Monday, September 20, 2004

Zeen Report: THE WHIRLIGIG #9

(First in a series.)

For all its modest, zeeny presentation, THE WHIRLIGIG is one of the most important lit journals being produced in this country.

POETRY: Editor Frank Marcopolos consistently has a good eye for poetry. Jessica Wickens's "Transformer," clunkier than it could be, is salvaged by the image in the last lines: "yellow fire coming down around us in the street, burning up on the concrete. . . ."

FICTION: The fiction in this issue is represented by two poles.

At one extreme are the well-written literary stories of Douglas Lain and Ron Gibson Jr.

Lain's absurdist "The Dead Celebrity" is long, intelligent, interesting, confusing, ultimately unsatisfying.

Gibson's "Shadowbox the Sun" gives the reader paragraphs of dense prose; layers of crafted sentences. When one breaks into the paragraphs and reads the sentences, the writing is artful and impressive. The question is how many readers will make the effort.

At the other extreme are the approachable minimal fictions and two-word anagrammatic stories of Richard Kostelanetz splashed with big letters across five pages. R.K. calls himself a postmodernist, but this work seems the opposite of what has come to be known, stylistically, as postmodern writing.

In between the poles is "Marie" by Emerson Dameron, the only true zeen writer in the collection. I'm very high on Emerson's writing-- the reason he's in the Underground Literary Alliance. Emerson is one of a number of zeensters in their early 20's (Urban Hermitt another) who were reading 90's zines and are an outgrowth of zine writing. They're creating a genre unto themselves. It's no wonder that Tom Bissell in his infamous BELIEVER article on the ULA was unable to comprehend their work, breaking it apart in his mind to spellings and commas and dots-- to the trivial individual notes-- while missing its intent and its impact. What Bissell does-- rigid, careful, overcrafted and predictable-- is of the past, the hallmark of a status quo that in the large if not the small is killing literature.

I've asked here from noted young litsters like Maud Newton and Jackie Corley for a debate on what IS going to save or kill literature, and haven't gotten it. What will save literature are stories that any reader can immediately get into, which are also good.

"Marie" is deceptively simple-- simple like simple Beatles songs "No Reply" and "I Don't Want to Spoil the Party." Simple to the point of appearing without art and skill-- but with a rib-breaking emotional kick that stays with the reader after the story has ended.

This is not one of Emerson's better stories, in fact. The writing could be tighter. But it shows what he does; the short story of a guy and a gal who meet in a bar is suffused with melancholy, and its ending is devastating, because it's not overdone, and has been set up.

Maybe Marcopolos has a good eye for fiction also.

(THE WHIRLIGIG: $3 to Frank Marcopolos, 4809 Avenue N #117, Brooklyn NY 11234.)


Anonymous said...

Curious to know where "the Dead Celebrity" went wrong for you, or what you were hoping for in the resolution of the story. Perhaps I just crave more attention.

Anyhow thanks for reading and writing about the Whirligig.

Douglas Lan

King Wenclas said...

I wouldn't say it "went wrong." It accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish-- and it did have me hooked enough to read all of it. But it's a type of story I generally don't like-- playing with reality, in a way I find confusing/chaotic-- which means the problem isn't so much with the story as with me. (In the same way different people prefer different kinds of music; jazz, blues, country. . . .)
I'm looking for clarity in this screwed-up universe.
Literature should be a dialogue-- or better, a debate. I don't assume I have all the answers-- I always reserve the right to be wrong-- but I try to be honest in my opinions.
Making noise ABOUT literature is the ULA's first priority.
Best of luck in your continued writing.

King Wenclas said...


Anonymous said...

Yeah, well I'm not a realist so my work isn't for everyone. I'm with you about literature being a conversation, and often a debate.

Thanks again for reading and commenting.

Anonymous said...

Oh for chrissake, Wenclas, it's called a day job! i'll get you your debate on what'll save lit. you bring the japanese swords, i'll bring the mother-freakin machetes.

but seriously, you pose any direct questions to me and i'll sure as shit answer 'em.

i'll think on your "what'll save or kill literature" question and get you a decent answer.

damn straight.

stay strong, killer

-Jackie Corley

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words. I look forward to more in this series. One of my favorite ULA functions is pointing to zines and zine publishers that continue to thrive in the internet age, what a zine can do that a website can't. I agree with you that print will endure.

Emerson Dameron