September 2010

Joyelle McSweeney on Loser Occult. Also, if you ever get really sick of HTML Giant, blow us the fuck up. (Thanks, Johannes. Thanks, Paul.)


Christian Lorentzen does the Malcolm Gladwell.

The Guardian Books Blog on “How Writers Review their Critics.”

Elif Batuman’s epic piece in the NYTimes Magazine on the purgatory of some of Kafka’s papers.

There’s a great piece over at The Millions on what it means to be a “best bookstore” and how, contra the insidious “death of books/bookstores/reading/literacy” meme that we’re all always seeing spread around, there’s actually a lot to be excited about on these fronts. Among the other fun stuff in the piece, is this offhand list of “the top 10 booksellers in America …  Stephanie Anderson from WORD, Emily Pullen from Skylight, Michele Filgate from Riverrun, Rachel Fershleiser from Housing Works…”. The article also mentions a crucial point first made–by Rachel F.–on the Housing Works blog, that many of the best bookstores in NYC have opened rather than closed within the last ten years. Counter-meme, anyone?

Every time you think you know Joshua Cohen, he finds something else to surprise you with. Apparently, homeboy has been (or is now?) publishing a new unpublished piece of short fiction every week on his website. Check out the Paragraph for Liu Xaiobo.

And finally, something I was right about. Remember back when we were talking about the suicide of Kevin Morrissey at the VQR? In a comment on that post, I argued that the charges of “workplace bullying” leveled against VQR editor Ted Genoways appeared off-base and reductive. I suggested that people read Emily Bazelon’s Slate reporting on the Phoebe Prince case. Well, a couple of days ago Slate published a big new piece by Bazelon about the VQR, what workplace bullying really is (and isn’t), and how the media made a caricature out of Ted Genoways. You should go read that piece right now.

Roundup / 4 Comments
September 30th, 2010 / 3:42 pm

Writing Prompt: Ask a small person for assistance.

In 1966, Ornette Coleman did something odd. (Or, well, odder than usual for him.) He sat his ten year old son Denardo down at a drum kit in a recording studio and made a record with him called The Empty Foxhole.

Certainly this may not be the product of thinking something through completely. Having a shaky-timed ten-year-old play drums on your free jazz record plays into the “anyone can do that,” (see My Kid Could Paint That) critique leveled against Coleman’s pioneering musical career. And certainly, listening to the album reveals that the young man—now a respected pro—was, to be generous, a bit outmatched by his dad and Charlie Haden.

But what it may lack in musical virtuosity—a concept I will admit I am only passingly familiar with and devoted to, as I am more in the poorly record punk rock/noise/psychedelic/and black metal records camp—it sure does make up for with ENTHUSIASM! Enthusiasm is the wheelhouse of the ten year old. And the nine year old. And the eight year old. Etc. Working from a bed of this youthful enthusiasm, Coleman finds a way to weave some music I really like in and around the constraints of the young man’s limitations.

Here is a writing prompt. Ask a small person to tell you a story. Take notes. Tease out details when you think necessary. Encourage the small person to expand on promising ideas now and then. Mostly, though, just listen.

Treat the notes you have taken as a outline. Write a story or a poem. Whatever it is you write. Be faithful to your co-writer’s enthusiasm. But be your usual writerly virtuoso self within the outline’s constraints.

And credit your co-author.

Craft Notes / 12 Comments
September 30th, 2010 / 1:45 pm

Ray Lewis on Writing

If you’re trying to please the world, you’re going to confuse yourself.

The only danger is writing a check you can’t cash.

It don’t matter about me.

I monitor, sort of watch, some people.

Like some people aren’t happy with their job or their wife, they say it. That’s all it was, him voicing his opinion. He has a right to do that.

You know, consistency is everything.

But we don’t need no hope. Y’all can keep your hope because we’ve got enough hope over here. We’re packing our bags, and we’re not packing our bags to come play water polo.

You know that you’re pretty much in serious trouble.

Honestly. I don’t know what’s going on over there.

That’s what I want to get back to, just having fun and letting them deal with me.

All you can do is move on, live on. … Don’t let nobody pull you back into it, don’t let nobody make you keep talking about it.

We’ve heard it all week.

Once it’s done, it’s done.

Random / 11 Comments
September 29th, 2010 / 11:19 pm

Power Quote: Luna Miguel

It’s impossible to support today the idea of the author as a divine entity… If we want people to approach poetry, it would be better to delete the myths.

Luna Miguel

Power Quote / 12 Comments
September 29th, 2010 / 9:41 pm

Today in Class

Today class happened amidst the bumble and burst of plumbers and electricians, anxious dogs, and un-showered, tired, frenzied me. But it happened nonetheless. We workshopped a lot today. First, in whole-group fashion (there are 16 of us) to finish up where we left off last week with our reckless poetry. At the end of class, concentrating on sound and how sound moves through the air and into our ears and around in our noggins, students got into groups of three in which one person read while the other group members listened. After the poem, each group member wrote down what stuck the hardest in their memories, and then we talked about how the poems [we’ve been thinking about rhythm and chant] accomplished their sonic goals, or didn’t. That was fun. I bounced around the groups, interjected here and there, but mostly I let them do the talking. They’re all pretty smart readers, and I trust them.

Another of my favorite games is to annotate Philip Levine’s They Feed They Lion together with a class. I’m trying to teach students about writing annotation papers as writers versus as academic critics. It involves a helluva lot more looking at how craft informs our understanding of a poem versus simply what the poem means. Students get super frustrated, usually, about the phrase, “they feed they lion,” and they want me to tell them what it means. I tell them I don’t know what it means, but maybe by looking at how the poem is written we’ll start to get our heads around it. Chaos ensues. I write things on the chalk board. People start seeing biblical allusions and apocalypse. It’s great. Then I say something teacherly like, “well, how does all this anaphora and accreted repetition inform the poem?” Today I got some really astute answers that I’m too exhausted to expound on.

I showed students this excerpt from a Levine interview in which he explains the nascence of the poem [here] [I like the stories Mr. Levine tells]:


Craft Notes / 18 Comments
September 29th, 2010 / 5:39 pm

Really gotta hand it to these publishers

Random / 18 Comments
September 29th, 2010 / 5:33 pm

Would anyone like to buy me a present, like a sculpture, to put in my home?

These Things May Dismay You

Snooki of Jersey Shore fame is going to publish a novel. I have, previously, expressed enthusiasm for Tyra Banks’s opus, Modelland and I don’t have a problem with celebrity books (I support them, in fact, not that it matters), but I admit I am struggling mightily to feel anything but a profound sense of hopelessness at the idea that a young woman who has read only two books in her life (Twilight and Dear John) is going to “write” a book.

Tucker Max has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 150 consecutive weeks and he has some advice for how you, too, can make that happen.

Random / 55 Comments
September 29th, 2010 / 1:28 pm

Live Giants 8: A Crew of Ruefle (NYC/Chicago)

Thank you to everyone who read, and thank you for watching tonight. We should have the videos archived at our ustream channel now.*

Remember, from now until 9am tomorrow, you can purchase Mary Ruefle’s Selected Poems for only $15 from Wave Books here.

*To watch the archived version just go here.

Also, from the comments below, Mary Ruefle says:

dear readers, thank you so much, I am in a concrete room, very small, not very experienced, and although I do not believe for one moment of my life that I wrote those poems, I can go so far as to say I wish I did.

Web Hype / 11 Comments
September 28th, 2010 / 7:55 pm