January 2009

Power Quote: M.L. Rosenthal

Modern poetry as a whole tends to be tragic in its assumption that we are at a cultural dead end, in which myriad values at cross-purposes, with modern political values the most virulent of all, are choking each other to death. The major poetic situation is the struggle of a heroic sensibility, or Self, to free itself from the condition of living death imposed by this murderous predicament. Clearly, the most elementary way to gain such freedom is to insist on the priority of instinct and emotion over all logical and systematic thought and over the demands of society. In many poems, Yeats fastens on the sexual act and the mystery of sexuality as the ultimate source of meaning.

-“Yeats and the Modern Mind”

(in The Modern Poets: A Critical Introduction; (c) 1960)

Some problems just never get old, do they?

read “Leda and the Swan”

read “Sailing to Byzantium”

buy Poetry in English: An Anthology; M.L. Rosenthal, ed.

Author Spotlight & Excerpts / 17 Comments
January 26th, 2009 / 1:36 pm

Magazine Databases: Magazine Debasers?

This evening, I got an email asking me if I wanted to add NOÖ Journal into a new literary magazine database called litmags.org. Here is some text from that email:

Dear Editor:

I’m a student working on my MFA in creative writing, and my final project for one of my classes was to construct a website through which readers and writers can more easily find literary magazines that suit their tastes and styles. This is an invitation to have your magazine listed in the site’s database.

Okay, sure. Sounds good. Like competition for Duotrope. Cool. But here’s what I wonder: do these databases really aid some earnest reader’s desire to find a new favorite magazine all about snowshoe poetry? Because sometimes it seems like they just facilitate the ability to find “markets” that “suit” a submitting writer’s “aesthetic.” Which seems–with all due respect to the people who maintain and program these databases, people who work awesomely hard on their projects–like a depressing and bullshit way to go about reading and writing.


Mean / 164 Comments
January 25th, 2009 / 6:16 am

Classic Word Spaces 2: Chekhov’s Desk


I did a search for Chekhov’s desk and the above image was what came up.

There it is, everyone. Chekhov’s desk. As we all know, Chekhov was a physician. Thus, Chekhov cared about the health of his wrists. He wanted to be able to write without pain. This explains his use of a tilt-y desk, I’m guessing.

Remember those kneeling chairs everyone bought during the ’80s? You might not realize this, but in addition to inventing the modern short story, Chekhov also invented those. That’s why so many writers use them. They are good for your back and they also inspire you to write powerfully observed short fiction that limns the human condition in subtle, masterful ways.

Here’s a picture of someone using one. It may or may not be author Cynthia Ozick*:


* Disclaimer: This is probably not Cynthia Ozick.

Author Spotlight & Word Spaces / 9 Comments
January 23rd, 2009 / 7:05 pm

David Berman calls Silver Jews quits; outs father as Satan

Let’s assume for right now that this isn’t another triple-reverse hoax dreamed up by Tao Lin. Pitchfork says they verified the story with Drag City today, and that DCB is indeed the author of these posts:

(1) “Silver Jews End-Lead Singer Bids his Well-Wishers Adieu”

Yes I cancelled the South American shows. I’ll have to see the ABC Countries another way.
I guess I am moving over to another category. Screenwriting or Muckraking.
I’ve got to move on. Can’t be like all the careerists doncha know.
I’m forty two and I know what to do.
I’m a writer, see?
Cassie is taking it the hardest. She’s a fan and a player but she sees how happy i am with the decision.
I always said we would stop before we got bad. If I continue to record I might accidentally write the answer song to Shiny Happy People.

And (2) “My Father, My Attack Dog”

Now that the Joos are over I can tell you my gravest secret. Worse than suicide, worse than crack addiction:
My father.
You might be surprised to know he is famous, for terrible reasons.
My father is a despicable man. My father is a sort of human molestor.
An exploiter. A scoundrel. A world historical motherfucking son of a bitch. (sorry grandma)
You can read about him here.
My life is so wierd. It’s allegorical to the nth. My father went to college at Transylvania University.
You see what I’m saying.

As I studied Judaism over the years, the shame and the shanda, grew almost too much. my heart was constantly on fire for justice. I could find no relief.
This winter I decided that the SJs were too small of a force to ever come close to
undoing a millionth of all the harm he has caused. To you and everyone you know.
Literally, if you eat food or have a job, he is reaching you.

Everyone should really take a minute and read that second post in full, then follow that link to Bermanexposed.com, so you can really see what poor DCB has been living with all these years. Ole Richard’s about as evil as evil gets.

Anyway, whether this retirement turns out to be permanent or temporary, it certainly marks the end of an era of some kind. Let’s all take a moment of silence for the Silver Joos we knew and loved, and express some unqualified solidarity with DCB and whatever he decides to pursue next–however he might choose to pursue it.

Related links:

I interviewed Berman once, when Tanglewood Numbers came out: “A Limited Edition of One”

poem: “Governors on Sominex”

poem: “The Charm of 5:30”

video: Silver Jews play “Smith and Jones Forever” at the Pitchfork Festival

video: “I’m Getting Back Into Getting Back Into You” scene from Silver Jew documentary

video: “How to Rent a Room” followed by weird joke that doesn’t go over too well.

Author News / 45 Comments
January 23rd, 2009 / 3:34 pm

on Proper Usage

Steven Pinker had a piece in the NYT yesterday about John Roberts’ flub of the Oath of Office, and why, from a grammatical standpoint, it doesn’t matter. He argues that the long-standing injunction against infinitive splitting is “a myth.”

Language pedants hew to an oral tradition of shibboleths that have no basis in logic or style, that have been defied by great writers for centuries, and that have been disavowed by every thoughtful usage manual. Nonetheless, they refuse to go away, perpetuated by the Gotcha! Gang and meekly obeyed by insecure writers.

I thought it was a pretty interesting argument, and I’m always glad to see a shibboleth overturned, so I forwarded the link to my friend Amy McDaniel, who of all my friends is probably the most interested in such things, as well as the best at them. (In addition to being an expert grammarian, she’s also an expert on food, and you can/should check out her contributions to the Slashfood blog.)  She replied to my message with a one-liner: “Steven Pinker is an enemy of proper usage,” to which I replied that “his insidious claims are deeply seductive.” I imagine at this point she realized I don’t know anything about Steven Pinker–or as much as I should about grammar–and so she sent me a passage of David Foster Wallace’s “Tense Present,” wherein DFW critiques Pinker’s “descriptivist” approach to usage. The essay, which originally appeared in Harper’s in 2001, can be read in its entirety here, or you can find just the part that Amy sent me to settle the matter pasted in after the jump.


Excerpts & Random / 36 Comments
January 23rd, 2009 / 11:30 am

Classic Word Spaces: Leo Tolstoy


That’s Tolstoy’s desk. I’m not sure where he put his laptop, though. Maybe on top of the blotter. He probably moved all the stuff and put his laptop on the blotter.

He probably also had wi-fi and didn’t have to plug it into his DSL line.

Also—is that a tongue depressor in the cup? Why did he keep a tongue depressor in a pen cup on his writing desk? Do you think he was always pulling out a mirror and checking his uvula for swelling?

Author News & Word Spaces / 10 Comments
January 22nd, 2009 / 8:06 pm

Tao Lin reveals American Apparel sponsorship a hoax

Tao lin reveals today that American Apparel has not actually sponsored Reader of Depressing Books:



just kidding re 1/19/2009 post

*a rare opportunity to display your career management skills* in terms of my career as an author of literary fiction should i have put american apparel ads on my blog without getting paid by american apparel and then made a blog post saying american apparel had sponsored me and then changed my facebook status to ‘american apparel sponsored me: [link to the 1/19/2009 post]’? answer yes or no then elaborate using 120 words or less in the comments section *a rare opportunity to display your career management skills*


For those of you who missed the original post, which only went up on 1/19, it’s here:
“american apparel has sponsored this blog (see ads on sidebar)”
In any case, the ads are still up, down the whole right sie of his blog. These ads feature famous hot teen existentialism-espousing BDSM-positive borderline-mainstream-personality-now pornstar Sasha Grey, who seemed to be mostly adveristing her own tits, which, frankly, are much more appealing than whatever that high-waisted garment covering her lower half is. And I would just like to say, for the record, that I was totally taken in by this hoax, (1) because why would anyone pretend to be sponsored by something when they’re not? (answer: seek not to comprehend the ways of Tao, etc) and (2) because of this Jezebel post that went up on the 20th, which didn’t mention Tao at all but might as well have, and I guess might actually have if his story had actually been true. Anyway, I was going to put together a little portfolio of Sasha Grey pictures to celebrate this not-actual-collision-of-worlds, but then I decided that all the really interesting photos of her are too graphic–even for a NSFW-work-tagged post, which the Jezebel post is but this one actually isn’t. So if you want to know what the deal is, turn your Google Safe Search all the way off and don’t say I didn’t warn you slash don’t forget to thank me. Or Tao. You know, whatever. 
Author News & Web Hype / 48 Comments
January 22nd, 2009 / 6:31 pm

The Lives of Others: at the art opening

Mike Young came to San Francisco a few weeks ago. We didn’t document the experience, but it just so happened that we were ‘in the way’ while a picture was being taken for a website that documents SF art openings (scroll down to Rosenthal Gallery).

Anyway, in the vein of Selections from the Giant family photo album, I figure I’d consolidate our conversation into four snippets. Out of modesty and restraint, the photos are after the break.


Behind the Scenes / 12 Comments
January 22nd, 2009 / 3:08 pm

The History of a Lake Never Drowns

Julia Cohen is a frequent target of admiration on this here blog, and now we’ve got her in our sights again. She has a new chapbook out from Dancing Girl Press, which, as you’ll see when you click through, for a measly $7 includes shipping, so it’s an extra good deal. If you don’t know JC’s work, you can start at her blog and then go from there, but I also cajoled her into giving me a few sample poems from the chappie, which you can find just below the fold.


Author Spotlight & Excerpts / 1 Comment
January 22nd, 2009 / 11:48 am

The Vicarious MFA, Part One

Don’t let the economy stop you from getting that Creative Writing MFA you’ve always dreamed of! Or, maybe, do let it stop you and just get the knock-off version here. For this semester everyone reading this blog has a full scholarship to get a Vicarious MFA from me/Columbia. Tomorrow’s the first day of class, so I thought I might post a back-to-school warm up, in the Jimmy Chen fashion, using Google image search to find out what the internet thinks you can expect from your Creative Writing MFA.

author photo

Your new, narcissistic friends will always look like they’re posing for their  (future) author photos.

hotdawgbgMake sure you take advantage of free hot dog condiments because it’s probably the only meal you can afford today.
savageGet ready to have your stories torn apart by your workshop professor who brings in his dog to illustrate how worthless your work is.

Vicarious MFA / 82 Comments
January 21st, 2009 / 10:34 pm