulls that’ll kill your littler dogs, as you so say. But can we correctly say you’re a Padgett? I’m not so sure. I mean, you are a Padgett, don’t get me wrong, but to say so seems a mite disingenuous, as though I were to say you are a three-headed rattlesnake: You’re probably more the three-headed rattlesnake.

Powell, I called myself a famed autodidact in the title of this letter because you put a pressure on me, in your skills. You put a pressure on all of us. You’re a writer in the mold of writers who do things other than write—a practical mode, this is. In the shadow of your many voices, many minds and many habits, I call myself an autodidact, and I do try—but crafts seem to wither at my touch, you know, as though I’m a wrecking ball come to break things down rather than put them together, and I can’t hardly overcome my big iron-spherical nature. But hey.

Powell, we don’t send half-enough letters these days, and at the beginning of this compilation-of-many-sorts you are in, this New York Tyrant 8, sort of diverse in that way you are diverse, there’s a letter unsent from the great West Virginian Breece D’J Pancake to his mother, in which he dreams double-layered about a strange kind of deathless yet skeleton-haunted world. If a letter, even unsent, is good enough for Pancake, it’s better than me, and hopefully better for me, than to continue trying to fish and hunt and roof in your image and keep hooking my buddies, jamming my gun, falling through the ceiling like the paralyzed man on his pallet in Mark, sans rope and pulleys.

Powell, there’s a sadness in all your interviews, and I’m curious how it gets there. Man, you can write like the Holy Spirit. You speak in tongues. There is no voice you can’t make lyrical, no man you can’t expose inside-out to the audience he must sense, helping to split him like a mullet, from the back. But you’ve gotta understand that to a man wanting to write, which you were once though long ago, and which I guess you are afresh, to some degree, any time you sit down to start again—you’ve just got that confidence now, that Pavlovian dinner-bell boost—to a man wanting to write, what you’ve got seems all there is. We can trade, if you’d like. You can be Lonny Nilsson, in fact I have no doubt you could be Lonny Nilsson anytime you so chose, but now you have my permission, just drip a little bit of that sap you’ve got into wherever I need it to go and then I’ll write like a sonuvabitch and we’ll both be happy.

Powell, where does that put me, as a reader and a writer, if I read you and reread you and worship you and mimic you and believe you and live by you? Do I wait for that allergy to develop? Do you want me to grow allergic to your voices? Or do I wait for you to nut in the way of Hemingway? Have you already nutted? Does that sound dirty? “Am I asking too many questions?” Should I be sorry if I just misquoted you?

Powell, Pancake shot himself, and you’ve divorced, you sometimes seem unhappy. I don’t want to pry, I’m sorry if I’m prying, I’m just trying to learn. Two models for the end-game of writers who seem possessed or possessing-able, we need a word for this, this able to possess quality. I feel as though Dostoevsky could’ve told us, but he’s dead and never spoke English. Could you write a story as Dostoevsky, and then maybe figure it out?

Powell, what do we writers and aspiring autodidacts do about the booze? You seem to still be hunting the solution to this one, but I’ve got beers in my fridge that are whimpering like dogs and you know, I hate to let a dog go lonely.

Powell, Pancake and Powell, you’ve both got tremendous names. I’ve resisted using Padgett because I don’t want to sap it of its power, its potency. Seems unright of me, you know? Not my right, not my role.

Powell, I’ve got a dog, would you like to meet him? Name’s Fred, and he’s not the quickest, but he’s a good dog most of the time. Once I was tossed over the hood and then roof of a car trying to get him out the road, which was a curious incident, the driver didn’t stop, slowed down a bit and then accelerated and took the first right turn they were able. My hip hurt some and I bled on a good white shirt, but considering the various possibilities of such a damned encounter I’m pretty happy I got out as I did, you know, lived to fail at carpentry another day, another time. Though maybe I should let that go, give up on my autodidacticism, write about youth and girls and things I can at least grasp in my memory and recreate, instead of creating them anew. But then, breathing life into clay like you do, that becomes an impossibility, and I hardly want to wall myself off from the God-pursuit, fresh creation.

Powell, I could tell you stories.

Powell, they posted once a piece you wrote about Warren Sapp, where you went and smoked a whole mess of drugs, if I’m remembering it correctly, and you couldn’t move thereafter. I don’t know what to make of this, but, accurate or not, I can’t seem to forget it.

Powell, you seem to prefer the female sex to men, seem to grant them a greater courage and nerve and laudable morality, and I really couldn’t agree more.

Powell, I’m 37 and live upstate, off-road, in woods, marsh, nature. Should I give up the apprentice mentality, or should I give up the writing mentality, or should I just wait to get an allergy to it all?

Powell, I’m afraid of everything: let me know if I can hide and run with you.

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  1. Erik

      Just read his poetry on octopus mag and wanted to stick my entire fist down my throat.

      ‘I see you crying with my cock halfway in your ass. I am crying too. Crying the aura of falsehood.’

      This is what passes for poetry in 21st century USA? Pseudo-intellectual, egomaniacal, needlessly lewd crap. It just fucks with you for no other reason than to fuck with you, and it makes sure you know. Hasn’t that “PoMo” style gotten old? I know everyone is trying to make some sense of our materialistic society and deal with what existence is and all that, but this is just self-indulgent shiiiiite.

  2. Erik

      And I posted this on the wrong thread. I am embarrassed.

  3. Travis Kurowski

      Got me excited about reading both the Powell interview and the D’J Pancake letter, thx. Waiting by the mailbox…

  4. weirdassshit

      This is some weird-ass Hinckley shit.

  5. ael

      He’s long been sober, but here is Powell on Booze (from Bomb Magazine, 1996): . There’s this notion that writers become drunks. That’s not the case at all. Drunks become writers. In being a drunk, you’ve betrayed a predisposition to entertain failure on a daily if not momentary basis, which is what you do when you write. So the specter of all these drunk writers is to be regarded as a yardful of writing drunks.

  6. Jacob White

      Here is a clip from what got clipped off that interview:

      JW: The story “Having It Together” gives us the following exchange:
      “Can one talk about something and have it not be germane to itself?
      “Well, yes, I think this may be the quintessence of not having it together.”
      The presumption of any kind of narrative seems exactly what your writing aims to bust up: “Well then fuck them, I will not be clear merely because being clear is my object” (“Manifesto”). But rather than playing Beckett’s “zero-sum game,” as Barthelme called it, your writing seems to be grinding away at *something*. And if *The Interrogative Mood* is the quintessence of Not Being Germane to Itself, it might also be your most direct expression yet. Has this novel allowed you to get someplace you haven’t been able to get to before?

      PP: It has, I am sure, but where the place is, what it is, I do not know. Too dizzy myself to know. I don’t quite grasp “Well then fuck them, I will not be clear merely because being clear is my object” anymore, if I ever did. Perhaps context would bring it back. Those two dudes, who are the same dude, go on forever like this, discovering nothing except that they are inane and afraid. If it gets published, reviewers will have fun. As for grinding at something: yes, it grinds, it must grind, even if it has selected as its moment making an utterance that is not germane even to itself. I am adding “even” now to clarify the earlier point. This strikes me as a bit of philosophy I am too retarded to work. An utterance that does not concern even itself, deliberately, would seem to nonetheless concern the lunacy of errant expression, mad babbling—or could it be a more sublime thing, an expression say to the negative second power, and be therewith some kind of necessary postmodern word? Beckett stated as his object the expression of impotence, and he ground very hard, it seems to me, to express that with great potence. I intended that as a sequitor but I do not think it is.

  7. Owen Kaelin

      I kind of hate to say it, but with all this crap I’ve heard about alcoholic writers: to be honest, the only thing alcohol ever taught me about writing is how not to do so. Same with grass.

      First, I’d like to know how many writers are obsessive coffee drinkers.

      Second, I’d like to know how alcoholic painters or musicians compare with alcoholic writers, statistics-wise.

      Otherwise it’s an interesting quote, if a little silly. It sounds like the sort of thing somebody probably heard him just muse off-hand one day.

      Sorry if I’m a little negative, nothing against you, these stereotypes just bug me.

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