I realized last night how I’ve never gotten over William Burroughs; how maybe more than any syllable maker I’ve read in my life it’s been him I’ve been mimicking in mind to large degree; him one of the first of all those I still read now still coming out since seventeen in more sentences than I should like to admit; how is indexed me somehow; how I could argue with myself that if every word I write is trying to match against or kill some father, it is him, even if by now I can’t always actually remember a lot about what he wrote beyond textures, images, residues, ideas.
I read Naked Lunch the first time having got caught gut-deep in the Beats, like so many did, when a friend brought a tape of Ginsberg reading “America” in to play for our American Lit class in 10th grade. We had to get permission slips signed before we were allowed to listen because he dropped the F-bomb and dissed on everything seemingly elemental about the suburban neighborhoods surrounding Joseph Wheeler High School (named, I heard whispered more than a few times back then, for a founding member of the Klan). The high school I went to was a weird mix of hood and upper middle class; there were fights at least a couple times a week; I vividly remember walking one day to the senior lot and seeing a truckbed full of dudes in masks with weapons coasting through without an inch of other motion: they didn’t find who they were looking for; or maybe they were simply there to be an image burned into my head. But more than them, and more than many things, there were these freakshows of strange language suddenly appearing in the half-slept muddle of all those other high school era books.
Tuesday, 10/13. Shredded Text Day.
For Tuesday we read a few brief excerpts from Naked Lunch (Dr. Benway’s “aesthetic surgery,” and “have you seen Pantopon rose”) plus four selections from Gentle Reader! a collaborative book of poetry written by Joshua Beckman, Anthony McCann and Matthew Rohrer. If you’ve never heard of this book, it’s because it was privately (or, if you want to be a dick about it, self-) published by the three poets, and hence is not generally available. (I cadged a copy from Rohrer.) The poems are not written collaboratively–I don’t think–but they’re all unsigned, so you have to guess who wrote what. Also, each poem is an erasure of a Romantic-era text. There’s a key at the back. Since I don’t have the materials ready-to-hand (I’m posting this from a writers’ retreat in Breckenridge, CO, where I’m serving as writer-in-residence for the weekend) I can’t tell you much about the poems, other than that the one called “I Was Alive” is an erasure of Frankenstein, and that it was written by Anthony McCann–both of which things I know because McCann first published the poem non-anonymously in the Agriculture Reader.
Anyway, we didn’t do a lot of textual analysis, and so you won’t be getting the usual slate of close readings. I was more interested in presenting a variety of non-narrative forms, and in talking about the technical aspects of the processes used to create the works. Then we busted out the scissors, Sharpies, and photocopies, and got down to the good work of fucking shit up.