Archive for the ‘writers’ Category

Rane, everywhere

February 9, 2011

The only event of AWP that I, and the g/f,  felt was a necessity for us to attend was the tribute to Rane Arroyo. He wasn’t in our lives long. She met him in a class in her fall semester, where Rane had to miss a couple of weeks and was covered by his partner Glen. I met him a couple of semesters later in another class where, about three-quarters of the way through the semester, he pulled me off to the side during the ten minute break and encouraged me to go after an MFA. It’s a piece of advice, and a belief in me, that I still carry around.

Before talking about the tribute itself, I feel like I need to mention that Rane seemed to pop up throughout the conference in some way. Maybe we were just looking for him, but I don’t think so. I bought at least one book of poetry because of their resemblance to his Roswell poems. At another table, we received a free copy of Water Stone Review and found Rane’s name on the back among the contributors. We ran into other people who knew Rane throughout the conference. And there was a distinct feeling that maybe we wouldn’t have been there at all if it wasn’t for him. For us, at least, the place reverberated with his presence, with the possibility he had instilled in us, with what I can only think of as the sheer elastic joy of him.

The tribute was put together by Glenn Sheldon and consisted of twenty or so readers, each reading one poem of Rane’s that touched them, that impacted them, or reading a poem about him, remembering. It was touching, it was painful, I think I cried a couple of times. It was good to hear Rane’s words spoken aloud.  It’s something I may never hear again, at least in this type of setting and it’s something I needed.

For the event, Glenn produced a tribute chapbook with remembrances by the readers along with re-prints of the poems they read. Interspersed throughout the book are sketches, drawings and photos of and by Rane. I hate to pick favorites from it, they are all beautiful, but I found the poem by Luis Alberto Urrea to be particularly heart rending.

On the back of the chapbook is a picture of Rane, with that little Rane smile, that smile that’s trying to be straight faced but is bent with that elastic joy. At the end, Glenn stood up and said that something Rane said was, “cry, but the tears are not for me, they are for you. Afterward, when you laugh, that will be for me.” I laugh occasionally, but I’m not quite past the crying stage yet. I miss him and the world is a bit worse off for his having departed it. But somewhere got a good deal brighter with him having arrived. Rest in peace, my friend, knowing that I am one of many who still carry you around.

what I wish was a drunken conversation in a McDonald’s at AWP

February 8, 2011

The g/f and I went to one off-site event while we were at AWP, at The Asylum, where we watched some poets read, munched some vegan appetizers (which were incredible, despite their non-animalness)(not awesome enough to make me give up my animal tasty treats for good, though) and where I got the beginnings of a headache and tired of some personal space intrusion. This was still at the time I was having to do a TON of grading for the courses I teach, so I wasn’t in the best mood to begin with.

So, we left after the readings and struck out for the convention again, hoping to catch the last bit of the Jhumpa Lahiri keynote address. Instead, we wandered into a basement McDonald’s and griped about the state of poetry and the faint of heart, spotlight shunning writers who just don’t stomp the terra firma, to borrow and, likely, butcher a quote from Hunter Thompson.

First, I should say, I’m not a huge poetry fan right now. There just isn’t a lot out there that interests me and a lot of it sounds pretty similar. This isn’t to say it’s not good, I just don’t find a lot of it catching or interesting. It seems a lot of what is said is said to work in a slam environment though not necessarily on the page or even in your own head. Again, this isn’t to say it’s not good, it just feels like everyone is doing the same thing right now. And none of them really say a whole helluva lot.

And part of the problem seems to be this odd anti-intellectualism that permeates poetry (and, truth be told, fiction). This isn’t to say they’re dumb, or ignorant, just that I have continually witnessed an aversion to research and reading something that isn’t fiction or poetry.  I’ve griped before about this idea that the work is sparked by some muse and comes from on-high, which is another way of saying what I often heard repeated, that “you don’t think about it, you just write it and it’s THERE.” Which I disagree with too a fair extent, despite how many well written poems I’ve read that chronicle the depths of your despair in the eyes of a puppy on a sunny day.

Which, in a roundabout but perfectly logical (at the time) way, took me to Allen Ginsberg and my declaration that he was the last poet that I could genuinely respect and admire as a Great (capital G) Poet (capital P) because he not only wrote great poetry but, by all appearances, had a meaning and purpose behind what and how he was writing. I’ve liked poets since him, sure, I really enjoy Bukowski, but respect him as a writer? As an artist? Maybe not so much.

And what sort of disgusted myself with this declaration is that it’s sort of like bringing Hitler or the Nazis into an internet argument – it’s just so over the top inarguable, that it’s pointless to bring it up. I mean, is there anyone who is going to argue that there was a bigger, more influential and flat out better poet after Ginsberg in the last half of the Twentieth century? I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, unless we begin pulling in guys like Bob Dylan into the argument, or try to argue that filmmakers are poets in a visual medium.

And what disgusts me a bit now is that I know, and have known, other poets who are very good, who are dedicated to their craft, and who I stupidly insulted. But, at the same time, I still have this nagging feeling of having still been right, to a certain degree. There have been poets since Ginsberg who entered our social consciousness, who found themselves or made themselves part of our national fabric, but none of them have carried the weight of Ginsberg, none of them have cast his shadow. None of them have stomped the land.

Anyway, that’s my off-handed gripe/post. Take it with the grain of salt it was written with.

I’m at AWP

February 3, 2011

Well, I’m there. I made it to AWP this year. For those who don’t know, and I certainly wouldn’t have until my girlfriend asked me, “Hey, you want to go to AWP?” it’s where’s a bunch of writers and writers/professors and writers/whateverers gather to talk about writing. There are a bunch of different little sessions where four or five writers get together and do a presentation on a theme or idea that they’re interested in, usually followed by a little Q&A. This morning, I went to a session that was basically about monsters and their prevalence/use/possibly abuse in fiction. Hannah Tinti was awesome. She was quick, she was insightful, she was engaging. And she had trouble with this little projector thing, which introduced a welcomed bit of levity and everydayness that should have set the tone for the rest of the session.

I wasn’t a fan of Laura van den Berg’s short story collection, but I thought she did well here. As she guessed, she would have people disagreeing with her over Murakami’s work being his After the Quake collection (for my money, it’s still  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or, maybe, Kafka on the Shore) and with her description of Murakami having a lot of “zaniness” in his work, but it was still entertaining.

I don’t really want to get into a review of the whole thing, largely because I don’t also want to be critical of any of the presenters . What they are doing is difficult, and I know they are doing the best they can. By and large, the session was fun and informative and, in the end, I think that’s what counts. What I do want to say, though, is that I have a feeling what I feared about these sessions will come true – writers talking about writing isn’t always the most entertaining thing and they aren’t always the best at it. As one of the presenters said, writers like to write because they’re better at that than talking. And he might have been right. From the start I was thinking that this might have been a more engaging experience if it was a group of lit professors up there, plying their trade (which is really what the writers were doing =- trying to be lit professors). While I was engaged by the discussion, I can’t say I learned much. I wonder what some legitimate lit professors would have said up there, what they would have focused on, and what I might have learned. This isn’t to knock the group who were up there, or the event, it’s fun, it’s engaging, it’s entertaining. But, so far, it’s also been a bit hollow. I’m not looking at putting together a session heavy schedule (I really would like to see all of the touristy crap, I can’t help it, I AM a tourist here for god’s sake), so I don’t plan on having a lot of little posts about this, but I do plan on having a few. So…until the next literary thing pops up…

Harvey Pekar – RIP

July 14, 2010

I had no idea about this until taking a walk with my g/f and kid this afternoon, we were turning a corner when I glanced at a newspaper box and saw a big picture of Harvey Pekar plastered across the front of the paper, above it two years boxing in a dash. I don’t know why it came as such a shock or why it even struck me as hard as it did but I forgot for a moment where I was and who I was with and uttered a loud “oh shit!”

It’s not as if I’ve ever met the man. I’ve read a few of this things, saw the stunningly good movie based on his graphic novel, American Splendor, and have seen/read a handful of interviews and that’s really the extent of my knowledge of him. Maybe it’s living in Cleveland, some weird local thing where he just feels like a neighbor because he’s famous and lives somewhere in the vicinity of the same city I live in, hell, who knows. Whatever I was feeling probably wasn’t exactly rational. But there was something about Harvey Pekar that seemed, not so much a force of nature but more like a rock. He was nature itself and seeing him pass was like seeing a rock pulverized. How could anything take down a rock?

I liked his writing. From what I’ve seen and heard of and from him, I liked him, too. While I continue to get caught up on his older stuff, I regret the loss we have of not having future works by Pekar. I haven’t seen anyone quite like him, nor do I expect to. We have lost an original.

A Rant in First Person

June 7, 2010

I was in Half Price Books a few weeks ago when I ran across a book that looked interesting. However, instead of just grabbing the thing and going to the checkout like I normally do, I decided to check it out of the library instead and it was a great decision.  I really don’t want to go on about how much I didn’t like the thing. I’ve had to write a couple of negative reviews and it’s not something I enjoy. Further, I also didn’t want to finish the thing. It’s a collection of short stories, I got roughly 80 pages into its total of 120-ish pages, and I just don’t have it in me to finish the thing. Not when I had ceased caring about what I was reading and not when I knew that to finish it only meant I would come here to write a negative review of the thing.

I think part of the problem is that I’m just tired of the whiny first person narrative. It’s been one of a number of current works that I have read lately where the story (or stories) are told from the perspective of someone needlessly whiny, where nothing goes right and where life is just oh so unnecessarily hard and they don’t know why. Wah wah wah.

It would be one thing if these narratives had anything more to them, if there was a reason for the character to be so pathetic and thoroughly uninteresting, regardless of what shenanigans the character is up to and what situations they find themselves in but I think I am becoming convinced that the stories of these characters are without meaning because the writers are writing about themselves and they are without meaning. More and more, literature (especially American) reads as if the authors read works from the Beat Generation, got the fact they were writing about themselves, and took nothing else from their works.

And so we have a mountain of writers armed with the simple mantra of writing about themselves and churning out all sorts of creative non-fictional fiction that is just out and out empty and bad. The writer of the stories of which I read 80 pages of went so far as to admit that a few works had been originally published as non-fiction pieces and that the rest of the collection was more memoir than fiction. Except it’s a memoir that read like the most pathetic headlines found in the magazines collected in grocery store checkout aisles.

I remember reading once an author’s reply about why they write and they replied that they live to write. Too much fiction today seems to be a bastardization of this. People lead lives for the express purpose of chronicling themselves rather than just living their lives. At some point your life is no longer your own but just whatever you think will make the next best chapter. You’re not there for yourself, you’re notliving for yourself, you’re living for…what? I, honestly, can’t even imagine except I’m tired of reading the dead, soulless meanderings of it.

This isn’t to say that all first person narratives are bad, even if they are autobiographical. It can be done well. It still is done well. But it also seems like the Ready-Made Section of literature. It’s writing without the heavy lifting, like renovating a kitchen with pre-manufactured countertops and cabinets. It can look alright, plucking these things off the shelf at Lowe’s but they also stand out for being the same basic mediocre things that they are.

Alright, the rant is over. I also just finished a wonderful short story collection called The Lost TIki Palaces of Detroit, it’s something I want to write about but am deciding the form (review the whole thing or story by story? something in-between?). the frustration from the other reading was just overwhelming, though. On to better things.

Rane Arroyo – RIP

May 11, 2010

Just learned today that I lost a friend of mine early Friday morning to a cerebral hemorrhage. I met Rane Arroyo during my stint at UT. I was pursuing an MA in English Literature and had an opportunity to take a class I figured I would enjoy for a change, a creative writing/poetry class, and jumped at it. Rane was a wonderful professor. He cared about all of hsi students. He would do anything to help nudge them down the road of becoming better writers. He gave. He gave a lot. He gave of himself, he gave his time, he gave his friendship, he gave his joy. He was a joyful person despite all of the crap he had to go through and I only knew a fraction of that crap.

The immediate reaction is to, in some way, quantify the loss. One Rane Arroyo is equivalent to X amount of sorrow. Rane was unquantifiable. He was too young to go and the world is the worst off for losing him. If you get a chance, check out his stuff.  Donate some time/money to your local humane society or animal shelter. Laugh. Be joyful. Rane was joy.

I’m naive, I admit it

March 28, 2010

One of my goals has always been to be published. By a major publishing company. With an editor. And, most importantly, a nice advance that could (maybe) pay my bills for a bit. I also always sorta expect a publishing house to be helpful in pushing me (or any author) in the right direction regarding publicity of said work.

Then I read this blog by Mitzi Szereto.

Then I read this page by Jim Cox at the Midwest Book Review.

Then I talked to a couple of other friends of mine who are knee (well, shoulder) deep in MFA Master/PhD programs.

And I discovered how horribly naive I really am about the whole publishing mess. Any hope that a publisher would help a writer succeed appears blind and destined for failure. Want to do readings? Book’em yourself. Want to get reviewers to read the thing? Send them copies.

Unfortunately, if you’re like me (and you’re probably not, so you’re fine), you don’t really interact well with people. Or maybe you are like me which means that, like me, you have some work to do. for the first time, networking is taking on a clear importance and meaning.  Friends (or at least people who want to remain acquaintances and who may later ask you for a favor) are essential.

But how do you make friends, especially in a world where you are literally a tiny fish in a MASSIVE sea? I come from a small ass town in SE Michigan. I have lately moved to Cleveland.  Not exactly the center of the universe or, especially, the literary universe (Though Dan Chaon lives about 10 minutes away, and I guess Harvey Pekar lives somewhere in this town, so there’s some people whose names are at least noticeable on bookshelves). Given such a situation, it’s easy to look around and wonder how the hell you’re supposed to meet/greet/schmooze anyone.

Well, first, send stuff out. Obvious answer. People like you enough to publish you, on their dime, that’s a great first step in fostering allegiances to call on when needed. Second, use the web. Search for blogs and websites related to your interests/writings/etc. And comment. Say stuff. It’s easy, even if you do look like a naive nit (such as I on Mitzi’s blog). And just know that it’s going to happen. Don’t be an ass. Just be you (unless you are an ass then try to be something less you).

As I crawl, drag, stagger towards finishing the (first) re-write of my first novel I have considered hurling into the world, I’ve started taking these steps. And credit goes to people like Mitzi Szerato and Jim Cox for erecting islands of illumination in the publishing darkness. Eventually, I hope to provide something similar. Until then, I’ll keep plugging away and trying to be a bit less naive.

And I’ll try to shake more hands.

Atwood,Rushdie, IPad Stuff, Australia and some other bits

March 23, 2010

Margaret Atwood was the recipient of $1 million from The Dan David Prize. Beyond the ten percent she is required to share through Doctoral and Post-Doctoral Scholarships, she is sharing the prize money with another writer, Amitav Ghosh.

Salman Rushdie has archives on display at Emory University. The Rushdie-specific content is interesting (you can pull up a draft of one of his novels and edit/re-write bits of it, a weird bibliophile’s Eden somewhat analogous to an Air Force fanatic climbing into a military flight simulator) but the issue of preservation. John Updike donating fifty 5 1/4 inch disks shortly before his death is a good example of an author passing on a technology that simply no longer exists (admit it, how many of you have ever seen, let alone used, those big 5 1/4 inch disks?).  At some point, and quite likely in our life times if not within the next twenty years, we will see computing move entirely beyond decides like harddrives with moving parts and possibly even beyond solid state memory (like flashdrives) to lord knows what. are we at risk of losing great swathes of information simply because we’ll no longer be able to access it?

Blogging on demand? Well, maybe. IBM is working on a widget to connect bloggers and readers in a unique way. It’s essentially backwards from how the writer/reader dynamic has been accepted. The writer plugs away at something, throws it out there, and hopes to God someone reads it. Well, IBM is looking to find a way for readers to suggest topics for blogging and for those suggestions to be forwarded to the appropriate blogger to then do with it what he is told to do. On the one hand, as a rarely visited blog writer (unless I criticize illustrators, heh), I can certainly see the appeal. On the other hand, I write about what I write about because it interests me – not necessarily because I want to get a thousand hits a day. My reviews/critiques are dry and not for everyone. And that’s okay.

Make poetry your career and be the best at it. Over night. While it reads as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way of pushing for commercial success and societal significance as a poet, there is also an undeniable scent of truth to the vast majority of it.  I read lit journals, I glance through the annual year end Best Of collections, and am largely unimpressed with the vast vast vast majority of the poetry.  It lacks something. What it lacks is hard to put into words but there is just a gut reaction that is missing when reading it. At risk of sounding melodramatic (or maybe just wistful), it seems as if poetry is too much a way to make ends meet and not a way of life. The idea of Poet as Occupation should be a liberating one. Instead, it seems we may have become Henry Ford’s dream given artistic form. Maybe i’m not taking from it what was meant to be taken from it, but this is what it made me think about. There is a typed version of the same article at Huffington Post.

Finally, Australia is falling behind the EBook revolution. And they’re not happy about it. And they’re trying to figure out how to catch up. And Amazon is selling Kindles there without any real product support. And Apple hasn’t even hired anyone to run their Australian version of the ipad virtual store thing yet. Australia is really just being patently ignored.  And from it all, what really stood out to me, was the attention the IPad is still generating despite it looking like a fairly mediocre blow-up of the IPhone. I haven’t been thrilled with the IPad but if it somehow leads to EBook industry being opened up some more, then it’s done a good thing. Another piece of interesting info was the fact that publishers aren’t just creating digital copies of their novels, but things that are closer to app files than documents. I’m not a huge computer guy, despite the (numerous) IPad postings. But I keep seeing talk of HTML5 coming out in the near future and how it will do away with Flash and whatever else. I think this could also be the avenue for e-literature to eventually head down. Instead of apps, just use a powerful, multip-purpose programming language (as the next HTML appears to be) that allows different e-texts to be opened with a single browser.  Which makes me wish even more that I had any idea whatsoever how to create a webpage strictly through code (and not through those fuzzy point and click editors like Dreamweaver).

Dean Haspiel is Talking About Me

March 17, 2010

And it really isn’t very nice.

Upon first reading this, I went back and wanted to edit in some sort of clarification to my Quitter review.  Then part of me wanted to defend myself on his journal but I can’t because I don’t have a live.journal ID and, frankly, I don’t want another ID to keep track of. I even thought of emailing him but, honestly, he probably doesn’t care by now and, if I slept on it, I’d probably just blow it off by morning, too.

But after re-re-reading my review, I think I am clear enough in my calling not Haspiel personally out for his credibility, but the possible credibility of one of the narrators, either the illustrator or the writer. Put another way, it is a question of reliability. Much like how you gradually come to know that Humbert Humbert isn’t to be trusted as a narrator in Lolita, I wondered if the reader wasn’t given reason to not trust one of the interpretations of “Quitter,” either that of the illustrations or that of the words. Here’s the block of text from the review that I think caused the problem:

Considering the visual nature of comics, I wonder if this doesn’t take away from the credibility of one of the narrators, either the writer or the illustrator. The text matches up well with the illustration, but considering the effect small things from facial expressions to stances to shading can affect how a panel is viewed and interpreted, there is a clear possibility for one to provide an interpretation of the story that might be different from the intended interpretation the other half of the story telling might desire to communicate.

Now, I admit, it’s not exactly William Faulkner. But it’s not horrible. And I think the credibility (or reliability) of one of the narrators is fair game. Maybe I was entirely wrong but I thought there was a certain disagreement, at times, between what the illustrations depicted and what Pekar’s words depicted. And that this disagreement could mean that one was slightly more or less reliable than the other. And that such a thing might be entirely purposeful by the writer/illustrator. The idea of two narrators telling the same story but in different ways, at the same time, seems like an intriguing idea to me. Something that makes me think of Last Year at Marienbad, for instance.

I also do not believe his examples of a director/screenplay and singer/lyrics are really fair comparisons. First, they can’t be referred to as “narrators” in the same way the writer/illustrator can (and must necessarily be) referred to as “narrators” in their respective forms. It isn’t a question about the credibility of the artist as a person. It’s simply not, and I think that’s clear. The credibility that is being questioned is the narrative truthfulness of the illustrator versus the writer. they’re telling the same story in different mediums. Each is, essentially, a narrator. If the interpretation of the text ever differs significantly from the interpretation of the images, I think the credibility of one of the narrators has to be called into question.

Just as you question the narrative credibility of Humbert Humbert in Lolita. It’s not a question of Nabokov’s credibility as a writer but of his creation.

Assorted David Foster Wallace Material

March 13, 2010

Alright, to go with the litany of Wallace review goodness I have been going on and on about lately (such as my reviews of Incarnations of Burned Children and Good Old Neon) I’m looking around seenig what I can find of Wallace related stuff recently posted to the Interwebs.

Flavorwire has an awesome posting, with a few very interesting (and entertaining) images in mentioning that Wallace’s personal archives have been obtained by the Harry Ransom Center at UT-Austin. Seeing the loads of notes Wallace apparently filled margins and blank pages with in the books he read, I can’t help but feel a little inferior. Or just odd. Most people I know usually write something in the margins as they read, little notes and what not, but for whatever reason I could never bring myself to do it. There’s just something about writing inside of a book that was imprinted upon at a very early age as being very very wrong. Is it actually wrong? Probably not. But I’ve never been able to shake that programming.

Then there is the David Foster Wallace Audio Project, a website hoping to collect every audio recording Wallace has done. Notice, this is everything that isn’t for sale elsewhere, so if you’re looking for a free audiobook of Lobster, you’re going to have to look elsewhere 🙂

The Awl has posted the earliest example of Wallace’s signature, on a poem he did when he was 6 that was about Vikings. Honestly, it’s cute. And his large vocabulary was already becoming evident. Kinda scary to think of a kid that young being able to write that poem.

Here’s a youtube of David Foster Wallace reading some of his work:

As you can see, his delivery is excellent. He was just an engaging reader who was easy to listen and whose work truly did seem to take on a new life when being read aloud.

Finally, here’s a google search for David Foster Wallace and the Charlie Rose Show. I was hoping to just post a couple of interview videos but after doing the search and seeing the rather larger than expected number of hits that came up, I figure it would do more good to just post the search. I’ve been in classes before where Professors have played interview clips of authors on the Charlie Rose Show and being strangely superior to Charlie Rose, as if the author is in some way slumming it to be going on an interview show and hawking his wares. And, in one of the interviews of Wallace, he does seem a bit uncomfortable with the interview but I think it might have just been a general discomfort with interviews in general. Personally, I think such things are a good forum and a positive for literature. Writers want to be of significance but part of that is putting themselves out there in the public eye in ways other than just their writing. Despite his stated reluctance for book signings, I think Wallace deserves some credit for at least putting himself out there on the interview circuit and the occasional readings throughout his life, something other prominant American writers (looking at you Pynchon) have been entirely reluctant to do unless with an animated paperbag over their heads.